The Privilege of Being a Prepper

The Privilege of Being a Prepper

I have a MAGA uncle who owns about a hundred acres of undeveloped land. He lives out there in a nice big cabin. Unfortunately, there's a trailer park full of meth heads right across the road. They're always trespassing. One time, he woke up and found a dude watching him through the window. The downside to living in the middle of nowhere is that the police aren't going to rush out to protect your property. It's you against the meth heads.

I think the methheads are going to win.

Now, let's say you want a root cellar.

You go on YouTube. There's tons of videos. They're all made by middle-aged hipsters with ranches and homesteads. They promise to show you how to build your own root cellar. All you have to do is hire a construction crew. You just have to spend thousands of dollars on building materials. You just need a hundred hours to dig a hole in your backyard. You just need money for whatever permits and approvals the city requires.

Yeah, piece of cake.

Don't worry, you don't have to build a root cellar if you have a basement. Wait, you don't have a basement?


That's how it goes for just about everything involved in serious prepping. It requires a certain amount of capital.

Every now and then, you run across websites dedicated to urban prepping. Some dude will show you how to collect rainwater with a tarp and a bucket. They'll show you how to make a stove out of a can.

That's about it.

Lately, it's hard to watch homesteading videos without feeling a twinge of resentment. They often don't realize how they come off, as flaunting their privilege for generations who now face almost insurmountable obstacles to basic home ownership, let alone a homestead. It's hard not to feel jealous, and it's hard not to wish you were born 10 or 20 years earlier.

I've been prepping for a couple of years now. It's not as simple as it looks. Our backyard couldn't grow jack at the beginning. It was all fill dirt, drowned in pesticide by the previous owner. The mail guy laughed at my spouse for trying to grow okra. I started beans and they died after a month. We wound up having to build raised beds, then buy new soil and compost.

It wasn't cheap.

After two growing seasons, we're just now starting to produce enough to supplement groceries. The heat domes don't help. One bad week can kill half of your harvest. It's starting to become clear. Even if you grow your own food, it takes years to figure out what you're doing.

There's a learning curve.

More than half of Americans can't afford a basic emergency. They work 60 or 70 hours a week. It's not exactly easy to squeeze in a home garden. The Fed predicts people will deplete the last of their savings by October. They're practically cheering about it. They want everyone to feel so desperate they'll do anything for a job. They consider that a healthy economy.

How do you prep for that?

Maybe you grew up with a handyman for a mom or a dad. They showed you how to build and fix things. You had things to fix in the first place. Your parents had a garage or a little shed to tinker. They owned tools.

I know it's hard to believe, but millions of Americans grow up in apartment complexes with two parents who work all the time. They don't have garages or sheds. They don't own tools.

Nobody shows them how to fix anything.

Millions of Americans don't get the opportunity to own property. They're groomed from birth to work at McDonald's or a Tyson plant.

Schools don't teach critical thinking. They ditched vocational programs decades ago. Most Americans under 50 didn't get the chance to take a shop class. Someone decided they didn't need those skills. If they want them now, they have to pay for classes in electrical engineering. They have to find the time to watch YouTube videos. Even when they acquire the skills, they don't own property. Their landlord won't even let them hang pictures.

That makes it hard to prep.

Sure, there's exceptions.

Years ago, a woman wagged her finger at me when I raised all of these points. She said her landlord let her grow vegetables.

She didn't seem to grasp what she'd lucked into.

For years, I lived in a downtown studio apartment in what a privileged homesteader would probably describe as a ghetto. In fact, friends did tell us we were living in a slum. There were no lawns.

There was no grass.

There was no space to store anything. We barely had enough room for a stackable washer and dryer. Homeless people stopped on our steps all day long, just resting from the world's cruelty. They would've taken anything we grew, and I wouldn't blame them at all.

If you'd talked to me about prepping back then, I would've laughed in your face. I would've told you to get lost. I would've been among the hoards of city dwellers that survivalists fantasize about mowing down with assault weapons. In many ways, I'm still not much better off.

Yes, there's a point here.

Prepping doesn't really work on an individual level, especially in a setting like that. The homesteaders aren't nearly as safe as they think, either. They're not going to be able to hold out against thousands of hungry, angry urbanites.

There's just too many of us.

It's easy to talk about building a community.

It's hard to actually build one.

It's hard to trust people.

Let's face it, the pandemic kind of broke the social contract. Everyone pretends everything is great, but deep down they learned some unsettling things about humanity. We learned that about a third of everyone we know will fly into conspiracy land almost immediately. Another third will do the right thing for a little while, then they'll get tired of it. They won't do the simplest things to take care of each other in an emergency.

It's weird.

On the one hand, we have evidence that communities bind together during times of crisis. On the other hand, they don't do very well when it comes to altering their behavior for prolonged periods.

Some of us are left wondering how we're supposed to build a resilient community with people who won't learn the difference between an N95 mask and a blue surgical one. We don't know how someone can call themselves a prepper while simultaneously believing that a new virus is both a mild cold but also a bioengineered pathogen. I don't know about you, but I don't want those people on my zombie survival team.

Here's a thought:

If you're a homesteader or fantasy survivalist, you might need to be nice to all those city-dwelling essential workers after all. Maybe they don't own ranches, but they have one thing you don't:

They have the supply chains.

They know where the stuff is. They know how to get it. They know where all the trucks and gas stations are. They know where all the truck stops and warehouses are. They know how to get inside them. If and when society starts experiencing real breakdowns, I suspect they'll find themselves in a much better position than everyone thinks. They'll be the ones who decide who gets the stuff, and where it goes. The billionaires will have nothing but yachts and maybe a handful of Navy seals they have to threaten with shock collars.

There's an irony to watching all these homesteader videos. Maybe they don't see it, but the rest of us do. They constantly rely on the grid in order to fund and manage their little projects. They're not off-grid.

They're semi-grid.

The more I learn about prepping, the more it becomes clear that it needs to happen on a national scale. The government should be passing climate stimulus plans. They should be paying people to build root cellars and basements. They should be encouraging everyone to grow vegetables in their yards. Cities should be working with neighborhoods to make local food gardens, not fighting against them. They should be establishing free vocational problems.

This should be happening at lightning speed. Instead, our governments seem more interested in subsidizing fossil fuels and building cop cities, which will only inhibit us from doing what's necessary to survive. They're trying to trap a large population and funnel them into a guaranteed source of cheap, expendable labor. These are the ones who often get blamed for "not being prepared," but they're set up for failure from the start. Nobody wants them prepared. The elite want them to sacrifice themselves for a doomed economic system. They seem more interested in building luxury apartments in thawing Antarctica.

Yeah, it's a thing.

I think you can commit to prepping without looking or sounding like a privileged asshole. If you have a homestead, good for you. You can use all the tools and resources at your disposal. If you don't have all the resources you want, you should at least be aware and try to get whatever you can. At the same time, there's an undeniable socio-political angle to all of this.

Some people will homestead with their families. Some people will have to build urban networks and pool resources.

Preppers exist at every socioeconomic level, and we're all doing whatever we can with what we've got. I think we can all agree on one thing: When shit hits the fan, the absolute last place in the world I want to be is standing next to five angry marines on a bunker yacht, all wearing shock collars. I don't want to be the tech billionaire holding that remote.

Do you?

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