Arnon Grunberg



A friend sent me this article about real estate and the Apocalypse - Mark O’Connell in The Guardian:

'Vicino was among the most prominent and successful figures in the doomsday preparedness space, a real-estate magnate for the end of days. His company specialised in the construction of massive underground shelters where high-net-worth individuals could weather the end of the world in the style and comfort to which they had become accustomed. The company was named Vivos, which is the Spanish word for living. (As in los vivos – as distinct, crucially, from los muertos.) Vivos claimed to operate several facilities across the US, all in remote and undisclosed locations, far from likely nuclear targets, seismic fault lines and large urban areas where outbreaks of contagion would be at their most catastrophically intense. They were advertising an “elite shelter” in Germany, too, a vast Soviet-era munitions bunker built into the bedrock beneath a mountain in Thuringia.'


'The place was, I read on the company’s website, “strategically and centrally located in one of the safest areas of North America”, at an altitude of about 1,200 metres and 100 miles from the nearest known military nuclear targets. “Vivos security team can spot anyone approaching the property from three miles away. Massive. Safe. Secure. Isolated. Private. Defensible. Off-Grid. Centrally located.” It was not intuitively clear to me how a place could be both isolated and centrally located, but, to be fair, if pretty much the entire rest of the world had perished, any settlement of living humans would have legitimate grounds to proclaim itself centrally located.'


'Waiting for a call from Vicino to arrange our meeting, I had nothing better to do than mooch around Hot Springs. It was Sunday, and the town was largely deserted, save for a steady procession of grizzled and leather-vested bikers passing at a respectful clip through Main Street en route to a nearby motorcycle rally. In a cafe on Main Street, I sipped a coffee and scribbled in my notebook, before being driven away by a loose but resilient alliance of flies, who took turns in alighting on my forearms as I wrote.

Eventually, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Vicino was out at the site and was ready when I was.

About 10 minutes after turning off Route 18 on to the cracked interior roads of the ranch, I passed what was once the town of Fort Igloo, home to the hundreds of workers who moved there to take up jobs at the Black Hills Ordnance Depot, built in 1942 to service the army’s increased wartime need for munitions testing and storage. Schools, a hospital, shops, houses, a church, a small theatre: all abandoned now to the oblivious cows.

Only once Fort Igloo began to recede in the rearview mirror did the landscape reveal the true depth of its uncanniness, because it was then that I saw the vaults. I noticed at first only three or four of these things: low, grass-covered protuberances, spaced a few hundred feet apart, their hexagonal concrete frontage jutting from the earth. The deeper into the ranch I drove, the more of these structures emerged from the landscape, until I realised that they were everywhere, hundreds of them, as far as I could see in every direction. It was an ethereal sight, alien and ancient, like the remnants of a vast religious colony, a place built for the veneration of derelict gods.'


'He’d been sitting in a cafe in San Diego last year, he told me, when he received an email from a cattle farmer in South Dakota, informing him about the vast tract of land on his ranch, its former munitions vaults, and how it might be a suitable property for his business to acquire. The plan came to him instantly, he said, the whole idea for xPoint: he was going to pay the rancher the sum of one dollar for the property, offering him a 50% cut of all future profits from the vaults, which he was going to sell at a reasonable price to people willing to fit them out to their own specs, and it was going to be the largest survival community on Earth. It was going to be a much more affordable proposition than his other survival communities: an apocalypse solution for consumers of more modest means. He’d already sold off 50 or so.'


'He had some strange beliefs, Vicino, beliefs that were supplementary to his basic apocalyptic vision. He believed that the Earth had a tendency to shift abruptly on its axis, causing massive earthquakes and tidal waves. He believed in the existence of a rogue planet the size of Jupiter called Niburu, which was out there just roaming around untethered to any particular solar system, and that it was on a collision course with our own world, and that the government knew about this, too, and was hiding it from us. He believed that everything that happened, from North Korea to Brexit, was orchestrated with the intention of bringing us closer to one world government.

He wasn’t particularly evangelical about these beliefs. He was mostly just putting them out there, it seemed, in the knowledge that apocalyptic unease was basically a volume game. If you didn’t like one terrifying dystopian scenario, he had another that might be more your thing. But conspiracies – secret knowledge, hidden revelations – were a key component of his business model.

He dilated at length on his theory that the Democratic party had historically built its base by promising handouts to minorities. “What the Democrats did was they said: let’s get blacks. Let’s get Mexicans. Let’s get every minority and make them believe we’re the best thing for them, that we’re gonna give them all these handouts. But even after eight years of Obama, nothing was better. More handouts. More promises. More nothing.”'


'“There’s going to be gangs roaming,” he said. “Cannibals in great numbers. Raping. Pillaging. The have-nots coming after the haves for everything they’ve got. And my question to you is, do you want your daughters to live through that?”

I did not at that time have any daughters, but I felt it would have been somehow pedantic to point that out, because I understood that on some level he wasn’t even talking to me. He was speaking of, and to, a conjured phantasm of idealised masculinity – the man who provides, the man who protects, and whom only the breakdown of the state, the collapse of civilisation itself, could bring to its truest apotheosis. He was speaking of a man for whom society as a whole had on some level always been a hoard of marauding cannibals baying for the flesh of his daughters. The apocalypse, in this sense, was an unveiling of how things really were in this life: of what people were, of what society was, and of how a man stood in relation to it all. Apocalypse, after all, means only this: a revelation, an uncovering of the truth.'


But in the end, it was absolutely true that I felt nothing but horror for the product Vicino was trying to sell me, or sell through me. A civilisation that could accommodate a business like Vivos was a civilisation that had in some sense already collapsed.

I have some sympathy for the builders of bunkers, the hoarders of freeze-dried foodstuffs. I understand the fear, the desire for it to be assuaged. But more than I want my fear assuaged, I want to resist the urge to climb into a hole, to withdraw from an ailing world, to bolt the door after myself and my family. When I think of Vicino’s project, his product, what comes to mind is the anthropologist Margaret Mead’s judgment of what it means to secure oneself inside a shelter: a withdrawal from any notion that our fate might be communal, that we might live together rather than survive alone.

The bunker, purchased and tricked out by the individual consumer, is a nightmare inversion of the American dream. It’s a subterranean abundance of luxury goods and creature comforts, a little kingdom of reinforced concrete and steel, safeguarding the survival of the individual and his family amid the disintegration of the world.


'If you could afford the outlay, and if you had the foresight to get in on the ground floor, you were in with a chance to be among the saved. That was business: the first and the last, the alpha and omega.'

Read the article here.

God as entrepreneur, those who read the bible should not be really surprised. And yes, for the believers the Apocalypse is just the truth, a not very pleasant truth, but who expected the truth to be pleasant?

In the meantime the virus appears to be doing what many politicians couldn't do, close the gap a bit between the rich and the poor. At least some of the rich are less rich now. And yes some of the middle class is rightly anxious as well. Even Disneyland is closed as a NYT columnist pointed out. But consumers of modest means can be saved, according to this article.
We see comfort where we need it.

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