When the preppers do bring up a [doomsday] scenario, it’s a nuclear EMP or a solar flare. It’s something that knocks out technology rather than, say, permanent winter. I guess sprouting isn’t worth much as a skill if there’s no sunlight for 20 years. 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.

Their 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. It’s all suspiciously similar to what the American frontier looked like – or, rather, what the American frontier looks like in the movies. The students are often enjoined to “think like the pioneers”. The preppers and survivalists aren’t really imagining the end of America. They’re imagining it beginning again.

Stephen Marche on America’s midlife crisis.

See also: the popularity of the zombie apocalypse.

I used to work with a dude who was of the tech-industry prepper variety. He did all the things like this article described–had the cabins in the “correct” places and the caches and so on–and liked to have long discussions about how he was going to be “self-sufficient” in his little post-apocalyptic fantasy.1

What I always found fascinating in his scenarios was the fact it never seemed to occur to him that never in the 200,000+ year history of humanity have we ever lived like this. Humans have survived “world-ending” disasters before, e.g. a few ice ages, and we’ve always done it in the same way we’ve always done everything, i.e. by being hyper-cooperative and forming into community groups with specialized roles. The idea of the “lone survivalist”–even one supported by a small family group, e.g. wife and kids, which is usually the unmentioned disclaimer–doing everything by himself2 is an ahistorical fantasy. One that certain demographic groups seem more prone to than others…

  1. Because he was a Canadian living in Australia, his version of the apocalypse seemed to be government collapse after some kind of climate-change-related disaster, which I suppose puts him in a slightly different camp to most of the US-based preppers. []
  2. It’s always a “himself”. []