How apocalypse makes us dumb, and the futility of survivalism

children of men

Via this post at WorldChanging I found two excellent older posts:

The Apocalypse Makes Us Dumb:

A subset of the rule that the Elect will survive is that survivalists survive, that bunkered individuals or remote farming communities or whatever have an edge, and that when the crazy starts, it’ll be the people holed up in the hinterlands who will survive and that the rule we can observe all through history — which is that these people are simply prey to larger, better-organized groups — suspends itself for the duration (unless a savior is needed to fight off the Humungous and his mohawked thugs or something — see #2 above).

And The futility of survivalism:

But real apocalypses are sordid, banal, insane. If things do come unraveled, they present not a golden opportunity for lone wolves and well-armed geeks, but a reality of babies with diarrhea, of bugs and weird weather and dust everywhere, of never enough to eat, of famine and starving, hollow-eyed people, of drunken soldiers full of boredom and self-hate, of random murder and rape and wars which accomplish nothing, of many fine things lost for no reason and nothing of any value gained. And survivalists, if they actually manage to avoid becoming the prey of larger groups, sitting bitter and cold and hungry and paranoid, watching their supplies run low and wishing they had a clean bed and some friends. Of all the lies we tell ourselves, this is the biggest: that there is any world worth living in that involves the breakdown of society.

A related older post: The Outquisition

I mostly look to the periphery for an idea of what dystopias will look like, so my favorite dystopian movies are movies like Salvador, Hotel Rhwanda, and City of God. One sci-fi dystopia that I like is Children of Men, because it seems to be based very much on the reality of the periphery.


  1. Very important, thanks. I’ve lived through four or so ends of the world: cold war threats nuclear holocaust as a child, vague Jesus is coming ideas as a child, X-Day and Y2K. A waste of time. When the meteor is a few thousand miles away and headed right for us, give me a call.

    Not to say that things couldn’t get very, very bad. But ‘end of the world’ is not a fun game any more. It’s a bullying tactic, be it from religion or activists or ecologists.

  2. This strikes me as more of the human tendency to look at things as black or white. No, civilization probably won’t collapse completely, but as we’ve seen, certain locales can get pretty bad pretty fast. Anyone who thinks being around for a local collapse would be fun should go hang out in Darfur. On the other hand, if you don’t have some water purifying tablets and some other emergency whatnot in a box in the bottom of your closet, that’s not that bright either. The fact that I’d be unlikely (at this stage of my life) to survive very long without electricity and a comfortable couch would not prevent me from trying. …but yes, if you want to know how things would look after a collapse, the low point of Ethiopia or current Somalia is probably a pretty good example. Check out Eyl in Google Earth.

  3. The appeal of the “apocalypse” meme is that it represents the only real way out of the inertia of History.

    It’s how Change might finally come.

    A more desirable apocalypse would be events that shattered the “system” without actually obliterating existence. Those are separate things. Like atomic warfare/asteriod = bad. EMP pulse’s obliterating electronics = hmmm. Military plagues unleashed killing 99% of the world’s population = bad. Killing 50% = might make some space for the youth of the future (one of the greatest changes of this century is the average age in the world, a tendancy that will only increase giving more influence/capital to the aged among us).

    The “apocalypse” is the way out. Or so we dream. No matter what – disaster is coming – from overpopulation, from energy-resource depletion, from stronger strains of disease, to toxicity in the ground, sea & air, to nuclear proliferation, etc. One day, every check gets cashed.

    For example, what happens whent he world governments can pay their employees/soldiers enough to continue functioning? Either governments will dramatically shrink and their will be a decentralization of power, or governments will go old-school and just demand more from their refound serfs/slaves (this is already happening everywhere).

    For a horrifying/realistic view of the bad kinda apocalypse, read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (the audiobook is amazing)

    Also – any critique of survivalism should kinda that the only real difference between “sustainability” and “survivalism” is one has guns and has a more individualistic, self-deterministic view of what independence from material conditions means.

  4. I’m not saying that people should be prepared (neither is Alex, who wrote all of the quoted articles… here’s an article on “green survivalists” that quotes him:

    “the only real difference between “sustainability” and ‘survivalism’ is one has guns and has a more individualistic, self-deterministic view of what independence from material conditions means.”

    This is so false I don’t even know where to begin with it.

    Sustainabilty = finding long term solutions to problems.

    Surivivalism = preparing to live through said problems.

    Sustainability is about problem solving, survivalism is escape. Sustainability seeks to avert catastrophe or minimize its impact, and prepare to rebuild after catastrophe. Survivalism considers apocalypse inevitable and isn’t concerned with solutions, only with bare survival.
    Another important distinction between the sustainability movement at the survivalist movement is that the sustainability movement acknowledges the interdependence of humans, while survivalists are terrified of other humans. Sustainability is about empowering individuals. Survivalism is about isolating and insulating individuals. While the sustainability movement is busy trying to invent new agricultural and energy infrastructures, survivalists are hiding the from the world, terrified that someone is going to steal their can of beans.

  5. One of my favorite riffs on this is Bruce Sterling’s Ublopia or Otivion:

  6. Your arguments pro-sustainability and anti-survivalism are biased.

    Not every survivalist is in camo pants paranoid in a trailer with no wi-fi. To throw a stereotype back at you – most “sustainabilitites” are yuppie-hippies with technophilia who think endless blogging about their ideas for problems will actually solve them.

    To refocus a shared feeling between us:

    Sustainability is about changing the macro-mechanisms of society and survivalism is about individuals escaping the controls of society.

    “Sustainability” ultimately require others/all to go along to avoid free-rider problems – ULTIMATELY, it will become coercive (it’s very sustainable for China want 1 male child per household). All social “solutions” do this.

    Survivalism at least minds its own business.

  7. “Not every survivalist is in camo pants paranoid in a trailer with no wi-fi. To throw a stereotype back at you – most “sustainabilitites” are yuppie-hippies with technophilia who think endless blogging about their ideas for problems will actually solve them.”

    Not every individual survivalist, but the survivalist movement’s idealogy is: paranoid, xenophobic, nihilistic, and isolationist.

    I’m fine with survivalists minding their own business while I work on ways to “coerce” people not to put toxic waste in my food. But it’s true – they might not help much but at least survivalists don’t do much harm to anyone but themselves (and sometimes their children).

  8. A survivalist in general just knows what to do. They’re not guys in camo pants that sits in their basement with a rifle waiting for something to happen. No, they are people who realized that people in society depend too much on each other and aren’t self-sufficient.

    Everyone says, “Just call 911” yes, and it’ll take 10-20 minutes for police or an ambulance to show up. In that mean time, you can let those people in the two cars bleed out from arterial bleeds. Harm them selves? Really? I think in an apocalyptic situation its the environment thats harming a person. Not saying they’re prefect as they’re human, they may make a mistake, but they’re better than a regular person who sits in their house wondering where the police are when they’re busy trying to save their own family. They can at least know how to fix something.

    Besides, many ex-cops, ex-paramedics, ex-soldiers, ex-firefighters tend to adopt the survivalist philosophy. They see the world isn’t safe.

    Also; paranoid or aware? A paranoid person is wondering why someone is looking at them in a certain way and is wondering if they have something against them. Paranoia is a mental disorder. An aware person, generally speaking a survivalist / prepared-minded person, goes on with his daily life but can see a danger coming from a mile away but if say they are caught off guard, then they deal with it on the spot.

    By the way, they also don’t try and intervene when the authorites are already there.

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