Sunday, June 10, 2012

Survivalism versus Agrarianism

"If the people believe the prophets of despair, then indeed hope vanishes, for everyone seeks his private hidey-hole, endeavoring to content himself with ephemeral pleasures.
But if the people, not believing the prophets of doom and their self-fulfilling prophecies, still retain faith in a moral order joined to a social order-why, then indeed hope has not departed for it remains possible for men and women to brighten the corners where they are and to confront together the difficulties of the time. Given hope, great renewal is possible for a people".

-Russell Kirk

"The entire modern deification of survival, per se, survival returning to its self, survival naked and abstract with the denial of any subsequent excellence in what survives except the capacity for more survival still, is surely the strangest intellectual stopping place ever proposed by one man to another."

-Colonel Jeff Cooper

While talking to the North Country Farmer, I was pleased to hear that some preppers are beginning to listen to his show.  I hope that they listen to him. It seems that one of the fasted growing trends these days is an interest in “survivalism”.  This trend has not failed to even catch the attention of the old dinosaur media, like Time and Newsweek. The trend is equally visible in both “left wing” and “right wing” circles. The social and architectural critic James Howard Kunstler has taken up the cause of “peak oil”, and written both nonfiction and fiction about a dark post oil future. When I catch conservative talk radio between changing CD's in my pickup,most if it is now hawking gold and food for long term storage.

Part of this interest is a reasonable response to what has happened to our country and its economy in recent years. Only fools and the willfully ignorant could avoid seeing the fact that bailouts, debt financing, fiat money, and trade imbalances are leading to a day of reckoning. Personally, I am interested in some of the issues that survivalists find compelling. From the outside, my wife and I probably look like “preppers”. We own and carry guns. We store food. We use quite a bit of non-electric technology.  However, neither of us actually identify as survivalists (quite the contrary). I particularly  see a number of features of the “new survivalism” that I find somewhat disturbing from my vantage as an agrarian.

I have been fortunate in recent years to have gotten to know the Reverend Doctor T. David Gordon, a professor of religion with a strong interest in the area of media ecology. Among other things, media ecology looks at the way media affects our thought. 

I see among many “preppers” an undercurrent wherein mass media forms their vision of an apocalyptic future. Films such as Mad Max, I Am Legend, and Book of Eli portray lone heroes in a world gone mad. Part of this is a modern rendition of ancient heroes’ tales, but hero tales represent a poor model for everyday real-world survival. The lone survivor battling all odds is both a temporary situation for the participant and not the stuff of daily life. Among other things, those who survive alone against all odds generally remember on thing—loneliness.

Much of the modern survival movement also remains a form of consumerism. Instead of jewelry or electronic gadgets, the prepper spends on freeze-dried food, bullion, and gun related gadgets. One of the side effects of constant exposure to media advertising has been a belief we can buy our way out of trouble. Advertising often flatters a serious flaw in the American character: our nearly religious faith in the power of ever changing technology. (This may have been a factor in putting our country in the fix it is in). I see this reliance on technology over skill as perhaps the antithesis of common sense for one who wishes to survive. From my experience with the Appleseed shooting program, I saw a number of first time participants show up with very expensive tactical battle carbines, literally covered with gadgets. However, they were almost always outshot in every way by country boys and girls with bolt action .22’s. 

My greatest concern is that, if the world most people know begins to unravel, their only point of reference will be Mad Max. Shaped by media, they will act accordingly, and this attitude could actually create the dystopic future they fear. I never recommend TV, but those interested in preparing for trouble ahead would do better to watch the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.   


  1. I am glad to see your new blog is as good as the previous one! I couldn't agree more, and while it is difficult to raise my rather large (by today's standards) family with out any television, I bought the DVDs for The Waltons and Little House, and when the kids want to sit in on a rainy day, that is their only choice. Although I still have to contend with the ubiquitous pop culture that confounds anything wholesome or sensible, my kids are at least getting exposed to a real type of life, and it isn't such a shock for them to go out and take care of the goats or rake a little hay.

    What really needs to survive, whatever the political outcomes of the world, is the decency and self reliance that were the hallmarks of our people, and a return to the simpler less consumeristic ways that only serve to distract from life itself.

  2. Sir,
    Your last paragraph states it very well, decency AND self reliance..
    Thanks for the kind words.
    R Grossman

  3. I've enjoyed reading your thoughts about the survivalist movement. There have been times when I have been caught up by the more extreme survivalist thinking, but I found that the apocalyptic, siege mentality only leads to fear and a dark outlook, void of hope. Scripture says that God has not given us the spirit of fear. There is hope with the Lord and when difficult times come, he will be a shelter to those who trust in him.

    Having said that, I do prepare for disasters. I'll be moving to an area that is susceptible to winter ice storms. In 1998 the area of eastern Ontario, Quebec and parts of New England and New York state was hit by a severe ice storm and some people were without power for a month! That's something that I will prepare for! And like yourself, I have a collection of non-electric supplies simply because I don't like being dependent on the electricity grid.

    I have come to believe that there will be more security by developing community with your neighbours. I have already started developing a network of contacts in our new location. Some people point to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to show how violently ruthless people can become in disasters. But, on the other hand, here in Canada during that ice storm, many people with stored food and woodstoves invited their neighbours into their homes. I've read stories of the Great Depression and World War II, where people sacrificially assisted one another and it made the difference in someone's survival.

    I've enjoyed this post, it has been food for thought.

  4. Richard,

    I find it interesting that you wrote on this subject. I have been giving it a lot of thought myself lately. I agree with you and the others who commented here.

  5. Hi Brenda,
    As a Calvinist, albeit a modified one. I have no illusions about either human nature or the nature of nature. You are correct to prepare for hard times, but keep both hope and neighborliness alive. My Grandma every hobo that came by in the thirties, but there was always a shotgun behind the front door and a mean coon dog nearby.

    Herrick, if people would only read Number six of your agrarian economic self defense plan!