On Being an Expat, Bugging Out, and Life after Social Media

170px-FalloutchinatownThe popular TV shows about the “prepping” lifestyle are a bit addictive. They are the survival genre’s version of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the Food Network enterprise that is both engrossing and formulaic. I am not a prepper, but it is a mindset that I am fascinated by and can understand from a couple of different perspectives. One is having grown up in the 70’s with parents who were self-reliant: gardening, re-purposing, hunting and gathering from the wild. My father, no hippie, was a reader of Mother Earth News and the Whole Earth Catalog. He was a World War II veteran and both of my parents grew up during the Depression and Dust Bowl.

Secondly, I understand why people want to engage in hobbies or lifestyles that give them agency over their own lives. We live in a terribly violent, unpredictable time. Governments seem overly present where they are not wanted and absent where most needed. Conceiving of a world in which we need to fend for ourselves, and our families, is perhaps an antidote to the sense of helplessness that constant war and economic disparity engenders in so many people.

As an expat going on five years now, I have a much deeper appreciation now than I ever have of the fundamental promise of America. We have great freedoms, material wealth, open space. But I also see terrible flaws that are part of the American story: the culture of consumerism, worshiping wealth, and a disregard for our environment, all of which contribute to the fabric of communities tearing apart.

One of the things many of the TV preppers and their counterparts on social media seem to have in common is a heavy reliance on what they can buy to survive a weather catastrophe, martial law, economic collapse, or pandemic. How many gallons of water can you fit in your basement, how much fuel will you need to get to your bug-out shack, how will you keep the lights on, what weapons and security system will keep you ‘safe?’ How much insulin can you stockpile?

With few exceptions, there is very little emphasis on things like how far you can walk unaided, how you can survive in the wilderness without shelter, how water can be purified instead of purchased in bulk at Sam’s Club or CostCo.

These folks seem to operate under the assumption that they will be able to essentially disappear off the grid of society. It will be just them and their family. This is a very American myth. The idea of going it alone, the independent spirit, is part of the American story. Great individuals have done amazing things. But it is great communities that have made America a rich and powerful nation; our great military saved the world from fascism; great teams win the day. A social media community of preppers is of very limited utility when you need hands, heads, and hearts operating together to survive.

I am not knocking social media, or preppers for that matter, but it is important to think about the limitations (of both, if you’re a prepper.) Over the past 18 months or so I have been working to build community using social media to raise awareness of the traditional and evolving French Canadian and Metis cultures I know and write about. I’ve met people on social media who I consider my friends. We have nearly 1500 people on the Great Lakes French Canadians Facebook forum and hundreds of people follow the blogs I write and edit. Social media is an extremely effective tool for meeting people, socializing, planning, and raising awareness.

But it will only take you so far. It may be far enough for many people and I respect that. But for me, building community outside of social media is the real goal. I want to help sustain our unique traditions and view of a good life. It’s a passion that comes from my experience and my desire to see others connect to their heritage.

There are myriad pressures to abandon our traditions and values in the face of the (what I consider ‘orwellian’) multiculturalist ideas promoted in modern life. To me, this is a betrayal of the small North American cultures that have contributed so much greatness to our North American history, and by this I mean First Nations/Native American, Métis, and the French cultures that survive from Quebec to the Great Lakes and Louisiana.

But there is also hope. The simple fact that we are having a great time on social media talking about our cultures is one of them and also that there are people interested enough to write about them and become activists in their own ways. To me the glass is half full even if I have to acknowledge the empty part. The hopeful part of me stems from the times when social media is translated into community activities, social action, and greater knowledge.

There is something ironically hopeful about the prepping phenomenon, predicated on the end of society, animated on social media and reality TV. The will to survive and carry on is at the center of it. The motivation to keep rowing, even against the current. That is something I can appreciate. Whether we carry on in the modern world that we are accustomed to or face a dystopian future, I know that we are stronger by working together as communities. ‘Buying in’ to something off the mainstream is perhaps the best response a person can make to the world as we know it.

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