"Prepping," or getting ready to live without societal support, is apparently a largely American activity, and a recent one. Companies that cater to people who want to be self-reliant for food, water, and power have grown their revenue by about 700 percent over the last decade, and prepper products are now offered in places like Costco, Kmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

And while most of them will tell you they got into survivalism out of an interest in self-reliance, that spirit by no means excludes a sense of cooperation. It’s there in the endless churn of blog posts, advice columns, Pinterest boards, Facebook groups, online classes, and digital marketplaces these women use to connect and swap information every day. And it’s here at Wild Abundance, in the open-air living room, where a woman with short hair and tattoos balances two tall boards of wood on the ground as another starts screwing in the shelves that will connect them into a bookcase.
Although he had a cold when we met at his office in Harlem, Dr. Redlener was a soothing presence — bearded, erudite and open to the notion that ordinary people have a central role in emergency preparedness. The government, he told me, reacted decisively after 9/11, establishing the Department of Homeland Security, so why shouldn’t everyday citizens react?
It was, however, the first spiritual healing session since Andrew: took over. Andrew: is a Mennonite, hardly a contemporary sect of Christianity—the denomination is currently split on whether homosexuality is a sin. Andrew: believes Christians are being persecuted in the United States today, and the “sodomites” are lucky. Because they “don’t have children,” he says, the Department of Human Services can’t take their kids away, like they did his first daughter 30 years ago when the 22-month-old burned herself on a range stove and Andrew: refused to take her to the hospital because he doesn’t trust doctors. I asked what he meant by sodomites. “The gay community,” he says. “The scripture calls them sodomites, so we have to be honest. They’re not gay at all; usually they’re very unhappy.”
When I asked about some of those I had met along the way — say, the geared-up 12-year-old, Leonardo Ruiz Jr., who, dropping his suspicions, later gave his name to a photographer — he gave a forbearing smile. “There’s a spectrum,” Dr. Redlener said. “On one end is mindless complacency. On the other is paranoia. The challenge is to find that place in the middle where you understand that bad things can happen, but it doesn’t consume your life.”
In practice, the process can be a bit tricky. Freeze-dried meals require that you have potable water lying around, which might not be the case in the event of a serious calamity (some Wise Company kits include water purifiers). The cooking instructions for the Wise products I tested call for using the entire four-serving bag at once, which means that you have to have a container on hand to store what you don’t eat, and a fridge to keep it from spoiling. Even at my office kitchen, the only way I could make it work was by pouring about a fourth of the packet in a mug, filling it with water, and putting another mug on top of it.

For years I blamed Mr. Sideways — and the money fever of the 1980s — for this weird episode of hucksterism in English class. But that was being unfair. Our teacher had merely fallen under the spell, like countless others before and after, of the most pernicious piece of literature in the American canon. The whim that inspired him to lead a seminar in house-flipping to a stupefied under-age audience was Emerson’s handiwork. “All that Adam had,” he goads in his essay “Nature,” “all that Caesar could, you have and can do.” Oh, the deception! The rank insincerity! It’s just like the Devil in Mutton Chops to promise an orgiastic communion fit for the gods, only to deliver a gospel of “self-conceit so intensely intellectual,” as Melville complained, “that at first one hesitates to call it by its right name.”
For a time in the 1970s, the terms survivalist and retreater were used interchangeably. While the term retreater eventually fell into disuse, many who subscribed to it saw retreating as the more rational approach to conflict-avoidance and remote "invisibility". Survivalism, on the other hand, tended to take on a more media-sensationalized, combative, "shoot-it-out-with-the-looters" image.[9]
“We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
The larger problem with the essay, and its more lasting legacy as a cornerstone of the American identity, has been Emerson’s tacit endorsement of a radically self-centered worldview. It’s a lot like the Ptolemaic model of the planets that preceded Copernicus; the sun, the moon and the stars revolve around our portable reclining chairs, and whatever contradicts our right to harbor misconceptions — whether it be Birtherism, climate-science denial or the conviction that Trader Joe’s sells good food — is the prattle of the unenlightened majority and can be dismissed out of hand.

(Clarifying note: best practices are best practices for a reason. Most successful companies don’t innovate, but copy in clever ways. Bob Dylan’s first album had no original songs on it — but he made each of those songs his own. We should always do what’s working as long as we can be ourselves while we do it. Often, originality doesn’t mean coming up with something totally novel, but combining tried and true elements in a new way — a creative endeavor that becomes impossible if you become a slave to the experts who say the best method has already been discovered and can never be altered or improved upon.)
A good prepper always strives to acquire new knowledge and skills. For many people, prepping simply means going on a shopping spree: they buy extra food and water; they prepare a bug out bag and get themselves a cool machete or combat axe and camo outfit, and do nothing other than that. They don’t practice their skills, and after a while, the novelty wears off and they forget all about survival.

In the wake of these insights, I called a family friend in Ohio, himself half-a-Prepper, and he advised me to purchase a quantity of Silver Eagle coins as an inflation hedge, which I did. Not long after came the hundred-dollar, home-delivered month’s supply of freeze-dried food — in the standard and the vegetarian options — from Costco.com. I bought my wife, which is to say, myself, John Seymour’s homesteading classic, “The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It.” I began the conversation about acquiring a gun.


Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made by the study of Shakspeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

Jennifer had already taken the necessary precautions the night Hurricane Maria came barreling through the Caribbean. The 46-year-old stay-at-home mom, who lives on two acres of land with her husband and four children atop a mountain in Manati, Puerto Rico, was ready to make use of the filter she’d purchased for sterilizing rainwater in case the taps ran dry. And she didn’t have to worry about food, because her pantry was already stocked with two-and-a-half years’ worth: giant buckets of lentils, flour, and rice; shelves lined with mason jars of fruits and vegetables she had grown and canned herself.


The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue. For every Stoic was a Stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?

The funny thing about freeze-drying is it’s kind of an exception to the rule. Removing all the water from a floret of broccoli, for example, doesn’t turn it into something new; it simply transforms it into a slightly lesser version of itself. “Once you change the physical structure of something by drying it out all the way,” Allen said, “the texture is never really the same.”
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.'[9]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.'[9]Newton Arvin further suggests that self-reliance was, for Melville, really the '[masquerade in kingly weeds of] a wild egoism, anarchic, irresponsible, and destructive.'[10]
Emerson tells us to take action and get to work. He tells us that to envy great and successful people is to be ignorant. What’s the point of being jealous of what other people have and what paths other people are walking? We are simply unaware of what we truly want in our lives and decide that living the life that “looks” fun, comfortable and filled with luxury is what we want.
Modern-day survivalists aren't generally regarded as the most sane people on the planet. A quick look at any one of the disturbingly common and frighteningly thorough shopping lists they post online drives home the fact that anyone who self-identifies as a "prepper" most likely went off the deep end a long time ago. Sure, it's fine to keep a few extra cans of food and cases of water around for an emergency, but if you start adding body armor and butt paste to your stash, you might want to tell George Miller that it's time to see other people.
“[M]ost men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief,” a disenchanted Emerson observed, “and attached themselves to . . . communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, but false in all particulars.” Society operates like a corporation that requires its shareholders to sacrifice their rights for the comfort of all, Emerson believed. Instead of “realities and creators,” it gives men “names and customs.”
These people aren’t prepared because they’re truly passionate about survival — they’re really just very organized and have supplies on hand for handling everyday emergencies. For example, they might have a well-stocked first aid kit and a drawer full of flashlights and batteries in case of a power outage. These are great things, but in a true SHTF situation, they’re not enough.
For Erica Nygaard, an Iowa-based mother of four who started storing and growing her own food after a divorce 11 years ago, the desire to prepare for the future stems directly from the vulnerability one can feel as a single mom. “When you become a single parent, that weight really hits you: I am completely responsible [for my children,] no matter what. No matter what happens, these four people have to be taken care of.”
The End Of The World As We Know It or TEOTWAWKI is a common acronym for Preppers to use.  It is perceived from a personal level and indicates the end of a the way we know the world from our own viewpoint.  This can include our viewpoint of the world from a personal, family, neighborhood, town, state, regional, national or world level.  Many people suffer a catastrophic TEOTWAWKI on a family level that their friends and extended family may never be aware of.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”


Whereas Christ alone has traditionally been regarded as the Word made flesh, Emerson regards every human potentially as a reincarnation of the Word. Consequently, regret of the past and prayer for the future as a means to effect private ends are both diseases of human will and should be avoided. Traveling with the hope to see something greater than the self, in Emerson’s view, would simply be senseless. As a result of this moralistic view, society, like nature, may change but never advance. Typical of his conclusions, the end of this essay, which repeats the theme of self-reliance and predicts the subjugation of Chance under human will based on self-reliance, sounds greatly optimistic.
Emerson, in fact, formed deep friendships with his family and other people, and often gathered with them to discuss philosophy and sharpen each other’s thinking. He and other members of these sort of mutual improvement societies took the strength they gathered from their meetings, and, rather than being insular and looking to completely withdraw from the world, actively sought to engage it and were often quite politically active. Self-reliance was a means of helping others; you can only reach down to pull another up, if you’re on solid ground yourself.

While survivalists accept the long-term viability of Western civilization, they learn principles and techniques needed for surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and place. They prepare for such calamities that could result in physical harm or requiring immediate attention or defense from threats. These disasters could be biotic or abiotic. Survivalists combat disasters by attempting to prevent and mitigate damage caused by these factors.[31][32]
“I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions”

This group focuses on surviving brief encounters of violent activity, including personal protection and its legal ramifications, danger awareness, John Boyd's cycle (also known as the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act), martial arts, self-defense tactics and tools (both lethal and non-lethal). These survivalist tactics are often firearm-oriented, in order to ensure a method of defense against attackers or home invasion.
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[6] (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.

It was, however, the first spiritual healing session since Andrew: took over. Andrew: is a Mennonite, hardly a contemporary sect of Christianity—the denomination is currently split on whether homosexuality is a sin. Andrew: believes Christians are being persecuted in the United States today, and the “sodomites” are lucky. Because they “don’t have children,” he says, the Department of Human Services can’t take their kids away, like they did his first daughter 30 years ago when the 22-month-old burned herself on a range stove and Andrew: refused to take her to the hospital because he doesn’t trust doctors. I asked what he meant by sodomites. “The gay community,” he says. “The scripture calls them sodomites, so we have to be honest. They’re not gay at all; usually they’re very unhappy.”
FEMA recognizes that widespread cultural change is a long-term process, and while the national statistics on basic preparedness actions have remained largely constant, findings documented in Preparedness in America offer valuable insights for adapting education efforts to increase preparedness. Key findings from the research focus on the public’s behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes related to preparing for a range of hazards.
×