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Dancing at Armageddon


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About the Author

Richard G. Mitchell Jr. is a professor of sociology at Oregon State University. He is the author of Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure and Secrecy and Fieldwork, and the coeditor of Exploring Society.


Mitchell (sociology, Oregon State Univ.) provides one of the first, and certainly one of the most readable, looks at the survivalist movement, summing up many years of experience as a participant-observer. While adherents are often caricatured as dispossessed, paranoid loners, Mitchell reveals them to be not only stereotypical Rambo wannabes but also businessmen, doctors, and other professionals who are looking for a little adventure in our increasingly antiseptic, detached culture. Mitchell explores various sociological and psychological theories about participation in the survivalist movement and discovers that it is about more than an outsider's need to get power. Rather, the movement allows people often marginalized by society to exercise their creativity and gain success: "survivalism is no practical readiness for uncertainties, but a celebration of imagination, an encompassing, compelling game of make-believe." This insightful study is highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.-Mark Bay, Cumberland Coll. Lib., Williamsburg, KY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

The survivalist movement gets a partial makeover in this revisionist study of America's backwoods doomsayers. Sociologist Mitchell begins with a simple thesis: survivalists are not necessarily crazy or stupid. Rather, he writes, survivalism is a creative response to the stresses of modernity. Its adherents practice a kind of "radical skepticism" about our cultural and economic structures, which leads them to predict civilization's collapse (through race war, economic ruin, plague, nuclear holocaust, etc.). The more notorious proclivities of survivalists collecting guns, building bunkers and the like are merely sensible responses to these dire forecasts, which may have seemed far-fetched before September 11. Mitchell spent years among his subjects, even participating in some "guerrilla" training himself (a farcical weekend in the woods with men too chubby to march very long and too drowsy to fight very hard). Survivalists can live in nice suburbs; they can even make prudent investments like buying land to use as a tax shelter and, "when needed, a fallout shelter." In fact, says Mitchell, sometimes survivalist cadres resemble nothing so much as eccentric hobby groups. But there is also a darker side to the movement, chronicled by Mitchell's visits to Idaho's Aryan Nations compound and other militant survivalist centers around the country. In these places, survivalism is inextricably tied to resentment, racism and hate. The Aryan Nations material is well worn, but the rest of Mitchell's account is provocative and surprising. His book is an important attempt to clarify and contextualize a movement that thrives on mainstream society's fringes. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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