Douglas Rushkoff on the billionaire problem

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Survive the doomsday economy

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with Douglas Rushkoff, Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow

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8:30 p.m. Monday, Christ Church Cathedral

Tickets and info:

American author Douglas Rushkoff, professor of media theory and digital economics at the City University of New York, is making his third visit to the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, this time with a new book that explores plans for escape of the ultra-rich. Survival of the Richest traces the roots of what Rushkoff calls The Mindset and how it led the wealthy to invest in underground bunkers, rockets, or anything that would get them away from an apocalyptic event on Earth. In this interview, edited at length, he talks about the origins of the book, the influence of toxic masculinity, and the questions we should be asking our leaders.

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Q: Did you write this book during the pandemic?

A: I did. I wrote it instead of directing a play. I was trying to get back to theater but the pandemic put a stop to theater. Then I wrote an article during the pandemic about how tech-bro-isolationist apocalypse fantasies seemed to play out in how many people were reacting to the pandemic. At least the rich.

Q: What did you observe?

A: They were running to their vacation homes in the Hamptons and hiring private tutors for their children in the backyard. A lot of them were like, « I’m finally making good use of my vacation home’s high-speed Wi-Fi, » and I was like, « Oh, this is more of a wish-fulfilment for you than it is. ballast. a bad thing.’ The way we were all less guilty of having Amazon Prime accounts or getting Fresh Direct delivered to the door I realized a lot of us were prone to that bunker mentality so I wrote an article on this subject.

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Q: What led to the book?

A: Yes. My editor came over and said, « It’s important, how we internalize that mindset that you wrote about, and I think that’s a book. » I wanted to do a book with stories rather than another polemic, which is most of my books, just me talking, so it was a good opportunity to move on to another genre.

Q: You write about the mindset of billionaires with a capital M. How do you define it?

Q: The mindset is really the belief that with enough money and technology, you can escape the mess you create with money and technology. You can build a car that goes fast enough to escape its own exhaust. It is based on many underlying assumptions that science and technology allow us to control and dominate nature so that it poses less of a threat. We can rise above nature and others as a kind of lords, either as pure consciousness, or by merging with machines, or by becoming so rich that we are untouchable. It’s that original understanding of the early Renaissance somewhat sovereign male dominator, now amplified by capitalism and digital technology and almost psychedelic futurism.

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Q: It also sounds like a lot of toxic masculinity. Is there a role for women in solving this problem?

A: I would say yes. We need to assuage this need to dominate, and the way to do that is to encourage the kinds of things we perhaps associate with women and feminine archetypes like sharing, nurturing, and community. Also learn to break down boundaries rather than erect more. Reduce our fear of intimacy. Create a sense of belonging without feeling like you have to beat someone. So yes, these are simple things, but it also requires some sort of shift in how we understand security and economics.

Q: We are in a municipal election campaign in Ontario. What questions should we ask our future leaders?

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A: I would ask questions that transcend the left-right divide. Start asking the practical questions – and the right should like it – how do we make our community more resilient and less dependent on government, long supply chains and centralization of all kinds? How to build a more circular economy here? How can we become more self-sufficient? How do you plan to assert the value and rights of this city as companies like Uber and Airbnb colonize what’s left of our economy? See if they have any answers to that.

Q: I’m sure you’ve heard of the trucker occupation in Ottawa where we had protesters who wanted to overthrow the government. What did you think?

A: (Laughs) It made me feel better. I’m here in America with Trump and MAGA and all the crazy stuff, and I still think I should have gone to Canada when I had the chance. I had a teaching opportunity there. I could be with all nice and civil people. And then I saw this happen and I thought, « Oh, it’s not just America. » I don’t have to try to run away from America. What is the billionaire’s state of mind again: « How do I get out of this place? » There is no place to go.

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Q: You have a daughter. What can we say to the younger generation?

A: Well, they have the power. They can turn things around if they want. I think they see things differently from us. They are able to recognize much of the neo-fascism around them. I think they’re much more aware of the political landscape and our historical situation than we give them credit for, and I think they’re frustrated that we don’t seem to understand that they understand. They are digital natives and they can feel they can feel the algorithm leading them down a dark path.

Q: Are they the key to the future?

A: They are. They will just have to learn to live with three or four degrees more than us. I really wonder if I will be alive despite everything the United States will do to try to merge with Canada. Will he be friendly or aggressive? I do not know. Do you guys think about that?

Q: Not really. Should we?

A: Well, after this book, all kinds of billionaire hedge funders came to me with their maps of climate change and how it all happens. They traced it, this future and it’s not pretty. And they all say, “Of course, the United States will partner with Canada. The United States has the money and Canada has the land, and everything will be fine.

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