“We are an exceptional model of the human race. We no longer know how to produce food. We no longer can heal ourselves. We no longer raise our young. We have forgotten the names of the stars, fail to notice the phases of the moon. We do not know the plants and they no longer protect us. We tell ourselves we are the most powerful specimens of our kind who have ever lived, but when the lights are off we are helpless. We cannot move without traffic signals. We must attend classes in order to learn by rote, numbered steps toward love, or how to breastfeed our baby. We justify anything; anything at all, by the need to maintain our way of life. And then go to the doctor and tell professionals we have no life. We have a simple test for making decisions: our way of life, which we call our standard of living, must not change except to grow yet more grand. We have a simple reality we live with each and every day: our way of life is killing us.” — Charles Bowden, Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America
So here’s maybe the most crucial dichotomy of prepping. Plenty of us can see that the face of impending catastrophe is a double-edged sword. The social, political, economic, and ecological environments that we count on to keep us safe and secure are crippled by corruption, dysfunction, mismanagement, misuse, and abuse. Some of these problems touch our lives directly, and sometimes we see these as the likely source, or at least a contributing factor, to whatever emergency threatens to take us to the brink. Some of the problems don’t touch us, or at least not all of us, or not all of the time. Still, we see them, and in either case we’re seeing what looks like recognizable patterns compelling enough to form the basis of future projections. They’re hypothetical but entirely plausible, given that our predictions follow from past experience.
Some of us who have been in war zones see wars coming. Others who have lived through economic catastrophes like long-term unemployment, bankruptcy, and foreclosure, foretell of economic collapse. Some of us have suffered through the aftermath of natural disasters, like wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Who knows when or where those might happen again? It’s anybody’s guess. We just know they will. Some of us have suffered violence at the hands of our fellow citizens. Many of us can see that the forces, which caused, or in certain cases failed to prevent, these personal disasters are a complex and interconnected milieu of obstacles entwined in the social knit. We realize that fact only compounds the problems. The other edge of the sword is that the interconnectedness of problems we face confounds any plausible notion of corresponding interconnected solutions. At the end of the day, the inability to imagine ourselves, as a society, finding some traction on the slippery slope we see ourselves on, has driven us to conclude that our one and only remaining solution is to brace for the impact awaiting us at the bottom of this downward spiral. While there are a myriad of speculations on how the particulars of that crash might play out, there’s very little dispute over the trajectory. While we may not be able to imagine the whole story just yet, we’ve already agreed on the basic narrative arc, and that just might be the biggest problem of all— the tip of the sword where the two edges intersect. So we prepare. We take our lives, and livelihoods, and those of our families in our own hands. Personal responsibility is the very least we can do, and it’s very difficult to know what else we might do when personal experience holds no frame of reference for what happens after. However, there are some examples we can learn from.
The late journalist and historian, Charles Bowden, spent the bulk of his prolific writing career publishing stories about people for whom the world, such as they knew it, had already ended and who have already been living in a post-apocalyptic future, in present tense, since 40 years past. Bowden’s work mostly showed an embedded outsider’s view on the massive waves of migrant workers who have flooded our borders for the last couple of decades, and the political, social, and economic forces that have driven them here. If you’ve followed the stories coming from Mexico and Central America, and can you think critically about the issues outside reactionary, populist political rhetoric about what we, or the governments on either side of the border, should do about it, then you have at least some idea of what happened there.
The short version is that beginning with the special trade agreement with the U.S. and Ciudad Juarez that took effect in 1968, a perfect storm of exploitative trade policies— NAFTA and WTO— wiped out the legitimate agricultural industries in Mexico and Central America, while the U.S. War on Drugs drove the street value of black market agricultural commodities, like marijuana, opium, and cocaine through the roof. In the aftermath, those farmers who were left with nothing except starving families and no crops to sell didn’t take much convincing to start cultivating contraband. All those cultural and economic shifts have resulted in total infrastructure of the industries that were once the source of Mexico’s primary GDP, falling under control of violent drug cartels, and the cartel bosses have turned it all toward their own interests, with industrial-scale production and exportation of narcotics.
It doesn’t really matter if this isn’t your preferred version of how the apocalypse unfolds. I’m not suggesting that this necessarily is that. I only wish to use Mexico, and the hordes of people now fleeing her spaces, to illustrate a few facts that the rest of us can learn from. Mexico is now a narco-state with a narco-economy and not much else in the way of exports, other than its people. The country is a charnel house structured hierarchically like an American MLM that uses narcotics as its vector for marketing a story of pure, uncut death; one that people on both sides of the border must be buying into, since neither side is making any meaningful effort to change the tide.
The export of petroleum lists first on Mexico’s GDP, but it’s actually third since the real revenues aren’t officially recorded. First and second (actually but unofficially) are remittances sent home from migrant workers in the U.S. and revenue from the drug trade. Cartels control the police at the local, state, and federal levels. There is effectively no justice system and no political authority working in opposition to the narcotraficantés. There is nothing left of an infrastructure to keep people safe and secure. Mexico is listed as a failed state by the U.N, right alongside Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. There are no real jobs for regular folks, no real sanitation, nor utilities, except in the resort cities where American and European tourists visit. Every sort of crime and brutality are everyday realities for far too many of the Mexican people, including rape, murder, human trafficking, and gang warfare. In 2008, Ciudad Juarez was listed as the most violent city in the world with a murder/kill rate higher than cities where actual wars raged everyday, like Mogadishu, Kabul, or Baghdad. Also, in the wake of all this collapse we’re witnessing, right on our southern border, an apocalypse that looks frighteningly like the one some of us are prepping for ourselves. Yet, we seem to prefer to imagine ours coming from somewhere else. Mexico’s march toward collapse and long slide into the global drug trade may not be the harbinger for the second coming of Jesus Christ as much as it is the second coming of Jesus Malverde. It isn’t a holy war in the middle east, nor a series of cataclysmic natural disasters systematically wiping out wicked cities. The flow of drugs coming from or through Mexico won’t tip geological scales enough to make California slip into the Pacific. It may be the four horsemen of the wrong apocalypse, but it has all the right elements– an anti-Christ, beast, armies of Gog and Magog, war, famine, pestilence, and death. Go ahead and assign character roles how ever you like. The fact that we don’t pay much attention to a story that bears strong resemblance to the one many of us foresee unfolding in our own lives, should tell us something about ourselves. So how prepared can we really be if we refuse to accept what’s right in front of our faces? The truth might look strange, uncanny, and foreign, but If we can just accept it, then we can learn from it.
Here’s another strange truth. The Mexican people are at the point of acceptance. This is the lesson. They have even adopted a new method for dealing with the ontological experience of their plight. Their apocalypse didn’t match their stories either. So they’ve made new ones. They’ve conformed a new religion that, as per usual, matches up with their new livelihood. It’s something some anthropologists believe to be a revival of Aztec death worship, while some others think its an altogether new demon. La Santisima Muerte— Most Holy Death (a.k.a. Santa Muerte), an ostensibly Catholic, but officially outlawed cult figure that appears as a human skeleton in black robes and a hood— is now the most popular patron saint among regular Mexican citizens from truck drivers to gangsters. While all of this should come as a stern admonition to those of us living north of the border, it does not necessarily mean that the collapse of Mexico promises to become TEOTWAWKI for the U.S. Nor is it, and perhaps most importantly, necessarily just a tale of death and destruction. Their situation should give the rest of us insight in the conversation about prepping in the complete holistic sense. It’s about considering not just preparations for the end but also for the idea of a new beginning. It’s a conversation about the possibility of avoiding TEOTWAWKI. Santa Muerte notwithstanding, some of our Latin American counterparts are showing us a great example of survival and rebuilding, if only we would pay attention.