Every place you turn on the web, you see this message. Fox News, the tabloids, the main-stream media, are all filled with this message. The sky is falling, the world is ending, and you need to “get yourself to safety.”
As an example, I just browsed this gem, which is fairly typical.
There’s a consistent message in all of these warnings, which is this:
Buy My Book! Now!
I would probably be classified by some as a “doomer” because I have little hope for our current, specifically US American “way of life.” But all that means is that I see change coming — not The End Of The World, but merely The End Of The World As We Know It.
And yes, it will likely be disruptive change, though it doesn’t absolutely need to be: it will be disruptive because people on the whole aren’t very bright, or aware, and people with money and influence and the presumed ability to inspire large numbers of people to work together toward a common goal by paying them to do it, seem significantly less bright and less aware than most people. Or perhaps they’re just playing dumb for personal gain; I don’t know how one can tell the difference.
The question that always comes up when faced with TEOTWAWKI is, “What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?”
The only answer anyone ever gives is, “Buy my book!” If you make the mistake of buying the book, you’ll get a seventeen chapters about all the catastrophes we will certainly face, and how horrible they will be. In the final chapter, there will be a handful of common-sense bromides, like “Keep three days of fresh drinking water in your house and a flashlight handy, and floss regularly,” mixed with absolutely insane suggestions to invest in gold futures, or to buy a goat so you can make your own cheese.
Here’s the advice I offer: do whatever you would have done if the world were not ending. Do whatever seems right and good and honest and compassionate and generally excellent. Don’t worry about TEOTWAWKI. At least, not until Godzilla roars, and then you can run around screaming and getting trampled along with everyone else.
We just had a plumber in to replace our dying hot water heater, and he had the best plumbing story I’ve heard yet. He’d been hired to look for a water leak in a high-end house in Boulder. They knew there was a leak, and a big one, because the owner was paying over $1000/month in water bills. But the owner could not find the leak. The plumber came in, and he could not find the leak. Yet gallons and gallons of water were disappearing somewhere.
In desperation, the plumber rented a thermal imaging camera, and started scanning the house for cold spots, which normally means water behind the walls. He found nothing until he pointed it at a bookcase in the basement, which showed up as a solid square of cold. He and his assistant tried to move the bookcase, so they could maybe drill a hole in the concrete wall to try to find out what was behind it, but when they pulled, the bookcase swung open on hinges, and a flood of water poured into the room.
Behind the bookcase was a bunker — a panic-room — with bunk beds, canned food, potable water barrels, guns, ammunition, and (of course) a whole lot of free water that was now flooding the basement. When they inspected the room, they found an independent tap into the city water supply, done poorly, which had sprung a major leak and filled the room with water until the weight of it forced the water out the small floor drain as fast as it was pouring into the room.
The tragic irony in this whole situation was this: the current owner didn’t know about the panic-room, because he’d just bought the house. It had gone up for sale because the previous owner and his wife — the presumed builders of the panic-room — had both died in a traffic accident.
Every person on this planet is going to die. Every child and grandchild is going to die. Every distant descendant is going to die. This isn’t a problem to be solved: it’s how life works.
The only thing anyone can, or should, do during their short life is to live honorably, by whatever light illuminates their path to the good. Yes, avoid getting hit by a bus along the way, if you can. But like the couple that prepared for Apocalypse and died in a car accident, you may not be able to avoid the bus, or the cement truck, or the piano dropped from the seventh floor. Don’t sweat it. You’re going to die. So live well.
I don’t think this is really about fear of death, though. I think it’s fear of embarrassment.
If you look at the way TEOTWAWKI authors sell their books, it isn’t pushing the death button so much as the “don’t be caught with your pants down” button. Neener, neener, you’re a loser for not being properly prepared. You were a fool.
A couple I knew that divorced acrimoniously many years ago, had conversations with me independently about what was going on, and what they told me about their lawyers fascinated me. To the man, the lawyers said, “The smartest thing you can do is….” To the woman, the lawyers said, “What you have to do to protect yourself and your children is….” They appealed to the man’s fear of embarrassment over appearing foolish. They appealed to woman’s fear of embarrassment over appearing to be an inadequate mother. Both of them ate right out of the lawyers’ hands, and it was a financial bloodbath, with the spoils going to the lawyers.
It’s always a very successful strategy, appealing to the fear of embarrassment.
It’s pretty much the same thing here, I think: fear of the embarrassment of being caught without gold under the bed when the dollar collapses; fear of standing in a bread line with a bunch of other unprepared losers; fear of being seen as a fool who should have known better. If only you had bought that book and followed the author’s advice….
But being properly prepared depends on a long series of accidents throughout your life that leave you in exactly the right place to recognize what is going on, when no one else does. Being properly prepared is a matter of purest luck, of birth, of education, of circumstance, and the only things you can do to improve on that blind luck are to read widely, live broadly, keep your eyes and ears open, and make enough stupid mistakes throughout your life to develop a good working set of bullshit filters — and, of course, be lucky enough that your stupid mistakes don’t kill you, instead of making your stronger.
Seriously — at the individual level, no one is prepared to survive the collapse of major social institutions, save by purest accident. If you try to prepare, it will just drive you nuts. You’ll end up with a bunker under your house full of water.
At the collective level, on the other hand, there are some things that can be done.
Most small towns out here in the West — and probably around the country — have some kind of “pancake breakfast” at some summer festival or another, usually sponsored by the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club or some other civic organization. It’s something I never thought much about until a few years ago, when I realized that this is also a dry run for a disaster relief kitchen. Some of these pancake breakfasts can feed the entire town in a matter of hours. Having lots of people who know how to organize such an event, means that an entire town can be fed even if people are picking through the rubble left by an earthquake or tornado. If supplies can be airlifted in, the town can take care of itself.
Going back into iron-age history, there have always been the “annual games,” featuring competitions in all kinds of useful skills associated with farming, ranching, hunting, and fighting. It’s invariably a fun and socially healthy event with a serious undercurrent — collective preparation for unexpected disasters.
So if you want to prepare collectively for disaster, join a civic organization and help organize civic events. Get good at it, whether it’s a pancake breakfast or a city-wide Iron Man marathon or a music festival. If you can do that for 500 people, or 5,000, or 50,000, then you will have developed some extremely valuable survival skills for the day that the sky falls. And the best part is, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.
As far as staving off the major man-made disasters, such as the collapse of the US economy and the US dollar’s failure as a world reserve currency, which is TEOTWAWKI that the author I cited above is trying to peddle… well, that’s in the hands of those people with money and power who seem to be clueless, and are maybe faking it, but probably aren’t. I’m pretty sure Sarah Palin isn’t faking it, nor Rep. Steve King from Iowa, nor Donald Trump. None of them has had the series of accidents that might have given them the opportunity (read: kick in the pants) to see past the end of their shallow ideologies.
So those disasters are going to happen, or not, with little input from the likes of you or me. If you happen to spot that particular bus in time to avoid getting hit by it, good on you. Otherwise, it really isn’t worth worrying about.