A Comfortable Apocalypse

What's the point of doomsday kits?

Man watching collapsing tower.

I'm not sure how I found out about Judy, but it was an accident.

Judy sells emergency readiness kits. They run anywhere from $200 to $1000. The deluxe kits come with portable power stations that can charge your phones and appliances for a weekend. They're neatly packaged and color-coordinated. Everything you get comes in bright orange, with extremely clear labels telling you and everyone else exactly what's inside.

Judy doesn't sell anything you can't get from a regular prepper site. What they offer is branding. Now Oprah's book club members can dabble in prepping without getting weird looks from their friends.

Companies like Judy quadrupled their sales last year.

Prepping used to be a fringe activity.

Not anymore.

Americans spend $11 billion on prepping supplies a year now. About 40 percent of millennials and zoomers are preparing for collapse. Prepping has gone mainstream, and companies are cashing in big time. There's more doomsday sites and conventions than ever. They want to sell us emergency food kits, multitools, bagged water, and tactical gear. Gun sales have boomed four years in a row. They spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, and now they've leveled off around around 1 million per month

This is how Americans respond to collapse.

They buy stuff.

On the surface, it looks like nobody cares about what's happening to the planet. They don't want to read about it. They don't want to talk about it. They aren't going to give up their summer vacations and golf weekends. They're going to keep doing hot yoga right up until the end.

Underneath all that apathy, they care.

On the inside, they're panicking.

If the last year didn't make it clear, our governments have absolutely no plan to phase out fossil fuels. And they have absolutely no plan to respond to the climate disasters hitting us now. The most recent major climate conference was hosted by deniers who believe there's no science saying we should end fossil fuels, when that's all the science ever says. The daily schedule consisted of panels on topics like responsible yachting.

People seem to grasp the situation, at least on an intuitive level. Our governments would prefer to let wildfire smoke blanket entire continents while thousands of people die in heat waves. They would prefer to let the power grid flicker, leaving hospitals without heat or air conditioning. Above all, they would prefer to let us all fend for ourselves.

If the government isn't going to save them, then people will look for alternatives. They should be looking to each other and at least trying to form resilient communities. Instead, they're turning to the very consumerism that's ruining their lives in the first place.

Yeah, it's ironic.

I get it.

It's hard to talk to people these days. It's hard to know who you can trust. Some days, it feels like you can't trust anyone. It's easier to buy an orange crate and then pretend you've done everything you can.

All of these companies are happy to cater to this mindset, even nurture it. They'll sell you all the guns and prepacked bugout bags your little heart desires. That's disaster capitalism at its finest.

For the rich, social collapse presents nothing more than the investment opportunity of a lifetime.

Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Oprah love these kits. They promote them on their sites. They want us to believe that a little orange bag and a plastic crate are all you need to face a future of wildfires, pandemics, floods, and crop failures. They're not being totally honest.

All these celebrities have something the rest of us don't.

For starters, they have private firefighters.

Every fire season, the rich hire private companies to save their mansions from destruction. They have private security forces, private bunkers, private ranches, private islands, and private jets to take them wherever they want to go when collapse looms.

The rest of us face a very different future.

We don't get whisked away from doom on private jets. We get shepherded onto crowded highways where evacuees panic and abandon their cars, trapping the rest of us. We get airlines that jack up their airfares 400 percent for evacuees. We get water for $2 a cup at a Taylor Swift concert. We get to wait 4 hours in an ER, exposed to everyone else's infections, and then sent home. In a real disaster, a little orange bag won't save any of us.

There's another layer of irony.

The people buying these bright orange bags don't seem to understand that they're already living in an emergency.

If they were truly paying attention, they would see that collapse is happening right in front of them. They wouldn't be buying guns and crates of food. They would be trying to get everyone to wear N95 masks. They aren't, and that's the larger ideology behind the commercialization of doom. It tricks you into thinking you can have a comfortable apocalypse.

Public aversion to masks is a great example.

Right now, there's a dozen reasons to wear a good mask, an N95 or better. There's a new Covid variant, and we already know that Covid damages every system in your body. There's a new strain of monkeypox on the loose. There's outbreaks of pneumonia all over the world. And yet, people aren't preparing for those kinds of emergencies.

Westerners don't want to alter their behavior.

They want a bag of survival goodies.

That's what this commercialized form of prepping boils down to in the end. It has nothing at all to do with survival.

Look at the nutrition contents of your average survival food kit. The sodium alone would kill you. The bunker people fantasize about filling entire rooms with this stuff. In reality, you wouldn't be able to live off it. That was never the goal, but now it's a part of the marketing.

Some of us have done the math. You could build a dream cabin in the middle of the woods with a rain catchment system and everything. You're still not going to make it for very long. Why? Because if you want to live into peaceful old age, that requires doctors, nurses, engineers, and sanitation experts. It's also kind of hard to grow your own food if it's 110 degrees all the time and it hardly ever rains, or if the rain you need comes all at once.

Before all of these advances in modern medicine and public sanitation, you could expect to live into your 40s 0r 50s. The people who seem excited about the idea of social collapse are the same ones who believe we always lived in harmony with diseases. They think they can stockpile antibiotics like amoxicillin, when it has a shelf-life of 3 years. They fill pantries with canned chili, but forget to buy a manual can opener. These are the ones who think they're going to shoot their way through the apocalypse.

They're just going to kill each other.

In theory, we could roll back time and learn to live more like our great-grandparents. That's the point of degrowth and steady-state economies. It's really strange that the idea of living more like we did 50 years ago gets branded as liberal snowflake talk. It's really strange that the people who talk the most about their self-reliance freak out at the slightest suggestion that we don't need all of these restaurants and sports bars.

What's the point of the doomsday industry?

Like everything else, it's money.

On a bigger level, it's to convince everyone that all they need is a little bag with wipes, energy bars, and a crank radio. It's to make them feel safe, even if they aren't. It's to trick them into believing they don't have to think too much about collapse, and that they'll get to use their phones a little longer. They're selling an idea that most Europeans and North Americans already believe, that none of these grim scenarios will truly affect them. They're selling the idea of temporary inconveniences and disruptions, not a world where you have to deal with hunger and thirst. Above all, they're selling the idea of self-reliance and rugged individualism, not collective action.

They're selling the lie of a comfortable apocalypse.

Meanwhile, the people selling and promoting these kits are building bunkers, hiring private firefighters, and trying to build secret security forces to protect themselves from the rest of us.

What a world.

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