Most ordinary people have worries that deal with their own lives and try to take steps to address them. Some worry on a larger scale such as about crime in general or the state of the economy or health care costs. But as Lynn Parramore says there are yet others who worry on a much larger scale, concerned about “financial breakdown, flesh-melting pandemics, magnetic pole shifts, cyber warfare, and Biblical tsunamis”, nuclear winter, asteroid strikes, zombies taking over, etc. that will cause the entire collapse of global civilization and lead to anarchy at best or planetary destruction at worst.
But among the very wealthy, the paranoid one-percenters, the danger that they fear most is that some kind of revolution will result in the masses bringing out the pitchforks against those they feel responsible for the current state of massive inequality.
It’s a good time to be in a fear-based industry. Public comments from some of the planet’s richest people reveal a strain of paranoia about insurrection. At the last annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, observers noticed elites growing more alarmed about the possibility of social unrest. Last year, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer published an open letter to his “Fellow Zillionaires” in Politico Magazine that summed up the growing worry among the wealthy: “What do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks.”
This matches what Vicino hears. “They’re going to Patagonia, they’re going to remote locations of the world,” he says. “Their reasoning is more to be insulated from a revolution, rebellion, anarchy, or whatever, following an economic collapse.”
But the oligarchs are not standing idly by for the tumbrils to arrive. If you are very wealthy, you don’t have to just hope for the best. Apparently there are people who have created options for dealing with things should the apocalypse in any form arrive suddenly. They are creating plush underground living spaces that are like bunkers and allow people to live in comfort. Parramore was taken to one in a secret location.
When I remove my blindfold, I am standing in a grassy clearing looking at a boxy concrete structure that serves as the entrance to a Cold War–era government communications facility gutted and reborn as Vivos Indiana. This is the Ritz Carlton of doomsday shelters, a hideout where residents can wait out a nuclear winter or a zombie apocalypse in luxury and style while the rest of humanity melts and disintegrates. The living area has 12-and-a-half-foot ceilings, sumptuous black leather couches, wall art featuring cheerful Parisian street scenes, towering faux ferns, and plush carpets. Faith Hill croons from a large-screen TV set in front of three rows of comfy beige reclining chairs. The cupboards are stocked with 60 varieties of freeze-dried and canned foodstuffs; an evening meal might include spaghetti aglio e olio topped with skillet fried steak chunks, a fresh tomato-and-zucchini salad fresh from the hydroponic garden, and decadent turtle brownies. An eight-by-nine bedroom is designed for four people (there are larger units for six) and comes with double-queen bunks clothed in 600-thread-count ivory sheets and duvet covers worthy of a four-star hotel, a comparison highlighted on the Vivos website.
I plop down on a Sealy’s Presidential Pillowtop mattress and decide, yes, a person could sleep here quite soundly while the world burns.
There are pet kennels for furry friends large and small, a gun safe (duh) in which to house weapons, a small gym, medical facilities, and a sound-proofed engine room housing two generators that run on diesel fuel stored in a 30,000 gallon tank—enough for over a year’s supply. Another room contains high-grade filters that scrub incoming air of nuclear, biological, and chemical particles.
Vicino’s properties include the recently launched Vivos Europa One, an invitation-only nuclear blast–proof subterranean complex tucked into a former Cold War munitions storage facility in Germany. It was purchased by Vicino and his partner, a German developer, for $2.25 million and unveiled this past summer. The property, now valued at over a billion dollars and boasting 227,904 square feet of “secure, blast proof living areas” is big enough for 34 “high net-worth families” to inhabit for a full year, says Vicino. They can enjoy swimming pools, a wine cellar, and living quarters they are encouraged to customize with fittings created by their favorite yacht designers. Worried about the collapse of the rule of law? After the end of society, each Vivos properties will be governed by its own bylaws and the various bunkers will have their own tribunals to handle conflicts between wealthy residents, who may well get twitchy during their confinement. An armed security force employed by the company will handle threats from above—presumably the have-nots who want in.
A berth on this subterranean Noah’s Ark will run you $3 to $5 million—about 100 times or more what an adult spot in Vivos Indiana costs.
Incidentally, Robert Vicino, one of the entrepreneurs who is building and marketing these things, enjoys quoting Ayn Rand so one imagines that this is the updated version of Galt’s Gulch for rich people who want to withdraw from the world but not from its creature comforts.
What drives the fears of these people who are called ‘preppers’?
Peter J. Behrens, a psychologist who studies doomsday phenomena, sees grand survival plans as a reflection of social and psychological maladjustment, the place where “paranoia meets narcissism.” In his reckoning, while having enough food for three days and a working flashlight is reasonable disaster preparedness, imagining that you can survive apart from the rest of humanity in elaborate bunkers and retreats is not.
Behrens observes that among the Fords, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts, a strong Judeo-Christian ethic of giving back at least some of your riches to society led to the erection of libraries, museums, and other institutions. He thinks that not only are today’s wealthy increasingly insulated from the rest of society via gated communities, exclusive clubs, and personal airplanes, but they also do not feel that they owe anything to the rest of us.
I should have started saving money a lot earlier.