I subscribe to the RSS feeds of a number of blogs about survival, including Rawles’ (top of the line!), and I subscribe to numerous firearms-related blogs and message boards. I also periodically meet people who are interested in survival issues in my non-electronic life. All preppers are trying to prepare for a particular situation, and their preparations reflect their beliefs about what that situation will be like. Unfortunately, many of those beliefs are false, and those false beliefs seem to be brought about by four myths, which I thought I would describe. The strange thing about these myths is that they seem to be largely taken for granted and rarely discussed – preppers will debate endlessly the right rifle to have for a survival situation but rarely talk about the big picture. I hope to dispel these myths, but at the very least, I hope to start an interesting conversation.
Myth #1: You can defend yourself against the horde.
Most of the beginning and intermediate preppers I’ve met believe that they will be defending their property against a horde of starving or otherwise malicious people, and prep accordingly. It’s important to note that no one who has actually tried to defend themselves against a large group of determined assailants actually thinks it can be done. The math is pretty simple: the horde has numbers on its side, time on its side, and its determination probably matches yours. If a large group of people decide that you’ve got something they want, that’s all there is to it. You can take a stand, but sooner or later, you’re going to run out of manpower, firepower, or sleep (or all three), and it’s all over. These aren’t slow-moving, unarmed, clumsy movie zombies who want to eat your brains – these are determined, smart people who are just trying to preserve their own lives, who can scale fences, create strategies, or simply overwhelm you with sheer numbers. This is why experienced preppers either live in the middle of nowhere or conceal that they are preppers. (By the way, the concealment strategy is a pretty limited one – how long do you think you can living in a community and conceal that you’re not starving while everyone else is starving? At that point, you can go right back to the horde problem.)
Myth #2: Stock up on the ammo you’ll need to defend yourself with.
Once again, the math just doesn’t add up on this one. There is only one scenario where you think you’ll be be using a lot of ammunition, and it is the horde scenario. You won’t – the horde scenario will be over in a few minutes to a few hours, with you the loser, and your stored ammo with go to the winners. Don’t get me wrong – you need guns and ammo, but the idea that you’re going to expend thousands of rounds is just a reflection of people’s erroneous beliefs about what kind of shooting situations they’ll be in. If you’re determined to buy ammo, don’t buy them for [just] your guns – buy them for everybody else’s, and you’ll actually own a valuable commodity. Better yet, use the money to buy food, which leads us to myth #3.
Myth #3: I only need X number of days of food.
I was motivated to write this article by a thread I saw on a message board where people were comparing the contents of their bugout bags. Seven people in a row described having less than two day’s worth of food. What is the point of having survival gear if you are so debilitated by hunger that you can’t use it? Some people who’ve never been without food for a couple of days will point out correctly that the human body can go for weeks without food, but I suggest that you fast for just four days and then try to engage in any kind of real physical activity – it’s a nonstarter. The body can keep itself alive without food, but that’s about all it can do. In a real survival situation, you won’t be sitting behind a desk typing e-mails; you’ll be running, walking, digging, and fighting, plus any other actions that a machine used to do for you. All that requires energy – lots of it. You’re going to have to supply that energy – all of it. Now multiply that obligation by the number of people in your group, and the number of days you’ll have to go without a resupply of food. The result is a mountain of food, much more than what casual preppers sock away. The problem isn’t just food – what are you going to drink? How are you going to sanitize that water supply? How are you going to cook all that food? However much food you store, you’ll need an equivalent source of energy to cook it, since most long-term survival foods, like grains and legumes, all need to be cooked. The myth I’m describing is perhaps more a tendency than a myth – preppers focus on weapons and defensive equipment (some out of fear and some because those are the things they like using anyway), when they should be focusing on food. You can buy an awful lot of wheat for the price of a single gun.
Finally, the king – the big kahuna of survival myths:
Myth #4: TEOTWAWKI will be fun!
A rarely-discussed but obvious undercurrent in survival circles is the general idea that somehow a serious survival situation will be great for those who have prepared adequately, and likely good for the world in general. A number of justifications are given for this view: It will have a cleansing effect, it will be a neat little “reset” button for society, people’s priorities will improve by necessity, etc. Although this issue is not discussed often, there is an obvious hoping-it-will-happen theme to the attitudes of many survivalists, because for those who have prepared, somehow things will be better than they were before SHTF. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The bottom line is that if you survive a worldwide collapse, you haven’t earned immortality – you’ve just earned the opportunity to die a later death that will likely be violent but will almost be guaranteed to be painful and lingering. And it isn’t just your death that will be slow and painful – you’ll also have the experience of watching your friends and family go the same way. Culturally, we are now so many generations removed from primitive medical care that we’ve almost completely forgotten what life will be like without a professionally-staffed, well-equipped, electrified, sanitized, and heated hospital to go to when we have any sort of illness. You think appendicitis is bad with anesthesia, antibiotics, and a trained surgeon? It sure is – but now try it without any of those things. It doesn’t stop at medical care – in our culture, we have come to take for granted general security, food availability, reliable utilities, sanitation, the rule of law, human rights, access to information, and on and on. By definition, none of these things will be available in TEOTWAWKI. And if you think living in a world where none of these things exist is going to be anything other than misery, you haven’t thought very hard about what it will be like. Thomas Hobbes wrote in the 17th century that life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” We’ve come a long way since then, but that description will fit a TEOTWAWKI situation perfectly. It’s pretty obvious to me that many in the prepper world hope that there preparations weren’t for nothing, and to them I’d say: be careful what you wish for.