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Billionaires in Bunkers, are they Bonkers?

Panicking has made its resurgence since COVID hit. End-of-the-world thinkers are on the rise, especially those who can afford to completely isolate themselves from society. I recently watched a tiktok of a man in his 20s, finally explaining what he does for a living. He works for a rich survivalist who has built a vertical subterranean farm in the middle of nowhere in Middle America. He worked as a farmer, cultivating every crop one can think of ranging from herbs to vegetables to flowers in a subterranean, vertical farm of about 500 metres. Earlier this year, Douglas Rushkoff, a columnist and author of “Survival of the Richest”(2022), published an article in the Guardian ‘How tech’s richest plan is to save themselves after the apocalypse’. He describes the conversations that took place after being approached by a group of multi-millionaires trickled with a few billionaires who wanted his opinion and expertise on their survivalist plans and lived to tell the tale.

So what exactly is Doomsday and should we be concerned? Doomsday represents the eventual collapse of society through an extreme environmental disaster or a world war. Rushkoff was asked various questions related to this exactly, such as: who will figure out quantum computing first, China or Google? Who will be least affected by climate change, Alaska or New Zealand? Will we die of global warming or biological warfare, Bitcoin vs Ethereum? Finally, what are the chances of experiencing widespread groundwater contamination, causing major problems? The origins of survivalists in the US started with the Cold War Era practice, when the US government really started to consider practical approaches to environmental or cultural disasters. Doomsday became a more conscious topic amongst people, especially when National Geographic came out with a new show called Doomsday Preppers winning four million viewers for the premiere and by the end of the first season found its place in top rankings of the network. Showcasing the extreme measures random middle-class people in rural America were taking and the deep interest audiences took, for both entertainment and educational purposes. The potential disasters mentioned earlier are more of a recent concern given the surge of cryptocurrency as well as COVID-19, but the core worries were the following; nuclear explosion, environmental collapse, solar storm, an unstoppable virus and a malicious computer hack/anything that can bring the internet down. All of these things have the consequence of social unrest which is the umbrella issue at hand. As much as this used to be a middle-class/conspiracy theorist predicament, it has shifted to the upper-class elites, like the ‘tech bros’ and hedge fund managers who are taking preventative measures to another level.

While researching who exactly has the funds and means to build bunkers and subterranean farms, the first statistic that caught my eye was Steve Huffman’s (Reddit CEO, worth about $600 million) estimate that (in 2017) about 50% of Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires had some type of apocalypse insurance, this was before COVID-19 and Russia/China tensions so I imagine the number has only gone up. To understand who is buying bunkers and underground hiding places, what better way than to look at prices? The most prestigious and luxurious of them all are made by two companies, Aristocrat and The Rising M Company. They specialize in luxury bunkers that include the most pompous of facilities which include; movie theatres, swimming pools *of 50,000 gallons, spas, rock climbing facilities, dog parks, bowling alleys, gun ranges (obviously), water parks and some even offer Navy SEAL security. The highest prices range around $8-10 million and you can get a bunker for around 50 people, however, most are in the low millions. Below are some images to visualize these bunkers and their fun perks. The actual survival techniques (for independent long-term living) include vertical and subterranean farms, where crops are grown underground and in vertical layers to optimize space, and hydroponic gardens which is a subculture of hydroculture which specializes in growing crops without soil. Rushkoff emphasized the unreliability and intricacy that comes with these methods and how fragile they are. Looking further into who is able to carry out this plan, I must mention Jeff Bezos who not only has bought up about 300,000 acres in West Texas for personal use. More interestingly he has a working plan B of escaping to space, and with more “civilians” being able to commercially travel to space becoming yet another method of escape.

The Dog Park // Courtesy of Surival Condo Project

The Gun Range // Courtesy of Surival Condo Project

The concept of escapism is crucial when discussing the intention and drive behind elites preparing for the eventual end of the world. Rushkoff was able to fully interact with these elites in their most vulnerable state as he was seen as an ‘answer man’ to their worries and concerns. The primary curiosity is the “future of tech”, and what it can do for those who can afford. It boils down to escaping everyone and isolating yourself from everything and everyone “ordinary”. There is a heavy narrative that the masses are the cause of all problems and eventual destruction. Thus, we must be able to escape and not get caught in the crossfire. Forbes said the concern for civil unrest is not so much the catastrophe but more so the aftermath of the catastrophe. Delving further into the attitude and culture that escapism has created, it is guarded by the justification of this being a sincere form of risk management. The argument of risk management has also convinced the ‘ordinary’ population as well as the wealthy, “better safe than sorry”. Huffman highlighted that this was a frequent topic of discussion amongst the Silicon Valley Giants, specifically about the different measures everyone has taken for the apocalypse and thus constantly pushing those around you to do more/act more to prevent the apocalypse. Rushkoff discovered ‘The Mindset’ where the core message is the importance they feel of being able to “rise above mere mortals and execute the ultimate exit strategy”, the power high they are able to feel under the veil of feeling “safe” is driving the movement. Forbes interviewed a tech giant and he elaborated on the safety aspect in regard to the importance of protecting your family. Protecting your children is of utmost importance and thus also increases the chances of the bloodline being carried on (in comfort). He explains how he once a year does `dress rehearsals’ with his entire family to practice and make sure that when the day comes, things go smoothly and his kids feel comfortable and familiar in the bunker. He doesn’t see it as harmful since they experience it as a fun weekend away from home. Thus, this strange attitude and culture that surrounds escaping the apocalypse is thinly veiling the ultimate desire to separate oneself from the ordinary.

The final question is whether the wealthy are doing this for true and absolute protection, in which case the actual survival techniques would and should be far more reliable and well-thought out (referring back to subterranean and vertical farming), or whether this is merely a ploy to widen the gap between the rich and poor, using the “end of the world” as an excuse and justification for their actions.. Will the dog parks, water parks and bowling alleys save them from society? Thinking back to the farmer working for the rich survivalist, he mentioned (jokingly) that one of the pros is that by working there his spot in the bunker is secured while the rest will have to fend for themselves, re-emphasizing that despite the jokes and craziness, the notion of “better safe than sorry” still stands strong. Are the elite extremely paranoid or are they simply onto something us ordinary people are not?


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