The “prepper” community is largely (and some might say intentionally) misrepresented by the mass media. Many stereotypes about the survivalist originate in mainstream media non-fiction “documentary” and “reality television” programming: the lone wolf survivor, the person or group who actually want to see the end of the world come about, the people preparing so they can prey on the weak, gun lovers who welcome the opportunity to go on a rampage, etc, etc, etc. People within the community already know about these falsehoods. What I want to discuss is the role that fiction can play in the life of a prepper or survivalist.
People consume fiction in a variety of ways (books, television shows, movies) – almost always just for entertainment. Not many lessons can be learned from a ‘slasher’ horror movie except don’t run upstairs to escape the killer. I would contend that fiction from the survival/prepper/TEOTWAWKI genre can be much more than mindless entertainment. Survival fiction can be used as a means to learn, open up lines of communication, and get inspired. Even the critiques of the genre and individual works tell you how much you can learn (or have already learned) about preparedness.
“The main character was just too perfect.”
“No one in their right mind would do that.”
Have you ever said those? Both statements were probably true…but that means you were analyzing the characters and the story and applying your survival knowledge to the situation – and putting yourself in their shoes. You were becoming a better prepper without even knowing it! That in itself shows that fiction has a role in preparedness. But there are a few other ways that we can become better prepared using fiction.
For survivalists and preppers, fiction encompasses the world we prepare for, and it plays a very important role. Generally speaking, the worst of what we prepare for hasn’t happened, at least directly to us. I’m not talking about hurricanes, power outages, financial instability, job loss, and other local disasters. Yes, we need to prepare for those events, and yes they can be life ending or certainly life changing. But we also need to prepare for what is variously called TEOTWAWKI, SHTF, or The Big One.
The Big One
Everyone has one. Something came to mind when you read that last line: The Big One.This could be EMP, Nuclear War, a Super Bug, or Bio-Terrorism. The good thing about preparing for the Big One? Preparing for the Big One covers almost any smaller disaster. Power outage? I have backup generators, batteries, candles, stored water, and stored food to cover it. Hurricane? I have the tools and supplies to bug out or stick it out at home. ATM not working? I have some cash set aside, or I can live on what I already have in my pantry.
The problem with the Big One is that we can’t talk about it. Why? Because then we get put in the ‘crazy’ category. Which means we have to keep it to ourselves, or slowly let it leak out to friends as they become more trusted. And holding all of that in can be burdensome.
Enter, survival fiction.
Fiction and Preparedness
Fiction brings emotions and the human element into areas that are normally reserved for packing lists and how-tos. Aristotle said that when we watch a tragedy two emotions predominate: pity (for the character) and fear (for yourself). We imagine ourselves in the same situations that the characters are in, and try to relate it to our own experiences. If we don’t have anything to relate it to, then we imagine that scenario. Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist says that fiction is “the mind’s flight simulator” . This applies to not only the emotions and the connection you have with the characters, but also the situations that they find themselves in.
This prepares us mentally for a situation that we have never experienced. When we experience fear, a signal is sent to the amygdala in our brain. This triggers the flight or flight response, but only after your body freezes. If you have read, written, or simulated a situation, your brain has a starting point so you don’t get stuck just looking at an oncoming tsunami (or active shooter).
How Fiction Aids in Preparedness
Here are some other ways that fiction can aid us in preparedness:
- We hone our own skills by seeing what other did right and more importantly, wrong.
- We don’t want to be like the characters that do things incorrectly and it costs them and their lives or family.
- We get motivated by the suffering and need to prevent it.
- We get inspired by the courageousness of the characters (or lack thereof).
- We get scared into action (sometimes).
- We stretch our imaginations. What would I do in that situation? What if this happened, what would I do then?
- We see other people’s thoughts that we didn’t think of, or couldn’t imagine. The author gives us a view into the mind of one or multiple characters, giving us new perspectives to consider.
- We are entertained. Hey, this is important too. It’s clearly a hobby, no one ever said you can’t enjoy it.
- We feel excitement. We get engaged with the story and characters. We feel what they feel.
- We can be refocused. It’s easy to get complacent and forget about why you are doing this.
- We gain a sense of comradery – (That you’re not the only one that thinks like this).
Fiction gives the average person, who has never lived in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, a window into that world. But more than just a window, they can emotionally experience and do a “dry run” in all different kinds of scenarios. Every military does war-gaming and puts soldiers through endless situations, and they do it for a reason: Because it works. During my time in the U.S. military, we were subjected to countless training scenarios to prepare us for something we had not experienced in real life. The training ranged from thought experiments and discussion (what-if…?) to computer simulations for decision making practice to as life-like as possible training. SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) for special operations personnel and aircrew comes to mind specifically.
How to use fiction to become more prepared
All of the aforementioned items are gained simply by reading or watching survival fiction. Your mind automatically catalogs what you see and hear. Your brain automatically empathizes with the characters. You automatically ask yourself “what would I do?”. But I believe that there is more you can get out of a fictional SHTF scenario.
Read it or Watch it and then:
Critique — Both the book/movie/game and yourself. How do you compare? What did they do right? What did they do wrong? How do your stores/preparations compare? If you were put in a different character’s shoes, what would you do? If you were forced from your location, what would you bring? The list goes on. The important action is critiquing both yourself and the characters, and learning from their (and your) deficiencies and mistakes.
Learn — Learn from others mistakes and problems. Learn from the information provided. Write down a list of skills the characters have but you don’t. Vow to learn those skills. Write down supplies that came in handy.
Use it to recruit or open a line of communication — with those in your family or close friends who aren’t sure about prepping, or you don’t know how they would react if they knew you prepped. My father in law recently read the novel One Second After because his friend and I had talked about it on the golf course. It gave me a way to talk with him about being prepared. And it gave us a path forward to bringing another person into the group of “ants”. Hopefully he is now one less grasshopper to feed.
Expand your mind — Don’t just read stuff about your “favorite” or most likely disaster scenario. Read about meteor strikes, EMPs, hackers, and WW3. Because the one thing about preparedness is that it doesn’t discriminate when it comes to disasters. Food stored for a hurricane is just as good as food stored for a hostile government takeover.
Get motivated — I know that motivation can be short lived. Which is why continuous learning is so important. Preparedness web sites are great for continuous learning, but nothing motivates you like visualizing a man’s daughter dying of diabetes because they ran out of insulin. Especially when you remember that your mother relies on XYZ prescription…
Act — Put into practice what you have learned. Acquire new skills, tools, supplies. Utilize all of the information you have gained.
Reading and consuming television shows or movies is one thing. It’s a whole ‘nother ball game to write it down. But writing fiction can have just as many or more benefits.
Write it and then:
See your plan on paper — Write what you think would work. Write down what you think would happen, what you would do. Plan for what you think the ‘bad guys’ will do. Explore holes in your planning. Take yourself on a journey, and see the whole scenario play out.
Ease your mind — Take the burden off of your shoulders for a second. Putting what is in our head down on paper allows our brain to move forward. Ever woke up from a dream and stayed awake for hours just thinking about it? Next time write it down and you will fall right to sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. Sometimes things get stuck in our head and it drives us crazy, just thinking about it over and over. So write it down and ease your mind.
Research — I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to write and I come upon topic after topic that I don’t know as well as I thought, or can’t remember specifics. Writing forces you to research your topic. The more you write, the more you are forced to learn. Learning is never a bad thing.
Experience Catharsis — Writing our thoughts down can be one of the most cathartic things we can do. Maybe you are struggling with the death of a loved one. You might find closure writing them a heroic/peaceful/loving end in your fictional story. My best friend cried and cried when he killed off his main character that he had only made up a few months ago when he started writing that story. That character represented parts of himself that he loved and hated, and that he knew needed to be let go. Writing can unleash great feelings, most of which we strong/independent/loner preppers tend to keep to ourselves. Do you have trouble expressing love to your significant other? Maybe your feelings will come out honestly when you write them into a character. You never know!
Get critiqued — what better way to get tens, hundreds or even thousands of feedback sessions for free? Feedback will need to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but it beats only being able to talk with a few close friends about your ideas. It’s much easier for a small group to miss a key supply or threat the few of you don’t see. Preppers love critiquing others and themselves. We pack and repack bug out bags. Continually update what we store. Wouldn’t another hundred eyes be helpful?
Have fun — While prepping for disasters is serious business, and what you do or don’t do could mean life or death, who wants to live their whole life on edge with no fun or happiness. Clearly if you have made it this far, disaster preparedness is a hobby. Why not have some fun and enjoy a new side of your hobby. Who knows, what you write could save someone’s life in the future!
Be anonymous — You don’t have to use your real name, and you don’t have to use exactly your setup/preps/stores/situation. Instead of talking about preps with your physical neighbors (okay, I realize that no one does that) who will no doubt show up at your door when SHTF, your virtual neighbors will never know your name, let alone your location.
Imagine — Maybe you are behind in your preps, or wish you could move. Visualizing it here could be the first step in achieving those goals.
Survival fiction gives a disaster prepper another tool in his or her preparedness toolbox. It is a way to learn, game plan, and seed your mind with different possibilities. Gaining perspective, knowledge, empathy, motivation, community and entertainment make Survival fiction a worthwhile time investment. So go ahead, enjoy reading Warday or Lucifer’s Hammer. It’s basically like exercise.
About the Author: This article was written by Alex, the editor of the SaveYourAce.com blog.