Today, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman shares a key insight that his headline editor summarizes as The Rich Are Crazier Than You and Me. While this is true, what's even more key to me is why the most prominent tech tycoons (who are one of the most powerful cohorts of the rich) have gotten so radicalized.
As I've been saying for a while, and as Krugman quotes, "it's impossible to overstate the degree to which many big tech CEOs and venture capitalists are being radicalized by living within their own cultural and social bubble." Many people resist believing this can be the case, because we've been fed so much of the "Great Man" myth, and are told so often to believe in these people as the innovators and brilliant minds that will bring us to some exciting promised future.
But I've spent decades in this industry, often knowing the executives and investors long before they came to wield so much power, and... they're just a bunch of dudes. They're just as prone to becoming swept up in stupid conspiracized thinking as, well, everyone else in their demographic seems to have been. And it's important to remember, nobody becomes a billionaire by accident. You have to have wanted that level of power, control and wealth more than you wanted anything else in your life. They all sacrifice family, relationships, stability, community, connection, and belonging in service of keeping score on a scale that actually yields no additional real-world benefits on the path from that first $100 million to the tens of billions.
So you have a cohort that is, counterintutively, very easily manipulated. If you have access to a billionaire (and billionaires all have access to each other, because it suits their ego to think of each other as peers), most are very easy to program by simply playing to their insecurity and desire for acknowledgement of exceptionalism, and so they push each other further and further into extreme ideas because their entire careers have been predicated on the idea that they're genius outliers who can see things others can't, and that their wealth is a reward for that imagined merit. "I must be smart, look how rich I am." The rising power of movements meant to counter their influence has catalyzed a vicious, and frankly very weird, backlash where they want to put everyone else in their place. And, due to the insularity of their lifestyles, they very seldom have any corrective voices pointing out when they've clearly lost the plot. If it weren't for the deep harm they were doing to so many with these radical ideas, I'd have a lot of pity and empathy for the fact that they're clearly acting out due to social isolation and the existential emptiness that must come from pursuing wealth and power to such an extreme degree that there's no room left in life for someone to call them on their bullshit.
But, since the first step to fixing any problem is being able to clearly identify it, I'm gratified to hear more people recognizing the social and cultural factors that are shaping the otherwise-inexplicable choices of some of the most powerful people in the business world. Now here's hoping that those outside the bubble can gather together and organize an effective counter-response to the increasing dangers and harms posed by the radicalization of the loudest voices in tech.