Four very powerful billionaires—Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Marc Andreessen—are creating a world where “nothing is true and all is spectacle.” If we are to inquire how we got to a place of radical income inequality, post-truth reality, and the looming potential for a second American Civil War, we need look no further than these four—“the biggest wallets,” to paraphrase historian Timothy Snyder, “paying for the most blinding lights.”
I call them the Technocrats, in recognition of the influence of the technocracy movement, founded in the 1930s by Elon Musk’s grandfather, Joshua Haldeman. The Technocrats make up a kind of interlocking directorate of Silicon Valley, each investing in or sitting on the boards of the others’ companies. Their vast digital domain controls your personal information; affects how billions of people live, work, and love; and sows online chaos, inciting mob violence and sparking runs on stocks. These four men have long been regarded as technologically progressive heroes, but they are actually part of a broader antidemocratic, authoritarian turn within the tech world, deeply invested in preserving the status quo and in keeping their market-leadership positions or near-monopolies—and their multi-billion-dollar fortunes secure from higher taxes. (“Competition is for suckers,” Thiel once posited.)
Indeed, they are American oligarchs, controlling online access for billions of users on Facebook, Twitter, Threads, Instagram, and WhatsApp, including 80 percent of the US population. Moreover, from the outside, they appear to be more interested in replacing our current reality—and our economic system, imperfect as it is—with something far more opaque, concentrated, and unaccountable, which, if it comes to pass, they will control.
I use the term techno-determinism to describe the path the Technocrats have dictated for our country because they have sold, and we have bought into, the idea that they are going to deliver us a bright future. The future they are now selling us, however—crypto fortunes, the merger of the human and the computer via AI, the prospect of spending our lives in the Metaverse or on Mars—is a lie. To quote Snyder once more, Donald Trump has shown that he “was lying not so much to deny the truth as to invite people into an alternative reality.” Such sleight-of-hand applies here as well. The alternative reality that these men are focused on is a world of technodeterminism, one in which AI may eventually do all the real work and a large number of humans may be rendered useless to society.
The Technocrats do not hide the fact that they plan to feed at the government trough to finance some of their more outrageous schemes. Their plan for your future involves nothing less than confronting the nihilism of a looming dystopia. And four of the projects they are pursuing to address their visions will need tens of trillions of dollars of (mostly public) investment capital over the next two decades. The first project, supported by Andreess
en, Thiel, and Zuckerberg, is Web3, a virtual world (the Metaverse) accessed by virtual reality (VR) headgear, which, despite all of the clear benefits that it promises, may end up converting the free web into an online theme park in which every door requires a crypto token to open. The second project is the support of crypto currency. As Adam Fischer, Israel’s top-ranked venture capitalist, has pointed out, “Crypto is not so much an investment idea that aligns with the libertarian political ideology, as it is a virulent strain of libertarian political ideology leveraging human greed through the blockchain.” The third project involves supporting Elon Musk’s $10 trillion pipe dream of sending humans to live on Mars.
But of all the myths the Technocrats peddle, none is more far-fetched than transhumanism, a concept dear to the heart of Peter Thiel. And to understand what could well be the Biggest Lie of Big Tech requires a deep dive into this social movement, which is focused on R&D for “human-enhancement technologies” that might someday allow people to live to the age of 160 or more. Needless to say, access to these age-extension systems, which have not yet been invented, will be incredibly expensive, so, under this scheme, the only ones destined to survive well into their second century will likely be the multimillionaires.
These four projects—the Metaverse, crypto, interplanetary colonization, and transhumanism, not to mention AI—are an existential risk to the world in political, economic, and, perhaps most fundamentally, moral terms. The moral danger comes from the fact that all four projects embody
the first steps toward a realized transhumanism. The transhumanists believe that technological and biological enhancements will allow humans to live for several lifetimes, migrate to other planets, and merge our brains with computers so that our individual consciousnesses can live forever. Web3 is the first step to a wearable human technological augmentation. Living on Mars would require a permanent technological augmentation. And transhumanism itself envisions a point at which human and machine meld into some new species of cyborg. It is a movement that would undo the idea at the heart of political liberalism: equal rights for all. Instead, one’s wealth would determine one’s future prospects. Transhumanism is, to quote philosopher and political scientist Francis Fukuyama, “the world’s most dangerous idea.”
Transhumanism envisions a future in which artificial intelligence and robots, ruled by the Technocrats, will do most of the work, and a significant portion of the population will sit at home, living a fantasy life in the Metaverse, subsisting on government-paid crypto universal basic income, which would cover your broadband bill and your Metacoin micropayments for all the concerts and clubs you attend virtually. Anyone who thinks this is some kind of dystopian fantasy should visit Amazon’s research-and-development facility to see the future of whole warehouses operated by five humans and 5,000 robots.