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The Apocalypse Is Coming: More Thoughts on Homeward Bound

So. The apocalypse.

Don’t even roll your eyes at me.

The apocalypse is totally coming, and it won’t be the zombie kind we like to make movies about. Monsters will be the least of our worries as we struggle just to make do mending our own wounds, sheltering ourselves from the weather, and fending off scurvy.

Here in Vancouver, the apocalypse will probably take one of two forms – either we’ll have a massive earthquake that will trigger a tremendous tsunami, or climate change will eventually erode enough of our seaside land that the settlements of the entire coastline will be ruined. In other places of the world, the apocalypse might take the form of hurricane, earthquake, typhoon, drought, fire, crop failure, disease or war. With climate change and ever-volatile geopolitical situations constantly in the media (with good reason), it’s no wonder people feel twitchy about the integrity of the status quo.

While reading Homeward Bound, Emily Matchar’s book about what she calls the new domesticity – the trend of 20- and 30-something educated white women to entrench themselves in domesticity, her coverage of which inspired my declaration of being an unnatural mother – I threw my arms up and cheered when I got to the part when she went to a survivalist convention.

A striking observation Matchar makes throughout the book is that the new domesticity looks surprisingly similar amongst progressive urban (or once-urban) women and very conservative religious women. And when she spoke with homesteaders of any ilk who reason that they’re doing the right thing because of climate change and the need for sustainability, I kept thinking of hardcore survivalists. Hence my delight that Matchar made that connection, too. In my mind, going off grid is isolating oneself from society, whether you do it with a gun rack or a trunk full of patchouli. And I’m inclined to think that isolation is about the worst state to be in when the apocalypse comes ’round.

In a big Rubbermaid tub tucked between the wall and a piece of furniture in our dining room, we’ve assembled our emergency kit. Used to be it was only people in areas prone to dramatic disaster that were urged to keep a kit like this around, but nowadays, what with the weather and the earth shaking our understanding of what normal is, everyone should probably have one. I keep meaning to add to ours, too. It wouldn’t be a bad idea, would it, to augment our first-aid kits and iodine tablets and space blankets and crank-powered radio with vacuum-sealed wool and knitting needles and fabric scissors and thread? After all, our neighbourhood isn’t rife with big-box stores ready to be looted when we decide we have no other option to survive.

When I talk with people about the maker movement, it’s not uncommon for someone to half-joke that makers are the people you’ll want to have around in the apocalypse (ok, yes, sometimes I’m the one who says it). We’re the ones who already see the world as raw material, ready to make it into whatever we want or need. And we have the skills to do it – we know our way around the basics needed to maintain life. Collectively, we know electronics, machinery, fibre crafts, agriculture, woodworking, ceramics. We’re the ones who will know how to make the clothes and find the food and construct the shelter.

The reason I bring all this up in the context of Homeward Bound is that I continue to be concerned about the inclination hardcore homesteader-types seem to have to remove themselves from society. They seem to want to do this in part because of the coming apocalypse, however any one individual conceives of it. By going off-grid and growing all our own food we become self-sufficient. But don’t we also become royally screwed, then, if our crops fail?

If our house crashes down in a 9.0 earthquake, what are the chances our Rubbermaid will be easily found – intact – in the rubble? The truth is, it’s my neighbours I’m going to count on, and I assume they’ll count on me. If our Rubbermaid survives but no one else’s does, we’re going to have to make our limited resources go a very long way.

I understand the inclination to prepare for major changes coming. We should have our eyes open, and our Rubbermaids stocked. But fleeing to the hills alone? I don’t think that’s preparing for much of anything but ending up in the hills alone. Fine if you’re a hermit, not so great if it turns out you’ll need to rely on a community for survival and then rebuilding.

Hyper-individualism only works if you truly believe you’re better off isolated. I suppose if you do believe that, I’d prefer not to have you around when it’ll have to be assumed that everyone in a community will need to lean on everyone else. In post-apocalyptic society, I have no doubt I’ll suffer my days turning ratty old sweaters into new ones and figuring out how to clothe everyone in time for the rains to come – and I’d only be able to do that if someone else spends their days hunting or gathering, and others build buildings and others store food and others teach the children.

Yeah, I have a rich imagination and I love me some doomsday fiction. But this shit is a real possibility, and I’m saddened to know that some people are inclined to take their toys and go home in the face of it, all in the name of domesticity.

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Beth

Hmmm…. Good thoughts. Sounds like libertarians as well.

robin

This book has been on my to-read list but between this post and the other one, you’re pushing it right to the top.

LisaBurrito

Um. My earthquake kit DOES have a hand-crank radio, space blanket, and iodine tablets… does that make me weird or super prepared? (I did forget emergency knitting supplies though!) As an urbanite who thinks about the apocalypse… I do feel our food supply vulnerability. I’ve often wondered if I could buy shares in a local farm/homestead that gives me the right to come live on the farm if/when everything goes to hell.

dethe

Great post. The most important survival trait for after a disaster (or series of disasters, up to and including ones of apocalyptic proportion) is community building. And it helps a whole lot to start doing it before the disaster strikes.

All those other skills (being able to make things, milk goats, card wool, grow vegetables, dress meat, etc.) are good to have, but no-one can do everything.

Good things you *can* do ahead of time is to get hard-copies of Where There is No Doctor and the rest of the books from Hesperian. http://hesperian.org/

Another thing to remember is that all the disaster scenarios that we comfy first worlders view as apocalypse are the status quo for a large portion of the world. Losing access to power and running water is a crisis, but not the end of the world. People live that way all the time and they carry on with their lives.

Another good resource (before the crisis) is Vinay Gupta ( http://www.appropedia.org/Six_ways_to_die) and others who work on solutions for large-scale crises and ongoing poverty. Learning how to get potable water in low-tech ways, and how to maintain sanitation during a crisis are better survival skills than learning to defend your home with a shotgun.

Vanessa

It’s a fine balance. While my husband and I do keep a ‘bug out bag’, we also have plans on where to meet our friends if there is an awful emergency. During Hurricane Sandy, my sister said it was really nice to see the whole town where she and my mom live, come together and help out. Everyone was swapping food and sharing cell phones. I think that’s what keeps things from really falling into chaos.

I also feel like it’s against nature to hermit up. Humans are social creatures and we live in ‘packs’ for a reason. Isolation isn’t good for us, physically and emotionally. I think that when times get tough, what keeps our faith in humanity as a whole going is having community support and outreach.

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