Manhattan is a giant island-prison inhabited by humanity's dregs - murderers, terrorists, thieves, swindlers, perverts of all persuasions, petty criminals and people who are permanently disoriented. The place is a zoo without bars, but there's no way out. The bridges have been mined and walled off. The tunnels are sealed. The once great buildings are mostly shells.
- Vincent Canby Movie Review of Escape From New York, New York Times: July 10, 1981
What do we hope for our children? I often wonder what my father would have wanted for me. Or what he would have thought of me, had we met. More than most, I am, in the minds of my family, an extension of his lifetime. His departure, my arrival, only three months apart.
In the medieval Utopia, Cockaigne, it rained cheese. The houses were made of barley sugar and cakes. The streets were paved with pastry and the shops supplied goods for nothing.
Roasted pigs wandered around with knives on their backs to make carving easy, grilled geese fly directly into your mouth, cooked fish jump out of the water and land at your feet.
The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, everyone is eternally youthful.
Throughout my life, I have had dreams where I meet the dead. My father in a valley garden, or a secret attic room. My grandfather at a warm kitchen table. My friend Luke on a low logging pass somewhere dusk in the Wicklow Pine Forest. These places where the dead inhabit, peaceful in a soft suspense. When I calculate my hopes, the results would feel like this too, and similarly my favourite moments of my past have been echos of this place.
In this way, we live with the dead. Our mythologies are the landscapes we inhabit beside the physical, and our minds hold both without clear distinction. As the dragon became the UFO in the age of mechanics, today our desires and fears are birthed from the context of the digital. Hyper-real warfare, climate-change, mass-migration. All over people are sublimating this vernacular lexicon into new exit routes towards their own micro-utopias. As internal subjects of capitalism, our dreams are born of capitalism.
The survivalist embodies an uneasy position between the player of a fantasy role game and the most sensible one amongst us. Quantifiable evidence of an impending civil and environmental catastrophe is as readily available in the academies as it is on the weather forecast. Thinking through the scenarios on prepper websites, I am reminded of how precarious and top heavy civil infrastructure is, especially for those who cannot buy their way out of a collapse.
Anton Edwards, a prominent figure in the New York Prepper community began giving disaster preparedness lessons as part of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. “Obviously,” Mr. Edwards said, “because of our history, black folks know that bad things happen.”
Simultaneously, the survivalist is a logical conclusion of a nation that consistently united its land-mass by imagining an enemy. According to its mythology, America has always been under siege and such long term psychological conditioning has consequences.
The survivalist demonstrates the traits of every other western subculture: meet-ups, potlucks, competitions, market-fairs, musical genres, slang and endless abbreviations. The 3.7million Americans classified as preppers form a billion dollar industry, a perverse celebration of meaning in a world conditioned by the very idea of its own annihilation.
Life reduced to its basest purpose, simple survival, negates the increased complications of the digital age and dreams of a place where the slate is wiped clean. Catastrophe as emancipation. Emancipation from work, from debt, from responsibility, from the clamour of personal micro-managed bureaucracy, towards the silence of a snowfall, towards a deliverance into quiet and the possibility for children not to grow up as subjects.