Thursday, October 8, 2009

What are we supposed to be preparing for?

Had an interesting reaction yesterday to a story that we ran in The Nugget about Cache Mountain Traders and the “prepper” culture.

A fellow I ran into at the gym was a little freaked out by the premise, as though there was something off-kilter, weird about the whole idea.

“What are we supposed to be preparing for?” he asked. “Armageddon?”

My response was, “Anything.” The idea is to be prepared for any kind of trouble that rolls down the pike.

David Brooks’ column in this week’s Nugget points out some of the trouble that we face — the financial kind. (You can read it here, too:

Brooks argues for a return to the kind of fiscal self-restraint that produced “sound economic values” that served as a counterweight to the “notorious materialism” of American culture.
Without those sound economic values, we face the inevitable result of affluence and luxury: “decadence, corruption and decline.”

Brooks’ argument is a moral one. I’d argue that the whole idea of self-reliance and preparedness should be considered a moral issue, too.

Ideally, each of us should strive to be physically fit and capable, financially fit and secure and emotionally and spiritually strong to take on the inevitable challenges that life flings at us. We should have the knowledge base and the material preparedness to weather storms, natural or man made.

You can come at these virtues through a variety of spiritual and cultural traditions. There is no need to attach a political agenda.

It is a mistake, I think, to scoff at those who take heed of the storm clouds on the horizon. It seems a strange reaction, given how bad things are and how much worse they could get.

But maybe it’s not so strange. “Fitness” of all kinds takes hard work and discipline. What Brooks argues for in his column would take a massive cultural shift from a sense of entitlement to a sense of responsibility — and political decisions that are unlikely to be made in the animal farm of the public arena.

Maybe it’s just easier to dismiss the calls for a return to old virtues as quaint at best, weird at worst. But I know who the people are that I will want in my camp when Big Trouble comes.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim,

    It is certainly fine for each individual to be as self reliant as possible. But I think that what many of us find disturbing about "Prepper" culture is that they harbor a notion that if there is a huge disruption in our societal structures, or even a complete break down, that the only way to prepare for that is to be ready to guard your hoard with a gun so all those Unprepared wont get your stuff.

    There are many of us who think that a far better way to "prepare" is to strengthen our local communities and economies so that we are self reliant as a community. If there is no community, only individual preppers guarding their stuff against Road Warrior marauders, then I would submit they have not prepared well at all.

    Instead, how about making sure that the community has a food supply that is not dependent on a global economy: meaning make sure that viable local farmland is not paved over to make strip malls that sell iPods.

    Lets make sure that we have a local community so that our closest friends are next door, not on Facebook.

    If we are going to prepare, lets prepare our local community to be self reliant. Lets think about what we do as a community when the winter storm comes and the forest fire burns...

    ...or the global economy collapses leaving no national structure that we can rely on. If we focus on individual preparedness, we wont be prepared at all. It is fine for people to try to be as self reliant as possible, but humans are not hermits and must rely on one another as well.

  2. Excellent points all, Anon. I agree with everything you say here.

    I just don't think the principles are mutually exclusive or the impulses contradictory. Individual preparedness or self-reliance is a virtue (along with the means and capability to defend hearth and home). So is community-preparedness.

    Personal fiscal responsibility is critical; so is public fiscal responsibility (and we can actually do something about that at the local level).

    The image of the survivalist guarding his hoard is a caricature. Sure, unfortunately, some people live down to that caricature. But I'd say most people who are really interested in preparation and self-reliance realize that this is a community thing, that many hands, minds and skills are necessary to make weathering any storm possible.

    Anti-social lone wolves will not last long.

    "Lets make sure that we have a local community so that our closest friends are next door, not on Facebook. "

    That hits the nail right on the head. Friends and neighbors pull together in a crisis. They just do. It's human nature. Those who have a network (a real one, not a virtual one) weather trouble better than those without.

    Good stuff, Anon. If it comes to it, you can share my chili and beans.


  3. Individual preparation is vital as well... it's all well and good to assume that "community" will take care of us, but that really puts us right back into the mentality that helped get us here.

    I am an individual "prepper". Um, I DO live on the Cascadia fault... I'd be silly not to have a plan. And while I work with my neighbors and those I come into contact with, the "community" can only do so much. At some point each individual has to take responsibility for themselves and their families.

    People just throw out the "guard your hoard with a gun" stuff because it's sensational. Or because they don't have guns. I'm not sure which.

  4. David Brooks column brings up a number of good points about how a moral change (not religious) is needed to get our country back on track. History tells us that every society that went into moral decay ended up, well, they ended.

    We also need to become a producer of goods (and ideas) instead of a produer of consumer 'stuff' that nobody really needs. Our malls are full of stores selling this 'stuff'.

    Get back to our values of right and wrong; producing goods that the world wants and needs; and yes, building a sense of community. We all need to buy into it before it all fades away....