In the sweepstakes for putting the most fucked up Americans on the telemuhbishun, C-SPAN in recent years has been edged out only by the TLC network. These jokers have a considerable lead on the field through a non-stop parade of the clown car-packed uteruses of homeschoolin' theocratic hicks and shrill semi-suburban litter-throwing harpies, with the odd family of little people thrown in so that medium people can gawk while pretending that a show only on the air because the average cast member is 3'8” is pretty much just The Waltons.
National Geographic Channel has upped the ante with their new show Doomsday Preppers, giving far too much legitimacy to people who are at best ignored... and in a few cases need monitoring by social service agencies, if not for themselves at least for the safety of their children and neighbors.
The concept of the program is as simple as its subjects. Individuals lacking science, math, economics and geography backgrounds to the point that they fear the inevitable and immediate arrival of a particular cataclysmic event that is almost certainly not going to happen share with a national audience their plan to get their families through that event (for reasons that go completely unexplained, given that the schemes are more likely to work if left unshared).
Bizarrely most of these plans involve “secret” caches of supplies and “unique” methods of escape (called “bugging out”) which are now being broadcast worldwide. By following the advice shared by these dimwits their stores of items for barter become immediately devalued. By following the advice of these dimwits and taking their martial arts training courses and buying the arsenals of guns they own, their tactical and arms advantages are immediately neutralized. At first glance this is mere stupidity, until one realizes that these folks share so much because their need to feel superior to everyone else around them is edging out their paranoia. Despite the repeated instance that this a “lifestyle not a hobby” - a refutation of an assertion I heard no one make – this is very clearly a hobby. What hobbyists always feel a need to do is show off to fellow hobbyists, else it's a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. Some people have to show off the new electric train layout and others need to display the new child-sized gas masks.
When you share the same codenames for backpacks and exit tactics, and buy the same supplies from the same supply catalogs, you my friend have yourself a hobby.
Back in the pre-internet '80s I loved to read out-there publications like the Loompanics catalogs, which listed a number of what were then called “survivalist” publications. Survivalist publications tended to appeal to either libertarians or far-rightists who found Ronald Reagan a bit too commie. Mixed in with these was a bit of leftover hippie Mother Earth News type books and zines for those who also wanted to know how hook a pig up to a windmill to make cheese, or whatever the hell these people were doing “off the grid.” The publications were at once thrilling and frightening. My general rule of thumb from a young age has therefore been that if you're in a situation requiring your own shit as cooking fuel solely because of political affiliation, something has gone off the rails somewhere along the line.
At the time the fear of the rightists was that some combination of Soviets, the United Nations, the ZOG (that's the Zionist Occupational Government, the Washington DC Jew-puppets... but you knew that, right?) and sex-starved 'city blacks' were going to overrun the compound, burn the corn, slaughter the pigs, rape Ellie Mae, rape the pigs, eat Ellie Mae and then - most unforgivably - collect a capital gains tax. (I will admit however that small-scale solar and wind is something that would even work in the city for many, and more of us should be looking into same ... but not because of black helicopters and rapey commie Jewfrican-Americans).
Some of the lunatic preachers on shortwave radio also host paranoid political shows which just happen to be sponsored by advertisers selling seed banks and shelters for the coming Bad Times. How very convenient. These days they push fear of Muslims and Washington DC and the UN; in the 1980s it was the exact same message with Soviets substituted for Muslims.
A quarter-century later large portions of the American public, the only industrialized country other than Ireland (assuming Ireland makes that cut) in which more than half the population believes in literal angels, and the only population among any industrialized country whose residents hesitate to find themselves on a world map while considering the ability to do so the work of fag-talkers, have decided that world is going to end in their lifetimes.
This is mighty convenient for the solipsist, and I noticed that most of the featured self-centered nutjobs were middle aged, meaning that as many of these people became aware of their own mortality they also naturally assumed everyone else would be coming with them. Apparently it's easier for some people to envision a supervolcano that's been dormant for 700,000 years blowing any minute now than it is to imagine the world continuing one second without them.
Interestingly no two people featured on the show think that the world is going to end the same way, and this is left unexplained and seems to trouble no one. This is a hallmark of the paranoid style in American politics, and seeing as this shared paranoia is after all a hobby it really doesn't matter why one thinks the world is going to end; it merely matters to believe that as a Superior Person, a survivor and not one of the Sheeple, one knows that this is true.
This trait is also shared with 9/11 “truthers”, who all have very different opinions as to how and why the World Trade Center fell. I've never seen one of them attack another one for obviously having a 180 degree opposite opinion on pet hypotheses, but all will always congratulate each other for being smarter than the people who have their story straight. (For example in any internet argument, assume one person claims that the CIA flew the airplanes into the towers, a second claims the CIA flew missiles disguised as planes into the towers and a third claims Navy SEALs planted explosives and the “planes” were just CGI. These three people will gang up on anyone who mentions that al Qaeda flew planes into the towers, and call that fourth party an idiot and/or government agent, and congratulate each other on their mutual brilliance. No mention will be made of their own discrepancies.)
Another shared trait of our 'preppers' and many of the 9/11 freaks is a low level of formal education. None of the people featured on this show seem to do any work requiring a college education. They are in most cases clearly in the 75% of American adults who both lack one and lack even the high school prep classes necessary to apply. This becomes painfully obvious when hearing their reasons for the impending doom.
One dopey lass in Houston is gearing up for the coming oil shortage. She isn't doing so by, say, leaving Houston (a far-spread city with worse smog than L.A. … and an oil company employment base...in which a car is pretty well essential to getting around and air conditioning is a prerequisite for breathing). She states matter of factly that society is about to collapse because “the Middle Eastern countries” will soon be cutting off “our” oil. Someone familiar with the statistics might point out that the vast majority of oil consumed in the US does not come from the Middle East, or that half of OPEC isn't in the Middle East either. One might also point out that the stagnant global economy has resulted in a worldwide oil production glut, not a shortage. (The “one” here that should be pointing this out is the editorial staff of a National Geographic production; they choose instead to be inaccurate and irresponsible by letting this assertion go unchallenged.)
Based in this set of wholly faulty assumptions, this loose cannon and her boyfriend have a detailed "survival" plan, Step One of which is to shoot their cats. Fluffy had better hope no local radio station rebroadcasts War of the Worlds anytime soon.
Goofier still are the fucknuts in Texas who think that the highly unlikely realignment of the Earth's magnetic poles during their lifetimes will result in the immediate major shifting of the tectonic plates (how or why one would cause the other is left unstated – National Geographic ceased to have any respect from me from here on out beginning there). They have packed away 15 years' worth of food in Mason jars to prepare for this event, as if stacked shelves of glass jars are going to survive the sudden shift of all of the planet's continents several hundred or more miles in various directions. One of two moments in the show which made me laugh aloud was a confident declaration from one of these Texans that he is 100% sure that Texas was about to end up much farther south... or maybe north. And therefore the climate was certainly about to get much hotter … or, y'know, colder. Interestingly the one preparation I didn't see them address was the climate change itself, although they did have ten years' worth of venison jerky. Maybe sewing a venison jerky parka is in order..?
Part of the “bug out” plan for this heavily armed group was to take a convoy of surplus school buses to an even more remote portion of Texas. Thus while riding in surplus vehicles purchased from a local schoolboard, driven on state and federal highways, this posse lectured the rest of us on not relying upon government.
Friends, I've been several times to Libertarian Wonderland, or as it is more commonly known the Third World. People are free from most taxes and oppressive features of modern life such as health inspectors. They are also joyously free therefore from refrigerated meats, guardrails, compulsory education and the like. One outwardly visible sign that you're in an underdeveloped place is the use of surplus American schoolbuses to transport adults. When these go pitching off of hairpin turns, killing 70, it sometimes makes a minor news story here. Not the first choice I'd make as a 'survival' vehicle.
The Texan couple looked to be about 60. Assuming they have enough food for the next 15 years, one wonders if they've also packed a hospital, chemotherapy supplies, an MRI or even a two-year supply of Depends undergarments. Some among us have believed the old Maggie Thatcher lie that “there is no such thing as society,” which manifests itself in the belief in this case that one has better chance of living a healthy senior life heating 8 year old canned food and stockpiling ammo than making sure one's local hospitals are funded. Quel dommage.
The other dipshit who made me laugh out loud (the rare literal LOL!) was the suburban Phoenix cretin who worries that North Korea is going to disable America with an Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP. This is not to be confused with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or ELP, who did in fact debilitate large portions of the country for part of 1973. When North Korea attempts to provide electricity to themselves it results in knocking out their own power for most hours of most days. They have no ability at present to get a missile to the US, unless they mail it. I'm not certain they can afford postage.
Dude also worries China will attack us in this manner. We are the number one debtor to them by far. We are also the number one importers of China's shoddy and dangerous prisoner-child-produced goods. By far. There's an old banking expression that if you owe the bank $5 you are their debtor and if you owe the bank $5 million you are their partner; that is to say that the bank now has your best interests as their own. We owe China rather more than $5 million. Would you nuke your top customer as a borrower and buyer? (This aside from the facts that the US is the world's most lethal nuke power and the world's leading arms dealer.) The wave of social unrest the resulting economic collapse would have in China would make whatever resulted here look like a tickle fight.
My first suggestion to someone wishing to survive a societal collapse is not to live in a major city located - for no particularly good reason - in the fucking desert. Undeterred by the thought of living without electricity and with limited potable water as things stood, Einstein decided that the best plan of action was to take his wife and kids to a “bug out” location deeper into the desert.
There, while “teaching” his boys how to fire a semi-automatic rifle for the benefit of the cameras, HE BLEW HIS THUMB OFF. After less than a minute of beginning to “teach” his sons then – I mean, make it a teachable moment, right? - how to deal with BLOWING ONE'S OWN THUMB OFF, he went into shock and passed out.
Dr. Strangeglove (and yes in this case I intended the extra “g”) seems to think that moving his family into storage containers in the desert and arming them to the teeth is a good survival strategy. I rather like my odds still having two opposable thumbs. If you knock yourself down the evolutionary ladder “teaching” your sons something, it's time to rethink a few things. All we know this man is doing is traumatizing his children while introducing them to guns. What's the worst that could happen?
Sadder was the NYFD fellow – a 9/11 responder – who is evidently scarred by the experience. He now is preparing his Harlem family to survive the eruption of a mid-North American supervolcano which he – but not the scientists quickly quoted as an aside – is expecting to blanket Manhattan which eerily 9/11-like ash. The odds of this happening are close enough to zero to be zero. The odds of him passing the trauma to his children by having a Krav Maga instructor break into his house and mock attack the family with a knife are 1 in 1. Apparently this public servant and first responder is preparing to kill you should you, in the post-apocalyptic landscape, come knocking on his door looking for food or water. He doesn't seem to be preparing to go to work and help people in emergency situations.
Stooge after stooge had their dimwitted plans “evaulated” by unseen “experts” in surviving the collapse of society (I can only assume this this refers to Russian immigrants who survived Larry Summers' economic plans for their country of birth) on an unexplained 0-100% scale. Another hallmark of true bullshit, using exact numbers to measure the non-quantifiable poorly.
He was medevaced – at no small cost to the taxpayer – to a local hospital to get his stump mended. One could almost hear the NRA memberships go unrenewed by the thousand. Suddenly, when BLOWING HIS OWN THUMB OFF, there is such a thing as society. Imagine that. Note was taken that the family had no idea what to do in the medical emergency, a condition the fuckwit “rectified” by buying a very large first aid backpack, as if the backpack itself were the equal of access to a person with a medical degree.
In small snippets, usually one sentence, some but not all of the daft had their pet hypotheses about the Coming Calamity evaluated as to their likelihood. Tellingly the EMP/continental shift gambit went unevaluated, seeing as the odds are 0. Almost all other events have a rather less than 0.005% chance of occurring anytime soon, if at all.
One fellow was 'prepping' for an event that is likely to happen at some point in the next century - a major southern California earthquake. Amazingly this fellow would rather forage and eat edible weeds along what's left of the Los Angeles River than simply move to a part of the country less likely to have a 7.8 earthquake. (Many Americans it should be noted would rather eat weeds than have to live in southern California...)
Just to review, people who worry about running out of food and potable water are living in the desert, people worried about running out of gas are living in Houston and people worried about earthquakes are living in L.A. Next week we'll no doubt see people fearing lobster attack who choose to live on the Maine coast.
Encino Man carries with him at all times a store-bought bottle of salad dressing to make the weeds go down easier. No word on what happens when that runs out. He also carries a roll of Eisenhower dollars "for trade with the homeless who live beside the river." Where to begin? #1 That's called buying things and you didn't invent it. #2 For younger people and immigrants coin dollars are the least likely to recognized as real money and #3 Why do you imagine that homeless people would be the best source for goods and services?
All of this aside from the fact that the entire rest of the country - even large parts of California - would still be intact, and stores of most goods are not going to run out in a period of a few days. California is one of the world's leading agricultural centers, there is abundant food not at all far from the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River. Maybe look there..?
Heavily-armed Americans are stockpiling their weapons for a variety of events that are severely unlikely to transpire. Aging, uneducated and increasingly bitter in a society that threw working people over the rail decades ago, my fear is that should reality intrude on people who spent their life savings on preparing for shooting the neighbors, some folks are going to start shooting the neighbors. People tend to act in the manner they prepare to act, whether the trigger event happens or not. Lord forbid you live near one of these clinically insane people when an actual earthquake happens; should you head to the store to stock up on Twinkies and you are in their “bug out” path you can expect to get your head blown off. These geniuses will make any natural disaster 100x worse, and for no good reason.
We should also expect some of these increasingly paranoid and heavily-armed clans to end it all in triple-murder-suicide fashion (especially once the credit card bills for the six tons of dried fruit come due), if not a gaggle of new Columbines.
These are the people who NatGeo decided to let tell their own story on national TV, without interjecting silly ratings-killling counterbalance. Generally selfish, these wingnuts don't see that nearly all of the problems they seek to obviate by making themselves “independent of” society (hardly accurate!) could instead be solved by working harder to ensure that local institutions are properly funded and prepared to handle emergencies. Several decades of me-first political rhetoric are causing these morons to prepare to shoot hungry neighbors instead of preparing to feed everyone in the neighborhood.
I don't have a punchline for this one. Sweet dreams.
UPDATE 3/13: I wrote and posted this piece in February 2012.
Note the line "We
should also expect some of these increasingly paranoid and
heavily-armed clans to end it all in triple-murder-suicide fashion
(especially once the credit card bills for the six tons of dried fruit
come due), if not a gaggle of new Columbines."
The Sandy Hook shooter in December 2012 did in fact take his mothers' weapons from the house, and she was a Doomsday Prepper. I dislike being correct about these things, but I done did told you so, didn't I?