Imagine a world where everything's stopped funtioning: police, the medical system, the food distribution system, the internet and everything else electronic, and above all, the government itself.
That's the picture painted by a several groups of people prophesying the immenent destruction of society. But while there have always been people ready to proclaim the end is near, these folks aren't necessarily starting from a religious viewpoint. Instead, they're looking at current trends in politics, the economy, the climate, and even the earth's magnetic field. And their worst-case analysis: a huge "die-off" that will kill 90% of the population of the U.S.
There are many names for this loosely-forged movement; mainly they're known as survivalists or preppers. Their ethos can be summed up this way: Society is about to implode, and only the well-prepared can hope to survive the resulting chaos.
The literature of the survivalist movement is found in many blogs, books, podcasts and videos, but if you want to sample just a little, a recent posting on a blog called SHTF Plan (i.e. when the "Shit Hits The Fan") lays it all out for you. Alarmingly headlined The 'Die Off' Will Start Immediately After a Complete Collapse, the entry by one Mac Slavo predicts a vast "horde" of displaced people leaving cities in search of relief in outlying areas.
Why? Because cities will immediately become utterly depraved dystopias where crazed residents will burn, loot, rape, pillage, and slaughter each other. And why will that happen? Because the police forces and other security of the cities will immediately vanish. And why will they do that? Because they will go AWOL in order to defend their families. And why will their families need them to do that? Because the cities will be in chaos.
This circular reasoning lies at the foundation of the survivalist vision. A quick look at the blog post hints at the real attitides behind this fantasy: city residents are referred to as "the government-dependent welfare class," "yuppies and neo-hippies." Such decadent people can be expected to go apeshit after a major calamity -- such as a widespread electro-magnetic pulse, the author suggests. The "welfare class... live on government subsistence, therefore they likely have no ability to procure resources before a disaster." The "neo-hippes," on the other hand, "may be capable of small-scale agriculture and raising micro-livestock, but their 'peaceful' nature has not prepared them to handle aggressive and violent behavior aimed at taking the resources they produce."
In other words, once the ghetto residents have looted the bodegas, they'll come gunning for your backyard chicken coop.
The resulting bloodbath is either too horrible to comtemplate, or maybe the survivalists just can't take the time to think hard enough about what would really happen. In their minds, they see looters walking through the flooded streets of New Orleans carrying tennis shoes and TV sets -- pictures the news media did in fact broadcast for a few days. It's also true that the New Orleans security infrastructure, dependent as it was on police cars, collapsed and was incapable of keeping order in the city.
What actually happened in New Orleans is that the thousands gathered at the Superdome and the Convention Center did not become sub-human and begin raping and killing each other, but actually formed groups to help and protect one another. So-called looters were mostly out to find food, water, Pampers and other necessities.
I read a novel last summer, "Patriots," which laid out one of these collapse scenarios. It followed the standard line: Cleaned-out grocery stores; highways choked with the fleeing middle-class; dark-skinned people as a general menace; and the only people in a position to survive were those who had, for several years, been building and fortifying a compound deep in the Idaho hills. (The book didn't draw attention to the fact that the area is the real-life stronghold of the white supremacist movement, but as the entire book comprised a white-supremacist fantasy, it wasn't really necessary.) There a group of eight or ten people hunker down for a few years, surviving in part by shooting everyone else who comes within range. When the dust finally clears, and a barter economy finally develops among the battered Idaho survivors, what's left of the U.S. government swoops in to try to re-establish control. But our hardly "patriots" will have none of it. The rest of the book is a fantasy about how a few thousand Idahoans armed with hunting rifles are able to defeat the combined armed forces of the U.S. and the U.N., which now (of course) controls the rest of the world.
The funny thing is that the survivalist stereotype was already so well-established twenty years ago that he was satirized in the comedy-monster film Tremors (pictured above). It contains all the ingredients: the slightly crazed ex-military type and his even more hard-bitten wife; their heavily armored, well-stocked compound; their huge guns; und so weiter.
Hilarious, really, though the grim, self-satisfied tone of the book showed that the author (who has thousands of disciples) takes this fantasy utterly seriously. If you want another taste of this mind-set, and the near-pornographic level of detail involved in the whole fantasy of reaching a state of chaos where the righteous few may survive by killing everyone else, see this post on a similar blog, Welcome to the Promised Land. That post does have a sort of grim, yes-we-will-enjoy-killing-everyone humor to it, such as this passage:
Remember those angry hordes that frightened you out of the city and burned your home? They will eventually exhaust the resources of the ravaged neighborhoods and make their way into the countryside. When they find you, and they will find you, they will be even more desperate and dangerous than when you last saw them. Additionally, our neighbors, the heavily armed people who inhabited the countryside long before you got here, will be "foraging" for your resources so be careful out there. Desperate people do desperate things and those people will congregate because there is strength in numbers. Now, it's just you against ten, thirty or fifty desperate people determined to take your food, water and resources and they will have no qualms about hurting or killing you. Are you physically, emotionally and spiritually equipped to survive such an attack... over and over and over again because those attacks will continue to happen with increased intensity as people become more and more desperate.
The whole thing is like that, and it goes on and on. It's so lovingly detailed, and takes such pleasure with informing the reader of the deliciously horrible consequences of his non-action -- that is, his failure to "prepare" as well as the author -- that you get the feeling that the author typed it with one hand.
How about a little reality? It's not going to happen that way. Deprived of everything, people almost never descend into utter chaos and become animalistic. But the survivalists see it that way because of their readiness to see others unlike themselves as sub-human. Because they see others that way, of course it follows that the flat-landers will behave that way. And that will be the signal for the guns to come out.
This survivalist mentality touches many other groups: the weird militias like the Hutaree; the psychopaths like Jared Lee Loughner, with their paranoid ideas about mind control and currency manipulation; the so-called "sovereign citizens" who believe that much of federal and local government is nothing more than a conspiracy to swindle people out of tax dollars. (The novel I mentioned, "Patriots," includes a long section where a character mouths several "sovereign citizen" beliefs.)
The mentality is reflected in the mainstream in two places: First, the seemingly paranoid (but no doubt well-scripted) rantings of people like Glenn Back. And second, the current fascination with zombies. Because what is the zombie apocalypse other than another depiction of the dystopian fantasy of the survivalists? Rampaging hordes, check; everyone flees the cities, check; well-armed survivors, check; let's kill 'em all, check, and check, and check.
See the appeal? This apocalyptic event, known to right-wing paranoids as The End Of The World As We Know It or TEOTWAWKI*, is almost as widely predicted among the gun-crazy right wing as the Rapture itself, and perhaps even more widely yearned for -- because amid all the suffering that comes with it, the well-prepared right-wing paranoid will be vindicated. Plus, he'll get to do what he's always wanted to do, and that's kill everyone in sight that's not in his little survival group. It goes without saying that the end point of this fantasy is that the only other people around will be like-minded right-wing fascists just like him. No wonder he's looking forward to it.
* I think having an acronym that's impossible to pronounce pretty much defeats the purpose of having an acronym, especially when the phrase "The end of the world as we know it" is so easy and fun to say and even has its own rock song, which you are probably already humming along with. They also refer to this event as "When the Schumer hits the fan," apparently a cryptic anti-Semitic reference and one that allows them to piously avoid saying "shit." Because when you're planning a survival strategy that requires you to kill or leave to rot every other human being who isn't as well-armed and well-prepared as you, you'd better not cuss. The post-Schumer world, awash in blood, would be a terrible place if people took the Lord's name in vain.