In December 2023 Ron Hubbard, a security consultant from Texas (not to be confused with the father of Scientology) bought 711 air filtration systems for underground bunkers – more than he had in the previous thirteen years combined. Yes, tell your subterranean friends they were right: bunkers are back in fashion.

When the news broke that Mark Zuckerberg was planning a massive underground complex on his Ko’olau ranch on Kauai, Hawaii, billionaires, millionaires, and other potential mole-people went crazy for below-ground bathtubs. Now all billionaires can spend as much time in bunkers as golf-crazy Donald Trump.

Not all of these silos have been well thought through. One plutocrat wanted a shelter on an island floating in the middle of a lake full of burning petrol, reachable only by swing bridge. He also wanted to construct a circular mounded defence around the lake, accessed through a passage with flamethrowers and “gassing areas”. At no point during his design of a hypothetical lair in the crater of a man-made volcano, accessible only through a passageway laced with booby traps, did this individual pause to consider whether he might be the villain of the story.

As Douglas Rushkoff points out in his book Survival of the Richest, what we are seeing is a symptom of billionaires using their wealth to try and avoid the consequences of a global system that allows billionaires to exist. They are happy to drive the rest of us to a catastrophic global collapse if they can be reasonably sure they’ll be insulated from the worst effects. This may sound horrific, but now imagine a world repopulated by Elon Musk. A whole species of damp people with plate faces and incredibly thin skin. Suddenly, complete worldwide human annihilation doesn’t seem so bad.

This year’s TV adaptation of the Fallout video game series dramatises humanity crawling out of underground shelters to confront a post-apocalyptic world. Then you can flip over to watch Silo or Doomsday Bunkers. Bunkers haven’t been this popular since All in the Family, the 1970s American remake of the BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, which featured bigoted paterfamilias Archie Bunker.

We’re told our governing party is so depressed it has developed a “bunker mentality”. Although, with its current stirring of racial and religious hatred and railing against the young and the thoughtful, it’s more of an Archie Bunker mentality. We have to assume, however, that there are actual bunkers set aside for our government to use if things get really unpleasant. When you visit the Churchill War Rooms you can see the Transatlantic Telephone Room. This, the most vital piece of communication infrastructure for the whole of the war effort and the resistance of worldwide fascism, is disguised as a toilet. That spirit endures today, with our entire government disguised as a toilet. If this nation does suffer some apocalyptic tragedy, we can only assume that when, finally, the Conservative Party re-emerges from its shelter to find rivers and streams oozing a mass of radioactive pollution and hideously deformed mutants scrabbling for a basic existence, without any civic society or infrastructure, they will look at each other and think: “Job done!”

Imagine a world repopulated by Elon Musk

Imagine what it would be like inside that shelter: a toy castle for Oliver Dowden to kick over every day, a series of terrifying uniforms for Penny Mordaunt and a machine that, once every half-hour, glazes Michael Gove with a thin sheen of mucus so he doesn’t lose his lustre. They will enjoy sitting in safety, listening to Lee Anderson banging on the reinforced-steel doors, begging to be let in as a ravenous horde of the undead chew on his no-go areas.

It’s possible we’re focusing too much on the bunkers and not enough on the fact that Zuckerberg already owns 1,400 acres of Kuaui, and has surrounded it with a six-foot-high wall. It’s said everyone who works there – a significant proportion of the island’s population – has to sign an NDA and he is using the compound to farm macadamia nuts and cattle. Billionaires nowadays don’t just want their own bunker, they want their own ecosystem and castle.

We used to have a word for when rich people owned a walled ecosystem and compelled those who worked in it to live by the whims of its owner. We’ve gone through hundreds of years of progress to reinvent feudalism. So, perhaps the most immediately beneficial thing we could do for the environment would be to convince all the world’s billionaires that the worst has happened, and they should retreat to their bunkers immediately. As the alarms sound and the doors clank shut, we can start to imagine a better world: one in which the essential systems aren’t designed by and for the people who benefit the most from them. We can send updates to them saying everything’s being done how they want, along with spreadsheets of pleasingly meaningless numbers.

When we’ve lived without the most rapacious people in the world for a while, we may rediscover community-based, regenerative ways of living. We can start to use the non-intensive, creative ways of filling our needs that we already know exist. We can grow what we need and preserve what we should preserve. We can talk to each other unmediated by algorithms and media outlets paid for by the most acquisitive people in global history. And if we can’t be bothered to find items to block the inflows of 711 air-filtration systems, we can carry on letting the billionaires think the world has ended. Because their world has – and they probably won’t want to live in our one.

Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate

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April 2024, Columns, Ephemerant

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