Oh dear. That sinister Doomsday Clock has just ticked forward 30 seconds. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists cites Trump and climate change (“which I had hoped would cancel each other out”, said Giles Coren in The Times). Now we’re at only two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest we’ve been to disaster since 1953. This certainly chimes, as it were, with the zeitgeist. There is unquestionably “a sense out there that the end of the world is nigh”, says Coren. “It’s all over Twitter and the liberal press, it’s there in the glum faces of your friends at dinner and the black humour on metropolitan coffee shop blackboards…”
In America, the novelist Philip Roth wrote last week: “What is most terrifying is that [Trump] makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe?” Meanwhile, in the current edition of The New Yorker, there is a piece headlined “Doomsday Prep for the super-rich” in which the magazine examines how some of America’s wealthiest people are “getting ready for the crack-up of civilisation”.
We hear about Steve Huffman, the 33-year-old co-founder of Reddit, who is worried about “the temporary collapse of our government and structures”. Huffman, whose company is valued at $600m, lives in San Francisco. “I own a couple of motorcycles,” he says. “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, says Evan Osnos, the New Yorker writer, may once have conjured up a picture of hillbillies: “the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsdayer”. But the new survivalists are hi-tech wizards or hedge-fund mangers, living in places like Silicon Valley or New York.
Antonio García Martínez, for example – a 40-year-old former Facebook product manager – has bought five acres of woodland on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The author of a book called Chaos Monkeys, he wanted a refuge that would be away from cities, but not too isolated.
“All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob. 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 began telling people in San Francisco about his island project, they “came out of the woodwork” to describe their own schemes. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin ice right now.”
Another survivalist, a tech fund manager, tells Osnos he keeps “a helicopter gassed up all the time” and that he has “an underground bunker with an air-filtration system. A lot of my friends do the guns and motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare any more.” The motorcycles come from a 1998 film, Deep Impact, in which a boy and his girlfriend escape an asteroid attack on a motorbike. Giles Coren says he doesn’t own a helicopter and can’t ride a motorbike. He’ll just have to make do with his bicycle and his air rifle.
Tabloid money… “Cheer up, grow up and shut up, Emma”
• “Let me stress immediately that bribery and corruption are morally wrong,” says the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne. But John Rose, the boss of Rolls-Royce caught up in a “deafening chorus of denunciation” over “the revelation that the firm has owned up to ‘extensive systematic bribery and corruption’”, is a patriot, who “should be celebrated rather than pilloried”. Rose’s critics should keep in mind “that there are vast areas of the globe… where bribery is standard practice”.
Indeed, some cultures do not even see it as wrong, says Oborne. Put simply, Rose faced a choice between allowing Rolls-Royce to be destroyed by foreign rivals who did not have to abide by such niceties as Tony Blair’s anti-bribery law, “or devise a way of dealing with it”.
• Donald Trump had a point when he said he wrote things down because he did not trust computers, says Frederick Forsyth in the Daily Express. These days, “confidential information might as well be on a hoarding on the M1”. Banks are forever telling me to “be modern and bank online”. But “if every con man can hack in”, why bother? “As for security, I have been issued so many personal IDs, passwords, PIN numbers… I could set up my own GCHQ”. And when it comes to bank helplines giving information, “Captain Mainwaring was faster in Dad’s Army”, says Forsyth. “So the Hairdo in the White House may have it right. Jot it down.”
• Actress Emma Watson (pictured) is reported to be “freaking out” because she turned down a role in La La Land, the stars of which are tipped for Oscars, says Ann Widdecombe in the same paper. “If that is true, then all I can say is calm down, dearie.” “First Emma, you are only 26… Second, you are already a multi-millionaire and an acclaimed actress, while so many talented people are struggling.” Besides, making bad calls is part of grown-up life, says Widdecombe. “So cheer up, grow up and shut up, Emma.”