Understanding the mega-rich mindset

My book review is published today in The Saturday Paper:

Douglas Rushkoff
Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires

How will the world end? If you’re a tech billionaire, you’re likely already imagining the grisly final act. When American Marxist media theorist, graphic novelist and early cyberpunk embracer Douglas Rushkoff is invited to speak to a group of five extremely wealthy men in a remote location, he encounters their fear, paranoia and preparations for the end of civilisation. One, after informing Rushkoff that he’s nearly completed his underground bunker, asks: “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The event is the seemingly inevitable apocalypse. It could be through environmental collapse, social unrest, a nuclear attack, a rampant computer virus or deadly disease. What Rushkoff soon realises is that these billionaires, and many like them, subscribe to The Mindset, a philosophy that “allows for the easy externalisation of harm to others, and inspires a corresponding longing for transcendence and separation from the people and places that have been abused”. It’s a belief that wealth and technology can insulate them from the rest of us – at least until they need to exit their remote location for essential supplies and fresh air.

In this compelling short book, Rushkoff both explains what the billionaire class are hoping to escape – such as climate breakdown and mass migration – and how unrealistic it is. Many of the richest people on the planet have no plan to successfully avoid any of it, despite claiming a divine right to live forever or to colonise other planets. They convince themselves that they’ll succeed with an extreme form of class warfare, while completely ignoring the vast bulk of the world’s population.

However, these bunker strategies make no sense. “The people and things we’d [the wealthy] be leaving behind are still out there,” Rushkoff hears the rich saying. “And the more we ask them to service our bubbles, the more oppressed and angry they’re going to get, and the more bubbled we will want to be.”

In an age where most of the media fawns over every idea, tweet or fashion choice of the mega-rich, from Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos to Bill Gates, it’s worth asking why. Rushkoff has the pedigree to challenge the bullshitters. While Silicon Valley preaches progress, innovation and transformation, “usually these are just euphemisms for conquest, colonisation, domination and extraction”. Their ultimate aim is to monopolise everything – and none of us should be seduced by it.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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