The Privileged Have Entered Their Escape Pods
Technology gave us the dream of a cocooned future. Now we’re living it.
Editor’s note: This piece is a spiritual successor to “Survival of the Richest,” a report about how the wealthy plot to leave us behind after an apocalyptic event.
Many of us don’t like who we have become in this pandemic but feel little freedom to choose otherwise. Officially, we may be wearing our masks to protect others, but it sure does feel appropriate to hide our faces when we’re engaging in so many self-interested, survivalist activities in the light of day — leveraging whatever privilege we may enjoy to stock and equip our homes so they can serve as makeshift bunkers, workplaces, private schools, and hermetically sealed entertainment centers.
Sure, because I’m still being paid as a professor at CUNY (the City University of New York), I donated my government relief check to the local food pantry and am sending a significant portion of my income to friends who can no longer meet their basic expenses. But I also went and spent $500 on a big rubber pool for my daughter and our neighbors’ kids to use as the basis for a makeshift private summer camp. And I’ve seen similar inflatable blue bubbles all over town.
“Don’t tell anyone,” one of my neighbors told me when he came over to borrow some chlorine tablets, “but we’re thinking to ride this whole thing out in Zurich, where the numbers are better.” His wife still has her European passport, and they both have jobs that can be done entirely remotely. They’d be joining scores of people I know — not millionaires, but writers and marketers and consultants and web developers — who are resettling in Canada or Europe on the logic that their kids shouldn’t be sacrificed to their progressive parents’ sense of shame about escaping.
When I challenge him on the ethics of bailing, he snaps back, “At least the elementary school will have two less bodies to space at six-foot intervals. I’m doing you a favor.” He can’t resist showing me the photo on his phone from the rental site. It was a gorgeous, solar-powered cabin on a remote hillside with the headline “Luxury Eco-Lodge.” He smiled. “I always wanted the kids to get a Waldorf education, and now they even have an online option.”