“Whatever you do, keep the weapon pointed down the range at all times.”
My stay in Prague gets weirder. When I set out on this journey, I certainly didn’t expect to find myself learning to shoot a handgun. I’ve never been drawn to the guns-and-baked-beans school of resilience, but an opportunity to meet a professed survivalist in a continent where they tend to be thin on the ground is not something I’m going to turn down.
Both the physical experience and the theatre of the gun range are an unnerving experience. Yet I can see that for Paul this is as much as anything something he does for fun. Afterwards – over dinner in a vegetarian restaurant, two doors down – he tells me how he went from animal rights activism and being more or less a pacifist, to training to defend his family against the collapse of civilisation.
In our estimation of the state of the world, the scale of the crises facing us and the competence of governments to deal with them, Paul and I are not wildly different. Although I do find myself remembering something Ivan said, in our conversation yesterday, about how much of the fear of collapse and crisis is really a form of entertainment. And then this takes me to Vinay Gupta’s line at Uncivilisation 2010, “Collapse means living in the same conditions as the people who grow your coffee.”
The other thing that strikes me is how similar the conversation I’m having with Paul is to the one I’ve been having with Ivan. In both cases, at some level, what I’m fishing for is a sense of what is worth doing, beyond simply staying alive. Not least because, as I wrote on the first night of this journey, I’m not convinced that personal survival is a sufficient reason to go on when things are hardest.
Why am I pursuing these conversations? There’s always the risk of trying to escape your own doubts by convincing others, but I don’t think that’s the root of it. There’s something else, a way of thinking things through which requires the friction of others with considered positions and attitudes that are not your own. Even these short encounters are enough to spark new lines of thought, lines that I would not have arrived at by spending the same time thinking and writing on my own, with only the company of books and websites.