Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Billionaires Building Bunkers

Illustration by Uma Bratt

Your name is Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Peter Theil. You own a bunker, or more than one. 

The products your genius-brain cooked up in the nineties have gone forth and multiplied at the scale of mass production, pervading the globe, enabling wide-spread access to information and to other people and closing in on lithium and cobalt mines. It was all you. 

Nobody knows, yet, about the children knee-deep in flooded waters, searching for cobalt. They only know about you. 

Now it is the 2020s, a decade which sounds like a time we should be much farther from than we are. The mining, shipping and packaging pollution your devices carry with them like a ghost have necessitated a new kind of digging. Not in the Democratic Republic of Congo but in New Zealand. Temperate and ideally nestled in the crosshairs of the globe’s longitudinal lines, New Zealand is the perfect place to bunker down. In the next six decades, global climes will melt and shift, superpowers will rise and fall, but New Zealand will maintain a perfect temperature. By 2080, New Zealand will reach super-city status, with an economic fusion of late-stage capitalism and feudal lords. 

You’ve likely run into videos about these billionaires. My first encounter with them was with Douglas Rushkoff – a cyberpunk enthusiast and an expert on doomsday affairs, whose scholarship has garnered critical acclaim. 

During his rise to apocalyptic-flavored stardom, Rushkoff was sitting in the back of a limousine, being chauffeured through ruddy Nevada desert, awaited by five of the world’s most powerful billionaires at a top-secret location. 

“They’re afraid that their little AIs are going to come for them,” Rushkoff told The Guardian in 2023. 

After the meeting, Rushkoff was spooked.

“It was bizarre,” Rushkoff said. “Instead of taking me out onto the stage, they brought these five guys into the green room and sat around this table and started asking me … New Zealand or Alaska,” he told Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs. 

The eerie conversation took several turns, and Rushkoff knew his experience demanded documentation, so shortly after his encounter he wrote a book detailing the meeting, and how his humanitarian solutions were brushed off as childish and unrealistic – ironic coming from the people building luxury bunkers Douglas thinks to himself. 

Whether it’s the humid forests of Hawaii and New Zealand, or the frigid plains of Greenland, the Billionares of our age have begun a gradual migration underground, away from the world’s issues. Rushkoff says it’s about more than just that. They’re interested in protection from climate, nuclear warfare, famine and the angry mobs of people that’ll blame them for it. 

In short, they’re interested in total insulation. 

Although it is often speculated that the real estate gold mine of New Zealand would fare particularly well in an environmental, political or otherwise catastrophic event, it seems its citizens aren’t quite ready to let those responsible ride the apocalypse out in style. 

In 2022, PayPal co-founder Peter Theil purchased a chunk of land in the Wanaka Alpines. After many sleepless nights, his team came forward with the blueprint for a sprawling structure covering several acres of isolated land, perfect for his apocalyptic getaway. 

But his plans for a lair were thwarted. To his dismay, The Guardian detailed the Queenstown-Lakes district council’s pointedly public refusal to grant him the permits and permission necessary to build his fallout resort. 

Beyond its destruction of the natural and largely untouched wilderness and lakes it would be built around, Theil’s proposed compound would send a message; New Zealand is open for bunker business. 

These bunkers represent a message that goes beyond aesthetics, protection or pessimism about our Earth’s future. It reflects an attitude among the world’s elite that the problems we have are beyond saving – even for them. Instead, we should turn to a free-for-all bunker race eerily akin to the arms race of the Cold War, except this time, the Soviet Union’s fall won’t save us. 

But this isn’t anything new. Monarchs built castles to protect themselves from their enemies and their own subjects, emperors built compounds to keep out the peasants, and now, billionaires build cubic concrete bunkers while the rest of the world burns. 

So to the Shell CEOs and Zuckerbergs of the world, we’re glad you’re being a good techie and preparing for feudal Hawaii to be your new post-apocalypse home.

For the rest of us, Rushkoff suggests, as he did to the billionaires to no avail, it’s time to look for social solutions, working together both to protect our neighbors, and do as New Zealand’s district council did, thwarting any attempt to escape accountability deep in a mountain of millennia-old greywacke and artificial asphalt. 

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