Doomsday prepping has always been a controversial, minority pursuit. While it has occasioned some curiosity from the general public—and even some reality shows—generally speaking, it is not in keeping with America’s culture of optimism and consumerism.
No one likes the bearer of bad news, and preppers suggest that American security and prosperity are fragile things, and that the future may look very different and require an entirely different set of skills than the ones rewarded today. There’s not much need for “marketing assistants” when the end times cometh.
The Left Doesn’t Like Preppers
The Left takes a particularly dim view of preppers. After all, at least one dimension of leftism is faith in government and in uniformity. Hodge-podge self-help, inequality, and being armed all go against the Left’s cult extolling the virtues of government and central planning. Prepping is inherently individualistic, and those of means have a leg-up in their ability to prepare.
In the words of a 2017 article from the scam artists at the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Doomsday preppers’ emphasis on ‘preparedness’ appears to make sense. Family preparedness may even be advisable. Nevertheless, beyond a few legitimate reasons, doomsday prepping, for the most part, represents a dark worldview that combines, to varying degrees, end-times apocalyptic views, an obsession with firearms (and other weaponry), conspiracy theories and too often an anti-government sentiment. When combined, these radical views become toxic and lead unsuspecting followers down a funnel of despair, which perpetuates fear, paranoia, and extremism.”
While the SPLC’s own motives appear to be rooted in “fear, paranoia, and extremism” in the service of their prodigious fundraising, there is no doubt prepping can become an unhealthy obsession. I suspect, for some, it is a “first shall be last fantasy,” where people currently very low in social prestige are elevated if the current social order disappears.
A similar nihilistic “accelerationism” is common among far-right figures, some of whom have expressed total indifference over the stock market and recent economic troubles.
These are not healthy approaches to prepping, nor for the foundations of a good life.
Prepping at its best is conceived of as a type of insurance. We don’t expect the 1-2 percent chance of various disasters, because the future most likely looks like the present. In such a scenario, we’re more likely to die from metabolic syndrome or a car accident than in confronting a horde of zombies. So, like other insurance, it’s probably not something about which people should be obsessed. You have to prepare for retirement and good health much more than you prepare for a six sigma event.
But right now we’re in the middle of a six sigma event, and the preppers are a step ahead.
Many people, even wealthy people, have been caught flatfooted. Friends are reaching out with advice on firearms and other matters. Before the official advice on preparing for a quarantine came down, many had no food or ability to survive even a few days without dipping into the economy and its elaborate supply chains. It pays to prepare for a rainy day before it rains.
The mad rush to grocery and gun stores are showing the differences between preppers and the unprepared, as well as the haves and have nots more generally. Those who thought ahead could focus on topping off their existing supplies. The wealthier could pay extra to get what they need. Even the preparations ordinary people are choosing—eggs, toilet paper, bottled water—show a lack of appreciation for what this particular emergency looks like.
FEMA and others have for many years counseled the need for a 72 hours kit. Here in Florida hurricanes happen regularly. In other parts of the country, there are earthquakes or blizzards. Yet most of us, even those who can afford to prepare, put these events out of mind in between bad years.
In spite of our collective prosperity, we live in a country where many of our countrymen have no wealth accumulated: no emergency funds, no food, and no resources. A great many others have spent their small piece of the pie on the good life: vacations, concerts, and the latest smartphone. They have little to show for it, and right now they wish they had that extra money to provide for contingencies.
There is a reason “Rent-a-Wheel” is a thing. Wisdom comes late.
No One Is Coming To Save You
We have seen the fruits of being unprepared in events like Hurricane Katrina. It was a total disaster. The failure to evacuate often stemmed from a lack of appreciation for the storm or the lack of resources available for people to get out of town. The failure extended to individuals and the government.
In addition to flooding, New Orleans experienced “the storm after the storm,” as desperate people and the existing criminal class took advantage of the disorder or were holed up inside the Superdome. The media made this a story about George W. Bush, but even an American president cannot get people to take simple, affordable steps to maximize their chances of survival.
At the moment, disorder appears to be less of a problem. But we are seeing something like what Sam Francis called anarcho-tyranny. Some police departments have told their communities that they’re on their own, and that they will not respond to calls for theft or even 911. Others have released jail inmates. At the same time, they are enforcing curfews, closing public parks, and protecting the government and its officials, as well as those adjacent to the government.
While there is always talk of the government keeping down a restive population with bread and circuses, it seems the circuses are unnecessary. Various sports leagues have shut down amid the coronavirus threat, concerts have been canceled, and it seems it takes little more than Netflix to keep people’s appetite for entertainment sustained.
One admittedly disheartening aspect of this virus is the “social distancing” counsel. One of the most important forms of social support, time with family and friends, is now fraught with risk.
That said, a lot of frivolous things are likely to go away when this is over.
In addition to making globalist pursuits like international travel less popular, the shutdown will likely make all of us realize that many jobs and huge sectors of the economy are completely optional. Sure, we miss the restaurants and being able to buy things at the store, but how much worse off is the nation when the various marketing hacks and financial engineers can’t do what they do? How many face-to-face meetings have proven to be totally unnecessary? People will learn to cook at home, travel less, maybe even read a book, and otherwise enjoy the simpler things in life.
While there has been a mass push to load up on debt spending nationally, those who didn’t already figure it out are realizing that personal debt can be a great vulnerability. Perhaps some of the prudent savings culture that arose after the 2008 economic crisis will reemerge.
Finally, in spite of its pretensions of ability, most of us are realizing that no one is coming to save us. The $2 trillion package out of the Congress—which amounts to about $6,000 per American—is only distributing about $1,200 per person. Money for small businesses has been severely delayed, and many will fail over the next few months without cash flow. Most of those who are on the higher end of the income scale—though hardly rich—are getting nothing. There is little help and little willingness to help from public authorities, in spite of our gargantuan federal budget.
The coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that we live in an uncertain world. Far from being laughable curiosities, we’re all preppers now.