America is More Like Haiti than We’d Like to Think

The recent earthquake in the island nation of Haiti illustrates the fragility of all societies. While Haiti is unusual in its lack of infrastructure and its high dependence on foreign aid–more than half of its annual government budget comes from foreign aid–it is still similar in many ways to other nations: From the 1960s to the turn of the 21st century, as in many other nations, Haiti became an urbanized nation. Before the 1960s a substantial portion of Haitian society still lived on rural semi-self sufficient farmsteads. But as urbanization and specialization went on, fewer and fewer people lived off the land and more and more citizens became dependent on foreign aid and a scant number of industrial jobs. This trend has been repeated around the globe, making nearly all societies increasingly vulnerable to disasters, man-made or natural. The resiliency of traditional agrarian societies has sadly become a thing of the past. Here in America, 2% of the population now feeds the other 98%. This is now something that First, Second, and Third World nations have in common. America is more like Haiti than we’d like to think. Human nature is the same in every culture and nation: fundamentally sinful.

The Thin Veneer

With a few exceptions, most notably in Oceania, traditional Christian values have slipped away in much of the western world. When times get tough the citizenry of most nations loses all compunctions about using violence to expropriate the property of others. As I’ve written before, modern societies have just a thin veneer of civilization that covers something quite odorous beneath. Here in modern western societies, folks like to think of themselves as highly civilized, but when the Schumer hits the fan, there’s no difference between people in the First World and the Third World.

As prepared individuals, we have the opportunity to set ourselves apart with a higher standard of behavior than those who resort to their baser instincts in time of crisis. It’s important that there are some of us that have both the means and the willingness to help restore order and free commerce in the event of societal disruption.

The recent events in Haiti should be a reminder that in times of crisis things can easily fall apart. What happened in Haiti was dramatic, and a naturally occurring event, but because of the vulnerabilities of all modern societies, there could just as well be a reversion to savagery in a situation such as an economic collapse. We need to have our Beans, Bullets, and Band-aids squared away, so we can focus on more important things in a disaster than just finding food and water. Not only do we need to just prepare for surviving the next day, but also to be useful in rebuilding infrastructures and free commerce. This requires preparing with logistics as well as training and practicing to be ready to step into the breach.

The Charity Imperative

First World nations have become focused on large organizations, both governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), dispensing charity. The collective psyche is geared toward watching suffering “someplace far away”, and dialing an 800 number to make a contribution via credit card. While I truly appreciate people’s generosity, it is something quite far removed from preparedness to dispense charity locally.

In the event of a disaster closer to home, credit cards won’t do the job. It takes tangible goods in hand to solve crises in your own backyard. So, it’s important that we stock up, both for ourselves, and to dispense copious charity to relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. In the event of a nation-wide disaster here in America, there will be no relief from abroad. We must reconstitute internally, starting at the local level. Here is where your skills, your tools, your gear, your garden seed, and your grub will be crucial.

When it comes to knowledge you’ll need to be prepared to disseminate crucial, yet simple technologies to your neighbors. These could include how to build a inertial water pump, how to build a simple 12VDC fuel transfer pump, and how to build simple solar projects, such as solar stills, cold frames and green houses, solar ovens, and solar dehydrators. And don’t forget, that in the event of a crisis, your local photocopy center is unlikely to be in operation. So, it is important to prepare multiple hard copies of key pieces of information now, to have on hand to distribute when times get tough. There is a wealth of knowledge available on traditional skill and technologies in the SurvivalBlog archives and elsewhere on the Internet, from organizations such as Steve’s Pages, Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA), The Hesperian Institute, The Peace Corps, OISM, Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP), and Backwoods Home Magazine. Take advantage of these resources, and make those photocopies so that you will be able to share that knowledge with others!

Teaching for the Moment

Elementary school teachers here in the United States use the phrase “teach for the moment,” to describe turning current events into teaching opportunities. I recommend that any conversations amongst your neighbors, coworkers, or church brethren be used as opportunities to spread the philosophy of family preparedness. Water cooler chit-chat should not just be “ain’t it awfuling” sessions. You should instead use such conversations to encourage others to actively prepare for similar situations. And if anyone says, “Oh, but it couldn’t happen here,” then just remind them about the aftermath Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Not only has it happened here before, but it is likely to recur often within our lifetimes.

The Haitian earthquake of 2010 is a stark reminder of the fragility of all societies. It shows us that we need to be well-prepared and vigilant. And for those of us that are not Secret Squirrels, we should also be quietly and persistently leading public opinion, locally.