29 December 2009
The "Preppers": Fatalism vs. Preventive Survivalism
Newsweek has tried hard and somewhat convincingly to tell us that the people called "preppers" and described in this article as a historic third wave of American survivalists are not like the more menacing survivalists of the popular imagination. But the article still alarms me. I'll concede the point that many preppers are not the apocalyptic types who might actually welcome the breakdown of civilization. I'll even call it admirable that they feel inspired to learn skills for self-reliance in the event of adversity. The thing that worries me is something that looks like fatalism in their attitude, a tendency to take for granted that society and government will break down. The article hints that many preppers have been put into alarmist mode by the naysaying and doom-preaching of cable news or talk radio, from which they might also learn that government will avail them not when the crisis comes. Others are simply alarmed by the recent recession or the nation's now-obvious vulnerability to terrorism and natural disasters. But whatever the cause, preppers seem to act on the assumption that a time may come soon when they will have to save themselves. The fatalistic part of this is their apparent inability or unwillingness to believe that they, as individuals or as part of an aroused community, can take action to prevent societal breakdown. Whether because they distrust government, distrust all institutions, or distrust their fellow men and women, it seems like they've already made the decision to save themselves first, even while there's presumably still a chance to save their neighborhood or their nation. So while preppers may not be the sort of people who long for the return of the wilderness, the kind who are even now fantasizing about being the alpha males and patriarchs of Mad Max Land, the preppers' implicit fatalism has the same self-fulfilling-prophecy quality about it as the oldschool survivalists' stockpile building. Their attitude is a symptom of the very societal breakdown that they hope to survive.