Sunday, March 11, 2012

It’s all Fun and Games until the Apocalypse Happens

First, let me assert that I am always on the side of reasonable preparation for those natural disasters that may occur from time to time.  I am all about being prepared for those eventualities, having the right tools and skill sets to be safe in the path of a natural disaster.  I have a first aid kit for home and car, I know how to perform CPR (which, as an aside, any parent of small children should know) and I have several other skills that would be useful in an emergency situation.  We even have a food stuffs put up for “just in case”, along with candles for the occasional power outages.  We are sensibly prepared for life in a tropical weather zone, where hurricanes are a possibility.  We have plans for escape ahead of a really bad storm, with rally points for friends and family at different locations.  We review these plans regularly, and we are sure that all of our measures are as well planned as possible.

Now I will concede the point that we could be more prepared.   I will go so far as to question whether we are adequately prepared for any and all eventualities, but in the end I believe that there is a fine line between reasonable preparation and what could only be described as a certain type of obsession.  If you are spending a fortune on survival rations, weapons, ammunition and other toys for TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), you probably find what I would consider reasonable woefully inadequate.  With the televising of the Doomsday prepping community, America is seeing the marketing of a perverse preoccupation with the end of all things.

Consider the following:  Let us assume that a prepper and his family has prepared for the inevitable collapse of civilization.  They have packed up their bug out bags, collected their ammo, fueled up their four wheel drive SUV, and relocated to their elaborately prepared bunker.  As they close their armored door to the chaos around them, they are firmly committed to surviving the final collapse.  Six months pass, the world as we know it devolves into the worst parts of “Mad Max”.  Our prepper hero and his family emerge from their bunker, triumphantly join hands, kneel in prayer, and…promptly become the kings and queens of the rubble pile that used to be civilization.  The world of fast food and the internet is gone, along with air conditioning, cell phones, electricity, modern sanitation and the other things that we have come to expect from 21st century America.  Ahead lay poverty, deprivation, and misery the likes of which no one alive today, outside of the Horn of Africa or the Sudan, has ever experienced.  There will be no more Twinkies, Diet Coke, or Snickers; just misery, pain and a few very unfortunate survivors. 

So what then is the attraction of Prepping?  To be the king of the pile of debris that was once modern civilization?  Which begs another question: Like the man who knows he is going to die, and then finds a way to make it inevitably happen, are all these preppers actually contributing to an inevitable collapse just by the very fact that they are doing all these things?  Will prepping actually cause the collapse to happen?  By its very nature, “prepping” encourages a paranoid and obsessive nature from its adherents, which is not to say that these people are crazy or ill, but just slightly odder than nature would have intended, or that most feel comfortable with.

Now how does this create a collapse event? Let’s imagine that the prepper community begins to focus on one particular individual who is the acme of the movement.  He jerks meat with ease, hunts like a forest predator, can make a fire just by the reflection of his awesomeness alone.  He makes Bear Grylls look like a girly man, and has better facial hair than Grizzly Adams.  He is the ultimate survivor.  Drop him in the middle of nowhere with nothing more than a toothpick, a piece of gum and good intentions, and he can “MacGyver” civilization back into existence.  Let us also assume that this person has seized upon social media to educate his fellow preppers on the ways of survival.  He blogs, tweets, facebooks, and YouTube’s with the best of them; thousands of followers watch and read about his exploits as he prepares himself for the end of the world.

Now let us take this one step further, and imagine that one day a tweet goes out; “Run for the hills! This is it!” A video goes up on his channel, just showing nothing but “Run for the hills, the time is now! Be safe.” Over and over, images of chaos and collapse followed by that message and he suddenly stops updating his blog, no further tweets come from him.  He just drops off the air.

A portion of his group, laugh derisively, thinking that their “leader” has finally blown a brain fuse and gone off the deep end, and decide that they will stop following.  Most of his audience, take a quick pause, look at the chats, the news, and not seeing the world being consumed in a fiery flood, go back about their daily business.   Another, smaller, more intense group however, they see this as a signal to grab their bug-out-bags, ammo, food, and families and head for the back of beyond as fast as their SUV’s will take them.

They don’t look back, they don’t stop to analyze, and they don’t have debates or discussions.  They bolt. A screeching of tires in the middle of the night and they are gone.  Now their neighbors who have been watching  with a perverse glee as “Apocalypse Boy” and his family go through their “preparations”, notice that they are gone, and in a hurry at that.  Then they start asking, “Why? What did they know that we don’t? “; Before long emails, tweets and text erupt across the infosphere, all indicating that some dire event has or will shortly occur.
Now let’s go one step further.  Let us assume that a series of small events happens.  An earthquake, a tornado or even just a local power outage; events that are totally unconnected, occur.  Or worse yet, some nefarious group of malefactors decide to seize on the growing sense of chaos and push the whole thing over the edge.  Maybe they are jihadists, anarchists or maybe they are just doing it for the lulz, but whatever their motivation, they decide that they will throw a few gallons of highly flammable liquid on an already smoldering fire, just to see what happens.  All that is needed is the right tipping point, and the whole Jenga game that is our society topples over into madness.

Suddenly what has been the preoccupation of a group of outliers and extremist “wackadoo’s” is now being acted out on live television.  With 24/7/365 news coverage so tightly coupled to the tweets and posts of the hoards of the infosphere, what might have just been idle rumor mongering and gossip is now considered “fair and balanced”.  All our malefactors of cyberspace have to do is hack a few twitter accounts, post a few videos, and a paranoid and distrustful society erupts.  You don’t think it can happen?   Ask Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.  Nations who for decades had endured hard line oppressive dictatorship, saw their governments evaporate in a paroxysm of civil war, all manipulated by an initial upwelling  from the internet.

So what happens next in our scenario?  Well, imagine the worst parts of the post-Katrina aftermath erupting in every major metropolitan area in the United States.  In a nation where people will raid the shelves of the local grocery store bare on just the whim of inclement weather, it is not too hard to imagine what that same nation now full of fearful and paranoid people will do.  Looting, rioting, and chaos; then as the government merely tries to restore order, any force will be interpreted as a “crack down” by an intolerant “regime”.  The usual finger pointing will ensue with the Left and the Right trying to blame the other for the “excessive force”.   As the government becomes more and more paralyzed by “systemic inertia” people will start taking things into their own hands, and what was just a minor “molehill” event has now spiraled into a “mountain” of a disaster.
None of this actually is the result of anything.  Lies, rumors, misinformation and bad science have positioned us to react from a place of pure emotion.  We have surrendered our reason to paranoia, and our intellect to passion.  We all know that there is something wrong, but we can’t put our fingers on it, but all it will take is just a push.  Maybe at most a few, and like a cheap rubber band, we snap.  Sudden collapse, due to nothing but an inclination toward that result, fostered by a culture of paranoia, brought on by nothing more than an illusion, triggered by our “fight or flight” instinct.

Now I submit all of this to you, mostly with tongue placed firmly in cheek, but you would have to admit that there is more than mere supposition at work here.  Are preppers really bat-guano crazies, hoarding for the Apocalypse?  Some, who have taken it to the extreme, could certainly be considered as such.  Most are just folks who know a little bit of precaution, prevents a lot of misery.  But in a world where we seem more and more to have surrendered our reason to the lowest common denominator, can we ever be sure that we aren’t being manipulated into a situation where we are poised on such a fine edge, that we fall over into the abyss with nothing more than a light push.