Gaming the Change: Douglas Rushkoff’s ‘Survival of the Richest’

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”

Buckminster Fuller

Though he said the above in 1980, Buckminster Fuller had been predicting that technology would solve the world’s poverty problem for decades before, and in 1977 the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that it would happen within one generation in their World Food and Nutrition Study. In addition to feeding everyone, Fuller was also an early proponent of renewable energy sources, and his research demonstrated that we had the ability to satisfy all of our energy needs, not rely on atomic energy, and phase out fossil fuels completely.

So what happened?

It’s easy to blame capitalism, but according to Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires (W.W. Norton & Co., 2022), there was at least one coconspirator. A religious belief in technology’s sovereignty and its ability to solve any human problem, what Neil Postman called technopoly: “the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology.”

Technopoly and capitalism, or more specifically, technologists and capitalists.

Rushkoff starts off the book recounting a shady meeting with five billionaires. They are planning their escape from the encroaching end times, and they want to know how to insulate themselves from the hoards that will come for the fortunes they’ve amassed. They want to know where on Earth they can retreat and suffer the least impact from the inevitable climate collapse. They’d also like to keep the security teams under their employ from revolting.

This bunker, escapist mentality is what Rushkoff calls The Mindset:

The Mindset is based in a staunchly atheistic and materialist scientism, a faith in technology to solve problems, an adherence to biases of digital code, an understanding of human relationships as market phenomena, a fear of nature and women, a need to see one’s contributions as utterly unique innovations without precedent, and an urge to neutralize the unknown by dominating and de-animating it.

Whether by spaceship or Singularity, those with The Mindset are out to escape the mess of the lowly masses.

In the meantime, they have us distracted by devices, fighting each other over planted political stories and straight up made-up shit. While we’re online flaming our friends and family over illusory social and cultural divisions, they’re dowsing the world with gas, watching it all burn down. We are the pieces in the game they’re playing. Whether they eventually escape to an island, another planet, or a matrix in their minds, they’re not planning on taking us with them unless we pledge to help maintain their post-apocalyptic peace.

Rushkoff doesn’t share my pessimism for the broken promises of technopoly. Like Buckminster Fuller, he still believes with the right tools and attitudes, we can right spaceship earth and turn things around.

Buckminster Fuller started his life’s work while on the verge of suicide. He realized that his life belonged to the universe, and he dedicated the rest of it to designing a better world for everyone.

If only a little but of his spirit can survive in our technology maybe the rest of us will too.