Survival of the Richest by Douglas Rushkoff

Subtitle: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires

What the top .1 of 1% think and how they look to control their lives and how they want to control the lives of the rest of humanity.

My notes from this intellectually engaging book..

Taking their cue from Tesla founder Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Palantier‘s Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or artificial intelligence developers Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.

page 5

This Silicon Valley escapism– – let’s call it The Mindset – – encourages it’s adherents to believe that winners can somehow leave the rest of us behind.

page 10

Studies have shown that the more power a person has, the less “motor resonance“ or mirroring they do of others. Of course, people seeking power may be predisposed to this behavior. But further research has suggested that after people have gained power, they tend to behave like patients with damage to the brain‘s orbitofrontal lobes. That is, the experience of wealth and power is akin to removing the part of the brain “critical to empathy and socially appropriate behavior.” Poor people are much better than their wealthy counterparts at judging other people’s emotions. Their capacity to make “emphatic inferences“ based on facial muscle movements is far superior.

As NYU business professor Scott Galloway has explained, “we’ve decided that capitalism means being loved and empathetic to corporations, and Darwinistic and harsh towards individuals.“ Government readily bailed out banks and businesses in a 2008 recession, and the Covid crisis increased total billionaire wealth from 8.9 to 10.2 trillion in just the first year, despite the pandemic’s negative impact on everyone else. 

page 34

The reduction of reality to information and humans to genotypes all too conveniently dovetails with capitalism’s imperative to render everything into a suitable form for the marketplace. Everything is data, and everything has a price, and everything can scale. The described, codified object is all that matters; anything else falls away like junk DNA, inferior species, or the majority of human beings. The wealthy technologist makes it into the cloud, while the masses are left behind competing against one another in the realm of matter. Like Christ or any other saved figure, only the fully encoded individual can be transubstantiated to the next level. 

So goes the atheistic eschatology  of The Mindset.

page 95

Bernays wrote the book on propaganda – – literally, it was called Propaganda – – in which he explained that the manipulators of public opinion are the true, invisible power in any society. The masses are too stupid to make decisions for themselves, anyway, so their rise to power in a democracy must be steered by propaganda, a “mechanical, advanced and necessary” science of population control. At the time, many journalists and politicians spoke out against Bernay’s tactics and beliefs. He and his colleagues, however, saw themselves as conducting an essential social service. The elite, and even progressives among them, feared the potential power of the unchecked crowd to wreak havoc. They witnessed the madness of crowds in Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union alike and wanted to prevent such crises from happening in America, much as Hillary Clinton feared the “basket of deplorables”, who might elect a demagogue as president, or those young technologists feared the insurrectionists at the Capitol. If one could only push a button and make that all go away.

page 101

Government emphasis on job training, high-tech skills and art general compatibility with a digital future has led schools to emphasize STEM—-science, technology, engineering and math – – over the softer, squishier subjects like English, Social Studies and Philosophy. Education has shifted away from liberal arts, which wrestle with those fundamental questions of purpose and dignity while also building the faculties required to think critically about media and messaging. Those skills are dangerous to leave behind.

page 146

Liberation from The Mindset…

Stop supporting their companies and the way of life they’re pushing. We can actually do less, consume less and travel less – – and make ourselves happier and less stressed in the process. Buy local, engage in mutual aid, and support cooperatives. Use monopoly law to break up anti-competitive behemoths, environmental regulation to limit waste, and organize labor to promote the rights of gig workers. Reverse tax policy so that those receiving passive capital gains on their wealth pay higher rates than those actively working for their income.

page 185