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.
Then, as the show-and-tell ended, he gave the prize for Best Bag to a precocious young Prepper whose kit included a fishing line, a seat belt cutter, ready-start fuel cubes, several types of multi-tools and a smoke hood. The winner had come with his mother and had dutifully prepared a bag for her. I wanted to talk with him, but when I approached, he asked if I was “press” and suspiciously refused to give his name.
“I was a computer jockey,” he says. “So for example, when you think of press 1, press 2, press 3 on the phone: I built one of the first systems in banking on the East Coast, and I apologize for that.” Finelli’s company began securitizing debt portfolios, a process that began in the ’80s and fed into the mid-2000s financial crisis. Finelli didn’t like that. “That’s when I had that moment of, ‘This is a house of cards,’” he says. So in the late 1980s, he quit and became a farmer, first out East, then in Grovespring by 2005.
It is difficult to write a review that is worthy of the greatness of this book. Poetically written, each essay is uniquely beautiful. It astonishes me to read a book from so long ago that is still so relevant today. I wish I could go back and have conversations with Emerson and Thoreau. Imagine the conversations they had with each other! It took me a while to read this, but it was important to me to take my time and understand each point he was making. This is the kind of book that one should reference throughout life. Emerson reminds us to trust in our soul above everything and let its force shine through. Only then will our lives have meaning.
The irony of this didn’t escape me: While I’d been drawn to freeze-dried food as a convenient way of preparing for a cataclysm that may never come, there I was, toiling away for hours in the kitchen to prepare a dish I’d be eating that night and the next day. It was the most fortifying meal I’d eaten all week, and a minor achievement: Thanks to the premeasured portions and easy-to-follow instructions, I’d learned how to make a chicken pot pie from scratch.
This group is concerned with the spread of fatal diseases, biological agents, and nerve gases, including swine flu, E. coli 0157, botulism, dengue fever, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, SARS, rabies, Hantavirus, anthrax, plague, cholera, HIV, ebola, Marburg virus, Lassa virus, sarin, and VX. In response, they might own NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) full-face respirators, polyethylene coveralls, PVC boots, nitrile gloves, plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Still, as I sat at my desk one afternoon, eyeing the colorful salads my coworkers were having for lunch, I realized the absurdity of my experiment: I live in a city with 24/7 access to fresh food and work a job that affords me the privilege of eating healthfully most of the time. Even quibbling over the nutritional content of these freeze-dried meals was something of a luxury, because I wasn’t in a position where I actually needed to eat them. Then again, you never know what’s going to happen.
What really doesn’t make any sense to Preppers is people who refuse to do anything about their personal well-being and safety. Preppers do not understand Fathers who are unwilling to take extra steps to make sure they are able to take care of their children when something bad happens. In fact, we consider it down-right irresponsible to be completely unprepared to feed your children and provide them with water and shelter.
What programs like Doomsday Preppers have accomplished, or at least contributed to, is turning sometimes well-informed, sometimes totally unwarranted paranoia into a booming prepper-industrial complex. Each year, swap meets pack hundreds of convention centers and fairgrounds across the nation—they’re like camping shows with a dose of military surplus and hands-on instructional sessions. The September 2017 Kansas City Survival Expo & Gun Show, for instance, had tips on seed saving, “Overcoming 900 Health Diseases” and “A Devastating Street Self-Defense System.” The latter was taught by Norman Cantwell, who inspired Patrick Swayze’s character in Roadhouse. You get the feeling that he and Steven Seagal would be friends.
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.
What Jennifer, a self-described prepper who declined to share her last name for security reasons, didn’t anticipate was the sheer force of Maria’s rains and 155 mile per hour winds — and how little the storm shutters would do to protect her home. “I was taking water out of the bedrooms, the living rooms, the hallways,” she says. “The house was flooded.” At one point, a piece of debris flew off a neighbor’s roof and got stuck between the outside wall of Jennifer’s pantry and the storm shutters, ripping off a pair of windows in the process.
While close friends visiting my home might be allowed a look at my haphazard bug-out bag, I mostly kept quiet about prepping, aware of the embarrassment I was courting. It was, therefore, with a measure of relief that I found myself this month among brethren Preppers who intuitively understood my desire to have at hand a packed supply of power bars or a LifeStraw personal drinking tool. You do meet Preppers in New York who are preparing for extreme events like solar flares or an eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera, but most say their concerns are more immediate, more local: chief among them being terrorist attacks, natural disasters and economic collapse.
In calling out to all the misfits and the rebels and the troublemakers, the “round pegs in square holes” who “see things differently” and have trouble with the rules, the ad evokes the ideal first created by Emerson of a rough-hewed outsider who changes the world through a combination of courage, tenacity, resourcefulness and that God-given wild card, genius. While Dreyfuss narrates, archival footage of the “crazy ones” flickers on the screen in black and white: Albert Einstein leads the way, followed by Bob Dylan, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a jubilant Richard Branson shaking a Champagne bottle in a flight suit.
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 where I have 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.
There are disaster medical kits designed for specific emergency situations. The most typical are those in the 72-hour emergency survival kits recommended by FEMA and other disaster preparedness agencies. If you want to have a disaster medical kit as part of your survival preparations, but don’t feel that you can afford one, consider creating your own.
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.”
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, 40 people gathered at a church in Washington Heights for a show-and-tell session sponsored by the New York City Preppers Network. One by one, they stood in front of the room and exhibited their “bug-out bags,” meticulously packed receptacles filled with equipment meant to see them through the collapse of civilization.
This type of prepper prides himself on how prepared he is for any apocalyptic event. He finds it hard to keep his mouth shut about his food preparation, water supply, and his self-sustaining environment that he built as a whole. The problem with this is if a disaster does happen, those ill-equipped groups will surely come for these religious preppers first.
Also in 2011, Finelli started running the Get Prepared Expo series at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, bringing in hundreds of exhibitors and more than 70 preparedness seminars. Before doors opened, he’d host a get-together at Ziggie’s Cafe on North Glenstone, which he soon moved to Jimmy’s Egg on East Battlefield to accommodate the crowd. At Jimmy’s Egg, Finelli found another platform from which to preach preparedness. He started drawing a crowd—more than 330 on expo weekends—so Finelli made Jimmy’s Egg a weekly affair. On Monday nights, his radio instructors showed up or Skype’d in to mold the minds of 50 to 100 students. The meetups—a name borrowed from Ron Paul’s 2012 community get-togethers—were also social events, although Finelli kept the BS to a minimum.