Mainstreaming Survival

I watched the new show about survival preppers on the National Geographic channel last night. I notice that several grocery stores in our area have started carrying big cans of long term storage food in the past year. In the same year, I surprised myself with how many people read post-apocalyptic fiction. I sense the rising level of unease with our future. Perhaps it goes hand in hand with frustration with our government.

In terms of television, I shouldn’t be surprised at all. There’s a good chance that I shouldn’t add this new show, Doomsday Preppers, to the pile of signs that we are collectively growing ever more fearful of our direction as a nation. I mean, there are reality shows about literally everything else these days. There’s a form to the genre. I can only only imagine that every pitch for a new reality show includes the words “train wreck” and “you can’t stop watching.” On the other hand, maybe the show is part of a larger pattern. Maybe it seeks to fill a niche in our desire for security in an ever shakier world. You tell me.

Whether survival thinking is truly more prevalent or not, it feels more visible to me. As with all problems, I wonder if that visibility is just a function of more channels of information, or simply the fact that I am paying more attention to that aspect of life. I doubt if the latter is the case. I’ve been self-sufficiency oriented for a long time. I’ve been able to see potential breakdown scenarios for a long time as well. I’m lucky enough to have been exposed to some good survival training along the way. I’ve got 800,000 words of survival fiction sitting on my hard drive, but for some reason, it’s still odd to me to watch a TV show about hard core preppers doing their thing.

In each case, I saw some good survival thinking, good prep, good plans, and at least one aspect that made it hard to accept. In every case, some unidentified experts critiqued the methods and plans of each prepper. And in each case, the preppers themselves reacted to the critique with a fair amount of fanatical adherence to their own methods. The amount of time, effort, and money that was involved should lead a critical thinker to ask, “What if I’m wrong?” That never seemed to happen. Of course, it’s television, and there is no way that a 20-minute segment can cover the entire methodology of a person in that short amount of time. Every prepper had a favorite apocalypse scenario, and that was their reality in TV land. They were all in.

I say there is nothing wrong with that. This ostensibly free country says you can believe what you want, and live the way you want, as long as you do it within the law. Good for them. Here’s the problem, though. If your whole life is about survival, if you do nothing with your time and money except for preparing for the apocalypse, are you really living? What if you are wrong and, like it or hate it, nothing really changes?

I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I don’t believe we can maintain the trends that have gotten us to this point of insecurity with our future, but it’s entirely possible that our esteemed leaders can figure out a way to keep grinding along for quite some time. It certainly works well enough for them that they will move mountains to keep the status quo.

There are a million perspectives, and mine is worth exactly what you paid for it, but I think there are three pieces to survival – come what may.

One is the here and now. If nothing changes, you need to survive this world, find some measure of success, and hopefully gain some happiness along the way. Take advantage of relative peace and prosperity to educate yourself and live life to the fullest.

Two is the self-sufficient layer. If our leadership has proven one thing, it’s that we can’t necessarily trust them to do what is in our best interest. That means to some extent that you have to figure out how to hold your life together if they make mistakes that cause problems for us regular folks. Only you can decide what this means for you. You may live on some land, grow your own food, and run your house on a wind generator. You may develop a network of people who can help you if there are disruptions in life. You may simply gain some skills that you think will trade for value if systems break down. It’s for you to decide. Again, educate yourself and consider your own situation. Dream up potential scenarios and develop the answers that work for you.

Three is true survival situations. Earthquakes, floods, blizzard, pandemic, wildfires, war, economic collapse, and so on. If life pulls the rug right out from under you, what do you do? The odds of any single event occurring is very low. The cumulative odds of a survival event is still low, but over the course of a lifetime, it’s significant. This is another plan that should be dependent on your particular situation and needs. The way I approach it is: What’s the worst that could happen? Ok. I can’t possible survive that. Now, what’s the worst survivable situation that could occur? If you can deal with the worst survivable scenario you can dream up, that’s level three.

The ultimate plan would allow someone to maintain a life of comfort and security no matter what happens. It’s a balance of everything, and therefore almost impossible to achieve. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I do think it would take all your time and all your money to even approach the ultimate plan. For me, a better approach is to create a lifestyle that leans towards self-sufficiency while keeping that set of tools that would allow survival in the extreme scenarios. What’s extreme? Think of pioneers moving west into hostile territory with nothing but a little rough food, a pack full of tools, and a head full of knowledge to use them.

In short, I think survival starts and ends with what you know. You can improve any situation with the ability to think and adapt to what you have to work with. Everything else is icing on the cake. Be smart.

Meanwhile, we can watch Doomsday Preppers. We can live in shipping containers arranged like a castle. We can, as a young woman, plan to hike across Houston in short shorts and expect not to be noticed. We can learn to eat weeds and hope no one else knows the same tricks. We can stockpile 30 years of gourmet food and hope that no one will arrive in force to take it. We can make fantastic plans yet allow ourselves to be morbidly obese. We can do all kinds of things to prepare for the worst, but lets not forget to live our best.