It’s an alternate 2023 (oh, 2012 is just so cliché), and Kanye West, in all his megalomania has nudged a toxic comet of death into a collision course with Earth. US Government hacks conclude that the comet will render the surface of the planet uninhabitable, and so draw up plans to build a massive national shelter somewhere in the Rockies (make it underground or perhaps an enormous transparent dome, but the catastrophe is such that it has to be a contained habitat). They expect the survivors to live there for decades. Space is extremely limited, so every non-essential inhabitant needs to be very well justified.
Such an operation clearly has a staggering list of essential, indispensable, and downright mission-critical personnel to make it work, else the entire colony fails. There’s the guy that wrote the stupendously complex software that keeps the dome from exploding, the brilliant scientist who is the only one that knows how to grow the wonder crops that feed the colony, the original architect who would be really nice to have around if we ever had questions about that thingamajig that holds the structure up, and that hilarious comedian who we would all be really depressed if we didn’t have him and his heart-lifting performances to cheer us all up.
All great, we have the A-team to preserve the continuity of the United States, yes?
Except no one wants to come. A surprisingly large number of personnel would rather spend their last moments with family members and loved ones, rather than save themselves and live out a regimented, grueling life in a dank, musty habitat underneath Mount Yuck.
The Government is now stuck with a dilemma of an Ark that is woefully understaffed, as no one wants to leave their loved ones behind! How does it come up with incentives to get people to come? Perhaps it lets people bring a certain number of friends and family members, but how do we make this into a workable policy? We wish to maximize the amount of psychological support colony members can expect to recieve on the “other side”, while minimizing dead weight on the colony.
edge example cases to consider (humans are weird, after all):
Mel wrote the software that keeps the piranhas out of the colony’s water supply. The algorithms are so complicated (piranhas are surprisingly difficult to detect) that Mel is basically the only person who understands it. Mel and his wife belong to some religious sect, and they have twenty-three biological children.
Dianna is a world-class civil engineer who designs the air-filtration systems for the colony. There are only a handful of people in the world who can do what Dianna does. But Dianna is gay, and she lives in Alabama, where the county clerks are really reluctant to grant her and her partner Taylor’s marriage license, even though they’ve been together for 9 years and 34 days. (Taylor insists it was 35 days since she first asked Dianna out at 11:58 PM.) No one doubts they’re a couple, but the bureaucrats in charge of the colony say they’re not “official” without the license.
Shifty Steve and Lil’ Marco
Shifty Steve is a one-in-a-million genetic candidate for the colony, without him the gene pool just wouldn’t be the same. Shifty Steve has no immediate family, but he makes a deal with his…er…friend, Lil’ Marco, where Steve gets all the hookers and cocaine he wants in the year preceding the comet’s arrival, as long as Steve figures out a loophole to get Lil’ Marco a spot in the colony with him.
Rachael Straugnum–Alina and her boyfriend who she loves very dearly (he’s bae-goals)
Rachael is an agricultural scientist who pioneered miraculous advances in crop science that might just make our colony viable for feeding thousands of people post-apocalypse. Rachael is your typical urban hipster, for her and her bae, marriage is just so you know, ughhh. That’s not to say Rachael doesn’t love her partner; much to the contrary, if something were to ever happen to bae, she would probably just sit in her habitation eating ice-cream and watching depressive post-apocalyptic Netflix, crops be dammed. Rachael and her bae suppose that, since the world is ending, they might as well go to the courthouse and get that socially constructed piece of paper, but whatever.
Lieutenant Brown is in charge of keeping the colony running smoothly, and his leadership skills are indispensable to the colony’s social and functional cohesion. Lieutenant Brown has a old Army buddy, who he’s been through hell and back with, and the two are practically brothers. The Lieutenant is a soldier, and he says he can deal with the loss of his best buddy, but we still worry it might adversely affect his performance as a post-apocalyptic leader if he knows the government intentionally left his best friend behind.
Secretary Thompson is the guy in charge of the entire operation, the big kahuna. Secretary Thompson really wants to bring his favorite sugar-baby with him (in fairness, it would be quite a waste to leave dat ass behind) even though she is of zero value to the colony.
Mr. and Mrs. Norman
Mrs. Norman is a famous architect who designed the dome structure, and it would be really nice if we had her around to help if something ever went wrong with the dome. She has no love for her husband, Mr. Norman, and the two not-so-secretly despise one another, but if given an opportunity, Mrs. Norman will bring Mr. Norman with her for the sake of appearances, even though she knows she will probably be a lot happier letting him die in the apocalypse.
LUClDITYxo (real name: Alyssa Parkland) is a world-famous beloved Twitter comedian, and no one is better at brightening up our day than her. Economists estimate that GDP would be approximately 0.14% lower were it not for the morale boost she gives millions of American workers each day.
LUClDITYxo’s favorite mutual is a girl
artlesszaddy_ (real name: Meghan Stearns), and the two are practically sisters even though they met on the internet.
LUClDITYxo is the famous one (though
artlesszaddy_ has a respectable 12.8k following), but most of her creativity actually comes from her wild online conversations with
Keep in mind that we need a policy for who goes in the bunker, not just case-by-case judgments for the example characters given in the question. We need to select among thousands of candidates, each one as idiosyncratic as the few examples given. If case-by-case judgment is really the best way to go, we need to know how to set up the vetting process to minimize cries of “bias!” and whatnot. If there is a reviewing panel, who gets to sit on it, and what rubric are they given? Do members of the panel themselves automatically get to go?
We need a legitimate (it does not need to be fair, but must be at the least perceived as legitimate) system to sort out all the people like them, keeping in mind that there is limited space available. While no policy is perfect, we need one that will result in the most optimal outcome; for example, if we say “take your spouse at the time of the apocalypse”, do we let Rachael and Dianna get married right before the comet hits, with the cost of letting Lil’ Marco tag along (he “marries” Shifty Steve)? How do we account for relationships that might be just as essential for the psychological well-being of the survivors, but might not count as traditional “kin”?
Possible answers might take the form of:
- Incentives or “motivation” to get people like Mel or Steve to come without bringing excessive tag-alongs. Perhaps midnight kidnappings are in order?
- Mitigating the bus factor so that the colony doesn’t depend on so many essential personnel in the first place
- Smartly designed criteria for who is recruited for the colony so that people who aren’t wanted but would still be covered under a naïve policy won’t get taken (like Mr. Norman), and vice versa (for people such as Dianna and Rachael)
- Additional recruitment efforts to find replacements for “expensive” personnel like Mel
The following are not answers:
- A list of
No’s for the 8 specific test cases. They are only meant to be representatives for the variety of situations that might arise. Remember that this is a colony with thousands of niche jobs that need to be filled.
- Handwaving away the technology needed to run the facility. Yes, the flesh eating piranhas are a problem and we assume that it is not possible to apply a hardware solution (read: a grate) to it. Having Mel train other people to maintain the software is fair game. Having the government spend a few million and hire new programmers to develop a more maintainable and sensible framework is fair game. Saying the software is not needed in the first place isn’t.
LUClDITYxo is included as a test case to test for bias. A good policy accounts for the fact that the people making the judgments are aware of their limited perspectives. For example, if a vetting panel is proposed as an answer, what happens if it is filled with so-called “old white men” who don’t see the value in bringing
LUClDITYxo? How might this affect the perception of the project pre-apocalypse?