Sunday, March 27, 2022


Leave it to America to turn the Apocalypse into an marketing opportunity!

A reader writes that they used to subscribe to a mailing list for survivalists.  They were interested in survival gear as they spent a lot of time in some rough corners of the world.  But what turned them off was that the discussion group became less about discussing survival techniques and more about "reviews" of the latest and greatest survival gear, with "influencers" pushing one brand or another of the latest gadget you need for the end times.

When we traveled to Alaska, we went through places like Idaho (no, youda hoe!) and eastern Washington State.  There were a lot of right-wing crazies out there (being redundant again) and we saw stores with signs saying "Prepper Supplies!" and copies of "Prepper" magazine for sale in the grocery store or gas station.  I noticed when we got back that the wholesale club had pallets of survival food for sale for thousands of dollars.

Survivalism is largely a dead-end, and as it turns out, just an opportunity to sell you a different line of consumer goods.   Unlike Qanon, which doesn't have a line of products associated with it (well, other than firearms, perhaps) survivalism has a plethora of products you can buy - but will never likely use - such as bomb shelters, remote cabins, firearms (again), survival foods, survival tools, and so on and so forth.  These things cost a lot of money and yet they will never get removed from their packaging.  And let's face it, if the bomb drops or Armageddon comes, you'll want to be at ground zero and not some zombie survivor slowly dying of radiation sickness.

As our reader's example illustrates, not all survivalists engage in survivalism for the same reasons.  Some are religiously oriented, others political, still others are looking for a particular lifestyle.  While you can't pigeonhole people in one mode or another, many are a combination of one or more of these:

Back to the Land:  Some people who are into "survivalism" are not worried about nuclear war or the end times or whatever, but just want to go back to a more agrarian lifestyle.  And this trend is centuries old.  You may recall Henry David Thoreau and  his Walden Pond.  Like so many others throughout history and especially today, he wanted to chuck the city life for a more organic "back to nature" existence.  The hippies in the 1960's claimed to want this - starting communes and later abandoning them when human nature reared its ugly head.

But it didn't begin or end there.  People have always have naive ideas about country living - as exemplified by the television show "Green Acres" where a city lawyer chucks it all for country livin'.  I remember a book my Mother had for sale in her store about going back to nature.  It was written in the late 1950's by a couple who chucked their high-paying careers in Manhattan to live in the "country" which in this case, was rural Connecticut.  They called it the "Have-More Plan" and it detailed how you could set up a pocket farm on not a lot of land, and have chickens and goats and maybe a cow and some rabbits and grow your own vegetables and compost your own trash.  The chapter on slaughtering the goat wasn't very pleasant, however.

Going back in time, you see early on in our country's history this desire to get back to nature.  Communes didn't begin with the hippies - all sorts of religions (Shakers, Quakers, whatnot) started their own communes or "communities" such as the Oneida community which became famous for its silverware.  The Amish are probably the best example of this - eschewing modern living (up to a point) for a more agrarian rural lifestlye - and yes, religion enters into this (more about that later).  Of course, like all commune-dwellers, the Amish have figured out that they have to engage the greater world to some extent, and have worked technology into their lifestyle through an arcane set of rules.  You can't own a cell phone, for example, but you can rent one from an "English" when you are doing work for "English" in order to earn hard cash to pay your property taxes.  Ditto for things like power tools.

So a portion of people who might be considered "survivalist" are not necessarily doing so because they think Biden is the Antichrist, but because they want to chuck their city jobs and move to a cabin in Alaska or Oregon and go back to nature.  And living "off the grid" means being self-sufficient.  So you need things like solar-powered satellite phones, or generators, or a chainsaw, or reserves of canned goods.  It doesn't mean you are a freak - necessarily.

Political Freaks:  This is a different subset of people, but may overlap - in Venn diagram fashion- with the back-to-the-land people.  These are folks who subscribe to extreme political beliefs - usually right-wing, but not always.  They are going back to nature not because they want a more holistic lifestyle, but because they want to get away from the government and other people.  These are the sorts who don't register their cars and claim to be "sovereign citizens."

And they're good little consumers, too.  Unlike the "back to nature" freak who wants to compost his toenail clippings, the political freak wants all the comforts of modern living - a huge generator, a big diesel pickup truck, the latest smart phone, and of course, lots and lots of firearms.

These folks are convinced the end-of-the-world is nigh, but not because Jesus is coming, but because of nuclear annihilation or the collapse of society (all them city folks will starve to death once the revolution comes!) or civil war or whatever.  And yes, these things are possible (and seem more possible with each passing day).  But as I noted before, banking on the Apocalypse as a retirement plan is short-sighted.  Odds are, it won't happen in your lifetime, and if it did, all the survival gear in the world won't save you from radiation poisoning and nuclear winter.

Religious Freaks: Again, these groups overlap sometimes, but the religious survivalist wants to get away from modern society not because of the government, but because of our permissive society and of course, their conviction that Jesus is coming and boy is he pissed!  The conundrum about these folks is that they fervently believe that within their lifetime Jesus will come back and the faithful will all rise up to heaven, flying through the air, because they are devout Christians.

If so, why "prep" for the end times?  You'll be the first one to fly to heaven!  And yet, their literature is full of "left behind" prophesies, where born-again Christians somehow missed the bus and end up living in a post-apocalyptic hell-on-earth.  So, you'd better stock up!  It makes no sense to me - but then again, most "organized" religion makes no sense to me, either (other than as a blatant power-grab).

Of course, there are other reasons for going "off the grid" and one of them is trying to insulate yourself and your family from the perceived "evils" of society.  Premarital sex!  Transgender Lesbians!  You have to protect your children from these evils!  Yet the highest teenage pregnancy rates are among evangelicals.  Sarah Palin's family is not an outlier, but the norm for that group.

I have a friend who is an evangelical Christian (he doesn't have horns, I checked!) and he mentioned that some of his kids were home-schooled. I asked him why and he said, "I didn't want them to go to the gub-ment school!"   I guess he saw the shocked expression on my face and he laughed and said, "gotcha!"  Turns out half his kids go to the local high school and half do not.  He gave them the choice.  And given how toxic public schools can be, I can see why some might choose a different path.

But as he put it, people ascribe motivations to you once they find out you are a evangelical.  "For example, everyone assumes I'm building a cabin up in the mountains and stocking it with canned goods for the end times," to which he added, "well, I am building a log lodge in the mountains, but only because we like to go skiing!"  So you see how this works. The rest of us build a vacation home in the mountains, but if you are religious it is some sort of Ted Kaczynski unibomber cabin.

And yes, if you build a vacation cabin in the mountains, you might want to stock up on canned goods and have a generator, as the power does go out a lot and the roads can be impassable after a big snow storm.  Does that make you a survivalist?

Explorers:  I mentioned briefly yet another group - people who go to areas where civilization is thin, such as our reader.  We had some friends who hitch-hiked around the world - twice - in their 20's, and they had to take everything in their backpacks.  So they had a tiny lightweight tent that would withstand a blizzard on Everest and "mummy" sleeping bags rated for 30 below.  And they had a little cooker and kettle because they were British and you have to have tea.

If you are going to some third-world country or war zone, where cell service is sketchy and the power goes out twice a way, yea I get it that you might want a solar-powered satellite phone or a portable cooker and a water purifier.  These are logical things to bring.

But as our reader noted, this can be co-opted like so much else.  When I had my BMWs, I would visit discussion forums and if you announced you just bought an E36, some "helpful" individual would then lecture you on all the stuff you had to replace right away with aftermarket parts, and of course, he had the URLs for the companies selling these parts.   It was the dawn of the influencer era and as I noted before, one of these fellows was caught when someone noticed his IP address was the same as the company he was shilling for.

So you subscribe to a survivalist discussion group and pretty soon you are inundated with recommendations on "must-have" equipment to bring with you to Somalia.  But if you bought all the junk they recommend, you'd need a helicopter to haul it all around in. No problem - they have recommendations as to the best helicopter to buy - I am sure!

* * *

I guess the point is, there is a lot of overlap in these various groups.   But the main point is, I guess, that we are all being marketed to, all the time.  Even if you subscribe to an anti-consumerism or anti-materialism discussion group, I am sure they will have a list of things you need to buy to be anti-materialistic, and I am sure the irony is lost on them.

Buying shit seems to be in our blood.  Whenever we are confronted with an unknown situation, it seems the first instinct is to shop.  Pandemic?  Better buy toilet paper!  It was never explained to anyone why toilet paper would be in short supply due to a virus, and indeed, it never really was (it may have disappeared from store shelves, but it was well-stocked in everyone's bathroom vanity!).

And indeed, this is the genius of Disney or any resort location.  Always present an opportunity to buy.  Nervous tourists, not sure what to do in an unfamiliar situation, will whip out a credit card if there is a kiosk selling crap-on-a-stickIt's what you're supposed to do!  You don't want to be the only family not wearing mouse ears, right?

I'll give you another example.  Here on our island, you can drive your golf cart on the road.  We bought one for $300 and put another $2000 into it (including new controller, batteries) and use it nearly every other day - it is a lot of fun.  Others, well, they go out and spend $15,000 (I kid you not!) on a Kustom Kart and then never drive it anywhere.    They are afraid the batteries are going to go dead, which is a self-fulfilling prophesy as they never charge the damn thing.   They use it once a year for the annual cart parade and when the grandchildren come.  But that's it.  They have this expensive thing because everyone else has one - but actually using it?  They get in their car to drive a half-mile to the store!  On a nice temperate sunny day, too!

You can sell ice to Eskimos (or Inuit peoples, I guess they are called now).  All you have to do is convince them that everyone else is buying ice.  But not that brand of ice - this one!