Survival skills muster, scheduled for 25-28 October 2012, Weatherford, Texas, USA. Image Source: ITS Tactical.
WTSHTF stands for 'When The Shit Hits The Fan.' For those who don't take the end of the world to be just a metaphor, a media concept, a nebulously-dated religious prophecy, or a highly unlikely asteroid collision (as predicted in this recent report (Hat tip: Lee Hamilton), about a possible 2040 space event that precedes Sir Isaac Newton's predicted end-of-times by 20 years), there is a whole world of message boards and Internet communities out there. In online lingo, someone who prepares for the end of the world is called a prepper. You can see some prepper forums and other relevant sites here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Survivalist forums anticipate everything from nuclear war to a massive solar storm that would wipe out all our tech devices and conceivably cause earthquakes and floods (although that environmental fear is disputed by scientists). This apocalyptic chatter has exploded online, partly as a reflection of the explosion of the Internet; the Web is there now, after all, and we have to talk about something on it, right?
Survival, gardening and self-defense courses are booming. One view of the apocalypse comes from the suburban grocery giant, Costco. According to The Star, Costco is stocking products related to end-of-the-world prep and survival: "Even Costco has jumped on the bandwagon, delivering survival kits in handy backpacks — enough food for two weeks, knives, a hatchet, duct tape, a tent and first-aid kit."
Video Source: Youtube.
Who could forget the Scientologists' end-of-the-world bunker hideaway in Wyoming? According to conspiracy theorists who track these things, it is located at: 41°27'8.86" N, 109° 3'24.24"W; the religious group is rumoured to have another bunker in New Mexico, known as Tremenina Base: 35°31'25.85"N, 104°34'25.65"W (I haven't double-checked these coordinates); and the group also reportedly has disaster vaults in California. The Wyoming vault happens to be nestled next to an extinct volcanic cone, and may be threatened by small earthquakes, due to a nearby open-pit coal strip mine and a possible natural gas fracking operation.
Video Source: Youtube.
The site Imminent Threat Solutions, which is run in part by US Military veterans, is holding a contest on what you should carry on your person at all times to be ready for disaster (Hat tip: TAOM). I immediately noticed in their suggested photo that there were no bottles of water and no keychain USB memory stick.
Really? A memory stick? I admit that I was surprised that it was the first thing that came into my mind. It depends on how one thinks about survival. Some preppers would prefer the keychain nuclear radiation detector. I realize computers might be a thing of the past in the middle of an apocalypse. But Viktor Frankl stated that the only thing he sought to bring along before he was taken to a concentration camp was the manuscript for his current book. He later theorized that what makes people survive under life-threatening circumstances is anything which they personally need to live. He needed to live for the book he was writing, which (for him) was even more important than food.
What is the first thing you would grab? It is an interesting idea: the twenty things people would throw on a table to survive the end of the world say a lot about them. Their choices would also reveal what they think about society's underlying reality. Thus, the ITS Webmasters, with their stress on weapons and self-defense, have a point: almost every apocalyptic dystopian fiction involves the protagonist and supporting characters fighting their way out of many terrifying tight spots. That trope plays on the fear that, when pressed, people would turn into animals and civilization would dissolve into lawless chaos. This theme is constantly explored in the most popular television show in the United States right now, The Walking Dead.
Frankl, speaking from personal experience, stated that that predominantly negative view of social collapse was not exactly what unfolded in Auschwitz. Even in that hell-on-earth, he observed a range of responses, good, evil, ambiguous; he stated that among both prisoners and guards there were evil people and good people. Some prisoners, even when they were starving to death, were willing to give up their food to others. Some prisoners survived at the expense of others. But only the extreme conditions made everyone's true, basic, moral dispositions plain.
Perhaps this is why chatter about the apocalypse and the 2012 phenomenon is so prevalent right now. Do the masses on the Internet believe that these disasters will actually befall them? Or is the underlying motive here that they want to discuss what they and their Internet friends would do if TSHTF? Survival Blog is even running a survival non-fiction writing contest right now. Another look at the preppers makes it obvious that they are busy organizing and communicating around a set of values. The end of the world is tangential to that. Buying into apocalyptic hype is a way of determining core beliefs, and finding out what matters to oneself and others in a time of constant flux.
One glance at raging debates among TV viewers in the Internet's Walking Dead forums confirms it again. Audience members divide themselves according to the characters they support (as: here and here). Each character represents a range of choices and moral options. For example, the story begins with a pretty common test. The wife of the central hero cheats on her husband with his best friend, but justifies it under the circumstances. This incident becomes the moral pivot for the entire first 'act' of Kirkman's larger story; those who support the character's decision buy into her logic. Those who don't support the character insist that even apocalyptic circumstances do not justify crossing the line and discarding that taboo. Each character's test is a test of the values of every person watching the show. The Internet debate forges viewers into little communities around metafictional consensuses. This is how fearing apocalypses tells us who we really are, when we are having trouble figuring it out for ourselves. Flirting with the end of the world - be it online, in fictions, movies and TV fantasies, in survivalist courses, or even in international politics - is one way of combating Millennial anomie and aporia.
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