“Survival Of the Richest,” by Evan Osnos. The New Yorker, 1/30/2017.
What is a prepper? An old classmate of ours is one.
A prepper is someone who expects an imminent disaster, natural or man-made, that will quickly result in a total breakdown of civilization. This means a chaos of no electricity, no communications, no food, and violence in the streets, pitchforks and torches violence. Neighbor against neighbor. And the preppers have learned from the Katrina example in New Orleans not to expect help from the federal government when times get tough. They are preparing to survive. The prepping movement is going mainstream. There is probably a store near you.
A gun shop recently opened on Concord Pike within walking distance of my house. A sign in their window says they also sell freeze-dried food and sealed water containers. These, and other survival supplies, are available online as “SHTF supplies” (when “the s**t hits the fan”). Search for the term and you will find it is already a thriving businesses.
“Survivalist” is another name for a prepper. Some prepare for a temporary breakdown; others, the hard-core, prepare for a permanent collapse.
Our prepper classmate asks if I am making any preparations. No, I tell him. All I need is enough gasoline to drive to his house.
New preppers first recognize the possibility of civilization sliding down the embankment, then slowly start preparing: buying a few extra canned goods, then maybe a gun or two, then maybe a motorcycle with a full tank of gasoline to skirt around traffic-clogged escape routes. If they have the money and inclination, they will move on to a fortified, underground bunker with a filtered air supply, an electric generator, several automatic guns and high-powered ammunition, like the bomb shelters we built in the 1950s. With still more money, they will buy foreign vacation/survival homes.
New Zealand is a popular getaway location. In 2016, foreigners bought 1,400 square miles of land there, more than 4x what they bought in 2015. Once arrived, Americans feel that bunkers, expensive and complex to build, are unnecessary. They build helipads instead.
But those who plan to escape have another problem. Do they take the pilot’s family with them? What if he is the one holding the gun?
One entrepreneur is building a 15-story luxury condo in a Kansas underground Atlas missile silo, called the”Survival Condo Project.” Full-floor units were advertised at $3 million, half-floor units at $1.5 million. He has sold every unit, except one he is keeping for himself. An armored swat-team style truck will pick up any owner within 400 miles. It has enough stored food and fuel for 5 years off the grid and the possibility of becoming self-sustaining.
This New Yorker article focuses on the super-rich living in Silicon Valley. They feel they will be the first to confront civic unrest and violence because they are accessible and everyone knows they are super-rich. Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit, valued at $100 million, is having corrective eye surgery done now because glasses and contact lenses will be impossible to find in an apocalypse. He already has motorcycles, guns, food, and ammunition. He figures he can hole up in his house for some time.
These Silicon Valley entrepreneurs know how fragile our electrical and electronic infrastructures are. One said the chances of a disaster may be small, but the consequences are huge. Best to prepare for the worst. He has a helicopter waiting and a packed suitcase for each of his family. He says it only requires a fraction of his wealth, so it makes sense for him. However, the article correctly points out, all of this preparation is not a step towards prevention, but an act of surrender, an act of withdrawal.