Survivalism has hit the mainstream. Thanks to Nat Geo’s Doomsday Preppers and AMC’s The Walking Dead, the virus has spread (excuse the pun). Now it’s not just Y2K nut jobs and Cold War era bunker builders who indulge in doomsday fantasies – these shows are reaching hundreds of thousands around the world.
What I want to discuss, is why? How did a fringe conspiracy movement move into a genre of its own, with a host of businesses springing up selling everything from ‘zombie kits’ to underground bomb shelters, MREs, machetes, firearms, survival training courses – you name it.
I think that it is a symptom of a much greater problem. It is primarily a western phenomenon and it’s not only right-wing/libertarians who indulge in it – the left has contributed its own share of ‘global warming/cataclysmic environmental events’ to create widespread appeal. The reason a ‘SHTF’ (survivalist speak for ‘shit hits the fan’) scenario is fantasized about is because it provides an escape from modern living. Think of what most people find the most irritating, soul sucking parts of their lives – cubicle dwelling, commuting, domestic politics to name a few – all these things become obsolete in the apocalypse.
At the core of it, people yearn for a return to simple living, escape from ordinary life. A return to traditional gender roles – where men hunt and protect, women cook, forage and nurture, as well as a return of traditional values of self-reliance, community and the importance of raising children.
For many, these hypothetical situations provide vindication for one’s own beliefs. For conservatives, it might mean that SPWL anti-gun liberals would perish – without their nanny- tax and spend state and corporate structure to deliver their groceries and police to keep them safe. Extravagant ideologies perish with them – there is no place for discussions of ‘the patriarchy’ or ‘white/cisgender/insert cutting edge term here’ privilege. Armed citizens become the only ones able to survive and they would take the role of protectors from the police – as is the case in some parts of Mexico recently
It would also provide an avenue for revenge to those who feel that the current system is designed by elites to profit at the expense of everyone else. Burgeoning public and private debt, insolvent governments, expensive social programs and wars that the country cannot afford- the elite’s world crashes down when everyone is trying to defend their camp, hunt rabbits, grow vegetables and kill walkers– it returns social organisation to a clan based level. Jack Donovan discusses this concept in his book, The Way of Men, which I highly recommend.
In the post-apocalyptic world, survivalists (both male and female) envision a return to traditional gender norms. As Donovan explores in The Way of Men, the way of men is the way of the gang. The end of the world as we know it ‘TEOTWAWKI’ in survivalist speak – would spell the end of ‘gender equality’. The modern day nation state is founded on the principle of groups of men willing to defend their perimeter and tribe with violence. In our highly atomised, liberal democratic world of cubical drones, factory line workers and customer service representatives, all that is traditionally male has been stripped from modern society and outsourced to the state. Traditional male activities usually involve a form of risk taking -whether it’s fighting, hunting, drinking, owning and using weapons – and have been actively discouraged by modern culture and in most cases, outlawed by the state. Tribal gangs and clan loyalty are a direct threat to the state; thus they tend to arise in ‘hollow states’ or areas where law enforcement is ineffective or non-existent. In the survivalist world, this is the case – every man for himself, and thus he chooses his allegiance to a group – it is not forced upon him by virtue of his birth, and his environment is not the product of the liberal-corporate-democratic machine.
Middle class men can live out their bad boy fantasies in a world where there are no cops around to spoil the fun and ruin your life. They also become far more valuable to their communities. Their strength and aggression, loyalty, courage and practical know-how become assets in dire circumstances. The modern feminised workplace/school leaves little room for men to be men.
There are a lot of misconceptions of what such a scenario would entail – when power grids, supply chains and law and order break down. Many of the ideas postulated in these scenarios do not hold up in historical examples where they actually happen. The example I will use is Argentina post 2001 – in the second part of this post.