Writing in today's edition of The Guardian newspaper, Tom Hodgkinson does a complex hit job on Facebook, or more precisely, Facebook's founding investor Peter Thiel.
Hodgkindson begins by accusing the "social utility" of being anti-social ("since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk...") and then describes the site as a place where people volunteer "their ID card information and consumer preferences to an American business they know nothing about."
For those wanting to know more about the people behind this "American business", it's the "Silicon Valley venture capitalist and futurist philosopher" Peter Thiel with whom we should be concerned, not the public face of Facebook, founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Thiel is a member of the so-called "PayPal mafia", having co-founded the e-currency company and sold it to eBay for $1.5bn, as well as running a £3bn hedge fund called Clarium Capital Management and a venture capital fund called Founders Fund. But it's Thiel's political and philosophical interests that, according to Hodgkinson, we should be aware of.
He is a futurist philosopher and neocon activist. A philosophy graduate from Stanford, in 1998 he co-wrote a book called The Diversity Myth, which is a detailed attack on liberalism and the multiculturalist ideology that dominated Stanford. He claimed that the "multiculture" led to a lessening of individual freedoms. While a student at Stanford, Thiel founded a rightwing journal, still up and running, called The Stanford Review - motto: Fiat Lux ("Let there be light"). Thiel is a member of TheVanguard.Org, an internet-based neoconservative pressure group that was set up to attack MoveOn.org, a liberal pressure group that works on the web...
So, Thiel's politics are not in doubt. What about his philosophy? I listened to a podcast of an address Thiel gave about his ideas for the future. His philosophy, briefly, is this: since the 17th century, certain enlightened thinkers have been taking the world away from the old-fashioned nature-bound life, and here he quotes Thomas Hobbes' famous characterisation of life as "nasty, brutish and short", and towards a new virtual world where we have conquered nature. Value now exists in imaginary things. Thiel says that PayPal was motivated by this belief: that you can find value not in real manufactured objects, but in the relations between human beings. PayPal was a way of moving money around the world with no restriction. Bloomberg Markets puts it like this: "For Thiel, PayPal was all about freedom: it would enable people to skirt currency controls and move money around the globe."
Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries - and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.
Through another Facebook investor, Jim Breyer, Hodgkindson also links the site to the CIA, no less, since Breyer also sits on the board of the CIA's venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel.
Whether you buy any or all of Hodgkindson's concerns about the people behind Facebook, it's an interesting read that certainly makes you stop and think about the free market ideologies that drive companies like Facebook.
Although, as a left-thinking friend of mine wrote in an email regarding Hodgkindson's article: "A bit heavy isn’t it? Even I don’t go on like that."