The four billionaires who want to control the universe (+Video)

In Jonathan Taplin’s new book, “The End of Reality: How Four Billionaires are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars and Crypto,” the internet innovation expert delves into activities of the gang-of-four powerful oligarchs: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreesen, breaking down their increasing profits and infinite ambitions to control and influence domestic and global affairs while sending our technology innovation in a profit-driven, dystopian direction, corrupting both sides of the political aisle. Host Robert Scheer’s question: “Wait a minute, what else is new?

Taplin’s distinction between the oligarchs of new and old is that the modern tech billionaires are granted immunity for content published on their platforms through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Taplin describes the control these oligarchs possess over the speech dictated on their platforms, “So here [Musk] controls this platform, Twitter, and what he wants pushed gets pushed, what he wants suppressed, gets suppressed. And nobody even doubts that that’s happening.”

Taplin also emphasizes that there is nowhere to turn within the party duopoly to crack down on these monopolies and thus — leaving it to us, the people “getting screwed” — to do something about it.

“If you tried to do a very powerful regulation and break up a Google or break up a Meta or break up one of these companies, there would be howls from both sides of the aisle because there’s so much money being spread around by these companies that, you know, the Democrats and the Republicans are both in the pocket of the big companies.


This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy.

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from, I guess, and in this case, not just intelligence, but experience. A former colleague of mine here at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, Jonathan Taplin. Earlier in life, he was in fact, you can’t hear well because you were in rock and roll and destroyed his hearing. But we both have these aides now, two old guys, and he was head of our innovation lab. And I always enjoyed his work because he demystified the technology and told us, you know, basically my old slogan in any story, I want to know who’s getting screwed and who’s doing the screwing. And you started out with Bob Dylan and the band and a lot of truth telling there. And now you’ve gone on to write new books and explore the Internet and everything else. And the latest one just came out this week, “The End of Reality: How for Billionaires are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars and Crypto.” And it’s Jonathan Kaplan and his public affairs book, which I think is also owned by Hachette. That’s so far, I believe I’ve been published by them, but not that we have a conflict of interest because we clearly don’t share their profits. But anyway, lay it out because you basically have the idea that these four guys who are super wealthy, I don’t want to simplify this, but I just heard you give a talk and I’ve read your book, which is a great read, recommend it. But basically you have these four kind of monstrous super capitalists who are going to destroy the world and then they’re going to run off to Mars and have their little paradise and the rest of us are going to be screwed. Is that it?

Jonathan Taplin: yeah, kind of. So the four guys are Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Marc Andreessen and Mark Zuckerberg. And. No, there’s a lot the technology could do to save the planet and help reform our country and make us energy independent. But these guys are not interested in that. And so I’ll just take it one at a time and tell you what they’re thinking. So we start with Musk. So Musk is a believer that the Earth is doomed and that we need to have another planet for our species to move to. And he’s chosen the planet of Mars. The trip to Mars, even with the latest rocketry, would take about 14 months. It would cost 10 trillion to move about 20 people up there to Mars. And then you’d have to build a kind of biosphere like Space Dome to live in because you couldn’t be outside because the radiation levels are so high that you would get cancer in 5 minutes. You would have to import all your oxygen since there’s no oxygen on Mars and you would live in an extraordinarily hostile environment as opposed to trying to use the $10 trillion to fix the problems here on Earth. Musk himself would make probably about 2 trillion on that deal because the deal he has with NASA, he makes about a 30% profit on every rocket flight he makes for them. And, you know, here’s a man who claims he’s a libertarian but is actually a crony capitalist. Certainly SpaceX has only one customer, and that’s NASA. The U.S. government and the taxpayers would be paying the 10 trillion to get to Mars. His other companies, such as his satellite company, which he is using to provide, for instance, communications to the Ukrainian army, as Ronan Farrow pointed out, and as I pointed out in my book, which was written quite a while ago, when he decided that the Ukrainian army was getting too close to the Russian border, he created a line which he called a geofence. If they went too close to the border, they would lose all the satellite communications from his satellite company. So here’s an individual making political decisions for the government.

Robert Scheer: You know, we got a half hour now to cut to the chase.

Jonathan Taplin: Okay.

Robert Scheer: And I like talking to you because you’re smart I’m not blowing smoke. I always find you very interesting. You’ve had a real life. You have notions about the culture and the counterculture that I find interesting. I’ve done podcasts with you before. I want to cut to the chase right now, and let’s talk about these four and what my only disagreement. Let me just telegraph my own objection. I’m not here to defend their virtue. I’m here to say, Wait a minute, what else is new? And so, well, let’s give the floor, first of all. Okay.

Jonathan Taplin: So let’s let’s go to Peter Thiel next. So Peter Thiel runs a company called Palantir. Palantir is the premier surveillance capitalism company in the world.

Robert Scheer: Started by in part by the CIA.

Jonathan Taplin: Funded by the CIA for.

Robert Scheer: The first three years or so that was their only customer. And they gave him access to all of their information and everything else.

Jonathan Taplin: All their data. Yeah. And Thiel’s thesis was that if you had all that data, then you could find out where the terrorists were lurking.

Robert Scheer: And he’s a gay man who supported Trump. One of a few, Right. Publicly. Okay. Who Give us the other two. I’m going.

Jonathan Taplin: Okay, so I’m.

Robert Scheer: Going to do what you said then.

Jonathan Taplin: And then then you’ve got Marc Andreessen. So Marc Andreessen is the most important venture capitalist in America. Lives in Silicon Valley and funded Facebook for, you know, funded, Instagram funded many of the early social media startups was the first really important guy into crypto. Solano is his company. is a company. Opensea is a company that he founded that is responsible for NFTs if you’ve ever made the mistake to buy a bored ape, which was supposedly a digital image that was unique that you would own and was selling for $50,000 in the fall of 2021. That came from Marc Andreessen. You probably can’t give that away today, but that’s another story. And then there’s, you know, Mark Zuckerberg. So. We all know him as the person who founded Facebook. And more recently, Zuckerberg has decided that we all should live in the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a virtual world in which you wear a helmet made by Meta, and you explore a world called Horizon, in which you have malls that you can go and you can buy and you create an avatar for yourself. So the avatar doesn’t actually have to look like you. It can look like anything you want. So you can have, as Zuckerberg calls it, an aspirational avatar. You can look like Chris Hemsworth or something. And if you’re a girl, you can look like Kim Kardashian. And in this world, you will be able to instead of watching Tony Stark in the movies, you can be Tony Stark in The Avengers, and you can.

Robert Scheer: [Do it’s all a mixture of escapism and fantasy, alternative reality. I want to cut to the chase with you. Right. And I’ve read your book, and I just heard you give a good talk here at Annenberg. So, you know, these guys are hustlers and so forth. So my my basic question then is, so what else is new and what makes them so different? They’re very rich and so on. But let’s let’s go return to Elon Musk to begin with. Where is he really different than Henry Ford in the sense that they’re selling a fantasy to selling a dream? Let’s just take the one that’s most absurd, going to live on Mars and everything. He’s just hustling the Defense Department.

Jonathan Taplin: Okay. So, yes, that’s true.

Robert Scheer: I’m going to let you explain what the real menace says. But from where I’m sitting. Let me just. You got Jeff Bezos. He’s also a defense contractor. He also owns The Washington Post. He’s not in your four group. What I’m suggesting is not that these people aren’t a menace and doing all kinds of stuff and making a lot of money. But that is the model of of kind of capitalism in a way. And in your talk, you raised something that I thought was really profound. And in your book, which is that’s to be expected. That’s why you need regulation. That’s why you need regulation. That’s why you need to sometimes break up companies the way we did Standard Oil and AT&T originally. And let me I wasn’t going to do this, but maybe just throw in the hopper the people who gave them the license to steal, which is really what you describe was at least bipartisan. But actually the Democrats were probably more responsible because back in the nineties when Bill Clinton was there, they fell in love with this crazy expansion of the Internet. Right? And they wrote the laws which you discussed, which basically enabled these people to have the power that they do, particularly that section 230 of the Communications Act.

Jonathan Taplin: Right.

Robert Scheer: So.

Jonathan Taplin: Bob. Yeah. You know, I agree with you on that score. And I write in the book that the real blame for the the deregulatory atmosphere that these people have been able to thrive in is Bill Clinton and to some extent, Barack Obama. And in other words, these people believed that Silicon Valley was the replacement for. If you think about historically, the Democrats used to live off of union money. In other words, they were allied with the working class. And Ronald Reagan made it his thing to kill the unions or shut down the air traffic controllers. He killed that union. And he worked very hard, along with the Koch brothers and others, to kill the unions. So the the money that used to flow to the Democratic coffers from the unions was declining. And so they found two sources of new money. One was Wall Street and the other was Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley seemed a little more liberal than Wall Street, but they both were open for the same thing, which is a neo liberal society without regulation. And quite frankly, the the laws, the digital laws that Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the champion of the information superhighway put through, were so beneficial to the Internet companies, early Internet companies that we have never been able to claw them back. So. Facebook and Twitter live under a regime called Safe Harbor. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which basically says that they are not producers of content. They are simply a platform on which individuals post content and that they should have no responsibility for any speaker on their platform. So when Elon Musk decides, once he takes over Twitter to become, as he called it, a free speech absolutist, and he says no longer were the neo-Nazis be prohibited from being on my platform, then Twitter gets flooded with neo-Nazi propaganda. Then the Anti-Defamation League steps forward and says to advertisers, This is really a dirt bin of hatred and anti-Semitism. You shouldn’t be advertising here. And now this week, Elon Musk says the ADL and the Jews are trying to kill Twitter or X, as it’s now called. This is like nonsense. What does he expect when he eliminates any content moderation on his platform and says, I’m a free speech absolutist? So and the reason he can do that is that nobody can sue him for the hate speech that is on Twitter, on X because he has safe harbor. It’s not his fault. Unlike, say, Rupert Murdoch, who promulgated a lot of lies around the voting machine companies and ended up having to pay $780 million in fines for a libel suit. But you can’t have a libel suit against Twitter. You can’t have a libel suit against Facebook. So in that sense, the problem starts with dollars.

Robert Scheer: And is why you can’t have. And the point that Jonathan makes in the book and is making now is that legislation was passed in the 1990s and started under the Communications Decency Act and told that actually censorship. But nonetheless, the only part that survives in the courts was this Section 230, which said that these people are basically neutral carriers. They’re not publishers, therefore they can’t be sued. That’s how Facebook and Google get this tremendous freedom. And there has been something good about it, which is as long as it was a free food fight on the Internet and it was wild. We had a lot of excitement on the Internet. And I know I’ve been a of editor and publisher on the Internet and it was great then. I think my view is that the Democrats first came after the range and said, No, there’s too much fake news and too much distortion, and they sort of got permission or got people from the Pentagon and else to go in as an experts and check everything and all that. And and now Elon Musk is taking it in a different direction. He’s presenting himself as a champion of free speech and bringing other people in. But the real problem is the money. The real problem is that the money talks. Right. And the guys you’ve singled out, this is okay because I don’t want to run out of time. I want to get really to the heart of it. You picked on these four guys and I recommend the book, The End of Reality. Jonathan Taplin, It gets you in there, the whole texture of it, how it works and so forth. So I don’t want to take anything away from the book, but I want to challenge you on on how exceptional are they and why are they really But I know and you talk here, you mentioned well, then Bill Gates, but he has a foundation. Yeah, but before you had a foundation, he had a monopoly to try to create. And Google has, in effect, a monopoly. And, you know, and really what we’re up against is and what the solution sounds very old fashioned, but nobody brings it up is regulation. And the reason I picked on Clinton before he narrowly deregulated the whole Internet, they were drunk on Al Gore and all these people on the Internet, but they also deregulated Wall Street, which is why we had the whole financial meltdown. So my only concern, I have no argument with you about the book. My argument with is why only these four guys? Because I just see a whole system now of massive concentration of wealth, extreme income inequality, corruption of everything. Certainly our political system. Really? Why my thieves that are called billionaires and the Democrats and Republicans are right in there complicit and enablers.

Jonathan Taplin: So the epigram in in the book is fairly simple. It’s from Tim Snyder, he’s a historian at Yale. He says to abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle, the biggest wall plays for the most blinding lights. Okay, so I think we are in a new age. In other words, when you and I were younger and Walter Cronkite would do his broadcast in 1968, he would say, that’s the way the world is, you know, and and he would sign off. Right. And to a large extent. Most people believe that to be true. In other words, we had a shared set of facts that we operated on. And sometimes those facts were very uncomfortable for the government because Walter Cronkite thought that the Vietnam War was a mess. You know, but that was a shared set of facts. And without a shared set of facts, it’s very hard to run a democracy. So what these guys have done and what they promulgated with social media and I would put Facebook and Twitter at the center of that problem is they’ve created a world in which there is no shared set of facts. As you and I both know, a large percentage of the Republican Party believe that the election was stolen by Joe Biden. This is not true. A large percentage of these people believe that Bill Gates implanted a microchip in the COVID vaccines in order to brainwash people. This is not true. And so how did these things happen? Well, if we thought that people were getting their information from the TV networks or The New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, you know, we could go look and see why are they promulgating these lies, but they’re not. You’re getting new information from social media and from a small group of friends who send them things that come from these incredibly random sources, whether it’s Q Anon or something else. And and part of this book is what is it that draws people down the rabbit holes of conspiracies? So in that sense, I believe these people are responsible for that and they are protected from anyone calling them out because of this safe harbor. And so in some sense, they’re different. This is not the same as John de Rockefeller in 1905. You know, I mean, yes, he had a monopoly. And Teddy Roosevelt took on his monopoly and broke it up. But John D. Rockefeller was incredibly powerful, and he used political people. He used politicians, he used Ivy League, PR people. He did all sorts of things to try and maintain his monopoly. But he did not have the same power that Elon Musk does. So. So, Ross Douthat, I don’t know who writes a column for The New York Times is I don’t know what you think about him, but I think you’re on the right side of the thing. He is one of the more intelligent people. He says that Elon Musk is undoubtedly the most powerful voice on the right. He has 150 million followers on Twitter. Now, if you think about someone on Fox News like Sean Hannity, if Sean Hannity is lucky, he gets 2.5 million people a night to listen to his broadcast. So who has more influence, Elon Musk or Sean Hannity? I would argue Elon Musk does. And the problem is that these people, especially Thiel and Muskn have a very anti-democratic point of view. I mean, Teal has said straight out, “Democracy and capitalism are not compatible.” In other words, democracy screws up capitalism. And and that’s because the mob doesn’t know what’s going on. And they allow all sorts of things to happen that get in the way of businessmen doing the right thing. The assumption is that businessmen do the right thing. And you and I come from a place where we don’t always believe that’s true.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, but you’re leaving. I’m sorry, but I. I am not disagreeing with your half of the analysis, but you’re you’re underestimating, I think, how widespread the problem is. I mean, why is it more acceptable to have Jeff Bezos own the most important traditional legacy newspaper covering Washington? After all. I mean, Washington Post, really, if we think of traditional journalism, was the place where you figure out what’s going on with the creation of laws and the committee meetings and the administration of government. It’s now owned by a guy who was decidedly anti-union. He was exploitive of people, as, you know, all sorts of ways economically. And he doesn’t even have to use Amazon’s money. He uses his pocket change to buy this newspaper. And I’m just saying what the right feeds on, And I got it, The right thinks the game is rigged. They think the election was stolen. They think the mass media lies. Well, they’re wrong in thinking that this doesn’t happen, that they’re not complicit outright, but they’re right in saying, wait a minute, you know, when when Bush won, there were a lot of Democrats who thought the election was rigged. Right. The hanging chads and all that. When Trump beat Hillary, a lot of Democrats would never accept that Trump won the election. They denied he was a legitimate president. The L.A. Times even had an editorial, “the most dishonest president” before he’d even done anything. And all I’m asking you to do is what Bob Dylan did, who you help manage and bring to prominence…called out a Democratic president. Right. You know, Lyndon Johnson, I’m just asking you to put on your bipartisan cap. And I think the lesson of not that your book doesn’t call things accurately, but we live in an incredibly corrupt society. And the enemies of democracy are bipartisan.

Jonathan Taplin: I agree with that. I agree with that. And I know you know, I think my book does a pretty good job of of saying where the Democrats let go of their, you know, their affiliation with the labor movement and with the working class and decide to lie themselves with the richest 1%, you know. And.

Robert Scheer: That’s not small potatoes, though. That’s a big deal.

Jonathan Taplin: No, it was a big deal. Yeah.

Robert Scheer: And they enabled these these characters.

Jonathan Taplin: No, I agree. Yeah, I totally agree. But the question then becomes, okay, what do we do about it? Because if these guys really are oligarchs in the sense that, you know, they control their industries. They control their companies completely and they have both power in communications and power in the military industrial complex. So take Mars. So here he controls this platform, Twitter, and what he wants pushed gets pushed, what he wants suppressed, gets suppressed. And nobody even doubts that that’s happening. You know, it got so out of control that everyone was getting Elon’s posts, whether they wanted them or not for a while. And then finally everyone said, that’s too much. You can’t do that. So what? The problem is not just that he has that control, but he also has the sole provider of rockets to the space station. He is the sole provider with StarLink of Satellite communication capability to many armies around the world. And he personally has made decisions that says, well, these these people shouldn’t get communications in this place. In other words, as I said before, when he decided he didn’t want to piss off Putin, he didn’t. He made the communications go away. So I, I don’t think that’s the kind of power we want. It’s certainly not any kind of Jeffersonian democracy.

Robert Scheer: You know, I have an answer for you.

Jonathan Taplin: Okay.

Robert Scheer: I mean, what what the heck? You know, I don’t know how many people listen ton this. But I don’t think it’s going to ruin the world if we go off on this but I have an answer. I think it’s very difficult to restrain capitalism and greed and so forth. The one thing that restrains it is the international market and consumers in a sense internationally. And today, for example, as we’re recording this, China has extended its official ban on the iPhone for people in the government. And their argument is that Apple that the U.S. security establishment can tap into Apple phones, of which there is some strengths. However, Apple as opposed to the companies you describe here of Facebook and Google has real customers. They’re not giving it away for free. Right. And so and a good chunk of those customers in a big market is China, but it’s also other countries. And so as a capitalist company internationally, there is a restraint. You know, you have to worry about what people in Germany are trying to think about their privacy. You have to be credible in some sense there’s a good Elon Musk. The good Elon Musk is the one who wants to sell his Teslas everywhere. This forces him to have a more balanced view of other countries, including China. You know, things worked, some things works. So he has to sell them in India eventually, he has to sell him everywhere. There is a logic to international capitalism that can force restraint, clarity, transparency. Okay. And as I see it, the real struggle is between people who actually believe in that market and believe in different centers of power and believe people who believe in. And this is where the neo liberals and the Trumpians come together. They believe in American exceptionalism. They believe that we have to make America great again. I don’t know if that means bringing back slavery, but but it means being the total, unquestioned center of power. And it seems to me if we look at Elon Musk, what your book is, is very good at looking, the restraining thing on Musk is t he’s not content to just be ripping off the American government. He wants to do business internationally. Right. So will you at least, it seems to me there’s a contradiction. That is also, what did Leonard Cohen say? “There’s a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets through.” There’s a crack in that. If you want to be internationally viable as a multinational company, then as the European Union keeps reminding us, you have to worry about things like privacy and value and content, right? Is that not a bright spot?

Jonathan Taplin: I agree with you. And it’s certainly the fact that Musk has such a deep investment in China restrains him in the sense that he is one of the few voices that is suggesting that this notion that China is our mortal enemy and we are headed for World War Three, he is one of the few restraining voices on that side. Now. Do I think that America has been led around by the nose, by fear for a long time? Yes, I do. I think you and I are both old enough to know that since the early fifties, the notion of the fear of the Soviets or the Chinese or the North Koreans or something was always a motivating factor. And then it became fear of the Arabs and Osama bin Laden. But who has really benefited from? The military industrial complex. I mean, ultimately, the fear has always led to higher defense budgets. I mean, that our Defense budget takes up. I believe it’s almost 60% of all discretionary spending every year is astonishing. And we Wonder why, you know, schools are falling apart. Roads are you know, the infrastructure is just completely gone and bridges collapse every year. It’s because we decided that that’s where we all should put our money. And that was untouchable. It didn’t matter if there was a recession, the military budget would continue to go. And it’s gone under Democrats as well as Republicans, even worse.

Robert Scheer: We’re now encouraging the rest of the world to do what we want. Germany, my goodness. You and I can remember the idea of we didn’t dare we weren’t even in favor of the unification of Germany. America wanted the American government wanted it to be permanently separated. Now we’re urging Germany to have a big military budget. And so but I’m we’re going to wrap this up. But I want to find another area, a big area of agreement with you and relation to the book, which is called The End of Reality, Jonathan Taplin. This book is an important book in a library that we need about what has happened to capitalist power over the last 40 years or so and the income inequality, the rise of the billionaire class and so forth. And there is the positive, as you your talk here at USC, you were asked “where’s the positive?” Actually, you made it sound so real you can do certain things around the edge, right? But then you came up with this word: regulation, and that’s the powerful. It is absurd that these companies were allowed to become so powerful without any kind of regulation, because, you know, this goes back to Adam Smith, you know. Right. This is the whole idea of the invisible hand. You’re not supposed to have these. That’s why we broke up Standard, we broke up AT&T and so forth. And what I’m suggesting is that this regulation, this push for regulation is coming from outside, from the European Union or any government. Oh, well, if you’re going to do all your business here, there’s got to be some restraints on what you do. And I think where the Democrats is I keep pushing this, but I you know, I wrote a book about the banking meltdown and so forth. And I think the Democrats really have major culpability here because the Republicans always were for giving the filthy rich free hand and go ahead and exploit everybody else trickle down. But this word regulation, it’s absurd that we allow the Mark Zuckerbergs to have this power and to be free of any obligation to their consumers, to the public and so forth, and most important, to competition. I mean, that’s really the message, I think.

Jonathan Taplin: I agree. But we also have to consider that the national political system is in such gridlock situation that it may be necessary for states like California who have such huge market power. Here we are the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world to set their own regulatory boundaries. In other words, we have much more stricter car emission standards than any other state, and we’ve been able to maintain that for years. And so because everybody wants to be able to sell cars in California, they have to go along with that. Right. We have started to make inroads in terms of privacy. So California passed pretty good privacy regulation, and it has forced some companies to do a lot more disclosure as to what they’re collecting, what they’re saving, how they’re using your data. And if data is the new oil, then, you know, we need to know what they’re doing with the new oil. So it may be that in a world where a Supreme Court is controlled by the far right and, you know, certainly the Senate is an institution that is not majoritarian in any true sense, in the sense that Wyoming has as many senators as California, that we have to look to our own progressive states like the one we live in. And you’ve written about this. Your wife has written about this. You know, you know, I’ve called it new federalism. And that may be one of the only ways we get anything done, because you and I both know if you tried to do a very powerful regulation and break up a Google or break up a Meta or break up one of these companies. There would be howls from both sides of the aisle because there’s so much money being spread around by these companies that, you know, the Democrats and the Republicans are both in the pocket of the big companies.

Robert Scheer: That’s true. But I do want to stress, because I’m encouraging people to get this book. Give me the title again, The End of Reality. And, you know, I’m not sure about that title. Reality has a way of going on until we blow everything up. But it’s the end, I guess what you’re saying really, is these people who have enormous power can alter the impression of reality. However it catches up with them. What was it? Mark Twain said “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts his pants on.” But, you know, finally it gets on. And I think there’s a general sense now that it’s not working. I see that in our students when they talk and so forth. You know, you mentioned in your talk the jobs that come back there are lower paid. You know, there’s a price to be paid for a lot of the waste or climate change issues or weather patterns. And people know it’s not working When they know it’s not working, then. Yes. This is a time when demagogues and people can exploit that. I’m going to end this and let you have the last word. But one reason I like to talk to you is actually while we’re talking, there is openness and dialogue and change. I appreciate that. And I just want to circle back to what I see as our main disagreement of emphasis. I think we’re after the same thing here. And I just and I listen to you today. I want to hear you. And I just I just wonder. About giving the Democrats a pass. And we’re going to be once again Trump washing and he’s the menace. And now we got to rally around Biden or, you know, and can’t have any other candidates running. And as I was reading your book, I kept saying, yeah, but they’re taking advantage these, you know, what’s happening? After all, the Defense Department that he’s manipulating has done quite well under Democrats. And they favored big budgets right then. Right. You know, so, you know, I just I just think it’s a cop out in a way. And I know you don’t sit easily with it. Yeah. You got a passage you want to read an end on? Oh, I mean, I.

Jonathan Taplin: I just do think that, uh, in in some deep sense, that they’re both, uh. Uh, problematic. You know, the both sides have dangerous. Yeah.

Robert Scheer: Careerism, selfishness, profit making. This society has become decadent.

Jonathan Taplin: Yes. Yeah, but, you know, that brings us back to the culture.

Robert Scheer: Yes. Brings it back to your original bands. Think about it. What was the value of Bob Dylan? Wasn’t his great voice or anything. It wasn’t even the brilliance of his poetry, although.

Jonathan Taplin: That was.

Robert Scheer: More.

Jonathan Taplin: That was part of it.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, but it was a clarity and saying, Wait a minute, something’s happening here. You know, the.

Jonathan Taplin: Times are changing. Yeah.

Robert Scheer: And we can’t trust you. So-called leaders can get us. But you see.

Jonathan Taplin: I think that’s what needs to happen now. You know, I would argue that part of the problem of our society right now is the general sense of nihilism in others, whether it’s culturally from the fact that we’ve been watching for 20 years, dark antiheroes like Tony Soprano or The Wire or Succession or Breaking Bad or Mad Mad Men, you know, these horrible people who are in power struggles. And yes, we think they’re kind of interesting, horrible people, but they’re they’re basically bad people trying to kill other people to get their way. And and we spend years and years watching this. And then in 2016, it’s not unusual for people to say, well, why shouldn’t Tony Soprano be president? Let’s get Donald Trump. And that’s what he is. He’s basically a mob leader.

Robert Scheer: Let me ask you a last question. Yes, your last quote, because I know we’re going to end this. We have to end this because it’s going to go on long and I’m sure we’ll have a hopefully we’re both still around and have this discussion some other time. But I was thinking about that because now we have the popularity, you know, of Oppenheimer and we finally have a movie that actually discusses the horror of the bomb. And I thought of a figure like Harry Truman. Harry Truman was actually connected with the mob and the Prendergast machine. And so and Harry Truman did something far worse than anything Trump has done when he said, you know, and he basically kicked Oppenheimer out of his office, he basically said, hey, we paid money for this and we built it. And yes, of course, the Germans have been defeated and the Japanese, all they want is their bloody emperor. Well, you know, we know we can have peace there, but we’re going to use this thing. And, you know.

Jonathan Taplin: And he told his aide, don’t ever bring that crybaby back in my office.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, well, and the crybaby is actually somebody who at least had some sense of immorality of the thing.

Yes, exactly!

And so what I’m asking you, though, I just don’t want to give support this illusion that we had these best of times, and now we’re in the worst of times. And so it all has to do with Trump. [00:42:48][13.4]

Jonathan Taplin: No, no, no, I agree. You know, I call out Obama for for using drones more than anybody ever use. And, you know, I mean, one of my problems is these these people think that, you know, autonomous weapons run by a I’m making the decision to kill people is a good thing. I think it’s a terrible thing. I think there’s a lot of ethical questions. And and you raise Oppenheimer because I think in some way, Oppenheimer is an important, important movie. And the fact that it did so well For such a complex, multilayered subject fills me with hope for the culture.

Robert Scheer: Better internationally than here.

Jonathan Taplin: Okay. But here’s the thing. The scientists that worked on the bomb were doing it regardless of the ethical implications of their work. And it was only after the bomb was dropped that Oppenheimer had doubts. He began to think, Oh, maybe that was a screw up. And when he saw the pictures coming back from Hiroshima and he realized what he had done, I believe some of these same things are happening today in AI. In other words, I believe that the implications, you know, of this are such that they won’t really know what’s going to happen until it’s too late. And that that worries me. You know, in other words, we’re plunging ahead towards a world in which these four men that I talk about believe that we will have to have universal basic income. Because AI and robots will take an awful lot of the jobs and they’re cheap compared to humans. You don’t have to give them health care. You don’t have to give them pensions. You don’t have to give them anything. You know, and you just unplug them if they could become troublesome. You know, and that’s that’s an existential fear that I have. And I think. That if we don’t really try and think about what the what the implications of that down the line are, and it’s not just blue collar jobs, it’s white collar jobs. As I said today.

Robert Scheer: We have the actor’s strike and the writers strike. So we’re going to end on that. And, you know, that’s a whole other subject we could probably pursue. And again, the book is The End of Reality How for Billionaires Are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars and Crypto. And that’s really the power of this book. It’s that fantasy I happen to stress. It’s a fantasy that Bill Clinton embraced with great enthusiasm, and unfortunately, so did Obama and so did Bush and everybody else. That’s the power of a certain kind of scientific fantasy. I want to thank Laura Condajarian, Jerry and and Christopher, host Casey RW for helping post these shows. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer Diego Ramos and Max Jones, two graduates of the USC Annenberg School, maybe took classes with you Jonathan Taplin I don’t know. But Diego writes the intro to these, and Max does the video. And I want to thank the Jay K.W. Foundation and the memory of Jean Stein, a fiercely independent writer and public figure for helping support these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

From ScheerPost.
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