Retail survivalism

We have a Jeep. A 2010 Liberty. We had a Chevrolet S-10 four-cylinder before, which was great when I was doing freelance yard work, laboring for a permaculture project, and doing lots of gardening . . . but my boat — a 12-foor Meyer aluminum lake boat with zero bells and whistles — put a strain on the four-cylinder. We needed the six-cylinder to pull the trailer . . . also, this is Michigan, and we use the second axle on heavy snow-and-ice days . . . and also, my fishing campsite in the Upper Peninsula is on a poorly-maintained fire trail.

On the back of our Jeep is a bumper sticker, simple black over white: “Veterans For Peace.” Even though I’m a very lapsed member. Just wanted to fly the peace flag and create a ripple of cog-dis in this hyper-militarized milieu.

Not infrequently, that bumper sticker — it’s on the hatch door actually, but “hatch door sticker” seems inefficient somehow even though it has the same number of syllables . . . that sticker compels a certain type of dude I’ve observed on the road to put his truck into neutral and stamp the gas pedal until the engine roars up to around 45,000 RPMs. Some even have special smoke stacks built into the exhaust system that gasp out a column of coal-black smoke . . . take that, libtards!

These are not deindustrialization refugees, because these trucks are expensively tricked out with special suspension to accommodate special all-terrain tires, roll cages, a dashboard like a 747, a bank of search lights, bumper/tailgate/back window stickers (deer horns, that long-toothed skull thing, black-white-blue cop flags, and all sorts of other compensatory bullshit) . . . and a shiny, spotless black exterior.

It’s an aesthetic . . . I call it “special ops knockoff, but with lots of noise, and Big Retail.” These insecure fellas spend 99.9 percent of their time driving around on paved streets and roads, running errands just like the rest of us . . . but feeling as if they are making a statement, as if they are Intimidating Men who are totally prepared to “fight and survive” . . . just look at me and admire my performative masculinity! Then they go back to their jobs, as managers or small business owners, because they can’t afford to be unemployed when the cost of “survival” has run up their household debt.

One up-and-coming performative masculinity truck is the Jeep Gladiator . . . $43,172. “Gladiator,” okay!? There are lots of houses here that cost less.

The goofiest subset of this performative masculinity shtick with the special-ops knockoff aesthetic is the prepper. What they are prepping for is a fantasy, but most boys live in a fantasy world — it’s an outcome of our perverse and self-destructive (sometimes just plain destructive) upbringing as boys.

I went onto the Doomsday Prep website, a portal between the doomsday masculine fantasy and a cash register. These guys fantasize about living off the land, surviving the nuclear apocalypse, becoming “Don’t Tread on Me” guerrillas, et al. The land that might support such fantasies no longer exists, and most of them would last about two weeks max if they did find open land that’s not there, but that hasn’t deterred anyone. And if Doomsday were to arrive, the first thing that will disappear is the gasoline that’s required to power up a lot of this expensive survival equipment.

Daypacks on Doomsday Prep cost $130. A book bag with some canvas straps added. For $300 plus shipping, you can have a gas mask. Add $13 for potassium iodide tablets in case you’re exposed to nuclear fallout. $200 “tactical” flashlights. $130 walkie-talkies. $20 “survival” bracelets made of 550-cord with a little garrote-like “saw” inside big enough to cut a broomstick. A 720-pack of freeze-dried food for $1,500. Water filters, hatchets, “survival” knives, fire-starters, and first-aid kits. For the real sticker shock, though, after you’ve indebted yourself for a $50,000 “survival” “special-ops” vehicle, is guns.

You need two kinds of guns if you are going to live off the land while you fight communist zombies: guns for food, and guns for defense. For defense, you’ll need assault weapons — also handy for display at cosplay demonstrations and poorly organized insurrections. For food, you’ll need to hunt deer — because Men eat deer — so maybe a nice shotgun or bolt-action rifle, which can double as your “special-ops” sniper gun, but also something lightweight for small game — Men eat rabbits and squirrels, too — so a nice .22. Retail commandos neither eat nor need vegetables, okay.

A few years back, about the time that Trump was pumping up this fraction of his base, you couldn’t find .22 rimfire ammunition anywhere. I have a .22 I carry when I’m alone along the river in the U.P. fishing, just as a security blanket in case a bear wants to fight me for my fish (the plan is to leave the fish, run from the bear, and when I get lost running through the cedar swamps, I’ll have a little noisemaker to help a search party rescue my dumb ass). Apparently, Trump’s survivalist acolytes were preparing to live off of rabbits and partridge or something, idk. But .22 ammo was bought tf out in 2017.

Assault rifles start at around $500 and from there go into the thousands. That doesn’t even begin to calculate for specialized stocks and receivers, optics and aimpoints, slings, cases, gunlocks, conversion kits for those who want to go full-auto . . . oh, and ammunition. If you want to learn to use the gun, you have to fire it . . . quite a lot, actually. Discounted, bulk .223 ammunition (the kind used for AR-15s) costs 45–50 cents a round. So firing that one 20-round magazine costs about $10. A day at the range can cost from $20 for half a day on one lane to $1,000 a day for “the special ops experience” (I saw this!). But when you go to the range, you want to fire enough to actually master the gun . . . that is, not just make noise while posing, but learn to shoot what you aim at . . . so we’re talking hundreds, even thousands of rounds. When I was precision shooter in the Army, we went through approximately 500 rounds in a day’s practice with sidearms, and thousands for sub-machine guns. When I was a sniper, we used less, but the ammunition was specially loaded match ammo, or the precision ammo we assembled ourselves . . . outlay for loading/reloading, $500 for the tools plus the recurrent cost of materials — brass, bullets, powder, primers, etc. I didn’t pay for that. You did. If I’d had to pay for it, I’d never have done it.

If you’re a survival prepper, you gotta have a sidearm. A Man without a handgun is no Man at all. He has to be prepared to thrown down in a life-or-death quick-draw contest at a moment’s notice, or do that nifty “special ops” long-gun-short-gun transition drill. A decent handgun costs at least $500 these days; though many Survival Men also opt for little secret guns like derringers or “pocket pistols” in case you are captured by communist zombies and they take your big guns away . . . $275–550.

Shotguns, for deer that you have to eat up without refrigeration during the communist zombie apocalypse, or for “home defense,” cost from $300 (single shot, maybe with an over-under .410/.22 feature) to $2,000. Ammo and reloading costs still apply.

No communist-zombie apocalypse prepper is complete, however, without a clothing line. The aesthetic has been established — “special-ops,” so we can go straight to the basics. “Tactical” hats, “tactical” pants, “tactical” coveralls, equipment belts, special foul-weather gear, sunglasses, “tactical” vests (anything “tactical” will sell better when it’s called “tactical,” because tactical), parkas, boots (“desert ops boots” is one I just saw), “commando” gloves (swear I saw this, too!), “holster shirts,” “tactical” elbow and knee pads . . . you see where this goes. And this shit is expensive! Camouflage, if you want to stand out when you go to the grocery store with your sidearm; black if you want to look like a night-stalker kind of guy. Don’t forget a few thousand on scary man tattoos. The more of this shit you have and display, the more sure everyone else is that you are a dangerous man fighting for liberty with a special set of special-ops skills just like the guys on TV . . . not. We think you are cosplaying, irresponsible nitwits unnecessarily carrying guns around other people and their children, and fantasizing that today, you’ll get a hero opportunity to use them, but I digress.

I can only imagine what goes on in these guys’ heads and homes. I know I called them nitwits, but late modernity makes some kind of nitwits out of all of us one way or another. Spending on useless shit is not restricted to these guys. But what motivates this kind of spending spree? How does this go down with spouses if money gets tight? What kind of emotional treadmill are these guys on that keeps them at this delusional fever pitch? What traumas sent them down this path? How did they become so fearful, so obsessed with threat displays? What will happen to them as time drags on, and they become injured, sick, lose jobs, lose loved ones, grow older and become tied to their easy chairs, Amigos, canes, and pill organizers? I see these guys out and about, too. They wear Real Man t-shirts over their flabby, wrinkled, broken bodies (I have one of these), because they are trapped in this cul-de-sac, like befuddled rats in a maze with no solution. We don’t die on battlefields. We die on respirators or in Hospice beds with plenty of morphine.

I will try to think of this when the next one pulls up alongside me, triggered by my peace sticker, and guns the engine. And I’ll still probably react first by saying, “Fuckin’ idiot!” Then I’ll pray for them, and us.

They are one symptom of a society that is unraveling.

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” “Tough Gynes,” and “Smitten Gate.”