We all have our own ideas of how much risk we’re running and what type of disaster seems the most likely threat. Your answer to that will depend largely on where you are. Doubtless, my focus would certainly be different if I lived in Germany and it would be different if I lived in Ukraine or in New Zealand. Since I live in the United States the one that has cost me more than a little sleep is the prospect of a civil war in the US. It used to be that this was an extreme subject, raised only rarely with those on your side (left and right both). Now? It’s a commonplace question/topic on news sources of all stripes and that change fills me with dread. I try to be upbeat and think that the violence and conflict might only be as bad as the labor unions and corporations (and their hired guns) in the times before the First World War. With an economic depression chaser. That’s me being optimistic.
Which is to say I am very inclined to agree that all signs point to “bad times ahead” but another question niggles at me: “when?” After all, survivalists have been around a long time now. Certainly, they had things to worry about in the 1950s. The very real possibility of thermonuclear war was nothing to sneeze at but that was 70 years ago. If you were in a position to prep back then you are staring down the business end of your 90s now. Similarly, I have read accounts of monks around 1000 AD who believed that end times were nigh if not here already. Those men had good reason to believe what they did but they are long gone. The old world is still turning.
I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. My best guess is that if I don’t see civil war in the US my children will. But there are a couple things that give me pause. First, I could be wrong. I am human after all. We’ve had lots of near misses and this could be another. Second, I could be right but it could happen in my dotage, when I’m too old to do much of anything. So where does that leave me?
Lists and Regrets
The article a while back about settling a husband’s estate really gave me pause. I understand her late husband’s inclination. If you gave me a thousand dollars to spend on equipment I would be torn between either a Pre-Charged Pneumatic rifle or a marlin 39a lever action. Either tool would fill a job for me if the balloon goes up. But if I’m honest? I don’t think my wife would use either when I pass and I don’t think she’d get market value on them either. In that case it’s hard for me not to see that as selfish. If I’m right and we need those jobs filled then I might be really grateful for that rifle and wish I had bought more ammo, training, and accessories. If I’m on my deathbed and we’re still in the build up phase? I might really regret not making a memory with that money.
Which will I weigh as more important on my deathbed? The stuff I have or the memories I made and gave? Will I look most fondly on buying a rifle at a good price? Or going to see my wife’s favorite play and how happy it made her? Was buying an airgun for training (that I haven’t used in 6 months) or the video game system we’ve used as a family every week since we got it a better use of money?
In order to try to answer those questions adequately I started making lists. I started by making 2 lists: regrets if the balloon goes up and regrets if the balloon doesn’t go up. I just started adding things to those lists as I went through my day. Let’s start with the first one.
My predicted regrets if the balloon goes up
I will regret putting off some preps or improperly guessing which preps were important
Thinking hard about this one, I had to just accept there was nothing to be done about it. I don’t see it as feasible to cover all the possibilities, I’m going to wish I had done something things differently, that I had prepared for the specific disaster.
Ultimately that means this regret really ought not be a regret. I need to choose what seems reasonable and best, and then know peace knowing I made the best choice I could. As Seneca put it “he who suffers before necessary suffers twice.”
I will regret not enjoying things when they were available
On-demand hot baths and showers. Music, spices, and foods from across the globe. Wisdom from across the ages. Near instant communication. We use these things all the time but I find I am often so scattered that I don’t take the time to fully appreciate it. I am too busy thinking about other things to properly experience them.
I will regret not fully enjoying the blessings I have when I had them.
I will regret frittering time instead of spending it
Clicking around wanting something other than what I see, waiting for an update, scrolling to see…something different I guess. Any time I look back and say “I could have done something I actually enjoy with that time” but I didn’t, that will be a regret. Too many instances of a “quick break” turning into a time suck that I didn’t really enjoy. I will regret that I didn’t spend that time on a carpentry project, marksmanship work, metal casting, even an in depth movie or video game. I spent the time but I didn’t accomplish anything nor did I really enjoy something.
I will regret not trying things while the costs are so low.
If I destroy a pump air gun while experimenting with turning it into an arrow launcher, I’ve wasted 40-to-60 bucks. If things go south, it may not be possible to source one at all. It’s not just monetary costs but temporal ones too. There will be far less free time if washing machines go the way of the dodo. Instead of eating into free time, each thing we do will mean a different (and only slightly less important) thing is left undone til another day. Free time will be far less.
I will regret using the internet for unneeded ‘research’ and arguments.
I do not want to look back and realize I was missing my children’s childhood because I was obsessing over minor differences in equipment or arguing on the internet. The scripture about casting pearls before swine applies.
I will regret starting many things and finishing few
“Jack of all trades master of none” is almost undoubtedly wiser than being overly specialized. As Robert Heinlein put it “Specialization is for insects”. We will need to do many different things competently, that is true. But. A few days ago I ran into a proverb from India that says “he who commences many things finishes but few” and that cut a little close to home for me.
As I was writing that list and the thoughts about each regret I started looking at things differently. I changed the “regrets if the balloon doesn’t go up” into “things I will not regret, regardless”. I did this for a couple reasons. First, it’s my habit to try flip questions as I think about them. That’s just a part of my approach to critical thinking. Second, it’s generally better to focus on what you want to do rather than what you’re trying to avoid. “Look where you want to go” is true for more than just driving.
Instead of dwelling on prospective regrets I wanted to remedy them. I didn’t want to abandon preparedness for short-term hedonism nor put all my savings into shotguns and canned food. Thinking about regrets in both extremes led me to a better place. It also helped me answer myself about regrets in situations between a normal day and the balloon going up.
No regrets investments helped settle things in my mind but thinking about regrets first is what made this list possible. I would encourage you to make these lists for yourself. Start with your predicted regrets (if the balloon goes up AND if it doesn’t) and then finish with what you will be proud to have done. Here’s mine:
I will be glad I kept physically fit
if the balloon goes up, I will need my health and my strength to care for my family
if the balloon doesn’t, I will be able to do things with my grandchildren and be less of a burden on my family as death comes for me.
I will be glad to have studied and practiced the art of self-defense
if the balloon goes up, I will be glad to have a solid base for defending my family in a more harsh world.
if the balloon does not go up, I will be glad to have taught those younger than myself legal principles to beware, physical ability to prevail, wisdom to avoid, and virtue to constrain the use of force in self-defense.
I will be glad for my involvement with marksmanship
If the balloon goes up, being a competent marksman will almost doubtless be an important skill. Whether for hunting or self-defense; whether with a bow, slingshot, or firearm, being able to hit what you mean to hit will be a matter of life and death.
If the balloon does not go up, I will still remember rifle marksmanship bringing me peace during my hardest times in college. Teaching kids and adults this quintessentially American pursuit is worthwhile to me and may help them as it helped me. Regardless, I will have done my part to keep the tradition alive.
I will be glad to have cooked, canned, and fermented with my family.
If the balloon goes up, knowledge and practice preserving foods will be key to survival and we’ll already have beginner mistakes out of the way. We’ll also have a pantry as a hedge. The more we practice and rotate canning as each food in season, the less disruption we will have.
If the balloon does not go up my children will know how to make better-tasting and cheaper food than many. I will have memories of the entire family experimenting and working together in the kitchen. We will have perfected recipes to pass down and laughs at our failures when life didn’t depend on it.
I will be glad to have gone camping and hiking
If the balloon goes up, my family will have experience at what “bugging out” and “roughing it” means.
If the balloon does not go up, I will always remember that a day in the woods and a night watching the flames of a campfire have brought me important realizations. These were realizations that helped me make important decisions. I will be glad to have helped keep a dying but important hobby alive in the US.
I will be glad I made useful and/or beautiful things out of scraps
If the balloon does not go up, I will be glad to have grown the virtues of thrift and efficiency. I will be glad that things I made for my children are useful to them even when I am gone. A little frivolity like a jewelry box, made by hand and used for years, is a beautiful link between generations.
If the balloon does go up, being able to make useful things from scrap will be a much needed skill. A rag rug may be all the padding you get between your feet and the concrete. Scraps of wood may be all you have. In that case I will have experience.
I will be glad to have taught my children.
If the balloon does not go up I will be glad to have homeschooled my children. Homeschooling is an unpaid position that means as a family we’re earning less money than we could. At times I really feel that lack but, after much consideration, I am confident I will look back on their tailored education with pride. I am confident that the base I can give them of exploring their interests and challenging them no matter where they are will be a good thing. Knowing how to learn will stand them in good stead regardless of what comes.
If things do go south, only one parent has to drive home to protect the children. We will also already have resources to continue to train their minds as we adapt to whatever is come.
I will be glad to have read widely
If the balloon does not go up, I will be glad that I have been able to read the best thoughts and stories from history. I will be glad to have been made wiser by others’ wisdom and to have shared a laugh with an author long dead. I am a better man when I am reading and that is a good thing.
If the balloon does go up, I will be glad that the wide reading has led to a basic understanding of skills along with a well chosen library with the more in depth information I need.
I will be glad that I have simple rituals enjoyed often
Grilling in the summer, coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, sweeping the deck and then watching the sun set. For me, it is a workout followed by coffee and philosophy in the morning. I never regret doing that. Yet I don’t do it as often as I should. Sure partly it’s the demands of young children but partly it is my own failing.
Whatever your ritual is, do it and enjoy it. I’m not saying make a full-blown Japanese tea ceremony out of it (though there are worse things) I am saying ritual is important.
Some of them may become more than a ritual and become a practice. Something that you do regularly, improve upon, teach, and find worthwhile in its own right. A ballet dancer still dancing in her 70s is not as graceful as her 30s but is a laudable thing. A former crossword champion still competing at a lower level in her old age. There are any number of such practices: Preserving food. Playing music. Yoga. Wood carving. Martial arts. Chip carving. Quilt making. Any simple ritual or deeper practice that we can enjoy through the lifespan.
So what’s the upshot from all these lists? Looking at the lists I made and answering the question to myself I realized my first principle is:
Prioritize things you will look back on well regardless of what happens
This is similar to how good chess players think: where each move accomplishes multiple goals. For our case, we’re optimizing for multiple possible outcomes. Regardless of which outcome, the resources will be well spent. If both outcomes would still say “this was well spent” then I consider that a priority. Still plenty of priorities to balance but it’s a good way to discern between possibilities and priorities.
I mentioned earlier “look where you want to go” and the best example I know of balance is the slingshot channel. Part of what launched his channel was his interest in survivalism but the pure joy on his face as has come up with new inventions is a lesson to us all. If things go sideways I’m sure he’ll be better off than most Germans. If things don’t go sideways, he will have had a genuinely fun time tinkering and sharing his inventions. He has brought smiles and laughter to thousands across the globe while also helping other people become more prepared. He’s an excellent example for us all of pursuing things that are worthwhile whether things go well or not.
For almost all of us health is the first thing we will be glad we worked on no matter what. As I heard it put once “future you will always wish past you had taken better care of your teeth”. There is no substitute for slow and steady progress here and nobody can do it but you. So look for low-hanging fruit, look for easy things that we will look back on well regardless. Then start building on those successes so that we can all look back on our time and say “I did well”. And for those of us who are Christians, so we can hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant”.