November 1st is also the birthday of economist Martin A. Armstrong. For many years he was a prisoner of conscience, in part because he refused to turn over his proprietary trading algorithms to Federal prosecutors. After seven years in prison without a trial, the longest Federal incarceration for contempt in American history, Armstrong was finally put on trial in a proceeding that was branded as a sham. He was convicted on securities fraud charges based upon some marginal testimony and given a five year sentence. He was released from prison in September of 2011. Notably, Armstrong continued to write his economics newsletter while in prison, producing most of the issues on a prison library typewriter.
Preppers don't buy that. Jay Blevins, a former deputy sheriff and SWAT officer in Berryville, Va., says social unrest from a financial meltdown could be devastating. He has formed a prepper network of family and friends, people with varying skills such as knifemaking. They'd help one another in such a calamity. He says his Christian faith drives him to help others prepare, and although he is not certain the end is near, he thinks getting prepared is an act of personal responsibility.
Those impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures, Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm, told me. “When you do that, it’s pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias,” he said. It can inspire radical optimism—such as the cryonics movement, which calls for freezing bodies at death in the hope that science will one day revive them—or bleak scenarios. Tim Chang, the venture capitalist who keeps his bags packed, told me, “My current state of mind is oscillating between optimism and sheer terror.”
One of that era's icons remains — a massive underground bunker designed to protect all 535 members of Congress and their aides against nuclear war. Dug into the Allegheny Mountains at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., it once had 75,000 gallons of water, a power system, medical and food services, 30-ton blast doors, art of the last days of Pompeii and a mural of Washington scenery that was capable of changing leaves on the trees, depending on the season.
One measure of survivalism’s spread is that some people are starting to speak out against it. Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal and of Affirm, a lending startup, told me, “It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.”
Before fire season, move combustibles away from your house. Fences and dry vegetation give fires a place to grow, says Jonathan Cox at Cal Fire, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Hosing down your house won’t help much, either, he says: “The way a lot of these homes burn is through something called ember cast, when embers from the fire fly over and drop little fires everywhere. With a huge ember cast, hosing down your house doesn’t do much.”