Friday, September 03, 2010

Prepare: Is Prepping an American thing?

One of the frequest readers to Prepare (Frugal UK, shout out!), asked if the obsession with the end of the world was an American thing. In relation, there does not seem to be the same concern in the UK.

Fair question. Here's my take on it...

I don't have any numbers of how many "preppers" there are in the US. And I don't know how many people are concerned about the end of the world. Fortunately, that sort of data is not collected by pollsters and that's good news because most die hard preppers don't want anyone to know what they are up to.

How did it get started?

Go back to the Cold War. America was locked in a multi-national tug of war with the Soviet Union. The stakes were high; both had large land and sea forces and a stockpile of nukes if matters got out of hand.

For the first time, Americans were faced with the prospect of a foreign nation being able to lob bombs on their cities from a variety of locations - land, sea and air. Up until then, the US had two oceans separating them from the problems Europe and Asia had dealt with for hundreds of years - war and potential occupation.

From the late 50's to the mid 1960's, America embarked on a national campaign of "civil defense". Government and individuals would prepare shelters in the event of nuclear war and would stock those shelters to ride out fallout from atomic weapons. Americans began stockpiling food (canned and dry goods), water, batteries and other supplies into their basements or backyard fallout shelters. The "prepper" was mainstream and lived in the suburbs.

With the 1970's, the civil defense movement waned (for a number of reasons) as Americans drifted through detente and turbulence at home. Then, with the recession of the late 70's, Americans discovered that the post WWII system of robust economic growth was collapsing and when combined with rapid social changes and constant confrontation abroad with the Soviet Union and new regional powers, had the forboding feeling that doom was imminent.

The American self image was shaken. Not only could we be attacked by what seemed, a much more powerful Soviet Union, our institutions of work, marriage and community were clearly not as strong as they appeared to be in the previous generation.

Whether it be riots in the late 60's, the deterioration of the American city, rampant crime, inflation, or corruption, American was not what it used to be and its best days seemed to be behind it.

Americans dug inward. Prepare for the worse, but hope for the best. During this period, from the late 70's to the end of the 80's, America and American culture, began prepping for the end of the world.

Not only was the modern survivalist movement born, but pop culture reflected the growing concern and facination Americans had with the apocalypse. Books like "The Stand" were published. Movies like "The Road Warrior" and "Red Dawn" were blockbusters at the theatres.

The 80's post-apocalyptic movement settled down with the advent of the 1990's and the end of the Soviet Union. But with the same era, came a host of new concerns. The potential for an overbearing, insidious federal government, encroachment by the United Nations, the rise of terrorism overseas and the potential for some sort of Balkan style dissolution of the US in the near future.

And then the decade ended with the single event which most defined the modern, post-Cold War prepper movement: Y2K. The collapse of a computer based society due to an oversight in software coding.

Overnight, millions of people who normally would be concerned with the latest news on the nascent Internet or the value of their stock portfolio became concerned about a technology induced shutdown of Western civilization. A remote rural retreat, a stack of gold coins and canned goods sounded pretty good to a society faced with the sudden and disasterous loss of all power, communications and transport.

Of course, the event never happened, but shortly afterwards, 9/11 did. America, after thirty years of internal anxiety saw their worse fears realized. War had come to their shores.

Again, sales in stored foods and bottled water went up, but so did demand for gas masks and Geiger counters. A rural home would not attract the attention of terrorists they thought, and so once again, a remote location seemed appealing to millions.

Toss in ten years of natural disasters, fires, blackouts and terror threats and the world becomes a pretty scary place.

Today. Take everything which has happened in the past generation and combine it with the current economic and social climate in the US and one has to wonder why the whole country is not digging a fallout shelter in the backyard and pulling the door closed behind them.

To be fair, Most Americans go about their business and are more concerned about keeping their job (most likely urban), paying their mortgage (most likely suburban) and keeping the lights on than they are about a foreign army marching down their street or a plague depopulating the earth.

However, whether it is a national best seller like "One Second After" or Tivo'ing a Discovery Channel documentary on 2012, Americans continue to be open to that little voice in the back of their head which tells them to "fill up the car before the weekend, grab that extra case of water at the grocery store or make a run to the warehouse store to do a little shopping..."

After all, it can't hurt - just in case.

And that might explain why we do the things we do here in the US.

1 comment:

Julio Cheda - BR said...

I agree with you, i live on Brazil and never heard of prepping. Maybe because here we dont have significant natural disasters and have a good production of food (importing good part of it), people dont care too much for emergencies. In my personal opinion, this is dumb, cause everyone can be without water, food or energy for numbers and numbers of reasons. I've been prepping for 4 months already, always following information of american sites (like your blog btw), and dont regret it.
This movement just tends to grow up more and more due to all the nature/political facts going on the world now. Keep posting, i'm not used to comment, but since this keep the writer motivated (i think) i will start to.

PS.: Sorry about the bad english.

See ya.

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