Today on the show, we’ve brought on Douglas Rushkoff to talk about his new book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.
Douglas is a Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at Queens/CUNY and a research fellow at the Institute for the Future. Named one of the world’s ten most influential intellectuals by MIT, he hosts the Team Human podcast and has written many award-winning books including: “Team Human”, based on his podcast, as well as the bestsellers “Present Shock”, “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus”, “Program or Be Programmed”, “Life Inc”, and “Media Virus”.
He coined such concepts as “viral media,” “screenagers,” and “social currency,” and has been a leading voice for applying digital media toward social and economic justice.
In this interview, we explore the strange, dark expressions of AI futurism and tech utopianism growing within the billionaire class. Island bunkers, missions to mars, the Metaverse, and the impulse to escape in the face of looming climate and social collapse. These are the fantasies of the rich and powerful, but there is an alternative path for humanity, one anchored in mutual aid, disaster collectivism, and human interdependence. We explore all of this and more in this episode.
- Host: Tom Llewellyn
- Presenter and editor: Robert Raymond
- Theme Music: “Meet you on the other side” by Cultivate Beats
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For a full list of episodes and resources to strengthen and organize your community, visit www.theresponsepodcast.org.
Below is a full transcript of “The Response: Survival of the Richest with Douglas Rushkoff”
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:00:03] The fact is, we live on an abundant planet with more than enough to go around, even with 8 billion people here. And if we adopted a commons-based model of how do we share the abundance rather than how do we market the scarcity, we end up with a very different reality. And it’s not rocket science. The only people it doesn’t favor are the super-wealthy, selfish people who want a disproportionate share and need to keep us competing with each other in order to maintain their monopoly on power over us.
Robert Raymond: [00:00:47] Welcome back to The Response, a biweekly interview and audio documentary series where we explore how communities respond to disaster — from hurricanes to wildfires to reactionary politics and more. I’m Robert Raymond.
[00:01:01] Today on the show, we’ve brought on Douglas Rushkoff to talk about his new book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. Douglas is a professor of media theory and digital economics at Queen’s/CUNY and a research fellow at the Institute for the Future. Named one of the world’s ten most influential intellectuals by MIT. He hosts the Team Human Podcast and has written many award-winning books, including Team Human, based on his podcast, as well as the best sellers Present Shock, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc, and Media Virus. He coined such concepts as viral media, screenagers and social currency, and has been a leading voice for applying digital media toward social and economic justice.
[00:01:53] In this interview, we explore the strange, dark expressions of AI, futurism and tech utopianism growing within the billionaire class. Island bunkers, missions to Mars, and the impulse to escape in the face of a looming climate and social collapse. These are the fantasies of the rich and powerful, but there is an alternative path for humanity, one anchored in mutual aid, disaster collectivism and human interdependence. We’ll explore all of this and more in this episode. Here’s Tom Llewellyn, who’ll be conducting today’s interview.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:02:39] Hey, Douglas. Hey. Welcome to The Response.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:02:42] Great to be responding with you.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:02:45] So I feel like the last time that I saw you in person was actually in 2019 when Shareable hosted one of your tour stops while you were promoting your last book, Team Human. And I feel like you told this story that was kind of the genesis for this book back when you were on the tour for that.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:03:03] That’s true.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:03:04] So excited to get to dive into this a little bit more.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:03:07] Yeah.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:03:08] First, wondering kind of how is the conversations around this topic been being received?
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:03:13] Well, it’s interesting. I mean, you know, so like you said, the genesis of the book was this weird experience I had where I was supposed to do a talk and it turned out to be just five billionaires who wanted advice on their doomsday bunkers. And it became this conversation about, you know, how do I maintain control of my Navy SEAL security force after my Bitcoin’s Not worth anything, you know? And so it was this nuttiness.
[00:03:37] And the interesting thing is I use that story as a springboard to look at this kind of tech bro billionaire Silicon Valley mindset, you know, which is important. It’s like the set and setting for the Internet revolution and why we have these sort of extractive, repressive, dehumanizing, techno-solutionist monsters at the helm of civilization right now. But most of the conversation around it seems to focus on, oh, what are the crazy stories of the tech billionaire bunkers? How do the bunkers work? Where should I put my bunker? How do you grow food? How do you take control of your security force after the thing?
[00:04:23] And I’m like, No, no, no, no, no. That’s meant as a hilarious and impossible approach to our collective impending trauma, right? That the idea is that surviving the apocalypse as an individual is impossible, that we have to do it together. Talk to any self-respecting prepper, and even they will tell you the first step to prepping is make sure everyone on your block is prepping also, right? Otherwise, you’re the one family in the Twilight zone who’s got the bomb shelter and everybody else is banging on it. That’s not viable, right?
[00:05:03] So the interesting thing to me is that the way our media works — and this is what folks like Donald Trump knew well how to take advantage of — is everybody is looking at the figure and no one is looking at the ground. It’s like the great Western crime. We see this subject, but we don’t see the landscape. So we look to the catastrophe on the screen, but not what are the contributing factors of that. Or we look at the solution, but we don’t look at the second and third-order impacts or effects of it. We look at the company and not the externalities. We look at the wealthy billionaire, but not what it costs for him to become the wealthy billionaire. So it was interesting to use such a provocative hook, like the billionaires who asked me for advice on their bunkers. The hook dominates the conversation to the point where it’s so hard to talk about how did we get here, what is the mindset and how do we how do we think differently?
Tom Llewellyn: [00:06:03] Yeah, I mean, I think as you were kind of laying out the concept of the mindset, which maybe you could go into a little bit more detail, I couldn’t help, but as I was listening to the book, because I listened to you orate the book rather than reading it…
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:06:15] Oh great.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:06:15] That was a good way to get it. As I was listening over the last couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but think about the documentary, Adam Curtis’s documentary, All Watched Over By Machines of Love and Grace and the kind of techno-topia idea that will be able to somehow design our way out of these problems with the same machinations that have got us into the problems to begin with. And I feel like that is pretty ever-present in kind of how you describe it being the mindset.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:06:47] Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of — I mean nothing against techno solutionism. If you’ve got a technology that can solve a problem, that’s great. But what most of our technologists aren’t realizing is that the techno solutions they’re coming up with always have this caveat, which is — how can I save the world with technology and make a billion dollars in the process? Even things like the Green New Deal. It’s like, well, what about just green? Does it have to be a New deal? Also, what if it involves sacrifice? You know, what if it involves the wealthiest people on the planet being less wealthy, right? What if it means degrowth? What if it means, you know, surrendering something?
[00:07:29] So it’s not about, oh, how can I use technology to make it so everyone can still drive as much as they drive now, only not hurt the planet. Sorry, that actually doesn’t work, you’re still going to hurt the planet. So maybe we could do a whole lot of stuff and earn a whole lot of money and make cars that are 70% less energy intensive. If you don’t look at the production and the destruction of the car. What about the transition to that and digging up all the lithium and the rare earth metals and the molybdenum and the slave labor and the stock market and the this and that and this and that?
[00:08:00] How about, wait a minute, what if people don’t drive to work? What if people share cars? What if people meet their neighbors? There’s so many simpler solutions, but the mindset doesn’t allow for that. It’s always this pedal to the metal. The next thing that doesn’t question all the stuff that went before it. We’ll disrupt the car market, we’ll disrupt the book market, we’ll disrupt the hotel market, but we won’t disrupt the corporate capitalism that’s driving it all underneath.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:08:30] Yeah, I mean, I was also thinking, as I was listening to the book about — something that I’ve thought about a lot is the concept of living off the waste of a wasteful society. You know, I personally, I spent 2007, I got about two-thirds of all of the food that I ate by dumpster diving. And, you know, I have lots of friends that did that, know people who still do that now and, you know, would go to REI and get boots and shoes and clothing out of the dumpster and distribute them to friends. And, you know, really thought about this idea of living off the waste of a wasteful society.
[00:09:03] But it’s a limited response. You know, like, there has to be this much waste before we can live off of it, right? It’s that overarching system that’s not being addressed. And I think there’s a certain idea — you know, a really good friend of mine, he had a friend who was a flight attendant, you know, and he was like super environmentalists, super against, you know, everything. Also big dumpster diver, you know, all this whole thing. But he would fly all over the world because he got free flights. He’d be able to do standby and he’d be filling in an empty seat. But he was still able to live this lifestyle. You know, like the lifestyle wasn’t changing. And he had a privilege that allowed him to fly while justifying it to himself. But he was still living the same lifestyle.
[00:09:51] I was still able to get all the same things and eat the same food that I’d be buying at the front of the store by going to the back. But I had a privilege that allowed me to go and do that. And so I think that there is this — you were talking about like, you know, you didn’t say the name, but, you know, fancy electric cars that people are able to justify continuing to drive because they feel like they’re making this change. And that was one of the other things that I that I thought about a lot while I was listening was that, yes, you know, you’re really focusing on, you know, the elite and their escape fantasies. But I think that they just have a lot more privilege. I feel like a lot of us have some form of an escape fantasy.
[00:10:30] You know, that maybe it’s base level preppers or, you know, and you talk about this in the book as well, you know, the history of white flight. And, you know, also kind of another side that we don’t necessarily put in the same place, but, you know, people escaping the eco villages and the back to the land movement, which I’m you know, a child of. There was still a similar kind of concept of trying to figure out how do we escape and prepare for what’s coming.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:10:56] Yeah, I mean, I decided to write this book and you’re right. I mean, I read it after Team Human — and Team Human is kind of the answer. What do we do? We’ll find the others, you know, meet your neighbors, start sharing things, all that team harmony stuff. But I decided to write this one when COVID happened, you know, partly because I was going to be directing plays when COVID happened, I couldn’t because no one was going out or even rehearsing together.
[00:11:21] But also because I felt like during COVID, the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was adopting a bit of that billionaire prepper mindset, you know, Oh, maybe it’s okay for me to have the Amazon doorbell, and prime delivery and GrubHub and FreshDirect and all the things that, you know, wealthy people get. And fully aware that there’s an underclass of people who are exposed and out in the COVID-riddled streets, you know. In some sense, yeah, working in the meatpacking plants, getting disease while we’re staying in our little homes. And the wealthier people in my community were getting like private tutors and making these little like private school pods in their backyards and actually getting — and this is the sad part, getting to live the life that they actually kind of secretly wanted to live all the time. And now they had an excuse to do so.
[00:12:17] So yeah, I felt like the billionaire mindset was trickling down to everyone — that kids were looking at Elon Musk and thinking that, oh, he made all this money with Bitcoin, maybe I can produce an NFT, you know, or, you know, everyone’s got their little — they’re going to stake their claim to the digital thing, whatever that is, that’s happening. So I wanted to kind of look at that. How have we internalized the values of these folks and, you know, and what can we do about that?
Tom Llewellyn: [00:12:49] Yeah, and I definitely felt that to a certain extent myself. Like, I feel like, you know, I’ve worked from home for the last decade, just about and during the pandemic, my wife was working from home, too. It was great. I wasn’t by myself, you know, and there was a certain amount of privilege of being able to stay home and to be able to connect to my neighbors.
[00:13:13] And I think that was not just something that I — you know, I’m living in this town of about 225 people in the woods behind Oakland that’s in semi-autonomous, unintentional community that was very well set up to be able to adapt for these situations, you know, And we’d already had, you know, here in California, the just terrible fires, you know, that had been coming for the last number of years. I mean, starting really in 2017, that was partially one of the genesis of this show, you know, the Tubbs fire there in Northern California. And, you know, year after year, we had these huge fire events, these big smoke events, and we, you know, started distributing masks and building air filters for each other.
[00:13:54] And so when the pandemic came, like we already had the social infrastructure set up, I wa, you know, very fortunate for that I’d only just left the community house. I was living in Oakland with 14 people like three months before the pandemic happened. And it was very well-timed. Much better to be in my own place within a community of 225. But I feel like a lot of people like, you know, that were on the ground, you know, in communities all over the place did very similar things where they took this shock and they withstood and they figured, you know, this is my opportunity to connect with my neighbors. You know, there’s now a reason that I can justify going and knocking on their door to see if I can offer support in some way.
[00:14:37] You know, And that was kind of one of the benefits that came out, you know, really that that’s kind of the disaster collectivism, that’s the mutual aid. But on the other side, there was a certain amount of that disaster capitalism. And, you know, something you talk about in the book is the great reset, right? And this kind of top-down opportunism and wonder if you can kind of just kind of talk about that juxtaposition between, that kind of difference between, the disaster capitalism and the disaster collectivism.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:15:07] Well, yeah, disaster collectivism is what you know, most of your listeners probably already, you know, think about and believe in, which is the more you know your neighbors, the more you’re borrowing, the more resilient your community will be and the less likely a disaster will befall you. You know, and if a disaster or catastrophe does, you’re going to be a whole lot better situated. You know, it’s like the blacks outside Tulsa who had, you know, Black Main Street that people know about now from watching The Watchmen. But this was a community of people who were, you know, legally cut off from the larger national economy because they were Black. They weren’t allowed to be part of it. So there’s no Walmart.
[00:15:45] But because of that, there was also no great sucking sound from corporate America. They had to be self-sufficient. So they ended up developing the means for a basic circular economy where I invest in your business, then your business does better than my main street is better. Then my tax base goes up, then my schools are better. You know, it’s a circular investment where instead of earning $10, once you’re earning $1.10 times and the communities got really wealthy and then the white communities near them that were supposed to be wealthier because they were connected to the big economies, we’re looking at this Black community and going, Wait a minute, why are they doing well? Why are they middle class? And I’m still poor and that’s why they went and rioted,
[00:16:25] You know, but those basic techniques are what we’re talking about as sort of disaster collectivism, which you don’t even need the disaster to do it. I mean, fortunately, yeah, you got to make a hole in the wall. What are you going to do? Most people are going to go to Home Depot, get a minimum viable product drill, you know, that you’ll charge up and maybe use for that one hole and maybe you’ll get it working for the second one. Then it’s busted and you throw it out. Right? Instead of what? Just going — go to Sam’s house, knock on the door and say, Sam, can I borrow your drill? I know it’s hard. It’s really hard to go and have the guts to ask Sam to borrow his drill, because then Sam’s wife may ask you for something, right? She may ask you to help her kid with math homework or to help them, you know, hold the Christmas tree while they put the base under it.
[00:17:15] These horrible, horrible things that it turns out are the most fun, great, wonderful bonding experiences you’ll ever have in your life. Is holding up the Christmas tree or giving a math lesson to the neighbor’s dyslexic kid and realizing, Oh, that’s why you see threes backwards. You know, you might want to check this out and all of a sudden everybody loves you because you figure something out and helped their lives. It’s like, ugh.
[00:17:38] The other way is basically what most of our tech pros do. It’s like they go to Burning Man and do some ayahuasca and then, you know, Mother Earth speaks to them and it’s like, oh, you know, Elon [Musk], you know, or Peter [Thiel], I’m dying, the trees or the air and the people can’t breathe, save me. And then, you know, on the G-5, back to Mountain View, they go, Oh, I’m going to develop a software stack to save humanity. And it’s going to be for these eco-cities with blockchain management and recycled pee and, and all this solar, this and all that. As long as I can just clearcut a forest and build my SimCity village there.
[00:18:26] And it’s where you get, you know, and these are the same guys that will end up going to the Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum and help him develop Game B or the Great Reset or Civilization 2.0, which is always, you know, let’s use technology to get everything on the blockchain and build carbon sequestration technologies and desalinization plants and basically pedal to the metal so that rather than the one unmovable piece of the pie, the unmovable piece of the puzzle is international corporate conglomerate, capitalist investment and extraction — that stays the same. But now we can do it by sending kids into mines to get rare earth metals, to build your lithium batteries for your solar panels and all that.
[00:19:16] And nothing against solar panels. I’m sure they’re better than burning oil, you know, and probably nuclear is better than burning oil for that matter. But even if we want to transition everybody to everything all the time, just read your, you know, watch your Nate Huggins movie. You know, the cost of transition is so great that the only solution is to use less energy while we transition to something else, not transition in order to keep using as much energy as we are.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:19:47] Yeah, but that’s not sexy. That’s not comfortable, right?
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:19:50] It’s not sexy. It’s not comfortable. And you don’t make a billion dollars. Yeah, right. And that’s the thing.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:19:56] Yeah, you ever watched George Carlin?
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:20:00] Yeah.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:20:00] He goes down — the problem with homelessness is that there’s no money in it. If there was money in it, people would go after it. But there’s not if everybody could skim off a little bit money on the top and on the side here and there, we’d have those solutions. Yeah, I think that’s one of the big things is that, you know, we’re not going to be able to continue to increase our energy consumption, continue to live outside of our bounds. There does have to be a certain amount of degrowth. And it can feel great.
[00:20:29] I mean that’s the thing. Like during the pandemic, you know, people weren’t driving around so much and we saw the amount of carbon emissions go down for the first time, you know, in the last however many decades. And people got to feel like what it was to stay and be a member of their communities. In a weird way, like you’re saying, getting deliveries, not interacting in the same amount of ways, you know, whatever. But they were able to have a greater sense of place and a sense of belonging. I mean, that’s one of the things that I really focus in on a lot was that, you know, while it felt like the first time where there was people all over the world that were all dealing with the same crises at the same time, because, yes, we’re we’re dealing with climate change but it’s all these different symptoms all over the place. You know, we’re dealing with capitalism, with extraction ism, but it’s all these different symptoms that were different. And this was the first time that we were able to focus in on a single symptom.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:21:20] But think about what we’re doing here. We’re here trying to sell the upper middle class on the idea of community and relationship and fun. You know, it’s like, Hey, guys, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be all right. You know, you can meet your neighbors. You could maybe have sex, you could maybe play baseball or football with people or enjoy other people’s kids. There’s this — like, it could be fun. That we have to actually do that is the funny thing because and that’s where the mindset is so awful.
[00:21:56] You know, these are folks who, you know, I tell this story about, you know, at the end of the book, how when I was a kid, we lived in Queens, we were working class and there was one barbecue pit at the end of the block. Everybody used it. It would be like torched from Friday evening, right through Sunday afternoon, your mom would send you down with some weenies, some neighbor’s mom would — well, to me, the neighbor’s mom, but to her, it’s a neighbor would then cook the weenies for your kid, you know. And we trusted each other. They cooked our weenies and we ate. And it was this great, fun weekend-long thing. Kids would play kickball and whatever dodgeball around at the end of the block. And it was great.
[00:22:32] Then my dad made more money. We moved to Larchmont then to Scarsdale, these wealthier, upper middle class, Westchester towns. And all of a sudden there’s no barbecue pit at the end of the block. That’s déclassé. That’s what poor people do. Everyone had their own barbecue in their own backyard. But you’re not barbecuing with the Joneses anymore. Now you’re kind of barbecuing against the Joneses, and they’ve got porterhouse and you’ve got filet mignon. So they get lobsters, you get Kobe beef. It’s like, who’s got the best one? But it was awful. It was me, my brother and my mom and my dad alone at our barbecue because we’re wealthy now.
[00:23:08] And it’s so hard to get that out of people’s heads that, no, you don’t want a private resort in Aspen — that’s not happy, that’s sad. And it’s tricky. And with diseases, it helps kind of recreate the excuse. Oh, well, now there’s COVID, now there’s RSV, now there’s the flu. So I guess we do need our own little thing. It’s like, No, actually you don’t. It’s the isolation and industrialization of our society that makes these sicknesses and diseases. These are the result of industrialization. It’s not that industrialization saves us from it.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:23:43] Yeah, you were talking about how weird it is that we somehow need to sell this concept to the middle class. And I feel like the reason why we have to sell it is that it is a counternarrative to what has been sold, like you were saying, for the last 50, 70 years coming out of World War Two and the mechanization, the better living through chemistry, the upward mobility. We’ve been programmed, you know, And I think that to draw from the title of your previous book, Program or Be Programmed, you know, we have been programmed to live a certain way.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:24:21] And it made sense at the time, right? There was no environment to worry about. People hadn’t imagined that yet, it’s the end of World War two, a whole bunch of guys are going to be coming back from the war. They didn’t want them to all be crazy like they were when they came back from World War One. It was bad scene, you know, those guys were not — they were not happy. So like, okay, what are we going to do? Let’s do a GI Bill, let’s build Levittown, put everyone in their own little house, don’t create any bars or places for them to gather so they won’t, like, unionize and get all crazy. Give them — everyone a little bit of a mortgage so they got something to worry about so they have to keep their job. It was a plan for social control, you know. And it was developed in part by, you know, Margaret Mead and Gregory Matson and smart social scientists and anthropologists for FDR, thinking it would it would be good. And in some ways, you know, so much of what we do is based in that kind of war, almost prison camp mentality.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:25:22] You know, what we understand about human beings as economic actors is generally it’s based in this thing called the prisoner’s dilemma, which is this sort of, you know, game theory thing. But the idea is you’re talking to two prisoners, right? It’s two people in jail. So, right, if you’re in jail in a situation where someone is going to have to go and spend a long time in jail, how are you going to make your choices? Well, those are not the preconditions, those are not the underlying assumptions of human society.
[00:25:51] You know, the fact is we live on an abundant planet with more than enough to go around, even with 8 billion people here. And if we adopted a commons-based model of how do we share the abundance rather than how do we market the scarcity, we end up with a very different reality. And it’s not rocket science. The only people it doesn’t favor are the super wealthy, selfish people who want a disproportionate share and need to keep us competing with each other in order to maintain their monopoly on power over us.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:26:25] For as long as they possibly can, even if it’s to the bitter end.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:26:30] Even if it’s to the bitter end.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:26:31] Yeah. And I mean, I think that’s kind of what really stands out for me with the like, bunker mentality.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:26:38] They need a bitter end.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:26:40] Yeah
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:26:41] Because they’re stuck in the Marvel end game. You know, a marvel movie doesn’t work unless you get that endgame and you can’t justify being that evil and selfish to other people unless we are on a Titanic. So they love climate change because climate change means, you see, I’m justified in getting my AK 47 equivalent nuclear, tranched, you know, eco-farm. You know, for me, my gorgeous wife and 70 harem members, you know, so I can spread my seed and eventually go to Mars and build a dome and terraform and do all I’m going to do.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:27:15] Yeah.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:27:15] What if it doesn’t end? You know, that’s the real nightmare for them. What if we’re not going to do climate change? What if we don’t? Then, you know, it’s like that family that comes out of the bunker in the Twilight Zone episode. It’s like, Oh, false alarm. Uh oh. Because he didn’t let anybody in there. So these guys are working under a presumption of a survival of the fittest that don’t till there’s just one person left standing.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:27:42] Until there’s a rapture. I mean, that’s the — I mean, really, it’s like, you go back and you look at history, you look at the this is like a continuation of a kind of archetypical idea that, you know, at some point in time this is all going to end. And how can I make sure that I’m one of the chosen ones that gets to survive for as long as possible? I mean, that’s survival of the richest, But at the same time, do all these tech millionaires and billionaires really want to live with each other in a bunker? Are they going to get along.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:28:17] They’re not going to live with each other. Each has their own. Maybe they’re networked on Mastodon, right? So they have a satellite through which they communicate. But no, each one has his own harem. It’s the Jeffrey Epstein thing. When he was building a New Mexico, you know, it’s had like 40 bedrooms for his teenage brides, you know, to, you know, birth his little babies and stuff, you know, And I’m sure he’d rotate them out, so there’ll always be, you know, ten available ones in 30 pregnant ones.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:28:45] Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, another point that as I was listening to the book that I was thinking about is, there was a chapter that you focus in on a friend of yours who got kind of sucked into QAnon and it was making me think of something that I’ve thought about a lot is the bliss of certainty, the knowing that you know how things are, you know. And it can come from the I know things that other people don’t know. You know, I’m an early adopter and so I understand. But the idea of having the opportunity to feel so right about something, you know, so right that the event is going to come and I’m going to be out in front of it is definitely a feeling that I don’t think I have ever had or if I’ve had it, I’ve never had it for very long, you know. And at times I’ve been really jealous of friends of mine and people around that are able to be so sure of the things that they’re sure about. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten further and further away from surety, but I don’t know how how much that kind of ties into this as well.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:29:45] Well, it’s certainly in the — I have a lot of stories about people who are kind of orthodox scientism members. I don’t mean scientists, scientists ask questions, they use models, but people who are scientistic about things experience this kind of certainty, this atheistic certainty about how the world is. It’s like nothing going on here, just move along, nothing to see here. This is all materialist. You’re just atoms and consciousness is this emergent illusion. You know, the DNA perpetrates on a mammal in order to get us to keep it going. And, you know, this is real scientists, guys like, you know, Richard Dawkins believe that.
[00:30:27] But the problem is when you’re that scientific, that we’re just at the mercy of our genes, eugenics is one step away from that. I mean, there’s a reason that Jeffrey Epstein was funding the very scientists that I was engaging with in literary agent John Brockman’s living room, because they are all just saying, look, people are responding passively to genetic code and mimetic code and all you need to do is learn enough behavioral economics to manipulate all these people into doing what you want.
[00:30:56] So, you know, on the one hand, he’d have the scientists there and then he would do these — Brockman would — these seminars on behavioral economics and folks like Bezos and, you know, Larry and Sergey would show up at these things because it’s like, oh, this is what matters. How do we manipulate the masses with our technology? And the other ones, the kids then go to B.J Fogg’s Department at Stanford to figure out, you know, a technology behavioral modification, and then they end up taking the, you know, the algorithms from the Las Vegas slot machines and putting them in the social media feeds. And then the ones that finally see the light and go, Oh my God, I see how terrible this is. What they do is flip it. They go, oh, we were wizards in manipulating people in order to take all their money. Now we’re going to be wizards and manipulating people to get them to do good. You know, how do we get people to this and get people to that
[00:31:50] And, you know, I don’t even have to mention the names of these organizations. And some of them are very well-meaning psychedelic, Esalen-going, you know, technologists. But it’s the same crazy thing. As soon as somebody telling you they’re going to teach you like sense-making, right? You know, only cultism. Only cultism. Don’t let anybody make sense for you. You know, I’d like the QAnon people say, do your own research — but really do it. Yeah, right. Don’t just read tweets. And the real research means what’s your actual experience of life and others.
[00:32:24] And do we need — this is the other thing. And it was always so amazing to me with my friends who became, Q, it’s like, how dare we even have opinions on any of this? I remember I got called — I agree to all these interviews. You know, people text and usually it’s not that they know me or it’s just I became a name that someone to call. And I agreed to some interview on some podcast or radio show or something by email. And then I do it and I hook it up and they’re like, So tell us, what do you think of President Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal strategy? And I’m like, I don’t really know much. Well, sure. But yeah, but everybody on Twitter is talking about it. You know, it’s like, So what do you think of it I know nothing about how do you withdraw from war? I really don’t know how it’s done. It looks really bad. I mean, I see it on TV and there’s all these people trying to get on airplanes. It looks like a real mess, but I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know that I would be able to do any better. I mean, do you plan it longer or do they do you plan it shorter or get more planes there? Do you get Dick Cheney and Halliburton in there? I don’t know.
[00:33:33] But the fact that everybody thinks they need an opinion, that millions of people need to tweet what they think about the Afghan withdrawal strategy or anything like that, it’s like, I remember saying to the person on the radio, I said, well, what if just 100,000 people worked on that problem? Just take 100,000 to sit on a special Twitter group and let them tweet about it. So the other 100 million don’t have to, you know. I’m just going to vote for somebody who is going to pick somebody and — not to say don’t care about the world, but we could spend 99% of each of our effort on our local problems rather than looking at the giant generic ones. And we can at least alleviate so much pressure from these big things.
[00:34:18] If you’re getting your food from community-sourced agriculture, you know, go to a CSA or a club then, well, you’re that much less stress on this ridiculous global supply chain for food. You’re that much less of a customer for industrial agriculture. You’ve done so much more in that than you have tweeting angrily about how something is done. And there’s enough people, there’s — AOC will worry about the big question, you know, there’s enough people to do that for us to just, gosh, just get there to be one lawnmower on your block instead of ten, you know, tutor your neighbor’s kids, babysit, find the old people, help them dig your neighbor out from under the flood.
[00:35:03] There’s like more than enough for us to do. And the more of us focus on that, the better. I mean, it’s why I’m really I’m thinking the only way to set that example is to stop writing books and stop being public and just return to local myself, not with a mic drop, but with a whimper and just be like, I’m off doing something. You know, I said my piece, you know, goodnight.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:35:27] Well, I think there’s a happy medium there. Yeah. I mean, I think that there’s — but like you’re saying, like, how do you relieve some of the pressure off of the systems we don’t necessarily believe in. Yeah. That we’re semi-trapped in but there is a pathway forward. Yes, there is a pathway out.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:35:42] Even if it’s incremental.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:35:43] Even if it’s incremental.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:35:44] Step by step.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:35:44] Step by step, even if it’s small. I mean, it’s why, you know, for years I’ve been waiting to raise rabbits. The pandemic came, what did I do? I started raising rabbits so that I could provide a certain amount of my own meat. And you find the thing that works for yourself.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:35:57] I’m going to do the crickets, I think.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:35:59] Yeah. I’ve got a friend that was trying to start a business doing that. I ate a lot of crickets for a while. Yeah, but you figure out, you know, what is your entry point? Where in the system can you pull away in some way that one, supports yourself, but also, there’s not enough food in my community. If there’s a disaster that happens, that’s a skill that’s going to be necessary. And how can I bring something? How can I simultaneously put on that air mass for myself and somebody else?
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:36:23] Yeah, I was going to learn modern first aid, like I know, I know first aid from the seventies, but I can get, you know, get an EMT patch and just be like, Oh, Doug. Oh, someone’s hurt. Doug, come help. And it’s like, Tom, you know, I’m hungry. got an extra rabbit, you know?
Tom Llewellyn: [00:36:39] Come on over.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:36:40] I’ll set your kneecap when you break it or whatever and get it in a cast and you give me a rabbit and we’re all good.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:36:47] Yeah. Or we have a huge feast and people all show up and they bring what little bit they have. And we do a big stone soup. And I’ve got my non-GMO soup stone that I travel around the world doing big stone soups and getting people to remember how to share. And you know, and again, you bring the little piece that you have. And maybe you don’t have the medical skills. Maybe you’re not able to raise the rabbit. But that’s okay. You’re a member of the community. You show up in other ways. You’ve showed up in the past and we honor the way that you’ve shown up in the past by taking care of you in the present.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:37:18] Yeah. And the fact is, the majority of people don’t really need the skills. The majority of people are going to be like, fill these sandbags with sand, you know, go dig over there. We’re putting in the — you stick the little seedlings in like this, you know, or somebody get to clean out the fucking chicken shit from the coop, you know. And it’s not rocket science and I’ll let the other guy will be the permaculture expert who will know how to rotate the crops in this thing and send me out and tell me what to do.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:37:48] I mean, that really is what the response can and I think is looking like. I mean, like again, like we saw that with the pandemic, we’re seeing this in fits and starts. You know, there’s pockets of people that are thinking about this stuff. And the more that we’re able to connect with others, the more we’re able to find the others. And again, do this together. I mean, that’s yeah, you know, the first time that I killed an animal, it was a chicken and there was five of us and we all did it together. And it was a shared process, you know, and so it made it so that I felt comfortable doing that moving forward. I found the others that I could learn from, that I could build off of.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:38:24] And the funny thing is, you know, I was doing a talk and someone was saying, well, you know, do you think, you know, wealthy people or even the upper middle class would want to go do these horrible manual labor after they’ve been to college and they’re part of the elite? And I’m like, what do you think the multimillionaires do when they retire? They do craft beer, they do gardening, they do hunting. It’s like they’re doing all the things that we’re kind of asking them to do now. They do it when they don’t have to work anymore. So maybe, just maybe, these kinds of things, making candles, you know, collecting honey, all the stuff that we could do to actually stay alive in an environmentally sound way. Maybe, just maybe, these are fun things.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:39:10] And at the same time, do what we can to get in front of it, to reduce how bad these disasters are going to be moving forward.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:39:18] Yeah, I know. It’s not even avoiding them anymore, right? It’s not avoiding them. It’s just making the crash a little softer, which we can still do.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:39:29] It’s harm reduction.
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:39:30] Mmhmm.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:39:31] And so it’s figuring out, yeah, how do we reduce the impact of these — maybe not the event, but the events that are going to be coming no matter what we do now, best case scenario, they’re going to continue to come for decades and they’re going to get worse before they get better. And so we have to figure out how do we work with each other, how do we not demonize our neighbors, how do we reduce the secondary and third term harm of these disasters? And it starts by showing up, getting to know our neighbors and reducing othering, you know, in times when there is not a disaster. So I think we should probably leave it on that. I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to say before we wrap up?
Douglas Rushkoff: [00:40:13] Yeah, I mean, I guess the only thing I’d say is, I mean, I think the reason to buy my book, if you want to, or to get it from a library, even better, is it’s empowering to be able to laugh at these folks. Sometimes Peter Thiel and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, they can seem scary, you know, but when you actually are with them and talking with them and hearing how they think about AI and money and all the things they’re afraid of, you realize, oh, these guys are the losers. They’re not the winners. They’re crazy little loser people. And we are so much better off not trying to emulate them or even live in response to them or in reaction to them. But just — let’s just go about our business. And if we do, it will necessarily deflate their empires. The less dependent you are on buying some electronic vehicle from Musk, you know, the better.
Robert Raymond: [00:41:18] You’ve been listening to an interview with Douglas Rushkoff on his new book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, published by W.W. Norton and Company. You can find out more about Douglas’s work at Rushkoff.com.
[00:41:37] This episode of The Response was hosted by Tom Llewellyn and was presented and edited by me, Robert Raymond. Additional communications and operations support were provided by Zanetta Jones and Alison Huff. The Responses theme music was written by Cultivate Beats. Support for this show has been provided by the Shift Foundation, platform OS, and tax-deductible donations from listeners like you. This is a project of shareable.net, an award-winning nonprofit media outlet, action network, and consultancy promoting people-powered solutions for the common good.
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