Howard Ruff is a soft whimper survivalist.

There are survivalists all over America these days. They are prepared, as a breed, for the collapse of Western civilization. Each nurtures some private vision of the particular way it will happen (riots, earthquake, nuclear accident, economic disaster), and they buy food or weapons or country property to prepare themselves for the panic that will surely follow. They have publications of their own, and a national guide to areas most susceptible to danger during the downfall (the entire East Coast, from mid-North Carolina to Maine, is included in the danger zone).

An article by Tom Devries and Anne Dorfman, in New West magazine, recently laid out a detailed survivalist lexicon, distinguishing bang people (those who think some giant catastrophe will destroy society) from whimper people (those who think we are skidding helplessly toward oblivion), and hard survivalists (guns) from soft survivalists (food and maybe gold but no guns).

Hard survivalists think Howard Ruff is downright namby-pamby. There was a fellow in the New West article -- a fearsome-looking brush-cut weaponsmonger named Kurt Saxon, who identified himself as being "of the total disaster, complete wipe-out school" -- with a few choice observations about Ruff's proposal that people stock food and gold to prepare themselves for the collapse.

"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard," Saxon said. He was standing in his living room, and he held up a .44 Magnum. "Let's say that I have this gun, and you offer to trade me an ounce of gold for it," he said. "At the end of the transaction, one of us is going to have both the gold and the gun."

Ruff says he hasn't much use for guns. "My father killed himself with one," he says. He says he is learning to shoot, because he believes hunting to be a useful skill, but he adds right away. "I have at least three paragraphs in my book about the sanctity of human life.

"The thing that pops up all the time is that Howard Ruff advocates people getting a cabin in the mountains stocking it with dehydrate foods, and sitting on it with his guns to defend it against the starving hordes," he says. s"Anyone who's read my book knows that I said that's an excessive reaction, but if that's what turns you on, be my guest. I don't think there's going to be any starving hordes. I'm not expecting Armageddon. I'm expecting a few bad years."