Preparing for the almost inevitable global spread of this virus, now dubbed COVID-19, is one of the most pro-social, altruistic things you can do in response to potential disruptions of this kind. Zeynep Tufekci writes for Scientific American:
We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.
That’s right, you should prepare because your neighbors need you to prepare—especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.
Prepper and survivalist subcultures are often associated with doomsday scenarios and extreme steps: people stocking and hoarding supplies, building bunkers and preparing to go off the grid so that they may survive some untold catastrophe, brandishish weapons to guard their compound while their less prepared neighbors perish. All this appears both extreme and selfish, and, to be honest, a little nutty—just check the title of the TV series devoted to the subculture: Doomsday Preppers, implying, well, a doomsday and the few prepared individuals surviving in a war-of-all-against-all world.
It also feels like a scam: there is no shortage of snake oil sellers who hope stoking such fears will make people buy more supplies: years’ worth of ready-to-eat meals, bunker materials and a lot more stuff in various shades of camo. (The more camo the more doomsday feels, I guess!)
The reality is that there is little point “preparing“ for the most catastrophic scenarios some of these people envision. As a species, we live and die by our social world and our extensive infrastructure—and there is no predicting what anybody needs in the face of total catastrophe.
In contrast, the real crisis scenarios we’re likely to encounter require cooperation and, crucially, “flattening the curve” of the crisis exactly so the more vulnerable can fare better, so that our infrastructure will be less stressed at any one time.