• After the predatory rich have extracted all the wealth they can from those of us who work to sustain their luxuries;
• After they’ve poisoned the earth and despoiled its fruits, turned most of it to muck, so that only the places they inhabit are habitable;
• After the chaotic wars, famines and droughts; after the cross-border conflicts, the drone strikes on dangerous refugee camps to thin the herd, the death delivered by those with power to stem the angry tide of those without it;
• After all the pandemics and diseases have taken their toll;
After all that, the predatory wealthy will abandon us, create a place that nurtures only themselves — they and the professional classes they can’t live without — and live there forever, leaving the wreck they left behind to us.
Last year, I got invited to a super-deluxe private resort to deliver a keynote speech to what I assumed would be a hundred or so investment bankers. It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk — about half my annual professor’s salary — all to deliver some insight on the subject of “the future of technology.”
I’ve never liked talking about the future. The Q&A sessions always end up more like parlor games, where I’m asked to opine on the latest technology buzzwords as if they were ticker symbols for potential investments: blockchain, 3D printing, CRISPR. The audiences are rarely interested in learning about these technologies or their potential impacts beyond the binary choice of whether or not to invest in them. But money talks, so I took the gig.
After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come with questions of their own.
They started out innocuously enough. Ethereum or bitcoin? Is quantum computing a real thing? Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.
Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”
The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.
This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader?
One vulnerability these squillionaires obsess over is the private jet pilots. How do they make sure they’ll transport them, as opposed to dump them out and fly themselves and their families over? And I don’t see why, if I were a private jet pilot, that I’d trust them one iota. Once you’ve shuttled them over, your use to them is done. I’d expect to be shot stepping off the plane.
The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.
That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. … For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.
If you think all this is speculative, consider the Covid-era luxury bunkers the wealthy are already building to “self-isolate” in comfort.
Be warned. Asking to not be prey won’t work all, and it never has. Trying to “move the corporatists to the left” is an exercise that only ends in failure — or co-dependency.
Whether the process is orderly, though, depends on the Left. We already know what rebellion from the Right looks like. It looks like Trump.