Why do our dystopian urges emerge at certain moments and not others? Doomsday—as a prophecy, a literary genre, and a business opportunity—is never static; it evolves with our anxieties. The earliest Puritan settlers saw in the awe-inspiring bounty of the American wilderness the prospect of both apocalypse and paradise. When, in May of 1780, sudden darkness settled on New England, farmers perceived it as a cataclysm heralding the return of Christ. (In fact, the darkness was caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario.) D. H. Lawrence diagnosed a specific strain of American dread. “Doom! Doom! Doom!” he wrote in 1923. “Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America.”
Nail your studs together in lengthwise pairs at a 90-degree angle to form braces. This makes them stronger. Then run three or four braces horizontally across every door, hammering the nails from above and below directly into the frame at a 45-degree angle. If you drive them straight in, they're easier to pop out when somebody kicks the door. Use more braces to secure the drywall over the windows. Try to use longer nails and leave a couple inches of each nailhead sticking out for easy removal. — Clint Carter
If marauding neighbours, starvation and the putrefaction of family members’ corpses wasn’t harrowing enough, the magazine also obsessed over the threat posed by vermin and feral animals that were expected to roam the nuclear wasteland. “A wounded rat can be very dangerous and may attack while you are trying to reload,” explained one article. “If it is necessary to deal with a pack of rats help may be required.”
The federal government is concerned, too. An October 2017 House hearing on the EMP threat noted that The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 plunged 50 million Americans into darkness for a day, contributed to 11 deaths, and cost the country $6 billion, all because a powerline near Cleveland zapped a tree branch that damaged 0.00001 percent of the grid. In 2012, a high-voltage powerline failure caused the world’s biggest blackout, plunging 670 million Indians into darkness.
Adherents of the back-to-the-land movement inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, sporadically popular in the United States in the 1930s and 1970s (exemplified by The Mother Earth News magazine), share many of the same interests in self-sufficiency and preparedness. Back-to-the-landers differ from most survivalists in that they have a greater interest in ecology and counterculture. Despite these differences, The Mother Earth News was widely read by survivalists as well as back-to-the-landers during that magazine's early years, and there was some overlap between the two movements.
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Tim Chang, a forty-four-year-old managing director at Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm, told me, “There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens.” He said, “I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to.” He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”
Tim Ralston — A survival tool manufacturer (the Crovel), loses part of a thumb during firearms practice for the show; Jason Charles, a New York City fireman-turned-prepper, demonstrates urban survival skills; Jules Dervaes is preparing for the collapse of the industrial food system; Pat Brabble insists on surviving hyperinflation by planning ahead.
And now, there are Democrats. Fear of the Trump administration is largely responsible for an urban and liberal renaissance within prepping; left-leaning Facebook groups and urban survivalism YouTube channels brim with freshly paranoid Americans who attend the same expos, talk the same shop and wipe with the same bulk supply of toilet paper as the conservatives who voted the other way. That said, I met no openly liberal preppers in Springfield.
Here is a mental exercise: Put yourself in the mind set of Mr. Joe Sixpack, Suburbanite. (Visualize him in or near a big city near where you live.) He is unprepared. He has less than one week’s food on hand, he has a 12 gauge pump action shotgun that he hasn’t fired in years, and just half a tank of gas in his minivan and maybe a gallon or two in a can that he keeps on hand for his lawn mower. Then TEOTWAWKI hits. The power grid is down, his job is history, the toilet doesn’t flush, and water no longer magically comes cascading from the tap. There are riots beginning in his city. The local service stations have run out of gas. The banks have closed. Now he is suddenly desperate. Where will he go? What will he do?
Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal. Philanthropy in America is still three times as large, as a share of G.D.P., as philanthropy in the next closest country, the United Kingdom. But it is now accompanied by a gesture of surrender, a quiet disinvestment by some of America’s most successful and powerful people. Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair.
The movement received another boost from the George W. Bush Administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. Neil Strauss, a former Times reporter, who chronicled his turn to prepping in his book “Emergency,” told me, “We see New Orleans, where our government knows a disaster is happening, and is powerless to save its own citizens.” Strauss got interested in survivalism a year after Katrina, when a tech entrepreneur who was taking flying lessons and hatching escape plans introduced him to a group of like-minded “billionaire and centi-millionaire preppers.” Strauss acquired citizenship in St. Kitts, put assets in foreign currencies, and trained to survive with “nothing but a knife and the clothes on my back.”
Many books were published in the wake of the Great Recession from 2008 and later offering survival advice for various potential disasters, ranging from an energy shortage and crash to nuclear or biological terrorism. In addition to the 1970s-era books, blogs and Internet forums are popular ways of disseminating survivalism information. Online survival websites and blogs discuss survival vehicles, survival retreats, emerging threats, and list survivalist groups.
Anarcho-primitivists share many characteristics with survivalists, most notably predictions of a pending ecological disaster. Writers such as Derrick Jensen argue that industrial civilization is not sustainable, and will therefore inevitably bring about its own collapse. Non-anarchist writers such as Daniel Quinn, Joseph Tainter, and Richard Manning also hold this view. Some members of the Men Going Their Own Way subculture also promote off-grid living and believe that modern society is no longer liveable.
Untold numbers of people wind up suffering frostbite, shock or hypothermia every year because they didn’t have adequate survival gear when the weather on their wilderness adventure took a rapid turn for the worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Titan 2-sided Mylar Survival Blanket is light as a feather and yet capable of retaining up to 90% of your body heat.
Car electricity runs on direct current, but almost everything else is alternating current. What you need: an inverter. Some cars have them built in, but you can get one at a store for less than $40. Use the clamps to attach the inverter directly to the terminals on your car battery. Let the car run at idle and you have 110-volt AC power for as long as you have gas. With a 300-watt inverter, you'll have enough amps to run a laptop or even a television.