A Look at Preppers
Ancient tales stay with us for a reason: because they continue to be relevant over centuries of social, political and technological change. Aesop wrote “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and other well-known fables around 500-600 BCE, but the underlying wisdom in his works is still useful in today’s world. A closer examination of the story reveals more subtle insights, and so this classic tale of daily life makes me pause to examine our own behaviors and motivations in these turbulent times.
Let’s jump right to the story. In my condensed version, the Grasshopper hangs out all summer singing and having fun while the self-motivated Ant works tirelessly in the heat of the day to store food for the coming winter season. The Grasshopper sees the Ant as a boring creature in a dull existence, while the Ant perceives the Grasshopper as a foolish, self-absorbed freeloader. When winter finally arrives, the Grasshopper’s life is in peril with no established home and no food reserves. The Ant admonishes the freezing Grasshopper for his laziness and advises him to dance for warmth, but doesn’t offer to share food or lodging.
Like all of Aesop’s fables, it’s easy to find parallels in daily life because he wrote them for that very purpose. Making reasonable preparations for an anticipated future is generally a good idea, especially if that future event can be predicted with some accuracy, such as the coming of the winter season, or retirement. It’s when the future is not so well known that the Grasshopper and the Ant have a valid reason to sit down over tea and debate the topic with credible arguments from both perspectives. If winter did not arrive, for example, the Grasshopper would be the hero of the story, with the Ant’s obsessive-compulsive behavior as a lesson to enjoy life while you can, instead of mindlessly hoarding wealth and resources. Therein lies the crux of the matter: will winter come or not?
In today’s America, a growing number of people are sufficiently disturbed by their perception of current events to begin thinking like Ants. Not the sort who are preparing for winter, but who are preparing for something like an unscheduled Ice Age. The main body of this group is generally referred to as Preppers, and most of them apparently accept that designation without argument. The basic concept seems to be that there is a swiftly approaching event of near-catastrophic proportions, which may manifest itself as social, political, or economic disintegration. Preppers’ worries often include predictions of war, civil war, famine, plague, solar flares, asteroid collisions, nuclear holocaust, and a host of other unpleasant Apocalyptic scenarios. A growing number of people are sufficiently frightened by an uncertain future to have generated a very real social movement in this country that grabs significant media attention, and private enterprise has moved swiftly to establish a retail market to support their needs.
Like ants, Preppers come in many varieties. There are Army Ants who hoard guns and ammunition, preparing to face a violent future of anarchy. Some of these ants are quite ready to profess their intention to take whatever they need by force, particularly from the foolish peaceful ants who prepare for the future by storing food and supplies. There are Carpenter Ants who put much effort and resources into building homes and infrastructure designed to withstand the future they anticipate. Sugar Ants store food and household items in enormous supply, for use in a future of famine. There are even Rancher Ants who keep farm animals, like the way some ants keep herds of aphids in your garden.
When nature exerts pressure on a species, mutations are likely to develop. In this case, there is a variety of Prepper that foresees some form of Apocalyptic future and is very vocal about the need to prepare for the coming catastrophe, but takes little, if any, actual action. These folks tend to be very visible on Internet blogs and social media, but ironically, it seems most of them don’t really do anything potentially useful toward surviving the expected cataclysm, aside from perhaps hoarding precious metals and weapons.
What does all this say about Preppers? The first thing that comes to mind is that lumping them all together is doing a disservice to each of the factions. Of course, it is always a danger to make generalizations about a group, because closer examination reveals the existence of discreet sub-groups that may have very different viewpoints. My second observation is the entire movement is based on a lot of speculation of future events that may or may not happen in our lifetime. That in itself is fairly amazing when you consider it.
History has plenty of perspective to offer us regarding change. There are abundant examples of sweeping changes that affected entire cultures, changes that progressed rather suddenly from a historical viewpoint. Wars, political and/or social upheaval, local and temporary climate changes, religious infiltration and persecution, and other events that radically changed the life of the common citizen are all part of our known history. These changes are certain to continue happening as the future unfolds. There are cultures in the world in the midst of radical change at this very moment, and it would be unwise to suppose it can’t happen here. But if we’re to trust historical records to any degree, apocalypses are notably rare, though predictions of doom are not.
Most of us have a memory of the Y2K scare, when the modern world was supposed to come grinding to a halt literally overnight, suddenly dropping us into a pre-industrial age. Within my lifetime, I recall predictions of asteroid collisions, massive worldwide earthquakes, scorching solar flares, Nuclear Armageddon, Peak Oil, and Alien Invasion, among others. That these events did not happen doesn’t mean they couldn’t, nor does it mean they will. There has never been a shortage of Prophets, Oracles, and others who interpret events with a foreshadowing of doom, but generally they have a poor track record for accuracy. So with no truly useful answers, what are we to do?
As with many things, we can probably gather wisdom from both the Ant and the Grasshopper. Being reasonably prepared for the future is likely to be a good thing, regardless if you anticipate a doomsday-level event or not. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the joy of being a Grasshopper who relishes life in the moment, singing, dancing and spreading joy to others. Fixation on a grim future is just as unhealthy as a blind assumption that conditions will always be prosperous and without difficult challenges. My suggestion is to prepare for the future by enriching your health, personality and skills, being kind to your world and the living beings that share it with you, and above all staying happy and positive in spirit. These things will make us all winners, regardless of what the future brings.
Don Clark owns Voodoo Solar on McGhee Road in Kootenai. Reach him at [email protected]