And what do they think about : Preppers.
As i was watching Dr Petersens live (recorded) Q&A session in which his patreon supporters can text questions to him i had to think what one question i would ask him if i got the chance : as it happens his livestream Q&A session took place in the middle of the night by GMT so i completely missed it but i might try and be up for it with better notice in the future. Anyway the question i wanted to pose would be to ask Dr Petersen what he thought about the modern phenomenon of ‘prepping’, preparedness and self-reliance because that is a thing which i identify with and as and i think i can see what the psychological pitfalls might be and so wanted to ask a real psychologist what he thinks about the whole idea.
If you were say, new to the term and the idea you might do what many would do today in this era of information and go search the internet to see what has been said, written or filmed about prepping and something you might well do is watch some youtube video’s. The consequence of that approach is that almost the first thing you would come across is something extremely formulaic, almost caricature like such as the National Geographic series ‘doomsday preppers’ so let me deal with that first. Some of that series did highlight serious and genuine people and their different thoughts and approaches, unfortunately the downside is that most of the series fell into a ‘bullets, beans and bandages approach’ and not a few of the characters came across as downright dangerous if not a little crazy. For many people at the more liberal end of the political thought spectrum or the left-leaning end they might find active ‘preppers’ to hold views that are anti state and fiercely individualistic and i think its true that a common mindset among preppers is at least some mistrust of the state and here it might be useful to give an example of one difficult area and the state vs individual conflicts around that it : and here lets talk about firearms, the USA and the second amendment to the US constitution. So often i find that when europeans attempt to argue about US politics they completely fail to understand that the USA does actually have a constitution and that under that constitution US citizens have certain rights and that those rights cannot just be taken away or ridden over by the US government and the specific example here is the second amendment to the constitution. Many non US citizens will be a bit lost now : maybe with a vague idea about this but not the actual detail so here it is : “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Its well worth having a think about this one because the purpose of a militia is not sport shooting and hunting rabbits but for the protection of individuals against military intervention : even against the state itself.
I am of course not a US citizen and no i don’t own a firearm here which is a lot more difficult in the UK and i don’t shoot so i can’t demonstrate reasonable cause to own a firearm : past generations of one side of my family did because they were countrymen and active hunters of small game and shooters of vermin. It would be easy now to disappear into practical detail ie talk about what preppers do in this country but i would rather start with talking about how preppers think , plan and actually ‘prepare’ or how they get to the mental state of practising self-reliance and preparedness and i think the best way to approach that is to explain how i got there myself.
Most people today in the UK seem to live making certain assumptions about the infrastructure of daily life : that for example that the power, gas , water and sewarage will work and that when they go the supermarket that there will be food on the shelves all day and every day and that there will be petrol at the pumps. They also seem to make the assumption that expert help will arrive quickly if needed eg the police, ambulance or the fire brigade and in each example above people are then genuinely shocked and distressed if those things weren’t immediately available . My first wake-up call came at about age 15 when we had the ‘winter of discontent’ in the Uk : where i lived there was no power for long periods of the day and night and there were days when we could neither cook , heat or light the house, i remember studying for my exams while wrapped in a blanket and using a battery powered lamp to see what i was doing. My second wake-up call came during the various riots and acts of terrorism from the 1970’s (the IRA) the 80’s and 90’s (poll tax riots, the Rushdie affair, race riots) and continue through today with Islamic terrorism but by the most recent events i was already well down the rabbit hole !. My first experience then was that basic things that we assume to rely on don’t always work and surprisingly that they aren’t difficult things to deal with ourselves, in the second examples i came to the realisation that there are people and states out there that will attack ours, will succeed but surprisingly again that there are things that the individual can do to reduce the effects of those attacks.
For a long while i practiced a small degree of self-reliance just through doing my interests in the outdoors : thats not a bad place to discover the basic requirements for shelter, water, fire and food but then about 15 years or so ago i started to think about the whole subject in a more formal way and at the same time i was doing a similar thing in my professional life and its those work related things that i would like to use as an example to shed light on the larger subject.
Layers. If i had tried to write this essay a few years ago i would have written it from the perspective of risk management and i realise that although a valid approach it is one that will have the feel of the dead hand of health and safety and most of you would instantly stop reading, today my approach has moved on a few steps such that i think about the subject myself in a series of stacked layers. Going back just a bit i said that my first introduction to the subject was when the power we went off and we lived for most of a winter in a cold and dark house and could only cook when we had power briefly. Today i just see that as a small series of minor irritant problems that i can deal with at a purely practical level and for a lot of my fellow preppers it is an entirely pragmatic approach to life : understand that something won’t work normally at some time and have a way of dealing with it. The evidence is that minor problems like that do happen here : the power goes off, the water goes off or someone messes with the gas main and so on ….so i have in place simple practical solutions , for example that i can heat the house with scavenged firewood, cook with several different alternative methods from camping gas through to alcohol and petrol stoves and i store clean drinking water for a few days and far more water in the form of rainwater.
That is the simple surface layer and for many that’s fine : i have all respect and no problem with anyone who thinks and prepares along those lines , really here that is little more and sometimes less than many country people around here actually do every day as a normal part of their lives. Where i differ slightly is that i dig it down a layer and think formally about ‘risk’, that stems from having to think about risk management in my job for the very serious purpose of trying to make my little corner of healthcare less likely to errors, mistakes and harm. From that perspective in healthcare which i worked on seriously for several years i now apply the same principles to life generally as i did to that narrow field : the main part of that is that i look for evidence of things that go wrong, i look at how often those things actually go wrong, what the impact is when they go wrong and then plan to either stop them going wrong or plan to deal with the problem as and when it does go wrong. In a nutshell that is evidence based risk management and is part of the real-deal and not the BS that most people come out with that talk about health and safety ‘issues’ : when i hear that i know instantly know that the speaker doesn’t understand the subject.
So : the ‘risk’ layer looks at the wider problem, the study needs genuine evidence and larger information sources across many different areas of knowledge. Many preppers that i interact with work at this level and are often highly knowledgeable resources themselves which brings me to the subject of the preparedness community, and yes there are both active groups and active online forums that talk about this stuff. For sure there are those that maintain a belief in the future zombie apocalypse or the world takeover either by aliens, the new world order or whichever political party they dislike the most !. However on a more serious note far more of the online community do discuss very seriously the actual risks that exist today : from the everyday to the once in a lifetime serious. The online community that i am a member of is also a major resource in that i regularly talk to people with extended skillsets across many domains and disciplines : from medicine to building via food gardening, communications and internet security….an eclectic bunch. Very few have wild beliefs about zombies or aliens but many have an underlying acceptance that shit happens, stuff goes wrong and that the state isn’t necasarily the best solution to all of life’s problems.
Writing today though i am aware of thinking about….thinking about the subject, slightly more self-aware if you will and slightly questioning what the next layer or 2 might look like. I suspect that anxiety has some part to play for example that reading the daily gloom and doom disaster media could easily provoke an ongoing state of anxiety because so much bad stuff happens all the time. I happen to believe that some in the prepping community either start in a state of anxiety and some may even develop higher anxiety as they get into the subject as its all too easy to find confirmation bias nearly everywhere we look. For some though the anxiety and worry is what brings them to the subject, it might just be one things that sparks the interest, and that by doing the work, making the plans and creating practical solutions that the anxiety is then mastered in a ‘can deal with that approach’. Where i am now interested is in the question of whether a ‘natural’ sense of disaster and apocalypse for example just exists buried not so far down in western thought : it appears strongly in the christian and judaic religions for example as far back as the flood (Noah built a boat) and right up to the almost hallucinogenic visions of the end times as seen in revelations. So possibly its right there in our unconscious state and that’s the kind of thing i would love to hear the good doctor expound on.
For now i am going to get outside, set the pump up and irrigate the deep beds : the potatoes and onions are coming across nicely and then i will take a walk and bring back some of next years firewood.
I have never been comfortable with the term ‘prepper’ and mainly because of the image it creates in many peoples minds : i rather think of myself as somebody who practices some degree of preparedness and has a greater degree of self-reliance rather than total state or system reliance.
Stephen Mundane wrote : “Thought-provoking read Steve, thanks. The Boy Scouts have the right idea! As for the winter of discontent, I remember it well: eating home made bread by candle light and going to bed in your coat — good times. I doubt many members of Generation Y keep a candle and matches at the back of the draw and plenty of tinned food in the cupboard — par for the course for us though. There’s nothing wrong with self-reliance and preparedness as long as it’s not taken too far, as you point out, so I’m very glad to see that your woodshed hasn’t been hardened against small arms fire 😉 As for our us westerners’ and our sense of impending doom and even desire for it, this erudite tome is worth a read:
Link copy : https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=03mzgiknmtAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
Me : i take many of my basic attitudes not from my parents generation but from my grandparents : it was grandma who always kept a well stocked larder and gramps that went out shooting pheasant which was hung in the cold back passage. Something i didn’t say in the short essay is how sailing is almost all preparedness and/or improvisation and how general seamanship skills are valuable in everyday life : just keeping watch and being observant for example. Here (UK) i moderate on a preparedness forum and generally speak against the occasional outburst of extreme weirdness that breaks out but while fully understanding why folks get a bit het-up from time to time. In the very last section of the essay i have just started to explore myself where the major themes do come from : they clearly go back a long way. Obviously i do also see life through a slightly different lens to many as i have also worked a long haul in the sharp end of healthcare….even the work i do now is the kind of work that has to tell people that we have found things like the big C within them and that their lifespan is maybe going to be a lot shorter than expected.
I didn’t post this initially but will add it in because Dr Petersen has briefly mentioned the same theme both in a personal sense and as potentially a universal idea.