Last week I talked about the psychology of resentment, and how that is tied up with notions of self reliance. This week, I'm going to talk about some myths of self-reliance, and how we can talk to people who embrace said myths.
In the United States one of the strongest archetypes of self-reliance is the cowboy. The cowboy rides alone, self-sufficient on his horse, roping cows, with his trusty six-gun on his hip. The cowboy doesn't need anyone, and he can survive all on his own. In many ways, the cowboy is the archetype for todays preppers and survivalists.
But let's look at what actually supported the cowboy out on the range. Specifically, let's look at the iconic six-gun, the Colt 1873, more commonly known at the Peacemaker.
Colt's factory was in Hartford, Connecticut and it was an example of mass production and industrial scale operations. The steel frame of the revolver was not something that could be manufactured in a backyard workshop-- it required steel, itself the product of heavy industry. If you've ever seen a steel mill, it is a massive physical plant. Even the ammunition was the result of a heavy industry process-- during the 19th century the main suppliers of gunpowder was DuPont, which was ran an enormous plant in Wilmington, Delaware.
Thus, what we see is that the cowboy really represented an individual who depended on the products of urban heavy industry.
In the same way, the preppers and survivalists, despite their desire for individual self-reliance, actually depend on the tools and products of modern industrialized society. All those things require co-operation and mass organization.
It's good to be prepared for disasters, and it is confidence building and practical to have skills to take care of temporary/localized crises. And in general, it's good to know how to do simple work with one's hands.
But there is something very wrong when people try to romanticize individual self-sufficiency and fail to see how the tools they use to be individually self-sufficient are really the product of heavy industry and mass organization. I've certainly talked to people who live in rural areas who seem to think that they could live some kind of idyllic life if the urban centers of industry disappeared.
When we talk to or meet someone who is deep into the prepper/survivalist culture, it is important to be able to explain to them how unfounded their belief in an atomized self-sufficiency really is.