The Apocalyptic Delusions of the Silicon Valley Elite

Douglas Rushkoff explains how the super-rich plan to escape the world after they’ve destroyed it.

Douglas Rushkoff is a media and tech critic who has been called “one of the world’s ten most influential intellectuals” by MIT. He has hosted PBS Frontline documentaries and written many books including Life Inc., Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, and most recently Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. He joined editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson on the Current Affairs podcast to discuss how Silicon Valley’s elite are trying to shield themselves from the consequences of inequality and climate destruction. 

Douglas’ latest book builds on an experience he had several years ago, where several billionaires called him out into the desert to ask him how to survive “The Event,” an anticipated apocalyptic catastrophe that would send them heading for their bunkers. He shows how the super-rich often don’t feel like winners. They feel scared about a coming giant global rupture. Some want to upload their consciousness and merge with machines. They are lost in fantasies about a transcendent future that bear striking similarities to Christian ideas of the Rapture. 

The conversation touches on many topics, including right-wing conspiracy theories, Timothy Leary, metaverses, simulated cats, James Brown, plants, bunker jacuzzis, and Mussolini. But it focuses on what Douglas calls “The Mindset,” the ideology held by the world’s “tech bros” that envisions an escape from material reality and the merging of humans and machines. Douglas makes the case for viciously mocking tech bros who entertain damaging and delusional beliefs. He shows how what we really need is to care for the planet, care about each other, and not lose ourselves in techno-solutionist fantasies about transcending the material world. The “bunker strategy” for dealing with chaos, he says, won’t work, because human survival depends on the survival of society. “What happens when you need a new heater for the jacuzzi?” he asks. You can live alone in a bunker for a few weeks or months, maybe. But the only realistic long-term path forward is to build a resilient society and planet. 

This transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Robinson

Let’s talk about the horrendous tech dystopia being built for us and the way billionaires are destroying the world. Perhaps the best place to start is where the book starts, with your weird adventure in the desert, and your first-person experience of the way that some of society’s winners are thinking about the future.

Rushkoff  

It was bizarre. I do get called out a lot to do these talks for businesspeople about the digital future. So, it was one of those where they paid me a bunch of money to convince me to spend some jet fuel and leave my home and pontificate, but then instead of taking me out onto the stage, they brought these five guys into the green room and sat around this table and started asking me all these very binary questions about where they should place their bets for the digital future: Bitcoin or Ethereum; VR or AR; and finally, New Zealand or Alaska—where should they invest in land to put their bunker for “the event”?

Robinson  

The event?

Rushkoff  

The electromagnetic pulse, climate change, nuclear disaster, or economic unrest that renders the world unlivable for everyone, except them. They will have their special bunkers. It was absolutely bizarre that these guys who were the wealthiest, most powerful people I’d ever really sat with in the same room with felt utterly powerless to influence the future. The best they could do is prepare for the inevitable collapse and hang on.

Robinson  

These are people who were extremely wealthy—there’s nobody who has won more in our current economy than they have. And from what you suggest, they seemed a little scared and worried, as if the best they could do was to try and find a way to escape from the rest of humanity and hope their security guards won’t kill them.

Rushkoff  

Right. And on a certain level, they’re not absolutely crazy. Climate change is real. If you look at the new maps from the World Bank and WEF [World Economic Forum] showing the bands of unlivable Earth, it goes right up to the top of the U.S. It’s like everyone’s got to go up to Canada or Siberia to survive this thing. So, I understand how they’re looking at it, but their Walking Dead-like approach to the future is what’s so bizarre. The majority of the time was spent on the question: How do they maintain control of their security guards after their money is worthless? They’re sort of gaming out this post-apocalyptic landscape, where they’re using the model they’ve used all along, which is that winning is an individual success.

In a world where every company is based on some exit strategy, their life plan is based on an exit strategy, too, where they go “meta” on us—or, as Peter Thiel would say, go from zero to one and operate one order of magnitude above the common man; or, like Ray Kurzweil, upload their consciousness to a chip and rise entirely from the chrysalis of matter into the ether as data. And the fact that they brought essentially a Marxist media theorist to discuss this with them is really bizarre.

As a real Marxist (I would argue, a social Marxist), I think the whole point of Marxism is that we look at conditions on the ground, the material conditions of real people in real places. For these guys, partly engendered by their technology and their distorted understanding of capitalism, the object of the game is to get to that omega point, that strange attractor at the end of time, to literally leave us behind. Almost everyone I’m talking to, and all the reviewers of my book, only seem to care about the bunkers themselves. All these interviewers ask, “So how would a bunker work? How do you get air in the bunker?” And I respond, “Dude, I am not a bunker expert!” The joke of it is that just because billionaires treat me like a bunker expert doesn’t mean I am one. I’m a sociologist. I’m looking at why people think this crazy way, and not how to address the needs of people who think this way.

Robinson  

Now that you’ve written Survival of the Richest, you’re going to get called in as a consultant even more by the rich, and they’ll ask, “So, how do we survive?”

Rushkoff  

Survival strategies of the rich and famous! The way we survive is not that way. The way we survive is not by isolating but through collective action: by making our towns more resilient, by promoting circular economics that distribute prosperity to more people, and getting closer to our food sources, by meeting our neighbors—by doing the opposite of building a personal bunker. You talk to any good survivalist out in Idaho, and they’ll say the most important thing is to make sure your neighbors aren’t ringing on your doorbell for food. The way to be a prepper is to prep your whole block and neighborhood. But if you prep the whole world, then you don’t need a prepper. Once we’re all prepped and resilient, then the world isn’t going to end at all.

Robinson

Unfortunately, for people who do pick up this book looking for tips on how to survive in the post-apocalyptic climate change nightmare, they’ll be disappointed to find that you suggest the bunker strategy will not work.

Rushkoff

No, it really won’t. I’m sorry. It could work for certainly weeks or months, but then what about when you need a new heater for the jacuzzi, or the bulb in the projector goes out and you don’t have a spare? These guys are building screening rooms, underground pools, and just bizarre stuff—and they need chefs, lifeguards, and dentists. It’s just not the way to go. But it’s a fantasy, and that’s the thing I’m also writing about, that climate change is more the excuse for them to think through the fantasies they’ve had since they were little baby tech bros, to somehow create a digital womb around themselves that could anticipate their every need so they don’t have to deal with real people, and have nice little robots take care of them. It’s the dream that little boys and girls have being the last person alive and getting all the toys.

Robinson  

The way you start off in the book suggests that these people are anticipating social collapse and dystopia and planning to build a lifeboat. But as you dive deeper, we find that there’s also a real utopian component to this. You describe what you call throughout the book “the mindset,” and it’s more than just trying to find a safe place when climate change happens. In fact, it’s a lot more, as you’ve hinted. Could you elaborate on “the mindset”?

Rushkoff  

It has a lot of components, but it comes down to the idea that they can somehow insulate themselves using money and technology from the damage they’re creating. That they could somehow build a car that goes fast enough to escape from its own exhaust. It requires a real faith in techno-solutionism. “The mindset” itself, though, seems to have many features, such as a kind of atheistic scientism, that the human soul or consciousness is just an illusion perpetrated by your DNA, and doesn’t matter. So, if you reorganize the complexity of your system on a computer somewhere, it’ll be just as conscious as you. There’s a real adherence to the biases of digital code; an understanding of all human relationships as just market phenomena; a fear of women, nature, Black people, and Indigenous people; a need to see one’s own contributions as just utterly unique and without precedent; an urge to neutralize the unknown by dominating and deanimating it; and an understanding of progress as straight lines toward the future.

We all have it to some extent. My dad used to take us down to the Lower East Side where he was raised in the tenements, and he would say, “I was raised up there in that apartment, there were nine of us and a bucket in the kitchen that we all took our baths in. I worked hard, went to school and earned money so I could get out of that neighborhood and raise you somewhere better.” That’s the American way. But what about when the whole world is that bad neighborhood? Where do you go, and how do you get out? “The mindset” is this idea that you can just get one more level up—Web 2; Earth 2; Humanity 3.0. That’s what “the mindset” is looking for.

Robinson  

Yes. When you hear Steven Pinker talk about progress, he will describe it in ways that sound like real progress, such as fewer hungry people or fewer people dying of many different kinds of diseases. This is what is described in Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus, where he discusses an upward trajectory of humanity—as you described it, “going meta.” We’re all going to enter the Metaverse. There’s going to be a kind of transcendence—it’s almost religious, with many parallels to the Rapture.

Rushkoff  

Yes. We could get into the history of it, but it’s partly because the tech bros were seduced, in some ways, by a Russian New Age system in the 1970s called Cosmism. There were these two-track diplomacy meetings at the Esalen Institute where everybody was dropping acid, attended by folks like Dr. John Lilly, as well as some of the people who ended up investing in Apple later, with their Russian counterparts. These were people that swam with dolphins and believed we could make robots that would hold human consciousness. They were Russian Orthodox originally, and that religion has much more of that kind of rapture, moving out of body, element. It’s not just Christ who did it, it’s everybody—we all go.

Transubstantiation of the self was a really contagious meme and has moved to the tech elite. That’s what they want to do. They think they’re atheists and scientists when they talk about this massive emergent phenomenon or phase shift from human to post- or trans-human. My response is, it’s not going to work, and if it does, it’s going to work for maybe three people, some super elite that will still need us to keep their machines on and oil burning. So, no, it just doesn’t work. It’s another group of people looking for an escape hatch or some salvation as a way of not looking back and taking care of their fellow humans.

Robinson  

If people want to see this mindset, where should they look? What kinds of figures or institutions embody what you’re talking about?

Rushkoff  

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. I remember the day he landed from his spaceship, his eight-second voyage at an enormous cost, using God knows how much oil and pollution. MSNBC broadcaster Stephanie Ruhle welcomed him back to Earth, and she was almost weak-kneed with adoration for this guy. And I was thinking, what are we celebrating here? We’re celebrating that now one person has enough money to do what we could do collectively 60 years ago, and better.

That’s “the mindset” in action. It’s when we hear Peter Thiel and other billionaires talk about creating seasteading communities and nations not just because it’s a great and energy efficient way to get people out on the ocean, decrease our landmass, and fish, but instead to make our own system of governance and develop a totally self- sovereign state where every individual is self-sovereign. If you don’t like the system of government there, you just detach your raft and float to a different nation that you do like. This understanding of the world, that your citizenship is something that you can just detach from frictionlessly and float to a different one, is not how community, civilization, or society works.

Robinson  

Yes, much of the hype about the Metaverse is very utopian in this way.

Rushkoff  

Totally. We already Web 2-ed our Web 1. Now we’re going to Web 3 it, and then Web 4 it. You’ll see more and more terms that are just baskets for a bunch of yet to be invented innovations that can somehow create enough innovation per second to keep the economy growing exponentially. That’s the whole problem with exponential growth: Starting out, it’s alright to have one earth-shattering innovation every century—now it’s every decade, and then every year. Now we need nine earth-shattering new technologies per year to keep this thing growing the way it’s supposed to. And the fact is, it’s already done. Not to be climactic here, but climate change has already happened; it’s baked in. In terms of diseases and all, read the late Mike Davis. He wrote a book on the pandemic, before the current coronavirus pandemic, about the avian flu that may come. We’re already over the event horizon into a slow and growing catastrophe. It doesn’t mean the end of the world, but it means things are going to be different, and it’s high time we adopt a different approach to realize this sort of exponentialism that they want isn’t going to work.

But, take a tech bro venture capitalist, send them down to Burning Man, give him some ayahuasca, and he emerges a tech bro on ayahuasca: “Now I’ve got a software stack and a new set of solutions. We’re going to clear-cut these forests and go to Saudi Arabia and build a totally self-sustaining eco-city called NEOM for trillions of dollars. It’s going to be completely sustainable, if only we could get these 40,000 Bedouins off this territory who’ve been here living sustainably for the last 10,000 years. They’re the one obstacle to our sustainable future, these sustainable indigenous people!” Oops. That’s the irony here: They still want to [put the] “pedal to the metal” in order to become free of the problems they are creating with the “pedal to the metal” approach.

Robinson  

We haven’t yet mentioned Elon Musk, but I think we must. In describing his vision for Twitter, he said it was going to be a predecessor to the “everything app”: “Now it’s just a bunch of people yakking, it’s going to become transcendent.” And then, of course, he has his visions for Mars and for transit. Actual engineers then critique his plans and say, these are just fantasies about how we can fix our problems, and the solutions are often quite mundane. He seems to really embody this kind of vision that we can just transcend things by wishing for them hard enough.

Rushkoff  

To some extent, personally, he’s been able to do that, but he has a kind of personality that is detached from the interpersonal and the intrapersonal into this other thing. You could call him a visionary or a marketer, but it’s that he has these abstract fantasies about how things could be, if only there weren’t material conditions on the ground. The problem with him, or Peter Thiel or Steve Bannon, or any of them for that matter, is even though the thing they’re envisioning sometimes isn’t all that bad (at least for white men), it’s the theory of change that’s the problem—how to get from here to there. They ignore that part because it involves this kind of ripping-off-the-Band-Aid, libertarian-style transition brought about through accelerationism.

Now, we see accelerationism on all sides. There’s a kind of Marxist accelerationism—if you read Slavoj Žižek in the right way, he says, “Let’s just bring it on already and get to the other side of the revolution,” which in some ways is no better than what Peter Thiel or Steve Bannon is saying: “Let’s just tear this thing down and have one big anti-woke convention and get to the other side of this social justice nightmare and bring about whatever this is, this monarchy or fascist fantasy.”

Robinson  

You mentioned Jeff Bezos’ trip to space—I actually wrote an article about his visions for the future. They’re quite alarming. He envisions humans leaving Earth and colonizing space, and says there will be trillions of people in space. “Imagine what it’s going to be like; we’re going to have thousands of Einsteins.” It seems so detached from reality. But the contrast of that is William Shatner, who went up to space with him and described his experience. He was struck by the fact that he didn’t think our future was to expand and colonize the cosmos with trillions of people. In fact, he looked down and realized what a precious thing Earth was, and how we couldn’t destroy it. We had this real thing, this little life-sustaining orb, and that we need to understand what it is that sustains us, in a way that Bezos didn’t understand at all. And in fact, there’s a video clip of Shatner trying to explain what his experience was to Bezos as he stood next him popping champagne and not listening.

Rushkoff  

I know! They are strange. From how you’re describing it, part of Bezos’ personality or belief comes from a distorted understanding of longtermism, or Nick Bostrom’s beliefs about how the universe works. Their belief is that there are going to be trillions of humans spread out through the universe some day, one or two thousand years from now. When you think about the needs of those trillions of people, what does the pain and suffering of a mere eight billion humans on Earth today matter? We’re just the larval stage, and maggots die. A lot of maggots will die for the flies that actually survive, and we should just accept it. That’s it. Yes, there’s going to be pain and suffering as we die off in the necessary culling of our world.

Robinson  

You mentioned this longtermist philosophy, which is increasingly influential, as well as Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher. They’re strict utilitarians who believe in value maximization and say there will be so much more value in the future that the consequences of climate change won’t matter in comparison to all the pleasure units that will be experienced by—not even people—but the digital people. As you mentioned, there’s this view that the human mind is basically just like a computer program that you could simulate. We can simulate trillions and trillions of people in that little experience, many more pleasure units. I know it sounds crazy, but this is actually taken seriously.

Rushkoff  

It sounds crazy, but that’s it! Francis Bacon quantified everything in reality, and if it couldn’t be quantified, it wasn’t real. These digital guys, they quantify everything. Pain and suffering, it’s hard to quantify that. You get what you measure for. So yes, if you’re looking at maximizing the quantity of pleasure units, then, again, conditions on the ground don’t matter. But it depends on the capitalist presumption of eternal exponential growth, just like getting to live in a nice townhouse in Park Slope by refinancing it every five years based on the growth of the real estate market. If the real estate market stops growing, you can’t do that anymore, and you have to leave. That’s what happened in 2007 and 2008; everyone was leveraged up the wazoo. And that’s what these guys are incapable of learning. They are leveraging or mortgaging our current reality—the one that you and I are living in at this moment—for this imagined future gain, if only they can get enough technology. They’re desperately searching for those keys to get off the planet—quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and the Web 3 experience. But it doesn’t actually work—we are still confined by the laws of physics and matter. There aren’t really enough energy units on the planet to lead to trillions of happiness units in the universe.

Robinson  

One of the things that comes across in your book is the contrast between the view you hold of what makes life wonderful and special, and the view that is common to those who hold what you call “the mindset.” You describe arguments that you got into personally with Richard Dawkins and Ray Kurzweil, people who have this kind of strange, almost impoverished view of what life is, that often can’t really explain art, culture, and music. This view treats human beings as these kinds of computer programs. What’s the difference between the way you see humanity and life and the way they see it?

Rushkoff  

To be fair, they would say that they see the world scientifically and that I see it superstitiously. But, luckily, we’ve had two or three hundred years of philosophy—Wittgenstein forward (or backwards, even)— that show us that human beings make meaning systems and then see the world through that meaning system. So, they decided to have an evidence-based view of reality—if we have evidence for it, it exists. If we don’t have evidence for it, then it either doesn’t exist, or certainly can’t be held up as something real. There are others who have different sorts of meaning systems, which are more based on our experience of the world and how we live.

If you take the evidence-based view that everything that exists has evidence and can be written down and assigned numerical values, then you end up with an understanding of the world as an almost “auto-tuned” reality. I understand how we get there in a culture where we take a singer’s voice, and make it match the quantized note: Ariana Grande is going to sing that C exactly as a C. Imagine auto-tuning James Brown, who’s reaching up to the note. For me, to be human is to reach up for the note. To Dawkins’ friends, that’s the noise, the stuff that we need to get rid of, like junk DNA, or all that weird stuff going on between human beings. They just don’t have patience for that. I elevate it as what’s actually special. What is going on here? When I was in my argument with Dawkins, he was saying that human beings are almost like tape players: you take a meme, stick it in, and we respond to it—that consciousness itself is an illusion perpetrated by our DNA to get us to mate and stay alive. So, if that’s the truth, if it’s all not real, the only thing that’s real is the code and the codon—they’re mistaking the figure for the ground. They’re lost in “everything is subject”: There’s no landscape, no environment, no protein soup in which the DNA is functioning, and no potentials. It’s a very limited understanding of the world, but one that works well with the metrics by which humanity is improving. “Life expectancy, the height of men, and the education rate has gone up”—but you could go to a weightlifter and give them some steroids, their reps and weight lifted will go up, and the amount of time they have to do it goes down. My satisfaction and experience of other people are ineffable things that can’t be put on a spreadsheet and end up missed. It’s as if it doesn’t exist.

Robinson  

You [write] about how when we go “meta,” or go to a certain level of abstraction, we exclude [many] really important [things] on whatever the first level was. You [write about] a colonial power that makes a map and starts seeing the world as little territories to be moved, [and] how the leaders of war can overlook horrible human suffering because it’s just little lines and dots moving on a map. It’s probably why Mark Zuckerberg’s Horizon Worlds Metaverse is so fucking depressing. It looks very superficially like life, but you can’t imagine having the experience that you would have at a James Brown concert, for instance. It’s just impossible. That can’t be simulated or replicated. It gets abstracted away, and it’s not there anymore.

Rushkoff  

Right. And then you wonder, why replicate it at all? It’s actually still available. There are other people in the world you can hug, have sex with, play cards with, and talk with. They’re all over the place. There are tons of them. Go outside; there are people there! And you could do richer things with them. I guess part of it is that tech bro thing of, “Yes, but they are not idealized anime manic pixie dream girl cartoons, the ones that I always imagined I would be with. Now I can be with one in virtual reality.” They’ll watch a movie like Ready Player One, where people are stacked up in shipping containers and having all their fun in a virtual world and look at that as, “Oh, good. They solved the problem.”

Robinson  

I don’t know if you read the philosopher David Chalmers’ new book Reality+, but I found it very disturbing because he talks about metaverses and simulated reality. He’s so into this that he says we are going to, and should, lose the distinction between how we talk about simulated worlds and the real world. A simulated cat is an actual cat; there is no difference if you interact with it the same. He very much embraces what you call “the mindset” and can’t really see the difference between life and the computer program. It really scared me [and I] found it very disturbing, because it [argued] we can forget the real world [and that it] does not matter. As long as we have an accurate enough computer simulation, we can destroy the whole real world.

Rushkoff  

Yes. It’s interesting. People that I worked with in the ’70s and ’80s, like Timothy Leary, used to talk about space migration and intelligence increase. It was part of the early hippie, cyber-delic thing: first it was space we were going to go to, and when the internet happened, we could go in there instead. “Jaron Lanier will build us a virtual reality world, and I can go there as pure consciousness.” I remember Terence McKenna used to say, “We’ll go into virtual reality, and you will literally be able to see what I mean, because as I talk, my body will change into different things.” But it wasn’t about ending the physical. Even Leary said, “What that will do is turn the body into something even more sacred when you have live encounters.” But to “the mindset” and the tech bros, physical reality is like the first stage of a rocket: The rocket launches, it falls and crashes down to the earth in a fireball, and you keep going up. That’s the way these gentlemen look at not only the physical world, but at us, the human beings who are alive now in this civilization. We are the first stage of the rocket, whose job is to work like drone bees to build their crafts, computers, trans-matter substantiators, and whatever it is that gets them to the next place, and we’re all left behind.

Robinson

Your book helps people understand what they’re seeing without adopting right-wing conspiracy theories. You write about how there are groups of wealthy elites who are trying to plan a future in which the rest of us suffer. We were actually sent this book by a right-wing publisher the other day, The Great Reset: Global Elites and the Permanent Lockdown. And you actually have a chapter on this called “the Great Reset that the World Economic Forum has been talking about.” The Great Reset is interesting because it says, “The proponents of a dystopian project to bring on a transhumanist future in which the rest of us are monitored, controlled, and locked down on their say-so. This is not a secret cabal; this is the World Economic Forum and the globalist elites of our aspiring tyrant class.” This is a very right-wing book by a QAnon-aligned Trump author. What I like about your book is you say that [some of] the things that conspiracists are identifying are actually real, but it’s not quite the conspiracy theory they may think.

Rushkoff

Yes, the funny thing is the alt-right conspiracy theorists are the only ones who are actually taking these elites at their word. They actually believe that the Great Reset can happen, and Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum can create a blockchain that tags every living being on the planet and build virtual havens. They buy this techno-solutionist nightmare. And yes, if you believe Thiel, Musk, Zuckerberg, or Gates and take them exactly at their word, I’d be a conspiracy theorists too, because none of it is true or real. They can’t build these things. It’s not going to work. They are not going to get off the planet. They’re just going to kill us all. And so what you end up doing is fueling this awful kind of “blood and soil” reclamation of the human. Take the text of my book Team Human about reclaiming the human and asserting our rights as human beings, and compare it with the inauguration speech of the new Italian Parliament leader, a fascist-leaning woman. She’s saying almost the same thing, right up to where she says, “They’re trying to do a race war against good, white Christians.” That I don’t talk about. We have to understand this technocratic solutionist orthodoxy only fuels the worst kind of paranoia, which is maybe the most dangerous thing about it.

Robinson  

You write about a friend who got into QAnon. Someone you respect and who is smart can go down these rabbit holes.

Rushkoff  

They do! There was a great piece in Vanity Fair about the intellectuals going off to Peter Thiel’s ranch in Montana and having dinners, like Tucker Carlson and others into this and that. Just as in the early Mussolini fascist movement, there were artists and intellectuals who were really part of that movement. Thiel is not a fascist, technically; he wants a techno-monarchy, with someone like him in charge. But, it’s based on the same idea that civilization itself has gotten too corrupt, with all this ambiguity, social justice, and confusion. It’s slowing down the necessary unbridled progress of mostly white males, or American style culture. I get it, they’re afraid because things are changing. Even Hispanic women have rights and the work they do matters. It’s hard and they feel bad. Many of them have personal histories and are scared of getting me-too-ed, and so they’re siding this way. It’s a great career move for any intellectual to go Trumpist at this stage and get more attention and followers on Substack. But it’s not a soft open comportment, it’s something else, and that’s really how to read it. Look at who’s angry: What are they angry about, and how do they express that? Are they engendering a more caring society, or something else?

Robinson  

Yes. It does cross my mind sometimes how much more money our magazine could make if we went anti-woke, but of course it’s evil. You don’t want to be evil.

Rushkoff  

Not being evil, as Google found out, is overrated. They got rid of it.

Robinson  

“Do no evil—do we really need this? Is this that important?” I thought that was a real sign of the time when Google dropped “don’t be evil.” To finish here, your book is a critique of this mindset and a warning about the terrible world some of the most powerful and wealthy people are building, but implicit in your book is an alternative philosophy and embraces the weird, the democratic, and biological life. I always think of it as plants rather than computers—it embraces the material, the feminine, the diverse, and the inexplicable. Where do we begin to construct our alternative to the dystopias we see as part of our possible future?

Rushkoff  

It’s funny, I don’t see the book as a warning or scary. The true starting place is being able to laugh at these people. These are stories about how funny and pathetic many of our business and cultural heroes really are. I was at a party with a guy who started one of the major social networks, and they were worried about my social media posts that question artificial intelligence—that once the AIs are in charge, what are they going to do to once they find out? He told me he doesn’t post anything at all about AI because he doesn’t want them to know how he feels. And I responded, “If the AIs are that smart, they’re going to be able to infer how you feel based on your selective omission of those discussions.” And his jaw drops, “Oh, no!”

Robinson  

It’ll get its revenge, right? 

Rushkoff  

Hopefully stories like that help people see that’s not the way, these guys are crazy. And the answer is so painfully simple: Meet your neighbors, learn to share. If you’ve got to make a hole in the wall, don’t go to Home Depot and buy a minimum viable product drill that’s going to break in 90 days. Knock on your neighbor’s door and find out who’s got a good drill that you can use to make that one hole, and then bring it back to them and tell them they could borrow your lawnmower or whatever you got. Then take it a step further and realize you don’t have to feel guilty that you’re not helping the drill company sell more drills. It’s not our job to service the economy, it’s the economy’s job to service us. And if an exponential growth-based economy turns out to not be compatible with life, as there’s nothing that grows exponentially in nature—except cancer, which kills its host—if we realize that then we remake an economy that serves human beings. It’s not that hard. You do it locally. And locally can mean not geographically locally, necessarily, but not scaled. The more we do in unscaled ways, the more air we take out of the stuff that is scaled, and it sort of happens naturally without revolution or anything. The less you buy at Walmart, the fewer Walmarts there will be.


Hear the full conversation on the Current Affairs podcast.


Transcript edited by Patrick Farnsworth

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A wonderful spring issue touching on important issues such as child liberation, whether humans really love animals, why Puerto Rico's political status remains a problem, what Islamic finance can teach us, and how 'terrorism' has become a shape-shifting word. Welcome to the Manos-Fair, and enjoy Luxury British Pants, among other delightful amusements!

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