There are any number of events that could trigger a global apocalypse: climate change, a virus, nuclear war, an asteroid, the rise of artificial intelligence. Would anyone be able to survive? A group of elitist technology billionaires have seriously pondered this very question, spending a great deal of time and money to plan how they alone might outlive this inevitable catastrophic event, leaving the rest of us in the dust.
In Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, professor of media theory and digital economics Douglas Rushkoff (Team Human) explains how this evacuation plan came to be and what it means for the future. When Rushkoff was invited to an exclusive desert resort for what he thought was a speech on the future of technology, he was shocked to find that his audience was just five super wealthy men “from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world.” As it turned out, they had summoned him to pick his brain about how best to insulate themselves from “the very real and present danger” of a mass extinction, even asking him whether New Zealand or Alaska would be rendered less uninhabitable by the coming climate crisis.
Each chapter of Survival of the Richest focuses on a different aspect of how these tech billionaires have gotten to this place in our society and the origins of their entitled way of thinking. Rushkoff calls this Silicon Valley escapism “The Mindset,” a frame of mind that “encourages its adherents to believe that the winners can somehow leave the rest of us behind.” He skillfully uses his extensive background in media theory to explain The Mindset in such clear terms, it’s scary. For example, he proposes that The Mindset allows for the easy externalization of harm to others: Its very structure requires an endgame, with a clear winner and loser, in which the winners are the ones who have found “a means of escape from the apocalypse of their own making.”
Of course the irony in all of this is that “these people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society,” Rushkoff writes. “Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch.” Numbing and mind-blowing in equal measure, Survival of the Richest is a true story that seems straight out of a science fiction tale.