Purple Magazine
— The Revolutions Issue #40 F/W 2023

douglas rushkoff



artworks by URS FISCHER 


1.  We’re  rediscovering  community,  recreating  society  with  mutual  aid   and  unity.

2.  Taking  digital  technology into  our  collective  hands,  and  growing  local  networks.

3.  We’re  rooting  for  decentralization,  and resisting  technocratic  control.

4.  Fighting for equitable  wealth  distribution  over  digital  dominance.


An American social critic who writes about the impacts of new technologies, Douglas Rushkoff is the author of many books, including Cyberia, Present Shock, and Media Virus!. In Survival of the Richest, his latest work, he explores the dominant mindset in Silicon Valley that has led to cascading social problems such as platforms that extract our data and amplify wealth inequality while causing epidemics of depression and suicide among teenagers. As Rushkoff explores in his book, wealthy tech investors share a deep belief that they and their cohorts are somehow outside the laws of physics, biology, economics, and morality. They think they will escape a coming global catastrophe — that is partly of their own making — if they have enough money and the latest technologies. While billions may perish, they will live forever via biotechnology and continue to gather in exclusive conclaves — transformational festivals and remote conferences — while the world burns.

In Survival of the Richest, Rushkoff dissects the world unleashed by tech libertarianism — seething with algorithms and AIs that exploit and manipulate gaps in human psychology while rewarding our worst tendencies. He explores the origins of this worldview in science, finance, and engineering. He analyzes
its current expression in
missions to Mars, island bunkers, AI futurism, and the metaverse. He explains why those with the most power to change our current trajectory have no interest in doing so. And he shows how recent forms of anti-mainstream rebellion — QAnon, for example, or crowd-sourced financial insurrections like the recent GameStop run — end up reinforcing the same destructive order. A self-proclaimed “Marxist media theorist,” Rushkoff proposes that the solution lies in rediscovering community and rebuilding society based on mutual aid, solidarity, and interdependence.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — With Survival of the Richest, your most recent book, you come out as a staunchly “anti-tech bro.” Can you elaborate on your current ideas and where you see the underlying hypocrisy of the tech elite?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — In Survival of the Richest, I openly express my stance against the tech industry. The sad irony, for me, is that I did that at a time when I needed speaking fees from tech conferences to cover my daughter’s college tuition. But there you have it. Many influential figures in Silicon Valley, including Sam Altman and Peter Thiel, recently signed a letter calling for a six-month moratorium on the very technologies they’ve been promoting relentlessly for years. This sudden “change of heart” reveals their awareness of the potential dangers associated with the technologies they’ve been building. Suddenly they want to be on record as having been against these technologies in case they do lead to catastrophic outcomes. After pushing it on us for decades, now they admit that the very tech they helped create could kill us all. Meanwhile, most of them continue to develop the technology as fast as they can.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — In your book, you mention Jeff Orlowski’s documentary The Social Dilemma, with its critical view of social net­works. Can you expand on the conflicting actions of the tech elite?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — For all its problems ignoring capitalism as the cause of abusive technologies, The Social Dilemma does show how the algorithms in our platforms were designed to manipulate people. These are not technologies for people to use; they are technologies that use people. This is an expression of the technosolutionist mindset I’m writing about: people are seen as the problem, and technology as the solution. The tech bros in the movie are beginning to see the danger of building tech with that underlying assumption. The Trump phenomenon woke them up, but they’re still looking for an upgrade rather than a fundamental rethink. That may be changing. Wired just ran a feature on me by Marxist writer Malcolm Harris, in which they acknowledge the value of the sorts of questioning I’ve been doing. It’s a significant shift in their policy toward me. In the ’90s, they actually banned me from the magazine.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Why was that the case?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — Probably because I was part of the psychedelic culture, which represented a different side of the Internet narrative. We were the ones challenging the status quo, and our ideas were not aligned with the mainstream business narrative that Wired was promoting. As a result, our perspectives were often marginalized.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — You’ve mentioned working on a graphic novel. Could you provide some details about it?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — Yes, I’m currently working on a graphic novel that I like to think of as the first work of “myco-punk” fiction. It presents a positive future made possible by mushrooms, a sort of solarpunk approach. In contrast to narratives like The Last of Us, which make mushrooms the nemesis, my book depicts them as potential allies in building a better world.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — How do you perceive the concept of revolution in today’s context?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — I tend to resist the term “revolution.” I never liked using it to describe the transformative impact of the Internet. Instead, I prefer to think of it as a renaissance, a rebirth of old ideas in a new context. Or as a retrieval — like Terence McKenna talked about, the “archaic revival.” All the stuff that was repressed in the last Renaissance — women and magic and plant medicine and crafts and peer-to-peer economics and the city — all those things that got repressed can now be retrieved in this new renaissance. The term “renaissance” implies a leap in our ability to engage with dimensions, just as the first Renaissance brought us perspective and circumnavigation of the globe. Similarly, the current one offers fractals, holographs, psychedelic visions, and global connectedness through the Internet.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — For you, “revolution” generally refers to a more democratic or left-wing transformation?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — I think so. For a revolution to be truly revolutionary, it needs to embody democratic, leftist principles. If it leans too much toward centralization and capitalist control, it is more of a reaction, perpetuating the system. A true revolution needs to prioritize the well-being of everyone, to foster a more equitable and just society. I see a lot of what Wired previously proclaimed as “revolutionary,” like the integration of technology and corporate control, to be deeply reactionary.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — In your recent work, what is your main message?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — I advocate for a pro-human collective, commons- based, interactive approach to technology where people create their own local networks. I stillbelieve in decentralization as a way to resist technocratic control and domination. I argue against the digital amplification of capitalism. I want to see wealth and power more equitably distributed among individuals and com­munities. I think we should prioritize human well-being, local connections, and real-life experiences over digital dominance and virtual predation.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — It always seems like the big platforms outcompete the smaller ones that support better, less commercial values — Couchsurfing versus Airbnb, for example. Why can’t alternative or cooperative platforms reach critical mass?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — When alternative platforms try to scale, they face fierce competition from established corporations that have the financial and technological resources to dominate the market and either absorb them or drive them out of business. Capitalism, with its focus on growth and profit maximization, favors large-scale initiatives that exploit economies of scale. Instead of trying to build massive platforms, I think we need to build resilient local networks and communities that counteract the negative impacts of tech corporations.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — What do you envision for the future?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — I see us returning to local and embodied experiences. One of the most revolutionary acts, today, is to ask your neighbor for a favor. That immediately creates reciprocity. If they do something for you, then you kind of owe them some help when they need it. But this is the way to start re-forming community bonds.
I believe we should embrace alternative, locally based economic models, such as digital distributism, that can help us create a more equitable and sustainable future. By challenging the concentration of wealth and power and fostering decentralized, cooperative structures, we can build a society that values the well-being of individuals and communities.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — René Guénon wrote a book called The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, where he argues that we’re in the declining phase of our civilization, heading for catastrophe, marked by the quantification of everything in modern systems. He argues that the shift from qualitative to quantitative thinking is totally against the sacred worldviews found in traditional cultures. While it may be impossible to stop this process, at least his view helps us understand what’s going on.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — The quantification of our reality started with Francis Bacon and empirical science. Bacon said, famously, that science will “let us take nature by the forelock, hold her down, and submit her to our will.” So, you have the idea that you can de-animate and quantify things in order to make them neutral and control them — this very dead form of life science. And then at the same time, you get the invention of capitalism. This was really the same thing, as Marx understood: the quantification of commodity fetishism, and you add more details on the manufactured object to make it look like more human hours went into it, so you can charge more. It’s the quantification of everything. But, now, in the digital realm, it’s not just quantification. It’s the quantization of everything, which is another notch forward. When you quantize, then you have to be either at the one or the zero or the two or the one. You don’t just have a number, but you lock it down on the ticks of the clock. You lose the space between them. So, quantized time, as understood by a computer, is the tick. But to the human being, this negates the actual duration, the time in which we’re living and what we experience. It is anti-human, anti-nature, anti-experiential. It emphasizes quantity, money, and mechanization. Not just industrialization, but the utilitarian outlook. That all started to make me question the politics of utilitarianism — the Jeremy Bentham idea of maximizing each person’s time. But well-being is not a math question — it’s a qualitative question.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — During the pandemic, we experienced a temporary pause, realizing that much of our work is nonessential, and CO2 levels went down a lot as nature began to recover. But now we have gone back to the old system. This collective realization didn’t lead to significant change or debate. Why don’t we take more action?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — I flash back to the missed opportunity of Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth. That film left people feeling that addressing climate change is hopeless, and that all we could do was address it individually through consumer choices or investment decisions, rather than through systemic solutions. The scale of the problem makes individuals feel powerless. Real solutions require embracing the de-growth model, reinventing local institutions, and rebuilding communities in preparation for a future that requires a different way of life.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — There are increasing numbers of climate scientists — people like Jem Bendell and Guy R. McPherson — who believe that massive numbers of people will die in the next decades due to climate change. The estimates vary, but the consensus is that billions of people may be at risk. Despite this, there is a lack of tangible engagement and a sense that many are resigned to our fate, even among those with the means to make a difference. Do we have a subconscious reluctance to take action or people just don’t want to change?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF — I tend to agree. The evidence suggests we are facing severe conse­quences; the scale of the problem and the lack of sufficient action contribute to a sense of power­lessness and resignation. While I hold out hope for a reprieve or surprise solution — like nuclear fusion, for instance — I feel we should focus on preparing for the challenges ahead, choosing what values and practices we want to carry into the next phase. It is so weird that, even now, many people, including those with means and influence, remain locked into a delusion of permanence within the system. They keep buying houses on beaches in Miami, for instance, even when they know Miami is going to be underwater soon. The prospect of migration and displacement due to climate change is looming, yet people keep investing in vulnerable areas. I guess they may figure that they will have a few good years, at least, to party. Or perhaps they still don’t believe that climate change will impact them.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Do you think there might be a metaphysical or subconscious choice, on a collective level, to witness or just experience this apocalypse rather than actively working together to prevent it?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF —  Personally, I am feeling a huge desire to reengage with local communities and explore alternative avenues for meaningful action.

I am planning to get involved in community theater in New York City. The idea is to create scripts that can be distributed widely, where people can explore the different power dynamics in society, but then leave it open to their interpretation. I want to create a sort of 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration, almost Marxist playwriting where people in the red states may see it without knowing what it is, but then it forces them to think about what’s happening in a radical way. It’s funny, even when you get involved with activism — for instance, I work a lot with Extinction Rebellion — you find a lot of resistance and divisions among different activist groups and factions that make it harder to accomplish anything. I also accept that I’m likely not the person to lead a social movement. I think it’s okay not to be in charge. You and I may both be better off thinking of ourselves as Gen X social critics who don’t really belong anywhere because we tend to look critically at any alternative. That may just be our role as agents of change. We’re more the court jesters than the Joan of Arcs, or whoever it is that’s going to actually change something.


Urs Fischer, Denominator, 2020-2022, database, algorithms, and led cube, copyright Urs Fischer, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian, photos Stefan Altenburger

[Table of contents]

The Revolutions Issue #40 F/W 2023

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