kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
[personal profile] kortirion_among_the_trees
Very interesting article with lots of food for thought: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich?
Too much food, actually, so I'll just remark on two things.  I'm struck by how influenced by Hollywood (rather than real instances of civilisational collapse, as during wars) all these people's doomsday scenarios and preparations are.  But much more striking is the level of egotistic irresponsibility and absence of self-awareness that such behavior entails.  The cause of the imminent social collapse you fear and the cause of your immense wealth are one and the same - put two and two together and use all your money and, therefore, potential power, to influence politics for the better, just as your other ('socially minded') brother billionaires are actively influencing it for the worse.  With power comes responsibility, noblesse oblige and all that, but these people have no concept of a social contract.  Looking out for number one is the most defeatist philosophy imaginable - when number one - in combination with other similar number ones - actually has enough money to genuinely influence the direction of the world.  But no, they prefer to contribute their bit to dismantling the edifice in the hope that when it finally comes crashing down they'll have a helicopter ready to whisk them away to New Zealand.

Date: 2017-02-04 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
This is unfair.

Those billionaires are mostly philanthropists, mostly Democrat voters by instinct. (You must have read how unpopular Peter Thiel has become in Silicon Valley for aligning himself with Trump.) They're mostly spending huge sums of money in attempts to set the world to rights. Especially by trying to advance science, technology and medicine: Musk's electric cars and Gates's fight against malaria and other tropical diseases are just two examples.

Yes, many have a backup option prepared in case it all goes sour, just as a sensibly brave combat pilot wears a parachute.

Date: 2017-02-05 12:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
I'm sorry, but this is not at all the sense I got from the article.

a) The majority of people cited are clearly not philanthropists; furthermore, a good half of them are finance, not technology types (and the ones who are are mostly internet people, who contribute nothing positive to society with their work (unlike real scientists)).

b) Technological progress is all well and good, but precious little to do with helping the world out of the state it's in (even green technologies are useless without the political will to actually implement them on a large scale). Medicine is a different question, it is actually possible to achieve results on a private basis there, at least in the 'third world'.

c) But the bottom line is that philanthropy is not and has never been the way to fix the world - why the hell are they not putting politicians in power who will pass the right kind of laws, like the other tribe of billionaires (who stand behind all the bastards in power) have been doing with their money for so many decades? Why is it always finance and oil, etc. etc. who are shaping the power structures, who are actually actively ruining the lives of millions of people with the legislation their hirelings pass? Why is it the new tech money is never directed at anything that actually makes a damn bit of difference? (again, medicine excluded) Where the hell are their influential think tanks, lobby groups, revolving doors, MPs, Congressmen and Presidents if they're all such caring angels? The big tech companies are the richest in the world, they're sitting on trillions of cash, where's the benefit to society of any of that?

Date: 2017-02-05 01:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
why not start a political party, with all that money,that will fight for a better world?

possibly because the supporters of such a party would want some of their wealth?

unless accompanied by social and political change, technological progress is useless (arguably even dangerous), as the beneficiaries of the new technology would not be spread evenly across the society
Edited Date: 2017-02-05 01:10 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-05 01:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
Many of them are in favour of 'universal basic income' - have you been following the wildfire spread of this idea, which goes back to 1795, but is suddenly beginning to be taken seriously.

But you can only have a universal basic income in a prosperous society. Automation helps, but energy getting ever cheaper has been fundamental to the growth of prosperity of the last 300 years or so. Hence the interest of many billionaires in progressing fusion. But it's not the only option, solar power is at last getting cheaper at an impressive rate.

What we will never have is a return to a world based on mass labour. There is no longer any need for it. Transport will be fully automated within a few years. So will the building industry. Factories have been switching to automation for decades, but soon most kinds of factory will no longer be needed.

You really can't go back - even if it were desirable. But the most far-sighted of the billionaires you despise realise that wealth is useless if society breaks down. They're trying to plan to prevent that happen. Even if it means working with Trump. None of them want their backup plans to be needed, any more than an airman wants to use his parachute.

Date: 2017-02-05 06:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
I agree with your middle two paragraphs. However, though high productivity (as a result of advanced technology, cheap energy, etc.) may be necessary, it is not sufficient for a good society. The distribution of the wealth generated is the key factor, and it is no exaggeration to say that none of the extra wealth generated since the 1970s by advances in technology has been redistributed. There is no sign that this is going to change any time soon, and all the talk about a universal basic income is, so far, just BS. To the extent that it isn't, it's just a way of ensuring the capitalist dystopia we inhabit keeps on going the way it's going without imploding (see this: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2016/09/23/aaron-bastani/money-for-nothing/ it sums up the point succinctly). I've made this observation before, but I'll make it again: it is the greatest of ironies that we are finally in a position to make a socialist utopia a reality, and we are further away from it than we've ever been in political terms.

Anyway, all this only applies to the West. There are all sorts of issues in other parts of the world - from the irreparable effects of global warming to wars (the two are linked, of course), etc. etc. which mean none of this is really a consideration for them.

As for your last paragraph, I see no solid evidence that they are trying to 'prevent' society from breaking down - all I see is that they are busy grabbing all the money they can (as well as the new type of power that comes with control of the world's data), and doing f-all for society in real terms (philanthropy doesn't count). And as for working with Trump, give me a break!

Date: 2017-02-05 09:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
Philanthropy doesn't count? On the scale Bill Gates and others are doing it? That's harsh, they are at least trying!

Of course not _all_ the 'internet billionaires' are angels. But what _do_ you do with wealth on that scale?

I don't mean they're advancing science in person. But they're a lot harder to bullshit than politicians, and have greater freedom of choice, when choosing what research and development to fund. They're now doing this on such a scale that they collectively have real power to determine the future direction of the human race.


Their true intentions will become clearer pretty soon....

Date: 2017-02-05 11:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
I always said I exclude medicine ;)

But I'm not talking about funding research and development or science. The link you give just underlines my point - these people have the wrong priorities. They invest a billion into space or life extension (ego projects both - but then the Silicon Valley ethic is well known to be individualist to the core), which might, as the article says, have spillover effects in, say, medical research or whatnot. All well and good, but while they're doing that, the Koch brothers are investing a billion (metaphorically speaking) into funding the Tea Party, climate change denial, shaping US government legislation, etc. That's what you do with wealth on that scale, and that has real and immediate effects in the real world and in the real lives of millions of people. And that's where all, I repeat myself, the finance and oil (and so on) money has been going, not stupid space projects that have close to zero impact on actual human society, even when all the potential beneficial spill-over effects are factored in.

I know perfectly well that technological change is probably the most important factor in the development of human society, and the economics of today are as they are almost entirely because of the technological base, but technological change cannot be directed or planned for (beyond a certain point). All the economic disruption caused by the communications revolution was hardly predicted by the people back in whatever decade it was laying the foundations of the world-wide web. So you can take a billion and invest it in science research, and it might be wasted or it might yield something that down the line will influence society hugely, no one knows how. Or you can take that billion and change society right now, for the better or for the worse. For the better if you're Gates with your medical philanthropy; for the worse if you're like most of the rest of them, from Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil (that's just shorthand, of course).

I cannot view the people listed in your article as anything other than overgrown boys playing at Star Trek with their money, while the adults are busy getting on with screwing the world and laughing all the way to the bank. If they truly cared about science, for instance, they would launch a counter-offensive to all the billions behind climate science-denial, and would bankroll legislation protecting the environment. But no, it seems the other guys have the field all to themselves. Indeed, why spend your time challenging, e.g. big oil, when you can indulge in vanity projects that'll emblazon your name on the moon or, better yet, chase after the elixir vitae? When I read about the latter, I have no words left. To what extent must the money have gone to their heads for them to think that searching for immortality is a good use of it ('I'm too special to die!'), when gee, I don't know, antibiotic resistance, presents a slightly more pressing concern. Not to mention lack of access to basic medical care and medicines for most of the planet's population, and I include much of the first world in that. If you have billions, there's so much you could really do for the benefit of society, a volume wouldn't be enough to list it - and what they're actually doing doesn't deserve a footnote in that volume.

Date: 2017-02-06 12:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
They're doing lots of medical stuff, not just 'life extension' although that grabs the journalists' interest. And stuff to do with cleaner cheaper energy. Again, although fusion grabs the headlines there's lots of more mundane stuff they're doing too. I just tried to share a facebook post about this NYT story:


Energy storage is the Achilles Heel of renewable power, needed but unglamorous, if solar and wind are really to replace coal-burning. Elon Musk has invested huge amounts of his own money via several of his companies to develop it.

Date: 2017-02-06 01:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arda-unmarred.livejournal.com
That's great, stuff like that I understand and approve of (I remember my dad talking to me about the importance of battery technology years ago when he was working for an electric car company, and basically saying that once they crack that, we're set). So kudos to them for all of that. BUT. While they're developing the great green tech we've got the Dakota Access Pipeline, we've got the termination of the Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/861/all-info , we've got massive expansion of fracking, we've got roll-back of coal pollution restrictions, we've got Hinckley Point on this side of the pond, etc. etc. That's why politics will trump (pun intended) tech in the short-to-medium term every time. Same goes for medicine - if people can't access it, what's the use of having it?

I understand your desire to defend these people, but all I'm saying is that if they criminally waste 50% of their money, rather than 100%, they're still criminally wasting it.

Date: 2017-02-06 02:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] colinbj.livejournal.com
Er, who do you think I am trying to defend?

I defend the techie billionaires-turned-philanthropists as one of the few potential forces for good on this weary planet. For example Silicon Valley ones who are at heart Democrats and Trump-despisers even if they think they're libertarians.

Not the politicians, and certainly not all the rich people! You could describe me as a socialist utopian who has lost his faith and can no longer believe.

Technology is not sufficient to make everybody happy, but it is necessary. In an age of sufficient superabundance fights over sharing out the pot should get less important.

I've seen enough to become completely disenchanted with official 'research and development' projects, and institutions, and almost all academics. That leaves the billionaires as my only hope.


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