The image I associate with a survivalist is that of a hermit — insular, eclectic, convinced that “the end is near” and certain that they are prepared for its arrival. However, when I think of my dad, I don’t see him that way at all. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed hearing him describe the lolling limbs of “The Walking Dead” zombies or the icy blue stare of the “Game of Thrones” white walkers, or whatever other undead threat from the latest book or TV show he was consuming (haha). But despite his long-standing fascination with zombie apocalypses, his store of freeze-dried meals and first aid supplies in the basement always just seemed like normal disaster preparedness. From an early age, I was drilled in knowing what to do in the event of an earthquake, having grown up along the San Andreas fault line: drop onto your hands and knees, cover your head and neck, and hold onto shelter until the shaking stops.
The only thing stronger than my reverence for the total collapse of society in zombie apocalypses is my appreciation for the way it is rebuilt. Stories like “World War Z” paint an ultimately hopeful picture of humanity’s ability to take advantage of the fresh start afforded by the apocalypse, learning from the failures of institutions, recognizing their weak spots and improving on them. However, the first time I heard that story was actually the Biblical story of Noah. In truth, I must credit my introduction to Armageddon to the hearty dose of scripture I was raised with as a Catholic.
The book of Revelation is the final book in the Bible, its title derived from the Greek word apokálypsis, meaning “discovery.” There is a divide between Christians who believe the Bible must be read literally and those who interpret it to be allegory. This becomes all the more relevant in the final pages when all of humanity dies. To me, the Biblical Apocalypse is a reminder that the “doomsday,” has a long history of haunting humanity. Moreover, science — and science fiction — have probably provided humanity with just as many doomsday scenarios as religion has: nuclear war, artificial intelligence, biological warfare and climate change, to list a few. Of course, current events have become routine in their madness and unpredictability, which no doubt contributes to the growing social unease that journalist Jasper Hamill describes as “apocalypse anxiety.”
I see this unease reflected in media like Spillage Village’s album “Spilligion,” released during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lead single of which is titled “End of Daze.” The entire album — but especially this single — articulates a lot of the anxiety I have observed in my generation over the ominous future that existential threats like climate change present. Climate change is sort of the nonfiction version of a zombie apocalypse for many people I know.
Yet many more people have plenty of other reasons for why they might be concerned with preparing for an apocalyptic future. For a lot, it is the preparedness that matters rather than what they are preparing for. Others truly believe they foresee imminent fractures of the delicate fabric of society. In an article for The New Yorker, former Facebook Product Manager Antonio García Martínez contends that “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.”
This statement may resonate simply because we all have witnessed the seemingly endless stream of intensifying current events in recent years. Political extremism, polarized elections, a global pandemic, “endless” wars — none of it feels normal. The funny thing is though, the century just before this one saw all the same things. No one can truly foresee the future, and I don’t believe there is some great mystery to how the “levers” of our society work. As polarized as our nation is, I still don’t see the “culture wars” driving us into civil war.
There is a noteworthy inequity when it comes to overall preparedness for the coming of Armageddon. In the single “End of Daze,” Spillage Village member Hollywood JB satirically laments, “I need a new planet to fly to,” referring to the sudden trend of billionaire-sponsored space programs like Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and their dreams of establishing colonies on Mars.
However, moving a couple of pegs down the billionaire social ladder we see the actions that many other super-rich people have recently taken to construct multi-million-dollar doomsday shelters. For them, the prime location is New Zealand — civilized enough (by their standards) to live comfortably while society still functions, and remote enough to flee to once it all falls apart. In the aforementioned New Yorker article, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, asserts that “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.” So if the wealthy and powerful have their own inside jokes about where they buy their doomsday shelters, shouldn’t the rest of us be concerned too? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but neither does Jeff Bezos. I think the best thing we can do is have faith that humans, like always, will find a way. But it requires a collaborative effort by all of us. To Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal and Affirm, the wealthy prepping for survival solely for themselves is immoral and callous; he instead “(shuts) down party conversations” on the topic, asking “So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?”
Will our judgment day come? We live in a time of uncertainty, and that leaves room to imagine all the worst-case scenarios. It’s worthwhile to consider prepping; The Red Cross recommends that every individual have a “Disaster Preparedness Plan.” However, collectively we should focus on the solutions to our “existential threats” before we start building spaceships to fly away from them.
Statement Columnist Connor O’Leary Herreras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.