The Strangelove Solution to Human Extinction Prevention

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As nuclear doom approaches, Dr. Strangelove in the eponymous 1964 movie outlines a plan to President Merkin Muffley to create underground refuges for several hundred thousand Americans to survive in the post-apocalypse world.

The image

Strangelove explains how computers could be used to select those who would survive based on health, youth, sexual attractiveness and necessary skills. Every doomsday cloud must have its silver lining. As Strangelove adds:

"Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years."

Here at the Oxford Glolbal Catastrophic Risks conference, George Mason University economist and Future of Humanity Institute research fellow Robin Hanson took seriously the notion that a plan to establish refuges to preserve a remnant of humanity might be a good idea when it comes to surviving potential existential threats. Hanson noted that wars seem to be obeying a power law relationship–most of the harm derives from infrequent big wars, not the accumulated casualties of small wars. The power law relationship also seems to hold for other disasters such as epidemics and earthquakes. So perhaps a truly cataclysmic war that could lead to the extinction of human beings lies in the future. One way to prevent humans from going extinct from such global war might be to create refuges. If worse came to worst, the refugees would emerge and revert to hunting and simple farming, but humanity would live to fight (cooperate) another millennia.

Hanson is famous for his work on using prediction markets as a way to aggregate dispersed information. As Hanson explained, "Markets are an open invitation to search out and fix bias and walk away with money." At the conference, Hanson suggested the intriguing possibiity of using something like a prediction market to forecast imminent Armageddon. To boil it down, the idea is that one could sell tickets that would admit one to the refuge(s) in the event of a global catastrophe. If the price for the refuge tickets begin to spike, then head for the hills.

Other cheery posts on Global Catastrophic Risks will follow through the weekend.

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  1. But would these refuges protect our precious bodily fluids?

  2. What a bunch of garbage that power law is! He has two data points past log of 6 and is now claiming to extend it to log 9? Ha.

    The Fallacy of the Unbroken Trend strikes again.

  3. Of course, there are the folks who believe that human extinction would be something desirable.

  4. To boil it down, the idea is that one could sell tickets that would admit one to the refuge(s) in the event of a global catastrophe

    It’s amusing to see that anyone would think a ‘golden ticket’ would get you past a post-apocalyptic velvet rope. If your too peaceable to go the guns and ammo route to get in, your only other choice is to have marketable amounts of gas, grass, or ass – which you still need guns and ammo to hold onto.

  5. Sleep much, Ron?

    “Yeah, right” is right. You better have some big fucking machine guns at the door to your “refuge”, buddy, because I’m coming in without paying, and I have a lot of firepower and no reason to not use all of my ammo getting in. I’m also smart as hell and have no problem dying in the attempt. Multiply me many times and “refuge” is not the word I’d use.

  6. Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!

  7. What about the ten women for every man idea?

    They’re keeping that idea right.

  8. “Yeah, right” is right. You better have some big fucking machine guns at the door to your “refuge”, buddy, because I’m coming in without paying, and I have a lot of firepower and no reason to not use all of my ammo getting in. I’m also smart as hell and have no problem dying in the attempt. Multiply me many times and “refuge” is not the word I’d use.

    I don’t care how many guns you have, or how much ammo, you ain’t getting into my refuge, buddy.

    By the time you arrive the government will have nationalized it and tossed me out on my ass. And the U.S. military has all the machineguns in the world.

  9. Oh god I can see old biddies pouring their life savings in to Armageddon futures and then the huge crash after the 2012 “Mayan Mayhem” bubble.

  10. Concurring with what the other folks said about the, er, difficult logistics of refuge tickets.

    Markets require a stable society free from coercion to work. This is also why anarcho-capitalist dreams of financing armed forces by selling “invasion insurance” with benefits payable if the US is ever successfully invaded is unworkable.

  11. Sleep much, Ron?

    “Yeah, right” is right. You better have some big fucking machine guns at the door to your “refuge”, buddy, because I’m coming in without paying, and I have a lot of firepower and no reason to not use all of my ammo getting in. I’m also smart as hell and have no problem dying in the attempt. Multiply me many times and “refuge” is not the word I’d use.

    D’you ever see the show Jeremiah? If not, I’d recommend it. It sort of deals with your scenario.

  12. Lot’s of good points about the problem with a refuge staying a refuge.

    My question is about something else:

    There was no spike in people bailing from the housing bubble before it burst. Why would people be any smarter about the imminence of a nuclear war or asteroid?

  13. “Markets are an open invitation to search out and fix bias and walk away with money.”

    They are also an open invitation to spread disinformation and take advantage of ignorance and walk away with money. See: recent housing market.

    A spike in the price of the tickets wouldn’t “signal” anything, because speculators could be driving the price, not people with relevant information.

  14. D’you ever see the show Jeremiah? If not, I’d recommend it. It sort of deals with your scenario.

    Of course, saw the whole series. I have Showtime for a reason. I’m actually rewatching the show that was on after it, Odyssey 5, right now.

  15. You get the level of civilization you can afford…I’ll see your machine gun and raise you a couple hundred jars of homemade nerve gas.

  16. Of course, saw the whole series. I have Showtime for a reason. I’m actually rewatching the show that was on after it, Odyssey 5, right now.

    Soooo, then you’d know that the secret is not just machine guns, but also control of information, and location, location, location!

  17. I’m guessing that by sometime in the 23rd century. The survivors of war,overpopulation, and pollution will be living in a great doomed city. Sealed anyway from the forgotten world outside. There, in an ecologically balanced world, mankind will live only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms that provide everything. There will be only one catch, life must end at 30 unless reborn in the fiery ritual of carousell.

  18. If the deal is the exact same 10 women for the rest of your life, then whomever came up with that idea has not been with many women.

  19. Just better hope they stock enough water chips.

  20. “If the deal is the exact same 10 women for the rest of your life, then whomever came up with that idea has not been with many women.”

    Good point, Allah is much more generous.

  21. Now, I love my species as much as anyone else, but if we did toast the world in a nuclear holocaust, would we really deserve to survive it?

  22. “If the deal is the exact same 10 women for the rest of your life, then whomever came up with that idea has not been with many women.”

    Good point, Allah is much more generous.

    Yeah, seventy raisins is definitely better than ten women.

    If you’re a gay man.

  23. Leaving aside the practicalities of a “defensible” refuge, with the will and ability to restrict entry, my nightmare scenario is one in which the government provides safe haven for those completely unable to care for themselves, much less rebuild a society (read: elected officials).

    When the all-clear sounds, you will need welders and mechanics more than health-and-welfare-policy wonks.

  24. Regarding the defensibility of the refuge, I think it would somewhat resemble the “Panic Room” scenario. Presumably the entryway(s) would be protected by virtually impenetrable armored doors, to better withstand whatever catastrophe was about to occur outside. Anyone trying to get in must somehow convince (beg, bribe, blackmail, etc) the occupants to open the doors.

  25. The reality is that an unofficial “market” has already created many such refuges. That is, people live in every place on the planet that can support human life. If something happens that is so catastrophic that ALL these folks get taken out, you’re never gonna be able to leave that bunker full of food and water you’re stuck in, because the outside world will remain completely uninhabitable.

    And BTW, that bunker is likely to be a sausagefest: more like 10 guys per girl.

  26. P Brooks,
    “When the all-clear sounds, you will need welders and mechanics more than health-and-welfare-policy wonks.”

    An excellent point almost always overlooked in such scenarios. Now that we know how to create fire and electricity, we won’t go back to not having it. Maybe better have a few engineers, too.

  27. I call first dibs on the Maginot Line.

  28. And BTW, that bunker is likely to be a sausagefest: more like 10 guys per girl.

    I see no reason why there would necessarily be a gender disparity either way. Care to elaborate on your thoughts?

  29. If the deal is the exact same 10 women for the rest of your life, then whomever came up with that idea has not been with many women.

    “Harcourt Fenton Mudd!!!”

  30. This list is stupid. They left out the greatest threat this planet faces today.

    I am talking, of course, about Manbearpig.

    Guys, come on! I’m super-serial!

  31. P Brooks,

    When the all-clear sounds, you will need welders and mechanics more than health-and-welfare-policy wonks.

    That is why my 100 chicks (only 10 at a time) will be the welder Amazons.

  32. This reminds me of that place up above the arctic circle where seeds are stored.

    This is similar to performers trying to dodge the “hook” on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour.

    Hey! Cooperate with the hook! Go with it.
    Get the flip off the stage!
    Ignore Iran. Nuke them seeds!

    Ruthless

  33. About ten years ago I helped to clean out the property of an eccentric millionaire who, convinced of impending nuclear war, had stocked an impressive shelter with everything he thought necessary for survival. My favorite finds were the two 50 gallon fiberboard barrels full of nylon stockings – still in the 1950 era original packaging. Guess he figured if it worked during WWII, chances are it would be good enough for some major recreational activity after the coming apocalypse.

  34. This helpful video should prepare all of your dedicated readers for the exciting challenge of post-apocaylpse wasteland repopulation!:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2h-3JdDLhE

    And here’s an excellent and unbiased source of information on preserving our American way of life!:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg9t7uXkLyA

    (Rumors of waterchip distribution challenges are greatly exagerated)!

  35. I’m less than optimistic about the inviolability of human refuges in the middle of a war big enough to wipe out mankind.

    Using tickets to create a prediction market is intriguing, though. One question, while we’re talking about long-shot catastrophes: is there any danger of a group or individual buying up tickets then talking up the danger in a crisis? It could be meant only for profit, like George Soros shorting the British pound, but it could conceivably be the straw that broke the camel’s back in a bad enough crisis.

  36. One thing (among many) that I think the BSG writers got right, was that if the New England Patriots were at a summer retreat / training camp in the vermont/nh mountains, they would make a pretty good core of a survivalist / resistance organization.

  37. There was no spike in people bailing from the housing bubble before it burst.

    I thought the spike in bailing out was the bubble bursting.

    They are also an open invitation to spread disinformation and take advantage of ignorance and walk away with money. See: recent housing market.

    Who was spreading disinformation in the housing market? And, of course, because this isn’t an anarchy, anyone who was intentionally lying in order to make money can be prosecuted for fraud.

    Bubbles aren’t the product of people lying to each other. They’re the product of people lying to themselves.

  38. “One thing (among many) that I think the BSG writers got right, was that if the New England Patriots were at a summer retreat / training camp in the vermont/nh mountains, they would make a pretty good core of a survivalist / resistance organization.”

    Sort like when the Russians & Cubans invaded America back in the 80’s & a bunch of high school football players for a team called the Wolverines started a resistance force up in the mountains.

  39. “”Kolohe | July 20, 2008, 2:07am | #
    One thing (among many) that I think the BSG writers got right, was that if the New England Patriots were at a summer retreat / training camp in the vermont/nh mountains, they would make a pretty good core of a survivalist / resistance organization
    “”

    Honestly though,
    The new England Patriots wouldn’t stand a chance against designed soldiers. That is where BSG fails.

    Speaking of which, they got to earth, when are the rest of the episodes coming out?

  40. The new England Patriots wouldn’t stand a chance against designed soldiers. That is where BSG fails.

    It’s called “hit & run tactics” or, in Football terms, the “Pump Fake”. Vietnamese villagers did *just fine* against professional soldiers. And BSG makes pretty clear that for the most part they hit soft targets.

  41. “Vietnamese villagers did *just fine* against professional soldiers.”

    No, they did fine against regular army, who had to follow dumb ass orders. They had no chance, though, against a unit that adapted to the country and terrain. In other words, do your own hit and runs against the hit and runners. See “Richard Marcinko”.

  42. Sounds like positive eugenics: pick the best and save them, let the rest die.

    Problem: loss of environment, and a need to reconstruct civilization.

    A more cynical person would say that we should apply negative eugenics, and pick the best and save them while “removing” the rest.

  43. I thought the spike in bailing out was the bubble bursting.

    Nope. People started bailing only AFTER the foreclosure spike – foreclosures on people who tried and failed to stay in, aka keep their homes – demonstrated that the mortgage backed securities were worthless.

    Who was spreading disinformation in the housing market? The people producing second, third, and fourth-generation mortgage backed securities on subprime mortgages, and the bond rating companies who rated them AAA.

  44. One thing (among many) that I think the BSG writers got right, was that if the New England Patriots were at a summer retreat / training camp in the vermont/nh mountains, they would make a pretty good core of a survivalist / resistance organization””

    Sir, the Cylons have broken through!

    Lemme guess, they got around the right side of the line. Am I right? Am I right?

  45. “”Elemenope | July 20, 2008, 10:38am | #
    The new England Patriots wouldn’t stand a chance against designed soldiers. That is where BSG fails.

    It’s called “hit & run tactics” or, in Football terms, the “Pump Fake”. Vietnamese villagers did *just fine* against professional soldiers. And BSG makes pretty clear that for the most part they hit soft targets.

    Dude, they were conscriptees, not a professional army.

    And even a professional soldier is not a designed soldier, that can be designed to be faster smarter, tougher, more motivated, more hit and runnier,

    And fucking bulletproof too.

    Oh yeah and they don’t die.

  46. “”Sir, the Cylons have broken through!

    Lemme guess, they got around the right side of the line. Am I right? Am I right?“”

    HA, there is that too

  47. I still don’t get why anyone could possibly think that an entity evolved to forage with Neanderthals would stand a chance against an entity that was specifically designed to kill those that evolved to forage with Neanderthals.

    Yeah, us humans can kill eachother, of course we can, so can monkeys kill eachother. But it is a clumsy messy event usually, and very inefficient.

    There would be no contest.

  48. kwais –

    IEDs don’t have to care about bulletproof. And for the most part, that’s what they used.

    Much like the Iraqi insurgents blowing up armored humvees. Metally Machines can get broke just like Organic Ones can, just need the right amount of force in the proper location.

    I really did like “more hit and runnier”. It’s like splitting the difference between a guerrilla fighter and some runny eggs.

  49. Vietnamese villagers did *just fine* against professional soldiers.

    Really? Then how come the Communist army from the North kicked our asses, put us in re-education camps, and caused us to flee the country in tiny boats?

  50. And BTW, that bunker is likely to be a sausagefest: more like 10 guys per girl.

    I see no reason why there would necessarily be a gender disparity either way. Care to elaborate on your thoughts?

    I’m guessing that the male:female ratio among survivalist fanatics is a sausagefest.

    And that typically females gravitate toward vulnerable heavily populated areas, while rugged outback areas on the far fringes of civilization that would be less likely to be targeted tend to be skewed toward men. Think of the gender disparity, for example, in Old West mining camps.

    And in a frantic emergency with people scrambling to get to their refuges under fire, one’s wife / girlfriend might not make it due to women tending to being physically weaker, or one might not have time to get to her and then get to the shelter. So you’d wind up with a bunker full of heavily armed men, and the occasional survivalist female.

    Now, if there was time to prepare, I’d say the gender disparity wouldn’t be so skewed, but would still be weighted toward men.

  51. Yeah, right” is right. You better have some big fucking machine guns at the door to your “refuge”, buddy, because I’m coming in without paying, and I have a lot of firepower and no reason to not use all of my ammo getting in. I’m also smart as hell and have no problem dying in the attempt. Multiply me many times and “refuge” is not the word I’d use.

    I don’t care how many guns you have, or how much ammo, you ain’t getting into my refuge, buddy.

    By the time you arrive the government will have nationalized it and tossed me out on my ass. And the U.S. military has all the machineguns in the world.

    Haven’t you ever watched WarGames? Of course you can sneak into millitarily secured zones without a problem, young Matthew Broderick.

  52. So what we gonna do when all them li’l brown ones in the Mexican mineshafts start moving into ours…

    What’ll you do then? Huh? Huh? Huh?

  53. The truth is that there are already massive underground facilities throughout the entire country and they are designed to give refuge to a selected amount of people, including nearly every politician and citizens that would be desirable candidates for survival. One of the most important qualities that any civilian candidate must have to be up to par is absolute obedience to the will of authorities. So any free-thinking, liberty-minded individuals will not be allowed access into these subterranean cities. Anyone who doesn’t believe this needs to do a little research. Google: William Cooper.

  54. Haven’t you ever watched WarGames? Of course you can sneak into millitarily secured zones without a problem, young Matthew Broderick.

    I think you have the wrong movie. In WarGames the hero found a back door into a military computer. He and his squeeze were invited into the complex alongside the computer’s creator. Or are you thinking of Project X?

    But other such movies abound.

    My favorite is Night of the Comet, where the geniuses in the shelter forget to close the ventilation ducts, and are therefore turned into zombies.

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