We in the Western world with its apocalyptic traditions, are divided into three parts. Those who genuinely believe the End Times will see them flying up to some paradise if they're prepared, while all others will perish -- those who look forward to a world in which they, prepared in their bunkers with their food and weapons and skills, are a remnant few. And then there's me and maybe you who think they're nuts.
Like some of you, I was raised in the age of the Bomb, and I fully believed in the likelihood, the probability of a nuclear holocaust. As a child I would take area maps and draw circles around Chicago of blast effects at different distances, of probability of impact points given the inaccuracy of those big Soviet warheads. It never looked good for someone only 20 miles away from probable ground zeroes, but I pressured my parents for a fallout shelter and they let me have an area in the basement to store food and water. I built low power radios with coils for all kinds of frequencies. I built an unlicensed transmitter. I built an air filter. I bought survival brochures from the Government Printing Office. I wondered what we would do if desperate neighbors decided to attack, because we had no weapons in the house. I used to dream of a house in some remote place that wouldn't be a target. To this day I have disaster plans and equipment and when the Hurricanes of '05 and '04 came howling through, some Boy Scout part of my mind smiled and whispered: you see? I wasn't crazy at all -- I was prepared.
I'm no longer worried about a hard Plutonium rain, nor even biological warfare. I don't want to be the Road Warrior in some poisoned landscape and I'm too old to survive it, but sophisticated shelters built by "preppers" are proliferating. Shelters with blast-proof doors and booby traps out of an Indiana Jones movie set. Training camps for survivalists and shelter designers take in a lot of money and weapons selection and training for doomsday survival is big business. I don't think it's going to slow down even though 2012 doesn't seem to have been the end of anything. We always have and always will be provided with something to fear and yet secretly look forward to and for so many it's that devastated world where we're not subject to civilization and its laws. The last man in the world or the last few with the most guns is the king after all.
But way beyond the apocalypse believers, worried about pandemics and economic collapse and a rogue government rounding up the last free men; way beyond the people who watch those cheesy post-apocalyptic fantasies full of mutants and zombies and a helpless public, where the cities are prisons full of raging, tattooed minorities with bizarre haircuts: way beyond and everywhere are the "normal" people and their feelings of being humiliated, emasculated and rendered harmless by a society that's obsessed with safety and preserves only a possibility of more than fake adventure or romance for the very rich. Get your manhood back, buy a Hummer. We may have a racist Kenyan Communist in the white house, but I can have a pretend assault rifle. I'll be the king after you Liberals ruin everything and the raging urban hordes steal your food.
Our legendary American romance with automobiles gave way to Hummer H1's and H2's some years ago as our fears of nuclear disaster and international Communist aggression faded. Our movies our culture became exponentially violent as we cracked down on such dangers as nail clippers and knitting needles in schools and on airplanes. In a time when it's unspeakable to give a 12 year old a pocket knife, our mothers don army boots, tattoo their hides and pierce and scar and stretch their bodies like the pictures we used to see only in National Geographic. And we put bicycle helmets on toddlers on trikes while we began to buy more guns and join militias and dream of Rambo, Revolution and a white man's America. But those one in a million odds? Not good enough. Safety first and air bags in the baby carriage and no risk is acceptable. Not even Africa has a greater rift.
Field and Stream advertisements with pictures of men in lumberjack shirts and green canvas Old Town canoes; pictures of duck hunters and trap shooters with Remington shotguns, the Boy's Life and Open Road magazines with their ads for single shot Ithaca .22 rifles, have faded into nostalgia collections and the reveries of old men.
Now it's men in camouflage with tactical shotguns and military looking, short barreled weapons, driving military looking vehicles and raging about liberals and urban minorities rising up and taking over, about big spending and entitlements bringing us back to an age of hunter-gatherers and independent mountain men. We take courses learning to be urban assault specialists, we arm ourselves to defend against our neighbors and the threat of being disarmed. We arm ourselves in preparation for the end of civilization while we secretly yearn for it. Nature and the love of pioneer traditions have less to do with our traditional outdoor enterprises and more to do with fear. Nature for the armed American is too often a place you churn into muck with your ATV's and monster trucks and where you build bunkers to defend against the Welfare State. Nature too, for some people is a place where animals live in peace and safety and plenty and where there are no red-toothed predators but only nasty hunters who shoot Bambi with their scary rifles. The deer are starving and we're seeing coyote, wolves and boar in the city. There's a rift
Does this have anything to do with demented people shooting up schools and theaters and sniping at firefighters and policemen? Are these crimes on the increase or are we just having our national nose rubbed in it; being shown a handful of dusty fear by big news corporations getting fat from fear? Is this fear engineered and built to split the country into warring camps so someone can profiteer? How real is our fear?
I can give you my memories from the 1960s and following decades when police, ambulance and fire services couldn't go into parts of many cities because of snipers; of times almost a lifetime ago when violent crime was really increasing, when huge riots raged in burning cities -- and I can argue that it was worse in my grandfathers' time as well -- and for their fathers, it was the Civil War and Reconstruction and wholesale domestic violence on a scale we haven't had since. But memory and desire and fear get mixed and change with time and it's hard to sell the idea that our times are safer than they've ever been, when we're bound and determined and taught that the apocalypse is coming, that everything is getting worse and more dangerous; that our food is poison and our water dangerous and the Democrats want to make us helpless and the NRA wants to kill our kids and the Liberals want to make them gay and give our money to the bums. It's hard to sell, but I think it's true. I think we're taught to be afraid for someone's profit and will to power and I think the ratings game and the 24 hour news give people ideas about how to be a headline for a day and how to stop whimpering and end their lives with a glorious bang as much as any mad Mullah in Yemen.
But one thing I am sure of is that you can't go back -- and that if one thing was better back in the day, another thing was worse. Another thing I'm sure of is that fear sells and fear is profitable for business and that businesses control government. Yep, I've got that very Ithaca 49 Saddlegun I bought for 18 bucks at the hardware store in Hamilton, New York over 50 years ago. The single shot .22 that I used to spend hours with shooting cans in the rock quarry -- and I still have dad's Remington 20 gauge I've only fired once in 30 years and I don't think the Obaminator is coming for them, or my civil war guns or my flintlock either, but I don't trust that we'll either do or be willing or able to do anything that will ensure that no one will blow up a Federal Building or crash an airplane or shoot up a post office or school or night club, but we'll keep howling and demanding, soaking our brains in propaganda -- and failing.
And yet. And yet most of the people I know here in Florida have a gun or two and not one resembles the people I'm talking about. I'm willing to bet that not one of them ever "goes postal" or shoots their family or robs a bank. I'm willing to bet that holds true for the country at large, even with that chasm that separates Urbanite from swamp dweller, north from south, East from West and that fact, given the angry centrifugal rhetoric, is driving the center to the edge where nobody can talk and everybody is full of suspicion and fear and someone else can get rich and powerful because of it..
Those dreamy Autumn afternoons on the hillsides and river bottoms of my family farm in Illinois, or camping on my acres of virgin forest in Northern Michigan with an old rifle are gone with the smoke from Blackfoot and Ojibwe campfires and with my best years. I don't have the 1930's JC Higgins .22 I brought with me on those long Wisconsin canoe trips either. I have only the memories and with every year, there will be fewer people who understand or share them: fewer people raised on Stuart Edward White and Hemingway and Baden Powell or the smell of bacon and wood smoke, fewer who will smile at the mention of Deep River Jim and the Campfire King, the hiss of rain on the Flambeau on a June morning, how loud an eagle's wings over a wide and empty lake are, beating for altitude with a bass in its talons -- and there will be more who will only think of bloody murder and slaughter and danger and fear -- who will tremble and shudder and shrink like sheep at the sight of the knife or the crack of the rifle. If that's our brave new world, I'm not brave enough to face it and I want to go home.