Doomsday Prep: After the Bomb

The world won’t probably end tomorrow, next month, or this year. But you can’t say it is without chance, however unlikely, that somehow, someway our civilization will collapse over hours, natural or by intention.

At least, that is a risk that some consider and plan for, particularly billionaires with oodles of unused cash and resources at their disposal. For a family with more money than they can possibly spend in their lives, what is a few million to buy an island, build a house on that island, and plan for it to be your family’s haven if the world were to end?

That is the question Evan Osnos in an excellent article in The New Yorker seeks to answer.

When Marvin Liao, a former Yahoo executive who is now a partner at 500 Startups, a venture-capital firm, considered his preparations, he decided that his caches of water and food were not enough. “What if someone comes and takes this?” he asked me. To protect his wife and daughter, he said, “I don’t have guns, but I have a lot of other weaponry. I took classes in archery.”

For some, it’s just “brogrammer” entertainment, a kind of real-world sci-fi, with gear; for others, like Huffman, it’s been a concern for years. “Ever since I saw the movie ‘Deep Impact,’ ” he said. The film, released in 1998, depicts a comet striking the Atlantic, and a race to escape the tsunami. “Everybody’s trying to get out, and they’re stuck in traffic. That scene happened to be filmed near my high school. Every time I drove through that stretch of road, I would think, I need to own a motorcycle because everybody else is screwed.”

Personally, I don’t think its that crazy that people with vast resources would set aside a fraction for them, if nothing else, to feel more secure in possible, however improbable, outcomes. The king and the pawn go back in the same box, but the king would be a fool to not do everything they could to delay that, wouldn’t they?

So, I guess, it’s not an irrational idea to build these bunkers, these islands, these plan Bs, or to hire private jets and to hire private pilots to fly the private jets. To buy and build homes along with yours for the private jet pilots for they and their families to live so they don’t go there without you as the world ends (or hire a pilot with no family, I guess?). But, for billionaires who often seem to see themselves as apart from the hoi polloi, I believe that this thinking, planning and action is, if nothing else, dangerous.

Some billionaires are genuinely concerned about the future of humanity, and some are Peter Thiel. All may be brilliant, but I worry that simply having a backup plan that they feel is viable, where they retain (or even gain) their power and authority in their world that they enjoy now, resolves them of some duty they feel to contribute to meeting the challenges of today, our shared world.

In the past decade, the world survived, without violence, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; Ebola, without cataclysm; and, in Japan, a tsunami and nuclear meltdown, after which the country has persevered. He sees risks in escapism. As Americans withdraw into smaller circles of experience, we jeopardize the “larger circle of empathy,” he said, the search for solutions to shared problems. “The easy question is, How do I protect me and mine? The more interesting question is, What if civilization actually manages continuity as well as it has managed it for the past few centuries? What do we do if it just keeps on chugging?”

What do you think?


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