In the past few decades an insidious ideology has taken root in the American consciousness. Based on irrational fears and a neurotic inability to accept the most basic facts of our existence, this pervasive worldview has infected every corner our culture. It transcends class, race, gender, sexuality, religion or any other categorical division. It often comes paired with extreme prejudice, xenophobia, paranoia and excessive hubris. It has penetrated our communities, institutions and even made its way into our recreation. This ideology, which elevates the quantitative measures of our existence far above its quality, is something I like to call the Cult of Survivalism.
If you think that this problem is limited to’ preppers’ and right-wing extremists, you have not been paying very close attention to your surroundings. Each day you are bombarded from every direction with subtle-to-glaringly direct messages about safety and survival. The constant reminder of your immortality paired with false-yet-profitable reassurances invades everything. It drives mindless consumerism, while it feeds endless warfare and the police state. It works as a reverse bait, attracting us away from our critical thinking, morality and ethical principles. It drives corporate profits and the growth of the state by manipulating and taking advantage of our greatest weakness. And it reverse engineers the tale of our journey through history to rationalize a crippling attachment to our own darkest thoughts and the terror they create for ourselves and others.
The Cult of Survivalism tells us that ‘survival is everything’. Whatever you have to do to come out alive is the right thing to do. An underlying tenet of this worldview is that death is not okay. Even in a nation full of people who supposedly tend to believe in a higher power and afterlife, death is lamented as an intolerable side effect of living. Our inability to come to terms with the inevitable and the uncertainty it entails causes even the truest believer in heaven or reincarnation to recoil at the thought of their own mortality.
We have become so obsessed with living that we have consented to waive the benefits it confers so long as a false sense of security is safely blanketed over every aspect of daily life. So irrationally deep has our fear of death become that we have allowed living to be put in a partially animated state in order to drag ourselves grudgingly through time without regard to meaning or purpose. And in the name of survival, not only will we surrender our freedoms, liberties and psychological well being to those who most threaten them, we beg of them to spare us the certain uncertainty we cannot escape even with the greatest leap of logic. So sanctimonious have we become about self-preservation, that we no longer care to question what we are preserving or why.
You will die. There may or not be an afterlife. What happens between then and now cannot be measured meaningfully in time, but only in joy, love, hope, creativity and the subjective qualities that provide the meaning and purpose of our otherwise indefinable lives.
Our police are full of individuals who are trained in-house and by culture at large to ‘fear for their lives’. In doing so they kill indiscriminately. We forgive them even when it seems obviously unjustified because we sympathize with the fear, and not with the victim. Our military and its soldiers are praised for wanton killing, even if it involves more innocent casualties than targets killed, because they ‘die for us and protect our freedoms’. Again, we rationalize wholesale death, not because it directly resulted in lives saved or improved, but because the symbolic gestures alone signify an emotional truth that does not reconcile at all with the observable truth.
Even those who promote individual liberty and recognize the deceitful machinations of the ruling elite are prone to survival at any cost ideologies. We use physicalist definitions of reality to ward ourselves against all other truths.
Television and other media are ripe with apocalyptic themes, from zombies and aliens, to all manner of existential risks. The zeitgeist of our time is an existential fear that eschews rational reflection of our being. We are constantly reminded to fear our death, be reminded how immanent it is, and asked to sacrifice our individuality, morality and ethics to avoid it. If this is the case, we might as well be dead. Death provides an uncertainty which implies limitless possibilities. The Cult of Survivalism reduces us to a mere part with a singular trivial purpose. It robs us of a curiosity and understanding towards the nature and inevitability of our demise. The Cult of Survivalism is the ultimate form of denial.
Today the United States and the western world claim to be at war with ‘terrorists’. However the definition of terrorism used by police and the military, as well as the other alphabet soup of government bureaucracies, is far more applicable to them than anyone else they supposedly ‘protect’ us from.
It is little wonder then that we are gripped with a pervasive cultural Islamaphobia. Any culture that produces even a fraction of people willing to die for a better quality of life are easy to label ‘others’. Those whose values are more important than their survival provide a direct threat to the American ideology that values can easily be cast aside if it facilitates even a tiny chance of existential endurance. And from this difference between us comes the justification of wholesale death. The world is doomed by our cultural bias toward Cult of Survivalism ideology, especially when it generates so much backlash against us and feeds an ever-growing cycle of violence. As long as two opposing groups are willing and able to find subjects to participate in a war of attrition, peace can never be made.
Accept death. Do not welcome nor fear it. Do not invite or needlessly deny it. Accept death and your life has meaning and purpose. Deny it and you also deny any justification for your own existence. The Cult of Survivalism is already passing around the cups, but so long as not all of us have drank their Kool Aid, there is still some hope to escape the self-fulfilling prophecy of total annihilation that is the central belief of their worldview.