Hoarse men of the Apocalypse
- Sacha Molitorisz
- April 25, 2009
The end is nigh, apparently. The economy is tanking, the terrorists are winning, the globe is frying. Armageddon is arriving on the next train. The only question is, which platform?
One of the doomsayers is Neil Strauss, an American author whose new book is called Emergency. “This book will save your life,” says a cover that is fire-engine red, a colour of alarms and evacuations.
Spooked by Timothy McVeigh, September 11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, George Bush’s re-election and the rest, Strauss has become convinced that a cataclysm looms, and that his government won’t be able to cope when it comes. The result will be chaos, social breakdown and large-scale loss of life.
“Something changed in me, as it did for many people, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Strauss writes. “It felt like the day I first beat my father at arm wrestling. In that moment, I realised that he could no longer protect me. I had to take care of myself.”
To prepare for whatever is coming, Strauss learns how to slit the throat of a goat. He learns how to kill a man and get away with it. He learns how to navigate without a compass, scale barbed-wire fences and apply emergency first aid.
A prominent music writer at The New York Times and Rolling Stone, Strauss has previously co-authored Jenna Jameson’s How To Make Love Like A Porn Star and Motley Crue’s The Dirt. Then he wrote The Game, a hit about seduction techniques that spawned a bestselling sequel.
Whether he is knee-deep in rock’n’rollers, porn stars or pick-up artists, Strauss has a talent for tapping into the zeitgeist. And here he has done it again, unearthing a thriving subculture of survivalists, ranging from the stereotypical rednecks shacked up in rural compounds to billionaires weighing up whether, in the event of a disaster, they should escape by submarine or helicopter.
With Emergency, Strauss may well have hit the zeitgeist jackpot. In recent years, I have heard various friends, relatives and colleagues express concern about some impending catastrophe or other. If it isn’t the growing threat of economic collapse or the malevolent shadow of terrorist attack, they ask how quickly disorder will erupt if the supermarket shelves suddenly empty of food.
In response, several have taken tentative steps towards self-sufficiency. People I know have started growing vegies, keeping chickens or taking their families on weekly fishing trips to Middle Harbour. Meanwhile, seachangers and treechangers are seeking new lives removed from city stresses – including the stresses of potential car bombs or influenza epidemics.
Certainly, city life is dangerously disconnected from nature. Food magically appears on supermarket shelves. It is hard to know which fruits are in season when most are available all year round. Kids can grow up thinking food comes not from the earth but from the freezer at Coles. A teacher friend tells the story of an inquisitive preschooler who asked why the word “chicken” (the animal) is the same as the word “chicken” (the food). When he learned that he had been eating the animal, he was horrified. From then on, he was a vegetarian.
With this in mind, Strauss’s book is a timely reminder for city dwellers to become more self-sufficient. It’s a rollicking good read – I enjoyed Strauss’s book – but his overriding message of paranoia and pessimism left me cold. So the end is nigh? Again? Isn’t this looming Armageddon just another Y2K? Another Waco?
For starters, Strauss’s apocalyptic doomsaying arises only because he is a US citizen. Much of Emergency is devoted to his attempts to obtain a second passport. Seeking a safe haven, he even considers Australia. In Strauss’s eyes, Aussies have little to be jittery about. Even in Australia, though, Strauss will find a willing audience, unable to resist the temptation to worry about an unspecified but imminent cataclysm. This week alone the economic headlines have shrieked, “A pall of gloom”; “Worse to come”; and “One in four firms to cut staff”.
Someone who continues to resist the temptations of pessimism and paranoia is Billy Connolly. The Scottish comic remains defiantly positive. “I hate the way humans are given the blame for everything,” he writes in a new book, Journey To The Edge of The World. “The human race isn’t given enough credit. Sure, we have made some horrible mistakes but we have also done some immensely big and good things. That’s what keeps the ball going around and around.”
Apart from anything else, the problem with survivalism is its selfishness. The idea is that, in the event of a catastrophe, only a handful of the super-prepared and extra-paranoid will survive at the expense of everyone else. What sort of world would it be if only the paranoid and prepared survived? An enclave for a handful of trigger-happy neat freaks? Count me out.
Sure, let’s learn first aid. Let’s grow vegies and keep chooks. Let’s create communal market gardens from Avalon to Bundeena and everywhere in between. But let’s not follow Strauss’s suggestion and turn our credit cards into knives. Let’s not abandon all hope.
I’m hoping for rain to bucket down on this parade of pessimism. On the other hand, I’m hoping for clear skies for today’s Anzac Day and its solemn march to remember a horrific past. For many more than the 8709 Australians who died at Anzac Cove, the 1915 campaign in Turkey was the apocalypse. Isn’t our time better served by pondering past cataclysms so to avoid repeating them, rather than fretting about how to cope in case another disaster is on the way?
After Alec Campbell of the 15th Battalion Reinforcements returned from Anzac Cove, he worked as a jackaroo, a carriage builder, a carpenter and with the railways. He took an economics degree and a government job. He married twice, had nine children and was politically active. He was an avid reader, a boat-builder, a boxer and a hunter. He milked cows and mended shoes.
When Campbell died in Tasmania in 2002, he was the very last Anzac. As far as I can tell, he hadn’t wasted one moment of his 103 years hoarding tins of tuna.
Annabel Crabb is on leave.