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Long-Term Preparedness and the Eight Mechanical Arts, by J.D.

It’s one thing to prepare for an unexpected event that you can ride out in the course of a week or two; secure, defensible shelter that functions without the grid, a store of food and water, and stockpiles of essentials such as ammo and medical supplies may be more than enough to last until the disaster passes and social order is restored. But what about long-term survival in the face of TEOTWAWKI [1]

I’ve always found it instructive to study how we lived before 20th-century innovations such as electricity and refrigeration and potable water piped right into the kitchen. It wasn’t that long ago; my dad’s folks didn’t have electricity until he was a teen and his grandparents spent most of their life in a home where going to the bathroom at night required boots and a lantern. When great-grandpa shot a mink that was threatening the chickens, his wife didn’t think twice about making gloves and a stole from the pelt. Could you produce gloves from a rabbit pelt? Or, for that matter, turn a sheaf of wheat into a loaf of bread? They had skills that we have forgotten; knowledge that we need to relearn should our technologically-enabled lifestyle be unexpectedly set back a century or two.

Mechanical Arts is an obsolete and archaic term from the European Middle Ages; it referred to the practical skills required of the lower class, as opposed to the Liberal Arts and Performing Arts mastered by the upper crust and intelligentsia. The eight mechanical arts make a good springboard for reviewing the skills that we need to re-master if we are to live – not just survive – in the face of long-term social collapse. The eight mechanical arts of medieval tradition are weaving, blacksmithing, war, navigation, agriculture, hunting, medicine, and theater.

Modern weaving encompasses everything from basic sewing skills – on a non-electric machine – to the production of thread, cloth, and yarn from basic agricultural products. The latter requires quite a long-term view, but it isn’t out of the question to make sure that your group has a functional antique sewing machine and people with the skill to use it. Knitting and crocheting are fine hobbies that might prove to be useful skills should the need arise. And basic hand-sewing is a skill everyone needs; in a crisis, cloth may not be the only thing that needs a bit of emergency stitching. I would include tanning in this category; make sure someone in your group is able to turn a deer hide into useable buckskin.

Traditional blacksmithing is also a fine hobby that becomes a useful survival skill. In the modern view, competence with cutting and welding equipment falls into this category as well. The ability to cut and shape metal – however you do it – will put your skills in constant demand. I would include basic mechanical skills as well. If you have useful, non-electric machinery (windmills and well pumps and that antique sewing machine come to mind) and animal-drawn farm tools that you can keep in good repair, you’ll be in better shape than most of your neighbors.

Much has been written about home defense in the face of chaos. Every member of your group needs to be trained in the basics. Again, this makes a fine diversion here in the real world; I am continually astounded as to how readily the girls take to occasional outings to the local shooting range. Advanced skills range from leadership training and gunsmithing to tactical surveys of your terrain. One acquaintance (and this is an example of extreme and probably illegal preparedness) has located the most likely spots where an assaulting force might take cover and has not only set up lines of fire into those locations but has run underground wires so he can quickly connect and conceal his Claymores. I’ll hail his bunker from a good safe distance should the need arise!

Navigation by the sun and stars is an art that most of us GPS-enabled survivalists have never learned. It’s probably not necessary; chances are you’re already quite familiar with the locale around your refuge and establishing north from the stars or tree moss runs a distant second to a good pocket compass. But it wouldn’t hurt for your group to master some basic wilderness trekking skills. This makes for a fun activity; take a day class, or set up a course of waypoints and instructions yourself, with a prize (or food and beer!) at the end.

Agriculture and hunting are probably among the most necessary and most varied of these skills. Your group may already include avid hunters who can not only bring down food but prepare it in the field. This may include gunsmithing and bow hunting; it does not include recreational fishing, which is fun but usually calorie-negative. Agriculture in the face of adversity is actually more difficult than hunting. If you already have a hobby farm (and you should, in conjunction with your survival compound), think about how you would get water to your plants and animals without the electric pump at the bottom of the well. Raising fruits and vegetables is one thing; can you turn your wheat and corn into flour? This is a skill that will stand you in good stead in the face of long-term separation from the local grocery store. I would place cooking and food preparation in this category as well, where the big question is: can you prepare and store food for long-term storage without electricity or refrigeration? And for those with large enough lots, keeping animals – whether they be chickens, pigs, goats, or cattle – will be a great benefit over the long run. Sadly, agriculture as a hobby is almost always a money-loser – you simply cannot produce eggs for what they cost at the store and I weep every time I see corn at five ears for a dollar – but you may find home-grown tomatoes and free-range eggs sufficiently tasty to give it a try. And, while illegal, running a home still is both educational and entertaining – and good moonshine whisky might be as valuable a trade item as gold as well as useful as antiseptic or emergency fuel. In a real emergency, you can drink it as well.

A doctor in the group is pure gold, but the problems of long-term survival without access to modern health care are numerous and difficult to overcome. Are there diabetics in your family? Insulin will be impossible to find. Do members have high blood pressure or severe allergies? Your stockpile of medication will not last long and lifestyle changes will be required. Survivalist medicine runs the gamut from medical diagnosis and emergency surgery (do you want to lose a child to something as routine as appendicitis – or mistakenly cut into a belly when the problem is merely heartburn?) to growing and processing your own medicinal plants. Willow-bark tea is a far cry from oxycodone, but it may be all you can get. But at the least every member of your group needs to be trained in basic first aid, including dressing wounds and setting broken bones in the field. And for the long term, a good class in childbirth for the potential mothers and midwives in your group.

Like it or not, you and your group will have to interact with those around you – if for no other reason than to get news and barter what you have for what you need – and good social skills are a must. Fortunately, most of us work and play in large groups and the isolated hermit is a curiosity of the past. However, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your negotiating skills; the day may come when your life depends on it.

One could not expect any individual to master more than a handful of these; indeed, one could argue that the advent of individual specialization was the beginning of modern civilization. But even a fairly small group can cover most with relative ease. And practice of these arts as hobbies may lead to a good deal of personal satisfaction as well as the comfort in knowing that you are prepared for the worst.