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. Prepping is not pointless. In fact, prepping is what allowed our ancestors to get through the hard times of the past. Preppers are the future, quite literally.
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.
Even during a natural disaster one can see some terrible behavior from people that now realize that their chances of getting in trouble are slim to none. During emergencies, law enforcement and emergency professionals are stretched thin. They must pick and choose what to respond to and it is possible that due to destroyed infrastructure and highways, they cannot make it to help you even if they want to do so. You have to be your own first responder during a long emergency.
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.
Prepping is best when people determine what is the most likely scenarios and start from there. Sure there are major disasters that people like to talk about but by being prepared for the small things, we are more prepared for the major events if they ever occur. A lot of potential events have a lot in common in terms of what you need to do to prepare and survive.
The Suicide of a Culture
The second way that Marche envisions the end of America is through inward strife. “Cultures commit suicide. That’s how they end,” Marche argues. He references the Roman empire’s inward collapse, and Edward Gibbon’s take on it (he authored The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire).
Marche does not mention the mysterious “Sea People” that ended ancient Egyptian society, or the Aztecs who were almost wiped out by a handful of Spanish men and their diseases, or the many societies displaced by the rampaging hordes of Genghis Khan, or the numerous other cultures which have fallen from their apex of power by external forces. America could collapse in any number of ways and the lessons we preppers have learned could help forestall or eliminate many of them. Not relying on government agencies or other external safety nets can make us stronger overall.
Instead of seeing this, Marche considers the prepper movement to be part of an inner turmoil that is eating up America. It’s safe to say he thought that before he attended the conference. He wrote, “I went to Bowling Green to answer a question that had been haunting me from the Canadian sidelines since the election: is America falling apart for real this time?” Apparently, he found nothing to dissuade his idea that preppers are part of the force ripping America apart.
Marche even feels he understands what he thinks we desire: to destroy American society and start it all over again. He laments, “That dream is the most poignant, the most beautiful, the true American dream. If you could wipe the slate clean, if you could start over, tear away the ever-more-tightly-embracing bonds of family and history and religion, you could find out who you are, freely, purely.”
What’s this about rebelling from the bonds of family, history, and religion?
Largely, no, that’s not what you’ll find in the prepper community, never mind in the conservative American culture that Marche seems to think prepping is at the heart of.
As he tweets on twitter, “For those who claim that it’s wrong to politicize Harvey: Disaster is at the core of right wing American politics.” He then links to this article, as if he spent time scouring for leftist preppers and came up empty (which he would not).
For those who claim that it's wrong to politicize Harvey: Disaster is at the core of right wing American politics. https://t.co/FzSisnYZxR
— Stephen Marche (@StephenMarche) August 28, 2017
In fact, Marche knows the prepper movement is holding onto American culture and history, as he’s also mentioned cultural touchstones of the prepper movement including an “obsession” with the Constitution, calls to “think like the pioneers,” and advice on how to defend your family with a firearm.
Being able to defend your family is important to anyone regardless of political affiliation. Even during relatively good times, being able to defend your home and family is something you should be prepared to do. The police response time is not good in many areas. A firearm is a way for even a small or disabled person to defend themselves against tyrants and bullies.
He looks down on each of these impulses. He’s free to feel that way, but there’s no denying that these things are deeply rooted in family, history, and religion.
The only social bonds that the prepper community largely rejects is the government, and usually just the corrupt forces in the government— as even Challice Finicum Finch, whose father was killed by police, tell Marche. He doesn’t seem to believe her. Yet, the government is the only social institution that Marche seems to want his readers to respect, and he’s not including the Constitution.
Marche argues the “The constitution has stopped being a political document and become a religious object.” He sees at the Prepper convention “a patriotism defined by its loathing for its own government.” It’s easy to forget,from Marche’s perch in Canada (one I share with him), that America began as a rebellion against a corrupt government. There are many who believe America has always been defined this way. That many of those people also happen to be preppers seems natural, not alarming.
Ideas about America aside, Marche also he seems to also think that preppers want a disaster to crumble their country and/or western civilization. Look, preppers aren’t an optimistic bunch. Many of us are loners, outright monks, who like our peace and quiet. But we are not sadists. We will be upset if TEOWAWKI comes knocking, just not surprised.
The Oathkeepers provided security at the convention. Marche was more unnerved by the open pistols on their belts than by the fact that security was needed at a convention for a group of people who are seen by the public as eccentric hobbyists.
And boy, does Marche spend a lot of time talking about these guns. He scorns the consumerism surrounding gun culture and talks about booths at the convention which sold little toy guns, Molon Labe T-shirts, and the like. But he does not think gun culture offers more than this consumerism.
Marche is either completely ignorant of the idea that the Second Amendment is the one which secures all others, or didn’t feel the need to represent so-called “gun nuts” opinions accurately. He also failed to acknowledge that a prepper’s attachment to guns is mostly a practicality. It is a weapon of defense for when looters call, and the great equalizer, not just an expression of an article in the Constitution.
Instead, Marche believes that the gun offers the fantasy of freedom and of “complete moral clarity.” Tell that to the many articles and discussion posts written by preppers discussing precisely when to use your weapon, when to bury it, when to turn it on intruders, and when to abandon it for a non-lethal option, like pepper spray.
To pretend that there is no sophisticated discussion going on about the morality of gun use in the Prepper community is both foolish and dangerous, as it paints a false picture of a prepper as someone just waiting for the opportunity to fire.
If cultures commit suicide, then the prepper movement is the hand reaching down to America, who is sitting on the tracks waiting for the subway to roll in.
Will the subway bring more disastrous hurricanes, another mass shooting, another bad season of wildfires? Maybe all of them. But we will be prepared. If the public saw us as the people to turn to, instead of the people to dismiss, more of them would be prepared too.
And yes, we prefer to prep without the government in mind, because so many of the scenarios we are prepping for mean government just won’t be around. Who is to say that even when the government is around a dedicated group of average volunteers can’t get the job done, maybe better?
Consider the Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers who organized themselves through social media and have shown up to rescue victims of natural disasters. They start because of Hurricane Katrina, and more recently saved many lives after Hurricane Harvey. They sure stands as one outstanding example that proves the bond of government does not have to be the support structure that sees us through catastrophes.
About the Author: Ellysa Chenery also writes for Young Domestics and Western Journalism. She loves adapting traditional skills for new situations, whether in the wilderness, garden, or homestead. Her favorite smell is carrots fresh from the dirt.
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