This is the problem when the self is endowed with divinity, and it’s a weakness that Emerson acknowledged: if the only measure of greatness is how big an iconoclast you are, then there really is no difference between coming up with the theory of relativity, plugging in an electric guitar, leading a civil rights movement or spending great gobs of your own money to fly a balloon across the Atlantic. In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson addresses this potentially fatal flaw to his thinking with a principle he calls “the law of consciousness.” (It is not convincing.) Every one of us has two confessionals, he writes. At the first, we clear our actions in the mirror (a recapitulation of the dictum “trust thyself”). At the second, we consider whether we’ve fulfilled our obligations to our families, neighbors, communities and — here Emerson can’t resist a bit of snark — our cats and dogs. Which confessional is the higher one? To whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance? It’s not even a contest.
There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this. What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham's voice, and dignity into Washington's port, and America into Adams's eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.
Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that for ever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.
Articles on the subject appeared in small-distribution libertarian publications such as The Innovator and Atlantis Quarterly. It was during this period that Robert D. Kephart began publishing Inflation Survival Letter (later renamed Personal Finance). For several years the newsletter included a continuing section on personal preparedness written by Stephens. It promoted expensive seminars around the US on similar cautionary topics. Stephens participated, along with James McKeever and other defensive investing, "hard money" advocates.
Young’s observations rang true: Though the Wise Company meals would keep me alive in the event of an emergency, they were simply a lot more carbheavy, with a lot less animal protein and a lot fewer vegetables, than what I eat on a typical day (many of the Wise meals I bought substituted small globules of vegetable protein for actual meat). For the next two days, I supplemented my diet with freeze-dried vegetables, fruit, and yogurt I’d bought from another company, called Thrive Life, and felt the low-bloodsugar sensation dissipate. (Wise Company also sells individual ingredients, in addition to full meals, but I thought I’d diversify my sources.)
Luther’s decision to build up a pantry, she says, did more than help the family get by on a tiny budget. Later on, it would also help her through a divorce, the sudden death of her ex-partner at age 40, and getting laid off from two jobs in the automotive industry in the late 2000s. “I feel that it’s the whole reason my my mortgage didn’t go into default when I was unemployed, because I didn’t have to go to the grocery store and buy stuff,” Luther says of her experiences during the recession. “All the limited amount of money I had could go to paying the mortgage and keeping a roof over our head.”
That reaction, of course, means different things to different people. Some prep for economic disaster, while others prep to escape genetically modified foods. An organic farmer could be considered a prepper; so might an urban gardener. Some preppers fear putting their names out in public—they don't want every desperate soul knocking down their door in the event of a disaster—while others see it as a network they can rely upon were something horrible to happen. Some preppers fear the complete breakdown of society, while others simply want to stock up on extra granola bars and lighter fluid in case of a blackout or a storm. Hard-core survivalists might think of preppers as soft; "Eventually, the Chef Boyardee is going to run out," jokes Cody Lundin, the founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School, a survival camp based out of his home in Prescott, Az. But prepping, says Martin, is just a new word for a very old way of life. "You don't have to have a survival retreat loaded with guns secluded in the wilderness to be a prepper," adds David Hill Sr., 54, a former jet mechanic who runs the Web site WhatisaPrepper from his home in rural West Virginia. "There are many people who live in urban and suburban areas who don't own guns who also identify themselves as preppers."
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.--'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.'--Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world,--as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.
But about a year ago, Bedford's homemaking skills went into overdrive. She began stockpiling canned food, and converted a spare bedroom into a giant storage facility. The trunk of each of her family's cars got its own 72-hour emergency kit—giant Tupperware containers full of iodine, beef jerky, emergency blankets, and even a blood-clotting agent designed for the battle-wounded. Bedford started thinking about an escape plan in case her family needed to leave in a hurry, and she and her husband set aside packed suitcases and cash. Then, for the first time in her life, Bedford went to a gun range and shot a .22 handgun. Now she regularly takes her two young children, 7 and 10, to target practice. "Over the last two years, I started feeling more and more unsettled about everything I was seeing, and I started thinking, 'What if we were in the same boat?'" says Bedford, 49.
Mr. Edwards has also entered the Prepper market, and one day I accompanied him to Westchester to observe a consultation he was doing (at $120 an hour) for Jeff and Joanna Lee Doster, a couple in their 50s recently transplanted from Manhattan. The Dosters — he is a retired marketing executive, and she is the author of “Celebrity Bedroom Retreats” — found themselves without a home during Hurricane Sandy after the poorly timed sale of their apartment on West 57th Street.
Herman Melville's Moby-Dick has been read as a critique of Emerson's philosophy of self-reliance, embodied particularly in the life and death of Ahab. Melville's critique of self-reliance as a way of life is seen to lie in its destructive potential, especially when taken to extremes. Richard Chase writes that for Melville, 'Death–spiritual, emotional, physical–is the price of self-reliance when it is pushed to the point of solipsism, where the world has no existence apart from the all-sufficient self.'In that regard, Chase sees Melville's art as antithetical to that of Emerson's thought, in that Melville '[points] up the dangers of an exaggerated self-regard, rather than, as [...] Emerson loved to do, [suggested] the vital possibilities of the self.'Newton Arvin further suggests that self-reliance was, for Melville, really the '[masquerade in kingly weeds of] a wild egoism, anarchic, irresponsible, and destructive.'
Pense was born in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. He was 5 years old when the bombs fell over Pearl Harbor. His food was rationed. He got bronchiectasis during Black Sunday as an infant and “forgot to tell” the Army so he could serve; he stayed in the service until the doctors found out. He’s a product of a generation when people were prepared, not because it was stylish or social, but because it was what you had to do. He tells me all this as his still-strong arm puts another log on the fire, and I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like when resilient people like him are gone.
A Prepper is not the same as a Survivalist. A Survivalist typically focuses on learning primitive and other woodsmen skills and have very little focus on actually stocking up supplies and building an extensive repository of every needful thing. Whereas Survivalists prepare and learn to live off the land, Preppers prepare to maintain their current lifestyle as much as possible. While they are not synonymous, many Preppers are also Survivalists and are very adept at living off the land. Likewise, many Survivalists are Preppers and store resources to be able to sustain their Standard of Living.
“A bug-out bag is meant to get you to a location. Sometimes people are misinformed and try to load everything and the kitchen sink into that bag, and that’s not a good approach. You usually have a place you’re going to, like a family member’s house or a country home or a cabin or something along those lines, so it’s all about what’ll hold you over until you get to that place. One of the most important things is water, so you’ll want the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. That’s the one that the preparedness community talks about the most. You can filter 10,000 gallons with one of those. The top-of-the-line is Katadyn, but I haven’t seen a Katadyn talked about in years. Usually, it’s just too expensive, and the Sawyer is smaller and more compact.”
Fletch runs the YouTube channel OzarksTactical Homesteading, the description of which reads, “Liberty-minded, faith-based, pro-Second Amendment, pro–home school.” He posts videos on prepping and reviews tactical gear from his property somewhere in northwest Arkansas. Occasionally, Fletch records rants in the car. The mainstream media and Walmart door greeters—the “door gestapo”—are recent targets of his iPhone manifesto. He’s gained more than 5,000 subscribers since launching the channel in 2011.
Religion, however, has everything to do with prepping—there are things about your faith that affect the way you live, Fletch says, offering me an example. “Today, a great deal [on the menu] was the special you had,” he says. “Every one of the specials had pork in it. Well, depending on your belief system and where you’re coming from, Dan, you could’ve made several decisions about me.” He’s right; I could’ve thought he assumed the breakfast was on me, so he ordered the most expensive dish on the menu. And those assumptions, he says, can break up a group. “If 99 percent of the people in your group don’t eat pork, and you bring in some person eating a ham sandwich next to you, that’s going to cause some conflict.”
The news and many authors would have us reverse that equation. We are convinced that it is terribly important we understand all of what’s going on in the world every single day. More often than not, headlines are distractions–and not enjoyable ones. They convince us the world is burning and that we ought to fear our neighbors. They convince us that the economy is in the dumps and there are no jobs, so why even try?
The excessive love of individual liberty that debases our national politics? It found its original poet in Ralph Waldo. The plague of devices that keep us staring into the shallow puddle of our dopamine reactions, caressing our touch screens for another fix of our own importance? That’s right: it all started with Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” Our fetish for the authentically homespun and the American affliction of ignoring volumes of evidence in favor of the flashes that meet the eye, the hunches that seize the gut? It’s Emerson again, skulking through Harvard Yard in his cravat and greasy undertaker’s waistcoat, while in his mind he’s trailing silken robes fit for Zoroaster and levitating on the grass.
About a month after I left meetup 2.0 at Pizza Hut, former attendee Garland Fitzhugh called to tell me it’s become more of an ‘eat-up’ than a prepper meetup—fair, considering there’s been no local calamity to keep the group on its toes. Allen emails meeting suggestions to a prepper listserv, asking them to focus on prepping situations they can actually influence. He may as well type in Wingdings. A former Navy technician, Allen spent most of the meeting on his phone; his ears only perk up when Andrew: says something about naval intelligence that piques his interest. “I try not to do that too much,” he tells me later.
In the end, what it all boils down to, at least for the preppers, is self-reliance—a concept as old as the human race itself. As survival blogger John Solomon pointed out in a recent column, during the Victory Gardens of WWII, Americans managed to grow 40 percent of all the vegetables they needed to survive. "My mother's parents had a 10-acre garden, and my grandfather worked at the dairy farm next door," says Hill, the former jet mechanic. "They worked by raising their own food, they had their own chickens, they canned vegetables, and my grandfather fed a family of 12 like that." But in the modern world, he says, many of those skills are easily forgotten. Today, our food comes from dozens of different sources. Most of us aren't quite sure how electricity gets from the wires to our stoves. We use debit cards to buy a can of tuna and we wouldn't have the slightest idea how to filter contaminated water. We are residents of the new millennium; we simply haven't needed to prepare.
People with disabilities may be especially vulnerable during and after emergencies. In an emergency, many systems you rely on may not function as well as they usually do. Familiar landmarks and usual travel routes you and your service animal know may be altered. Utilities like electricity, water, gas and phone service may be disrupted. You might need to temporarily evacuate to a shelter which may not be fully accessible for your needs. The tips and strategies in this newsletter can help you plan to be prepared for these situations.