Many people misconceive preppers and it’s hard to blame most of them, considering shows like Doomsday Preppers are so popular. But, when a writer misconceives preppers, and, worse, uses a single prepper convention to attempt to diagnose a whole country, well, it’s harder to excuse.
Stephen Marche, novelist and writer for Esquire, attended this year’s Ohio Preppers and Survivalist Summit held in Bowling Green, Ohio. Then he wrote a piece for the Guardian entitled: “America’s midlife crisis: lessons from a survivalist summit.” His conclusion is that the rise of prepping is a mid-life crisis, and synonymous with a new radical Americanism, and also, not very practical.
He’s wrong on all fronts.
Instead, preppers offer an antidote to some of the crises facing America.
What Are We Preparing For?
Marche attended Jim Cobb’s seminar on bugging out, Eve Gonzales’ class on home medicine and gardening, and Nick Getzinger’s class on building a survival cache. Marche did feel he got some practical information. Yet, he also got the impression that preppers are only preparing for a civilization-ending event.
“There is a sense that everyone is making it up as they go along. There hasn’t actually been a civilization-ending event, so it has to be imagined. All the classes are exercises in participatory storytelling; the audience knows the basic story but what the bug-out bag and the plans and the gardening advice provide is realism, the telling details that make the story credible,” Marche wrote.
But, of course, TEOTWAWKI is far from the only thing that preppers are preparing for. Marche does not realize that most of the people who attended the summit with him are already prepared for a hurricane, the loss of a job, a disease outbreak, and a mass shooting. And, these things are far from uncommon in North America, as the recent months of tragedy have made clear.
Backdoor Survival has released guides dealing with general and specific hurricane preparedness and active shooter events like the Las Vegas attack. We also publish advice that will come in handy during isolated incidents or minor collapses, like situations where there is limited communication–but the internet is still up elsewhere. We also offer practical advice that spans all kinds of situations, like my recent favorite by Donna: Helping Children and Youth Manage Stress.
Most of the time, preppers are preparing for the handful of tragedies that are likely to befall us all at some point or another. The utter collapse of a country or civilization is sometimes what first attracts someone to the prepper scene. But, it is not the primary focus. And, no one responsible will tell a new prepper to start preparing for a collapse before they are prepared for common events, like natural disasters, or even the loss of a job.
But, those attending the Ohio Preppers and Survivalist Summit are not newcomers to the scene. And, while prepping for a collapse scenario can help you be prepared for virtually anything, many of us do believe the skills we’ve developed for long-term collapses of civilization will come in handy at some point in our lives.
Here’s Jim Cobb talking with Gaye, arguing he doesn’t know what TEOTWAWKI will be, but he thinks the likelihood is “strong” it will happen in the next ten years. Many of us agree that some kind of devastating event will occur. And, we cite real-world examples of these situations– like the financial collapse of Venezuela, to guide our advice.
We try to be honest and practical as we can about what such a serious event might look like. We make guesses, but they are educated. We often reference research or case studies to try to assess how accurate we are.That doesn’t mean we succumb to sensationalism or fiction. Amid the North Korea hysteria that news organizations were indulging in, Backdoor Survival offered an honest and informative guide to the situation. We’re not fear-mongering, we’re preparing, and the only way to be truly prepared is to be honest.
Instead of looking to Venezuela, and realizing that occasionally these kind of devastating events do happen, Marche focuses on the vague idea of the end of civilization which he developed at the convention.
He argues that preppers’ “version of the collapse is highly specific. It is a world without technology in which roving bands attempt to raid your hard-won supplies, and self-sufficiency and self-defense determine survival.” Maybe I am guilty of whatever Marche is talking about here, because it’s hard for me to imagine a collapse where self-sufficiency and self-defense aren’t the key to survival. That hardly sounds specific to me.
Of course, there are some fair and proper criticisms of the prepper movement built in to Marche’s piece. He very astutely points out that weight loss may be the best prep many of us could pursue. Plus, many of us are too focused on consumerism, or buying gadgets over learning skills. Further, we might be guilty of focusing too much on protecting ourselves from looters, in neglect of other just as vital skills. These points are all debatable, and we in the prepper community have had, and will continue to have, conversations about each of them.
But, in the end, Marche implies that those discussions aren’t worthwhile because civilization isn’t going to collapse, unless one of two things happen: our culture commits suicide, or climate change destroys us.
The only civilization-ending catastrophe Marche can imagine coming from the outside of that civilization is one caused by climate change. His surety that this will happen is the kind of surety that would get you blocked on Facebook if you felt, and expressed it, about any political opinion.
Consider that a space physicist, Pete Riley, estimated that a serious Coronal Mass Ejection had a twelve percent chance to hit Earth by 2020. He admits that there is a margin of error to his research, and it could be as low as one percent or as high as nineteen percent.
The Carrington Event, a large CME, already occurred in 1859 and did damage to the height of our technology at the time– telegraphs. Then, in 2012, a serious CME barely missed the planet. Yet, the idea a CME could hit us, and leave us without power, is routinely dismissed outside of the prepper community.
The odds that climate change will scorch the face of the Earth in the next decade has no percentage point tied to it, at least not a reliable one. And, while the Earth has warmed before, humans certainly haven’t driven a climate crisis before. But Marche is certain it will happen.
“Bug-out bags and survival caches aren’t worth much if the climate makes the entire surface of the Earth uninhabitable. But that’s human nature: we’re all preparing for the catastrophes we want rather than the ones we’re going to get,” Marche wrote.
Did he just argue that the surface of the Earth will surely become uninhabitable, even before some other catastrophe occurs?
I’m unaware of a single scientist who thinks that is likely, at least before 2100. Though, I won’t say it can’t happen, after all, we all have our own pet ideas that we think are most likely to bring down our civilization. One person’s CME is another person’s global financial collapse.
But, those who feel this strongly about climate change believe the disaster it “will” bring is somehow beyond preparation. Somehow, individuals, families, and small but close knit-communities just can’t survive the shifts in temperature, rising sea levels, and other major, but not all-existing-life-ending, consequences of climate change.
Instead, climate change is taken to the extreme.
The surface of the Earth will be too hot to touch, all life will be over, unless government steps in. Perhaps that is the mentality that allows even the most climate-concerned celebrities to trot around the world in private jets. Say what you will of preppers, but at least we are all taking personal responsibility for ourselves and actually taking action about the disasters we feel are possible.