After I happened to watch the first episode of a 1975 British TV series called Survivors, I began to think differently about survival. 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.
I watched as the character in the show named Abby interacted with others and concluded that no one person had the knowledge to make much of anything in our modern society and she needed to learn how to master the old crafts. You might know some part of the process, but we struggled to make anything all by ourselves through the entire process. We depended upon a tool made of metal from ore that was mined or wood that was cut with an axe that is made from metal that is mined. We might depend upon glass. What happens when our tools and supplies are gone? Do we have the knowledge and skill to replace them?
Some think they’ll be able to read a book and know what to do. Let’s continue on with this thought.
Download Book After Book
Preppers who blissfully download book after book on an electronic device with the conviction that it’s now preserved forever are making another dangerous mistake. The further we get from the tangible, paper preservation of knowledge, the more precarious our knowledge base becomes and the more likely it is to be destroyed beyond recovery.
Knowledge Passed From Generation to Generation
In the past, knowledge passed from generation to generation through words and observation. (Chimps manage to do it with observation alone.) We then advanced to writing our knowledge so it could be preserved and passed on. Thanks to Gutenberg, we began to print what we learned. (Who knows how to make or use a printing press?) But the complexity of our modern world has now reached the point where even reading a description of the process is probably not sufficient to instruct the complete novice in how to accomplish most tasks that keep our world going.
You may be able to use your electronic data collection for some time, but eventually the battery will run out. How will your grandchild learn the information essential to rebuilding the world? If we store everything on devices that require electricity or batteries to access, we have taken yet another step in making essential information inaccessible to ourselves and future generations. The disappearance of written information will be a major hurdle in our ability to restore civilization.
Speed of Technological Change
This problem is exacerbated by the incredible speed of our technological change. If you doubt this, go through the convolutions necessary to access a Betamax tape, undeveloped film from a 1960s Instamatic camera, or a floppy disk from a TRS-80. Technology is moving too fast. Any form of electronic storage is obsolete by the time it is sold, and after a disaster it will probably be impossible to locate a person with the knowledge and working equipment to help. Even solar power cannot be relied on (Does anyone have all the necessary tools to make a new solar panel? Make the glass? The metal? Put it all together?) We will desperately need information and, unless it has been printed out on paper, it will be lost to us.
Can You Make/Grow/Process/Prepare/Forge It?
Many preppers wisely master such skills as tying knots, but when all the paracord has been used, could you make a rope? Can you grow the hemp and prepare it? We make lists of tools that are essential, but when a metal tool breaks beyond repair, can you make a new one? Where will you dig for the iron ore? How will you process and forge it?
Another example, familiar to readers of prepper fiction, is the fate of diabetics. Almost every novel has a diabetic (Alas, Babylon, Lucifer’s Hammer who dies when the insulin supply runs out. Everyone scurries around trying to find more insulin. It never occurs to anyone that finding another bottle doesn’t solve the problem; they must learn to make the items that allow diabetics to survive, which means making not only insulin but also a metal needle, a syringe, and a refrigeration system to insure the drug’s potency. They ignore this reality, because the process is simply too complex for non-experts to master.
In fact, it takes dozens of professionals to keep diabetics alive, each one doing and knowing only one step in the process. The fact that most items are made by machines only makes the situation more difficult. To make the things a diabetic needs, we must first make the machines that make the things.
There are articles about making your own penicillin at home, but I doubt this is a viable alternative. (Is there a high-powered microscope in your bugout bag? Who can identify the Penicillium notatum mold? Who knows how to isolate it or in what cultures to grow it?) Once found, the mold doesn’t instantly become a medicine; it took years for Oxford scientists to purify and utilize it as a drug. Although the mold was discovered in 1928, it was 1941 before it was first used on a patient.
Value of Paper-Stored Knowledge
Alas, Babylon depicts an incident that shows the value of paper-stored knowledge. When the settlement runs out of salt, the people have no idea what to do. Finally someone remembers reading an old handwritten journal from the 1800s that talks about finding a salt deposit in the area. The journal is found, read, and contains enough information to lead the survivors to the salt they need.
Useful Bunker Filled With People Who Know How To Do Things
A truly useful nuke-pandemic-asteroid bunker won’t contain politicians; it will be filled with people who actually know how to do the things that will help the world continue living and begin progressing again. They will know how to build a cart; how to plant, tend, harvest, and preserve crops; make and run a printing press; how to make metal tools; how to mine ore and coal; farm using animals for power.
Ideal Survival Groups
When most people plan their ideal survival groups, they pick members who can shoot looters, skin an animal, build a fire, et cetera. All of these are invaluable skills, but so much more is needed. They need someone who can work with metal; someone who can make soap, candles, create wheels (if you can’t get rubber, what kind of wheel will you make?), care for animals, make bullets, and make cloth. (Can you grow cotton? Sow it, tend it, pick it, card it, spin it, and weave it into material? Do you have the tools needed to do any of these things?) We need to seriously reconsider what skills will be critical after a major disaster and readjust our ideas of the people who will be essential in a survival group.
By now any reader will be saying, “All that’s impossible.” It may well be. If our world has a massive disaster, we might never be able to recover because we don’t know how to do the essential processes that make up modern civilization. But if we are to have any chance at all, it will be through education. As Abby Grant said, we must relearn all the skills we’ve forgotten, from metallurgy to tending and shearing sheep.
Not Looking Back to 1800s with Pa and Laura Ingalls but Medieval Life
Most people assume that a catastrophic event will hurl us back to the 1800s, where we’ll land on the banks of Plum Creek with Pa and Laura Ingalls and make a fish trap. In actuality, a truly apocalyptic event will plunge us back to the 1200s with none of the skills a thirteenth century peasant possessed. It isn’t American pioneer life we should be studying; it’s Medieval life.
Education of the Young
The importance of knowledge also means that one of the most critical functions of a successful survival group will be education of the young. The adults must understand the importance of passing on what they know. If humanity is to survive, our children must learn. They must be able to read, do math without a calculator, know the facts and significance of history, the masterpieces of Western literature, music, and art, and the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers. In their spare time, they must learn to make plows, sow grain, knit socks, make fences, tend pigs, and plant crops. What they must not do is depend on scavenging from a constantly diminishing supply.
What Most Preppers Believe, I Believed…Once
Most preppers believe they can survive anything with freeze-dried food, a safe full of guns, heirloom seeds, and a few bottles of antibiotics. I believed that once, until I met the teacher and Abby Grant. Hearing what these characters said was, for me, like sitting under a bodhi tree and reaching enlightenment. I’m not sure what to do next, but I’m sure they’re right.
The stockpile of things won’t last forever. We must relearn.
[All quotes taken from Survivors, Episode 1, “The Fourth Horseman”.]
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another 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.