Editor’s Introductory Note: This essay describes a SurvivalBlog reader’s thoughts on the nature of survival and the meme of survivalism, from the perspective of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. This was celebrated just one week ago. Rosh Hashana is a holiday, but a serious one. It is a time of introspection and renewal of faith. L’Shana Tovah Tiketevu! – JWR
What does it mean to ‘survive?. There are different levels of survival for human beings. And even those ‘levels’ are subtle–based on how we perceive notions of survival. For more than 15 years I’ve oscillated between binges of reading survival information and blogs, and then at times ignoring it as my attention to the ‘survival’ community waxed and waned. Obviously, the levels at which survival can be perceived are influenced by our perception biases. Each individual experiences different biases at different times, moods, periods of their life, with respect to the different groups they belong to, and even with respect to the very medium of communication they are using to think and express their sentiments. Someone in the woods talking to a buddy about survivalism is likely to talk and think in very different terms than that same person, 12 hours later, when they are reading and then typing on the Internet.
From a young age, I was exposed to much ‘survival’ literature as it related to real-life stories about my grandparents fleeing Europe, as well as the stories of those who didn’t ‘make it out’. I also grew up on the communalist survival stories of how those who survived the war, then went on to thrive by continuing to fight and build their own worlds. These stories of my own personal bubble were a type of survivalism, but there are so many bubbles– theworld can be seen as a composite of nested bubbles, some expansive, some distinct, others even vaguely defined, some too remote to be seen, but above all, unknowingly interconnected.
While these bubbles are frothing about, ‘survivalism’ as a meme proliferates most deeply when breaks into the mainstream rather than when it resides on the periphery. This occurs when it discusses the realities facing people now as their economy stagnates, when it discusses what happens now as people increasingly disconnect from their fellow man, lose their human connections, their religion, their ability to form and maintain stable family and community relationships, their ability to read a book rather than watch a video, their ability to pay their bills, their ability to prioritize the surplus they actually have, their ability to kiss and hug a loved one without grasping for their cellphone. What if survivalism begins in discussing whether the next political drama in a democracy isn’t relevant, but also isn’t worth worrying about, and that ‘politics’ truly are only relevant locally and start with oneself, one’s community, and one’s immediate environs?
The Meme of Survivalism
Practically speaking, the ‘meme’ of survivalism has some limiting realities in that, survivalism means something very different for people who want to live in cities or in dense population areas, versus people who don’t. But rather than bifurcate the two world views, ‘survivalism’ becomes relevant when it asks the more difficult and bigger questions of how will city, suburban, exurban, and rural folk work and live together in a world with degrading fundamentals. And consider a world with totalitarian technologically-based government whose single-minded drive to acquire and record information is becoming more effective and cheaper and faster to mature than the speed at which governments themselves are running out of money.
What does survivalism look like in a world where persistent narratives of powerlessness and victim creation are used to successfully divide and conquer the female from the male, the old from the young, the addicted from the sober, the healthy from the sick, the elevated from the anonymous, the public from the private, the human from the underhuman. Survivalism, truly looks a lot like genuine humanitarianism, in my humble opinion, rather than an outsider’s caricature of a prepper’s guide to homesteading in Duck Dynasty and The Walking Dead.
I’m trying to say that survivalism, as it is perceived through accessible networked media, can be much more than an insurance-based mindset for happens when things ‘go wrong’ and what to then ‘do about it’. Survivalism can be a progressive mindset for how to shape the world as so much of it seems to be slowly heading down an unpleasant path.
An Approach to Life
There are plenty of modern philosophers and writers that discuss the problems of maintaining the right approach to life for people in all walks of life, given escalating nature of struggle and tension in daily life. To me, survivalism is genuinely to be discussed as an extension of this ethos. Like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, survivalism, can apply in each moment to each decision in our present world, without even thinking about resorting to scenario-ism , fat tails, and Black Swans. Survivalism can be found in Benjamin’s Franklin’s motto to ‘mind your business’ as well as in the writings of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.
The reason I bring this up is because of something I’ve always been interested in, which is ‘mental health’. I’m from New York and from a family of New Yorkers. I’ve seen plenty of crazy in my life. I’ve seen it kill people in my own family as well. It’s traumatized me in my youth, and it’s also been something I’ve helped others with and it’s been a fascinating topic for me. I’ve grown up around a lot of doctors as well, and yet my contrarian mindset, mixed with my love for biology and studying medicine has led me to a very conservative estimation that pathologizing mental health has played a large role in compromising people’s mental health.
Why is this relevant to Surivalism and how we think about it? In the future world that I foresee, one with more of the same poverty of the spirit and soul that we suffer from now, in that world where those who have been more survivalist minded for decades are now more resilient resourceful and successful than those who have been unprepared. I see a world where city folk and unprepared folks suffer a rapid increase in stress induced ‘mental health’ problems.
Outside the City Bubbles
I foresee a world where ‘survivalism’ as an ethos can either be more successful in building bridges amongst humanity, and helping provide mental health solutions, helping city dwellers and suburban people away from their bubbles to see other ways of living, ways that provide them meaningful work and purpose and reasons to live rather than reasons to lay idle and dormant.
I see a world where survivalism is a guide for action and activity that draws people out of their bubbles, bubbles of stress and psychological introversion towards greater activity–both physical and mental.
In many ways, if you take the truly long view of millennia and centuries, the fat tail and Black Swan is that we even exist, the gift then comes with the burden of maintaining survivalism as the every day mindset of how do we live now rather than–as some may describe it–fantasizing about how we may live in the future after some pointed set of disasters that may yet never come.
I look at the meme of suvivalism and I frequently have my doubts. What if things at the macro level are a lot more stable than typical survivalists would have you believe. By this I mean: What if we will likely have a more stable governance, both at the national and international level, than one might expect given the historical reliability of cycles of political instability collapse and war? The Surveillance State, Mutually Assured Destruction, Unconventional hydrocarbon sourcing, Antibiotics and fertilizer and a few other (un)pleasant realities of our modern world have been, and will likely continue to be, stable anchors for our next 20 years.
And still, our society appears is a massive tanker ship that is headed in one direction. That direction is a direction of poverty, tremendous poverty at the ordinary level. That poverty, inevitably, is coming because certain things cannot be changed easily. Demographic changes guarantee a shortage of young people to work. Changes to our debt and international currency systems guarantee stagflation for decades. Changes to our legal system and government bureaucracy guarantee ratcheting levels of financial corruption in both the entitlements and the discretionary spending sectors of our government(s).
Between The Scylla and Charbdyis of Stability and Poverty, I am predicting that we as a society will actually become more holistically survivalist. Kids will work more. Obesity rates will plummet amongst those unable to afford prepared and processed foods (as they did during the Great Depression). Men will begin baking more bread. Women will begin sewing more for necessity rather than for pleasure. In cities, people will walk more. In the suburbs people will rediscover bicycling for purpose rather than merely for pleasure. The lights will be shut off more. Air conditioning will be metered more.
There is so much ‘slack’ in the system that adjustment will be made by necessity of ‘survival’ in the basic simple economic sense. And this too will happen in the suburban and rural modalities of existence.
Will Survivalism Embrace Connectivity?
This too, is another facet of ‘survivalism’ that we are seeing. Our future world, no matter how poor and destitute, is like to stay highly connected through the means of telecommunications. Whether this is by design, circumstance, conspiracy, control regime, or simple success of capitalism of the free market——connectivity is going to be a big part of how the future of ‘survivalism’ succeeds. Will survivalism be memed into existence by an insurgent population fighting against a degenerate totalitarian culture? Will survivalism embrace connectivity?
Survivalism isn’t just the Amish, or the Mennonites, or the preppers, or the Hassids, or the whoever. But it isn’t, their absence, either. Survivalism is an ethos rooted in diverse human soils, that takes from many groups that live and thrive now using various strategies that simplify their lives and their existence in the pursuit of making them richer!
Survivalism, therefore needs to begin contending with how to make life richer given the simultaneously trends of poverty increasing, while cheap technological distractions and potentially subversive modalities likely proliferate.