Alex Williams of the New York Times has a fascinating piece on the increasing number of Americans who have embraced survivalist-related activities. What had previously been viewed as paranoid endeavors are now becoming more mainstream. We excerpt portions of his article below.
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Faced with a confluence of diverse threats — a tanking economy, a housing crisis, looming environmental disasters, and a sharp spike in oil prices — people who do not consider themselves extremists are starting to discuss doomsday measures once associated with the social fringes.
They stockpile or grow food in case of a supply breakdown, or buy precious metals in case of economic collapse. Some try to take their houses off the electricity grid, or plan safe houses far away. The point is not to drop out of society, but to be prepared in case the future turns out like something out of “An Inconvenient Truth,” if not “Mad Max.”
“I’m not a gun-nut, camo-wearing skinhead. I don’t even hunt or fish,” said Bill Marcom, 53, a construction executive in Dallas.
Still, motivated by a belief that the credit crunch and a bursting housing bubble might spark widespread economic chaos — “the Greater Depression,” as he put it — Mr. Marcom began to take measures to prepare for the unknown over the last few years: buying old silver coins to use as currency; buying G.P.S. units, a satellite telephone and a hydroponic kit; and building a simple cabin in a remote West Texas desert.
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Interest in survivalism — in either its traditional hard-core version or a middle-class “lite” variation — functions as a leading economic indicator of social anxiety, preparedness experts said: It spikes at times of peril real (the post-Sept. 11 period) or imagined (the chaos that was supposed to follow the so-called Y2K computer bug in 2000).
At times, a degree of paranoia is officially sanctioned. In the 1950s, civil defense authorities encouraged people to build personal bomb shelters because of the nuclear threat. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows in case of biological or chemical attacks.
Now, however, the government, while still conducting business under a yellow terrorism alert, is no longer taking a lead role in encouraging preparedness. For some, this leaves a vacuum of reassurance, and plenty to worry about.
Esteemed economists debate whether the credit crisis could result in a complete meltdown of the financial system. A former vice president of the United States informs us that global warming could result in mass flooding, disease and starvation, perhaps even a new Ice Age.
“You just can’t help wonder if there’s a train wreck coming,” said David Anderson, 50, a database administrator in Colorado Springs who said he was moved by economic uncertainties and high energy prices, among other factors, to stockpile months’ worth of canned goods in his basement for his wife, his two young children and himself.
Popular culture also provides reinforcement, in books like “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a father and son journeying through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and films like “I Am Legend,” which stars Will Smith as a survivor of a man-made virus wandering the barren streets of New York.
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Preparedness activity is difficult to track statistically, since people who take measures are usually highly circumspect by nature, said Jim Rawles, the editor of www.survivalblog.com, a preparedness Web site. Nevertheless, interest in the survivalist movement “is experiencing its largest growth since the late 1970s,” Mr. Rawles said in an e-mail, adding that traffic at his blog has more than doubled in the past 11 months, with more than 67,000 unique visitors per week. And its base is growing.
“Our core readership is still solidly conservative,” he said. “But in recent months I’ve noticed an increasing number of stridently green and left-of-center readers.”
One left-of-center environmentalist who is taking action is Alex Steffen, the executive editor of www.wWorldchanging.com, a Web site devoted to sustainability. With only slight irony, Mr. Steffen, 40, said he and his girlfriend could serve as “poster children for the well-adjusted, urban liberal survivalist,” given that they keep a six-week cache of food and supplies in his basement in Seattle (although they polished off their bottle of doomsday whiskey at a party).
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