Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars, was nearsighted until November, 2015, when he arranged to have laser eye surgery. He underwent the procedure not for the sake of convenience or appearance but, rather, for a reason he doesn’t usually talk much about: he hopes that it will improve his odds of surviving a disaster, whether natural or man-made. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.”
Huffman, who lives in San Francisco, has large blue eyes, thick, sandy hair, and an air of restless curiosity; at the University of Virginia, he was a competitive ballroom dancer, who hacked his roommate’s Web site as a prank. He is less focussed on a specific threat—a quake on the San Andreas, a pandemic, a dirty bomb—than he is on the aftermath, “the temporary collapse of our government and structures,” as he puts it. “I own a couple of motorcycles. I have a bunch of guns and ammo. Food. I figure that, with that, I can hole up in my house for some amount of time.”
Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.
Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”
In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”
While I do applaud them for putting in some thought and effort toward prepping, I find the article leaves more questions than answers. The tone of the piece seems to be “these people spent a lot of money”. I couldn’t help but pick up on some things that seem to be missing.
– There were several mentions of guns and weapons, but only one where one of the people admitted to any kind of training or practice…and that was in archery. I’m not saying archery doesn’t have it place in prepping, but one guy with a bow is not a very good defensive tactic unless he’s starring in a samurai movie. Just like any other piece of gear, having guns is useless if you don’t know how to employ them properly. I could go out and buy a NASCAR rig, but without training and practice, I’d turn myself into a bloody smear on the track and probably a few spectators in the stands as well. Guns are no different.
– The missile silos are a great idea in theory, and the guy building and selling them (Larry Hall of the Survival Condo Project) seems to have done a lot of homework on not having people go stir crazy. However, of all the articles that I’ve read about that project, I’ve never seen any mentions of practice runs or of any periods where everyone who will be living there have interacted. I think that’s a recipe for disaster (and one of the reasons that SouthEastern Preppers Network exists…to allow for people to get to know each other and whether or not they want to potentially spend a great deal of time in austere circumstances together); without being reasonably sure that all of the inhabitants are comfortable with each other and able to work together a SHTF situation would be untenable. It would be like buying a vacation condo to retire to sight unseen and then finding out, after you’ve sold your old house and moved in, that you can’t stand your neighbors. Which brings me to the next point…
– Hall mentions in the New Yorker article rotating chores to prevent cliques from forming. I hate to say it, but at least 70% of people with $3 million to toss down are probably not in the habit of doing “chores”, they expect someone else to do that for them. Even if there was some sort of written agreement or a provision in the purchase stipulating that chores were a part of the deal, I’m sure that a number of them will balk when the time comes, which is going to create friction.
– Skills, or lack thereof. This goes back to my point about guns. I read a lot in there about being stocked up, but very little about acquiring and practicing skills. For instance, one guy noted that he kept a helicopter fueled up. OK, if you’re worried about nukes, you have to factor EMP into the equation. And if it’s an EMP, that chopper likely isn’t going anywhere. So prudence would insist that he have an alternate plan of egress, along with the ability to execute that plan. Can he hike the distance to his BOL? Can he utilize a map and compass? The questions are almost limitless. Granted, some of them mention motorcycles, but the same principles apply. Can you reach where you’re going on one tank? Do you have fuel reserves stored or cached, because if there’s an EMP, the gas stations aren’t going to be functioning? Do you have multiple routes mapped out and are you familiar with them, potential problems along the routes, and the time each takes to complete the journey? Is the motorcycle a low-tech model that is EMP-survivable?
I know that’s all probably more than one article can cover and a lot of what I talked about is “deep dive”, but the impression that the writer subtly exudes as the attitude of the people he’s covering seems to be “just throw money at it”. At least they’re moving in the right direction, and maybe they have thought about and addressed things like what I’ve pointed out. I just hate that a lot of people might get the idea that shelling out scads of money without actually learning how or being able to do anything is the way to prep or that you can only prep if you have a few million dollars just laying around.