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Apocalypse 2017: Silicon Valley and beyond worried about the end of the world

It seems some tech entrepreneurs are looking for safe properties in New Zealand and in former military bunkers. Is this end times paranoia just a post-Trump fad, or do they know something we don't?

Clever tech people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are worried about the end of the world.

Trump’s victory has created a debate about democracy, about who has the right and the competence to rule.  A recent New Yorker cartoon caused a storm on Twitter because it featured a man standing in the aisle of the plane raising his hand and saying: “The smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?” The New Yorker is the organ of the intellectual middle classes in New York and was partisanly pro-Clinton during the fraught recent US election campaign.

It’s meant as a dig against Trump supporters who think they can run the country better than the experts. It all relates to the big debate about “believing fake news”, the suspicion of experts; hostility to elites and “disregard for knowledge” that is set to characterise the Trump supporter. These idiots believe ruling is so easy, they’d even try to fly a plane based on a democratic vote! That  debate really goes back 2,500 years to Plato, who advanced  scepticism of democracy because he thought ruling was a matter of competence, a  skill like any other – like surgery, navigation,  requiring years of training and which normal people were not competent to judge who was good at it.  

It is true that there is a vandalistic element to the Trump and Brexit votes.

It’s also fair to say that there has to be some way of cashiering incompetent people in power. I would say don’t focus on Trump, with all his faults. Focus on what produced Trump.

Why do people feel the need to vote the Trump?  Is it because the West’s elites have mismanaged their countries for 15 years or more – enriching themselves while failing to make life better for the middle-class and working-class majority? Statistics will tell you American salaries and even lifespans* have stagnated while in the UK, it is much harder to get onto the property ladder.  When the elites decry Trump are they really not just saying they just want a government after their interests rather than the majority’s interests?

Anyway, if we continue the plane analogy for a  while, it seems a lot of people up there in the cockpit have prepared parachutes.

Property enquiries for secure areas outside fallout zones are on the up. New Zealand seems to be popular destination. And an American entrepreneur has bought a bunker situated in Germany which he has dubbed Europa 1.  He has promised an underground utopia for millionaires and will have lavishly furnished apartments to go to if America (or Europe) fall apart in revolution, (Trumpean) dictatorship or war.  

Europa 1 bills itself as the biggest fortified underground installation in Europe, carved out of a 400-foot mountain and built by the Soviets during the Cold War. Built for storage of military equipment, it could withstand direct biological and chemical attack, even shock waves and earthquakes as well as armed attack. The complex is being developed into a 34 luxury living quarters spread out over 20,000m² . 

Rather than try to participate in the new order, are the elites abandoning the wreckage of the one they created?  In the New Yorker again, another recent article found a sample of Wall Street traders and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who really do believe something is afoot and are looking for safe places for them and their families. They may be extremely intelligent but do they have an accurate hold on reality?  One aspect of their day jobs, at least the Wall Street types, is that they assess risk for a living so they must be on to something. There might be other reasons why tech types are at the forefront of apocalyptic fears about the state of the world.

More than others they are aware more than the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the economy, forcing people out of their jobs and increasing social tensions. I wonder whether there is an element of personal responsibility and guilt here. Also, people who work in technology are also more aware than others of the interdependence of modern systems, integrated in ways that would have seemed unimaginable 20 years ago. For instance the food supplies in supermarkets are dependent on a supply chain that relies on global positioning, which in turn depends upon the internet, and so on, and each system along the way is vulnerable. How difficult for hostile actors to foment social revolution by a well-timed cyberattack on the food distribution infrastructure?

There’s probably only a trickle of tech entrepreneurs who are preparing for the worst, so far. It is a perpetual failing of journalists to extrapolate from small samples and call it a trend. Still, this is surely one story keeping an eye on.  If a sizeable proportion of rich people in the tech community starts bunkering up, it’s time to get worried.

 

*Life Expectancy for White Americans Declines, Wall Street Journal 20/4/2016

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