Saturday, March 15, 2014

The SHTF Stockpile - Part IV

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

In Part III we talked about tools, books, and barter. Today we're going to finish this series by covering three items: final thoughts on skills, stockpiling the future, and finally, what happens if you have to bug out.

10. Skills - In a real sense Heinlein is correct. While specialization makes us more productive, it can also make us brittle - it seems today that the only skills many people have is a) whatever they do at work, and b) changing the channel.*  For anything else we need to call - and pay - a specialist.  The backyard mechanic of yesteryear does not even change his own oil today - he pays someone who changes oil all day long.  Fruit that used to be gathered on the roadside is now flown in from 5000 miles away, picked by someone who picks all day long, packed by someone who packs, flown by one specialist, trucked by another, stocked on the shelves by yet another. This hyperspecialization does not bode well for a society entering a period of devolution, decentralization, and in many ways, simplification. We are going to have to do many more things ourselves.

On the other hand, specialization is a necessity - none of us can know everything, and there exists no final list of skills that one should have. For some, being able to build a fire without matches will be a lifesaver. Others might find that cooking sausage pizza over that same fire provides a perfect end to a joyful day. Concentrating on a few skills ensures we can learn them well.

You never know, and you won't ever know which ones you'll need. But in one sense you don't need to know, because you're not going to be in this alone. Individuals will not survive, communities will survive: those communities that are able to collectively apply enough skills to feed, clothe, and protect those within it. The most valuable skill of all may be the ability to find or build such a community and to make oneself irreplaceable to it. Or it might be dumb luck.

In a worst-case scenario, Americans will be thrown back to Plymouth Colony: a tiny, poor, hellhole of civilization clinging like a barnacle to a continent awash in cannibalism, rapine, and stone-age technology and religion.  Good thing for us that Americans did it before, even before they were Americans. It's a skill we have inherited: thought not all of us have it individually, it is a part of who we are. Or were until recently and can be again.

11. Stockpiling a future - humans change their environments to make life easier for themselves. All humans. It's almost comical to listen to some larval academic opine on how the Indians got along so well with nature.** The truth is that they impacted it as much as anyone, relative to their technology.  They burned the plains because they had fire, we pave them because we have asphalt.  Find a people that does not impact nature and I'll show you one that eats lice straight from their children's hair.

But how we impact it - how we will impact it in the future - is something we need to plan. We have stockpiled tools, we have stockpiled skills, now we have to stockpile the future. We do that by modifying our environment to the best of our ability and with an eye toward future production.  Dig a pond, plant apple trees, mulch leaves into the soil instead of trucking them away. This is not meant to appease the gods of carbon neutrality, but to help the ground produce for us - and in the case of trees, for our kids.  It's to apply the hard-learned lessons of the generations who starved before us, who through painful trial and fatal error passed to us the secrets of making the land feed us well.  We have collectively spent the last 50 years stripmining the land, pouring chemicals into the ground instead of knowledge.  If and when the end comes for trucking and shipping and flying the results of that petroleum-based process all over God's green earth, we will collectively grow a lot less food.*** That means we will individually need to grow more food. And that means that wherever we decide to bug in, we need to get to work today to make that land more productive in an authentically sustainable**** way.

12. Bugging out. Throughout this entire series, I have consciously avoided addressing the first thing most preppers address: bugging out.  And I've done this because I think bugging out is most people's excuse for not doing any real preparation.  I fully realize there are some who cannot bug in - as Huck so clearly explained, the City of Angels is never the right hill to die on.  Depending upon what kind of disaster we might face, even the dug-in prepper may have to bug out.  If Wolf Creek should do a Fukashima for some reason, old El B will have to head north. But just how far north, and by what route, he already knows.

But there are are two final thoughts to keep in mind when one is forced - absolutely forced - to bug out.  First of all, you are going to someplace specific, some place that can (and must) support you. That means you have no excuse not to prepare that place ahead of time. Everything that can be done in a bug-in location can be done in a bug-out one. In fact, it must be.  It's no better to starve on a mountaintop than on the plains.

Secondly, when you bug out, you'll be extremely limited in the physical items you can bring - in a real SHTF scenario, anyone who is seen carrying or hauling anything will be the first victim of ad hoc asset-gathering co-operatives.  If you think you're going to drive through St. Louis with a U-haul full of canned goods, you might want to revisit that assumption.  Our highways go through cities. In an SHTF situation, very little else will.

Your water takes up space. Books take up space. Tools take up space.  But your skills take up no space at all. They take no effort to carry. They cannot be stolen. They will arrive anywhere you arrive.  And if you can get to your redoubt with your skills intact and your tools waiting, you'll have as good a chance to survive as anyone.

Part III
Part II
Part I

* not including programming the VCR.
** He'll also bemoan how we don't, right before getting into his car and driving on paved roads back to his subdivision, built atop one of their cemeteries.
*** Sorry about that population overshoot, Africa and India.
**** have I mentioned how much I hate that euphemism for pretentious treehuggung? Our 'sustainable' campus is one where we recycle plastic bottles but use a fleet of propane-powered bobcats to move snow piles that will melt by themselves within the week.

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