Let's discuss "survivalism" vs "prepping"

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about survivalism, and about preparedness in general. I’m not talking about every-day measures like keeping a shovel and a first-aid kit in your car, I’m talking about the people who are preparing for the end of the world, stockpiling food, water and ammo in hardened underground bunkers.

There seems to be a particularly American slant to the whole notion - certainly it’s harder to find people in the UK with the same mindset. Perhaps this is because, intermittent flooding aside, we don’t normally experience extreme natural disasters on the scale of Katrina, etc?

Yes I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. I can see the appeal of enduring - of surviving the worst and re-creating something better from a clean slate, but I don’t actually expect global societal collapse and destruction. I don’t expect the world to end up like the “Fallout” series of video games (even though they were kick-ass games!).

So I guess what I’m asking is, is there any validity to the survivalist mindset? Preparing to handle things and care for your family in the event of a natural disaster just seems prudent, but what about those who take things further? Do you really need a year’s supply of preserved food and an arsenal? Is there a grain of truth to the worst-case scenarios? How do people cope living with that kind of all-encompassing fear? If I seriously thought that the end of the world was nigh and lived in a persistent bunker mentality, I think that kind of fear and depression would be damaging.

What do you think? I know that some Dopers consider themselves “Preppers”, but do you consider yourself a “survivalist” as well?

First, I think preppers and survivalist are pretty much the same thing. It’s just that prepper came in fashion because survivalist had some negative connotations attached to it. Connotations which I have no doubt will soon be attached to the word prepper if it hasn’t already happened.

Are any of their preparations reasonable? Well, I don’t know. At some point in the future we in the west will experience famine again. Bad weather, war, a new fungus that destroys grains or a disruption in distribution will result in a shortage of food being available. When will it happen? How likely is it to happen soon? I sure don’t know. It doesn’t seem reasonable to sink so many household resources into having enough food and supplies to live for a few years. It seems especially silly to build bunkers or buy outlandish vehicles.

Actually, it’s probably quite good for your mental health, in a way. Having the feeling that you are in control of your life, and that you can influence future outcomes is VERY important to happiness. So they feel that some element in the world is “out of control” and “prepping” lets them have control over the situation. Preppers are probably very happy people.

WRT to realism of their fears: I think that some of the events for which they are prepping have a small possibility of happening, but I doubt they would play out the way they imagine. The scenarios they dream up seem to be very detailed and precise. After the flood there will be no food for 5 years. There will be marauding hordes looking for food, they’ll be a tribe of 50 young men approaching from the east, etc.

Additionally, I think all of the disaster they describe (on the nat geo series) are equally (un)likely, but they only ever seem to prep for one particular thing. And then they only prep for one particular outcome of the event.

Ah well. Most old people I know have had very, very well stocked larders since the Hunger Winter of 1945. It’s understandable, you need control over these things. Having a stocked larder makes them happy, good for them.

Neither does the US, really.

What makes you so certain that we’ll experience famine? Are where do you draw the line between prudent preparation and paranoid stockpiling? Is 1 month’s worth of food sensible or too much? What about a year?

It certainly looks like a “if your only tool is a hammer” situation. Regardless of the particulars of their personal total societal collapse scenario, the solutions seem to come back to hunkering down in a fortified position and fighting off the newly de-civilized hordes, Mad Max style.

A cynical take on this is that it’s a marketing opportunity to take advantage of Americans deep love of buying lots of toys we don’t need and rarely use. Real disaster preparedness mostly involves specialized knowledge of things like first aid, landslide zones, or flood plains and cheap consumer goods like bottled water and closed-toe shoes. The end of the world as we know it means that you can sell shit tons of expensive stuff to these people that is of little to no value in a typical emergency: “Tactical” guns, truckloads of ammo, hand-cranked flour mills, etc.

It would take someone even more cynical than me to speculate on potential links between the political views of survivalists and their obsession with masses of outsiders (who didn’t take responsibility for themselves) showing up at one’s door and trying to redistribute one’s stuff by force.

Isn’t this really similar to taking out any kind of insurance plan? Or the wisdom of having a few months salary saved up in case of unemployment?

The more likely you deem a catastrophe and how long it would last would determine your answers. The idea that a problem would stop food supplies anywhere in the USA for longer than a month or two seems pretty unlikely and to me borders on “paranoid stockpiling”. As long as you rotate food out of your doomsday pantry, it needn’t be a large burden.

Some of it is simply a reaction to the insulating, coddling culture we’ve constructed for ourselves. There are plenty of people, like myself, who do not hoard or prep, but simply learn and practice a variety of skills so that in event of a major disaster we aren’t part of the shit out of luck twerps waiting on the roof for assistance. I don’t HOPE for something terrible like that to happen, but if it ever went down, ( and in Florida we do get devastating hurricanes occasionally) having a plan of action, and the tools and skills to survive without outside assistance is comforting. It also means that we aren’t tied to our home or community should we choose to leave suddenly, or just “leave it all behind” and start over somewhere. Even in the roughest conditions I can provide food, water, shelter, and warmth to my family without help. That makes me feel confident.

Actually, the odds are against it. Most (but not all) thinking on the cause of famines revolves around not the scarcity of food, but breakdowns in the economic, political, and societal structures that allow for trade. We have such a diversity of food options that even if some catastrophic fungus infection of wheat occurred in the US, we could either buy wheat from overseas, or eat rice, corn, quinoa, or whatever. To believe the west is inevitably going to experience a famine is really implying that trade and society are going to fall apart, which moves that theory clearly into the “survivalist” camp.

What skill will provide food if all the roads are washed out? All the edible flora you’ve memorized might be underwater too. Hunting in a flood could be problematic as well.

Good thing that floods are localized, temporary events that sometimes even have advance warning. The entire country is unlikely to flood at once, so even if one is caught completely by surprise, it is reasonable to expect aid from outside long before a couple cases of bottled water and the contents of the pantry run out. A doomsday bunker with rifles and farming equipment is massive overkill.

Here’s a half-assed decision tree:

  1. Is the entire country embroiled in a collapse of civilization?

Yes. It’s zombies, isn’t it? Good thing you have a bunker. You’re still screwed, though. Remember to save the last bullet for you.
No. Thank goodness. Go to 2.

  1. Is there early warning of an impending disaster, like maybe on CNN or the Weather Channel?

Yes. Go to 4.
No. Go to 3.

  1. That was sudden. Are you about to drown/die in a fire/get crushed by a building/be eaten by wildlife?

Yes. Survival gear won’t help you. Attempt to escape, then go to 4, good luck.
No. Go to 4.
4. Are there open roads?

Yes. No need for survival gear. Drive or hitch a ride to an unaffected area. Purchase food and shelter, wait until conditions improve. Maybe a good time to think about whether the inconvenience of living here is worth the nice view.
No. Hang out in a safe place, ie. not on fire or underwater. Drink bottled water, eat non-spoiled food, read a book. Help should start coming in from the rest of the world within a few days. Ponder view vs. no hot water conundrum.

I suspect that although they may be happy, there’s probably a fair component of mental illness or flat-out stupidity on the part of many of the “preppers.” At the very least, there’s definitely a flawed ability to assess risk on their part.

My personal opinion is that we wouldn’t have a sudden, unexpected collapse of civilization; that hasn’t generally happened on a small scale when there have been disasters, and it’s far more likely that what might happen would be a series of hits to our standard of living in the case of peak oil, financial collapse, etc… We might end up living much more like our depression-era ancestors- money might be really tight for things that aren’t essential to survival, like extra clothes, etc…

And… one man’s prepper/survivalist may just be considered prudent elsewhere. My parents and grandparents, as veterans of several large hurricanes and tropical storms in their lifetimes, have well stocked pantries/larders, and usually stockpile water starting in about June every year. They’re hardly preppers, but they realize living on or near the Gulf Coast, they’re vulnerable to hurricanes, and it’s not at all unlikely that they might be without power and/or water for weeks on end.

You’re right, Furious_Marmot. That is a half assed decision tree.

Like bump said, it really depends on where you are living as to how much trouble you can reasonably worry about. If you really are expected the end of civilization, then you should probably be keeping live rabbits or pigeons, not a year’s supply of canned ravioli.

IMO, it’s a matter of degrees.

During the ice storm of 2001 my neighborhood was without power for 2 weeks. My family and I could have survived on the contents of the pantry and freezer and the stack of firewood for the entire time if we hadn’t had family we could stay with.

If I were a survivalist we would have been good for at least a year.

That’s my point. No reasonable person should waste their time and money on a doomsday bunker full of weapons to fight off bandits and equipment to start a farm because it is not reasonable to expect a wide-spread, civilization-ending disaster. As I said in a previous post, specialized knowlege of things like disaster escape routes and CPR along with a short-term supply of water and food are actually useful for those situations where disaster strikes suddenly.

For any reasonable emergency, a bunker is not appreciably more useful than a normal house. In a forecasted disaster, like a hurricane, you just leave if you think there’s enough danger or if you don’t want to deal with the likely inconvenience. In an unpredicatable disaster, like a tsunami, you may get stuck at home because roads are blocked. Either way, you simply don’t need to self-support for an extended period of time, because resources pour in from unaffected areas. Show me a disaster in the last 40 yearsthat was both unforeseen AND where more than a weeks worth of food and water would have been necessary, much less body armor and a team of oxen.

I’m certainly not a prepper, but if I suddenly had a serious overabundance of cash I’d probably install a small bunker and stock it with supplies to get me through a month or so, just for kicks. My reasoning is based on my own personal observations of human psychology. I’ve seen how people behave when snow is predicted here. I’ve witnessed the reaction to water shortages during droughts. If there was a major disruption of the power grid, for instance, people would be cool for a few days, maybe even a week or two. But gradually people would start panicking, and where a few are gathered crowd psychology would take over. Food supply trucks would be attacked in transport. Neighbors would start to suspect each other of coveting their resources. People would be afraid to leave their homes. I don’t think there would be total chaos and needless destruction of property like a lot of preppers seem to believe, but in this scenario families would need to be have a good stock of resources and the capacity to protect them. Personally, I don’t think it’s crazy to be at least modestly prepared for such contingencies, particularly if you live in an country where people aren’t accustomed to missing meals and not having constant access to basic needs and mindless diversions.

Also, while I do believe that hungry people would readily resort to theft to get food, the idea preppers seem to have of menacing hordes converging on their compound to raid their supplies seems utterly ridiculous. Realistically one needs the ability to defend oneself, i.e., a firearm or two. Attacking someone who is visibly armed would be an act of absolute desperation, reasonable only when all other options (foraging, hunting, fishing, etc) are exhausted. Besides, the best thing wouldn’t be to attack, but to send a weakened, malnurished child to beg for food. Do the preppers really think it would be as simple as good guys vs bad guys?

ISTM people in general are not very good at assessing risk. On that TV show people are spending inordinate amounts of their resources building doomsday bunkers in their back yard, or for a “bug-out” structure in the nearby mountains, in the very unlikely event of a catastrophic flood, or gamma-ray burst, or solar flare, global financial collapse, etc.

What they may be ignoring with this fantasy are risks that hit closer to home, such as their own health issues, or foreclosure of their home because they have sunk so much of their efforts into the fear. What good is all the prep if you are going to keel over from a heart attack as the event unfolds, or you loose your property (and background bunker) to the bank before anything happens?

As some of the other posts here have stated, there is a prudent level of preparedness one should seek to ensure survival and comfort for a disaster in their particular locale, and I completely concur. However, people can become obsessive about things without the proper checks and balances in place. The trick is to find the right balance without going overboard.

That Doomsday Preppers show looked a lot less stupid after living like Mr & Mrs Robert Neville for a week in Hoboken, NJ after Hurricane Sandy.

Having food, water and supplies to live without power or heat for several weeks is probably reasonible.
Preparing a bunker in case the world is hit by a gamma ray burst is probably a bit overboard.

Fishing; as well as catching turtle, frog, and alligator by hand line, pole or net. We’ve got lots of fruit trees around too. Washed out roads are not really a problem so long as you can swim. We don’t really have any hills or gullies here to create dangerous currents, so wading is fine.

One month’s food would be sensible, more than that I am not sure, it depends upon where you are located and if you could stay in place if you had more supplies.

I think it is a usefull mental exercise to imagine one week without food, water or power. This is a fairly common length of time before aid arrives to all areas after a natural disaster. Look in your cupboards, can you make daily meals for a week? If not you might want to stock a few more canned goods and dry things like flour and rice and oil.

What happens if you turn the faucet and no water comes out? You really need water. It sure would have been a good time to pick up a few cases of bottled water before this happened. Some areas have access to fresh water that can be filtered or boiled but others don’t. I have a freshwater stream running right through my property, so I don’t worry about water so much, but it is something to think about.

And these considerations will change depending upon rural vs urban living. Once the trucks cease their daily supply into the cities you are at the mercy of outside aid delivery. If the disaster area is great you might not survive the wait. What if it takes 2 or 3 weeks to get aid in? Things will fall apart fast. Where I live the farmers/ranchers would start slaughtering cattle and maybe keep a list of who needs to pay them back later. I think the whole Mad Max roving bands of criminals would not happen, people are better than you think.

Access to food and water for a week is essential, a month would be better, more than that is probably over kill.

A plan and a “bug out kit” that can be quickly grabbed if you have to leave in a hurry is a good idea. If you now have, or have ever had, young children you know what a “bug out” kit is. It’s that large bag with the formula, diapers, clean-ups, etc, that you always have prepared. Just think of an adult or family kit it the same way.