By his own estimate, Pense says there are a few thousand people in the Springfield area who have listened and who are ready. The preppers. Most don’t like to be called preppers because of the connotation that they’re crazy; Chicken Little wasn’t well-received by his people, either. Most don’t even like to talk about it, but a few of them do. So for three months toward the end of 2017, I sought out the preppers to find out: Is it really crazy to live like the sky is falling?
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.
In fact, there may never have been a time when developing this type of self-reliance has been more important. We’re over-politicized and polarized. Advertisements are creeping further and further into our content, making them less obvious. The Internet has given us two or two-thousand sides to every story. Social media feeds allow our peers to weigh in on our every decision. The comment section of a blog post allows us to see what other people thought of an article before we’ve formed our own opinion. It’s increasingly difficult to live a life that is inner-directed rather than other-directed.
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.
Action is a part of self-reliance, but so is introspection, else how will you know what action to take? We’ve got to remain fixed on our own path, and can’t know what that path is unless we’re tuned into our true wants and desires, and are able to admit that those aims are valid — even if they’re not connected to the kind of status markers of which society typically approves.
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.
Before it does another generation’s worth of damage to the American psyche, let’s put an end to the foul reign of “Self-Reliance” and let the scholars pick over the meaning of its carcass. One question first, though: Is there anything worth salvaging among the spiritualist ramblings, obscure metaphysics and aphorisms so pandering that Joel Osteen might think twice about delivering them? Is there an essential part of Emerson’s signature essay that we’ve somehow lost sight of?
Strategic Objective 2: Countermeasures are used to protect communities from the adverse health impacts of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and other incidents. NHSS describes a vision for preventing and mitigating adverse health consequences that includes sustaining medical countermeasures and strengthening the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions within the Nation’s countermeasure capability.4,5
“If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
I connected with Jennifer through Daisy Luther, the Virginia-based writer and survival preparedness expert behind the blog The Organic Prepper, which boasts more than 30,000 followers on Facebook and roughly 32,000 monthly visits on Pinterest. Jennifer says she learned a lot about prepping from the site and is a member of its affiliated private Facebook group, which Luther says is nearly 77 percent women. (Luther and other bloggers I spoke with for this story say that while they approach survivalism from a female perspective, they’ve encountered no small number of men who are interested in these practices as well.)
(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.)
He tells us that no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him without putting in the necessary work. You will reap what you sow. No one will hand you anything in life — you have to work for it. No one else but you knows what you are to do with your time here. No one else but you can find out what you should be doing with your time here. But you certainly will never find anything if you never even try.
But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men's. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say,--'Come out unto us.' But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. "What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love."
And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, — long intervals of time, years, centuries, — are of no account. This which I think and feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and what is called life, and what is called death.
It takes faith to listen to and trust in that quiet inner voice, especially when it sends us off in seemingly unrelated directions This can be the voice of conscience, the voice of experience, or the voice of the divine. A theist might hear their inner voice as God’s instead of their own, but the task of trusting and following these promptings, rather than dismissing them, remains.
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.
“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”