The Universal Notebook: The end isn't near!

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If you want to sit back in the comfort of your own home and watch the long, slow, steady decline of America, I suggest you tune in to the National Geographic Channel and take a long hard look at “Doomsday Preppers.”

This new series focuses on people stockpiling, fortifying, and arming themselves against the Apocalypse, whether they see it coming in the form of economic collapse, political upheaval, nuclear disaster, comet strike, climate change, Mayan prophecy or Judgment Day.

Like a lot of the reality shows on television these days, there is a horrid fascination about “Doomsday Preppers” that is part “What’s wrong with these people?” and part “Well, at least they make me feel better about myself.” I suppose for paranoid personalities fearing the worst, it just makes sense for survivalism to become a way of life, but it strikes me as a way of death. Sad. Truly sad.

There’s a kind of militant self-righteousness about folks who think the End Is Near, even more so if they expect to survive it. I guess it’s just a matter of being prepared, Boy Scouts gone ballistic, but, honestly, why would anyone want to be among the handful of temporary survivors of an apocalyptic event?

Of course, preppers are not really prepared. They have no idea what is going to happen and when it does, they probably won’t know what hit them. Get all geared up to fight al-Qaida and get invaded by Martians.

To believe that the world is going to undergo a redefining cataclysm in one’s own lifetime is egocentric. It’s a failure of the imagination, the belief that the world ends when you do. My reading of the survivalist mindset is that preparing for the worst gives meaning to life where there might not otherwise be any. Nothing strange about that. People do it all the time with money, power, success, material possessions, sex, alcohol, drugs, religion, art, you name it.

Personally, I just don’t believe the end is near, and if it is, I’m pretty sure that guns and ammo, canned good and ham radios are not going to save you. Should the End Time ever actually come, selflessness and self-sacrifice will be more in order than self-reliance and self-preservation. Wouldn’t you want to go out comforting and caring for others rather than taking pot-shots at your neighbors from your fortified bunker?

Selflessness, the surrender of the self, is at the heart of most major world religions. It’s what Jesus taught. It’s what the Buddha taught. Arming yourself against the enemy and hiding in a hole smacks of the bunker mentality of a Hitler or Saddam Hussein. It is not the behavior of an enlightened being.

Back in the 1950s, naive Americans by the tens of thousands built fallout shelters in their basements and backyards and we innocent schoolchildren practiced ducking under our desks as though that would protect us from a nuclear blast. The sense of impending doom that defined that Cold War era now defines the lives of preppers convinced there will soon be rioting in the streets and chaos across the land.

What amazes me is that they allow themselves to be filmed. Even if they’re not embarrassed by their obsession, you’d think they’d be concerned about secrecy and security.

Now, hard on the heels of “Doomsday Preppers” we also have the Discovery Channel’s “Doomsday Bunkers,” a kind of “Cribs” for crackpots and cave dwellers. The velocity with which the media can co-opt and capitalize on social dysfunction is truly astounding. I’m think about getting a bunker just to escape all the hoggers and loggers, hoarders and pickers, swamp folk and hillbilly handfishermen who have invaded cable television.

If ever there were an argument for the need for the Public Broadcasting Service, “Doomsday Preppers” is it. National Geographic should be ashamed to be associated with such exploitation.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.