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The Results of Normalcy Bias

Monday, 02 July 2012 10:34 Written by  Matthew Conlan

Modern American society has no collective memory of serious struggles such as the Great Depression or in most cases, Total War.  With the exception of those few surviving retirees who are well in their 80s, Americans have come to expect perpetual “good times” as a birthright.

We define “bad times” as what in other countries would be no more than a moderate recession.  Granted, the events experienced since the Lehman Brother’s collapse in 2008 have been unusually severe relative to what we’ve known, but History has taught us that things will always return to normal after a time.  Collectively, this “Normalcy Bias” has remained lodged in the psyche of the American (and indeed Western) understanding of reality.  It is this cultural blind spot that presents all of us, including preppers, with one of our greatest challenges. 

In his seminal work “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes this phenomenon through the metaphor of a turkey that is fed for a thousand days by a butcher.  Every day confirms to the turkey that the butcher loves him.  This becomes normalcy for the turkey and every day strengthens this belief.  So he is fed for a thousand days and gets fatter and fatter.  Finally, a day will come when the turkey’s comfort and weight will be at its maximum, possibly the day before Thanksgiving.  This is when there will be a surprise for the Turkey.  We have collectively become the Turkey and the surprise is beyond the imagination of most people.

This presents perhaps one of the least recognized challenges facing the prepper today.  While we all have our concerns and are motivated by a desire to protect ourselves and our families, many of us do not fully consider the likely reaction of the turkeys when reality sets in.  Many preppers sincerely want to help people who are unaware while others zealously proselytize their fears to anyone who will listen.  It is this “altruism” which exposes the prepper to the very danger he seeks to protect himself and his family from. 

Human nature is not such that the newly enlightened turkey will commend or respect the prepper who has recognized reality before the butcher swung his ax.  Do we really think that they will be running around in desperation lamentably repeating the refrain “Why didn’t I listen?  Oh G*d, why didn’t I just listen when I had the chance?”  Quite the contrary, human nature is such that those who warned the turkeys will be despised and envied.  Those who were right and diligent will become targets.

Think it through: what kind of responses have you personally experienced when you’ve discussed your beliefs about the future with others outside of your intimate circle?  Some may politely listen and others will shrug their shoulders.  Some will present weak arguments such as “If these big events are going to occur, there’s nothing I can do to stop them” or “this isn’t Argentina or Greece, nothing that extreme will happen here”.  We’ve all been there.

My actionable advice here is not to stop discussing the future or prepping with others, but I am suggesting that one needs to consider being more judicious about who you talk to and why.  Preppers can be very enthusiastic and while caught up in the tasks of readying ourselves for the future, we can be less than discerning about who we bounce ideas off of.  While most preppers are silent about certain aspects such as where they hide food, equipment, and gold & silver, the very act of broadly discussing our beliefs with others makes us stand out and seem different.  The greatest camouflage one can have in this Brave New World is anonymity.

Last modified on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 19:02
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