Everyone has seen the commercials.
Scene 1: Gathered in the kitchen and bathed in sunshine streaming through the window, a family casually prepares fresh fruit and vegetables.
Scene 2: The same family, gathered around the dining table on which a feast has been spread. They seem to be enjoying lively conversation and ambient music, oblivious to the fact, glimpsed through the window, that their house now appears to be floating amongst icebergs in an arctic sea.
The voice-over calmly extolls the virtues of a freeze-dry device that preserves food up to twenty-five years, “No matter what happens.”
I only once saw a harrowing variation on this commercial that substituted a hoard of zombies, hammering on the window glass, for the ocean scene. I suspect that one was a bridge too far.
Whatever the future presented through that window, the message was pretty clear: apocalypse approaches, whether environmental or spiritual; and the smart family will want to take measures in advance to ensure that they are only minimally inconvenienced.
I experience a tiny shock every time the commercial airs. It reminds me of my childhood during the Cuban missile crisis, when people were building secret bomb shelters, stocking up on bottled water and canned goods; and preparing to defend their preparations from invasion by less-prepared neighbors.
Instead of bringing out the best in people, like legendary Londoners during the Blitz, all that the threat of nuclear war brought out in Americans was paranoia and selfishness.
Have we gone so far as a culture since the 1960’s, only to turn back to the worst of our selves , sixty years on? Racism, sexism and environmental exploitation seem to be back in vogue under Donald Trump. Now, flirtation with nuclear war once again darkens the horizon.
Someone has already decided that the threat of famine and environmental disaster could be good for the food preserving industry. The big warehouse stores have been advertising survival food packages for a number of years now. How long before the commercials for “popularly priced” bomb shelters show up on TV, and sample models join the lawnmowers and patio furniture in aisle seven?
The likes of Donald Trump and Elon Musk fantasize about escape from oblivion through the colonization of Mars! They’ve already given up on Earth, but so have the preppers.
Tribalism is on the rise, thanks to the internet. Preppers and survivalists are invested in seeing their worst fears become reality. They’re no longer interested in making the sacrifices and commitments to common sense that are necessary to forstall any number of disasters that threaten the future of the planet.
This climate of selfish pessimism is poisonous for democracy, which depends for its success on an assumption of community goodwill and confidence in a shared tomorrow.