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Apocalypse Now? Now? How About Now?

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For Harper’s Magazine, Lauren Groff attends Prepper Camp hoping to learn useful, climate-friendly survival tactics to help herself and others to weather the aftermath of hurricane season in Florida. While she encounters the expected — gun enthusiasts, fear of the “other,” and a fair bit of snake oil — she also realizes that she has a lot more in common with her “prepper brethren” than she first thought.

Perhaps I should have expected to feel wildly out of place at Prepper Camp. I am a vegetarian agnostic feminist in a creative field who sits to the left of most American socialists: I want immediate and radical action to halt climate change; Medicare and free public higher education for all; abortion pills offered for pennies in pharmacies and gas stations; the eradication of billionaires; the destruction of capitalism; and the rocketing of all the planet’s firearms into the sun.

And yet I am also, in the darkest corners of my heart, a doomsday prepper myself.

It should not have been a surprise to me—though it was—how rarely actual facts were invoked at Prepper Camp: instead I had heard a great deal of fear mitigated by practical-seeming ideas, lots of baseless venom spat in the direction of imagined liberals, but almost no science to give weight to any assertions, no analysis of the larger state of the world, no evidence of statistical knowledge. Survivalists had revealed themselves to be romantics. Prepper Camp was a castle built on emotion: fear of the inchoate other was so great that the survivalists felt justified in being prepared to kill other humans to protect their material goods.

But then I saw, to my horror, an uglier truth: that I was no better than my prepper brethren. And that because of my hypocrisy, I was probably even worse.

Perhaps doomsday libertarians do secretly long for a chance to rid the earth of people who threaten their supremacy; but there is something equally anarchic in me that longs for society to break so that we can rebuild it to be kinder, more generous, more equitable. Deep down, perhaps I am a prepper because I believe that the only way we are going to pry the world’s wealth out of the greedy, grasping hands of the billionaires who are willfully killing the environment is through a total collapse of the status quo. Perhaps I am a prepper because I have had enough: I am goddamn ready for the guillotines.

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