I’ve been reading a lot about camping and bushcraft lately, as part of my resurgence of interest in hiking and especially in making my own gear on the cheap. That’s led to quite a lot of overlap with the “prepper” community, which is one I generally approve of: Having grown up in rural Canada, it just makes sense to me to have a few days’ supplies in the event of emergency. I’ve lived through snowstorms, ice storms, and the Northeast Blackout of 2003, so I understand and respect the need to be prepared.
I’ve been an avid reader of post-apocalyptic fiction and disaster survival stories since I was a kid. In fact, one of the first books I remember reading was Erno Rossi’s White Death, about the lethal blizzard that effected the Niagara region in January 1977; my parents had a copy because my grandfather had been stranded in Port Colbourne during the blizzard. I suspect it was a formative influence. (Interestingly, I now live in the area that was directly effected by that natural disaster.) One of the things that Rossi’s book repeatedly stressed was that most people effected by the Blizzard of ’77 were completely unprepared to spend several days cut off from the modern world. I’ve always been impressed by the notion that a little bit of forethought can make the difference between a life-threatening disaster and a mildly annoying disruption of your routine.
The Wife™, having grown up in the Caribbean on an island regularly hit by hurricanes, shares that opinion and we’ve done a minimum of preparation against the possibility of an emergency — I say a minimum, because there’s a lot more we could (and should) do to be prepared, time and money allowing. But both of us are very firmly of the opinion that we have to have at least a minimum safety net for ourselves, even if it’s only to minimize the stress we’d place on the rescue and recovery effort that is trying to help effected people. So we have plans in place for an extended power outage, for example. We try and have a stock of food in the house. We both know first aid, and keep a well-stocked kit handy. We have a gas stove in the new house and — hopefully before winter comes — plans to put in a gas fireplace, since the most likely issue we’ll face is a winter storm that disrupts the power grid. We’ve discussed what we’d do in the event of such a storm, or if we were placed under an evacuation order. We have a healthy and intelligent respect for the fact that sometimes bad things happen and we’ll have to take care of ourselves while the powers-that-be get their collective shit together.
That seems to be the goal of the “prepper” community: being ready to deal with a disaster. I noted on this blog a couple of years ago that we hardly qualify as “preppers”, but we share the mentality that something bad might happen and you need to be ready to take care of yourself for a while… although some people seem to think “a while” means “indefinitely” and some of them seem to be looking forward to the idea. And that leads me into the other overlap that I’ve run into in the past few days: the “survivalist” community, some of which borders on downright creepy.
Honestly, do a search of “survival gear” on Pinterest. I did this a couple of days ago after thinking “what if I take a bad step on a hike and end up at the bottom of a ravine with a broken leg?” Run that search, like I did, and without going too far down the page you’ll be hitting a lot of posts about guns, knives, bug-out-bags and how to make smoke bombs and man-traps and disappear from the government’s radar. On Pinterest. It only gets weirder from there. There’s a lot of acronyms like SHTF and TEOTWAKI and a surprising amount of bullshit about the zombie apocalypse. I like reading posts about how to make a fishhook from a pop can pull, or the best way to make an “every day carry” Altoid tin survival can against the event that you get dropped into the wilderness somehow on your commute to work, and of course a lot of the gadgets are clever… but does anyone really need a tactical tomahawk in their bug-out-bag? Or for that matter, at all? Wouldn’t a decent-quality hatchet be much more useful in a survival situation?
The truth is that a lot of what I see about “survivalism” is all about fleeing to the hills and living off the land with the mere contents of your backpack and your rugged manliness. But in a real disaster situation, history shows that most often choose to hunker down and help each other out. Unless you’re in a situation where there is a complete and permanent breakdown of law and order (and I genuinely can’t think of a realistic scenario where that would happen) your best bet is to stay put and wait for help. That’s Emergency Logic 101: Don’t make the situation worse. Abandoning everything you have and heading into the hills doesn’t make you more likely to survive a disaster; it makes you likely to become a refugee… or a looter, which I suppose is the situation where a tactical tomahawk would be of use: breaking and entering, and if anyone tries to stop you…
The truth is a lot of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stuff on the internet nothing but escapism, no matter how seriously its enthusiasts take it. (I suspect that’s why zombies tend to feature so prominently.) In real life, people pull together. The government pulls out all the stops (with greater or lesser competence) to save lives and restore normalcy. When the Big One hits, there will be no gangs of armed S&M enthusiasts with inexplicable stunt-driving skills, nobody will have to eat anyone else, and the people who’ll decide that law and order no longer applies will be the problem, not the solution. That post-apocalyptic fiction I like? One of the best and most plausible books is Pat Frank’s classic Alas, Babylon which is set after a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR; the protagonist starts out trying to protect his family and almost immediately ends up organizing a growing number of people to — guess what? — reestablish a zone of law and order and a semblance of normalcy. People are social creatures. Survival, in a disaster, means helping other people, being helped in return and not, emphatically not, making it worse than it needs to be. The rugged, solo hero escaping the ruins of civilization with a bag full of tricks and a steely glint in his eye? Nothing but a fantasy.
But goddamn, does the fantasy sell a lot of expensive shit.