Geologic Time Spiral via Wikimedia Commons

Buying Time

The last commodity for sale to the highest bidder

“The rich people can live in perfect places and buy their own water, their own plants, their own meat, but what they can’t buy — yet — is their own air,” my host told me as he drove us through the thick brown atmosphere of Jinan.

“What happens to poor people is a scandal. They eat food that is rubbish,” Yimeng continued, smoothly avoiding an oncoming car. “All of it comes from greed. Everyone is anxious. Everyone is creating a bubble to live in.”

Two years later, his charming British-trained English stays with me, particularly as I read articles about longevity and survivalist schemes thriving among the super-rich.

Take, for example, the Survival Condo Project, a “15-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo,” near Wichita, Kansas. Twelve private apartments, each costing $3 million, sold out almost as soon as they were advertised. The company currently offers a 50,000–300,000 square foot “bunker option” for your own property.

Image from Survival Condo

Or, how about self-described “biohacker” and “upgraded human” Dave Asprey who’s spent more than $1 million in an effort to live to be 180 years old? Asprey successfully raised tens of millions of dollars from investors for his Upgrade Labs that feature float tanks, cryo chambers, and vibration platforms promising to help you upgrade your biology. He also sells supplements, seminars, and sleep solutions alongside his famous “bulletproof” coffee.

A biohacking tool sold on Asprey’s site

Critics think that these ideas appeal to Silicon Valley movers and shakers because they are able to, as one commenter in this New Yorker piece explained, “view risk very mathematically.” Which sounds like a fancy way of saying that if you’re rich enough, you can view anything through the mathematics of money.

Another commenter quotes a wealthy party guest who pragmatically questions exit strategies that don’t include servants: “Are you taking your pilot’s family, too? And what about the maintenance guys? If revolutionaries are kicking in doors, how many of the people in your life will you have to take with you?”

All of this sounds like a rich person’s live-action role-playing of “The Lifeboat Scenario.”

Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century Christian monk, theorized “eight evil thoughts” predicated on a “love of self.” Pope Gregory I revised these ideas (combining discouragement and sorrow into sloth) and named them the Seven Deadly Sins.

The Seven Deadly Sins and Four Last Things painting by Hieronymous Bosch, circa 1495–1505

If you take all the high-priced gimmickry out of these examples, they’re not fringe ideas or extremist cults. They’re something more like an upgrade of at least 3 of 7 Deadly Sins — greed, gluttony, pride — optimized by fear.

Why I wonder, would you want to biohack and build shelters if the world you will inherit will be, as my host described it, a scandal? Logically, a world built by self-obsessed tech bros and fueled by wealth-hoarding selfishness might be — perhaps — an apocalyptic hellscape.

Who would really want to put their children or anyone they cared about into a world warped by rapaciousness? Why not invest in climate science, clean water solutions, and cutting-edge agriculture?

Walter Benjamin, a German political thinker, described this particular form of acquisitiveness in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction as a replacement for institutions like the church. “One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion,” he wrote. “…capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was.”

Heraclitus, a philosopher who would’ve been a must-follow on Ancient Greek Twitter, said: “A man’s character is his fate.”

The more you think about that short punchy phrase — especially if you have lots of time in a bunker or cryochamber — the scarier it becomes.