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None of us can be prepared on our own.

Earlier this morning, I happened across a post by Ben Brooks about rethinking his bug-out bag setup, a bug-out bag being the pre-packed bag or backup you have ready to grab when some emergency hits. I do not always agree with Ben, but he’s a good writer and I appreciate the amount of thought he puts into his reviews and recommendations.

The whole idea of bug-out bags has never really appealed to me. It’s one thing if you are frequent business traveler and have a second set of toiletries and other essentials ready to go—it makes getting ready to go on a trip quicker and easier, and you’re less likely to forget the toothpaste if you have a tube that always lives in your bag. But this idea that I’m going to have my foldable solar panel, medkit, flares, knives, tarps, and other tactical gear all stowed and ready to go for when the zombies apocalypse comes? No thanks—seems like prepper crazy town to me.

And reading through Ben’s post, it sounds like he ran a bit afoul of that crowd with his assertion that you’d be better off tailoring your bug-out bag toward a few days’ stay in a hotel or with the in-laws than being ready to build a shelter and forage in the wilderness.

When I hear people talking about stockpiling MREs in their basement and preparing to survive on their own in some kind of apocalyptic disaster scenario, it always seems like cosplay to me. The image that always comes to mind is the series of scenes when the bombs fall in the BBC’s Threads. Everyone panics, no one knows what to do, and everything falls apart. The Sheffield City Council retreats to their underground bunker, only to be trapped there and cut off from everything when the buildings above them are reduced to rubble. Prep all you want, but if something like that were to actually happen, you’re still screwed.

There are probably a vanishing small number of people who could actually survive for a little while, but it mostly seems like the prepping genre is about people trying to give themselves a feeling of individual control. It’s no wonder they get so upset when someone tells them “Yeah, you can’t actually do this on your own. Focus on more practical scenarios.”

It is a manifestation of the upset a bunch of people felt about Obama’s “You didn’t build that” line back in 2012. We’ve had an organized effort in this country for decades insisting that the only way to think about freedom is at the individual level, and lots of us have internalized that notion to one degree or another. If you are building a business or responding to a disaster, we are told, you can only count on yourself. Same goes for trying to find or keep a job, or deal with an illness, or get an education.

The reality is that we all rely on the connections and systems our society has built up around us. We depend on other people, we depend on organizations, we depend on the government. The idea that we are all rugged individualists—or even that we could be—is fiction, a fantasy deliberately constructed and promoted by ideologues with a specific agenda.

So if having a bag packed and ready to go makes you feel better, by all means—get it ready and leave it sitting by the door. But if you want to actually be prepared for disasters, or even just get through your life, the way to prepare is to acknowledge, support, and expand the web of services (or, perhaps, the threads) that connect us all together.

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