Here we go again. No sooner do we end one Me Decade than another one comes peeping around the corner . . . armed to the teeth.
Goodbye to the Era of Self-Improvement, hello to the Era of Self-Preservation. Goodbye hedonists; hello pessimists. The Me People of the '70s were learning to actualize themselves, but the Me People of the '80s are learning to defend themselves.
Yes, indeed, fellow trend-watchers, the true religion of the decade is not going to be est or evangelical; it's going to be Survival. Already 50,000 self-proclaimed Survivalists from coast to coast are hunkering down for the Apocalypse. They aren't preparing their souls to meet doom; they are preparing their bunkers to escape it.
What the hot tub was to the '70s, the bunker will be for the '80s: the emotional escape hatch.
The Survivalist' visions of disaster differ. For some it is nuclear, for others economic, for still others class and race warfare. But the solution is the same: The Survival of the Outfittest.
While the other little piggies are building straw huts and singing in the sun, Survivalists are bricking in for months to be spent munching dried foods, sipping canned water and counting their ammunition.
Survivalists see the handwriting on the wall, or at least the typewriting in the mail-order catalogs. The Urban Survival Arsenal, a review of the weapons "you need," pictures us in fortified bunkers while squads of "dope-crazed savages" lie in wait outside.
"What are you going to do?" it asks. "Are you going to sit there like an idiot . . . or are you going to read the Urban Survival Arsenal and be prepared to exact a mighty toll as you retreat?"
The message is to exchange self-fulfillment for self-protection, roller skates and rolling tables for rifles. As Survivalist Fred Kurpsie, fondling his weapons, told CBS News, "This will stop a man, kill a man."
Good Neighbor Fred finds his inspiration, no doubt, in the books hot off the Delta Press publishing list like "The Brass Knuckle Bible" and "Kill or Be Killed."
Well, we should have seen it coming. On the best-seller lists the books on how to flatten your stomach are being replaced by books on how to increase your Krugerrands.
The optimistic self-obsession of Wayne Dyer has been topped by the pessimistic self-obsession of Douglas Casey. While Dyer, the man of the '70s boasts that "The Sky's the Limit," Casey, the man of the '80s, offers tips on "Crisis Investing" for those who want to make big bucks on everyone else's bad times.
I suppose it was inevitable. This is the decade of the paranoid "haves." The fever is part of the national cult of self-defense. Survivalists are probably acting out the impotence and anxiety felt by many others.
But Survivalism is the frontier spirit gone mean; individualsim turned hostile.
In the new Me Decade, sharing your feelings is out; hiding your assests is in. The people who were once into personal growth are being replaced by the people who are into personal hoarding.
If the mentor of the '70s Self was a psychologist, the mentor of the '80s Self is an urban guerrilla warfare instructor. If the '70s Self looked down his belly button, the "80s Self looks down a rifle barrel.
Frankly I'm spooked by the people who are sure The End Is at Hand . . . for everyone else. I'm spooked by people waiting for the chance to defend their dried food and turf against the marauding hordes. I'm spooked by people who spend their energy embracing the end instead of avoiding it.
The people who move from worrying about disaster to preparing for it will end up looking forward to it. Like people who put a date on Doomsday, they have an investment in being right.
While the rest of us try to solve problems, they put their money on the collapse. They bet that it won't be the righteous but the selfish who inherit the earth.
I find nothing new in this message. It's the oldest cult on earth: every man for himself. And to my ear, at least, that isn't a sermon of survival. It's the same old pathetic preaching of humanity's defeat.