This article was originally published on my Substack, Trend Mill.
In the film Don’t Look Up, which depicts the impending end of humanity at the hands of a giant comet, a Zuckerbergian-esque tech overlord is adamant he has the solution. And, much like IRL, everyone eats that shit up, putting their utmost faith in the genius of the tech guy to save us. But when his army of robots fails to destroy the comet, he immediately flees, alongside a cabal of other wealthy elites, into a spaceship destined for a new planet.
It might seem outlandish, but it was likely based on the rumors that tech’s richest are indeed already hard at work plotting their escape from this planet for when it inevitably combusts into a ball of flames. Musk may try to sell us the dream of life on Mars, but that dream doesn’t apply to anyone but the richest.
As author Douglas Rushkoff put it in his brilliant article, Survival of the Richest:
“If a few people do reach escape velocity and somehow survive in a bubble on Mars — despite our inability to maintain such a bubble even here on Earth in either of two multibillion-dollar Biosphere trials — the result will be less a continuation of the human diaspora than a lifeboat for the elite.”
It’s all part of the god complex surrounding the tech titans and the VCs who got rich off the back of them. In truth, it’s a god complex that we’re guilty of feeding, adorning them with praise and press at every turn, and failing to hold them accountable and demand change when things hit the skids.
However it transpired, they believe with every fiber of their beings that they are better than us. That we owe them for the greatness they’ve bestowed us with.
Greatness like social media, that has damaged just about every aspect of society. Greatness like driverless cars that can’t drive properly and electric cars made of cheap materials that fall apart. Greatness like the Metaverse, which, despite touting a “new form of connection,” will only increase loneliness and social disconnection. Greatness like A.I., that will completely rip up the job landscape, scrape all our data, and make the rich richer.
So. Much. Greatness.
That egotism, that feeling of grandeur, has them readying the escape pods for a better life. (In Don’t Look Up, they arrive on the planet to be eaten by a dinosaur-like creature. One can still hope.) It has them spending millions a year trying to outlive us, even if it involves having their children’s blood transfused into them. And now, it has them dreaming of building their own utopian settlement here on planet Earth, at least while it’s still habitable.
Welcome to “California Forever.” (Yes, it is being called that.)
News broke last week that the shadowy group buying up farmland in Solano County for the last few years — now owning over 55,000 acres, making it the largest landowner in the county — is Flannery Associates. Who are they? Who cares. That doesn’t matter so much. What matters is the who’s who of Silicon Valley titans backing it, already to the tune of nearly $1 billion.
According to the Times, the backers include:
- Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder
- Venture capitalist Michael Moritz
- Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of the philanthropic group Emerson Collective
- Marc Andreessen (of course)
- Patrick and John Collison, the sibling co-founders of the payment processor Stripe
- Daniel Gross
- Nat Friedman
There are likely many more.
For now, details on what “California Forever” will be are scarce. According to the website, it’s an “opportunity to build a new community that attracts new employers, creates good paying local jobs, builds homes in walkable neighborhoods, leads in environment stewardship, and fuels a growing tax base to serve the county at large.” Here’s a few picturesque sketches of what this city could look like —
How swell, right?
Noted repeatedly in the announcement is the commitment to do right by the locals and make all decisions inclusive of them. ‘“Our team is working closely with the community and will continue to meet with local leaders to craft a shared vision for Solano County’s future.”
But many locals are rightly skeptical. A Congress member, John Garamendi, said the group has been “engaged in despicable, secretive, terrible practices”. Catherine Moy, the mayor of Fairfield, one of the areas being bought up, planned to meet with Garamendi and members of the county board of supervisors to create “a plan for defense.” She added, “It’s not our first rodeo,” referring to a 1984 plan by a different entity to build a new city in Solano — a project called Manzanita.
California Forever could have, and perhaps should have, been a straightforward development project. If all parties had not chosen secrecy (done to stop farmers coming together to inflate land prices) and chosen transparency, there may have been less backlash to the thought of tech moguls coming into town to build their idea of the “city of the future.” It may even have been welcomed. But alas, they chose the shadowy approach, keeping everything a secret as long as possible to ensure the best deals and the least disruption to their plans.
What this utopia could look like in its final form is anyone’s guess. Of course, it may never materialize, as it’s “a project that must be not just designed with, but also approved by, all Solano residents.” And many locals are not for it. While the renders look nice, they look like a scenic town in Italy or a Greek island — hardly what one would expect from a tech utopia. My guess? It won’t look anything like that. Once they’ve evicted all the landowners and townsfolk, either by force or because the original settlers couldn’t bear another minute trapped with the tech bros, its true form will be revealed.
A settlement built entirely on the blockchain? An exclusive cryptocurrency that the peasants of society (us) trade mindlessly, on the promise that some of us will be invited to join them? An A.I.-controlled town where ChatGPT governs? Musk and Zuckerberg enjoying daily cage fights as entertainment? Could the entire settlement be built inside a dome — like the Simpson’s movie — to safeguard them from environmental disasters (and non-elites)? Maybe it has rocket blasters underneath to shoot it off to Mars when the time comes?
Much like Musk’s Mars dream, this group can talk about offering jobs or engaging with the community all they want, but the truth is there’s only one group welcome here — the elite.
In many ways, I’m delighted I won’t be getting the invite.