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Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life


Personal Thoughts

With the same sharp eye, quick wit, and narrative drive that marked his bestsellers The Game, The Dirt, and How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, Neil Strauss takes us on a white-knuckle journey through America's heart of darkness as he scrambles to escape the system. It's one man's story of a dangerous world—and how to stay alive in it.

Summary Notes

  • Though few people know it, America was founded with the apocalypse in mind. Christopher Columbus wasn’t just searching for gold or spices or a new trade route to Asia when he discovered the continent. He believed the world was about to end, and his mission was to save as many souls as he could before the clock ran out. In his letters to the king and queen of Spain soliciting funds for his next and final expedition, Columbus wrote that “only 155 years remain of the 7,000 years in which … the world must come to an end.” According to his interpretation of biblical prophecy, his voyages to the New World were the first step toward the liberation of the holy land of Jerusalem from Muslim domination—which would be followed, he wrote, by “the end of the religion of Mohammad and the coming of the Antichrist.”
  • Yet on every highway, there’s a drunk driver hurtling at 80 miles an hour in two tons of steel. In every neighborhood, there’s a thief armed with a deadly weapon. In every city, there’s a terrorist with a bloody agenda. In every nuclear country, there’s a government employee sitting in front of a button. In every cell in our body, there’s the potential to mutate into cancer. They are all trying to kill us. And they don’t even know us. They don’t care that if they succeed, we will never know what tomorrow holds for us. The tragedy of life—robbing it of its fullness and brilliance—is the knowledge that we might die at any moment. And though we schedule our lives so precisely, with calendars and day planners and mobile phones and personal information management software, that moment is completely beyond our control.
  • Perhaps most people were sitting at home, glued to the television, awaiting more information and further instructions. But my Y2K conversations had taught me that there are only two kinds of people in a crisis: the quick and the dead.
  • An anarchist is someone who believes that people are responsible enough to maintain order in the absence of government. That week, I realized I was something very different: a Friesian. I began to subscribe to the view of human nature depicted in the William Golding novel Lord of the Flies. After reading reports of the chaos, violence, and suffering in New Orleans, it became clear that when the system is smashed, some of us start smashing each other. Most survivalists are also Friesians. That’s why they stockpile guns. They’re planning to use them not to shoot enemy soldiers, but to shoot the neighbors trying to steal their supplies.
  • A true Fliesian knows that large groups of people don’t keep secrets that well, especially if leaking it can either bring them glory or hurt a competitor. The person who convinced me of this was President Lyndon Johnson, who recorded hundreds of his phone calls in the White House. When I first heard him in the documentary The Fog of War discussing withdrawing from Vietnam and basing decision after decision solely on whether it would make him look bad, I officially retired my conspiracy theory card.
  • Some people talk about the power of intent. They say that if you set your mind on something you really want, it will come to you. This is often misinterpreted as a rationalization for laziness because it’s a lot easier to lie in bed and dream than to go out and work. Personally, I believe in the power of the odds. If you interact with enough people, and you look for clues leading to what you want every time, you’ll eventually find someone or something that can help you.
  • There is a theory called memetics, which suggests that ideas move through culture much like viruses. Thanks to the catalysts of 9/11 and Katrina, the escapist meme had clearly spread from the minds of fringe extremists to early adopters in mainstream society. It was only a matter of time, I began to worry, until countries further tightened their immigration policies because of the large numbers of Americans leaving, like their forefathers, for somewhere safer, more prosperous, and free. “What have you found out?” I asked Spencer. “So far, the only thing I know about is this organization called the Sovereign Society.”
  • “Because it’s going to be the best sex you’ve ever had. They know what they’re doing. Just watch your condoms. They’ll poke holes in them to get pregnant.” “That’s one of the most devious things I’ve ever heard.” No wonder Spencer was so paranoid.
  • As Pulitzer Prize-winning psychiatrist Ernest Becker explained it in his book The Denial of Death, because we fear our own obliteration, we give our life purpose by embarking on an “immortality project” that will outlast us—whether it be our work, our children, the way we affect others, a good seat in the afterlife, or, in Craig’s case, hope.
  • “Do you know the problem with your plans?” challenged the mortgage company vice president, Howard, a pasty, heavyset man with an incongruent passion for mountain biking. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, so there’s no way to prepare. If there’s never a disaster, then you’re just wasting your time like all those people who built bomb shelters in the sixties. And if there is a disaster and someone drops a nuke, it’ll probably be in New York and you’ll get vaporized. So why not just relax and enjoy life, instead of worrying about everything that can go wrong?” “Because this makes economic sense,” Spencer replied coolly. “Do you have insurance for fires, theft, and illness?” “Of course,” Howard replied. “Which means you agree that a certain portion of your income should be allocated to protect you against catastrophes, even if they’re low-probability events.” Spencer took a small, prudent sip of wine, then continued. “Because that’s all this is an insurance policy. When you think something will never happen to you, that’s usually when it happens.”
  • “You don’t need money,” Spencer responded. “No intelligent person spends his own money.
  • Half a century ago, after serving in World War II, a newspaper publisher named Harry Schultz returned to America and was disappointed to find a nation of violent crime, high taxes, and frivolous lawsuits. So he sold his thirteen newspapers and decided to become not a citizen of America, but a citizen of the world. The name he gave to this idea was PT. The letters don’t stand for any two specific words, but they’re most often defined as the perpetual tourist or permanent traveler. The idea of PT is that, just as we shop at different stores in a mall to find various items we want, we can also shop in different countries to find the lifestyles, governments, careers, people, tax rates, and cultures that best suit us. So why stay in America just because you were born here? There’s a great big world out there with a lot to offer. Just as every child must eventually grow up and leave home, just as our ancestors left the Old World in search of the new, just as the hero of every great myth journeys outside the familiar, so too must we venture outside our small reality and, rather than simply believing we’re living the best in the best of all possible countries, find out for ourselves.

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life

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