Escape to Mars, upload to the cloud or retreat to the fallout shelter? How the super-rich are preparing for the apocalypse
In 2017, social scientist and media theorist Douglas Mark Rushkoff received an offer he could hardly refuse. It was by far the highest fee he had been offered for a lecture to an extremely exclusive audience in a secluded luxury resort for the super-rich. For the equivalent of half his annual salary as Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economy at the City University of New York, Rushkoff was to give a lecture and panel discussion to the most select moneyed aristocracy of late capitalism, in front of a group of around one hundred investment bankers who wanted information on the subject of „The Future of Technology“.
Upon his arrival, the media theorist was first led into a room where five white, immensely rich men were waiting for him, who, for a five-figure sum, wanted to see one question answered above all others: How do we survive the „event“? This was the term used by the high gentlemen to describe the collapse of civilization, which they saw as inevitable.
The questions asked by the CEOs of financial institutions and investment firms were aimed at optimizing survival strategies after the apocalypse. For example, they were asked which regions would be least affected by the very climate change that right-wing populists continue to deny. Also of interest were efforts within the high-tech oligarchy to upload their own consciousness to supercomputers or the cloud in order to survive as a digital copy of themselves.
Finally – and we are all practical people – the hour-long discussion revolved around the vexed question of security, which would inevitably arise after the collapse of the best of all possible worlds.
The CEO of an investment company, for example, wanted to know how he would keep „control of my security forces after the event“. The financial tycoons knew that armed guards would have to defend their sanctuaries from angry crowds, Rushkoff said, but they didn’t know „how to pay them once money became worthless“.
So what would stop the heavily armed security forces from electing their own leader – and simply getting rid of their current „employers“? The billionaires came up with a wide variety of ideas, which they wanted to see tested for their technical feasibility.
Would it be possible to secure the food with special locks that only they could open?
Would it be technically feasible to put „discipline collars“ on the security forces to prevent them from rebelling? Or is it perhaps technically possible to dispense with the human factor altogether and have robots work as guards and servants?
Panic among the top ten thousand
During this conversation, he suddenly realized that his influential interlocutors were actually discussing the „future of technology“, Rushkoff recalled.A growing layer of the super-rich saw the increasing technological possibilities as nothing more than a means to a post-apocalyptic struggle for survival.Talk of making the late capitalist world a better place through technology is dropped in such discussions.According to Rushkoff, it is all about leaving the human condition behind and isolating oneself from the increasing crisis trends. For these super-rich, the future of technology consists of „one thing above all: escape“. For all their wealth and power, they no longer believe they can influence the future, Rushkoff noted.
The super-rich are therefore afraid – precisely because they realize that they are not in control of the social crisis dynamics.
The delusion of omnipotence that is common in these circles suddenly turns into the opposite in the face of increasing crisis trends: the experience of social powerlessness. The super-rich react to this insight with social panic – social ties are to be cut and their own survival organized by isolating themselves from society.
This is not a whim of the top ten thousand, but a crisis-ridden extreme form of neoliberal competitive thinking that has contaminated late capitalist societies in recent decades. These increasing isolationist tendencies of the super-rich only reflect the survivalism that is also spreading in the New Right, for example in the scene of so-called preppers who are „preparing“ for the end of the world.
The means used for postapocalyptic encapsulation are just completely different for the super-rich. The real prepper may convert his own basement into a bunker, for the billionaire Elon Musk the question is rather which planet to head for after the collapse of civilization.
He believes that the world is heading towards a scenario that threatens civilization, such as a third world war, Musk explained in an interview, which is why he wants to ensure that a „seed“ of humanity survives.
His space company SpaceX also has the goal of ensuring that human civilization survives „somewhere else“ as soon as it collapses on Earth.
Martian fever fantasies
This is to happen on Mars.The red planet will not only be a civilizational refuge, but also a great place to do business, Musk explained: „Mars will need all kinds of things, from ironworks to pizza joints … and it will have great bars,“ Musk enthused in an interview. Once the infrastructure is in place, Mars will require „a huge amount of entrepreneurial resources“.The system that is driving Earth into ecological collapse is thus to be prolonged on Mars.
As early as 2015, Newsweek believed it could predict a future stellar „class war“ in which the rich would leave Earth in a few decades, leaving the underclass behind in the chaos of a decaying civilization.The UK’s The Guardian also asked whether the „mega-rich“ weren’t just desperate to have spaceships so they could escape the Earth they themselves are destroying.
Such Martian fever fantasies of an Elon Musk or the Amazon android Jeff Bezos, which consistently ignore the previous, spectacularly failed large-scale experiments with closed biospheres, are only the most extreme outflow of the panicked efforts of the class of profiteers of late capitalism to escape the crisis tendencies of the system that has run amok and produced them.
Bunker from the Cold War
If Mars is too red and too futuristic for you, you can go back to the good old days of the Cold War. The silos for intercontinental missiles in the US state of Kansas, which have largely lain fallow since the end of the systemic confrontation, have now been given a new, lucrative business purpose.Purchased by entrepreneur Larry Hall in 2008, they have now been converted into a luxury bunker complex.
A luxuriously furnished floor in the former missile silo can now be purchased for around four million US dollars.For those on a budget, half floors can be purchased for the bargain price of 1.5 million dollars from the company Survival Condo.
Winds of up to 500 kilometers per hour and nearby nuclear strikes can be survived under nine-meter-thick concrete walls. Each individual silo can provide protection for 75 well-heeled „customers“. The life support systems are designed for a maximum period of five years. A modern IT system provides entertainment, education and communication between the silos, explained company representatives.
In the post-apocalyptic gated community, there is a swimming pool with sauna, a first aid station, a climbing wall, a sports room and a library. And, of course, the facility has „the highest military level of non-lethal and lethal security devices“ to protect the dear „customers“.
The question of why the security forces would even do this after the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, instead of taking over the place themselves and transporting the „customers“ out into the fresh radiant air, is one that no one at Survival Condo would rather ask.
New Zealand is also a popular a refuge for the mega-rich. People believed New Zealand would be a good place to stay if the world „goes to hell“, a migration agent told The Guardian, explaining the increasing influx of wealthy migrants from the US.
The fear of a capitalist apocalypse has led to a veritable collecting frenzy for real estate among the „functional elite“ of capital. One investment banker, for example, told media representatives that he collects real estate in various regions of the world in order to always have a „place of refuge“.
Fear and panic are spreading within the so-called „ruling class“ – even though there is no longer an opposing class or political opponent to threaten their „rule“. Capital is failing on its own terms, both economically and ecologically. The fetishistic character of mediated, subjectless rule in capitalism is evident here.
In capitalism, the capital relationship prevails as a blind dynamic, that is unconsciously brought about by the market subjects. It is wildly rampant and beyond any control – and this contradictory momentum of boundless capital reproduciton and growth is greater than the biggest capitalists, who suddenly feel that they are not „in control“ of the situation themselves, especially in times of crisis.
At the same time, this boom in the doomsday industry exposes the ideologies of a sinister world conspiracy that are rampant in times of crisis, which are propagated in particular within the New Right – usually with anti-Semitic undertones. There is no world conspiracy. That is the frightening thing, that the capital relationship threatens to destroy human civilization by following its own momentum.
However, right wing space entrepreneurs like Musk will never realize the necessity of overcoming this autodestructive dynamic of boundless capital exploitation – they are more likely to accept the apocalypse.
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