Bread

The staff of life.

Really good bread is just about the best thing there is on this planet.  But how many days in your life do you have access to the good stuff?  Not as many as one would think given the easy access to each and every needful or desirable thing, am I right?  Something goes ah-rye on the way to the grocery.  Perhaps it is the preservatives, or just the fact that the best bread is that which emerges from the warmth of well-used oven.

My project for the summer is to be the master of my own bread.  I will cultivate sourdough starter and work out the alchemy of the perfect loaf.  Flour, water, and salt are the only essentials.  Nothing else seems quite so simple and complicated and beautiful as bread.

Of course, should I get the alchemy going, I will have to manipulate the process so that I can re-produce the better effects after the apocalypse.  I am quite sure that the bakers will be needed at the end of the world.

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Comics for a Rainy Day

Should survivalist/preppers collect comics, buy gold, invest in art, etc…?

As the world population explodes, the things that (eventually) will be worth the most are not the things that take up space, but space itself. Land, if you can get it without costly attachments like high taxes or socialist confiscation, would be a good example. If it has access to an underground spring, even better, really, any access to water that isn’t subject to upstream pollution would be quite nice to have.

Comics, etc…, will continue to be valuable for quite some time, but “stuff” will lose value as we (“we” is not just us, but also the markets to whom we would sell) ourselves get crammed into smaller and smaller spaces and abilities to produce reproductions get more and more exact. People will opt to pay much less for an item that exactly reproduces the artifact of their obsession.

Some good things to have around should overpopulation continue to be our most prominent worry: a well maintained sailboat, a cabin you can rent (experiences rather than things will be what people spend their money on), rare earth minerals (at least until they lasso an asteroid), and of course stock in those evil multinationals.

But this hides the larger issue: wealth that isn’t moving isn’t especially valuable or resistant to devaluation over time. Currency is the name because it moves. A better question if you have wealth and want to keep it is not where to store it, but how to move it. “The Accountant” had to store his money because it wasn’t not legit and storage in gold/silver/art/collectibles was a tax haven. I am sure if that money was free and clear it would have soon found itself invested in companies that were going to return profits and/or remain standing when those around them finally fell. And if you are concerned about society collapsing and all things that are currently valuable suddenly becoming worthless, take some of those profits and buy land far away, a few guns, some freeze-dried food, a greenhouse and hydroponics setup, and all the other things that will become sensible only when the zombies come and we can finally say, “I knew it, I just knew it.”

A Woman Concerned About Her Son

In the midst of surfing, I came across a woman concerned that her preteen son who was talking about and spending money on prepping.  Here is my response:

I wouldn’t worry. I just wouldn’t. Most preppers engage the process not out of anxiety, but rather out of a host of more benign reasons. Some just want to be tacticool, and this (gender bias aside) falls into the category of “boys will be boys”. Some, have experienced loss and scarcity and so having stuff around is insurance, plain and simple. Some simply value individuality and self-reliance, and don’t trust their opposites, collectivism and the welfare state. Some simply want to protect, starting with the smallest circle and working out to the largest they see themselves capable of exerting some amount of control: self, family, friends, neighborhood, etc….

The point is, if your preteen is seeking to extend his control over his environment, pulling him back from that and asking him to “trust” that the world (or your situation at home) will just be alright, is leaving him over the abyss. It will soon become evident that he has other responsibilities with his time and money and an exclusive focus on prep will naturally become obvious as detrimental.

You say that your son has been into politics and world history since he was very young. One thing that a study of history will expose you to over and over is instances in which savages, tyrants, secret police, plague, economic depression, natural disasters, and a plenitude of other things rolled over individuals, some of whom made it and some of whom didn’t. The fact that your son feels that he can become one of the ones left standing, with those he loves around him, speaks volumes of good about his character. It also speaks volumes about the fact that his concerns are all directed outward and that he must therefore consider the things at his back (family, home, school) safe.

And if you and he are capable of having a conversation, don’t, for the love of Pete, send him to a counselor. Last thing he needs is a label he doesn’t choose for himself or isn’t given by someone who loves and respects him.

Moving

This summer, I move.  It isn’t to the archetypal castle or secret cave or even an outpost of self-sufficiency.  No, it is a small house in a big city, and somewhat on the bad side of the city.  Section 8 apartments are within a block in two directions and foot traffic on the main road 3 blocks away screams poverty.  

But, it will be, for me, a blessing.  Despite the nearness of some bad elements, it has its virtues.  It is in a cul de sac, and traffic does not generally pass without reason. I’m getting a pretty good deal thanks to a government program that should let me turn a tidy profit after three years.  My mortgage will be less than my current rent.  I have recently found an Aikido school in the neighborhood and I’m not quite so old that my beginner status is ridiculous. There is more room, and there will be plenty of room for organizing preps. And it is about a 40 minute walk from work. 

One thing I did not count on during this process was the waiting.  I can’t move in until the contractor is done. It’s a government thing. So, I’m paying mortgage and rent and starting to dig into those preps.  Pretty tired of noodles at this point.  But, I’m seeing that some things I have done in the name of prep have been a true blessing: all my batteries are rechargeable, powdered milk isn’t so bad, finally cooked that turkey a neighbor gave me for watching her dog, fixed my AC my own durn self, and started to dig into my personal library that rivals Alexandria.

Prep has been a blessing in this process. Everyday life. Not making it to that final spot of safety quite yet, but a little bit of preparedness and intelligence definitely make walking this world a little easier. And that is what it is all about, isn’t it, being just secure enough that stopping to smell the roses doesn’t seem absurd.

Half a decade ago

Half a decade ago, April 17, 2011, I had the idea to look into prepping as a possible path to finish out my degree.  At the time, only 5 years ago, it was still a relatively unexplored field. Since, there has been an embarrassment of riches.  Today, I found this file lurking and thought I would share.

First Entry

Nearly a year since I set out to make this into a possible dissertation topic. I have spent a deal of time thinking about it, but nothing very systematic I’m afraid. Really have been meaning to play around with OneNote to test its limits.
“So, why TEOTWAWKI? I suppose that is as good a place to start as any. I guess it seems to tap into an underlying dread as much as it seems to promise a chance to rebuild after the conflagration. And those who concentrate on the end of the world do seem to fall into two camps that sometimes merge. There is the camp that sees the end of the world as a return to the primitive–this encompasses pillagers and Mother Earthers. The other camp sees in it a chance of redemptive fire purging all that is evil from the world. Only the strong will survive and they will eventually be strong enough of will to eliminate the weak and cruel and build a new society that fits somewhere in the Utopian tradition. Is any of this answering why? I suppose it is just because a significant portion of the world needs what Religion has traditionally offered–Norse–Ragnarok, Christianity–Armagedon/Second Coming, Buddhism–Release from the Wheel.
Secular Humanism offers many things, it doesn’t offer an escape from Progress that strips the world itself down to its skin. Individuals are asked to surrender to the common good, but such solutions seem never to take into account the Freeloader, the Criminal, the Addict, etc… And while Liberals seem to idolize Darwin, Darwinism seems to broken because those least capable of contributing, are precisely the ones protected by social welfare systems.
In the Apocalyptic world, those who degrade the system would finally get theirs. The Freeloader would finally have to work, or perish. The Criminal would finally have to straighten up, or be summarily shot without trial or lengthy jail terms. The Addict would languish under the hot sun without poison in his veins and emerge clean or dead. The Fashionista would shiver in silk. The Scholar would burn useless pages to cook his supper.
I don’t know that the Survivalists actually want to see the weak suffer. Some might. Is it all just a big game of King of the Mountain? Survivalists who cannot rise to the top waiting for the rest of the world to fall?
I would really like for my dissertation (or novel) to highlight the impulses toward survivalism, perhaps without ever getting to an Event. The impulses seem to be as varied as men themselves. Some, such as the ones I’ve just sketched want to see the world fall so that they can rise. This is perhaps the worst impulse outside of those who wish the world to fall so that they can rape, pillage, and murder at will. Some wish to prepare out of fear. Their own mortality scares the shit out of them and they seek to live in their Plastic Bubble of Manliness. Some (and I’m probably of this number) worry that mankind’s collective soul is in jeopardy and seek to preserve it against the Barbarians at the Gates.
So is study of this impulse (and its lesser cousins) to preserve civilization a worthy topic? Does it miss the larger question of what in civilization is worth saving? Can that be incorporated into the larger work?”

Mastery of Tools

Just saw the latest Star Wars, and it did not disappoint.  It did get me to thinking.  These characters, like most characters in most stories, travelled light.  A small bag.  And, a signature weapon or tool.  Not an assemblage, not an arsenal, not even a secret lair stocked with the latest and greatest, just one tool.

Of course, the first thing I thought was that our world was nothing like that.  Luke couldn’t carry his lightsaber, Han his pistol, Chewy his bowcaster down any street in America without seeming strange at the least and very likely getting arrested.  It is an incongruity that bears much thought.

But before this turns into a 2nd Amendment post, this idea quickly led me to Marx.  Now, I am not Karl’s biggest fan, but he does have some points worth considering.  In this case, it is namely that there exists a proletariat precisely because men are able to be separated from their tools, their means of production.  Tools, as society has become more advanced, have become complicated, various, and expensive.  A single man or woman cannot easily possess the things with which great things become possible.  Instead, the tools are owned by others who may or may not know how to use them, but know even more how to use the labor of others.  Marx was prescient in noticing that the tools we use are also our slave collars if they are not ours.

Once upon a time, you knew a man by the tool he carried.  A musical instrument, a weapon, a hay fork, an easel, a white collar, a camera, a notebook, a greasy rag hanging out of a back pocket, a folder full of papers to be graded.  I think one  of the most liberated existences I know of is that of a plumber with his own truck, no other name on the door but his own.

Of course, we don’t live in a world where simplicity  is the order of the day.  Our lives at home and at work are full of things, many of them tools, but more of them not.  We are far from the station of those heroes in Star Wars who have one tool with which they are more than a little competent and are thus enabled to set out on great adventures.  Of course, why set out at all when things are so comfortable right here at home.  Luke needed his childhood home to be burnt to the ground to spur him finally to the adventure he craved.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.

In the meantime, I suppose we should all find that one tool we don’t go anywhere without and that can’t be taken from us by the owners of the world.  That one thing we can use to leverage our will against the dark or  the masses or the chaos of an increasingly tolerant and multicultural society.

Weaknesses into Preferences

A goodly portion of my life has found me facing challenges for which I was completely unprepared.  And in retrospect, I’d have to admit that I have done so on purpose.  The jobs I have enjoyed the most, and flourished in the most, have been the ones for which my training can only be said to have been tangential.  This thought planted itself in response to listening to a survival podcast about fitness in prep.

Going to the gym for me is actually something I enjoy, but it always seems a huge investment of time.  So many things to do, thoughts to explore, sleep to catch up on.  And I’m in alright shape, so where is the urgency?

Now before you think this is going to be just another jeremiad on the value and benefits of fitness, it isn’t.

You see, what I realized is that everyone has weaknesses and these need to be addressed.  But one doesn’t have to master calculus to overcome a weakness in math.  Or whatever your weakness happens to be.  One only needs to get get good enough to be able to say, “I don’t prefer to, but I can.”

For instance, I have never skinned an animal, not even a fish.  Guess I never had a good enough reason to overcome my distaste for killing things.  But I need to do it.  I don’t want to, but it is a thing that needs to be done and I need to do it now while I can learn from someone and before hunger is the alternative.  So, if there are any takers who want to make a morning of it and can loan me equipment, let me know.  It is just one more thing to knock off my list because the real preparations are capacities.

Anyone know how much a fishing license is in Oklahoma?

Blades

Preppers have knives.  Always.  I’ve carried a folding knife as long as I can remember and carried even through my student and educator years when it was very possible that the only use I would get out of it was opening letters.  Now, I use my knife every day, or near enough.  I’m rustier with a word processor than with a blade, how’s that for irony?

CRKT has long been my favorite brand of knife, though my current EDC, the Folding Razel, is a monstrosity that is at least three times bigger than I envisioned it when I bought it online.  Guess that is what I get for trusting the brand and forgoing the feel.  If anything in this world demands to be “ergonomic” it is a pocket knife.  It wasn’t terribly expensive, but I’m a parsimonious son of a saint, so I won’t just abandon it to a drawer.  I’ll just (ab)use it until it has served me for a good time, has cut me, or it just pisses me off to the point that I’m willing to drop it and pick up one of my more pristine knives.

But back to blades themselves.  They are what set us apart from the animals are they not?  Apes use clubs.  Fire is at best contained.  But blades, they are controlled and they piece and parse our world into smaller bits that approach closer and closer to the images in our head or the needs of our bellies.  The first blades were not weapons, they were tools.  The Taoists have a saying, “When hewing a handle for an ax, the pattern is not far off.”  What starts as a sharp chip in the palm becomes a cleaver, a scraper, an adze, an ax, a dagger, an arrow, a fishhook, a needle, a wedge, and a million other needful things.

Preppers choose a wide range of blades to carry.  I tend to go minimal and light.  I remember watching Doomsday Preppers on Nat Geo, a show seemingly designed to paint all preppers as more than a little nutty.  One of the first guys they highlighted searched the river bottoms of Los Angeles for his evening meal.  He had an impressive knowledge of his environment.  But then he emptied his pack.  He must have had 10-15 pounds of knives in there.  At that moment, I knew he must be crazy.  Certainly every knife has a niche, but this was carrying it too far.  The man was on foot and was literally lugging these knives.  I’m dying because my Folding Razel is 6.1 ounces instead of the 2.3 ounces of my preferred M16-01KZ Spear Point by Kit Carson.  If someone has that many knives, they cannot know how to use them.  Or, they are crazy.  Nat Geo wins again.

Bugging Out

Perhaps the most extreme of ideas we as preppers continually return to is the idea of bugging out.  We spend a large portion of our time and treasure making our homes comfortable and beautiful and, yes, safe.  And yet, the first sign of a prepper is their possession of a Bug Out Bag.  This BOB is invariably loaded with things one would need to survive in a world without electricity, without technology, and indeed, without structures.  At some point, something is going to happen that is going to require that we step off the road and into the wilderness where we will stay until things are right with the world again.

Oddly enough, discussion doesn’t often revolve around which books one ought to bring along.  From this I conclude that the psychological impulse that fuels this daydream is not centered around the waiting, but in escape from a world that seems likely to fold at the first hint of challenge.  To highlight this, in escaping, the prepper is prepared to survive the greatest of challenges and to abstain from any comfort that might involve exposure to other people.  It isn’t about escaping a clear and present danger so much as escaping the taint of a deranged civilization.

But there are many reasons to prepare oneself to step away at any given moment.  They say that Hindus live life in 4 stages: 1) Student, 2) House Dweller, 3) Wise Consultant, and finally, 4) Forest Dweller.  The Bug Out Bag is our spiritual IRA.  At a certain point, an Eskimo who can no longer provide for his extended family, hops on an iceberg and allows himself to be carried to sea.  Americans face a more grim eventuality–Nursing Homes.  When we are no longer self-reliant, our families or our government will seek to institutionalize us.  Instead, preppers always reserve the option of setting out from our comfortable hearths and into either a state of nature, or once more into the breach to fulfill obligations we could not fulfill in our “responsible” years.

Of course, our daytime speculations do not center around accomplishing these things in the last possible moments of our lives.  Preppers live in a world that challenges their ability to ensure the comfort and security of their family (Householder) and more insidiously, that presents challenges to raising a good child or grandchild in an increasingly decadent and relativistic society (Wise Consultant).  Thus preppers seek a fate that offers them a release from seemingly impossible obligations under current circumstances.  They seek a challenge to civilization so extreme that only those who adhere to “true principles” will emerge on the other end.  This is not an active desire for disaster, because such would be wrong.

So, I have my BOB.  I’m ready for the world to just about end, but not because I want to see the horrors, but because a simpler world seems like it would have to be a world more aware of what is good and what is not.  I’ll take my Emerson and Tolkien, heavy as they are, and head for the hills.

The Bug Out Bag: Fire

This is one of the first things most people think of when they think of survival or prep.  The shit will hit the fan and what you have will be what you will have.  And if all you have is the same stuff that everyone else has, you will share their fate.  Nobody wants that, because fate can be cruel.

The things that populate the lists that we all make enthrall and confuse me.  For instance, you must, absolutely must, have three ways to start a fire.  And let me tell you, there are more than three ways (though I only carry 1 with me on a daily basis).  Lighters, special matches, flint, magnesium bars, vacuum tubes, batteries and steel wool, magnifying glasses, and more.  But before we accept the need to have fire at our beck and call, perhaps we should consider what situations would truly cause us to hare off into the wilderness in the rain.  Thing is, I’ve had this “hobby” long enough that it isn’t hard to manufacture a healthy list of just such situations.  But that avoids the question of “Why fire?”.

Strictly speaking, most situations that fire could be helpful in are more tractable to a bit of cash.  A hotel room is warm.  A steak dinner in a restaurant is not so hard to come by and if you bring a book, you can ride out the worst of most nights in a pool of light and maybe even conversation if you want.

But these things are not fire.  Fire is not common in our lives anymore, or if it is, it is tamed.  Men grill just for a taste of flame.  But when it comes right down to it, a flame coaxed out of damp wood and “tended” until it takes on a life of its own, a life that stays within its circle of conjuration only if we have incanted with precision makes us count as lost the evenings of our lives spent in domesticity.

So we carry this ‘weapon of the poor’ in our pockets everywhere and everyday in search of opportunity.  That the opportunity comes only in the face of wide-scale destruction seems somewhat appropriate.