The unbearable hubris of Elon Musk and the billionaire tech bros

The unbearable hubris of Elon Musk and the billionaire tech bros

Douglas Rushkoff writes:

Even their downfalls are spectacular. Like a latter-day Icarus flying too close to the sun, disgraced crypto-god Sam Bankman-Fried crashed and burned this month, recasting Michael Lewis’s exuberant biography of the convicted fraudster – Going Infinite – into the story of a supervillain. Even his potential sentence of up to 115 years in prison seems more suitable for a larger-than-life comic book character – the Joker being carted off to Arkham Asylum – than a nerdy, crooked currency trader.

But that’s the way this generation of tech billionaires rolls. The Elon Musk we meet in Walter Isaacson’s biography posts selfies of himself as Marvel comic character Doctor Strange – the “Sorcerer Supreme” who protects the Earth against magical threats. Musk is so fascinated with figures such as Iron Man that he gave a tour of the SpaceX factory to the actor who plays him, Robert Downey Jr, and the film’s director, Jon Favreau. As if believing he really has acquired these characters’ martial arts prowess, in June Musk challenged fellow übermensch Mark Zuckerberg to “a cage match” after Zuck launched an app to compete with the floundering Twitter. Musk and Zuck exchanged taunts in the style of superheroes or perhaps professional wrestlers. “I’m up for a cage match if he is,” tweeted Musk. “Send Me Location,” responded Zuck from Instagram’s Threads.

Billionaires, or their equivalents, have been around a long time, but there’s something different about today’s tech titans, as evidenced by a rash of recent books. Reading about their apocalypse bunkers, vampiric longevity strategies, outlandish social media pronouncements, private space programmes and virtual world-building ambitions, it’s hard to remember they’re not actors in a reality series or characters from a new Avengers movie.

Unlike their forebears, contemporary billionaires do not hope to build the biggest house in town, but the biggest colony on the moon. In contrast, however avaricious, the titans of past gilded eras still saw themselves as human members of civil society. Contemporary billionaires appear to understand civics and civilians as impediments to their progress, necessary victims of the externalities of their companies’ growth, sad artefacts of the civilisation they will leave behind in their inexorable colonisation of the next dimension. Unlike their forebears, they do not hope to build the biggest house in town, but the biggest underground lair in New Zealand, colony on the moon or Mars or virtual reality server in the cloud. [Continue reading…]

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