Why I Hate Preppers, by Allen C.

I may as well go ahead and apologize to anyone who is already offended by my title without apologizing for offending you.  I do not actually hate preppers.  I’m just fed up with them.  While I’m at it I may as well apologize for generalizing.  I don’t like putting labels on anyone any more than I like being labeled, but it is necessary to generalize in this case so if you consider yourself in one group, but the other better describes you then I accept that in advance.  If it sounds like I apologize a lot it is because I do.  Survivalists being antisocial in nature, I sometimes say things that are inappropriately blunt and get criticism for doing so.  You may disagree that I distinguish between the two, so let’s defer to an objective third party on the differences.  Popular Mechanics magazine did a fair job of explaining it:

Preppers call themselves Preppers, in part, to distinguish themselves from survivalists, a term that conjures up images of a paranoid loner hiding out in a cabin.  The Preppers focus on reaching out to other people, and they are avid social networkers. They share tips on things like canning, Port-a-Potties, and other useful skills to have for natural disasters. And they say the effort does not stem from fear. “It’s encouraging, uplifting,” insists Janet Liebsch, a dedicated prepper, who, along with her husband, publishes guides like It’s a Disaster. “Once you start learning, you get addicted.”

If you are a survivalist you may have already asked yourself why in the world anyone would want a Port-a-Potty.  You may also be thinking “I wouldn’t be so paranoid if everyone wasn’t out to get me.” I know I am.  I’m that paranoid loner hanging out in the woods.  At least I was before I got married in my forties and started a family.  I was first labeled a survivalist by local authorities in the 1980s and it was a pretty lonely twenty years so I was originally excited about the blossoming of the prepper movement, but after meeting hundreds of them I must admit I am disappointed.  Here are some reasons why.  

Preppers Are Presumptuous      
The prepper movement has boomed in the last few years and I must admit I resent being lumped in with the suburban grandma who goes online in the morning and orders some MREs, a can of bear spray, and a Gold Eagle coin.  In the afternoon she plants a container garden and fills some soda bottles with water. Viola, she’s a prepper and despite the fact that I have done none of those things apparently I am too because prepper equals survivalist.  If it says so on Wikipedia it must be true.  At least that is apparently the mantra.  The fact that I am willing to have an online discussion with her does not make us the same.  To a lessor extent preppers are also attempting to also envelop homesteaders. But that’s a discussion for another day. 

It has been said that to a man with a hammer every problem is a nail.  I found this to be especially true in Prepperdom.  First they assume that because they “woke up” and “saw the writing” on the wall they are now supernaturally endowed to survive what is coming.  They also think those who do not possess that one piece of prepper gear they hold most dear will be beating on the doors of the ark while they sit smugly inside watching the water rise.  The truth is there are a lot of people who do not own a gun, a bug-out-bug, or have anywhere to go who are going to feed on preppers like piranha.  For example, my home state recently rewrote laws to allow early release of nonviolent offenders.  These are felons who either did not get caught committing violent crimes or was not charged for them as part of a plea agreement.  Whether they committed them is a question of debate, but I know for sure they have mingled with those who have for years.  I visit one such person with whom I attended high school, but is now in prison and he tells me about post-release crime plans he did not have before he went in.  Although felony convictions prevent them from legally owning a firearm, it will not keep them from dispatching a prepper on the way to the Port-a-Potty and taking theirs.  The motivated ones have already downloaded a list of suspected preppers in their area from ARRL.org.    

Preppers Are Know-It-Alls
Later the same evening suburban grandma is in a user group regurgitating a half digested piece of prepper knowledge she picked up on another web site without ever having to actually fight anyone, kill anything, or spend a week in the woods.  Since most of those repeating these tidbits have not actually tried them, the knowledge usually changes a little like the party game where you whisper a secret in someone’s ear who passes it down the line until the last person says it out loud to see how much it changed.  Sometimes it changes a lot.  As I will show later the belief the average grocery store carries only three days worth of food is one example.  It is a corruption of the valid opinion that store shelves would empty within three days of a trigger event.   

A recent volley with a prepper is the one that pushed me over the edge. I’ve met hundreds of preppers online, individually, and at conferences, but this short exchange was the straw that broke the camel’s back prompting me to blow off three preppers in the anonymous “let’s meet for coffee” pipeline and stop developing lopsided relationships with people I would not want to help me build a shed.  As with most tipping points, it was about something small.  It was about not being online on the weekend because I am at the retreat.  I agreed to move to town when I got married and since I get to keep all my stuff the price of having a great wife and family is worth the hour drive from the national forest.  It went  something like this:

(Me) High speed Internet is unavailable at my retreat location. I can’t even get cell phone service unless I hike to the top of the mountain and then only digital roam text messaging.
(Them) {Immediately} Satellite works everywhere.
(Another Guy) Sometimes terrain or trees get in the way.
(Them) {Immediately} #^@#snet works ANYWHERE. Their web site says so. 
(Me) I’m in the North side of a mountain covered with trees.
(Them) {Immediately} Cut down some trees.
(Me) I’m not in some subdivision where my homeowner’s association can force the rancher that owns the top of the mountain to cut a swath of fifty foot trees so #^@#snet can site in my dish at an 80 degree elevation because there would still be a mountain in the way.

This is a harmless example, but he could have just as easily been giving advice on food storage, how to treat a gunshot wound, or any number of possible life-and-death circumstances.  If there is only one ill consequence of the prepper movement it is the avalanche of inexperienced people giving advice in users groups when their only qualification is that they read something similar elsewhere on the net. 

Preppers Are Gullible
No where have I seen this more prevalent than in predicting the timing of total collapse.  Many preppers are disciples of nationally known doomsayers who have been predicting since at least 1999 that we are six months away from anarchy.  When confronted with the obvious they sometimes revert to the argument that collapse has already come.  I wish that were true because having hit rock bottom we could start rebuilding.  The economy may be held up like a horizontal mine shaft about to collapse, but when we run out of bread and circuses these preppers will see what total collapse really looks like.  The different federal agencies who are stocking up on ammunition are going to need it.

I have lost count of how many preppers I’ve heard from over the last three years who knew someone who knew someone in some branch of intelligence that had inside knowledge of pending collapse.  In one particular case I replied to the email several months later pointing out they had been worrying for nothing.  The sender immediately shot back that the original message only said SOON.  Apparently SOON is not necessarily within the same year.  She wants to meet with me personally. I told her we will get together SOON.       

Preppers Lack Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking is a type of reasonable, reflective thinking that is aimed at deciding what to believe or what to do.  Preppers want to believe the worst to justify expenditures of time and money.  Since this diagnosis in not one preppers will accept without proof, check for yourself to see if you blindly accepted a couple of the more popular prepper myths currently circulating:

Government Study on EMP: 90% Would Be Dead
Grocery Stores Only Carry 3 Days Worth of Food

Neither of those are true and despite the fact that I can prove it preppers with whom I discussed these myths were so adamant about believing the worst that they completely lost their critical thinking skills. My experience was similar to when I worked with shock victims at accident scenes.  It took several repetitions of the evidence before it finally sunk in.  Keep an open mind and see how you do.

Government Study on EMP: 90% Would Be Dead
Several Internet sites have recently been repeating a quote from The United West that in the event of an EMP our population would decrease by 90% within 12-18 months. ”Forstchen cited a 2004 study on the impact of such an assault on America. ‘Testimony in that study said 90 percent, let me repeat that, 90 percent of all Americans would die within 12-18 months of an EMP attack,’ he said.”

I’ve scoured the 2004 report and testimony he mentions documented as THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION TO ASSESS THE THREAT TO THE U.S. FROM ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE ATTACK by the COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES and found only a question by Representative Roscoe Bartlett in the hearing asking if our population might shrink by two-thirds following an EMP and a noncommittal response by Dr. Wood that the population in the late 1800s was one-tenth the size it is today.

The earliest published document I have found containing the “90% fatality rate” is page 338 of the hardcover edition of Forstchen’s novel One Second After.  This same author was a speaker at the seminar the aforementioned article was written to promote.  Could it be preppers are relying on a retrospective discussion between two fictional people?  I posed that question to United West directly via email and using the contact page on their web site, but received no reply.  Since no one can provide the source data for the 90% fatality rate, the reasonable conclusion is that it does not exist.  Certainly an EMP event would be disastrous, but to simply pick an arbitrary survival rate and declare ourselves in the fortunate minority sounds equally so. 

Those on airplanes, or in hospitals, hospice, and nursing homes and others like outpatient dialysis patients would be immediate casualties, but even if we include those over 85 and everyone living in communities with populations of 2,500 or greater the rate would still only be about 82%. Since there exists no historical data on EMP deaths, we can debate indefinitely what the death toll might be.  We can only say for sure that the 90% rate attributed to the congressional hearing is not supported by the actual testimony

Grocery Stores Only Carry 3 Days Worth of Food
The second example is even more concrete than the first because it relies entirely on basic math and accounting principles.  You do have to learn one accounting term – Inventory turnover or inventory turns for short.  Inventory turnover is the number of times during the year that a retailer sells an amount equal to its average inventory.  A simple example that assumed beginning and ending inventory is the same would be this:

If a grocery store carried $10 Million worth (at retail) of inventory and they sell $100 Million worth a year, their inventory turnover rate is 10 (100/10) because they sold ten times their average inventory.  According the the Food Marketing Institute, the largest grocery store trade association, the average store level turn rate for grocery stores in 2010 was 14.4. This excludes any inventory at company owned distribution centers, wholesalers, and producers.  It averages beginning inventory and ending inventory at retail, and sales at individual stores.  Average days of inventory carried is easily calculated by dividing the number of days in a year by the inventory turn number (365/14.4 =  25.35).  This means the “average” store has a little over twenty-five days of inventory [with normal demand].  Stores where retail space rents are high tend to have less variety and faster turns while those in rural states like mine with few distribution centers usually carry more inventory.   

I understand why people might think there are only three days of inventory because high-profile items like produce (56.4), dairy (36.0), and meat (35.3) have higher than average inventory turnover rates. Dry goods, the kinds of foods people should be buying in an emergency, are the bulk of inventory and have a lower inventory turnover rate.  This is where those who have drank the Kool-Aid start attacking the data by mentioning nonfood items, but toilet paper flies off the shelf and even pharmacy has a turn rate of 12 so nonfood items being in the minority and not turning at significantly different rates than food items have little effect on the turn rate. 

Those trapped by prepper bias often respond by stating an obvious truth that has nothing to do with the topic, but appears to contradict the revelator.  Someone may say, for example, that WTSHTF stores will be cleaned out immediately.  That is another discussion on the effectiveness of martial law.  In no way am I advocating waiting until the last minute to stock up.  The data supports an alternate response.  It shows that contrary to the opinions of other authors, we are not going to emerge from our cocoons two-months after an event to scour the country for other survivors.  The fact there is nearly ten times as much inventory in stores as preppers want to believe is one more reason to expect the violent transition to a third world country will be a long one.  Forty years ago 16 plane crash victims survived 72 days in the desolate Andes Mountains.  They did not have all the food we have in our system.  They did not have nearly one deer for every citizen as my state does.  All they had was each other – whom they ate.

Desperation will make people who did not “wake up” and “see the writing on the wall” a lot more resourceful than preppers want to believe.         

Does living in a prepper free world mean I am going to go it alone?  Certainly not.  Community is important to long-term survival, but instead of meeting up with the local prepper group who has no bug out location when the city becomes uninhabitable, we will be leaving early and alone for our secluded retreat community whose location I did not disclose to any of them.  I am using the time I redeemed from migraine inducing discussions with preppers to build stronger relationships with my retreat neighbors for whom heating with wood, gardening, hunting, and animal husbandry is not something they are preparing to do, but already a part of their every day lives.   

Much more than most survivalists I know who just want to be left alone, I have found the vast majority of preppers to be well intended and it is for this reason that I wrote this critical essay.  Those who think they are ready because they are stockpiling provisions and having Internet discussions really need to “wake up” and “see the writing on the wall” that these things alone will not save them.  Survival is more about skills than stuff.  We are on the cusp of a violent transition to a third-world country which will include an equally violent redistribution of hard assets.  I little humility and critical thinking will be worth far more than that single can of beans that preppers have been telling me they will one day trade for an ounce of gold.