My husband and I went to a preparedness/survivalist meeting last Saturday at a neighbor’s house. It was held at a Mormon’s house, with several Mormons and other die hard republicans in attendance. One person stood up to talk about forming a tribe, and how we needed to form a tribe of like minded individuals. Another stood up and challenged everyone in the group to go without electricity after 4 pm every night for a week. My husband, on being invited to this meeting, volunteered me to give my talk on When Zombies Attack! that I developed as a preparedness lecture for fellow HAM radio club members (sadly, the tongue in cheek zombie references went unappreciated). The talk dealt with the practical items one should have on hand so that when an emergency happens one is prepared, such as minimum water storage per person per day, foods that store well and can be eaten without a heat source, medicines, records, and so forth. My husband seemed to think the talk went over well. I was not so sure, for several reasons I’ll outline here.
The first thing is that these people are trying to be hard core survivalists, it seemed to me. They are expecting just that thing, the “zombie apocalypse” and that a sudden and irreversible catastrophic event a la “The Road” or something equally catastrophic though perhaps not so cannibalish. I stated at the start of my talk that this was originally aimed at preparedness for a local disaster such as occurred not too many years ago; a local creek flooded due to the massive amount of rain we received from a storm and as a result many many people were stranded for up to 10 days without electricity, water, food, and no way to cross the creek to access said items. I referenced what had recently happened as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and what had not so recently happened as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and pointed out that the great majority of people, even with the lessons of Katrina plain, refused to do the bare minimum FEMA recommends regarding food and water storage. I then very clearly and emphatically said that, while preparedness for a disaster is wise, prudent, and appropriate, I do not think that there is going to be any sort of catastrophic event that will forever change the landscape in America and cause a sudden, profound die-off as so many survivalists do. I referenced the last days of the Roman Empire, and pointed out that the center stood firm for a very long time after the periphery started contracting, and pointed out how that’s happening even now in our own nation, our own time. I gave very specific examples from my own experiences as a home health nurse in our own community that show very clearly that the periphery, economically speaking is already most definitely contracting. There were a few nods of agreement but I couldn’t help but notice that there were also those jaws set tightly and the shakes of the head disagreeing most vehemently with me as well.
So that right there was one point of cognitive dissonance, it seemed to me. For the most part, the down and dirty items one should keep in a ‘bug out bag’ were practical and I was asked for a list/printout of the presentation so that people could use it for stocking their own bags. The dissonance arises because it seemed so odd to me that these were people who, for all intents and purposes, are committed to prepping and have been so for quite some time, but don’t have the faintest idea of what to store or have on hand in the event they actually might need it. Of course, the Mormons in the group have their lists of items they are religiously required to keep on hand and I do believe a years’ supply of stored food per person in their household is one of them, but what to have other than food or herbal remedies didn’t seem to have crossed anyone’s mind. As Mormons, I suppose the apocalyptic viewpoint is part and parcel of the religious outlook, but I don’t think it’s necessarily wise to only prepare for the short term…
The second part of the cognitive dissonance was that most, if not all, the people present were either self professed “Tea Partiers” or had sympathies with them. One of the people present is also going to school, though he is pursuing his bachelors degree. He began a rant about how our country is turning socialist and communist. I interrupted and said that he said that like socialism is a bad thing, and told him I really don’t think he has the faintest understanding of what socialism actually is, nor communism either. I went on to tell him that we ALREADY live in a socialist society, and that we enjoy the benefits of said socialism: postal service, public schools, fire and police service, public roads, libraries, retirement. He then said something about Marxism (I don’t really remember what) and I responded that he didn’t understand Marxism because if he had ever actually READ Marx’ writings he would know that Karl Marx never advocated for socialism or communism either. I told him that Marx was an economic theorist, plain and simple, and he was pointing out the problems with capitalism and positing a theoretical alternative. Yes, Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, but he and Engels were positing a definition of socialism and of communism very, very different than what became the United Soviet Socialist Republic; he was fighting against the the standard of the time, the absolute monarchy with a parliament that represented only the wealthy and landed, and advocating for the common man to have a say in his own destiny, government, and a piece of the wealth pie he was working so hard to create.
His point was that same one Romney was making in his speech to the wealthy where he was surreptitiously filmed saying that 47% of Americans are takers. Whereupon I put him on the spot by asking him how he was funding his education…and yes, he’s getting federal aid for his schooling. So I told him that he’s a taker too, then, just like those he wants to hate. I didn’t say it cruelly, or with malice, I just wanted him to see the hypocrisy inherent in his viewpoint. And I could tell he got it, and had never even thought about it before. We were unable to continue our conversation because we were both reminded that there were to be no political discussions at this meeting.
Another painful dissonance was the stated intention of these people to hold our community with a perimeter via the use of firearms from any of those from ‘outside’ (both the have-nots within our community and those who might come to try to take what little we have) as though we have in any fashion a self sustaining community here. A couple dozen chickens and a ranch miles and miles away does not make any sort of community that can supply all its own needs for food, let alone anything else one might think goes with a modern lifestyle. Which brings me to the final point…
Perhaps the most glaring cognitive dissonance it seemed to me was that these people actually think that they will maintain their standard of living in the face of this coming apocalypse. The hosts, while having much experience in canning and food storage, do not have a swamp cooler. They have a large, energy sucking air conditioner/heater, as most houses in the Sun Belt do, and no solar or wind power, and a very inefficiently insulated home. They have no visible water harvesting system. They do have chickens, but I didn’t see much of a garden area; nothing like Mr. Tin Foil and I have developed over the years. I really don’t know how they expect to maintain their living standard if there is an apocalypse, especially if the electricity goes off for good.
I guess it just goes to show that I can’t relate to Tea Partiers any more than I can relate to fanatical Obama supporters. The lack of critical thinking skills from both sides, and the blinders to whatever doesn’t fit their particular world view, is simply amazing. And they are so tuned into their points of difference I’m certain they are blind to the fact that in many ways they want the same things from our government, our society, and life. How very sad. And I stand at the periphery of both, wondering how the divide will ever be crossed, because it surely has to if we’re to remain anything resembling a polite society.