The doomsday prepper vision of the world is unapologetically bleak: society as a fragile edifice, a thin veneer of behavioral norms over the abyss of greed and violence that is human nature. Among preppers, one of the preferred ways of reacting to a severe crisis is to batten down the hatches and retreat to one’s home, which is lavishly stocked with food and supplies and, in many cases, weapons. This is referred to as “bugging in,” a measure taken to protect oneself and one’s family. There’s an obvious way in which this is precisely what many of us are doing now. But there is also a crucial difference, one that is ethical and deeply political.
Preppers, like the superrich with their plans to fly to secure and remote locations in their private jets, are isolating themselves out of pure self-protection, out of a sense that other people are fundamentally threatening. But this paradigm is completely inverted under the conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic. Those of us who are bugging in, who are keeping a wary distance from each other, are doing so not because we see other people as a threat to be avoided, but because we understand that our fates are inseparable from those of other people.
If and when we get through this, it will be because we came together for the collective good by staying away from each other. Because if there is one thing a viral pandemic reveals, it is that it’s not in our nature to be separate.