On Apocalyptic Mindsets

(I’ve touched on some of these topics before, but recent conversations helped me get the ideas more coherent.)

In the last decade or so, we’ve seen absolute glut of apocalyptic-themed media.  And I do mean glut: in film alone, we’ve seen three Adaptation Decayed <Blank> of the Dead from George Romero, 28 Days/Weeks Later, a “RomComZom” (Shaun of the Dead), serious drama The Walking Dead (adapted from the comic series), awkward comedy Zombieland, The Book of Eli, I Am Legend, The Road (from the excellently bleak Cormac McCarthy novel), Children of Men, 2012, a forthcoming Red Dawn re-make, and the list goes on.  That’s not to mention the dozens of video games, and the entire oeuvre of ‘the world’s foremost zombie expert’, the eminent Max Brooks.

Overall, I don’t think this surplus of PAW (post-apocalyptic world/wasteland) tales is a bad thing.  Anything that gets folks thinking about the state of our world and their own survival is good, in my opinion.  While I don’t have a problem with bringing apocalyptic themes into the public mindset, I usually don’t like how most of them play out…especially the zombie ones. Generally, the pattern goes like this: a group of Survivors get together, somehow find lots of guns (never any mention of ammo!), go to a mall (or pub or wherever), lock themselves in, and proceed to defend against the hordes until relieved by the Authorities, or until they’re all killed.

If you asked me, I’d say this approach is about the farthest thing from survival that I can think of, and it’s totally unsustainable.

Based on what I’ve read on survival message boards, it seems the majority of survivalist folks have this idea (based, no doubt, on the popular apocalyptic media they’ve consumed) of shouldering their tacticool 100-pound ‘I’m Never Coming Home’ pack, loading up their black plastic rifle with a thousand rounds of ammo (maybe some body armor too, just for fun), and setting out for their fortress retreat in the woods, where they will live on canned soup and astronaut food for the foreseeable future.
Apparently they all want to look like this guy:

My approach is quite different.  If shit goes down, and I have to ‘bug-out’, I’m pulling on my homemade leather shoes and a 1930s canvas rucksack—mostly filled with home-dehydrated fruits and nuts liberated from dumpsters (because I eat like a caveman)—rolling up a wool blanket and canvas tarp for a bedroll, grabbing a walking stick, and cross-country hobbit-ing the fuck outta there (I’ve been told many times that my gear has “an old-school cool” vibe about it, and I’ll admit it’s no accident).  Instead of approaching an emergency as an act of war, I see it as an adventure.  I’ll head for the family farm, where I’ll set up shop, replant my garden, and continue living in the plain-livin’, quasi-permaculture sorta life I grew up with.  And y’know, I might just keep on living like that, even after whatever crisis abates.

Because, like Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog once put it:

“We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into the Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion – guilt-free at last!”

I’ve written about it before, but it just really distresses me how the current survival movement is based all towards ‘rebuilding’ the post-apocalyptic world.  And what are these people going to base their new world on?  The only one they’ve ever known…the one that turned them into time-clock slaves and disconnected (figurative) zombies filled with postmodern ennui: the one that collapsed in the first place!

Consider, for an alternative, possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I think I’ve ever read: Chuck Palahniuk’s vision in Fight Club for a post-collapse world:

“…picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course.  You’ll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle… …stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower.  Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”

If—and that’s a big if—we’re going to rebuild, we’re going to need some fresh perspectives.


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] a lot of the other post-apocalyptic media being produced these days *coughAMCWalkingDead*, Brooks actually addresses healthy long-term survival approaches for when the […]


  2. […] for someone whose introduction to survival issues was the recent wave of Zombie 2.0 movies. (see my post from last year for more on this). Regardless, by not including his mom in his activities, he’s missing out on […]


  3. […] to live”, he says, “Everybody has their own idea of what preparedness is.” I also like that we both feel that “holing up and hiding is the antithesis of survival.” Reading early write-ups of this episode […]


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