Saturday, March 9, 2013

Doomsday Schmoomsday

Hearing lots of talk lately about preppers and the reality show on the National Geographic Channel called “Doomsday Preppers.”  I suppose it’s crass and unfair to mock or criticize a show I’ve only heard of and never actually watched, but, knowing that the Florida statutes against crass unfairness are pretty weak, I will surge ahead.  And, after all, how seriously am I supposed to take a show that apparently refers to an upcoming “Doomsday?”

I’d like to know first of all what do the preppers expect is going to bring about Doomsday next week, or at some other specific point in the foreseeable future.  There are those, of course, who fret about economic collapse, and we did have an almost-collapse at the end of the Bush administration and a real collapse in 1929.  But neither of those scenarios brought about “Doomsday.”

Or could it be that preppers are expecting climate change to do us in?  Certainly we have suffered catastrophes in the face Katrina and Sandy, but each of these was local in its effects and neither came close to a Doomsday worthy of the name.

I notice that preppers talk about being “off the grid,” which, I gather, means living without the support of such vital utilities as water, electricity and HBO.  I actually can envision a catastrophic breakdown of utilities, but again, such breakdowns in the past have been localized and always temporary.  We have never come close to seeing the power grid for the entire country go dead as a doornail leaving us at the mercy of the elements for weeks, let along months or years at a time.  In fact, to my knowledge, such a thing has never happened in any country, ever.

So, if Doomsday scenarios based on past experience seem so unlikely, what is it that motivates the current prepper movement?  I think the main factor is the American obsession with (and delusion about) individualism, an obsession which breeds among some citizens a longing to feel they are in control of their own fate.  Of course, we are not in control of our own fates.  The one thing that has characterized humanity over the past 500,000 years or so is our super-sociality, that is, our absolute need for cooperative interactions with others.  This need and the complementary drive to assist compatriots in need are features of human nature that not even our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, share. 

We are nothing if we are not deeply and thoroughly embedded in the thoughts and actions of our fellow Homo sapiens.  So what’s the point of imagining that in some not-too-distant future we will be thrown back on our own individual resources, forced to produce our own food and provide our own power and plumbing facilities?  In the final analysis, whatever fate awaits us, it will surely involve our continued negotiation of relationships with our neighbors, and with those institutions, including government, that seem to survive no matter what disasters befall us.

Doomsday, in other words, is no more reasonable a scenario than was the Y2K collapse that was supposed to accompany the turn of the century.  But like the Y2K obsession that gripped so many Americans back then, the current prepper fantasies are nothing more than delusional notions about self-reliance and a “you’re-on-your-own” worldview that ignores the fundamentals of both human nature and human history.  For most preppers, I strongly suspect they also include a bonus idea along the lines of, “I’m smarter than most of my fellow citizens, and when the Great Collapse comes, they will have to admit this when they see how I am prepared and they are not.”

After a quick search on the web I came across a site called Backdoor Survival that included a recent post titled “11 Important Skills For Preppers.”

This posting was revealing to me.  I was surprised, for example, that the author, Gaye Levy, refers to the prepper survival scenario as likely to be temporary.  Under the Perseverance item (number 4 on her list) she writes that “[Perseverance] will allow you to focus on the future – and hopefully better times – rather than staying stuck in the moment when all may not be perfect.”

In other words, Ms. Levy’s notion of Doomsday, is that its effects are likely to be temporary.  It really will be a Doomsday or Doomsmonth, not a Doomscentury or Doomseternity.

Also interesting is her reference to “the community.”  Under Basic Fix It Skills (8), she writes that “Plumbing, welding, electrical and general carpentry skills will always be in demand and will give you a marketable skill that will make you valuable to the community.”

So now I’m finding it harder than ever to grasp the Doomsday concept.  If your basic prepper sees herself as dealing with electricity and welding equipment in the context of a community, what is it that has vanished in the Great Collapse?  The mayor?  The police department?  The school board?  But not the commercial distribution system that gives one access to welding equipment and electricity-generating equipment along with the fuel and spare parts to maintain them?

At any rate, here is Ms. Levy’s list of 11 important skills for preppers (minus their elaborations – which can be found on the Backdoor Survival website):

1.  Interpersonal Skills

2.  Problem Solving

3. Home Arts (e.g., cooking, food preservation, sewing, sanitation)

4.  Perseverance

5.  Frugality

6.  First Aid

7.  Gardening

8.  Basic Fix-It Skills

9.  Defense  (“Whether you choose a stun gun, pepper spray, a knife or a firearm, get to know your defensive weapon well so that you can defend what is yours in a safe and sane manner.”)

10.  Compassion for Others

11.  Know Yourself

I would say that all of these skills would be useful in a variety of situations, Doomsday-related or not.  

And finally, I have to confess that I am impressed with the cheerfulness with which the author envisions us facing Doomsday, as evidenced by the following picture which she includes with her posting:

       Just cuz it’s Doomsday, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves