On being a “prepper”

…or not.

See, I have this friend (let’s call him S) who is obsessed with the idea that the end is coming and it’s coming soon. Not from any kind of religiously inspired catastrophe; he’s not, to my knowledge, the kind who expects the Rapture any time soon. Actually, that kind of apocalyptophilia would be blissful in comparison with his expectations. No, he expects the end to arrive in the form of a collapse, with the entire apparatus of society coming down around our ears. In his mind, it’s not just on its way, it is in fact right around the corner, and he feels a sense of panic (at least that’s how it looks from the outside) at the sense that it is bearing down on him and his family. He’s been talking about it for a while now, either directly, or by throwing out comments about investing in gold or stocking up the basement with freeze-dried supplies.

Lately, though he lives just around the corner in a major metropolitan area, he’s lately had more rural concerns on his mind. He’s been talking about building a greenhouse, and digging a cellar, and finding important strategic points on his property for defense.

Depending on my mood this kind of behavior can seem to me either completely paranoid or infinitely practical. I have a gemini nature, and often see opposing sides of an issue so clearly that I feel more than a bit tormented by finding a path between them. On the idea of preparation in general I am quite strongly in favor. My belief is that the disaster you are properly prepared for will never come, so being prepared for things (in general, as well as preparing specifically for the irruption of disaster into the everyday, swapping batteries and rotating canned goods) almost always seems to me a good and admirable goal. Even when the unexpected happens, the fact of having laid in basic supplies and the attitude of being ready can be of immeasurable benefit. But despite Katrina, and Fukushima, and any number of other recent disasters, I just can’t seriously get behind the idea that society is going to completely collapse, and therefore I just don’t feel the extreme urgency that so many seem to be tormented by. Well-stocked pantries, full medical kits, neatly boxed stores of batteries, spare bulbs and candles all speak to me in calm, assured tones and give me that blissful feeling of peace whenever a storm rears its head in the news. So much of the rest just feels to me like useless fussing, and I can’t help but imagine that all those carefully preserved pieces of precious metal will prove completely useless if the worst really DOES come to pass (I’m with Terry Prachett in that, in the event of real catastrophe, we’ll be on the potato standard in no time.

But he is obsessed with building a homestead, a space outside the city that would be completely self-sustaining, and lately I’ve been imagining what would go into such a space. On that topic, this jumped out at me the other day and has given me several days of staring out the window and dreaming.

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This is the year the world ends…

…or not. Maybe. I guess we’ll see.

Meanwhile, the apocalyptophiliac has been hunkered down, not out of any fear that The End was actually approaching (wasn’t Harold Camping supposed to get another chance at the brass ring on the 21st of October?) but in order to meet a few deadlines which merely FELT like they were going to bring my world to an end. And now we’re back for the new year.

As the film critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and New York Magazine, David Edelstein has pointed out, apocalypse is still a important concern for so many these days, though an interesting NY Times Magazine piece from this weekend suggests that, for many, the “millennial angst” may be receding.

I’m not convinced, personally. I’ve been following politics rather obsessively of late, and I can smell that characteristic odor of rot and soot in so much of what the candidates are saying, even when they couch their message in the most optimistic language. For every sigh of relief that the End has come and gone (again), there is another hand-wringing assertion that this is the last chance to avoid falling into the pit…