Falling from the sky

The humbling of tech gods and tyrants

Sam Bankman-Fried.
(Image credit: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In Greek tragedy, heroes meet their downfall when they succumb to hubris — an arrogant belief in their own infallibility. Jealous gods respond with a punishing lesson in humility. Much has changed over 2,500 years, but not human nature. Today, the world stage is filled with mighty tech titans and autocrats who are in the process of being humbled for the moral edification of we mortals. Behold the edgelord Elon Musk, who bought Twitter on impulse for $44 billion: In a few short weeks, he has managed to frighten away advertisers, gut the staff, and inspire hoaxers to mock him on his own site. As he tumbles, Icarus-like, from the sky, Elon can wave to Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old founder of cryptocurrency firm FTX, whose blockchain-enabled Ponzi scheme collapsed into a black hole, vaporizing $16 billion of his own wealth. The tech genius Bankman-Fried, not incidentally, has said that writing and reading books is a waste of time, and that every book "should have been a six-paragraph blog post."

After ascending to Olympian heights with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has seen his wealth plunge from $142 billion to $38 billion, and his company's stock lose $650 billion in value. In laying off 11,000 employees, Zuck still insisted it's inevitable we will all spend hours a day wearing clunky headsets that transform us into avatars inside his metaverse. In his own delusional reality, Russian czar Vladimir Putin has committed innumerable war crimes and sacrificed 100,000 Russian soldiers in a failed effort to subjugate and erase Ukraine. Putin's battered army is in retreat, his countrymen are questioning his leadership, and the Western world is allied against him. Putin's good friend and admirer, Donald Trump, has launched a desperate presidential campaign as a shield against prosecution, just days after MAGA extremists cost Republicans dozens of winnable elections. The final acts of these tragedies are still being written, but the gods sure seem to be angry.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.