“You could be forgiven for thinking apocalyptic thoughts,” writes The New York Times in response to recent disasters.

With multiple earthquakes, successive hurricanes, fires raging in the Northwest and California, as well as escalating tensions with North Korea, the last few months have brought an onslaught of natural and man-made chaos.

The less obvious threat for Americans is the vulnerability of our electrical grid—which, in the opinion of some experts, is imminently hackable.

Vanity Fair publishes regularly on the topic (see Michael Lewis’s latest story). Even Ted Koppel, the calm, unflappable former news anchor, says it’s a matter of if, not when the electrical grid goes down and leaves us suspended in a strange, uneasy darkness.

This “confluence of disastrous events” brings out our most basic instinct: the urge to survive.

The “prepping” trend has grown in response, from basic emergency preparedness (extra water and bags of dried beans) to fully furnished underground bunkers packed with freeze-dried rations. (Costco offers options for both groups.) According to Google Trends, searches for “prepper” and “survivalism” have reached record highs in the last few months.

At a deeper level, these dangers and disasters bring us face to face with the fragility of human life. Lurking beneath our well-socialized exteriors is an intense, primitive need to protect ourselves and those around us from existential threats. Parents fear the possibility that one day we’ll wake up and find ourselves unable to keep our kids safe from famine or fire. One way or another, we all have to contend with the fundamental tension between readiness and relinquishment: When ...

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