As the new human coronavirus spreads around the world, individuals and families should prepare—but are we? The Centers for Disease Control has already said that it expects community transmission in the United States, and asked families to be ready for the possibility of a “significant disruption to our lives.”
Be ready? But how? It seems to me that some people may be holding back from preparing because of their understandable dislike of associating such preparation with doomsday or “prepper” subcultures. Another possibility is that people may have learned that for many people the disease is mild, which is certainly true, so they don’t think it’s a big risk to them. Also, many doomsday scenarios advise extensive preparation for increasingly outlandish scenarios, and this may seem daunting and pointless (and it is). Others may not feel like contributing to a panic or appearing to be selfish.
Forget all that. Preparing for the almost inevitable global spread of this virus, now dubbed COVID-19, is one of the most pro-social, altruistic things you can do in response to potential disruptions of this kind.
We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.
That’s right, you should prepare because your neighbors need you to prepare—especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.
Prepper and survivalist subcultures are often associated with doomsday scenarios and extreme steps: people stocking and hoarding supplies, building bunkers and preparing to go off the grid so that they may survive some untold catastrophe, brandishing weapons to guard their compound while their less prepared neighbors perish. All this appears both extreme and selfish, and, to be honest, a little nutty—just check the title of the TV series devoted to the subculture: Doomsday Preppers, implying, well, a doomsday and the few prepared individuals surviving in a war-of-all-against-all world.
It also feels like a scam: there is no shortage of snake oil sellers who hope stoking such fears will make people buy more supplies: years’ worth of ready-to-eat meals, bunker materials and a lot more stuff in various shades of camo. (The more camo the more doomsday feels, I guess!)
The reality is that there is little point “preparing“ for the most catastrophic scenarios some of these people envision. As a species, we live and die by our social world and our extensive infrastructure—and there is no predicting what anybody needs in the face of total catastrophe.
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