These billionaire preppers are planning for the apocalypse.

These billionaire preppers are planning for the apocalypse. Here’s why

Nick Baker and Sky Kirkham
Some tech billionaires are convinced that the end of the world is just around the corner.(Getty Images: FPG)

When Douglas Rushkoff was invited to speak to a group of mega-rich tech elite at a private desert resort, he thought he’d come fully prepared.

He was wrong.

Rushkoff, an author, theorist and professor at the City University of New York, had been asked to present an address on “the future of technology”.

For his services, Rushkoff was offered an exorbitant fee — about a third of his annual professor’s salary — along with flights and a three-hour limo ride to the mystery location.

“[When I arrived], instead of bringing me out onto a stage, they brought these five guys into this green room where I was getting ready. And they said, ‘this is it’,” he tells ABC RN’s The Drawing Room.

The small group was from the “upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world” and at least two were billionaires.

Initially, Rushkoff was peppered with a few innocuous questions.

“They asked me all the typical questions that tech investors ask, like, ‘what’s better, Bitcoin or Ethereum? Virtual reality or augmented reality?'” he says.

But then the real conversation started. It became clear why Rushkoff had been summoned to the desert.

“How do I maintain authority over my security force after ‘the event’?” one of the men asked.

New Zealand or Alaska?

Rushkoff says ‘the event’ is a euphemism for the end of society — which could be “environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, solar storm, unstoppable virus, or malicious computer hack that takes everything down”.

These five men were mega-rich preppers convinced that society could collapse at any moment, and were keen to get Rushkoff’s opinions on how to survive and thrive.

One asked which was the better location for a doomsday bunker: New Zealand or Alaska?

Others already had their bunkers ready and security guards on standby.

More questions came about these guards, like ‘How would you pay them once crypto was worthless? What would stop them from eventually choosing their own leader? Perhaps robot guards would be better?’

The above-ground entry point of concrete bunker with large concrete doors.
Some tech bros already have bunkers and guards ready to join them after ‘the event’.(Supplied: The Vivos Group)

“For [most of] the hour, it was all ‘Walking Dead’ scenarios,” Rushkoff says, referring to the zombie apocalypse media franchise.

But Rushkoff couldn’t really help. Yes, he’s an expert in “human autonomy in a digital age” but reckons he’s much more of a “Marxist media theorist” than a futurist.

As the awkward meeting went on, this professor came to one big conclusion about “the wealthiest, most powerful people I’ve ever been with”.

“I started to see them as kind of pathetic,” he says.

Not alone

Rushkoff’s strange desert meeting got him thinking about why some of the most privileged people in the world are expecting everything to come crashing down.

He wrote about the experience for Medium, then followed it up with a new book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

Turns out the five men that Rushkoff spoke with are not alone in planning this dramatic escape.

There’s the PayPal co-founder, Trump-supporting, libertarian Peter Thiel, who’s one of several billionaires that has obtained New Zealand citizenship and bought remote plots of land there

In August, Thiel’s plans were stymied when New Zealand’s Queenstown Lakes District Council rejected his plans to build a bunker-like lodge.

A luxury lodge built into the side of hills, with mountains in the background.
A New Zealand council has stymied Peter Thiel’s plans to build a luxury lodge in Wanaka.(Kengo Kuma and Associates via Queenstown Lakes District Council)

Then there are ‘seasteaders’, who are convinced that building structures far out in international waters is the best ‘out’ from the rest of humanity.

As Rushkoff writes in his new book: “In the Minecraft-meets-Waterworld future envisioned by ‘aquapreneurs’, wealthy people are to live in independent, free-floating city-states”.

The Seasteading Institute, co-founded by Patri Friedman (grandson of free-market economist Milton Friedman), aims to “build startup communities that float on the ocean with any measure of political autonomy”.

One company called Vivos has tapped into this mega-rich doomsday anxiety, selling luxury underground apartments in converted Cold War-era facilities. Think a former missile silo, now complete with pool and movie theatre.

And Rushkoff says the idea isn’t limited to physical structures.

He points out how Jeff Bezos wants to go to space and Mark Zuckerberg has his virtual metaverse, which he calls other variations of “escape hatches” from the rest of us.

“Ray Kurzweil, one of the chief scientists at Google, his main objective is to build a computer that can house his brain,” he says.

Above everybody else?

Rather than focus just on the quirks of the tech billionaires and their doomsday plans, Rushkoff is much more interested in the outlook and systems that led these people to such far-fetched ideas.

A middle-aged man with grey hair and a blue shirt.
Douglas Rushkoff inadvertently fell into the world of mega-rich doomsday preppers.(Supplied: Rebecca Ashley)

In his writings, he came up with a term for this Silicon Valley escapism: the Mindset.

“I think most simply put, the Mindset … is how much money and technology do I need to escape from the reality that I’m creating, by using money and technology in this way,” he says.

“They see themselves as gods. Stewart Brand, one of the early counter-culture tech heroes said, ‘We are as gods and may as well get good at it’. And these guys have taken him literally.”

“It’s a mindset where you become this sovereign individual, above everybody else.”

“In some ways, I feel like this is their fantasy. It’s not that they’re making plans, it’s that they almost have a wish to just get away from the rest of us, by any means necessary,” Rushkoff says.

The grim irony

He says the grim irony is that these tech billionaires are closely intertwined with, and benefiting from, systems which are indeed ravaging the planet.

He points to the dangers of “violent, extractive, growth-based capitalism”, specifically big business’ addiction to exponential growth.

“When you have to keep paying back your investors, 100 times, a thousand times, you’ve got to grow your company so much, that you need to do pretty much anything at all to keep growing,” Rushkoff says.

This addiction to growth is “accelerating the rate at which the planet gives up on us [and] it becomes unlivable”, he says.

A lone tree in a area that has been deforested.
Douglas Rushkoff says humanity’s current trajectory is unsustainable.(Getty Images: Raphael Alves)

And he says even well-meaning billionaires sometimes just don’t get it.

“I’ve talked to a lot of these tech bros by now. You take a tech bro and you send them to Burning Man or down to South America and let them do ayahuasca. They come back, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I have the plan now to save civilization and create ecologically renewable cities’.”

“[They say] ‘all we’ve got to do is clear cut that forest and put in my dome and my solar panels’.”

‘Lord above the rest of us’

Over the course of his desert meeting, Rushkoff tried to impart some of his ideas about growth and sustainability, and critically, focusing on the present, to the tech billionaires.

“I said, ‘The way to keep your head of security from shooting you when you’re in the bunker together later is to pay for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah today’.”

“The way to prevent the calamity, the catastrophe, is to start treating other people better now.

“But that’s not the American way. That’s certainly not the way of the Mindset … They want to lord above the rest of humanity.”

So what is Rushkoff’s main message for humanity?

“Well, people are going to hate this. But really, it’s the old fashioned kind of stuff. We need to realise we’re all in this together, and we can just do less, we can become more local and more social … I think really the object of the game is to really change what we look at as success.”

And specifically to the tech bros: “[Ask] how can I roll my sleeves up and make this world better?”


Posted on February 28, 2023, in ConspiracyOz Posts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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