What is human nature?

Question: What is human nature?

Peter Thiel: I don’t have sort of a naively optimistic view of human nature that people are simply good.  I think there’s a lot of potential for both very good and very bad things in people. 

You know the word, you know, “ape” _______ in Shakespearean English simultaneously meant “primate” and “to imitate.”  And I think there’s something about human nature that’s very heavily driven by imitation, by looking at what other people are doing.  And that’s very heavily shaped by what’s considered acceptable or not. 

If your parents encourage you to become a suicide bomber, there’s a chance you’ll become a suicide bomber.  __________ an awful lot of things. 

While we would describe human nature as sort of completely plastic, I think there are a lot of choices about who we can be like, or how it works itself out.   I think it’s very open-ended _________ as clearly as I should. 

I think that human nature, there’s this dangerous element to it.  And because of that, we obviously are in this very strangely, very complicated world where there are some very crazy people, some very dangerous people, and some very good things happening as well. 

It’s not clear how it’s going to end. If it was clear that it was all going to blow up, there would be no point in doing anything.  And if it was clear everything was going to work out, there would be no point in doing anything either. 

It’s not like history is driven by this automatic, larger force.  Instead it is going to be driven by the choices people make; the choices of who you try to emulate.   Do you try to emulate someone who is doing something heroic, or good, or something entrepreneurial that’s making the world a better place for a lot of people?  Do you emulate a gangster, or a terrorist, or someone who is doing something bad?  I think we will want to try and shape that in a way that’s healthy.

Recorded on: Sep 05, 2007

There's a lot of potential for both very good and very bad things in people.

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