Look around, if you will, at the world and everything in it. Every single living thing, from amoebas to the great leviathans of the sea is in a constant struggle for survival. Of course, while you’re pondering that fact, you should take a moment to look in the mirror and see reflected there the greatest organism – yourself, Homo Sapiens. We’re locked in that never-ending struggle for life, too, only we humans are the only creature on the planet (that we currently know of) to conceptualize and commodify it, such that existence itself has become an “ism” – survivalism, predictably enough. What that means and how it’s expressed is a fascinating subject, so if a discussion of survivalism as a cultural phenomenon piques your interest, grab a drink and settle in, because that’s what we’ll be talking about in this blog post.
All comfy? Great! Here we go.
Survivalism, at least as Wikipedia defines it, is a movement which involves groups of people – survivalists, ‘preppers’, and the like – who are actively engaged in building what they see as the foundation for a comfortable life in the event of catastrophe. Such adversity can range from simple things, such as a multi-day loss of power or an instance in which one might become stranded after a car accident, to the ultimate scenario: The total erosion of society and an “every man for himself” style race for resources and power.
Now, you might be thinking that only crazy people and solitary hold-outs from the glory days of Hippiedom think like this, but you’d be wrong. While things certainly aren’t as grim and in your face as they were during the tense years of the Cold War, survivalism is very much an ongoing thing. In fact, it’s a huge subculture that gains new momentum, popularity, and adherents with every passing day.
Survivalism in Movies, Video Games, and Other Media
Everyone likes to veg out in front of the tube or their favorite gaming system now and then, and it just so happens that a lot of us are spending that time as vicarious survivalists. Video games such as Don’t Starve, DayZ, the Fallout franchise (the optional ‘Hardcore mode’ of which cranks the realism and difficulty up to eleven), and the usual host of survival-horror titles immerse players in a world where people, creatures, and the very game world is out to kill them, leaving the player with only one option: Victory through survival.
Movies and television are in on the survivalism trend, too. Survivor, the castaway-themed reality show is the obvious example, but shows about preppers and survivalists abound, as do those about people who, for whatever reason, have chosen to isolate themselves from society and live in some of the world’s most hostile regions. Movies like Castaway, Life of Pi, and even the Terminator franchise are prime examples of the survivalism mindset and ethos – life can throw you a curveball of epic proportions at any moment, and the more prepared you are to absorb it and adapt, the more likely it is that you’ll come out OK.
Survivalism in Religion
Finally, let’s talk about books. Titles like the Hunger Games trilogy have sparked a veritable eruption of post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian series, many of which have, in their turn, become wildly popular movies as well as novels. Of course, this is really nothing new; K.A. Applegate and her husband were thrilling kids in the 90s with survivalist epics long before it became the Hot New Thing™ – go read the Animorphs and Remnants books for a taste of survivalist nostalgia.
Religion is a very touchy subject, so I’m going to do what I can to keep things light and comfortable. I’m gonna try to skirt around issues of theology as much as I can, but when I can’t, it’s always possible that I might end up making a factual error, if and when that happens, you guys should feel free to comment at the end of the post, and I’ll fix it ASAP. The important thing to take away here is that I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes. Now that the disclaimer is in place, let’s get down to brass tacks (or incense burners, as the case may be).
If there’s a king of survivalist religions (and we’re talking established religions with some measure of legitimacy, not cults and the like), it would have to be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Colloquially known as the Mormons, this Christian offshoot has its roots in the great westward expansion of the 1800s. Fleeing the strictures of polite society and what their founders saw as persecution, the Mormons flocked to Utah and other burgeoning territories, the better to put down roots in peace. A magnificent family culture and a religious mandate binding on all LDS members to stockpile a minimum of two years’ worth of non-perishable food are probably this faith system’s most glaring survivalist features.
Outside of the Latter-Day Saints, there can be only one true contender for the crown of holy survivalism: Enter the Amish. The Amish, the Mennonites, and all their related sub-sects and denominations are those quaint folks you may have seen driving horse-drawn buggies down a country road. They dress and speak and live their lives as if it’s 1850, because for them, it still is. Their radical adherence to a simpler way of life means they live mostly apart from modern society, although some integration is, of course, to be expected. In the main, though, they build their own homes and furniture, make their own clothes and food, use their own language and educational system, and basically live in preparation for their own unique take on the Christian end times scenario.
Modern Day Survivalism
There’s no question about it – everyday people with no particular religious or occupational ties to the movement have also begun to embrace the prepper philosophy. Thanks in large part to the rather grim news landscape, books and kits based on survivalism have begun to see a great swell in popularity, as have blogs just like this one, where survivalists new and wizened alike can come to share their knowledge and experience. To get a sense of what that entails, you can find more information about bug-out kits and survivalist-friendly gift ideas right on this site.
The intersection of popular culture and survivalism carries some very interesting implications, especially when you consider that the trend is, to all appearances, only going to get stronger with the passage of time. Whether you find yourself content to test your mettle against zombies or have decided to take things a little more seriously, remember that the key to success is action – action and access to a great blog like this one, of course!
Thanks for reading. See you next time!