Whenever I’d get upset about not understanding why someone was doing what they were doing or thought the way they did, a friend always used to remind me that “not everyone thinks like you do”. That adage sounds simple on the surface but I’ve realized that it is a profound truth and of critical importance to us preppers.
At the time that I’m writing this we are immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic. I watched this coming, from the earliest days when the first reports of some strange new Coronavirus associated with the market in Wuhan was briefly noted online. That made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I thought, “Uh oh, SARS Take- 2”. But hardly anyone else seemed to pay attention. I watched with dread as it grew to epidemic proportions in China but it seemed that most here in the US, and the rest of the world for that matter, were oblivious, focused on other things like the impeachment proceedings or sports and celebrities. I started doing some extra preps, particularly difficult as I hadn’t bought my current home yet and was a pet sitting nomad at the time. Still, I started hitting the stores and buying what I could manage to transport back to Vermont in my sub-compact car. And making “to-do” and “need” lists, lots of lists. (And yes, being a “nomad” was a break in my preparedness but a risk I had decided to take).
I watched with ongoing dread as the first case was found in Washington state. I called my mother who lives in New York City (NYC) to “have the talk”. A lot of good that did. My mom is a city girl through and through and not a prepper. She just couldn’t even imagine that she might need to hunker down in her apartment and not leave. The idea of staying off mass transit, avoiding crowded venues, stocking up; all off-putting to her. I told her I was sending her some masks(N95). Explained what they were for and how to use one properly. And of course even as the virus was proclaimed a pandemic, as it made its way to NYC (what a surprise!) she continued to attempt to go about life as usual. Even after it got really bad there and she finally agreed to stay off the trains, she continued to take buses and go shopping in stores. (Her rejoinder: “But they’re small stores”!) My brother who lives with her did the same. And no, they didn’t wear the masks I’d provided because they didn’t “need” them , it would look weird and that was something “only Asian people” did!
Many In Denial
So what to make of this? What to make of someone I know here (high risk due to cancer treatment) who merrily traipsed off to NYC with a friend to catch a Broadway show and “do” the city the day before they finally closed the Broadway theaters? Like, “Hello? Did you not hear that NYC was in the midst of a pandemic and that you were exposing yourself(and then us back here in Vermont) to this virus?” How could they not know what’s going on in the world? But really dear reader, she didn’t. And this is an otherwise intelligent and educated woman, a retired teacher.
What to make of all the frolicking college students who headed to Florida and Texas to do spring break after their colleges shut down due to the virus? What to make of the officials in New Orleans who didn’t cancel Mardi Gras? (They’re now whining that President Trump should have told them not to do it! ) What to make of all of the travelers, hikers and other tourists who remained in the countries they were visiting despite the worsening situation world-wide and then expected their home country to fly them back to safety? What to make of those who continued to hop on cruise ships because they’d planned this trip a while ago and didn’t want to lose their money? Or those that persisted in gathering in large crowds after being told not to, filled bars and restaurants until they finally shut them down, held large weddings and all of the many other ways in which people persisted in continuing their normal activities in spite of the warnings and ever worsening situation?
I watched this all with dread as I knew that at some point, the spark would be struck and the masses would erupt in fear. And when they did, look out.
Ants Versus Grasshoppers
I think there must be some really profound difference in how ants and grasshoppers view the world. A really big difference in the thought process between those who prepare, stock up, set aside for a “rainy day” versus those who blissfully carry on living in the moment. Between those who see what’s coming and those who just carry on without noticing until it smacks them full in the face. While I’m sure that there are some preppers who are paranoid, suspicious and rather anti-social, I don’t think most are. I think that while the ones who are planting land-mines, stocking up on enough ammo and guns to outfit an entire Army regiment and building underground bunkers to weather Armageddon definitely make the news, most are not like that at all. And if that’s you, well no offense meant. If it makes you happy and feeling safe, well carry on! It’s just that I think most of us aren’t going to go that route.
It also serves to deter some from being tagged with the “prepper” label as then they figure everyone will assume they’re also holed up in their bunker waiting for Armagedden. Most of us hold “normal” jobs be it as a teacher, mechanic, gunsmith, carpenter, computer programmer or nurse, have families, friends, participate in the community and live really ordinary lives. We just seem to have the ability to recognize that our lives as they are currently set up in our technologically dependent times are precarious. That JIT ordering may mean great wealth for Walmart shareholders but is a risky way to run a business should manufacturing and transportation break down or unusual demand crop up. That sending the manufacture of most of our goods and pharmaceuticals overseas may make lots of money in the short term for the companies that do this but exposes us to risks that really shouldn’t be unforeseen as we can see it clearly. And that “bad stuff “ has repeatedly happened in the past on this earth to humankind and will continue to happen and that there are just no guarantees that our lives won’t be impacted by some sort of life-changing disaster even if it’s “just” a major storm, fire, flood or earthquake.
Inadequate Supply Chains
We are able to recognize that given that there is a really small supply of food held in our grocery stores and that in a disaster, restocking is not a given, it is prudent to stock up and have ample supplies at hand. That any sort of “Black Swan” event can cause the economy to crash and create massive job loss as is happening now, so best to have adequate food, supplies and savings on hand. That a weather disaster, civil unrest, terrorist attack, solar flare or whatever could occur with little to no warning and that we might be unable to access grocery stores, ATMs, utility power and everything else we depend on in our lives today.
So at present we seem to be divided up into two camps; those who recognize how precarious our current set-up is and those who haven’t a clue. I assume that we must all be descended from those who did stock up and were prepared for poor harvests, an unsuccessful mastodon kill or whatever. We must be as otherwise they wouldn’t have lived to reproduce and raise our ancestors. Somehow though, generations of comparatively easy living have removed this understanding from far too many people. Add to that all of our fellow citizens that are dependent on government handouts, those addicted to their drugs of choice, those who prefer to engage in criminal activity rather than earn a gainful living and that adds up to quite a number of people.
So why is this important? If the rest of us “get it” at least we’ll be prepared right? I think the obvious answer to this is that if “X” percentage of us are prepared but the vast majority of those around us aren’t, when the chips are down, I’m not sure we’re any better off than they are long-term. In many ways we are only as secure as our least secure family member, friend or neighbor. Add to that only as secure as the reach of those that can access our homes via their transportation method of choice. I know some of you do honestly believe that you have enough ammo, fencing or rocket launchers on hand to repel an invading army. Maybe you do, I don’t know. And some of you figure that you’re isolated enough that most of “them” will die out before they ever find you. Maybe that’s true. I hope for your sake that you are. I suspect most of us though are not in that category. We may live in a rural area, have a reasonable amount of preps and some weaponry on hand but there are limits to how long we could hold out and against how many.
No Pleas for Food — Yet
So right now, in the relatively early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, our fellow unprepared citizens (at least those who are now paying some minimal amount of attention) have been descending on the stores and buying them out of a variety of goods; TP, masks, sanitizer, wipes, frozen foods etc. As well they have bought every available freezer from stores that carry them, including the floor models. Chicks are flying out of the stores as fast as they can be hatched. Not everyone acted quickly enough of course. I’ve been seeing pleas on-line from people in my general region begging for toilet paper, thermometers, masks, hand sanitizer etc. and this is just the beginning. The pleas for food haven’t even begun yet but I fear they will.
Some people seem to be either blissfully convinced that they won’t get sick or if they do it will be “mild” and are continuing to regularly shop for milk, bread and other items instead of buying a number of them and stashing them in the freezer. (My own brother is doing just that so it appears that prepping must not be genetic!) I’m not sure I even want to take on the phenomenon of social media/YouTube “influencers” who lick toilet seats or shelves or deodorants or boast that they’re not worried about getting it at all (until of course they do). The disconnect in their heads is so immense I don’t have a clue how to understand or talk with them; sadly they have many followers, often young ones.
Do We Hunker in Silence?
So knowing all of this, do we just give up and prepare for the inevitability of being overrun? Do we switch to the mode of those laying in land mines, rocket launchers and building underground bunkers? How on earth do we manage to communicate with those who don’t understand preparedness and convince them of the wiseness of doing this? How do we attempt to understand the thinking of those who don’t/won’t prepare and dismiss us as a bunch of paranoid freaks wearing tinfoil hats? I think the answers to these questions are critical and our very survival may depend on this, no matter how much we’ve stashed away or prepped. If the vast majority of our fellow citizens haven’t, and don’t get it, they put us all at extreme risk.
I know I’m not the land mines & bunkers sort. I’m not going to be buying my own island. I need to find a way to understand where all the non-preppers are coming from, how they see the world and how to help them join us. I suspect that for many people there is a failure of the imagination. The existence of normalcy bias is real and huge and probably plays a large role in why people don’t see what’s happening right in front of them in time and fail to prepare.
Most people believe that things in the future will operate as they have in the past and thus fail to prepare for or recognize that the situation is changing and warrants preparedness. There is a major lack of imagination in the masses who can’t envision that things could ever be different than they are now. Many seem to have been awaiting an “official” announcement from the government that this is indeed serious and what they should be doing to prepare. And of course announcements from our government have been few and far between and sorely lacking in truth and directness when they did occur. Telling people that masks don’t work and not to have or use them for instance was just one of many terrible blunders perpetuated on the masses. Telling people that if they do have any masks that they are terrible people and hoarders who should immediately turn over whatever they have to a hospital was just plain wrong and misdirected.
As well, many believe that if things got bad enough, “they” would step in and rescue them, in this case “they” being FEMA, the government, National Guard or some other entity that they trust will feed, house and protect them. I’d like to ask them how that worked out for the folks of New Orleans during Katrina? How has that worked out for Puerto Rico? The residents of CA who were devastated by the forest fires? But somehow, even knowing all of this, the masses continue to believe that this time it will be different. And they have obviously not thought through the implications that if FEMA and our government couldn’t get it together to help in a satisfactory way when only a small portion of our country was impacted, what do you suppose will happen when most or all of the country is impacted?
I know that blogs such as this site have done wonders in terms of reaching out to people over the years and educating them. Novels such as the ones that JWR and others write are also a good way to educate people who might not pick up a guide to survivalism but would read a novel that they end up learning from.
Television shows that showcase the kooks and outliers of the preparedness movement really do a disservice in my opinion. There are probably way more people turned off by what they find there than are drawn to prepare by it. That there are many who feel they have to hide their interest in and expertise in preparedness so as to deflect mocking by friends and relatives is discouraging. Yes, due to OPSEC reasons we don’t want to let everyone and their brother know just what we have and what we are doing but I think it goes deeper than that. Many of us fear being ridiculed or treated as a fruitcake if we let others know we are preppers.
I was horrified to check out a segment of one of the “Doomsday Prepper” shows online which I’d thought was going to be about permaculture and its role in preparedness but instead discovered that the preppers featured were growing toxic plants in their forest garden, drying them, grinding them up and placing the powdered toxic herbs in their spice rack to use in food for any “unwelcome” guests. I’m sure not planning on going to their house for dinner! I guess that was the point but seriously people! When the masses view stuff like this I don’t blame them for being turned off; I sure was and I’m a prepper myself!
I feel that we’ve got to take a more public role in helping educate others. That just trusting that we ourselves have “enough” beans, bullets and band-aids stored for our own loved ones isn’t enough. Watching the progression of the pandemic at this point is very educational. Thus far this pandemic doesn’t appear to have a mortality rate approaching that of SARS, Ebola etc. It also appears to primarily be killing the elderly or those with preexisting conditions; not that this is okay but that is keeping the masses from panicking even more than they are now. I don’t even want to contemplate what would be happening at this point if it was mostly killing young people, children, had a higher mortality rate etc. I suspect that by now half of our cities would have emptied out and be on the run, in search of “safety” in a rural locale while having minimal supplies and know-how and the rest would be engaged in gun battles and raiding the 7-Eleven and Piggly Wiggly.
Maybe some of us would be okay because we do live far enough out that we won’t be found. That isn’t the case for most of us and it’s unlikely to be either. There’s a real limit as to how many remote rural locales we’re going to be able to purchase and set-up let alone earn a living on. Many of us just don’t have the money to afford a large rural acreage either. And even so, while you’re out there squirreled away in your remote hidden retreat, what if you badly injure yourself with a chainsaw? Your kid needs an appendectomy? You roll a tractor? Horse kicks you in the head? Anything can happen which will require you to access medical care beyond what you know how to handle. Most of us are not going to be able to set up a retreat staffed by our good friends the surgeon, vet and dentist! It sounds great in the prepper novels but how real is this for the vast majority of us?
I know that what I’m saying won’t resonate with some who are reading this. Some of you do fervently believe that you’ve got a secure retreat and enough preps to last for a long time so to heck with all the rest out there. I realize I’m not likely to change your mind on this but perhaps you will consider what I’m saying. I do think though that the majority of us are not in that category, realize we ourselves are only prepared to withstand so much and would dearly love to see others join us in the ranks of the prepared.
The Anxiety Factor
So where do we go with this? I think that we’ve got to use this pandemic as a teachable moment. We’ve got the public’s attention right now so let’s use it! Totally refrain from “I told you so’s” to our annoying relatives and neighbors who just wouldn’t listen, even though our frustration at always being a “Cassandra” is running high by now. Find a way to provide information in manageable doses to those who are “shutting down” out of anxiety and fear; I know a lot of people like that and it’s hard to get them to absorb the information due to their anxiety levels(my own mother is like that as are some friends). There are also a lot of people in the US taking anxiety medications; should the supply be disrupted, many are going to totally freak. We need to try to find a way to explain preparedness in a series of steps to follow. If people can see a step by step progression and the reasons for taking those steps, I’m hopeful this will help them refrain from panic buying and also feel a real sense of progress and mastery as they are able to check off the items on the list. Regaining some sense of control over the situation and mastery is critical I think.
I think that it’s important that we all try to do what we can to re-frame preparedness. I want us to be proud of being a prepper! I don’t want this to be viewed with shame. I want us to be able to totally banish the notion that we are “hoarding” supplies and keeping them from others. We need to educate people so they understand that true preppers weren’t going out there in the midst of the panicked shoppers at Walmart and Costco and buying out all the TP! True preppers already had a supply of TP on hand. True preppers stock up over a long period of time and then they use what they stock, replenishing the supply as needed. We need to “come out of the closet” as preppers! Maybe we all need to wear “I’m a Prepper” and I’m Proud” t-shirts? Fly our own prepper flag; maybe one with pictures of beans, band-aids and bullets? 😉
Make Prepping Normal
I want us to find a way to model this behavior. To reject the sensationalism of prepping. To reject the idea that preppers are just those hunkered down with their rocket launchers and land mines, hoarding 20 years worth of beans and bullets! Somehow we’ve got to figure out how to help others realize that we are just ordinary normal people who are able to imagine what can happen and we feel it is our duty to our loved ones, our community and our country to be prepared so that we aren’t standing on line at a FEMA tent someday. That if we are prepared for disasters that can happen at any time we are taking the burden of helping us off the backs of the government and other civil entities. That for every one of us that has adequate stores of water, food, first aid materials etc, that is one less person requiring “rescue”.
Furthermore, when the crisis at hand is “over”, be it the aftermath of a pandemic, hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack, economic collapse or whatever, what will be left of our community, society and country? What do we want to return to? It’s not all that reasonable to just assume we will all be hunkered down for 20 years. What do we want to have left in terms of infrastructure, services, businesses, schools etc? If we want to preserve as much of this as possible then we need to help make this happen. We need to reach out to the business owners, the first responders, the teachers, farmers and all the rest to help ensure that they too are prepared so that they are able to continue to operate a business, fight fires, teach and farm when the crisis passes.
I know that while I (and most of you) have many issues with the direction our country has taken for a long time now, our economic system, popular culture, social media, celebrities and all the rest, I don’t think that totally destroying our society and country is the answer. I fervently hope that we are able to preserve that which is good, help others learn from what is happening now and have a functioning country when this is all over. We need to raise our voices and demonstrate why preparedness is a civic virtue and can and should be practiced by everyone, from the Millennial in the NYC studio apartment to the rancher on 10,000 acres. I do believe our lives depend on others understanding this as well.