by Kenny Paul Smith
In an insightful online piece (that includes historical analysis from Bulletin contributor Cathy Gutierrez), we learn of “a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as ‘preppers,”’ that is, folks stockpiling food and firearms alongside innumerable other supplies in hopes of surviving the troubled times they see on the horizon. “Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.” In contrast to the survivalists of the 1990s, however, self-identified preppers are not so easily discerned. “You could be living next door to a prepper and never even know it. Many suburbanites are turning spare rooms into food pantries and are going for survival training on the weekends.”
While the emergence of “Prepperism” (if you will) surely represents a financial boom for marketers of survival goods and those offering daily apocalyptic visions by way of radio, TV, and online programs (see, for instance, Survival Blog, The Coming Economic Collapse Blog, and of course Glenn Beck TV), what strikes me about this movement is its rather gnostic character, and how this relates to its ability to satisfy adherents. For, the cognitive and ritual worlds of preppers would seem to contain more than simply apocalyptic expectations, but also esoteric knowledge and practices that offer safe passage through the gates of catastrophe. Only the preppers know what is coming, and only they are engaged in the proper sort of mercantile and home management practices that ensure survival, and perhaps even flourishing in a post-civilizational world. Those who do not possess this knowledge and fail to perform these practices are, essentially, doomed to suffer and perish.
That a significant number find prepper imaginative, ritual, and social worlds enormously satisfying should hardly be surprisingly. They offer knowledge of the future that only the few are capable of grasping, a set of authoritative practices for establishing one’s shelter from the coming storm, and also a sense of evangelical urgency: if we can get this truth out to as many others as possible before it’s too late, they might be saved from the coming apocalypse as well.