Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Survivalist Discussion of "Us" and the "Them" in a Societal Collapse


Looking for something else, I ran across this discussion on Rawles SurvivalBlog. There is a percentage of Threepers who are "survivalists" and a percent of "survivalists" who are Threepers. I have long agreed with David Brin's discussion of "post-collapse" survivalists in The Postman, believing that whatever is to be saved after the first "big die-off" will be saved by robust communities, not small groups of hideouts.

Given that the armed citizenry's job is not only to maintain liberty but to provide the basis for community defense, I think this discussion is worth repeating. The moral component as discussed by Rawles in the last segment of this is also of interest.

I am curious to know what Sipsey Streeters think of this series of articles.


Letter Re: Some Ground Truth--The "Us" and the "Them" in a Societal Collapse

Mr. Rawles,

I am a retired Army warrant officer working for the Army teaching Electronic Warfare and Signal Intelligence. I only started reading your blog last week. It's addictive, but slightly disturbing.

Having worked for the Army for 27 years in a number of different failed countries I may have a unique perspective on survival that I would like to share with your readers. I believe most of the "survivalist community" is vastly underestimating the impact that other humans are going to have on their plans. Hunkering down and waiting for everyone to die off is a simplistic plan and I believe has almost no chance of working. You may be able to hide your retreat, but you can't hide the land it sits on. That land itself may become a scarce commodity if the US transitions to an agrarian economy.

Food is the key resource. Most communities are at risk because they simply don't have enough calories stored to get them through any kind of crisis. But, storage is no more than limited capital to allow people time to grow more food. Food production requires land....if your retreat is sitting on farmable land, it will be a scarce resource.

Carrying capacity of the US using non-petroleum farming techniques is far lower than most of your readers probably think. Also, most areas of the US, especially cities, don't have anywhere near enough farm-able land to go back to some kind of agrarian pattern. Without public infrastructure and modern transportation, we are going to experience a huge die-off caused mostly by starvation. In a total collapse scenario without immediate restoration of the economy, basically everyone who lives in a city is doomed unless they can take over some kind of farm land.

If you live in an area without enough farm land, you will be a "have not". Period. I don't care how much food you have stored in your basement.

Here is my key point. These teeming millions will not just starve and go away. I believe that anyone who thinks they can defend a working farm against raiders is deluding themselves.

1. People are dangerous. They are the most dangerous animal on earth. You can never lose sight of that! In almost any society breakdown scenario you can think of, you will be surrounded by starving predators that are much more dangerous than tigers. In the USA, every one of them (or at least the vast majority) will be armed with firearms. The ones currently without firearms will obtain them by any means necessary including looting government armories. These are thinking-breathing and highly motivated enemies.

2. Raiders, defined as "outlaw looting groups" may be a threat for a very short period, but I really don't see groups of more than 4-6 ever forming...they will be quickly replaced by much larger groups of "citizens" doing essentially the same things, but much better armed and organized.

An Example: A few hours after Albania's political crisis in 1998, (which was caused by a national lottery scam), almost every adult male in the country procured an AKM from government stocks. Armories were the first targets looted. I flew into Tirana packing a pistol and a sack of money, naively thinking I would be able to move around the country and defend myself. What a laugh. Everyone had me outgunned, and the vast majority of them had military training of some sort. I never got out of the capital city. Every road seemed to have roadblocks every few miles, blocked by armed local citizens.

3. Without central authority, people don't just starve and go away. They form their own polities (governments). These polities are often organized around town or city government or local churches. They may call it a city counsel or a committee or a senate. The bottom line is, "We The People" will do whatever "We" have to do to survive. And that specifically includes taking your storage goods.

4. When (not if) a polity forms near you, you had better be part of that process. If not, you will be looked upon as a "resource" instead of a member of the community. The local polity will pass a resolution (or whatever) and "legally" confiscate your goods. If you resist, they will crush you. They will have the resources of a whole community to draw upon including weapons, vehicles, manpower, electronics, tear gas, etc. Every scrap of government owned equipment and weaponry will be used, by someone. Anyone who plans to hold out against that kind of threat is delusional.

5. The local polity that forms is almost certainly going to make mistakes. Some of them are lethal blunders. Odds are, the locals will probably not have given a lot of serious thought to facing long term survival. They will squander resources and delay implementing necessary actions (like planting more food or working together to defend a harvest). They may even decide to take in thousands of refugees from nearby cities, thereby almost insuring their own longer term starvation.

A much better approach is to be an integral part of the community and use the combined resources of the community to defend all of your resources together. This would be much easier if a high percentage of the community were like minded folks who were committed to sharing and cooperating. Because any community with food is likely going to have to somehow survive while facing even larger polities, like nearby cities, counties or even state governments. Don't expect to face a walking hoard of lightly armed, starving individuals. Expect to face a professional, determined army formed by a government of some kind.

A small farming community can probably support a few outsiders, but not very many. The community will need to politically deal with outside polities or they will face a war they can't win. Hiding the fact that you are self sufficient is going to be hard. You can't hide farm land.

Defending your resources against the nearby city will be even harder. You may be able to save the community by buying protection with surplus food...if you have prepared for that. You may indeed have to fight, but stalling that event for even a year could mean the difference between living and being overwhelmed. In any case, your community needs to go into the crisis with a plan. You may be able to shape that plan if you become a community leader instead of a "resource". With Very Kind Regards, - R.J.

JWR Replies: You've summed up some essential truths quite succinctly. Your points square nicely with the scenario in my first novel ("Patriots"). It also matches my premise of gemeinschaft kampfgeist (see Link #1 below), in the context of cohesion in the "we/they paradigm." (See Link #2 below.)

LINK # 1:

Finding a Mineshaft or a Gemeinschaft

I've observed that survivalists tend to fall into two schools of thought: those that are loners and those that are community-minded. The loners would prefer to disappear into the wilds and essentially find a mineshaft to crawl into--somewhere they can lay low, whilst things sort themselves out, back in civilization. That is both a naive and selfish starting point for preparedness. Short of moving to the roadless interior of Alaska, it is not realistic to expect that you can find a remote rural property where you'd have no contact with outsiders for an extended period of time. We live in the era of Google Earth, where there few truly secret hideaways. I recently read that Mel Gibson couldn't buy total privacy. Even if you live off-grid, if there is a road leading to your house, eventually someone will find you.

I have only seen a handful properties in the lower 48 States that I consider truly isolated. One of them was a ranch in the Basin and Range country, about 50 miles out Lovelock, Nevada. (It was actually 15 miles east of the tiny hamlet of Unionville, Nevada, (which is a 37 mile drive out of Lovelock) but I doubt that many people have heard of it). This was a 200 acre parcel that I evaluated as a potential retreat purchase for one of my consulting clients. (Note: I can describe it here, because the client eventually selected a different ranch in another county.) The road leading into the property traversed a dry lake bed, then went through a full section BLM land on a very dusty lame excuse for a road. Then, as the road started up into the hills it would appear to a casual observer to just become a rocky trail. But in fact it was in fact drivable in a 4WD vehicle, and the condition of the road actually improved, farther up the canyon. The upper end of the property had a surprising number of trees (including some pretty cottonwoods) and a large creek. But that property was a genuine rarity. There, if they were careful about noise and light discipline, someone could conceivably build a retreat and have it go entirely un-noticed indefinitely for anyone approaching by road. (And, BTW, it would have been a terribly long way to drive into town, especially in these days of high gas prices.) But even with a retreat that is out of line of sight from any road, it would still still be visible from the air, and from Google Earth. There is no such thing as total privacy.

I can safely say that 99% of SurvivalBlog readers will never own a truly remote retreat. For the rest of us, we will be on a recognizable road, and we will have neighbors. And we will have the occasional Jehovah's Witnesses come wandering by to hand us copies of The Watchtower and extol their bad doctrine. Resign yourself to that fact. Having neighbors generally necessitates being neighborly. More about that, follows.

The German word for community is Gemeinschaft. This word describes both a community of people and their collective will. From the perspective of disaster preparedness, one of the positive aspects of community-mindedness is what the Germans call Kampfgeist (fighting spirit), or what the Boers call laager spirit. I've alluded to this before in SurvivalBlog, as a component of the "We/They Paradigm." The downside of this is the risk of developing xenophobia and racial bigotry--which I, along with most SurvivalBlog readers, abhor. But the desirable side of Kampfgeist is that unifies a community in defending itself against outside foes. Kampfgeist is most often seen in small communities, but on rare occasions it can even be seen on the scale of a metropolis, where every able-bodied citizen pitched in. This was best illustrated in the defense of Stalingrad, in World War II. The city was defended by a large portion of the local Russian citizenry. (There, there were some phenomenal manifestations of Kampfgeist. The one there that comes immediately to mind is the perhaps apocryphal creation of propagandists: As the German army advanced on the city, the employees of the local tank factory personally manned and went into battle with the very last T-34 tanks that came off the assembly line.

I have long been an advocate of setting up small covenant communities, inhabited by like-minded people. Consider my vote for Gemeinschaft, not a mineshaft. The "mineshaft" is essentially a myth. I'll have more comments on covenant communities in an upcoming article.

LINK # 2:

Charity in Disaster Situations--Insuring the Cohesion of the "We"
At the risk for sounding preachy, I'd like to re-emphasize the importance of storing extra logistics so that you can be charitable when disaster strikes. Charity is Biblically supported, and makes common sense. (I strongly advise it, regardless of your religious beliefs.) When the Schumer Hits the Fan (SHTF), you will want neighbors that you can count on, not people that you fear or distrust. By dispensing copious charity to your neighbors that did not have the same foresight that you did, you will solidify them as strong allies instead of envious potential enemies. In describing communities, psychologists and sociologists often talk in terms of the "we/they paradigm". Typically, this is used in a negative connotation, such as when they describe racism. (And rightfully so--I loathe racism.) But I can see something positive in building an appropriate "we/they" distinction during a societal collapse--the distinction between your local community and predatory outsiders. Just ask anyone that has ever lived "inside the wire" at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Iraq. Those soldiers will tell you that they felt a strong cohesive bond, and were absolutely determined to repel anyone that attempted to attack their FOB. Their steadfast resolve can be summed up with the words: "They are not getting through the wire. Period." Dispensing charity helps build a cohesive "we" and draws into sharp contrast the "they." (In my view of the near future, the "they" will likely be roving bands of criminal looters. Imagine a situation like in the movie The Road Warrior, and you are inside the perimeter at the refinery. Can you see the appropriate "we/they"?)

By logical extension, you can dispense significant charity only if you have it to give. Clearly, you must stock up above and beyond your own family's needs. So, for example, if you calculate that you need 300 pounds of wheat for your family, don't buy just 300 pounds. Instead, buy 600, 900, or even 1,200 pounds. That might sound expensive, but presently you can buy 50 pound sacks of hard red winter wheat for around $7 to $8 each. About 45 pounds of wheat will fit in a plastic 6 gallon food grade bucket that costs just over $2. Or even if you pay more to buy wheat that already packaged for long term storage in buckets (from a vendor like Walton Feed), a 45 pound bucket of wheat still costs just $17.15. Beans and rice are similarly priced. Consider that extra food as a key to building a "sense of community." Even for even those of you that are non-religious, dispensing charity will be part of your "we/they paradigm" insurance. If purchased in bulk quantities, it is also cheap insurance. Don't neglect buying your family that insurance! OBTW, speaking of wheat, the threat of the wheat "super-blight" is looming. This makes it urgent for families to stock up.

Where is the Biblical support for charity? It can be seen throughout the Old and New Testaments. Remember the Bible's guidance about leaving unharvested rows of crops, to benefit "gleaners"? For example, see Leviticus 23:22: "And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God." (KJV)

The Old Testament law regarding charity can be found in Deuteronomy Chapter 15, verses 7-11 (KJV):
15:7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
15:8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
15:9 Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year [of Jubilee], the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee.
15:10 Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

From these verses it is it clear that we will always have poor people in our community ("the poor shall never cease out of the land"), and it abundantly clear that it is our duty to help them ("Thou shalt surely give...") End of preachy mode. My apologies if this offended those of you that aren't Christians or Jews. But again, even folks that are strident atheists should see the wisdom of having extra food storage to provide for charity. It is in your own best interest.


Old Pablo said...

Right now I'm re-reading "Patriots" and have a copy of "The Postman" on order. It just makes sense to think of the community around you (and to trust in God for the many likely situations outside your control). I live in a doomed community outside of Los Angeles. But I am looking at farmland in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Dear God, please give me time to get out of here (and become a member of a new congregation).

Anonymous said...


Great article. It furthers my ambition to get out of the city to find a community of like minded individuals. Some communities in Idaho come to mind...

With regard to remote property I see some of this when flying over the Dakotas and other wilderness stretches but As mentioned defense would be an issue.

Charity seems to be common sense in any case.


Anonymous said...

"People will form their own polities."

An explanation of survivalist or preparedness groups through the eyes of the mainstream media:

Built around religion and values = cult.
Built without religion and values = gang (or government-is there a difference?)

Thanks to this misperception, there's built in suspicion and intrigue around something that was a fundamental part of American life from before our founding until just after the Industrial Revolution (IR) when people flocked to the cities.

During the IR, people flocked to the cities and multiplied as technology, finance, and infrastructure made it possible to deliver sufficient food, energy, water, and communications (FEWC) to the cities.

During the coming Industrial Devolution, the population will divide (and subtract) as people flee from cities where hyperinflation and hyperregulation have made it impractical, impossible, or too expensive to deliver sufficient FEWC to support those populations.

The law of supply and demand will sadly apply. As FEWC becomes more scarce, prices will skyrocket and likely be paid in lives instead of dollars.

Sufficiency and relationships. What can I do for myself? What can/will I do for others? What can/will others do for me? With whom have I/can I build such relationships? And what am I doing-what are we doing right now to set things in order against that day?

I pray for the swift and certain return of Jesus. If He tarries, I pray God's grace on ALL of us through whatever circumstances await.


Loren said...

Very interesting. I'd have to agree. Something I've looked at is greenhouses, up here in Wyoming. We just don't have a long enough growing season for the important stuff--vegetables and the like. That is quite the expense though, and will take a lot of work to keep going after most sources of fertilizer and other chemicals run dry.

Even smaller communities will have trouble though, because even a farming community relies on massive amounts of outside input to make things work. How many people still have a horse that can pull a plow, and know how to farm that way?

Anonymous said...

As survivalblog says, it is good to be charitable. If for nothing else then pragmitism, to have someone "owing" you & in your debt when it comes to the down & dirty.

BUT, don't be SO charitable if it leaves YOU wanting and needy, and in someone else's debt.

B Woodman

disability insurance said...

Hi. Thanks for the article, I must admit I've never thought that way before, but, yes, there is something about that what you say. The Industrial Revolution led to the Great Depression in the end, so we should start thinking what we did wrong. I also agree that charity is very needed as there are so many people who are starving and dying.
Take care,

Tvarisch said...

I think that the die-off will be massive when the ag industry fails us, partly due to starvation and disease, which always follows famine, and partly from people killing one another for food. I'm betting on being able to find or join a community for collective farming and mutual defense. I grew up on a farm and my dad taught me lots of old-time ways, and I have all sorts of skills, so I know I can find a place. Of course, I can always fall back on Lone Wolf survival plan and keep me and my family solitary and safe until enough people die off, and kill anyone who comes within my territory, or distract and evade if the threat is too large.

III more than them said...

The root of the problem is the selfishness of mankind, manifested in his lust for cash and the power it buys.

The form of currency, at any given time, is the object of that lust. So, whatever you predict to be barter-fare, trade-worthy or otherwise recognized as means of exchange - expect that to be the object of theft, lies, blackmail, murder, criminal conspiracy, etc....

I think food, weapons and ammunition will eventually fall into the category of currency, or the means to get it. What survivalists see as the tools and resources to survive, is really the bank deposit so many will lust after.

The man is right. Surviving is only the beginning. Once the threat to life has been analyzed and dealt with, the business of proper restoration is at hand.

Think about your skills and where they fall in the world of rebuilding. Sharpen them, and when you find time, learn some new ones.

Loren said...

Something else of merit:

I'm pretty sure Mike is familiar with Robb's work, but this is a list of his posts on resilient communities, resources to tweak your community to, well, be more resilient. This means more local food production, being able to repair and replace equipment without having to send it in for warranty service, etc.

Uncle Lar said...

As Mike has mentioned before "The Last Centurion" by John Ringo is worth a read for a fictional description of a societal collapse brought on by a combination of pandemic, global cooling, and incompetent government. Parts of the book deal specifically with the difficulties inherent to farming, particularly under misguided government control, and with how people react under crisis to form viable associations.
Told from the perspective of a serving military officer, so the language is a bit rough, so be warned. It's not for the meek or easily offended.

Anonymous said...

Peak oil might be true, but Peak energy is most definitely false. The North American continent has 200 years of coal buried in it at present rates of consumption. Coal can be chemically rearranged into liquid fuels that replace those currently derived from oil. Toshiba bought Westinghouse and is developing less-stupid nuclear reactors.

Global warming is a hoax, intended to justify a global hydraulic empire based on energy. There are no natural resources or ecological type limits that would prevent the entire world from having a first world lifestyle.

The leadership of every tyranny is militarily outmatched by the population in every way. Tyrannies only exist because the victims consent to their slavery. If the American middle class lifestyle decays to horse-drawn computers and an Internet based on carrier pigeons, it will be because government -- supported by voters like you -- has banned a better lifestyle.

Happy D said...

May I suggest the humble Potato as a partial solution to your problem.

Historically, Potatoes are a pretty complete diet, they grow well in a sandy soil, and an acre often will support two people. They keep well, too. The Irish used to live off potatoes and skim milk. The plants are herbaceous perennials live for more than two years. So perhaps the plant you plant today you could harvest in two years to get around the short growing season problem. Also being a underground plant they have a tendency to survive. Battles have been fought potato fields that were soon after harvested.

I am no expert on potato growing. So you will need to find someone in your area for better advice. But they grow a lot of them next door in Idaho. And in the Andes mountains. Talk about a tough plant. With 4000 different varieties of potato. I would hope you could find one that may help solve your problem.

You can make vodka from them that can be used as fuel in adjusted machinery as well.

I do hope I have been some help.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like good common sense to me. We have a pretty large united community who has worked seeing this time coming for 10-15 years. A lot of vets and farming folk. I would say we are more prepared (with both logistics and strategy - with charity - in place) Than most.

God help us all.