THE NEXT APOCALYPSE
The Art and Science of Survival By Chris Begley Basic Books
As Covid-19 spread across the globe in early 2020, demand for underground bunkers soared, as people desperately sought somewhere safe to isolate themselves from the rest of society. US company Vivos – which bills itself as the ‘largest survival community on Earth’ – experienced a 2,000 per cent rise in enquiries, according to a Sky News report.
Even before the pandemic, popular culture was filled with apocalyptic tales and dystopian visions, most of which centred on a rugged, heroic individual. But, says Chris Begley, an underwater archaeologist, wilderness survival instructor and anthropology professor from Lexington, Kentucky, these stories bear little resemblance to real catastrophes and fail to prepare us for future challenges. ‘Individual skills and efforts will not be sufficient in the next apocalypse… we will need to work as a community,’ he writes in this engaging book.
Begley draws out lessons from three historical examples of ‘dramatic, perhaps even apocalyptic, change’: the Classic Maya civilisation in Central America and Mexico during the ninth century CE; the Western Roman Empire in the Mediterranean in the fourth and fifth centuries CE; and Native American societies in eastern North America after European colonisation. ‘Collapses are multi-causal and rarely complete,’ he notes. He then examines the apocalyptic narratives currently dominating our films, TV programmes and books, which he believes reflect ‘our celebration of individualism and self-reliance’ and reveal a ‘desire to return to a mythical past that never existed’.
The final section of the book focuses on future scenarios for major societal change – the climate emergency and severe wealth and power inequities are cited as likely causes – and what we’ll need to make it through. Avoiding sensationalism and hyperbole, Begley argues that while survival equipment and a knowledge of bushcraft may help in the short term, empathy, critical thinking and the ability to recognise competence and listen to good advice will ultimately be of far greater use.