Preppers and the Transition Movement


James Gould

“Preppers” got their name from being prepared. They see very hard times ahead and have been working to be ready – with energy systems, tools, food, water, guns, toiletries, first aid, pet food, etc. Those in urban areas who are out of touch with how bad the economy is or how peculiar the government has been acting (to put a nice spin on things) may have been coached by corporate media to see preppers as fanatics.

But to do so is to miss traditional wisdom – that wise families and communities should always being stocked up, storing surplus in good times to protect against shortages in lean times. And it is also to miss that the industrial food giants are in cahoots with the bankers, busily engineering food shortages for the sake of the mega-bucks that food riots generate.

In short, preppers have good sense; and people who don’t have food stored for at least 6 months, would be wise to learn from them. It’s just common sense to make sure that basic needs can always be met, even if electrical systems go down (and with it goes the water supply) or even if food is unavailable for a length of time.

But preppers, for all their foresight about the economic system’s possible collapse, and their range of skills and wisdom on what is needed to get through, have gotten a couple of things wrong they might be very interested in (they didn’t get so savvy by not thinking or by shutting out information from lots of places).

1. The threat from other people

Part of the reason preppers recommend that everyone have guns goes beyond guns as invaluable for hunting if food is in short supply, to something that worries them a great deal – how to fend off marauding people who didn’t prepare but are desperate for food or water. The problem is that as much as preppers have roundly rejected what the government has told them about so much else, they have bought into the lie that under severe shortages, other people will loot and become savage and do anything for food and water. Preppers might want to consider that the government has used this same projected paranoia to scare urban people about preppers – so they are perceived as maniacs in the country with guns who can go psycho, are politically nuts and racist, and kill people.

In terms of marauding gangs during times of shortages, does anyone remember Katrina? New Orleans is a predominantly black city but people who rushed to their rescue was a white trucker who had filled his semi with bottled water from his own pocket, and conservative white churches, and many other caring people, all of whom the government turned away. Meanwhile, the government turned the city into a locked-down militarized zone and warned of (and the media posted stories of) a city at the mercy of dangerous looters and marauding gangs. The truth was the opposite.

Through all the time that the federal and local governments, in concert with wealthy New Orleanians, were pitching their battle, there was virtually no one fighting on the other side. Reviewing the ‘available evidence’ a month after Katrina, the New York Times concluded that ‘the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations.’ The reports of residents firing at National Guard helicopters, of tourists being robbed and raped on Bourbon Street, and of murderous rampages in the Superdome—all turned out to be false.

But not only was it a dangerous and ugly myth that sanctioned unbounded military and police power, but what was obscured was something crucial to know about each other – remarkable goodness and heroism occurred.

Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster- whether manmade or natural-people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? What makes the newfound communities and purpose many find in the ruins and crises after disaster so joyous? And what does this joy reveal about ordinarily unmet social desires and possibilities?

In A Paradise Built in Hell, award-winning author Rebecca Solnit explores these phenomena, looking at major calamities from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco through the 1917 explosion that tore up Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She examines how disaster throws people into a temporary utopia of changed states of mind and social possibilities, as well as looking at the cost of the widespread myths and rarer real cases of social deterioration during crisis.

An editorial review of the book highlighted that the real danger comes from those in charge.

Surveying disasters from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, [Solnit] shows that the typical response to calamity is spontaneous altruism, self-organization and mutual aid, with neighbors and strangers calmly rescuing, feeding and housing each other. Indeed, the main problem in such emergencies, she contends, is the elite panic of officials who clamp down with National Guardsmen and stifling regulations” [And one may add, shootings, arrests of innocent people, and seizure of private property.]

Instead of coming away worried about people out to harm us for what we have, Katrina tells a story of “a crisis subsequently exploited in every way possible for political and financial gain. But there’s an even harsher truth, one some New Orleans residents learned in the very first days but which is only beginning to become clear to the rest of us: What took place in this devastated American city was no less than a war, in which victims …. were treated as enemies of the state.”(Source)

The second thing the preppers have gotten wrong also relates to scarcity.

Depending on Gold and Silver

Many preppers have recommended keeping gold rather than money, not realizing that the economy they are so critical of is terrible because it runs on scarcity, or that gold and silver do not change that. But there is an alternative, a new kind of economy. Such an economy would correct for both mistakes – fear of others and continuing in an economy of scarcity that is the root of all that is happening to begin with. Such an economy would not only generate economic freedom but would rely on just those “maurading” neighbors for support and real community.

The Money FIx – a Documentary for Monetary Reform is an invaluable look at where money has gotten us and the direction to go to end its enslavement. The end to debt slavery requires us to trust each other so it is no reason the powers that be have projected one group after another as likely to harm us, as ready to kill us for what we have. Of course, the powers-that-be are the ones who have harmed everyone and been killing people in many ways and remains unaccountable even for blatant crimes, but we are supposed to fear each other. We are supposed to fear when the evidence is that we naturally jump to help each other when we are in need.

This whole issue came up over questions around purchasing a Berkey water filter, something prized by preppers. What size? On a street with poor people, does one fear being attacked by them if the power goes down and there is no water? Or does one feel sympathy for them because they have been drinking chlorinated, fluoridated water and many of them are sick, and buy a big filter to make sure everyone could have clean water, starting now? And if one did that, are these people likely to rob or attack anyone or likely to feel part of real community that already looks after each other and would simply step that up if things got hard?

Should one get a gun to ward off marauding bands or for hunting if food shelves became empty and there wasn’t enough protein? Or should one count on neighbors for protection, neighbors some of whom already have guns and who know how to hunt? Could people during a major shortage share food – perhaps neighbors making a big community soup, some contributing a little meat, others adding vegetables – and together working help everyone be okay?

While Solnit makes no mention of the Transition Town movement in her book, the essential message of it resonates exquisitely with the movement’s mission and methodology and powerfully underscores the need for the vision and strategic planning that Transition initiatives around the world are working to implement. That’s because Solnit isn’t just writing a book about how people come together in crises, but more importantly, how crises can meet our deeper need for meaning in our lives and even positively transform the social and political landscape of communities permanently.

Preppers and the transition communities share an awareness that things are going to change radically and are trying to put in place many of the same things to be able to ride out hard times. Each has strengths and weaknesses. The transition communities are complex and depend on finding places to be, buying the land, and setting up rules to guide their communities. But they are built around the idea of people helping each other and with that, a vision of a good society, at least partly outside the current economic system.

The preppers on the other hand, though they are helping a large number of people via the Internet and lectures, fear that desperate others could take their provisions. In fact, to protect themselves, they should be putting “others” on the top of the list of things we all must have enough of so we manage well. But preppers have a turn on a dime quality because come at things on their own. That characteristic can add something vital to the transition movement and extend it into many new areas.

Preppers, coming from a more individualistic perspective, are potentially the ideal people to reach the very isolated people in cities, who are not prepared, but very much need help to be. Preppers, if they can see that “others” should be number one on every stock up survival list, they could start helping everyone overcome their fear and have the courage to approach strangers in their building or on their street about sharing a large Berkey water filter system. And from sharing water, they – we all – might start assessing how many other things might be shared, from food storage to skills to support to protection.

The famous sociologist, Charles Fritz, gave birth to what we would call today, disaster studies. At first deemed a radical premise, Fritz argued that everyday life in a soul-numbing, alienating, consumeristic society is already a disaster and that actual disasters liberate us. Fritz researched how community identity is nurtured during disaster because, in the words of Solnit, ‘disaster offers temporary solutions to the alienations and isolations of everyday life.’ Fritz believed that everyday life is actually more difficult to live than dealing with disaster because in the latter, we know what to do and who to be…

Disasters usually dismantle hierarchies and require small groups of people to very quickly create makeshift [prepper movement], and even perhaps long-term, structures [transition movement] for meeting their needs. In this way, they are not unlike revolutions, and in some cases, result in similar outcomes over time. Typically in such a milieu, elites are threatened because ‘power devolves to the people on the ground in many ways’, demonstrating the viability of ‘a dispersed, decentralized system of decision-making.’ In these moments, says Solnit, ‘Citizens themselves constitute the government’, and generosity [is] demonstrated, as well as the depth of our longing for connection and purposefulness.(Source)

That connection and purposefulness is what the Money Fix talks about, as the very basis of ending debt enslavement. Fear and gold won’t make us safe or change our world for the better. Relying on each other, we can make our own and each others’ lives secure and, by all that really matters, we will be rich. In offering each other help, we begin to experience that we are living in a world without scarcity and that our economic system can be as well.

As Solnit says, ‘Disasters may offer us a glimpse, but the challenge is to make something of it, before or beyond disaster: to recognize and realize these desires and these possibilities in ordinary times.’ …

The Transition model is not unique in its mission to nurture in ‘ordinary times’ the qualities that disasters almost always manifest-compassion, cooperation, the pride of place, and yes, even joy. However, it offers myriad tools for creating, not structures and communities that ‘arise’ in disaster, but those that are already in place and that provide an ongoing sense of meaning and purpose which may be savored with or without catastrophe.

Giving up fear of each other is the essential step. Starting now, we can stock up on water and community wherever we are. Then, we are set to do much more than survive but to build a meaningful future. Watch the film to sense what that could mean.

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