Douglas Rushkoff revisits Crazy Town, where he and Asher discuss why so many billionaires, academic institutions, and “serious” people are drawn to longtermism – the view that our top priority should be ensuring that humanity can spread its wings throughout the physical and virtual universe. What’s the suffering of a few billion people in the here and now, when there’s quadrillions, no quintillions, of potential future people to worry about? Sure, the climate crisis is bad. But is it really an existential threat? Douglas explains why, when you take a tech bro to drink Ayahuasca in the Amazon, he still comes back a tech bro. And why, when you hear buzzwords like longtermism, effective altruism, and transhumanism, all you need to ask is: Does it perpetuate capitalism? Asher and Douglas riff on why longtermism is denialism – denial of death, denial of the body, and denial of responsibility – and why the antithesis is living in the here and now, with our neighbors. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Asher Miller

Douglas Rushkoff is an author, a professor, a podcaster, a long time technology and new media critic. He’s a friend of Post Carbon Institute. We’ve had you on this podcast before and our sister podcast, “What Could Possibly Go Right?”, a bunch of times. I think you and Vicki are like thick as thieves at this point.

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah, we are. We’re cosmic twins.

 Asher Miller

Yeah. I feel that way about her too.

 Douglas Rushkoff

We’re mothers of a different child.

 Asher Miller

Yes!

 Douglas Rushkoff

Something. I forgot what they call it.

 Asher Miller

There’s, there’s a shorthand I think for some of us here. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time running through the many interesting facets of your life and work, Douglas, but I just want to highlight a few things for our listeners, okay? I want to encourage people to check out the excellent podcast, Team Human, and the book by the same name.

And I also want to mention that you have a new book out called Survival of the Richest. There it is. Yeah. Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. I think last time we had you on, you talked a little bit about that experience you had—where you were invited, you thought to give a public talk, but instead were asked questions by a group of billionaires trying to figure out how to make sure that their security detail didn’t do them in when the Apocalypse happened. That book is a really fantastic exploration of the delusions—and this is part of what I want to talk to you about today—of people with a lot of money, a lot of access to technology, and probably a lot of hubris, and the weird juxtaposition between a certain level of brilliance and success, and a bunch of what I see as just insane delusions. Which I find fascinating and also crazy-making. I think that maybe you could relate to that.

So I want to talk to you specifically about something that has kind of been a buzz term, buzz concept, in mainstream media recently. It’s got a lot of adherents in that wealthy tech class of people—people like Elon Musk and others—and it’s actually been seeping into the world of philanthropy, and academia, and politics. And that term, that concept is longtermism. Have you heard of this term? 

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah. There’s a bunch of different kinds. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about longtermism as a subset of an almost quasi-fascist, “ends justifies the means,” worldview. It kind of got re-popularized by Stewart Brand and the Clock of the Long Now, and this idea of thinking in 10,000 year intervals. Which in itself was okay. But what happened was this idea of really super long-term thinking dovetailed with that kind of Singularity University idea of super-scaled thinking. Right? So we’re gonna think in super long time zones and everything that we do, every solution that we come up with has to work at scale.

You know, big, it’s a moonshot, a hundred million dollars. And that’s what led to this other thing. The term longtermism, as you’re using it now, to me is more like this focusing on the distant future, on the strange attractor at the end of time, at the Omega point, at the great shift, at the moment of transubstantiation. When consciousness rises from the chrysalis of matter as pure energy. And when we use that as our theory of change, the long term, that thing, what often happens is we’re looking so far ahead that we’re not looking at what Marxists would call conditions on the ground. You know, what’s happening in the real world with real people in this moment, and who am I willing to stamp on or do something, in order for that long-term thing?

And then that dovetails with this other thing they’re calling effective altruism, which is basically that you don’t have to really worry about what you’re doing as long as you spend a lot of money invested in these long term solutions that will solve things for your great-great-grandchildren. And that’s sort of the problem that a lot of us are looking at.

Asher Miller

So, these buzz terms, right… longtermism, effective altruism, transhumanism, existential risk… these things are all sort of in this goulash together. And I think it could be difficult for people to understand what these concepts mean. But you’re right, they’re like in this pot, that have been fused into this vision, and it’s actually guiding big spending in philanthropy, setting up academic institutions, trying to influence UN policy stuff. There’s people, you know, billionaires who are basically bankrolling campaigns of politicians with this longtermist mindset, right?

And the whole thing is, rather than looking at each individual term, cuz there’s so many and they’re gonna come up with new ones, it’s sort of the job for those of us in Crazy Town, who are trying to work against the crazy making forces, is to see the common underlying principles of all these things.

Like one big clue that you’re dealing with this kind of bad, longtermism, effective altruism, eyes on the prize, quasi-fascist thing is, is it completely compatible with capitalism?

Douglas Rushkoff

Right. That’s a good question.

 If it is, then chances are there’s a problem here, right? Because capitalism may be the core problem, right? Is it compatible with exponential growth? If it is, then…

 Asher Miller

Oh, they’re not just compatible with it. It’s a fantasy dream of exponential growth.

 Douglas Rushkoff

I know. It’s the ultimate disaster, catastrophe, capitalism, you know, thing, right? Does it take people’s eyes off conditions on the ground, the welfare of people living right now in Pakistan with water up to their knees? Or does it put attention on them, right? If it’s taking attention off them, again, wrong basket. You’re going in the crazy basket.

Do they use big terms like Deleuze and de Chardin, and whatever? Wrong basket, You know? Just stay here. Be here now.

 Asher Miller

Now, so that’s a question for you. There’s a guy who I think has been really outspoken on the dangers of this longtermist stuff — a guy named Emil Torres, who’s written a great piece I would suggest people check out in Salon. I think it was called “Understanding Long-Termism: Why This Suddenly Influential Philosophy is So Toxic”. And he does talk about it as like a quasi religion. And so that is a question. I mean, what you just laid out, is if the people behind this were just completely cynical. They wanted to maintain capitalism as it was. They wanted to maintain their status and power. They don’t want to deal with reality on the ground, like hundreds of millions of people being flooded around the world right now because of climate change. So let’s come up with some sort of bullshit belief system so that we don’t have to actually change anything that we’re doing.

Or do they… So is it just a cynical ploy, you know, a manipulative ploy, or do they actually believe this shit because, and again, what this shit is… Just to point this out to people is, at the extremes, this vision of something like 10 to the 45th power number of humans.

Okay, so that’s a one with 45 zeroes. You know, colonizing the entire universe, living in both a physical plane and a virtual plane. And that’s our fate and our destiny. That is that we need to — and we could do — all kinds of things like genetically modify our bodies, and fuse with technology, and maybe even do things like think about who reproduces. You know, there’s some, some really sketchy, scary eugenics shit in there. All with this idea that our fate as humans is to colonize the stars, right? And you hear Elon Musk talking this. You look at Jeff Bezos. You look a bunch of these guys, with their space penises. It’s like, do they believe this shit or not?

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah, well, they do. They do and they don’t. I mean, there’s so many ways to look at it. One, they are leaning in to a very particular attribute of their spectrum disorders. Right? Which is not to say that… there’s no problem with having spectrum… we all, I’ve got my own spectrum disorders and all that. But I know how to sort of compensate for certain antisocial, analytic, alienated perspectives. I can really easily, especially on acid, I can zoom out and look at civilization like this giant ant hill and think about systems theory and how it all actually works. But I know that while that’s interesting and some insights can come from it, I also know it’s a social and ethical liability.

Right? And that I have to also maintain my Inter-human connection with others and the soft, squishy, liminal spaces between us all in order to compensate for my otherwise nerdy analytic distance thing. So, the folks that are doing this, most of the ones I’ve spoken to aren’t saying, “Oh, I think people suck” and all that. No, they’ll say, “Well, you know, humanity is a problem. It is the problem. We are solving for humanity with systems. We are solving for humanity with technology.” Right? Rather than solving for technology with humanity. You know, they’ll even use phrases like, “humane technology.”

So what does that mean? The technology is treating us humanely. Which is nice, right? That means well, but it’s still got… The emphasis is reversed. The dynamic, the subject-object ground is kind of reversed. But you’re right, there’s this belief, and it’s mathematical. It’s almost like Jeremy Bentham—he was this utilitarian guy —on steroids. There’s going to be 500 trillion humans, spread out in the heavens, a couple of thousand years from now. What does the pain and suffering of a mere eight billion people who are on this planet now, the larval stage of what is ultimately a winged human species? Yeah, we are the maggots to their butterflies, or whatever they’re going to be after the Great Metamorphosis.

And they, though, only the super wealthy and the technologists actually can somehow upgrade themselves to the point where they get to participate in the next one, right? They get to go cuz they’re gonna have the, whatever, vampire blood or neural nets or whatever they stick on themselves to migrate to the next thing.

But, yeah, but that’s back to, again, simple ends justifies the means. It’s the same thing as it’s okay for these Israelite slaves to die, s long as I get my pyramid, you know. We’ve been doing this a long time.

 Asher Miller

Yeah, but it’s cloaked—and we’ve also been doing this for a long time —it’s cloaked in a morality, right? It’s presented as a moral proposition.

 Douglas Rushkoff

But they think of it as that!

 Asher Miller

Well, that’s my question. Do they think…

 Douglas Rushkoff

Take a billionaire tech bro. Send a billionaire tech bro down to South America. Let him do Ayahuasca with a shaman, and he will come back enlightened, but in this way. Right? Because his set and setting is still extraction, domination, colonialism, and capitalism. So if those are your underlying assumptions about reality, then Earth Mother talks to you on Ayahuasca, but you don’t get a hippie person. You don’t get a post-capitalist. You don’t get a Crazy Town member. You get a tech bro on acid, right?

Which is a very different trip. Right? And they come back with this kind of systems… something that sounds very psychedelic, which is the most dangerous group, or this kind of psychedelic group of white male intellectuals. We don’t even have to say their names, cuz I don’t want to be mean to any individual, struggling human. But, you know, they do this kind of rebellious wisdom thing, where they hypnotize you with their kind of psychedelic poetry and help you make sense of reality by seeing, you know, by imagining and hallucinating the great fractal at the end of time and imagining, you know… sometimes they call it Game B or Plan X or X Prize.

And again, it’s always that other thing, rather than what’s happening here. And when we say, “Well, what about what’s happening here now?” They’re like, “Well, you know, we are architecting the future of civilization. You’re stuck. You’re back in the old game. You’re back in the old battles, the old dialectics, you know. You’re still stuck with Marx and Hegel. We’ve gone on, through Ayn Rand to, you know, the next dimension.”

 Asher Miller

One of the things that is so frustrating and crazy-making for me about it is, there are some elements of the longtermist view that I would agree with. Right? I mean, a focus on future generations is important. We’ve had on our podcast… We did a whole episode talking about the discounting of the future, right? And that is a tendency, it’s sort of a human cognitive bias to do, but also our institutions just tend to discount the future. And so if we actually said, “Let’s presence future generations in our decision making now.” Like when we think about the impacts of climate change, for example, or our use of resources, I feel like that is, that’s something I would agree with.

It’s just that they take it to this extreme, right?

 Douglas Rushkoff

Yes, but what is our responsibility to future generations though? Is it to consider this moment a moment of discontinuity, and to start over, and make everything up like we’re in kindergarten, or is it to do research and reading and history?

These are children. They’ve left… they leave college in freshman year with their great idea before they’ve taken economics or history or anything else. You know, Mark Zuckerberg reads a little bit about Augustus Caesar and decides he wants to be Augustus, right? And we should be happy that he’s modeling his life after Augustus Caesar instead of Caligula. So I’m thankful for that, but it’s still a fucking Holy Roman Emperor, right? And I understand, as a 9th or 10th or 11th grader, to do that is perfectly natural. When I listen to the conversations of these longtermists, I get it. I was there after two bong hits in my dorm room, to then talk about, “Well, what if the whole universe is actually in my fingernail and then I’m in the fingernail of a Giant’s universe?

And it’s like, ooh, Christopher Nolan, Things within Things, Worlds within Worlds. We’re gonna rebirth humanity into the next phase of civilization to… Beautiful! But then it’s like, okay, now do the work. Now read your history, read your philosophy. They’re espousing philosophy as if it’s state of the art. They’re espousing systems theory, and they haven’t even… they don’t even know what a Mandelbrot set is. You know, It’s like, do the fucking homework then, in order to bring forward the last 5-10,000 years of human civilization into this future rather than considering this a moment of discontinuity, where you as a baby thinker somehow are the Know-it-All God.

 Asher Miller

But, and I think this is really important… You said discontinuity, right? The idea of disruption is key to their identity, right? And to their vision of the success of technology. And it gets back to…

 Douglas Rushkoff

Creative Destruction. But it’s actually Destructive Destruction, is what they’re doing. Because, “Mommy and Daddy were wrong, and all this bad stuff, and I don’t want disciplines and categories,” and, “Oh, fuck you all, it’s all just, you know, emergent properties. Yay!” Right? It’s a balance between emergent properties and static properties.

 Asher Miller

Yeah, I do think… Again, you brought up Marx earlier. You look at material conditions. We’ve talked ad nauseum on Crazy Town about Marvin Harris because his framework of thinking about infrastructure, and structure, and superstructure… Basically it boils down to the idea that our infrastructure—that’s the physical world that we inhabit and not just the things that we build—are the things that actually dictate our structures—our political systems, our economic systems—and our superstructures—our belief systems. Right? So if you actually put that on an individual basis, as well, think about what these people have grown up in, right? They’ve matured and been involved in the disruptive power of new technology, where they’ve seen incredible exponential growth in, in computing, and in the Internet, and all these things. And they envision that that is normal, right?

Douglas Rushkoff

And they think that they’ve disrupted. But they haven’t. All they’ve really done is confirmed corporate capitalism. Right?

Asher Miller

And benefited from it.

Douglas Rushkoff

Yes, and benefited from it. And gotten money, and cars, and chicks, and drugs, and all that stuff. So how do you expect the child… the child who was plucked from college freshman year, before the myelin sheaths formed around the dendrites in his frontal lobe. Who has no impulse control and then transfers parental authority onto Peter Thiel, or some other venture capitalist. How do you expect him to behave in any better way? You can’t, right? You can’t. So we can’t depend on these people. We can’t model them. And our kids. I mean, sadly, many of our kids, they think that Musk is a fucking hero. Yeah. Cuz he’s saving us, right? Just like Trump, he’s Troll in Chief, and it looks like, “Yeah, take it down! Bring down The Man,” you know. And he is the ultimate Man.

Asher Miller

It just comes down to… I get really pissed about this stuff and I actually get scared about it, to be honest, because if it was just…It’s a little bit like… I don’t wanna compare them to Trump, but a little bit of the effect of that, which is… If you had this narcissist out there spouting whatever in order to get validation, and he was a marginal actor, that’s one thing. But when it comes to having influence over the events that affect the entire planet, that’s another thing. And I feel like there is power in this group. Potentially power in these ideas.

Douglas Rushkoff

Oh there is. Partly because their businesses have scaled, right? When you own a business like Uber, Tesla, or Facebook, or whatever, and you have this much money. I mean, there was a day, I remember last year when Elon Musk bought a billion dollars of bitcoin all of a sudden, with Tesla money. And I remember, Philip Rosedale, the guy who created Second Life, who’s this friend of mine. Very smart. I mean, super smart dude. He did the math and he said, “Oh, you’ve just reversed like 18 years worth of Tesla sales in one moment, in terms of the environmental damage you created with that single Bitcoin purchase.”

Asher Miller

Yeah, that’s interesting. Goddamnit.

Douglas Rushkoff

But that’s, I mean, that’s power, right? Right. That is power.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And that scares me. But I am trying to also… Part of it is, like, I wonder if any of this community of people can be reached at all. And I’m chastened by what you said about… You take them to, you take them to the Amazon, you give them Ayahuasca, or whatever, and you still end up with a tech bro. You know what I mean?

Douglas Rushkoff

I know. I thought that was gonna work.

Asher Miller

It sucks.

Douglas Rushkoff

I thought that was gonna be it. When they were going, right? So, Eric Schmidt or whoever can go to Burning Man and do all this stuff. But they go with an RV, and a chef, and a masseuse or whatever, you know. It’s like, “All right, that’s not Burning Man. That’s something else we just did.”

Asher Miller

Well, that just gets back to the system, right? You’ve talked a lot about how these people who like to think of themselves as disruptive forces, who are hyper-rational and whatever it is, they’re helping humanity exceed the boundaries of the physical plane, or whatever. Right? All they’ve done is essentially just supercharged capitalism. The system itself continues.

So you could take people out of the system, but when they return to the system… You know what I mean? They’re just gonna fall back into it, into what they know. And that’s really… How do we break this?

Douglas Rushkoff

Ah, but then again, we’ve got to think like a permaculture, agriculture person. If that is the human thing, that they always return to the true nature, then we have to help every human return to what we believe is our true nature, which is the deeper collaborative, cooperative, loving, essential human condition. And that we can return to that. So that’s why I did the Team Human book.

How do we retrieve the human? How do we value that? How do we help people… And not “get people to,” that’s what the tech pros say… “How do we get people to do this?” No, but how do we engender a social contract, where we recognize that the shrill, disconnected, alienated quality of these technologies, and these things that we’re being invited to do.

And how do we help people see the beauty and… You need a drill to make a hole in the wall? Don’t go to Home Depot and buy a minimum viable product drill to make one hole. Ring on your neighbor’s bell and ask if they have a drill. You know? And meet somebody. It’s really simple. If we just did that, it would unwind the whole thing.

There’s so many easy ways. And then it’s like, “Oh, right. That’s what they call them. Neighbors.” And that’s kind of cool. “What if we do a block party? I have a lawnmower. Do you wanna use that?” We’re so afraid to ask for favors, or to give favors to each other, because we don’t want to owe people or something. And it’s like, “No, no, no. That’s called the fabric of community, of society.”

Asher Miller

It’s back to the system that we’re in. We’ve been taught that we’re consumers, and we’ve been taught that relationships are transactional. Right?

Douglas Rushkoff

We have. I don’t like that.

Asher Miller

It’s really hard to unwind that. But the other thing I think is, and I want to get back to the question of whether these people are reachable or not. But if we see them as…

Douglas Rushkoff

They are reachable.

Asher Miller

…the extreme, extreme case of a general culture, or pattern, or whatever it is. In some ways it’s pretty simple. I feel like what they’re manifesting is denial. Right? It’s a denial of death. A lot of this is just being scared of dying.

Douglas Rushkoff

Ernest Becker.

Asher Miller

And I think we all carry that.

Douglas Rushkoff

I am. I still have some fear of death. I admit it.

Asher Miller

Of course you do! Let’s not talk about this anymore! And then there’s denial of the body, which I think is really interesting. I mean, Elon Musk talking about our bodies as sacks of meat or whatever. So, wanting to upload our consciousness into the cloud is both denial of death, and also this idea that this body is like a fucking mess. It’s ugly. It keeps us, you know, chained or whatever. So trying to get away from the body.

Then denial of responsibility. And you talked about this before, which is, “Hey, if our number one moral priority is the fate of 1045 power human beings in the future, we don’t, we shouldn’t be bothered worrying about the conditions of poor people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or South America, right?

Douglas Rushkoff

Exactly. And that’s their philosophical way of justifying their day to day activity, which is the long term good that my taxi hailing company is going to provide humanity. It’s worth the tent villages that are camped out around my corporate headquarters.

Asher Miller

And all that is denial. It’s all denialism. And, so let’s get back…

Douglas Rushkoff

Because externalities are built into capitalism. So how do you escape the externalities? Pretend they’re not there, or in this new way, pretend that they are right. They’re justified because of the great reward that’s gonna come later. You can’t have your pudding till you eat your meat.

Asher Miller

Right? So, let’s talk about if these people are reachable. And if they’re not reachable, what do we do? Do we ignore this shit? Do we build the alternatives like you talked about?

Douglas Rushkoff

Well, it’s always nice to reach one. I mean, I’ve tried to have these conversations with the ones more at my level, not the billionaires, but the other, uh, whatever they are. Intellectual author types with podcasts and things. And they say that I just don’t have, that I’m incapable of doing the necessary dimensional thinking in order to truly grasp this fractal sensibility. And I’m a little insulted by that as one of the guys who first wrote about this fractal sensibility in the early nineties when I was a wild psychedelic. Are you serious? Reading, you know, a reader of Mondo 2000.

So I don’t believe that the spoken word leaders of this longtermism and sense making may be reachable. I do think some of the billionaires are reachable. I mean, the example of the Patagonia guy that just sold a company…

Asher Miller

Yvon. He was never part of this world, right?

Douglas Rushkoff

Right. He was never part of it, so he didn’t need to be convinced. He could have been convincing us the whole time. It’s like, “I’m not trying to make this money. I’m gonna try to give it away.” I don’t know. I mean, he could have set up the company differently at the beginning, but he didn’t know this was gonna happen. It was just selling coats for God’s sake.

But it could be a little contagious. Even, I would argue that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are at least, in terms of the spectrum, they’re closer to what we’re talking about than the Musks, and the Thiels, and the neofascists. You know, they’re not Accelerationist. They’re not techno-solutionists. They are saying, “Okay, we took too much money out of the system and we gotta try to figure out what’s the best way to shove it back in there.” Even if Bill Gates is biased towards X Prize-size mega solutions. But that’s just him. But at least personality wise, or in terms of his intention, I think he is more focused on conditions on the ground in the moment.

Asher Miller

Is that older, wiser, because he came to be in an earlier phase of the technology?

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah. Microsoft had a very different journey. PayPal, right? Yeah, it’s true. They had to deal with the world, and China, and anti-monopoly stuff . But he’s also, who knows how crazy Bill Gates is and whether he was an Epstein person and God knows what. And now he’s buying up all this land and I don’t know if that’s really the right way to deal with, you know, the future of farming in America is for you…

Asher Miller

You don’t think we should put it in Bill Gates hands?

Douglas Rushkoff

Somehow, I don’t. I like distributed ownership of land by many small farmers and all that. Yeah. And there’s ways you can invest in that, and help them do that. There’s some interesting new money instruments. But I do think some billionaires, if they feel safe enough, can be convinced. But I don’t know really to what end? I’m way more focused on the so-called little people, on everybody. You know, the way to change a billionaire is if we all stop using Uber. Then there’s a billionaire whose life is different.

Asher Miller

Well, and this is another thing I’ve been kind of wrestling with as a question, which is… You talked about acceleration. If what we’re actually experiencing right now is hitting the limits of The Age of Acceleration, and exponential growth, and economic activity. Human population. Energy consumption. Material consumption. And then passing these planetary boundaries, crossing these boundaries, with climate biodiversity loss. That’s all coming to bear.

We’re starting to see the real consequences of that. By we, I mean those of us who’ve basically been benefiting from all of that in… the subset of us in the Global North. If basically if we’re hitting those limits right now, which I believe we are, what does that do to silly things like, “Let’s try to get people to Mars right now.” Do people double down on like, “Oh shit, the only solution to this climate crisis—look how fucking bad it is—is we gotta get off this planet.” So do they double down or is it a moment of reckoning and humility.

Douglas Rushkoff

Well, what do bodybuilders do when the steroids stop working?

Asher Miller

Well, they probably are enraged.

Douglas Rushkoff

Do they do different things? I don’t know. Not sure. I think they up their dose.

Asher Miller

Probably. Isn’t that true with all addictions if it’s not working anymore?

Douglas Rushkoff

I think so. I think that’s what they do. So, you know, when your stocks stop working, you buy derivatives. When your derivatives stop working, you buy derivatives of those. When those stop working, you get credit default swaps. When those stop working, you move to another level of abstraction. What does Facebook do when its rapaciousness peaks? Go Meta, right? And you create a fantasy. What do you do when you can’t make any more money in the moment? You become a longtermist. Right?

Oh, it’s okay. I’m gonna pre-colonize the future, because I’ve already colonized everything in the present. I’ve sucked all the juice out of this thing, so I’m gonna be a time traveling vampire. Right?

Asher Miller

Yeah. God, it’s so interesting, because this is another question that I’ve really wrestled with… I was really disappointed by Harari’s book, Sapiens, for a lot of reasons, but one of them…

Douglas Rushkoff

I know. Are we allowed to go there? I was on this thing with him and I got a cold feeling. Yeah. I got a cold feeling. I felt like when Luke is like in the… Dark Vader’s like in his same solar system and Luke feels…. He like can feel him. I got that feeling and I don’t get that much. And…

Asher Miller

I’m sure he wants to be compared to Darth Vader. 

Rushkoff

Yeah, he’s supposed to be all good, you know, and caring, and whatever. But, and I hate to say it cause I don’t like saying mean things about humans and I’m sure he’s a well-intentioned human, right? He is. But there is a coldness to this understanding of the human future.

Asher Miller

Well, what disappointed me is… I felt like initially, and there’s a lot of problematic things in the book, but as general take away, presenting in some ways, two tracks that humanity’s on right now. One track is really running up against the limits of what we’ve been doing, particularly the last couple centuries. Which is a reckoning. I mean he even talked about how maybe our biggest fall was agriculture. And so there’s this path of a reckoning, which is the path I believe that we’re essentially on.

But there’s another path that we’re walking simultaneously, and that is one where we do have enough power right now, and capacity right now to be doing things like fucking with the human genome, and doing all kinds of other shit. And I think that’s what he was sort of positing, like, we either go extinct as a species or we re-engineer ourselves as a species, right?

And either way, homo sapiens, the way we’ve been, will no longer be around. Right? And then he basically was like, “Well, we’re gonna do the latter.” And that was what was disappointing. But it’s actually more like speculative fiction. There’s a guy named Paolo Bacigulapi. He’s written a couple books that are these dystopian climate change books. What’s interesting about them for me was like… it’s almost like the Elysium film… There’s a population that does have advanced technology while the rest of humanity is basically trying to scour the wreckages of cargo ships for things.

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah. But the same thing. This thing is still… that model is still saying that rather than arrest the operating system of corporate capitalism, we are going to require human beings to mutate into some post-human, unrecognizable state. I think it’s way easier to change your economic model and start sharing rather than stay addicted to a 13th century economic operating system that was started by a few monarchs to prevent the rise of the middle class.

Asher Miller

Or go to space, which is completely energy blind as an idea. Right? It defies what we could physically do.

Douglas Rushkoff

Space is sterile also. It’d be easier to terraform the Earth after a nuclear disaster than to terraform Mars.

Asher Miller

Yeah. It’s absurd. But I struggle with this question a lot, which is how long of a runway do these guys have, in terms of trying to go down this path? Trying to pursue the Singularity. Trying to pursue ever more complex ways of changing humanity.

Douglas Rushkoff

Well, what’s gonna stop them, if not us? What’s gonna stop them and shorten their runway is the Steve Bannon Alt Right.

I mean, the woman who just ran for Parliament, or won Parliament in Italy. What she’s saying is so close to what we’re saying. “We’re human beings. We’re not consumers. We don’t wanna support big technology. We don’t want to support runaway exponential capitalism. We wanna be local, and return to the ground, and the soil, and the blood, and the…” Oh, oh! Oh, now we’re in trouble. You went way too far.

Asher Miller

Yeah, just a bit too far…

Douglas Rushkoff

Crazy Town! Where Crazy Town lives on ice. And so we slide and then… But if those guys save us, look the fuck out. Right? That’s not the way, you know… We don’t want to save civilization with fucking machetes, like the Hutus. There’s gotta be a middle path.

Asher Miller

Yeah. Yeah. So do you boil that down to neighbors?

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah. Neighbors, and love, and off the ideology because… You know, I got called by, uh, Bannon’s people called me—Steve Bannon—to be on his podcast. Pandemic… whatever it’s called, War Room Pandemic… because of these very conversations, about the dangers of transhumanism, and they don’t really have our best interest at heart, and what does that mean?

They read Team Human, where I’m railing out against the disconnection of humans from ground. I don’t mean blood and soil, but soil at least, as a living matrix of sharing between trees, and this topsoil that we shouldn’t destroy. Real soil. And everything’s the same except their theory of change is just as “ends justifies the means” as ours. Their theory of change is “Tear it down and get to the new golden age,” as Bannon would put it. Or Evola, or one of these folks.

Asher Miller

And that’s a golden age for a specific set of people, right, that we’re talking about here?

Douglas Rushkoff

Right. Usually. They would say it’s for everyone, but it’s for white dudes. And I’m always a white dude when it’s something bad, and I’m never a white dude when it’s something of privilege. I’m like, I’m in that middle place, you know? It’s really tricky. But I accept my lot. I accept my place in…

Asher Miller

Yeah. I mean in the grand scheme of things it’s not the biggest cross to bear. Says one Jew to the other.

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah, exactly. I understand that we are in that liminal place and we get to be hated by everybody, But, we don’t have to be hated by everybody. And at least we can identify with, “Oh, they’re thinking this,” and “Oh, they’re thinking that,” and, “Oh, alright. Huh.” You know, it’s a unique vantage point, culturally, from which to try to reconcile these disparate understandings of the human future.

Asher Miller

So maybe we work on some of that denialism, because I don’t think that it’s just carried by these guys. I mean, I think we all struggle with denial of death, right?

Well and those of us, I think, who recognize that we are, we are products of privilege, right? If you step it out… You know, our friend Nate Hagens has talked about this a lot… There’s people who are privileged in the context of other humans right now, but there’s also humans in this time being privileged in the context of humanity, both in the past and potentially in the future.

And it’s really hard to sit with that and not be in denial of that privilege, and the responsibility of that. But if we face that, and then the denial of the body, right? And our connection with one another… connection to the earth, to other species. Maybe we need to work on that stuff. And maybe we can’t reach the billionaire types, the ones who are so disconnected, but I do think we all suffer with it. Somewhat, right?

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah, we do. And the fact that we suffer with it in every single place you look could be looked at as depressing and crazy-making, or it could be looked at as the opportunity. So one thing I’ve been doing a lot, and I don’t have all the answers yet, but whenever I’m in one of these groups of well-meaning people about economics or this or that, I start to ask, “Oh, so does anyone in this Zoom have a retirement account? And then they always, begrudgingly, “Well, yeah, I got that 401k from the place I work.” So, well what’s it invested in? “Oh well, some S&P index fund.” Well, what’s that? And can we possibly do more good with this meeting than you could taking your money out of that S&P index fund, and either throwing it into community, giving it away, you know? “Well, I can’t do that because then who’s gonna take care of me in my retirement?”

It’s like, Okay. So you’re creating a world where no one’s gonna take care of you in your retirement by having your money invested in your safety net, right? So then you go, “Is everyone here willing to take 10% of whatever’s in their retirement and put it towards a land trust or something for these people?”

All right, let’s do 10, right? What about 15? Do I hear 20? And if we start doing it… if we create a world where Social Security is literally social, it’s gonna force us to engender the kind of society that knows how to take care of itself.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and this is true, and has been true, for many people on this planet for a long time. But I think we are facing times where mutual aid and support is going to be a necessity. And so if we step out ahead, and if we model it in ways that are really about what you said before, which is belonging, and loving, and giving. And it is risk taking to do that.

Douglas Rushkoff

And the models are there, The models are there. African Americans did the model, right? Since early slavery they’ve been doing mutual aid, and the equivalent of local currencies and, local reinvestment in circular economics. I mean, read Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s book, Collective Courage, and you’ll see, there’s the models. You know, that’s why white people were raiding their towns and rioting, because they were prosperous. Because they understood circular economics. They did better than the white towns that were still connected to the larger economy. Cuz the larger economy is one big vacuum cleaner. It just sucks the value out of your community. So the technologies… “The technologies…” I hate to even call them that. The models are there. The approaches, the mechanisms. We’ve got it all. It’s way easier. It’s really just a question of will more than it is of means.

Asher Miller

Can we just keep a little bit of this laughing at the absurdity of some of this crazy shit out there?

Douglas Rushkoff

I think so. You’re the one who got so serious and grounded. I mean, you sounded so reasonable.

Asher Miller

I’m trying to be mature, man. But I really rail at this stuff. It drives me nuts.

Douglas Rushkoff

This is Crazy Town. I’ve been trying to drag you back into Crazy Town each time. But that’s alright. I hope I haven’t hurt my image or anything, doing that. But you understand. I wasn’t saying we should go fascist. I was showing how a line of thinking can end up.

Asher Miller

Oh, for sure. I don’t think anyone would believe that you’re arguing to go fascist.

Douglas Rushkoff

No, but I am interested in anarcho-syndicalism.

Asher Miller

Well, we’ll have to have you on another time to talk about that. How does that sound?

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah. Because that’s a word that’s crazy-making, too, but kind of fun.

Asher Miller

All right, Douglas, thanks so much. I appreciate it. It’s nice to always chat with you. And even though it’s crazy-making stuff, there’s definitely some gems in what you shared that I’m going to take with me. So I appreciate it.

Douglas Rushkoff

Yeah. Laugh. Laugh at it. If you laugh at the crazy and the billionaires, they become smaller. And we, and the real world become bigger.

Asher Miller

That sounds like a good plan.

Douglas Rushkoff

It’s just like leaving Facebook. I left Facebook and all those things, and someone said to me, “What do you mean? You’re gonna disappear?” And I’m like, “No, I’m gonna reappear!” Right.

Asher Miller

Well, I like still being able to see you. I’m gonna use the technology for as long as it lasts this way.

Douglas Rushkoff

You can. That’s fine. To see you, it’s okay. It’s an exception. The rabbi says…

Asher Miller

Oh, thank God.

Douglas Rushkoff

…it’s fine.

Asher Miller

Okay. All right. Thanks Douglas. Talk too you soon.

Douglas Rushkoff

All right. Be good.