Like many preppers, I love disaster movies, whether Godzilla stomping a city, asteroids hitting the earth, pandemics, earthquakes, or volcanoes. After all, any of these things could happen, except maybe Godzilla, and useful ideas can come from anywhere, regardless of the style of disaster. The disaster movies were good for a laugh, but they also convinced me that any major disaster—asteroid, pandemic, or nuclear attack—will make societal recovery lengthy and perhaps impossible and survival difficult.
Then, I happened to watch the first episode of a 1975 British TV series called Survivors. Two conversations rearranged everything I’d assumed about survival and the continuation of civilization after a catastrophic disaster. I began to think from a perspective of thirteen century style survival.
Surviving, Like Survivors
The plot of Survivors begins with a world-wide pandemic, and the series follows the survival of a few people in Britain who are genetically able to recover from the virus. The heroine of the series is an ordinary upper-class British housewife named Abby Grant whose worries, before the pandemic, went no further than her immediate family and her tennis game. She survived the virus; her husband didn’t. In the first episode her main concern is to find her son, who was away at school and whose fate is unknown. When she reaches the school she finds only one person still alive, a teacher who has been pondering the unprecedented situation.
When Abby asks him what will happen, he explains that the real survivors will be those who can survive what will follow. Abby protests that it won’t be hard; there’s a stockpile of preserved foods and other goods. The teacher replies, “It’ll be enough for many, many years, but that would be simply scavenging, wouldn’t it, in a constantly diminishing supply. What is important is learning again. Things you’ve never even needed to consider before.”
Can You Make a Candle, Electricity, a Lightbulb?
He points to a candle and asks her if she could make it. Abby stumbles between oil products, animal fat, and finally says she can probably find it in a book.
The teacher retorts, “Alright, take it from there. A book will tell you how electricity is generated, but could you do it? Right from the beginning. Find the metal in the earth, dig it up, refine it, turn it into wire. Could you make or cast glass for a light bulb? You’ll need to know every part of every process. A carpenter, a man who works in wood: he doesn’t chop down the trees, he doesn’t forge the steel for his saw. Could he make a hammer? Nails? For myself, I could perhaps fashion some sort of stone tool.”
Ignorant Modern Man
Abby is startled at the realization of just how ignorant modern man is. The teacher warns her, “What you called ‘a stockpile of things’ will merely give us a little breathing space, perhaps several generations. But in that time, all the old crafts must be learned. We must learn.”
Abby leaves the school to continue searching for her son while pondering the teacher’s words. In time she discovers a few more survivors. One of them, a man named Wormley who sees himself as a potential leader in this new world, is still living a normal life in a home powered with a generator. As he and Abby eat in a comfortable kitchen, she explains her ideas to him, declaring that humans must relearn all the old crafts with the aim of becoming self-reliant and depending less and less on what’s been left behind.
Counting on “Hardware of Civilization” or Individual Trade Skill
Wormley tells her that the “hardware of civilization” will last for a long time, but Abby hasn’t forgotten the teacher’s words. “Don’t you see the point we’ve reached in our civilization?” she asks him. “Now, look around you. Anywhere you like, in this house, in this room, I doubt if it contains a single artifact that was the exclusive creation of one person.”
Wormley says he’s not a carpenter, but he believes he could make a table. Abby promptly retorts:
“Right from scratch? You would fell the timber? With what, an ax or a saw? The steel for the saw has been made in a foundry. The iron ore has been dug from the ground. And the fuel to smelt it with has been mined. Now what happens when the last ax head cracks and the last saw breaks? This simple metal knife is the product of hundreds of people and dozens of different trades. Take anything else you like, anywhere you like, and the same will be true of it. How do you make a cup? A piece of paper? Glass? Our civilization has the technology to land a man on the moon but as individuals we don’t even have the skills to make an iron spearhead.
Abby and Wormley soon part ways. He goes to create a feudal society with himself as leader, and she’s determined to establish her own survival group that will master the old crafts rather than relying on scavenging.
Society’s True Supporting Structure– Knowledge
We know that a catastrophic disaster such as a nuclear war will wipe out society’s supporting structures. We usually think of these structures as things, such as roads, factories, buildings, bridges, et cetera. After hearing the teacher and Abby, I believe this is incorrect. The true supporting structure that holds up our modern life is knowledge—the knowledge of how to do and make things. Due to the increasing complexity of our civilization, it has become almost impossible for an individual to know how to make the items that keep our world operating. The critical supporting structure we will need is not a bridge, but the knowledge of how to build a bridge.
Government’s Primary Concern in Disaster
We also know that the U.S. government’s primary concern, should a major disaster ever occur, is what it calls “continuity of government”, which means saving the lives of politicians and their rich friends who will supposedly get the country going again. But what, exactly, can senators or billionaires do? Can they extract oil from the ground? Refine it? Make paper? Plant and harvest corn without a tractor? I don’t believe any of them have such skills. Indeed, the richer and more powerful people become, the less practical knowledge they have and the greater their contempt for actual workers.
Government’s Post-Apocalyptic Plan to Collect Taxes
What the government would do as it “governs” in a post-apocalyptic world is kept deliberately vague, although a study was conducted on how to collect taxes in such a situation (see “What the IRS plans to Do in Case of a Nuclear War Will Leave You in Stitches” at Ready Nutrition). The mere fact that the government would waste time and money writing something so ridiculous proves that as an institution it would not only be worthless but an actual impediment to survival after a catastrophic event. In their hidden bunkers our so-called “leaders” will do what they do best: hold endless meetings, accomplish nothing, and try to take whatever the rest of us might have.
Politicians and Digital Rich Will Be Worthless, But Others With Skills…
In a total collapse situation, politicians and the digitally rich will be worthless, because their skill set is worthless. Coal miners will be worth their weight in gold. The man who can forge steel will be beyond price. She who can make glass will be worth more than diamonds, Someone who knows horses (how to care for them, perform farrier work, train them for various tasks, such as pulling a plow) will be worth the Crown Jewels.
Incidentally, can anyone make a plow? Can you make the steel to make the plow? Do you know how to make a wooden plow? Can you train and hitch up mules, horses, or oxen to pull the plow?
No One Knows How To Make An Entire Object or Complete Entire Process
As Abby realized, our civilization has advanced to the point where no one knows how to make an entire object or complete an entire process. At best, we know one small step in creating the things that make up our world. Our essentials are created in factories where humans know only what button to push to instruct machines to produce what we need.
Tomorrow, we will take a deeper look from the prepper’s perspective on what we should do with this greater understanding of the need to learn skills and obtain knowledge.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- 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.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- 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,
- 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),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- 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,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- 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 75 ends on March 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.