Preparing for the end of the world

With nothing better to do the other night I sat down and watched one of newly popular shows about ‘preppers’ – those members of society predicting some kind of collapse or cataclysm, and are ‘preparing’ for it – close cousins to survivalists. Programs like this are very much a sign of the times we live in – extreme and voyeuristic.

For the likes of me there’s a perverse fascination in programs of this type. There are occasions I might idly wonder what I would do in the event of some kind of cataclysm. Disaster movies are perpetually popular escapist fun for some reason – movie cycles about meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, climate change and so on do the rounds year after year. Throw in zombie movies and the odd monster movie and all our real life worst fears are up on screen. And they’re fun to watch.

I’m not exempt from any of this. I like a well-made disaster movie (which is a rarity), and I’m just as fond of zombies as anyone else. You wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t watch The Walking Dead and wonder how you’d go bashing zombie brains in and living off expired tinned food. It’s sort of fun too, and mostly harmless.

Preppers take it to a different level. For a start they actively believe that the fictional cataclysms we watch on the box are in actual fact just around the corner. The likely cataclysm varies from prepper to prepper. Some think an economic collapse will leave the nation in a state of chaos. Others hold that some kind of pandemic will take hold and decimate the world. There are old chestnuts like a nuclear attack, or perhaps an invasion by North Korea. Most preppers tend to the right, so I don’t know how many have accepted the possibility of climate change, but they’re ready for it should it come. And then I guess there’s the zombie infestation.

The funny thing about this is how committed to their personal view of the coming calamity. Take half a dozen preppers and you’ll get half a dozen detailed views on what the actual calamity will be. Sure, there are often overlaps, and much of the preparation is near identical – lay in a stock of food, load up on guns and ammo, git yourself your very own bunker – but the reality is that they’re placing bets on particular cards coming up. Those who pick the right card (assuming the card is to be played) will feel vindicated; for many of the others they may not be any better off than the average, unprepared, Joe.

There is something entertaining in this, but it’s the sort of entertainment that sets you on edge a little. If you’re like me you wonder where these people have popped up from. And why? You watch as they gladly share their disaster philosophy, and explain their preparations in gleeful detail. Often times there’s a ruthless edge to their conversation revealing a disdain for those who don’t prepare (and who can’t expect any help from them when it hits). There’s a very real sense that they can’t wait for disaster to strike.

On occasions there’s something pitiful in it. I watched the other night as a seemingly average sort of guy detailed his preparations. He has a wife and young family. There are two incomes, but his entire income is put towards purchasing the necessary items for the end of the world. As a result they live frugally when they might have lived comfortably. They have no holidays, and spend most of their leisure time in drills and other doomsday related activities. It seems sorta sad – and what happens when the end of the world doesn’t come?

To each his own, but the thing that really disturbs me is how families, and particularly children, are dragged into this.

It’s funny to see so many devoted couples doing this together. It becomes almost a mania. There’s no flowers or fancy meals. Instead they gift each other high calibre pistols, or buy a family bunker. They stare into each other’s eyes brought closer by the certainty that when the world ends they’ll be ready.

It’s tougher on the kids, though the kids don’t necessarily know it. Prepping is a bit like collecting. As with the most fanatical of collectors there is the absolute need to possess or to know. It’s a bit different from collecting stamps or watching trains though, and in the family sense is more a religion: their religion is survival.

I always figure that everyone needs to find their own way to religion, and that’s particularly true of children. I despise how children are so often indoctrinated with the family beliefs long before they have a chance to think and decide for themselves. In fact this is one of my complaints about religion, that in large part it shifts responsibility from the individual, and discourages active and independent thought.

So often watching these prepper shows the kids are all in – they’ve been drinking the Kool-aid from the mothers tit. Just as their parents are they’re certain the world as they know it will come to a nasty end. Instead of doing the usual kid things they do the prepper things, and I’m guessing suffer some push-back from their contemporaries. And the sacrifices this philosophy entails inevitably impacts on the kids – no holidays, budget necessities, few luxuries.

There are some preppers you’d do well to steer well clear of. Hell, they’re likely to be a few nutters among them. But other’s seem perfectly decent people. They may have different politics, certainly have a different world view, but while you’re not likely to get buddy with them they are inoffensive and decent.

My world is different, and who’s to say that I’m right? In a year or two I might be beating on their door. I hope not.

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