What exactly are the "survivalists" preparing for?

Original author: John Timmer
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Among their motivations are warnings from the government and media coverage of disasters.

To a real survivor, such a set will seem inadequate

Survivalists , or survivors - people who are preparing to survive without the support of society - seem to represent a rather large movement among US residents, and quite recent [ in fact, they exist from the Cold War, mid 70s / approx. trans. ]. Over the past decade, companies that provide the needs of people who want to make independent supplies of food, water and energy have increased their profits by 700%. In the USA, products for survivalists are sold at supermarkets such as Costco [self-service warehouses], Kmart [clothing, electronics, household goods] and Bed Bath & Beyond [bathroom, kitchen, bedroom] stores.

But it is not clear why this growth is happening - why more and more people are preparing for a public collapse? Some explanations rest on the tendency to paranoia in American society or on the fear of terrorists or natural disasters. But the real evidence that would support any of these explanations, as the main cause of growth, is rather small.

Michael Mills of the University of Kent, UK, has decided to bridge this knowledge gap. He went on a trip to America, spent time talking (and butchering prey) with 39 different survivors in 18 US states. Mills believes that the survivalists are driven not by insane paranoia, but by the constant concentration of the media on covering natural disasters, and the statements of the government urging citizens to prepare for the worst.

Price of fear

From the point of view of society, the survivalists (when society generally pays attention to them) are people who are preparing for the collapse of society, after which money, power lines, and everything that depends on them, will no longer be accessible. Survivors are preparing to purify water before drinking, to hunt and butcher prey, to scare away anyone who tries to encroach on a piece of their post-apocalyptic happiness, perhaps even with the help of a firearm. Perhaps even building bunkers.

But this view is partially imposed by the most famous of the varieties of the survivalists: the people who were told in the reality show Doomsday Preppersmarching on National Geographic. This show has also penetrated academic literature: Mills quoted a study analyzing the psychology of the people who participated in it. Although Mills does not say this directly, it is wise to think about whether it is possible to get a correct idea of ​​the community of life-givers only on the basis of those people whom the producers of this show considered most suitable for television.

To find out everything on his own, Mills gave ads on popular sites for survivors, typed in a team and began his journey. His goal was not quantitative research; it was an ethnographic expedition, during which he mostly talked to people, spent time with them, and looked for parallels in their ways of thinking. It is important to note that, regardless of the popularity of the sites for the survivors, it is unlikely that they give a complete cut of this community - just like a sample of people who agreed to talk with the researcher. However, such a study will probably be deeper than just observing a sample of people well suited for television shows.

In fact, one of them said so to Mills - this is “not the same thing as the Doomsday Preppers show”. These people did not prepare for the complete collapse of society. They were preparing for the local collapse of the usual services, which can take several months. Not Armageddon, but some hurricane Irma - which has not yet hit the country when Mills conducted his interviews. However, after this, Mills said that preparing for survival for a couple of months without key services is a serious underestimation of what might be required. There are usually enough survivors' reserves for a couple of months, and Mills said that they usually rate these reserves as “more than they might need.”

Another key difference is that the survivalists have no expectation of a certain cataclysm that should occur. Some of them lived in places prone to flooding during floods, but they also always mentioned such dangers as terrorism or the spread of new diseases. For many of them, such risks did not lead to a sense of imminent disaster. Preparing for the misfortune was more "just in case." As Mills concluded: “Their fears usually arise as a reaction to many different disasters that are widely reported and recognized in American culture.”

Media and government

Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes - in the United States there are quite a few places that do not have the risks of natural disasters, and terrorist attacks and outbreaks of new diseases can occur almost everywhere. So, what factors make some people react to such risks, preparing to survive without the services provided by private individuals and the government, and without the support of emergency services?

One of the factors, according to Mills, is that the organizations responsible for the work of the emergency services say that people should be able to cope with the disaster and independently. "Federal agencies encourage American citizens to think about survival in emergency situations without their help," writes Mills. The government also warns people about the need to prepare for risks that have not been realized. Since 2003, one of the groups in the US Department of Homeland Security has warned people about the need to have "a safe room, adhesive tape and plastic sheets necessary to ensure home security against (not previously occurring) chemical attacks by terrorists."

The second motivation comes from the media, prone to provide continuous coverage of natural disasters and their consequences. Mills says almost all respondents mentioned Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, or both. Mills's journey took place in 2014, so Ebola and ISIS [ banned terrorist organization in the Russian Federation / approx. trans. ] were often mentioned by survivors as risks.

He concluded that the survivalists react to what they hear: "Preparing for survival is a phenomenon with a clear, and not yet recognized, connection with spreading information about the risks and problems of the United States of the 21st century." In other words, preparation for survival may be an unusual response to problems arising from trying to tell society about risks, but this is one of the options that are in the whole spectrum of different reactions, and not a separate phenomenon.

Such an explanation, Mills writes, still leaves several questions open - for example, why such a reaction is so popular in the US, and why many of those citizens who face the same risks cannot even stock up on a pair of water bottles or pack a backpack with the most necessary.

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