I am a new arrival to the survival community. Until recently I was just another mindless suburbanite going about my daily routine blissfully ignorant of the world around me. It was only by chance that a series of events happened in my life that opened my eyes to needs of survival preparation. I won’t say that I was completely clueless about survival, but rather it simply wasn’t real to me. Yes, I knew that tough times are just over the horizon but I simply believed that I would make it through somehow. Ironically, it was the housing crisis that completely changed my life. My wife and I moved to another town in 2008 so that I could start a new job and when our house didn’t sell we found ourselves in a financial struggle that has lasted to this day. Somewhere in the midst of all this I came to the realization that what we were going through was a microcosm of the greater survival struggles that lay ahead. Survival had suddenly become very real in my life. When I thought about these things and how my own actions, or lack there of, had made our situation so much worse I realized that I needed to begin preparations so that future struggles aren’t so chaotic. This is why food storage and similar topics have become so important to me. I want to be ready for whatever life brings.
Aside from being a scientist by trade I am also an amateur writer and wannabe author. I’ve written a number of short stories and even a full length novel but none have managed to create much of a spark in the literary world. I find that writing has become the therapy that helps me get by and is certainly cheaper than professional counseling. Recently, I wrote a very long piece about some observations I had made concerning survival based on my struggle for financial survival. All in all I thought it was pretty good and considered submitting it here for publication on the SurvivalBlog. I decided not to do so because it is a rather ponderous work and really doesn’t have anything new to say. Some of the bullet points are to expect the worst of humanity, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, expect to do the hard things, always expect a situation to be as difficult as possible, and expect the experience to change you. I expanded these concepts with specific examples I had observed in how I was handling my situation or in what I had seen in others. Some time after writing this I realized that very little of what I had written had anything to do with physical things or tangible objects such as food or money. One might think that while experiencing a financial crisis I would have written at length about money or financial preparation, but ultimately I only covered it briefly. The entire work was mainly a piece on human behavior; either other’s or my own. For me the things that were of most significance weren’t physical but rather moral and spiritual. What I did and what others tried to do to me were what I remember most. With this in mind I wonder sometimes whether survivalists are asking the right questions when considering future survival and TEOTWAWKI or SHTF situations. Should we be focusing only on tangible things like the best survival weapons or how much food should I store, or should we also be asking ourselves, “What will I become?” or “How will I behave?” Ask yourself, “What will I become as a person, a parent, or a spouse when my world comes crashing down around me and how will those around be behave as well?” Having a firm understanding of the answer may well determine whether you succeed or fail at survival.
What Is Survival?
When we make survival plans are we simply trying to ensure our physical survival or are we also attempting to maintain the envelope of normalcy that surrounds our lives and makes us who we are. As people we are the sum of our circumstances. We think, act, and believe in ways that are dictated by our own values and the world around us. Some of the things in our world that make us be ourselves are the rule of law, contemporary culture, established religions, our families, our upbringing, our friends, our jobs, etc. We are also motivated by our perception of our world and of ourselves. Can we truly expect to be the same people and act as we always have once our world is stripped away and we are thrust into a situation where the future is completely unknown? How could we? Shouldn’t we expect that when our world changes we will also change? The greatest question is whether we will change for the better or for worse.
Are you an evil person?
I’m in the process of reading a book entitled The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo and I strongly recommend it to all survivalists. The title of this book is also the name of a process by which ordinary people are transformed into doers of evil by the circumstances around them. The bulk of this book is a narrative about something called the Stanford Prison Experiment. For anyone who isn’t familiar with this experiment it was done in 1971 and consisted of a mock prison where prescreened young men played the rolls of prisoners and guards. In the years since this experiment took place it has become a classic model of how people can be transformed by their situations. In the case of the Stanford Prison Experiment the guards became sadistic, brutal, and even sexually abusive while the prisoners became ever more obedient and compliant to the point of suffering severe emotional distress. Another interesting aspect of this experiment is that it spilled over into the community of individuals conducting the experiment and even changed their behavior in remarkable ways. The remainder of the book is actually the more interesting part with an analysis of the experiment data and other real world situations where seemingly ordinary people have done evil. As I’m reading this book I can’t help but see correlations between the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Lucifer Effect, and a TEOTWAWKI survival situation.
Before I get too much further into this I should bring out one of the key concepts of this book and that is the difference between dispositional and situational evil. Dispositional evil is the concept or belief that people who do bad things are bad people to begin with. Conversely, is the belief that good people will do good things regardless of the situation. Situational evil is the belief that good people can be turned evil by the circumstances they are in and the degree to which they become evil is directly proportional to the severity of the situation and the power they possess. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle and both factors play a role in human behavior. Regardless of how much situations play a roll in our behavior it would stand to reason that we should explore such possibilities as part of our survival preparations. Consider this quote from The Lucifer Effect:
Good people can be induced, seduced, and initiated into behaving in evil
ways. They can also be led to act in irrational, stupid, self-destructive, antisocial, and mindless ways when they are immersed in “total situations” that impact human nature in ways that challenge our sense of the stability and consistency of individual personality, of character, and of morality.
If the world as we know it does end and we are all thrust into survival mode then wouldn’t this be the ultimate “total situation” that would challenge our sense of stability and morality? Could such a situation induce or seduce good people, i.e. us, into behaving in evil ways. If evil is too strong a term then how about unspeakable. Allow me to give an example in my own life. Recently, I discovered Marjory Wildcraft after hearing her interviewed on Coast to Coast AM. The next day I visited her web site and signed up for her newsletter. I also watched the preview for her Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm DVD and something very profound struck me. As I watched the segment on raising rabbits it occurred to me that part of Mrs. Wildcraft’s survival scenario is the slaughter of young rabbits for food. The sight of that adorable white rabbit on my computer screen associated with terms like “harvesting” and “roasters” really disturbed me. Jokingly, I said to my wife, “I can’t kill little bunny rabbits,” although I wasn’t joking. The thought of it really disturbed me. My wife’s response was even more disturbing. She looked at me stone faced and said, “You would if you got hungry enough.” At that moment I realized the power of our situations to change us. For me the act of killing a small animal is unspeakable. After reading how to kill a rabbit on-line I find it even more unspeakable, although I fully understand that if I got hungry enough I wouldn’t be able to kill that little bunny fast enough. Certainly, killing a rabbit for food is not evil but it is something that many would consider to be an unspeakable act yet it is something that I believe we would all do gladly if it meant surviving another day.
Respect My Authority!
Another concept that is explored at length in The Lucifer Effect is that of power. The acquisition, maintenance, and administration of power are the key factors in the transformation of individuals from good to evil. Consider again TEOTWAWKI. In such a situation the powerful will be those who control survival resources such as food and water. And, this power will be absolute power over life and death and will be happening without any rule of law. Can anyone argue that suddenly being thrust into a situation where one controls whether others live or die wouldn’t have a profound impact on that person? We all want to believe that we would be loving and benevolent stewards of our resources but can we really be certain of this until are actually in that situation?
Don’t Rock the Boat!
Another concept explored in The Lucifer Effect is that of obedience and the evil of inaction. The book explores a number of different situations in which blind obedience led to or helped facilitate evil even to the point of parents murdering their own children such as in the case of the People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Not everyone can have power so in any situation there are those with power and those who must obey that power. In a survival situation the prospect of death will be an overwhelming factor to ensure obedience. How vigorously would someone protest another’s abuse of power if it meant being cut off from basic resources or cast out of one’s survival community?
If It Feels Good, Do It!
Another concept that I will touch on that is explored at length in The Lucifer Effect is that of ethics, both absolute and relative. People will find a way to justify their behavior in any situation and survival will be a tremendous justification of almost any act.
What Would You Do?
You’re a man, a father, and a husband. You’ve made survival preparations for your family and finally the day comes when you must put your plans into action. It’s chaos in the streets but you are safe at you bug out location. Something has happened and the world has degenerated into bedlam. You’re worried and the stress has pushed your marriage and family to the brink. You have some survival resources but you don’t really know how long they will last or if things outside will ever get back to normal. You also worry that someone will discover that you are doing alright and realize that you have the things that everyone now needs. The thought of an armed intrusion or overwhelming odds scares the daylights out of you. So, you wait and hope for things to get better. Suddenly, onto your doorstep wanders a young woman holding a small child. You can see that they are in distress and that the child will soon die without food and water. What do you do? Let me throw in one more thing: She’s young and beautiful. Consider this continuum of options.
- Do you give the young woman what she needs, knowing that it only shortens your own survival time [in an environment where there is no source of resupply]? You know that you can’t let her leave afterwards because she might tell others about you, what you have, and where you are so she would become a permanent addition to your community draining you of even more resources.
- Do you turn her away with the justification that her child is going to die any way and you can’t spare the food?
- Do you allow her to stay with the hopes that maybe you can develop a relationship with her behind your wife’s back?
- Do you kill your wife and replace her with this younger model? After all, who is going to say anything? There are no cops.
- Do you openly extort sex in exchange for food with your wife’s full knowledge? What is she going to say? She’ll keep her mouth shut or find herself out in the cold.
- Do you put a bullet in the young girl’s brain and then her child’s on the belief that it is ending their suffering and saving them from having to face this ordeal any longer?
- Or, do you do 5 and then 6?
We all want to believe that we would take the first option, but can any of us be certain how we would react until we face such a situation? I believe that there are people who could justify any of those options through ethical relativism and their new-found power would only serve to corrupt their thinking.
Let’s assume that you are the young woman. You love your child more than life itself? Would you turn your head and allow some lecherous old man to do unspeakable things to you knowing that it will save your child? Would you gladly stand by or even conspire for the disposal of the current wife so that you can take her place? What if you were the wife? In your fear of losing your source of survival would you cover your ears and ignore the screams of a young woman being brutalized in the next room? Would you stand by and refuse to come to her aid in complete obedience to your husband if it meant you and your child might meet the same fate if you tried to help? These may seem like harsh questions but one day we may all face such harsh situations.
Who Are They?
The last concept that I’m going to touch on that is explored in The Lucifer Effect is that of “Others.” What does that mean? The concept of an “Other” is any group that can be identified, denigrated, dehumanized, and de-individualized. Evil against other people doesn’t start immediately. It often starts with the creation of an “Other” group and the process of transforming them from human beings into objects worthy of ridicule, scorn and extermination. Consider Nazi Germany and the extermination of the Jews. The Nazi propaganda machine had so successfully transformed the Jewish people into wretched objects where the extermination of which was greeted with cheers and gleeful participation. Such has happened many times since in places like Rwanda and Cambodia and it even played a role in racial discrimination in our own country.
Why point this out? It doesn’t take much reading on the many survival sites to realize that survivalists are a proud bunch. I have seen countless articles and rambling forum entries about how much better “we” are than “they.” In this case the “they” are the unprepared, the unenlightened, or those who have not converted to the survival ethos.
Imagine if the husband in our above scenario had this same opinion about the unprepared. How much worse would his reaction to the young woman be? Would he think that his treatment of her is what she deserved for not being better prepared? I’ll answer that with a firm yes.
Once the SHTF you’re going to see a great many “Others” become targets. I’m talking about minorities, liberals, elderly, Christians, or simply that bully who was mean to someone in the fifth grade. Unfortunately, we will all carry our baggage with us into a survival situation. The biggest mistake that we can make is to assume that just because we are enlightened about preparedness that we are somehow more moral, more trustworthy, or somehow better human beings than the vast unwashed masses.
Yeah, So What?
Is there anything that I can offer as an application to survival? Perhaps the greatest is to know yourself and those around you. Don’t allow anyone to control your survival resources but you. Make a connection with people through charity and other good works now that gives you a more compassionate heart. And lastly, perhaps we should all make as much effort in fixing our broken society as we do in preparing to leave it in order to keep the world from ending altogether.
JWR Adds: What Paul has discussed is some serious food for thought. In the context of a post-collapse world, just the fact that you have stored up tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, while most of your neighbors have just have a couple of hundred rounds on hand might someday give you the equivalent of a rich man’s bank account. If you haven’t already, I beg you to accept Christ Jesus as your savior, as a key part of your personal readiness. Charity and self-control are seen in their full as fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells us, when we become Christians. I can think of no better way to be sure that we are up to facing tough decisions, in traumatic times. Get right with God!