This week’s Playback gets into the psyche of some big-money overlords — the ones who can’t make it to Mars with Elon, anyway.
In his wildly popular story “Survival of the Richest,” researcher douglas rushkoff starts off writing about an invitation he received last year to give a keynote speech at a deluxe private resort. Despite his misgivings about offering investment advice to incurious rich people, he went: The speaker’s fee was roughly half his annual professor’s salary.
But instead of the usual audience of wealthy retirees, he was greeted by “five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world.” On the face of it, they wanted Douglas’s advice on how to escape environmental collapse. But soon they began asking questions like “Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain” and “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?’” (“The Event,” meaning “environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.”)
Douglas realized that these one-percenters just shy of the .01 percent really sought an escape — and reliable protection from — human beings. To these billionaires, regular humans are the enemy: inferior, particularly in their unpredictability and insubordination, to robots and machines. So naturally, Douglas’s advice to focus on a humanist approach to apocalypse fell on deaf ears. These investors don’t want to invest in community and environment; they want to invest in themselves — in their own power and domination. This begs the question: Will the apocalypse happen to them, or have they already started it for all of us?
Listen to Douglas read his argument (3:00) — plus recordings from a technologist who learned that “fair” products are almost impossible to make — and then chat with host Manoush Zomorodi (16:20). The two get into Douglas’s self-described positioning as “the technology world’s old country doctor,” why preparation is the same as prevention as far as apocalypse goes, how many tech-evangelist billionaires don’t actually know history and digital technology’s relationship with individualism.
Press play at the top of this page to listen to the episode — or listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or your podcast app of choice.
Ten Questions with Douglas
At what time of day do you do your best writing?
Gosh, before I had a kid I used to have “best” times to write. Now, it’s just whenever I can get the freedom to do so. It’s more a matter of having a buffer. Time before writing to slide into it, and time after to adjust.
Where do you do your best writing?
I prefer to write in my office, with all my notecards of my book sections on the wall
Where do you do your best thinking?
The most difficult thing you’ve written?
Probably an email to my mom’s cousin, telling him she had died. But of my books, probably Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. The hard part was being really positive about how we can turn the economy around and make it serve people instead of growth-based corporations.
What’s your favorite word in the English language?
It used to be pizza. But I’m lactose intolerant. So now, I dunno, pudding?
What’s your favorite podcast?
I really like Jim Kunstler’s KunstlerCast. And my own, Team Human!
Future prediction you’re most excited about?
A sustainable environment through permaculture
Future prediction you’re most terrified of?
What piece of technology should never have been invented?
It’s not a matter of something never being invented. It’s more a matter of whether or not it gets used. It’s fine to invent stuff that sucks. The problem comes when we push it in spite of its flaws.
What Twitter or Instagram account should more people be following?
Don’t worry about it. You likely follow enough, already.