When I started prepping, I had never heard of the term. I was a survivalist. I practiced survivalism, I read American Survival Guide, and I used my 56K modem to read alt.misc.surivalism.
After Y2K was a bust (at least from a survivalist perspective), survivalism became less urgent until the attack on the World Trade Center, the anthrax scare, the start of the gulf war, and the fear that Iraq had developed nuclear weapons. That caused things survival-related to pick back up for a year or two.
Survivalism never really died out; it was just gradually replaced by “pepping.” I think it was reality TV shows like Doomsday Prepper that popularized the terms “prepper” and “prepping.” I believe the term prepper was quickly adopted by the community because it sounds less threatening than survivalist. The term survivalist conveys crazy camo-wearing guys in the woods with their guns and gold while preppers are just being careful and buying a few more groceries than regular folk. As a result, your wife or your buddy is probably more willing to be a prepper than a survivalist.
In my opinion, its all semantics. There is very little real difference and a tremendous amount of overlap between the two terms. You can read how we define them in our definitions and abbreviations page, but for all practical purposes, I believe they can be used pretty much interchangeably.
Today, while reading the British tabloid The Sun, I came across what to me was a new name for prepper: “Collapsologist,” someone who practices “collapsology,” a movement based around the theory that society as we know it could fall apart. According to the article, the major difference is that survivalists are loners while collapsologists want to survive in a community. I would argue that preppers are loners (which, like survivalist, sounds “dangerous” thanks to the doublespeak people corrupting our language). Many preppers are in a prepping group, church groups, and neighborhood prepping groups.
Collapsologists also appear to be preparing for a gradual collapse caused by climate change or other evolving problems rather than an apocalyptic event that triggers a massive breakdown.
Now I am not going to tell anyone why they should or should not prepare. It is far more important that you prepare than the motivation behind your prepping. I don’t care if you are prepping for natural disasters, man-made disasters, a slow slide or economic collapse, or because you fear aliens with ray guns are going to come and take all our womenfolk. If you prepare even a little bit, you will be better off than the guy next door who has not prepared at all.
That said, collapsologists sure sounds like preppers and the work they are doing certainly sounds like prepping. Maybe they are motivated to prep for peaceful, green reasons, but the actions they take are still pretty much the same.
Collapsologists versus Collapsitarians
I want to bring up another word, collapsitarian. Collapsitarians are people who believe that a collapse is necessary to reset the world and put it on a better course. So here is the big difference between the two: Collapsologists want to save society. Collapsitrians expect society to fail so that a new one can be rebuilt from its ashes.
Idealistic collapsitarians seem to believe that only after the collapse of our current social and political infrastructures will the United States be able to rebuild—after a suitable period of anarchy—into the constitutional republic our founders had intended.
If that were guaranteed, I think I would join their ranks.
Am I prepping for a collapse? Yes. Do I expect one? Yes, but I’m not sure when it will take place. Does it matter what kind of collapse? No. Would I prefer that whatever rises from the ashes is better? Yes, but I am not convinced that will be the case.
The Name Matters Naught
Whether you call yourself a survivalist, a prepper, a collapsologist, or a collapsitarian, the important thing is that you plan, stockpile, build skills and contacts, and make changes in your life to improve your odds of surviving whatever comes next. If 2020 didn’t make you see the need then I have another name for you: Hopeless.