bunker mentality // a best of
In the last few months I keep turning back to one of the takeaways from Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Survival of the Richest, about super-wealthy preppers and how they are focused less on staving off environmental and societal collapse and more on keeping things cozy for themselves in luxury bunkers.
The uber-opulent doomsdayers hire experts (Rushkoff was targeted as one of them) and figure out all sorts of schemes to duck radiation, unlivable heat, mega-storms, and the desperate and incensed hoi polloi so they can sip on old-fashioneds in their tricked-out hideaways.
As Rushkoff writes, the affluent worrywarts have been preparing for a future
that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.
And yet, as remote as some of the bunkers are, if scarcity bites hard enough, the super-rich know that the precarious imbalance of resources will start to tip, and eventually topple.
Despite their wealth, these folks are not complete idiots. They recognize, for example, that the weak point in their plan is their reliance on security guards. They know they need professional protection, and that their hired sentinels must be sated and happy enough that they don’t just turn their guns inward at their bosses.
How to do avoid that scenario?
One of the preppers, Rushkoff writes, recognized that “the way to keep the hungry hordes from storming the gates is by getting them food security now.”
That’s what I started thinking of as the Catch 2022: the only sure way of stopping those “hungry hordes from storming the gates” is to open the gates. But that’s typically what the super (or even medium or barely) rich do not want to do. And yet, to keep the gates barricaded is to compel people to storm them.
In other words: the most secure and best bunker is…. coming out of your bunker.
The paradox applies to more than getting through the end of times. Consider the immigration crisis, mass incarceration, or even pandemic-era health. We can’t fortify, incarcerate, or eschew public-health-for-individual-freedoms our way to stability, safety, or public health.
The best way to avert the apocalypse is to avert the apocalypse, not to try to insulate yourself from it. National security is achieved not by isolationism or iron domes (or stacked boxcars), but by buoying the security and prosperity of neighboring nations.
Your safety is the safety of your neighbor.
If zero-sum thinking and resource scarcity make you wonder if such magnanimity is possible, I’d argue that such scarcities make magnanimity — mutual aid, communal concern, radical care — essential.
If my expostulations seem too sanguine or pollyannish, maybe I’m just needing a rebalance after burning through both of Cormac McCarthy’s latest novels, The Passenger and Stella Maris. Here’s McCarthy’s digging his heel into ideas of such idealistic hospitality: “It makes no difference what men think of war…. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone.”
His latest and probably last novels aren’t nearly uplifting, but neither are they as gory as, say, Outer Dark or Blood Meridian (from which comes the previous quote). The new books roughly trace the interior dramas of a very nearly incestuous brother and sister, itinerant physicist/deep sea diver and mathematical prodigy, respectively. (The root of prodigy, we would do well to remember, comes from the Latin for monster.)
The Passenger has a similar initial conceit to No Country for Old Men: main character stumbles across something he shouldn’t see (a bag of money in No Country, a mysteriously sunken plane in The Passenger). And yet, as James Wood notes in The New Yorker, McCarthy “hangs a fairly gestural paranoid plot” over what the book is truly about: the nature of reality and human’s shaky place in it.
Cormac’s parsing of humanity’s role in the world in this diptych veers between being astonishingly good and cartoonishly cormaccian. For the latter, consider: "He’d stripped out of his clothes in the heat and was pacing naked save for a pair of ostrichskin boots and a widebrimmed black Borsalino."
What’s best about Cormac, on top of his extravagant, sometimes profligate, prose, is how good of an observer he is. How he translates details onto the page. And we get a good bit of his lovely eye-to-utterance alchemy throughout the new books.
The Kid unscrolled the film. It dangled in a lolling helix.
Has anyone ever better captured the way a strip of uncoiled film spills out of itself — “a lolling helix"?
Or the reflexive verb choice here — “sorted themselves” — when air bubbles inside a sunken plane collect along the ceiling: “The bubbles from the regulator sorted themselves along the dome of the roof overhead.”
And then there are his more gnomic gesturings, which feel just as spot on as his precise observations, but remain slightly beyond explanation: “He looked like he’d been brought into the world with icetongs.”
Best Books of 2022
I read 25 books this past year, which is by far the fewest since I started keeping track in 2006. I blame my slowdown on my toddler, a scramble to finish my second book, and getting a full-time job — all significant time-sucks. I hope to pick up the pace again next year, and am already really itching to hit the stacks. Recommendations always welcome.
At the end of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, he adds a presumptuous postscript, which includes his own recommendation that you go directly back to page one and begin it anew. I both loved and was a little miffed by that. (It’s like putting a “share now” button at the end of a novel.) Nonetheless, and somewhat inspired by Mann, one of my new year’s resolutions is to reread more. I have a number of already-read classics I’m wanting to dig back into in 2023.
Six of my favorites from the past year:
The Morning Star - Karl Ove Knausgaard
Tomás Nevinson - Javier Marías
Life and Fate - Vasily Grossman
Activities of Daily Living - Lisa Hsiao Chen
Motley Stones - Adalbert Stifter (translated by Isabel Fargo Cole)
Line in the Sand - Rachel St. John
Signing off for the year with a last Cormac quote: “But I will tell you Squire that having read even a few dozen books in common is a force more blinding than blood.”