Lever Time - Billionaires Are Preparing For The Apocalypse — And You’re Not Invited (w/ Douglas Rushkoff)
10:50PM Oct 4, 2022
George W. Bush
everyone welcome to another episode of lever time the flagship podcast from the lever, an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host, David Sirota on today's show, we have a very busy show. We're gonna be talking about the recent implosion of not one, but two Republican US Senate candidates here in the lead up to the midterm elections. Also the Republican Governors Association and their new grotesque Facebook ads, which are attempting to raise money off of Republican governors cruel treatment of migrants. We're also going to be breaking down the new slate of Supreme Court cases coming down the pike for this current session, trying to potentially destroy what's left of America and American democracy. And for our big interview. Today, I'm going to be talking with the author Douglas Rushkoff about his fascinating and kind of terrifying new book called survival of the richest escaped fantasies of the tech billionaires because the ultra wealthy are planning for the apocalypse. And it turns out that the rest of us are not really invited. This week, our paid subscribers will also get a bonus segment, the best moments from our live show with Steven Donziger, the acclaimed environmental lawyer who sued Chevron and won a landmark settlement, but then paid the ultimate price when Chevron used its high paid legal team to put Stephen on house arrest and in jail. Ultimately, if you want to access lever time premium head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber that gives you access to all of our premium content. And you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at the lever. Speaking of which, if you liked this podcast and you'd like our reporting, tell your friends and family about the lever. The only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth and we need all the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit that is corporate media. As always, I'm joined on the show by producer Frank What's up Frank
not much dated I'm feeling good I'm feeling refreshed I'm feeling reset after the levers big work retreat that we had this past weekend out in Santa Fe
it was amazing I'm so glad we did it I was we all work remotely and and once a year we should do it actually more than once a year but once a year we all get together for Yeah, yeah, we all get together for a weekend and this this year we got together in New Mexico and it was all that you think New Mexico should be it's it's an amazing place. At one point we we our trip got delayed because we there was a shootout in a carjacking that was not that cool. There was another notch by the way, not a shootout or carjacking that we were involved it was
It wasn't like the Breaking Bad or like Better Call Saul set this was like a real real shooting that delayed our travel I
felt like a breaking bad episode or a better A Better Call Saul or at least Better Call Saul are breaking bad adjacent. Like it was very on brand for every time I every time I told people were a friend. We were going to New Mexico. They were like all Breaking Bad, right? So I'm like now we come back with like a sort of carjacking shootout story to I guess add authenticity to it. It was a great I had a great time. And I frankly, I love New Mexico and I'm thrilled to live in Denver, which is somewhat accessible to New Mexico is a long car ride. But it was it was great. And it was great to see you in person. We rarely ever see each other in person. It was
great. I got to meet like half of our team in person for the first time. And it really it really made me feel like I was a part of a team, which is something that I think we lack because we're all just looking at screens, you know, five days a week.
That's right. That's right now for the first half of today's show. Speaking of the work that you do, Frank on at the lever, you are the director of all things podcast. The first half of today's show, we've got a very special announcement. Next week, the lever will be launching our second podcast, officially making us the lever Podcast Network. The show is called the audit. And with us today in this first part of the show of lever time. With us today are the audits hosts, Oscar nominated screenwriter Josh Olson and stand up comedian and WGA nominated TV writer, Dave Anthony, who also had a podcast has a podcast called the dollar. Hey, Josh. Hey, Dave. Hey, David. So we're gonna get to the audit in a little bit, and we'll get to why it's called the audit in a little bit. But first, let's start with a little election season coverage. You guys have followed that you've covered that in your previous podcast about the West Wing, by the way, one of my favorite podcast. Specifically, I want to talk today about how the Republican Party has become an imploding supernova of law. Eyes, corruption and cruelty. I mean, just a kind of cartoonish implosion explosion. I mean, it really is taking it to like another level here. I mean, I think everybody a lot of people listening know that the Republican Party is full of Super Villains but they're really really leaning into this. So let's start with the Georgia Senate race. Earlier this week it was revealed that anti choice, let's put that in quotes. Republican nominee for Senate Herschel Walker reportedly paid for his girlfriend's abortion. In 2009. The former NFL star running against Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democrat, has claimed to be vehemently anti abortion, and has previously said that he wants to completely ban abortion with no exception that's, quote, no exception for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. This was all but confirmed by one of Walker's own children, Christian Walker, who went on Twitter the night that the story broke and wrote, quote, every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew of some of his past every single one, he decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public while simultaneously lying about it. I'm done. I mean, that was that was a direct quote. So I guess the first question on this as we move through the Imploding supernova, that is the Republican Party. Were you guys surprised to find out that Herschel Walker is apparently a pathological liar with no moral scruples at all? Shocked?
So, here's a question that I always come to with these stories. Donald Trump, like accused of sexual harassment, or all sorts of horrible pneus. Do you think this will actually hurt Herschel Walker's campaign? Will Republican voters in Georgia care about this? Will anybody care about this?
It will help him probably not it'll help him I'm not kidding. At some point we have to acknowledge that it almost seems seems as if they're running on what will make the Liberals angriest. And that is their entire campaign. And and that's who they're picking the people they're picking are are largely monsters, and everybody knew Herschel Walker has passed it's not like his visa passes is some magical thing that just popped up. He's has a terrible past. So why else would you pick this guy unless you knew he would infuriate liberal liberals
right but I but this isn't a story that infuriates liberals this in theory, if the Maga hard right was serious about what it says it's ideologically serious about right Well, I think that's that's the point
they're they're serious about enraging us and raging every so it's like if it will piss off if if it'll piss off Democrats. It's good. I mean, the fact that that yeah, I don't see a lot again, social media is not the world but you don't see a lot of Republicans going Oh, my God, I can't believe he's he's this lying sack of shit. But you are seeing all the Democrats going Oh, my God, and you know, people complaining that the mainstream media isn't hitting this hard and like nobody, they don't care.
So you're What's your you're making like a meta argument here that and if you look at Walker's response, Walker's response was this is not only not true, I'm gonna sue the media organization that brought this up that what you're arguing is is that the Republican the Maga ethos is to, is to say, we're the victim. Even if I'm trampling my alleged ideological crusade, I'm going to turn that into a positive for myself by saying look at them ganging up on me, the victim that it's all about being the victim, it's always
about being the victim. And I've always said like, every time every time a Democrat calls a Republican for hypocrisy, a devil gets his horns. They don't care. They laugh, it just it's funny to them. And, and, you know, even back in the days when we thought this stuff mattered, it was pretty clear that calling these people out of their hypocrisy was pointless. I mean, it's extreme. It's literally the only policy he's taken a position on. Right, right. And you sit there and you you have to resist the urge to do this deep dive. You're like, okay, so wait, do you really believe it's murder? And now there was another candidate recently, he was like, Yeah, I had an abortion that I came around to it now. I think it's murdered you like So you believe that? You're a murderer. And now you'd like to be in the Senate.
I mean, I mean, apparently. And by the way, just as we move on from this story, let's just remember how much of a complete shit show Georgia has become. I mean, this is actually kind of incredible. I mean, this comes two years after the 2020 election cycle, which saw both incumbent Republican senators from Georgia Kelly Lafleur and David Perdue credibly accused of insider trading in the lead up to the COVID pandemic, not to mention Georgia's wildly crooked Governor Brian Kemp, who signed the election theft bill in 2021. I mean, it feels like Georgia has really become America's factory for supervillains. I mean, there was the ad David Perdue, we were laughing about this over the weekend, David Perdue, the Republican senator aired an ad where the tagline reassures voters that he was quote, totally exonerate running
because the SEC can't do that,
of course, but it's like you're running for office being like, like the cops said, I'm not guilty, right, like the white collar cops. I mean, this is what Georgia has become now of course, only to be to be minimized by what's going on in Pennsylvania. My where I grew up, Josh, where you grew up. It was revealed on Monday, that Dr. Mehmet Oz the daytime TV doctor from New Jersey who's currently running for a seat in the Senate from Pennsylvania. He apparently murdered over three 100 Dogs throughout the course of his scientific research. This includes an entire reportedly an entire litter of puppies. I'm not laughing I'm a dog owner, I love dogs. But like how much more villainous? Can you become like, it's like they used to make a joke like, Oh, we're gonna find out that this political candidate you know, was mean to puppies like apparently, in real life Dr. Oz was like murdering actual puppies torture industry torturing. Yeah, it was
it was terrible.
I am literally working to make sure my wife I'm working to make sure my wife never hears a story because she will be on a plane to Pennsylvania.
Right. Okay, so here's, here's an interesting question about this. The Mitt Romney put the dog on the in the crate on top of the car thing I actually think that did real damage to Mitt Romney's prospects. Because while people don't get what people seem to get voters seem to care less about, you know, Mitt Romney, buying up companies and laying off 1000s of people as a private equity executive. I think people care a lot about puppies, and dogs.
There's an amazing scene in Starship Troopers. I remember after they bombed a Brazil, and it's just it's just completely nuked. And the camera just goes through all the devastation and there's dead bodies everywhere and blood and guts and decapitated heads. And you see it in the theater and the audience sits there in stunned silence. And then they cut to a dead dog and the entire audience goes, Oh, I mean, that's.
Yes. Right. So I actually think this this deal is like a real blow to Dr. Oz's campaign, don't you think?
Yeah, I think this one will, but he's already been
the Maga mind is not a mind we've ever encountered before. And it's it is a it is a cruel, vicious, absolutely do not care about life and death. They certainly don't care about the lives and deaths of people at all. I mean, as we've seen through you know, COVID They don't care. So I don't know how much it hurts them with that core group. But I think it does hurt them with some people that were like on the fence. I think killing puppies. I think we found it. Like that's the thing if they killed puppies, I think that's the one thing that can hurt.
No. I mean, I saw I saw Fetterman, John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, his Twitter feed. He was like, I think his tweet was something like Dr. Oz literally killed puppies and didn't even say anything else. Like that's it. Like it's the only thing to say because because I feel like that taps into something that's like way deeper than like, for instance, the story reporter which was you know, Dr. Oz wants to move lots of, you know, 1000s hundreds of 1000s of seniors into private health insurance will they'll where there'll be, you know, bankrupted and die lonely deaths. I feel like that story doesn't it doesn't get as much traction, then Dr. Oz literally tortured and murdered puppies because of the culture that we live in. Now, one last part. I want to get story I want to get to about the election. We reported the level reported on something truly horrendous with the Republican supernova. They the Republican Party is now doing a Facebook ad campaign paid for by the Republican Governors Association, asking people to tell them, which cities Republican governors should deport immigrants to the poll. This so called Poll lists San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Philadelphia as potential destinations. And it's actually a fundraising pitch they asked people to respond to the poll and then ask them to give money. Do you think these tactics will resonate with voters? Do you think? Yeah, you see, I think it'll be it'll fire up
the fact that that you know, Martha's Vineyard went oh my god, let's let's take the people in and help them out. It doesn't matter. It was like the story was everybody expected they go Oh, my God, get these fields. The migrants out of my home and they didn't. But that's still the story. That's the story that they're gonna report. That's the story they all believe.
And and it goes back to your theory about what what what the mogga movement is really about, which is just about pissing off pissing off liberals. By the way, one one thing to put an icing on the cake of that story. Would it surprise you guys to find out that the Republican Governors Association is being bankrolled by name brand corporations like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, CVS, Coca Cola, and Facebook? In other words, those brand names that everybody knows are effectively their money has gone to fund the group that is doing these ads.
I mean, certainly, certainly Exxon and oil companies. I mean, I think some people will be surprised that Coca Cola is in there, but you shouldn't be because, I mean, these are fascistic, sort of ideas that we're talking about when you get into flying immigrants around to different places and dumping them in places. And a company's always sided with fascism. They just do. It's it's part of the model.
Here's the one thing that keeps killing me because I think first of all, with both of these races, although ours may be toast, I don't know. But you know, you can expect that last minute influx of cash, right? Like, when Ted Cruz was running gets bailed out, I think like when Chantel Brown, you know, ran against Nina Turner, you do it a couple days before with this, you know, so that could still happen. And the thing that makes me crazy is I keep thinking like, Yeah, and you know, Biden could go down there, and he could promise to do something, you know, significant and impactful right now as soon as the election is over, if you support the Democrats, but he kind of, you know, kick the legs out of that chair, with with student debt. And it's just infuriating. Because all this stuff is so insane. People forget that there is a way to combat it. And it's not with, you know, similar rhetoric, it's like, fucking do something for people, you know, have a legalized pot and me, Dave, you know, better than me, like how many how many signatures would it take for Joe for Joe Biden to essentially legalized or decriminalized pot, and put everybody who's in prison for pot related charges out in the street?
It would not be that it would not be that hard. And you're pointing out popular
with everybody, you know, just there you go elections over, we're fine. We're done.
Right. Your your point about how to combat this is not necessarily only to point out the hypocrisy and the outrage of it, but to actually look like you're doing something to counter it. I think that's a really important point. Okay, one other set of stories I want to get to before we talk about the audit, although it is actually related to the audit, and we'll get to that in a sec. A related topic to the Republican imploding supernova is, of course, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court now stacked with Republican monsters. It just began a new session this past Monday, several hot button issues that the courts six to three conservative majority could once again have a seriously devastating impact on let me just run down a few of these cases. You've got a case that we'll be testing the legal limits of race based gerrymandering, Alabama Republicans asking this court to block a lower court ruling, which found that Alabama's new voting districts probably infringe on the landmark Voting Rights Act. You've got a pair of cases attempting to get rid of or gut affirmative action. You've got a case called Sackett versus EPA that will determine whether the environmental protection agency can regulate certain and protect certain wetlands connected to federal waters, or when there could lead to increased land development loosened restrictions on corporate polluters and allowed development to infringe on wetlands that actually help combat the climate crisis. Also, of course, clean water. Then there's more more V. Harper. This one is being portrayed as the apocalyptic one for democracy. Republican lawmakers in North Carolina appealing a ruling by their court, they're found that the voting map they drew amounted to illegal gerrymandering, a win in this case, would hand state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are conducted in their states, which sounds kind of wonky, but would basically let Republican legislatures decide where at least the theory is they could just decide what the election results are. All of I mean, this is like a horror show here. And I guess the question I would ask you is, you know, we tend to blame Donald Trump. I think he blamed Donald Trump. Give him an outsized amount of credit for the courts six to three conservative majority with those nominations and confirmations of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, but we also need to remember the stolen election of 2000 which handed George W. Bush the presidency, which resulted in the confirmations of John Roberts and Sam Alito, arguably the two leaders of the a shitshow Do you think that we've all forgotten how this all started?
I would actually take it even further back than that. And when Joe Biden oversaw the Clarence Thomas hearings, and and really pushed hard to get Clarence Thomas on the court. So it goes way, way back.
Well, in fairness, he didn't to be fair to him. He didn't push to have Clarence Thomas on the court
helped pave the way he made it easy
for he's on Mike saying, I will get you on the court to Clarence Thomas. Is he we have record of that. Yeah. He said, he said, I will get you on the court. Clarence Thomas, when there was a little side
voted. I mean, he voted against that. I thought the criticism was that he kind of botched the hearing, he did
not watch the hearing, I did a whole dollop episode, if you think the fix was in the fixes 100% in Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, that's really interesting. Well, I mean, here's your right, it goes all the way back, it goes way back. And I think there's not an awareness of, of, of the entire trajectory.
That's what makes me crazy, it's kind of just is there's not an awareness, and that that lack of awareness is encouraged by the people who should be going the other direction. I remember Nancy Pelosi being asked, you know, like, Did he Did you see this coming that they were gonna, like, you know, take out row? And she goes, No, not at all. I have no idea how it happened. And you're like that. I've been reading about the Federalist Society since I was a child, we have known there is an organization out there. It's not some weird conspiracy theory. They exist. You know, Donald Trump acknowledged that they were picking his picks for him. And and here's the Speaker of the House, claiming to have no idea how this happened, which makes her either incompetent or a liar. And, you know, it's why are they not calling this stuff out? At least?
Let's let's broaden it out even further. Here you have the Democrats, rhetorically, acknowledging that the court is completely out of control. You've got a situation where in polls, the public now has lost confidence in the court. I think the courts approval ratings trust in the court is now at a historic low. And you still have the Democrats, not in any serious way, pushing for an expansion of the court. I mean, you guys just did a long podcast series on the West Wing. And I think the central, the central idea of the of the critique in that podcast that the West Wing priority, the show the TV show, prioritize this idea of etiquette and norms over everything else. And it would fit with a kind of West Wing attitude to never pushed for any kind of structural reform at the court, because it would be too
impolite system is never at fault. Right. So do you think
West Wing brain is why the Democrats aren't actually still taking on the court? Yeah, I
think I think so. But I also think it's what you touched upon, which is the root of of that is American exceptionalism. They think that this thing that has been built is perfect and wonderful. But it's actually a very flawed system, as we saw when Chile only went 250 years with their republic, and also the Democrats, you bring up the George Bush election, the real reason that they backed off and didn't fight for that is because they're scared of Republicans. And they're scared of the reaction. And that just seems to underlie every single thing they do. It's to watch what the Republicans have done with the Supreme Court, essentially, steal an election, put the two people you just named on there, then just say, we're not going to see to your pick to Obama and the Democrats don't do anything, then Ginsburg doesn't retire in time. I mean, during the 2016, election, McCain said, we will not see any Court nominations of Hillary Clinton. That's who you're fighting act like him. They're not playing Democracy Act like it.
Well, we're talking about the past and how we got to this point. And I think your point about how the Democrats don't do what they need to do, and are mentioned of how this started this, especially with the court started way back reminds me of this guy.
There's an old saying in Tennessee I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says Fool me once shame on shame on you. It boo me boom, can't get fooled again.
I didn't know that you're I remember seeing that quote. I didn't know that George Bush was apparently a big fan of the who because of course, the second part of that seems to be the actual
lyrics of the song.
I bring him up because I do think George Bush is at the heart of so much of what we're living through, even though he's been resuscitated as some sort of some sort of a benevolent figure. And that brings us to the levers new podcast, the Got it. GEORGE that George Bush clip, I want you to explain one of you guys to explain what the audit is why it's called the audit and what the first set of episodes has to do with good old W
Yeah, so the audit is we're gonna be doing a series of mini series we're going to start with five episodes in which we sit in essentially on classes, audio books, documentaries, what have you by a great a great line from the great Bill Hicks the the most fevered egos of our time, and basically the last thing in the world, and you'll listen to the show and you'll get a clearer sense the last thing in the world any teacher would have wanted is David Anthony and Josh Olson sitting in the back of their class, razzing them. And that's basically what we're gonna do. We're starting with our people know this, there is a masterclass that George W. Bush recently did on leadership, where you can take a series of courses in him on how to be a leader how to run to be a CEO and effective CEO, how to deal with crises, all that kind of thing. So we're going through them and each arc, we're going to have what we like to call our study, buddy. For the first one, we're joined by the comedian Kate Willett, who's a brilliant, very funny woman. And we are going to dissect these things essentially sit through them, so you don't have to bring you the good bits, by which I mean, the bad bits.
So you're gonna audit George, you're gonna start by auditing George Bush's master class, okay, just to give folks a little bit of a taste of the the alleged genius, that people who are in this masterclass what they're going to get from George Bush, let's hear a clip of George Bush. This is recently talking about leadership and crisis management through the framework of 911.
It's important to develop a framework that allows you to make decisions based on a set of values and principles. With foreign policy, for example, after 911 My administration laid out a set of principles to deal with threats before they fully materialized.
I mean, I mean, you like, I can't even I don't even know what to say like that's, that's not parody, right? He's not satire,
no doubt rearrange his words to make them mean something else. Yeah, it's important to have a bunch of rules in place before something happens. And we came up with those rules after 911 happened, like we started a war
based on lies that killed a million people and cost 2 trillion.
The important thing about what he's doing and other people have used these and it's disturbing is they're using these masterclasses my way not to knock the whole thing, some wonderful classes you can take but these political figures seem to be using them to essentially whitewash their history. Because it's astonishing. I mean, he just lies his way through his eight years and but every now that he stumbles and says something like that, and it's, we're here to
it's not just white washing, it's it's I don't even know what it's like Newspeak.
It's propaganda. Yeah, no, it's it's 100% it like the whole thing is just from from getting that and even within a two minute chunk, he will contradict himself because each moment he's lying, to make himself seem better. And then I'll go to the next thing and you'll be like, Well, you're not you're saying the opposite. Because each moment he's just trying to redo his image. It's supposed to legacy it's all this is it is propaganda legacy material, but
like things went well in foreign policy after 911 That's completely fucking insane. Like that's, that's like totally insane, like,
but that's what they for years would run on. George W. Bush kept us safe from terrorism, which I maintain. One of the reasons that Donald Trump was president is that he's the first first time I ever saw somebody on national TV call that shit out. It was like, Yeah, Jeb Bush said, my brother kept us safe from terrorism, and Trump's and the thing that we all wanted to say, Yeah, except for 911. Schmuck.
So here's my question about the audit. What are you to hoping the audience gets out of you being gluttons for punishment to boil down? What monsters like George Bush are saying? Like, what what do you want the audience to get out of it? Other than it being fun, like lat lives like a laughing at kind of like, like, sort of shot in Freud the part of this but what should the audit What do you hold? That's right, of course. Right? Like throw it, like throwing spitballs at these folks in the front of the class. But like, what else do you hope the audience gets out of this?
I think that it's a step back from the people are just locked into, you know, I don't want to say teams, but this weird sort of American setup, and I don't think they are stepping back and looking at the way we are being played by these people. I mean, Americans are being played by these two groups. And especially George Bush is a great example because Trump came along. Now we're gonna redo his image. And now he's this gentle, nice guy. No, he's not. He's a war criminal monster. Top to bottom.
He presents faster than Trump. I mean, that's the amazing thing watching this. If you step back and you forget who he is what he's actually talking about. Nice likeable fellow sitting around talking about this guy. Let me give you some folksy wisdom you like I like him, like Oh right. He's a frickin war criminal, you know who's responsible for at least a million deaths. And and what has happened is because we've become even more entrenched in this team mentality, because he said some tepid criticisms of Trump. He's now embraced by Democrats and liberals and, you know, Michelle Obama hugging him and so forth. And we're not just we're not just sitting there because we don't like him and we don't want you to like him. It's really, really, really important that people learn how to great friend of mine, Harlan Ellison said Americans don't know how to hold a grudge. And it's like God dammit, you have to hold a grudge against these people, because they will come back in. They're doing it. David Frum isn't he over on MSNBC. Now you have these architects of the Iraq war who are being embraced. You've got these clowns at the Lincoln project who are making tons and tons of money that could be going to races where it's needed instead of lining their own pockets, because everyone believes that the old guard was good because Trump is so bad. That's dangerous. And we're here to remind you,
I want to underscore that point you just said about it being dangerous, I think ultimately, as hilarious it is that George Bush has a masterclass as absurd as it is as absurd as that clip we just heard is that it there is a deep danger in folks like that being able to kind of memory hole what they did in the past. And it's dangerous because it means it suggests we will not hold folks accountable in the present and future. In other words, there's no deterrent anymore to doing what they did the audit the new podcast premiering on Monday, October 10. The trailer is available now you can find it on every major podcast player by searching the audit or just go to lever news.com/podcasts. Dave And Josh where can our listeners find you on Twitter or anywhere else they can't find.
I protected but
protected they can find me at at Joshua R Olson. And they can also find every episode we did, we sent through every single solitary episode of The West Wing. Except one, you'll figure it out. And that show was still up the West Wing thing. We had amazing guests including David Sirota we had people like Marianne Williamson, you name it. And that led to this. But yeah, we're very excited to be doing this excited to be working with you guys. I'm still I apologize David it's always gonna be the lever to me.
That's okay. We people want to call the lever they can they want to call the lever that's fine. I'm thrilled that you guys are part of our the first step in our podcast network expansion. Again, the podcast is gonna be called the audit, find it lever news.com/podcast. Thanks for joining us here on lever time, guys.
Thanks for having us. Thank you.
We're gonna take a quick break, but we'll be right back with my interview with author Douglas Rushkoff about billionaires preparing for the apocalypse. Welcome back to lever time for our big interview. Today I'm going to be speaking with author documentarian and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, Douglas, his new book is titled survival of the richest escape fantasies of the tech billionaires. It's the story of how the world's ultra wealthy are currently right now, preparing to try to survive a potential world ending event like an ecological collapse a global pandemic nuclear war, or the climate apocalypse. But as you may have guessed, none of the rest of us seem to be invited. Hey, Douglas, how you doing?
Hi, great Good to be with you.
Your book survival of the richest escape fantasies of the tech billionaires I have a lot I thought a lot about this. I was obviously involved in the movie don't look up. Who's ending for those who haven't seen it deals with billionaires leaving the planet to try to survive on apocalypse. The title of the book obviously evokes the same image. The book is about this idea about billionaires fleeing, and what they're doing to try to insulate themselves from the crises they are creating. And it starts out with a real life meeting you had in the middle of the desert with a group of billionaires who are actually trying to do this. So let's start there. How did you find yourself in the desert with a bunch of billionaires talking about the apocalypse? I thought
I was doing a talk, you know, one of these, these kind of high priced talks for wealthy tech investors that people like me support our writing habits by going and doing so I was flown out there and it was a whole thing and I'm sitting in the greenroom waiting to go on. And instead of making me up and taking me out on a stage, these five men are escorted in, they sit around this table and start peppering me with all these questions about the future, you know, and it starts out, you know, simple like Bitcoin or a theory of virtual reality, augmented reality, you know, where do they place their bets? And I disclosed to them, I would have told them Betamax and been wrong, as opposed to, you know, VHS, I don't, it's not what I do. And then they got to New Zealand or Alaska, you know, where do I put my bunker? And they started asking me then these questions about about, you know, surviving the apocalypse, like, what do they do with their bunker? And how do they, you know, you know, protect themselves from this threat or that because they believe that they this event was coming, they apparently they had people do this statistical analysis, and they believe there was a 20% chance of the event occurring sometime before the end of their lives. And so they were taking 20% of their capital and investing it in surviving that event. And I honestly, I thought I was being punked I thought there was going to be a camera. And this is like, Oh, we're gonna get this, you know, reveal that this lefty media theorist is actually helping billionaires and he they, but no, they believed it. And I tried to poke holes in it. I, I remember I said to them, well, they will talked about how they had Navy SEALs flying out to protect their bunkers. And I said, Yeah, well, are these Navy SEALs going to continue to protect you once their money's worthless. And they like panic. So these guys, we think they're so friggin brilliant. They like they're like Sunday to jot down, oh, figure out how to get Navy SEALs cooperate after our money's worthless.
And the thing is, is that that's, to me the problem with their formula, which is that they are wealthy billionaires until the door of the bunker closes, right. And then the security or the people who know how to deal with the plumbing or the actual vital workers are the people with vital skills, they become the value proposition. I mean, we it's and it connects to actually what we're living through right now, when it came to, for instance, the pandemic, grocery store workers, frontline medical folks, now railroad workers, right, and these are the people who actually make the things that make six society, a society that actually are the people who do the things that we actually need, and the billionaires with so much wealth, once that bunker door proverbially closes, they don't really add much value. So let's go down the the sort of dark path for a second here, before we get to the deeper meaning here. A lot of these billionaires it sounds like are thinking about how to impose control how to maintain their power, in the case of an event and apocalypse, in a bunker, maintaining control through for instance, you mentioned keeping the codes to a food vault memorized in their mind. Talk a little bit about how kind of pointless that could end up being but also about what kind of mindset that says that they are in a mindset of social control?
Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, like, you would think, Machiavelli, one on one should teach someone that, you know, you got it. If you're depending on your generals for your power, then your generals are in charge, not you. It's not gonna last very long. They don't, they don't seem to get that. So they were talking about, well, what if everyone on the compound had to have an implant, and then we could use the implant sort of as a shock collar, so that, you know, as as an advanced form of shots so that it would it would ensure compliance, or we can have robot guards that protect us from the
straight out of the old movie, the old 80s sci fi movie fortress, where they have something called the intestinal center where you were in the in the prison, and they put something in your intestines, and if you got out of line, they would like click a button and it would like, inflict massive pain in your intestines. And if you went really out of line, it would blow you up. I mean, this this stuff is straight out of sci fi,
right? And that's because these dudes are straight out of sci fi. I mean, that's, you know, when you really want to go dark they are using, you know, walking dead and Westworld instead of a basic college education, to inform themselves about how society works.
I would ask that then a follow up. What do you think is wrong with their view of how society works? I guess what I'm getting at is, do you think it's wrong for them to look out at society right now? and say, Listen, if if shit really hits the fan, and I want to create safety for myself, I'm going to be I need to be most afraid of the worst human instincts like I need to, I need to basically presume that the world is going to become Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Is that wrong in your view,
I mean, I think it's wrong. But I mean, I know where it's funny, I haven't talked about this at all, but where it really comes from that view of humans is kind of Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays, the guys who started public relations, you know, they were looking at a bewildered hurt, right? The the mob as gusta, you know, the bond called the mob of people the crowd, and that they, they kind of looked at a distorted or maybe not so distorted view of Freud, who said that there's another person inside each of us who's this kind of wild savage thing that that, you know, left to its own devices is going to just try to get whatever it wants and kill and, and if you if, if that part of the person isn't appealed to either with consumerism or something, then they're going to go Nazi. And I feel like these guys maybe didn't think that way, because they're so into these ideas of self sovereignty and iron, Rand and autonomy. And then Trump became president, and January 6, and things like that happened. And that's when they started to say, oh, you know, humanity. I mean, they always thought this, but now they had their proof that humanity is a problem. And we solve for that problem with technology. That's the way they've really looked at it. And that's always been my pet peeve, you know, as an early cyberpunk, internet enthusiast kind of guy, and here's the nets gonna come and unleash the possibilities of the collective human imagination. Then along came Wired Magazine, and a bunch of, you know, capitalists who are betting on the digital future, and they turned the apparatus around. So instead of people using technology to realize their dreams, we use technology on people in order to control their behavior. All of you know, behavioral finance, and Las Vegas was ported over to technology platforms in order to control people. So they spend their days thinking, how do I control people with tech? You know, of course, when they ponder the apocalypse, they think about it in terms of how do I control people in that situation?
Now, what's the alternative to this? And what I mean by that is, if you were a billionaire, and you're looking out at the world, climate change, pandemics, social unrest, the unraveling of democracy, and you open that sort of portal in your mind, and I really do think it's kind of a, it's kind of a Dark Descent, once you start arming yourself, once you start creating, you know, back in the 50s, and 60s in nuclear bunker, where does it ever end? But let's just say you had that the mindset you with having written this book, you get billions and billions of dollars? What's the alternative way of looking at how to either survive an apocalypse, or how to make your make yourself your family safe? In a quote unquote, event?
What's interesting, once you have billions of dollars, you've already succumb to the illness. You know, it's like, you're I mean, you if you have billions of dollars, as I see it, you have a form of economic obesity, right? You've you've extracted way too much. That's why a Mark Zuckerberg talks about, oh, I'm gonna give back 99% of my money. It's like, Dude, you took too much to begin with, you can't just shove it back in the economy where you want to. But you know what I told these guys, when they were, you know, pondering my question about how to maintain control their security force after the apocalypse. I said, Well, why don't you start treating them really nice now? And then what do you mean? I said, Well, you know, get your your head of security and pay for it. I was being mean, but I said, can you take your head of security and pay for his daughter's Bat Mitzvah today, and he'll have a hard time shooting you between the eyes in the bunker tomorrow? Because he'll look at your face and think, ah, that guy paid for little miracles, but mitzvah, how can I do it? But I was trying to get them to see, oh, maybe there's an easier way. Maybe if I don't make enemies of the entirety of humanity, you know, I won't have to protect myself from them. And maybe, you know, if I could, I could take a different approach to business because their their idea is to outrun the damage they are creating, you know, they they think that they can somehow earn enough money or make make enough technology to insulate themselves from the reality they're creating by earning money and building technology in that way. Like they can drive a car that goes fast enough to escape from its own exhaust, and it just doesn't work. And they keep making this Devil's bargain I keep thinking about I just read a piece about Epson printers and how there's this printer they make that's pre programmed to brick itself after a certain number of 1000 pages, talking about Planned obsolescence, right, right, it just breaks itself. And there's no real reason to do it, right. They claim there's a sponge that might get overused, but you can't replace the three cent sponge you got to. So the person who does that knows there's climate change, they're not stupid, they know now we got to send more slave kids into into mines to get the rare earth metals to make more printers, we're gonna have to take this use printer and dump it on another toxic waste dump in Brazil, where other children are going to pick out it for renewable parts. But I'm going to earn enough more marginal money on the sale of this extra printer to somehow escape or insulate I'm going to outrun the devastation I'm causing, and it just doesn't work. And that's, that's I think, the calculation, they can't make any more of this kind of insulation equation they've been making, to use exponential growth to outrun the devastation in their own wake, isn't really working their own homes are getting singed by forest fires, their kids are getting addicted to social media, no matter how many, how much they try to keep their kids from using the technologies they themselves make. It's coming back to the cycles of feedback. You know, that's the whole thing that Norbert Wiener originally told us about digital technology, it's cybernetic it comes back. It's circular. It's like Instant Karma. And now they're like, oh, shoot, what am I going to do?
When I think about this, and I'm, I'm sort of addicted to dystopian sci fi. I mean, that's like a personal admission here, like I just consumed so much of it,
but you know how to make it but But you make it the where you transcend it, though, is you make it funny, you allow us to see our obsession as small, we can laugh. And when we laugh, we go, Oh, my God, I'm trying to escape from this. I've got to turn around and make friends with my neighbors, I'm going to have to sit around that table. I don't want to give away the end of your movie. But sit around. I mean, my God, I was weeping and laughing at the same time at the end of that movie. Because it's like, that's my hope I wrote a book before this called Team human just saying, just look in someone else's eyes, just be with someone else. And you'll see, oh, my God, I've been I've been going in entirely the wrong direction my whole life.
Totally. And I think, though it is a, as I said, it's a slippery slope and a descent into a kind of abyss. If you start creating a bunker mentality, what you're, I kind of get to the point where I'm like, listen, okay, let's say, the event happens, you know, I haven't stockpiled weapons in my crawlspace. I haven't stockpile, you know, large quantities of food, I haven't built myself a bunker, I sort of think, listen, the event, if you will, is on the is sort of all bets are off. At that point, like you have so many bigger problems than then having you know, a gun in your basement to defend yourself having a having a you know, extra water around like, like, it's kind of a I mean, I maybe I sound naive here. But it's, it's kind of like, once that happens, so many bets are off that it's actually almost impossible for an individual to plan a contingency plan for them, that what you end up at is the idea, back to the most ancient idea possible, that we're all in this together, that we are a tribal species that that we really can't, as a civilization survive. Without us all kind of working together. I mean, you can call that any ism you want. You call it socialism. You can call it communitarianism, whatever you want to call it. But I think ultimately, that's what we're really talking about here that the billionaires that you profiled in this book, have a view that they can somehow get beyond that basic reality of human life on the planet that has sustained human life on the planet, and that you end. That's their vision. And what's countering their vision is what has allowed humans to survive for millennia, which is a much different vision of we're all in this together. I mean, is that basically where you come down?
Yeah. And and then some, so yes, these guys have taken Stuart Brand at his word when he told the early computer counterculture, you know, we are as gods and may as well get good at it. They all want to sort of operate one level above the rest of us. Peter Thiel says, go from zero to one and have your business be one order of magnitude above the others. You know, Mark Zuckerberg, when Facebook stops working, he goes meta, one level above everybody else. The whole digital realm is a symbol system above a Jeffrey Epstein who wants to live as a God above his, you know, enslaved women. billionaires who use derivatives and derivatives of derivatives. They're not in the market. They're financialized. Again, one abstract level above the real the real marketplace. So yeah, and it even gets to their understanding of themselves. As a self, sovereign individual, I mean, what does even that construction mean? You're self sovereign means you're like King of yourself. You don't just objectify everyone else, you objectify you, and go one level above. And of course, they look at the end that way. But they look at the now that way, too, which is why those ends are happening, but you take a tech bro, and send them to Burning Man and give them some Ayahuasca or down to South America. And then they come back, like, oh, my gosh, the earth spoke to me, we're all one. And I've got to create the new global community. And the way we do that is Ctrl, Alt, Delete, we, we reboot this thing, they become acceleration. It's like Steve Bannon, we just gotta pedal to the metal, let this civilization die. So we can clear cut a forest and build something. It's like, there's a zillion dollar nation that they're trying to build in Saudi Arabia called Neo bomb, which is the super zillion dollar high tech, solar powered, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And you got to building it all the way across the desert. The one problem, there are these Bedouins who've been living there, for God knows how many 1000 years, they got to get them off. So it's like, wait a minute, in order to create our new, you know, humanity, 2.0, sustainable eco thing. We've got to get rid of the people who've actually been doing it in community successfully since before our civilization began
and underscoring the word in communities, right surviving in the desert, in a community.
They don't have community though, they can't even relate to other people. I mean, it's I've got studies in the book I refer to that show that when people become billionaires, their frontal lobes, they operate as if they've been in a brain trauma, they lose the ability to have empathy, you show a billionaire a picture of like a starving baby and the part of their brain that's supposed to light up, it doesn't even light up. So it's as if they've, they've damaged themselves by earning that much money.
Now, in your book, you met with a guy named JC Cole, who's the former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia. Cole is doing something somewhat similar to these other billionaires, but with a little bit more of a different approach. Talk a little bit about what JC Cole is doing, how his plan differs, and whether it offers some, I guess, constructive lessons, in contrast to the other billionaires you profile.
I mean, the great thing about JC Cole, this guy emailed me after my first piece about the billionaires went up, and he's like, Oh, you got to talk. I got to talk to you. I've got I've got the answer for these billionaires, and I meet this guy and he's like a total Maga. You know, anti Hillary, he can't even say the word Hillary. He says it goes her or she, you know, he's wearing like a full on Maga with the hat and the whole thing and he had guns he let me shoot in his in his field. But it's like that year that horseshoe thing they talked about, I guess me as an anarcho, syndicalist radical, whatever I find I find something in common across the gap of the horseshoe with this Maga guy. So he's got he wants to build these eco farms, these sustainable farms using old tech, you know, seeds, chickens, roosters, all the stuff that apparently modern farms don't have modern farms. They buy pre sprouted things and plant them in the ground. And they don't have roosters, they just have chickens that lay the eggs. And if they need more chickens, they buy the eggs from somewhere else. So he's like, this is not how you really do it. You've got to have biodiesel and all this stuff. And then he told me about how he's got, you know, the Navy SEALs pre hire to come in and protect these things. So the idea is a billionaire or multimillionaire pays like $10 million now. And they have a guaranteed place at one of these farms situated in our two four major cities. So there's one near Princeton, one in the Poconos, one somewhere else. And I said, Well, what do you do about you know, a motorcycle gang with machine guns, you know, I'm thinking Walking Dead that come to the perimeter farm, I want to take all your stuff. And he said, you know, frankly, I'm less concerned about the motorcycle gang than I am about the woman standing at the end of the driveway with a baby and no food. I don't want to be in that moral quandary. So what he did, what his business plan includes is when you invest the $10 million, you're investing yes to get a place in the farm. But you're also investing in an education company that he's starting, that's going to teach different communities how to start their own sustainable eco farms, because in his understanding of security, and this is as security, the fewer people there are running around in motorcycle gangs, the more people there are in their own eco farms, the less his people are gonna have to worry about. But as a result, none of these tech bros are investing in his farm. They're looking at him as like a commie pinko lefty communitarian, rather than having the necessary resolve to protect them from everybody else.
Okay, let me just play devil's advocate here. What is wrong with a billionaire using his or her money to try to secure themselves and their family in advance of an apocalypse? Like what? What is fundamentally wrong with that? And and what would I guess? What would you do in there in that situation,
I mean, in one sense, there's nothing wrong with them spending their money any way they want. The problem is more, I think operating a business under the presumption that the world is going to end. So when you think it's going to go, and all you have to do is earn enough money and gather enough technology to protect yourself from the apocalypse, then you are more likely to take a rather scorched earth policy, in your in your business transactions, you're gonna be more likely to be the guy who makes printers that brick themselves and, and accelerate the disaster for everybody else. You know, the, the, the operative word in the subtitle of this book is escape fantasies of the tech billionaires, you know, for a while I had an escape plans of the tech billionaires. And then I realized the problem with that is people are gonna think I'm taking these plans seriously. They can't, it doesn't work, what's wrong, the ultimate reason why it's wrong for them to be spending all this money building bunkers. It is futile, right? It's just futile. They're fooling themselves. And then they operate differently. They run their businesses differently. They speak publicly differently. And it engenders a mindset in them, that all of their customers that all of us that everybody else in the world except them and their own families and security guards are the enemy are the ones to leave behind, rather than the potential friends and communities to join.
So I want to end this conversation by tying it back to where we are now, in politics. One of the takeaways I have from your book, one of the undercurrents of it, I think, and you could tell me if I'm wrong is that I think some of this, my guess is that psychologically, it's tied to the end of the social contract. And by that, I mean, we are living in an age in which many of the things that would be considered the social contract, feel like they have been demonized and have broken down by that. I mean, we there's been an anti government ideology that is put out there that the government is evil, and not just the government, anything sort of in the public sector, or the public space, is evil or inept, cannot be relied upon to deliver public benefits. It gets rated by corruption and cronyism, that it it does not materially improve the lives of regular people. And so I guess my question is, I wonder how much of this, I have to flee. How much of this I have to build my own bunker, how much of this I can just I need to just be able to go it alone, ties back to a broader feeling, whether fair or unfair, that that the community, the the public sector, the public space, cannot or will not protect the civilization, the society cannot protect your family, from all of the things that are happening. And in many cases, the public space is on the on the side of the people and the industries that are creating the problems. So how much of it ties back to the sort of this lack of faith in the social contract?
Well, I mean, there's always been a tension between, you know, corporate America, and you know, the strident individual individualism of of Bernays and the National Association of marketers, you, you're the one you deserve a break today. And the more kind of Roosevelt style good government, we're going to protect people, you know, and it's like the World's Fair, most people don't know, the World's Fair was corporate America saying, we are going to protect your future, not government, it's corporations that will make America good, you know, what's good for GM is good for the USA. And that tension has always been there. And it kind of went a little further during Reagan and Thatcher and a little bit less maybe, you know, during Carter Clinton or someone, but it's always been back and forth. And somehow I think digital technology has has exacerbated this tension or has pushed things further on the side of the individual both because the companies themselves are dependent on highly individualized exit strategies for the winners, you know, hockey stick growth. I'm gonna get out of this thing with all this money and leave a scorched earth I don't care what in my wake even the investors holding the bag since AOL it's like where I'm gonna get out with my winnings and leave them behind. But also the the technological ethos itself, you know, it's an iPhone, not a Wi Fi, phone and iPad, not an us pad. You know, these are devices that really do promote our individuality because and this is what Timothy Leary told me back in the 80s, that the kids, the guys at the Media Lab, the technologists developing these things, have this vision of somehow building a technological womb around themselves. He he thought that they were still upset that their mothers were unable to anticipate their every need, and bring them you know, what they needed a diaper or, or milk or whatever they wanted. And now, they want to kind of recreate the womb with technology and have everything brought to them and have algorithms anticipate and not make them have to worry about women and nature and moisture and dirt and all the stuff that empirical science was really that it promised us would be put under control by technology, and science. So they're really in Ascendance, and we are living with the devices and on the platforms that these very fearful, highly individualistic, children develop. They are plucked from college as freshmen, right before they've taken history, ethics, economics, and then they transfer parental authority onto a Peter Thiel and then build a platform that we all use without realizing what it's actually what it's actually doing to us. So I agree that somehow a strident capitalist economics and a stridently individualistic technology have dovetailed and created this, this culture that we're living in, but all of us I think, are slowly realizing, gosh, it was more fun when there was one barbeque pit on the end of the block in my middle class neighborhood than it is having my own barbecue in my wealthy neighborhood. How do I get back to that? And if our value system changes to that and emulating that experience, rather than emulating Jeff Bezos, in the ultimate version of white flight in his Blue Origin spaceship or his yacht with a service yacht, we may be able to restore this thing yet.
The book is a terrific book. I encourage everybody to read it. It's called survival of the richest escape fantasies of the tech billionaire Douglas Rushkoff. He's a professor of Media theory and digital economics at the City University of New York. He also has a podcast called Team human you can find his email@example.com Douglas Rushkoff, thanks so much for your time today.
Thanks for having me and finding me.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium get to hear our bonus segment, the best moments from our live show with Steven Donziger, the man who has been called Chevron's prisoner, Steven and I discussed how the fossil fuel industry uses its legal power to go on the attack fighting activists, local communities, and even lawyers like himself. We also took some questions from the audience
a good portion of what they did to me and concluded it violated multiple provisions of international law. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist or illegal expert to look at this and know that it was a complete abuse of the law. But this is what they do. You know, there's the law as it's supposed to work. And then there's the judiciary and the law as it actually works. And a lot of people are more focused on the former than the latter. And that's understandable, but there's a way it works, waves abused by corporations to try to go after people like me. And that's what happened.
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