A July, 2008 Jim Rawles Interview by AlterNet

The following is a transcript of an interview that will soon be run at the popular left-of-center AlterNet web site:

AlterNet: Is survivalism a failure of community? A celebration of it?

JWR: I’d say that survivalism is indeed a celebration of community. It is the embodiment of America’s traditional “can do” spirit of self-reliance that settled the frontier.

AlterNet: Is it engineered by personal issues? Is it a racial, or economic phenomenon, in your opinion? Or both?

JWR: Survivalism [is a movement that] crosses all racial and religious lines. It is essentially color blind. For 99% of us, we could care less about the color of someone’s skin, but we care a lot about about including people with valuable skill sets. The preparedness movement is simply a rational quest for family and community level self-sufficiency in an increasingly dangerous world. There is unfortunately a very small but very vocal minority that are disgustingly racist idiots. I’m sad to say that they also call themselves survivalists. They get an inordinate amount of press coverage, making that 1% look much larger than it really is. In my opinion they should be ignored and shunned, and I certainly don’t give them a platform on SurvivalBlog.

The economic cross section of SurvivalBlog readers is also amazing. We have working class readers that a worried about how they are going to make their next car payment posting alongside surgeons and entrepreneurs. We have both starving students and Little Old Lady pensioners. The readership is also global. We have regular readers in more than 90 countries. But even with this diversity, we all get along. [I didn’t mention that I also edit out a lot of rants and foul language from the readers’ letters that I post.] Part of this is the realization that the next Great Depression will be a tremendous “leveler”.

AlterNet: Do you think survivalism is a rational response to our current crises?

JWR: Absolutely.

AlterNet: After all, we have an administration with minority support that is ruining the economy and world without a care for what its majority thinks. Do you think the unilateral policies of America over the last several years has contributed to the mindset? Or is it just gun nuts going too far?

JWR: There is greater interest in preparedness these days because the fragility of our economy, the lengthening chains of supply, and the complexity of the technological infrastructure have become apparent to a broader cross-section of the populous. All parties concerned may not realize it, but the left-of-center Greens that are calling for “local economy” and encouraging farmer’s markets actually have a tremendous amount in common with John Birchers that are decrying globalist bankers, and likewise with gun owners that complain about their constitutional rights being trampled. At the core, for all of them, is the recognition that big, entrenched, centralized power structures are not the answer. They are, in fact, the problem.

AlterNet: What do survivalists get right?

JWR: They recognize that smaller scale economies and older technologies are appropriate. They also recognize that meaningful solutions are found at the community level–not from top-down, command-driven bureaucracies.

AlterNet: What do they get wrong?

JWR: A minority of SurvivalBlog readers are over-enamored with gadgets. I call these folks “Mall Ninjas.” They live in a fantasy world. In the real world, skills beat gadgets every time. But in our “big box” consumerist economy, some people mistakenly think that they can buy happiness, or–in this case–buy preparedness. A big, expensive pile of “tacticool” gear without the hard-earned skills to know how to use it is essentially useless. It takes time and a requisite expenditure of sweat to really know how to tend a garden, hang a gate, cut a cord of firewood, or field dress a deer. Some people have simply never done something so basic as digging a post hole in rocky ground, and they will break down in tears if they ever have to. Their fancy gear can’t do everything for them.

AlterNet: Do you think Peak Oil and climate crisis will team up to smack the American Dream down?

JWR: I think that Peak Oil is already upon us, but I’m reserving my opinion on climate change, since there is so much conflicting evidence.

AlterNet: Do you think technology can save us?

JWR: I don’t think that technology–in and of itself–can save us. Again, it is practical skills, not gadgets that will help us to pull through tough times. This not to say that I don’t recommend some high tech items like photovoltaic panels. Life without them in a “grid down” situation would be very uncomfortable. I’m also a great fan of hydrogen fuel cell, alcohol gas, and biodigester technologies. But those will likely be a case of “too little, too late.” If anything, life in the 22nd Century will more closely resemble the 19th Century than it will the 20th Century. I predict that it will be a century of steam and horse power. And between now and then? Sadly, the 21st Century will probably be remembered as the time of the Great Die-Off.

AlterNet: Are Americans too spoiled to change their ways before it is too late?

JWR: For some Americans, yes. But others are clearly showing the wisdom to “Get Out of Dodge” while the getting is good, by moving to lightly-populated “retreat” regions to genuinely pursue self-sufficiency. Again, these people come from all across the political spectrum. I think that in the the next couple of decades we will witness the formation of some remarkable intentional communities (a.k.a “gulches”) that will feature some unlikely bedfellows: Anarchists and Ayn Rand readers, Mennonites and gun enthusiasts, Luddites and techno-geeks, fundamentalist Christians and Gaia worshippers, tree huggers and horse wranglers. We welcome them all. I have been pleasantly surprised to see SurvivalBlog readers set aside some very sharp differences for the sake of a common goal. That consensus is one of the things that gives me the most pride about SurvivalBlog. I’m a conservative Christian but that doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to listen to a leftist agnostic, if he has something useful and productive to say about practical preparedness and self-sufficiency.

AlterNet: And what do you see as the chief threats legitimizing a survivalist defense?

JWR: The threats are clearly manifold: Peak Oil, a derivatives meltdown, pandemics, economic instability, food shortages, stock market and currency collapses, terrorism, bank runs, state sponsored global war, rationing, and more. In a situation this precarious I believe that it is remarkably naive to think that mere geographical isolation will be sufficient to shelter communities from the predation of evildoers. I strongly believe in turning the other cheek, but as a realist, I also believe in Rule 308. (See the SurvivalBlog Glossary.)

AlterNet: What are you [personally] preparing for?

JWR: All of the above. I read Psalm 91 regularly. I encourage AlterNet readers to take a look at the SurvivalBlog “Precepts” page for the details of my philosophy and envisioned scenarios. Again, I believe that we have more in common than we have differences.