David Stairs

Early Bell System ad

In the 1920s, before such things developed a predatory sheen, the advertising world promoted the theme of the man who was on top of the world. Modern, accomplished, wealthy, this contemporary Babbitt looked out the window of his 40th floor office at the world as it lay at his feet, just awaiting his next decision. My how times have changed!

It’s not that the charactertype has disappeared. Rather, titans of business and industry are more numerous than ever, and just as ruthless. Of course, ruthlessness was not the quality the Mad Men were emphasizing back in the day, control was. And the problem with control is that it is not only elusive, but also fleeting. One thinks of General Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or maybe Alex Haig’s not terribly reassuring “I’m in control here” after Reagan was shot.

Today’s Masters are not usually generals, or even dictators, but tech billionaires, by comparison with whom the depredations of the Gilded era tycoons, like John D. Rockefeller and JP Morgan, seem positively tame.

Consider the most obvious example— Elon Musk:
•$450 billion Tesla bailout from the DOE
•Sanctioned by the SEC for threatening stock buy back affecting Tesla share price
•Offer of equipment to Thai boys trapped in cave
•Losing 40 communication satellites in a Space X rocket explosion
•Lawsuits resulting from accidents with Tesla Autopilot software
•Lawsuit over his 2018 $56billion compensation package from Tesla
•Selling off vast amounts of Tesla stock to underwrite other adventures
•Mass layoffs at Twitter

This listing represents only the most salient legerdemain of the current “world’s wealthiest man.” There are many other things that could be added, if you had a couple days to read about them.

Then there is the world’s former richest man Jeff Bezos:
•Sending self, friends, and celebrities to the edge of space
•Problems with unionization at Amazon warehouses
•Closure of Amazon bookstores
•Obscene earnings during the pandemic
•But had to give $80 billion to McKenzie Scott after their divorce

I mean, when there are no more worlds to conquer on this planet, one must set his sights on outer space, right? Mining consortiums on the Moon, or perhaps the asteroid belt? It’s already been made into the sci-fi series The Expanse, so why shouldn’t life copy art? Maybe because science is not the same as science fiction, but don’t tell these guys that. With all the problems our world suffers from, they’d rather think about using unconscionable wealth to colonize inhospitable Mars.

Way back in the dark ages of the ’90s the then world’s greatest consolidator of wealth attempted to take over the internet. Today he leads a calmer life, consistent with reduced circumstances. But Bill Gates also has delusions of grandeur:
•Seeking a vaccine for malaria and a cure for AIDs
•Wanting to donate himself out of the world’s billionaire club which would be great if he hadn’t
•Been questioned about his association with Jeffrey Epstein
•And then been dumped by Melinda

The back benchers should also have a place on this list. They might include Travis Kalanick:
•Forced out as Uber CEO
• After the release of the Uber Files documenting the company’s laissez-faire attitude to violence toward drivers, and attempts to lobby influential politicians.

Jack Dorsey:
•Stepped down as Twitter head following Twitter’s complicity aiding and abetting Trump
•Twitter bled cash until being taken over by Musk’s $44 billion buyout

Elizabeth Holmes:
•The former CEO and founder of medical instrument company Theranos, who was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for investor fraud

Larry Page and Sergei Brin
•The original Bobbsey Twins, not wanting to do evil while amassing a huge fortune bringing advertisers to a smartphone near you, and last but not least….

Mark Zuckerberg
The original “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry” Kid, who found multiple ways to compromise your personal data.

What do all of these dweebs have in common? Is it Insight? Fuzzy brilliance? Rock hard determination?

It’s hubris, pilgrim, good old self-righteous self-interest, and nothing more. Not to say that any Master of All He, or sometimes She, Surveys could ever be any different. They still sit in their penthouse offices staring down on the world, but you give them too much credit if you ever think of them as empathic, altruistic, or anything other than supremely arrogant.

And you thought Trump was the ultimate wannabe god? Silly you!

David Stairs is the founding editor of the Design-Altruism-Project.

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