What is Survival?- Part 1, by MuddyKid

We are all interested in survival, and we read this site often to understand ways to survive. But, have we ever stopped to ask the question, what is survival?

A Complex Question

I think that is a complex question, because survival means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Survival always has different contexts or scenarios. For the purpose of this article, I want to challenge what the idea of survival is. I plan to do this through experiences and examples that I have personally participated in.


I am beginning this with a framework of legibility. When I reference legibility, I am referring to the book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed by James Scott. If you are interested in further understanding legibility, go check out that book. This book is not, nor should it be, considered the secret text that holds the answers. Rather, it is one of many concepts that may help in seeing a different perspective of the world. A gross and simple example of what legibility is, it is the way in which governments and state organizations define, support, and influence the way people organize and live. Legibility primarily focuses on how the job of state governance has a tendency to reduce and simplify processes so that their job of governing becomes easier and more organized.

Example in Today’s World

As an example, how long does it take to get to the next town? In today’s world, it takes 30 minutes driving 30 miles an hour. So, we know the town is 30 miles away in which it will take us half an hour to get there. This is easy to understand and is legible for all of us. And because it is legible, you also know that I am incorrect in my math. That is the point of legibility.

In Yesterday’s World

Another way to look at travel distance is in yesterday’s world. In this time frame, we would answer this question about how long does it take to travel 30 miles by saying, “It’s a day’s ride on a horse.” Before yesterday, the answer may have been “It is three rice meals away.” However, three rice meals only had meaning to someone if they produce and eat rice. Eating rice to measure distance may mean something to someone in a region that produces rice. What about regions that produce corn? The idea here is how can we measure time and distance in a way that is known throughout the entire country (and now the world) so we can communicate and interact more efficiently. This same process of legibility has been applied to what and how we define and obtain resources.

Resources We Require When Supply Lines Break Down

As I mentioned, survival is complex and I think it means many different things. However, a common theme in survival is, how do we obtain resources that we require to live when the supply lines break down? To borrow from 3AD Scout’s recent article “Are You Preparing for SHTF or TEOTWAWKI” on SurvivalBlog, he breaks down the difference between short-term and long-term situations.

Short-Term Situation Fixens

I, like probably all of you, started the same way by focusing on short-term situations and I bought all the fixens that are discussed on here regularly. I went out on camping trips to test my gear to see what works, what doesn’t work, what could be improved on, et cetera. However, I had reached a point that a lot of the stuff I was told would work, really didn’t. Or, what I was told was useful was not really useful for me and just seemed to add extra weight in my bag. After years of tinkering and testing gear, I had reached the point that I felt my short term was covered. I questioned that there was nothing more I could really do without taking out another mortgage to buy my way to security.

The Longer-Term Focus

So, I shifted to the longer-term focus. This path led to growing gardens, permaculture, wilderness skills, primitive skills, pioneer skills, exercising, more hunting, and just spending more time in nature. During this time, I was reading and studying anything and everything I could to justify that what I was doing was the correct path to survive during the coming collapse. During my experiences, I picked up a new perspective about what survival means for me. I think it has a lot to do with what is legible for the state and how we obtain resources.

A Way of Life

I started to question that “survival” was a form of control. I say this because, if we take all of the doom and gloom out of survival, what are we left with? I think it is a way of life for people who value freedom, independence, and healthy living. This is a point I will came back to later.

When My Focus Shifted to Long-Term Preparedness

I will start with the garden and Permaculture as measures for when my focus shifted to long-term preparedness. Most people who want to eat fruits and vegetables go to the store and buy them. That means, they are able to obtain their resources by how successful they are in the current system of work, eat, sleep, become taxed, die. This is how the government wants you to function, because it is legible for them.

People Required to Labor For Money to Buy Their Meal at the Market

Once income tax was implemented, our labor became the cash crop for state expansion. But, before the modern state, governments would and did outlaw and ban the use and harvest of specific trees and plants in effort to organize their economy. What this means is, trees used for starting fire were banned for use. Plants that naturally grew in nature were banned for harvest. People were no longer allowed to go in the woods and get a meal. They were required to labor for money to then buy their meal at the market.

Process To Define What Is a Resource and What is Wild

This process then begins to define what a resource is and also defines what is wild. As an example, potatoes became a commodity crop because they were easy to produce and harvest in cute little rows. It was a process that was legible.


Hopniss, on the other hand, grew thick, which was messy, made harvest difficult, and was not efficient for economic production. Hopniss then became known as the Indian potato (considered a lesser type of food). Today, hopniss is largely referred to as a thick bush that needs to be killed with pesticides. Most people do not realize the amount of hidden food under the soil that is perfect for a plant that provides food during winter. The point is, this example of a commodity crop and a wild plant is one of millions of examples of how and why we understand what a resource is versus what is considered wild.

My Garden Approach

But, let’s get back to the garden. For my gardening, I started growing out of above ground boxes, moved to an in-ground plot, then to hugleculture beds. I shifted to the permaculture approach of food forests, which allowed nature to take its course more so than human labor and always maintaining things. In short, permaculture studies how nature works on its own, and humans then attempt to plant, design, and shape how nature works in a way that becomes less destructive on the ecosystem and less labor intensive over time.

Permaculture Approach

When designed effectively, the permaculture approach takes on a life of its own to provide more food in a way that mimics the natural ecological process. However, growing food was all good and well, but this also meant I needed more space than I owned to actually meet the needs of my family. So, gardening, while fun and interesting, would only be entirely successful if I had a large amount of space that required more intensive inputs overtime (compost and other nutrients) depending on the size and intensity that I was working the land. So, I started exploring primitive skills and wild edibles.

Primitive Skills and Wild Edibles

Early on with leaning about primitive skills and wild edibles, I was also growing carrots in the garden that year. I was working on identifying the difference between wild carrots and poison hemlock, because hemlock will kill you if eaten. It’s kind of important to know the difference, I thought. Anyway, I was able to successfully identify the difference between wild carrot and hemlock, and when walking by my garden, I realized I had maybe 50 carrots in there. The amount of wild carrots I had just discovered on the property was literally in the hundreds of thousands to possibly millions. Sure, wild carrots are not as good or as large as a regular carrot. But, in my region, they are everywhere and considered a weed. There is no shortage of carrots here.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part one of a five part entry for Round 77 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
  7. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
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  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
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  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).

Round 77 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. “In today’s world, it takes 30 minutes driving 30 miles an hour. So, we know the town is 30 miles away in which it will take us half an hour to get there.”

    I used to be pretty good at word puzzles!
    Seems to me I/2 an hours drive at 30 mph would equal 15 miles traveled.

  2. Thanks for posting my article, James and Hugh.

    A point I forgot to make when I briefly mentioned pioneer skills, I am referencing the Foxfire series of books. I rarely, if ever, recall seeing these books referenced in survival discussion. I find them to be a pretty awesome resource of information.

    1. jima and Emptymag you missed the point. The author states in the last line of that paragraph,

      ” And because it is legible, you also know that I am incorrect in my math. That is the point of legibility.”

      He was using it as an example.

  3. would love to see more info on Permaculture Approach bought several books but very confusing. Also how and what should I plant in south Florida thank like article interesting…look forward to future parts

    1. @ Jim, permaculture can be confusing in the beginning because there is no shortage of information. To start, ask your self if you are interested in the garden or food forest?

      If it is a garden, are you going to work with annuals or perennials or both? If annuals, learn how the plants produce their own seeds so you can be self sufficient. If you’re working with perennials, find which ones grow well in your area and taste good. Then, focus on what is called “guilds” so that you grow plants that feed your fruit bearing plant. Also, look in to cover crops during none growing seasons. A common misconception in traditional gardening is to weed all the time. However, if you have red clover as a cover crop, you can just weed out what is attempting to choke your fruit bearing plant, but leave the rest of the clover because it is a nitrogen fixer. Start small, figure out a little at a time and then expand as you become successful.

      Part of legibility is the way we grow food. If we always grow food in a single section, in a single row, that is a ideal way for insects to take over your entire garden. Spread things out and work with guilds.

        1. Is there anything particular you’re interested in? I am certainly not an expert, but I am design certified and practice permaculture on my property. I have also worked on several farms that practice permaculture.

          Here are some great videos about what permaculture can do.

          Keep in mind though, the more you are interested in producing, the more space you’re going to need. And, permaculture can get to a point that you’re really just becoming a landscaper rather than increasing production. It all depends on your approach. Permaculture is certainly interesting and a great way to produce food that is less labor intensive overtime (digging swales on contour certainly takes some muscle) than traditional farming/gardening.

          1. Thanks I will check them out.

            Space isn’t too much of an issue (after many years) we finally purchased our first ranch. 20 acres in Southwest Oregon. We didn’t have time to do much this year. We’ve got some plants in containers. But next year we hope to expand.

            We are planning on putting in a bunch of fruit and nut trees (I’m thinking of adding some perlite or pumice to the clay soil to help with drainage). And then we were looking at doing a bunch of raised beds.

            I like the idea of working with nature though instead of against it. And trying to do everything as natural as possible.

  4. Good article. Enjoyed reading it. We use both gardening and some permaculture. Cuts my work load down. We also use a lot of herbals, i.e. red cover as a cover crop, also has medicinal uses. There are always ways to work with things. Completely agree with starting small and expanding as successes and experience grows. If you aren’t learning something every year, its a good indication you aren’t doing it right..lol Mother Nature is fickle and always changing.. Thanks again for the article, looking forward to more.

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