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Survival of the Richest by Douglas Rushkoff

There was a fairly typical ending to apocalyptic films around that 2012 era (when a few conspiracy theories were abounding about this calendar, or that event) that had the elite of the world taking off in private rockets, or submarines, or whatever escape vessel was required for the events of the film. We, the viewing audience, watched on with a mixture of disgust and envy as they shot off to safety in their cryogenic chamber or perfectly choreographed trip to safety. Now, ten years later, Douglas Rushkoff unpacks the reality of the world’s billionaires and their own plans for safe escape from a failing globe. Readers will no doubt find themselves much more confused than the film watchers all those years ago - now it seems like it is an actual plan for self preservation.

Rushkoff is a humanist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives. He is not, he takes pains to suggest, a futurist. He doesn’t like to make predictions, nor to advise on how to respond to the impact of increasingly concerning elements of climate change, or technology developments and how they search for worldwide domination (he cites the many plans in case of some kind of robotic uprising). What he does do, however, is point out where there may be some concerns in the way that morality and technology are increasingly blurring lines.

Referring to the blank slate of a new world - often depicted in games such as SimCity and Civilisation - is often how the billionaires of the world tend to look at the opportunities in new lands, new planets, new environments. Disney had the same idea - Walt Disney that is - and the result is the now recognisable Disneyland. Imagine the playgrounds of these billionaires as they consider not only the likelihood of life on earth, but on other possibly inhabitable planets. Need a few billion to begin some kind of system to create an environment on these hostile planets to allow life? No trouble, these guys have billions going spare. The likelihood of this new world fantasy is here, it is possible, it is reality.

Rushkoff talks about an experience he had lecturing about these ideas to a few of the world’s richest people - only to find that instead of talking about the dangers of these hedonistic plans, he was having to consistently point out the dangers to eager and impatient point one percenters.

Truly fascinating in its exploration of the fantasies of these rich listers, it is a little wordy in places as he tries to make a full text out of a pretty straightforward concept - these guys have plans. And they are verging on evil. Just waiting to pull the trigger and get the heck out of dodge as soon as things look bad. The world they created now is too ruined for their ability to make more exorbitant wealth. Perhaps that is why so many of the billionaires (certainly those under a certain age) are immensely hesitant to subscribe to the call from the Gates foundation for all billionaires to pledge to give all wealth to ‘the world’ - whatever that means. A pledge that, to be fair, a good proportion of the super rich have signed up to. But, as Rushkoff suggests, the uber rich are not necessarily the main ones to be concerned about. The top 10 are always under scrutiny. Then the next fifty are barely mentioned apart from a list every few quarters.

Highly worthwhile read to feel equal measure of concern and hopefulness. Just not at the same time.

Reviewer: Chris Reed



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