A week or so ago, my husband was flipping through the flyers that come in the mail from the local supermarkets. Noting a sale on canned goods, he casually, without making eye-contact, asks me if I will go ahead and stock up on my next shopping trip. He is hoping to avoid the relentless teasing that he knows will likely ensue—I just can’t help it. You should know, my husband does not have a predilection for slimy green beans or fishy sardines. The canned goods are for what I like to refer to as our “apocalypse shelter” in the basement.
I just can’t help it. I know, I said that already, but it’s true! Storing food, water and emergency supplies in our basement conjures all kinds of crazy images in my head. First there are the movie-like dystopias of meteors hitting the earth, leaving little more than cockroaches for protein. Or, better yet, I can just imagine the zombies of the apocalypse snatching that vacuum-sealed pouch of beef stroganoff right out of my hands, and then eating my brain for dessert. Then, of course, there are the cult-like doomsday-preppers storing years’ worth of food, water, and ammunition; the people buying farmland in New Zealand or building bunkers in Kansas; not to mention the nervous techies buying up bitcoin in case of economic collapse.
Ok, before you (too) start envisioning my dear husband giving sermons on the rapidly approaching “End of Days”, or running through the woods after work with tinfoil on his head, you should think about this—many experts, and people of all stripes and persuasions, believe that it is a good idea to prepare your home and family for an emergency, in which you will not have access to food or water. Why? There are any number of good reasons, ranging from a flu pandemic, to natural disaster, to terrorist attacks on our power grid (thereby threatening our food and water supply). For how long should you be prepared? Estimates range anywhere from three days to two weeks and upwards, sometimes as long as three months to a year. I would say it pretty much depends on how neurotic you are.
Even mainstream publications, like Real Simple, targeting your average housewife, suggest that, at a minimum, you should have a two-week emergency supply, and provide a helpful list of things to include. Some of these are indeed good reminders, such as storing high protein, calorie dense, and vitamin rich food, how much water you will need per person and pet, and not to forget things like cooking oil for food preparation. Others seem slightly superfluous to me. If we are indeed in a crisis situation where we are eating for survival, will I be ever so grateful that I remembered to store dried herbs to sprinkle on my powdered eggs, or cinnamon for my five-gallon bucket of oatmeal? Maybe.
This much I know is true, though: I can only hope that whatever paltry supplies I have assembled for my family will never need to be used, and God forbid they must be, that they are adequate. Moreover, I am quite sure that they, in no way, can compare to the supplies being assembled by the wealthy elite of Silicon Valley or New York, as described in this January 30, 2017 article in the New Yorker. The article describes such extravagant shelters being built, seemingly unlimited supplies being amassed, and complex transportation arrangements being made, that, if it were me, I’d consider moving in immediately. It sounds downright luxurious.
In classical sociological inquiry, we try not to focus on the individual psychology of one anxious person (like my husband, just for example), but rather on why this seems to be a trend across society, or across certain segments of society—in this case, our nation’s wealthiest. In other words, why do so many of the nation’s wealthiest seem to be not just preparing, but arguably over-preparing, for a doomsday scenario?
It seems to me that we are witnessing those with extreme privilege expressing real fear of losing their social and economic advantages. Let’s face it—sickness, natural disasters and even terrorists can attack without rhyme, reason, or regard to socioeconomic status. This very thought strikes fear in the hearts of even the calmest, most well-adjusted individuals. On some level, we are all afraid of the loss of control and order that such crises represent. Yet, some of us have benefited more than others from the social order. Thus, even threatened loss can inspire extreme response.
Moreover, sociologists and historians will tell you that spikes in this type of reactionary behavior happen periodically over time, particularly during periods of social or political unrest, and when our society’s future seems especially uncertain. World Wars, the Cuban missile crisis, economic depressions, and, you guessed it, the Trump presidency are all good examples. We are indeed experiencing a resurgence of interest in emergency preparedness right now, particularly amongst those who, at least theoretically, if not practically, have the most to lose.
Think about this: In an alternate reality, where society as we know it is leveled, money becomes meaningless, and survival skills give you power, the current wealth and status of today’s social elite may not matter much. That is, unless they can maximize their resources before disaster strikes. What we are seeing now is a plan to use their current wealth to try to insulate themselves from what could be a very significant loss.
If you can read through at least half of the article without wanting to throw up from the excess of it all, that’s where the most interesting part happens. A debate between several millionaires and billionaires is briefly presented: If disaster strikes, and the wealthy need to hop into their planes and fly to safety, would they allow the pilot to bring his family on board, too? And, once they arrive at their destination, will they allow the pilot’s family to live with them and share their resources?
I believe that, in this scenario, the pilot has skills worth more than money. Just asking the question is a recognition that affluence can only get you so far, and perhaps, as the wealthy prepare physically for the apocalypse, they should also ready themselves emotionally for a new social order. Conceivably, in the midst of a dystopian vision, there is a small ray of hope for the underclasses of today’s society.
Coincidently, as I finish writing this post, a terrible blizzard is making its way to our corner of Connecticut. I have, in fact, checked our emergency supplies in the basement, and made one last run to the crowded grocery store with nearly empty shelves, feeling strangely grateful that we already had a good head start thanks to my nervous protective husband. And, I would like to think that in an emergency, we would be pleased to share with friends and neighbors who come to us less well-prepared. That is assuming, of course, that they are not actually zombies looking to eat all our food and then enjoy our brains for dessert!