Friday, December 31, 2010

Nine Lives

The Leibowitz Society doesn't spend much time discussing firearms, for a variety of reasons.  First, this is an international effort, as the coming Dark Age will affect all nations, not just America, and small arms are not legal in every country.  Second, modern firearms and ammunition require the support of modern industry to make and maintain (black powder for flintlocks is much easier to manufacture than smokeless powder).  Third, the Leibowitz Society is not intended to be a classic "survivalist" initiative, where discussions about firearms and military tactics dominate to the point of often excluding all other topics -- are people trying to survive the coming upheavals or do they want to be their own paramilitary organization, anyway?  After all, in a gunfight, some people are going to win, some are going to lose, and even a "lucky" shot can kill the smartest, faster, most skilled and experienced person.  Finally, the notion of engaging in armed conflict with others defeats the purpose of preserving and reintroducing knowledge after a collapse.

That said, there is still going to be a real need for personal self-defense down the road as police agencies vanish due to loss of funding and any kind of organized civic government to maintain them.  Even Argentina, which teetered on the brink of collapse due to economic problems, but did not completely collapse, saw drastic spikes in crime and violence.  In America, the infamous Los Angeles Riots in 1992, and the aftermath of Katrina both showed that it doesn't take a lot to sweep aside any kind of organized law enforcement and leave private citizens vulnerable to violent attacks.  As always, the Leibowitz Society recommends that people obey the law when it comes to firearms and self-defense, because we are still in the phase where social survival is important as physical survival.

If people wish to purchase firearms for protection, there are a number of choices for people, from military-style semi-automatic rifles to shotguns to hunting rifles.  However, I think that the lessons of modern history are going to show that handguns are generally a far more useful tool most of the time.  They are much more easily carried than a rifle (imagine trying to repair your roof with an M1 slung over your shoulder), can be more easily concealed (provoking less anxiety when going to the open-air market), and are generally less threatening, as they are viewed as more of a defensive item (this, of course, depends on when/where you are -- a Glock might bring a lot of close scrutiny in an area where people wouldn't look twice at a deer rifle). 

There are a large variety of options for people who wish to use firearms for self-defense.  Much of what is available on the market is driven not only by normal engineering improvements, but also a search for the "magic bullet," marketing, changes public and law enforcement preferences and so on.  Examples of this include the ill-fated .41 Action Express and 10mm some two decades ago, and the .45 GAP in the modern day.  Even the now-established .40 Smith and Wesson was the result of a search for a newer, better cartridge.  Pistols themselves have changed, the dominance of the revolver eroding after World War 2 in most nations of the world, more recently in the United States, with modern semi-automatic pistols being generally preferred now.  People left searching for what to use are going to run into a sea of differing opinions, as well as sales people who want to move a particular type of product.

However, there is a relatively clear and logical choice for the best pistol caliber on the market these days, the 9mm Luger or Parabellum.  The 9mm was invented at the beginning of the 20th century for the German Luger pistol and become the dominant pistol cartridge within in a generation or so most places outside of America, which had its own dominant calibers, the .38 Special for revolvers and the .45 ACP in the M1911 pistol.  In fact, one of the most frequent discussions/debates over firearms has been the people who favor the 9mm versus the people who favor the .45.  The key argument often made by the people who back the .45 is that the .45 has a larger diameter bullet and a little more energy and is therefore the superior round.  Also cited is the reliability and proven track record of the M1911 design, although numerous pistol designs are now chambered in the .45 

While these arguments are seductive at first, they are not born out by real-world experience and studies of what actually happens in violent encounters.  The theme that shows up over and over is that the "big three" pistol cartridges -- the 9mmP, the .45 ACP and the .40 S&W offer little advantage over one another in terms of immediately stopping a violent attacker. Effective shot placement seems to generally be the most decisive factor, not how much power the cartridge delivers.  One real-world study showed that around 65% of the time, a single hit from a .45 ACP would stop an attacker, while the 9mm would do the same around 63% of the time, not much of a difference.  Only more powerful pistol cartridges -- the magnums, the 10mm, and so on, show any real improvement in stopping power.

This means that the real distinction in the rounds is the nature of the cartridges themselves, as well as their delivery systems.  The 9mm is widely produced, inexpensive and usually readily available, unlike the .40 S&W which is still not as common as the 9mm.  The cartridge itself is significantly smaller than the .45 ACP, meaning that it's possible to more easily design a pistol which can hold a large number of rounds, unlike the high-capacity .45 pistols, which tend to be very bulky and difficult to hold for people with small to medium-sized hands.  A graphic difference in this difference can be seen in the grip sizes of the Glock 26, a compact high-capacity 9mm pistol, versus the Glock 30, a compact high-capacity .45 ACP pistol.  Even if grip size isn't necessarily a consideration, remember that a high-capacity 9mm can hold up to 19 rounds with a magazine that's flush with the grip, while a high-capacity .45 will generally only hold up to 13 or so. 

What all this boils down to is that the best cartridge choice is that which offers more reasonable chances to stop an attacker.  Given that 9mm ammunition is readily available and generally inexpensive, and 9mm pistols usually hold more rounds than other calibers, and the common pistol calibers don't offer much difference in stopping power, it is the clear choice for what round to use for self-defense.  No one seriously wants to engage in a gun battle, especially in a time when medical treatment will be taking a giant step backwards, but if they are forced into such a desperate situation, it is better to have the most effective tool at hand than hoping for mercy or good fortune.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Optimal Action

(my apologies for the extended break -- I have found that reflecting too much on the cancerous collapse of our modern system begins to build up a toxic residue of thought and emotion to where it's necessary to step back from it for a few days and meditate on other things for a time...I advise everyone to do this now and then to avoid settling into a state of despair)

Modern life has been the antithesis of most of human history in a number of ways.  In truth, we have been able to successfully avoid being bound by many of the same rules of reality of our ancestors, as the largesse of modern civilization has allowed us to at times coast in our lives, knowing that there has been so much surplus wealth and resources accumulated that, until recently, it took almost conscious effort to starve to death in the United States.  Obviously, while conditions have been changing in recent years, there is still plenty of "the fat of the land" to live on. 

As we begin to move through the initial stages of collapse, however, we're going to see conditions change radically.  Most people are familiar with wilderness survival, especially the survival "reality" shows.  While they range from comical (Survivor) on one end, to serious (Dual Survival) on the other, one point which is often stressed is that there is no room for error when it comes to personal survival.  Misplaced priorities or actions which have no direct benefit to a person or group can cost valuable time, energy and supplies.  Simply put, as things get more "lean," there is less and less room for anything which doesn't directly benefit a person or group.

Some people may be familiar with Brian Tracy, the motivational writer.  One of his books, Focal Point, decribes a (possibly apocyphal) situation about a power plant that is having output problems.  An engineer is brought in to look at the problem, spends a day there and marks an X on a malfunctioning gauge.  The gist of Mr. Tracy's thesis is that we need to be able to find where to direct our efforts to do the most good.

Likewise, members of the Leibowitz Society need to start learning where and how to put their efforts as conditions in the modern world steadily worsen.  In response to this, I would like to present a concept called "Optimal Action."  Optimal Action is the idea that when we are in a siutation, we need to be able to make the best of our available choices in a logical manner that will have the least negative impact and most positive impact for our long-term survival.  An easy example is, if we are dehydrated and starving, and having a choice between food and water, choosing the water over the food, as it's more vital to immediate survival.  Obviously, there are going to be many situations that are less clear-cut than that.

While this seems like a logical thing to keep in mind, the problem we face is that as conditions worsen, we are going to find ourselves in situations of more and more stress, with limited time to respond and limited information on which to base that response.  We need to remember to keep focused on what is going to benefit us the most even as we are being pulled in many different directions. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking Measure

One thing that has been on my mind for a little while now is how can we best handle the subject of weights and measurements.  For example, it's possible to translate from a dead language to one that's in use, as was discussed earlier.  Measurements, however, need to have a literal, physical aspect to them that can't be conveyed in the written word.  For example, I can say that a foot is equal to an average man's foot in length.  Okay, great, what average man?  Obviously, it could be a little more closely approximated by taking a set of thirty men (for you stats buffs) and measuring their feet, but it would still only be approximate.

This leaves a few possibilities for handling the issue.  The first is to simply suggest that everyone have pound and kilogram measures and a foot/centimeter ruler stuck in their Repository someplace and forget about it (clearly, it would be important to store good quality weights and measures).  I haven't checked, but I think that it's reasonable that there are probably surplus weights available now that digital scales have become the norm. 

The second possibility is to determine a set of objects which are reasonably consistent in their weights and dimensions and use these as suggested "standards" which to go by.  For example, a quarter is around an inch in diameter.  Obviously, the big problem with this approach is the question of availability of the alternative standard for measurement.

Last is the notion that new standards of measurement may simply develop over time as civilization bottoms out and people begin to rebuild.  While this is the simplest solution, it would make translation of technical documents more difficult, if not impossible.  Whether or not this really matters is still up in the air, though I think it's likely that some form of industry will exist down the road, even if it's not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. 

One other point I wanted to cover was the issue of metric vs. US customary measurements.  People feel strongly about both, and, having dealt extensively with both, I think both have their merits.  Metric is very good for scientific and technical measurements, but not nearly as representative of the real world as US customary is in dealing with real world measures.  For example, the end segment of the thumb is around an inch.  A man's foot is around a foot.  At the same time, trying to do math with inches, pounds or ounces is a pain in the neck, so for technical applications, metric has the lead with its decimal-based math.

Finally, the last consideration is that of the need to translate measurements when two different systems are in use.  Preferably, a trusted party would be available to calibrate scales and perform measurements if parties from different regions were attempting to engage in trade with each other, something that may become an issue as localized communites once again reach out to trade with each other.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Terror Time

(no, this is not about people deciding for some odd reason to blow themselves up)

Most of us tend to treat the arrival of winter with a relatively casual demeanor.  Sure, we may be inconvenienced by having to scrape off the car in the morning, or not like bundling up in warm clothes, or may find that our houses are a little draftier than we first thought.  Even the first big snows (for those who live where it does snow) is greeted with a little uncertainty, but after the first day or so, the roads are open again and we can be on our way.  On the other end of the spectrum, we look forward to holiday celebrations or being able to sit near a roaring fire.

All this, of course, is a relatively modern development.  In the past, things were drastically different and the approach of winter was heralded with dread.  For example, an old Celtic folk song called "The Terror Time" details the misery and plight of displaced crofters trying to find someplace to hole up and last out winter until there is work again in the spring.  Even if you had your own house, imagine huddling around a fire in the dead of winter, with little to do but last out the season and tend to the animals, hoping there would be enough food to hold everyone over until spring.

This should be a reminder that the modern world really is not prepared for the kind of weather we're now facing in  North America, if we suffer a serious disruption to our infrastructure as collapse goes on.  Modern homes are not designed to operate without electrical power to blow heated throughout a house and many, if not most, modern homes don't even have a fireplace or wood stove for warmth.  Really, many of us in winter live a little like astronauts -- we dress for the inevitable dash to the car, then from the car into a building.  If heating oil becomes scarcer or priced out of sight, if electrical production becomes less and less reliable, then what? 

The answer to the problem is, of course, to make sure that, if we are building new at some point, to plan to stay warm if the grid fails, by building partly underground or by using other principles.  This, of course, still leaves the question open of how most people are going to face winter if they are not properly prepared for it, which I think will be around ninety percent of the people in the industrial world.  Most people remember Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs, shelter being one of them, and it should be clear how far people would be from being able to meet them.  Unfortunately, I think that as we struggle to adjust to the reality of the coming Dark Age, winter is once again going to be the Terror Time for many, many people.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Road Map

Over the last couple of months, I've posted the seven categories of knowledge for the Leibowitz Society.  These are Agriculture, Medicine, Defense, Civil Engineering, Science, Culture and Politics (which I'm thinking about changing to "Civics").  The intent of defining these seven areas -- and the subcategories that comprise them -- is to begin building the "Codex Universalis" against them, as well as creating a set of categories for which to start storing whole written works in the "Respository." 

While I think the categories are well-defined and the listing is reasonably complete with regard to subcategories, I still need help from people as far as suggestions for what else needs to be included in these categories.  There has been some helpful feedback, when people suggested that permaculture be included as part of the agriculture category, but there hasn't been much said about the other categories. I have made sure that anonymous comments are enabled so that people who have something to say but are worried about others reactions to their participation will have nothing to worry about, too. 

On top of suggestions for how to improve the categories, I need help from people who are willing to volunteer some time to write the entries for the Codex Universalis.  Recall that the Codex is a survey-level guide to knowledge in this various content areas and is intended to be a compact guide and starting point into the Repository, as well as a standalone piece that is intended to help build stable communities and be a reference for individual members of the Society.  Most of the entries should be between 5 to 20 pages long, depending on the complexity of the category.  Each entry should not contain pictures or illustrations and should be as culture-independent as possible.  The entries should also not contain any copyrighted information and ideally would include information that could be attributed to a variety of sources.  While I could conceivably write all of these entries myself, it would take a long time and my intent is to have the Leibowitz Society materials available as soon as possible, given our ever-increasing rate of decline.  Once people start submitting materials, I will make them available as downloads somewhere there is free document storage.

The various subcategories map directly to categories of knowledge in the Repository as well.  I need suggestions from people on what to include in the categories (preferably linked to large, reputable sites where people can purchase the volumes directly).  For example, in the Culture category, I have seen a half dozen books in the stores on clearance which would work well to represent the history entry.  I will say that if a certain subject appeals to a person, then having more than one history volume is ideal.  In fact, multiple volumes on each of the subject areas as appropriate seems reasonable.

Folks, the news is not getting better out there and if you believe at all that we are on the edge of entering a new Dark Age -- even if you believe there is still the possibility of a way out -- then it is imperative to start taking these steps.  If we save personal supplies and are able to grow our own food, then we can subsist.  If we can save the knowledge and spread it to others, then we will have planted the seeds for all humanity to thrive once more after the winter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can-Do Optimism

(with apologies to the ghost of Voltaire for the pun)

Recently, in the comments, the topic of optimism came up, which set me to thinking for a bit.  I'm sure a number of people have been to "doomer" forums, where the constant refrain is "we are sooooo screwed!"  or some other variation.  Even the term "doomer" tends to carry a tone which implies near-helplessness in the face of bleak inevitability.  The general thinking is that there is little which can be done in the face of what is seeming to be an unstoppable perfect storm, a gathering of forces which will effectively destroy modern, orderly industrial civilization and leave us with a shell of our former existence.

There is some merit to the notion that we are effectively helpless to alter the course of events which are bringing us to the brink of collapse and a new Dark Age.  For example, the American debt is so vast that, eventually, the nation will be unable to even cover the interest payments on it.  Even confiscating all private money and taxing people all their income will do little to put a dent in it.  Peak oil, and the lack of a substitute for cheap energy is going to force a drastic adjustement in the life of the average person.  And so on. 

In this, I think there are two different types of people drawn to the idea that a new Dark Age is going to occur -- people who are naturally pessimistic and people who have taken a good, hard look at the current mess we're gettiing into and believe there's no realistic way out of it.  I fall into the latter category, myself.  I would prefer that our future wasn't likely going to be an inevitable collapse, but it doesn't seem there is anyone at the helm of the ship and the iceberg is rapidly approaching. 

This doesn't mean we have to be pessimistic, to be the mandatory "panicky idiot" (Simpsons reference) while we are trying to figure out a way to deal with these problems on a personal level.  Take "Dark Age" and substitute "cancer."  Would anyone want to be the person who ran around in public saying "I have cancer!  I am so screwed!"  No, there's no respect for a person who would take a personal struggle and react to it that way, so why do we take a social struggle and accept that kind of behavior and thinking?  Speaking in terms of survival stories from the modern day, it's always been the person who refused to accept defeat that managed to survive, while the person who accepted despair was the one who didn't make it (and possibly provided nutrition for the people who were more positive).

So, while it may seem a little odd to consider myself to be an optimist, I in turn look at things this way.  We can see the new Dark Age coming, even though we're still in the very early stages.  All the warning signs of the collapse of civilization -- overspent, overextended, lack of innovation, etc -- are there if we choose to see them for what they are.  This gives us time to reflect and prepare, to consider what we need to do and where we're going to be, both physically and mentally, as the lights go out.  This is a luxury that the people who are on a boat which has wrecked on a deserted island or have survived a crash landing on the frozen tundra don't have and we should be grateful for it.

To wrap up, I'll leave you with a quote from the late Mel Tappan, the "father" of modern survivalism.  Someone wrote a letter in response to one of his columns that essentially said "I don't want to live in the kind of world you're describing."  Mr. Tappan wrote back "I wouldn't want to die in it, myself."  That is where I think we all need to be.


A quick note -- I enabled anonymous comments the other day, not realizing that they were not enabled.  If posting gets out of hand, I can always disable them, but I appreciate that there are people who want to keep their participation in the Leibowitz Society anonymous for various reasons.  The more feedback and input we receive, the better formed and more useful the Codex and Repository down the road.  As always, thanks to those who participate in discussions.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The last of the knowledge areas of the Leibowitz Society is Culture.  Culture basically seeks to save the best parts of the arts, the humanities, history, and so on.  It also attempts to give a starting point for maintaining some culture through the collapse, with the idea that we are more satisfied with our lives when we can find things that provide "actualization."

As with the section on Politics, there is some content which might be considered controversial, in particular religion.  People (incorrectly) try to make the argument that religion has been responsible for most wars in history (a careful study of the root causes of most wars will instead find that ambition of rulers or the ruling class has instigated most aggression).  Likewise, attempting to state that religion is used as a vehicle of oppression also ignores the reality that man will oppress man using whatever excuse is handy, the real purpose being to oppress.  Nontheless, religion has been a shaping cultural force in history and needs to be understood.

History is going to be in somewhat the same boat.  What history is emphasized?  Are people going to agree on certain parts of history and argue over others?  The prime example I see right now is the Bush camp and the Obama camp arguing over who was responsible for the current mess.  In reality, the seeds of America's collapse were likely planted decades before when America started to become first a colonial power, then a superpower/empire.  On top of that, are people going to ignore the history and culture of non-Western peoples and nations, reducing them to extras on the historical stage?

Last, people are obviously going to have their own preferences and biases when it comes to what materials to store in their Repository for culture.  Relevancy to our cultural history would probably be the most important factor (no, I don't particularly think that a trunkful of Lady Gaga items would be useful).  Some people might not like rock and some might not like classical, but both have been important musical forms.  Likewise, drama and fiction have also been influential.

As always, suggestions about what to include/exclude from this list are needed.

Religion and Spirituality
Music Theory and History
Constructing Musical Instruments
Art Technique, Materials and History
Physical Sports
Other Games (Card Games, Board Games, etc)
Holidays, Feasts, Celebrations
Children's Games

Survival Hacking

The Wikileaks controversy/scandal/nightmare has once again brought the term "hacker" back into the public discussion.  For a large number of people in the general public, the word "hacker" has connotations of the misuse of technology, usually for purposes of theft or digital vandalism.  However, other people who have known hackers have a more balanced view, realizing that there are a large number of people who are considered "hackers" that instead like to take existing technology and find ways of using it to do new things that the original designers never intended it to do.  These hackers are also often employed in various technical and academic fields and find that their experience with hacking helps them better understand the technology they work with, as well as providing value added benefits to their employers.

Hacking doesn't just extend to high-tech devices, but also to low-tech ones and situations as well, and several examples come to mind.  The first one is from watching Pair Survival, when Cody Lundin made a "canteen" out of a plastic bag and a hollowed out piece of wood.  Following this, there is the often-cited advice to carry a condom or two as a spare water container.  Next on the list is whoever thought to take surplus SKS bayonets and make tent pegs out of them (they're not going to break like flimsy plastic and can be driven into almost any kind of ground).  Finally, if anyone watched the second season of The Colony, the survivors rendered down rotten pigs to make ersatz diesel fuel.

While there are countless other examples, I wanted to use them to point out the difference between improvisation and "hacking," which is putting technology to a new use.  For example, if you don't have a rain poncho, and you have a garbage bag, it can be an improvised poncho.  This is basically substituting one thing for another thing of similar form and substance.  "Hacking," by contrast is taking something and thinking of a radically new and different use for it. 

As civilization moves into the next Dark Age, there are going to be plenty of pieces of technology available, but people will see them and not be able to think of uses for them.  If we are able to think like hackers, finding new and inventive ways to use what's just sitting around, then we are going to be one step ahead of the game of personal survival and better able to preserve and protect our accumulated knowledge.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Politics is a touchy area to consider.  Between this and religion, it's hard to say which starts more arguments, though I think politics is the clear winner these days.  While it's probably an idea which seems unusual at first, that of trying to define political structures in a time when few people are going to care much about them any longer, I think it's important to be have solid information on politics.  After all, if you don't know how to organize, at least along some basic principles, then how can you realistically expect there to be any attempt at trying to bring about orderly trade and stable communities?

Part of this is also to help try to understand why we're in the situation we're in.  For example, banking doesn't cover just the basic principles of banking, but also how it can go disastrously wrong, as in the last few years.  In essence, politics is as much an effort to study how and why these systems develop in order to provide a means for avoiding some of the traps they can create (think "excess nationalism"/"fascism") as they are any kind of blueprint for how to build a government.  However, people who somehow have a utopian vision of human civilization reasserting itself in peace once the collapse has come and gone are sadly mistaken -- even without saving knowledge about the development of political power and governments, I think it's realistic to assume that it would redevelop somehow.  The best option seems to be able to provide cautionary examples and some guidance on how to provide a safe and just society for those interested in implementing it.

Trade, Barter and Money
Civil Rights
Organization of Government
Market Economy and Forces
Supply and Demand
Diplomacy and Intercommunity Relations
Parlimentary Procedure
Criminal and Civil Damages
Class Structures and Conflict
Group Organization and Leadership

Yet More Living Arrangements

Winter seems to have come a little early to the nation this year, with much of America in the time-worn cliche of the "Deep Freeze."  The weathermen/women/eunuchs are happy to talk about snow and bitter cold, because it's bad news that people can't get yelled at for delivering.  I think that most people who work in the media have to bite their tongues from time to time when talking about economic recovery, crowded shopping malls, and so on.  With the exception of a half-hearted Black Friday, the malls and stores don't look all that busy from what I've seen.  A lot of shelves that would've been empty by now in years past are still mostly full.  People seem to be putting up fewer Christmas lights.  No one's giving holiday greetings.  While I prefer not to exercise conspiracy-minded thinking as part of the Leibowitz Society, I am suspicious of rosy sales figures in a time when close to twenty percent of the nation is either unemployed or working two or three minimum wage jobs to subsist.  Anyone who asks "Cui bono?" should look directly to politicians who don't want to have to explain away bad news, a media which is founded on advertising or stock traders who know people will shy away from throwing their money into a market that is built on quicksand.

Getting away from current-day commentary, I've been thinking lately about our housing patterns and where/how we'll live.  Suburbia is really not viable in the long-term as a dwelling place.  Consider that most subdivisions, for example, are as spread out as a small-to-medium size town, but not as logically structured.  Most small towns in the past grew organically outward, with workplaces logically located within a reasonable walk of dwelling places.  There was fresh water usually available centrally and the entire community was surrounded by agriculture lands.  In other words, using a comparison to the natural world, it was a complete social ecosystem with balance and interaction.

Modern-day suburbia is a complete contrast.  If a small town was an organic ecosystem existing in the wild, then the subdivision is the equivalent of a zoo -- people are packed at regular intervals into houses which are flimsy, require a lot of upkeep and energy to keep them maintained and occupiable.  While a lot has been made of this in recent years, I think it bears repeating.  For example, people really need to cars to exist in suburbia, because markets are not nearby.  Most people work the equivalent of half a day's walk from their homes.  The houses themselves are not designed to operate without electricity -- most require fan-blown warm air to be habitable.  There is no pump in the backyard for fresh water.  And so on. 

As we slip into the new Dark Age, it seems clear that living space is going to have to be considered.  People will be changing where/how they work, as well as what they are producing.  Many will be going back to mass labor-intensive agriculture, while some work as craftsmen and a few work as doctors, teachers, or other specialist occupations.  The old small towns still have many buildings that, while they may need repair, are still more habitable than the modern suburbs.  Think of them, if you will, as being hollow trees or caves in the forest that currently have no creature in them.  They are ready for people to move in, to fix them up, to make them home once more.  While I don't offer investment advice, I foresee a time when people start purchasing blocks of nearly-abandoned buildings in small towns, that have been forgotten in favor of vinyl and plywood shacks, and start creating viable living and business space out of them once more, not just for antique galleries or photo studios, but real stores and crafting facilities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Living Arrangements

I ran across the Tiny Houses concept the other day ( for the website).  It seems increasingly likely that large one-family multiple-bedroom houses are going to be a thing of the past, or at least out of the reach of most people, as time goes on.  Home loans are going to be harder to get and homes are going to need to be usable by larger numbers of people, both in terms of providing shelter for multiple generations or branches of a family, or for renting out to tenants in return for barter or whatever serves as currency.

The other option is to go small, as Jay Shafer has done with Tumbleweed Houses and built a business around it.  While the homes he builds are beautiful, they are expensive and probably beyond the reach of people who are strapped for cash as it is, but it does reflect an interesting trend moving back in the direction of taking up less in the way of resources and space.  In a time when fewer and fewer people have much, doesn't it make sense that our living arrangements would also reflect the need for less? 

Obviously, while there is still a glut of modern-style homes on the market, there's not a need for new construction, but as those homes wear out, burn down, are located in areas which are increasingly isolated from centers of commerce, it stands to reason that new construction will occur.  Of course, even if there are still modern-style homes available in areas close to commerce, there remains the issue that they are getting more and more out of the reach of many people.

The other option is for people to look at providing unconventional shelter.  After all, if we consider what we really NEED, as opposed to what we WANT, in terms of a house/home, then we can considerably narrow down what is going to fit the bill.  It boils down to having a place to get in out of the elements, sleep warmly and safely, possibly with space to bathe or prepare food, maybe storage for a few essentials.  Alternative homebuilding techniques, using materials that others might see as "junk," or are readily available, is one choice.  With some manual labor and minimal resources, it's possible to construct a decent, liveable home.

Another possibility that someone mentioned to me a while back was to purchase a storage shed and use this as a home.  Obviously, it wouldn't be up to code as a dwelling, but as fewer and fewer people care about those regulations, it may be a possibility for some.  Most of those buildings need insulation in even temperate areas, possibly a couple of small windows for light, etc.  Any provision for heat is going to have to be carefully considered for safety reasons, as are sanitary considerations.  On the other hand, it would beat living in a tent or a box.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Living Arrangements

Not long ago, I met with my cousin, whom I hadn't seen for a couple of years.  We talked for a bit, catching up on family news and so on.  Our conversation turned toward employment, and how it was getting to be increasingly difficult to find meaningful employment with a humanities degree, how many of his friends and classmates were in the same boat, and so on.  Likewise, there was a headline in the last couple of days about there being 100,000 applicants for 1000 flight attendant jobs, a soberingly dispropotional response.  And, waiting in the wings, is the increasing number of "99ers" -- people who have run out of unemployment benefits.

As the world slowly sinks into a new dark age, it is clear that the most useful metaphor is "the bubble." We've seen the technology bubble burst in 2002, the housing bubble burst in 2008, the dollar bubble probably bursting in the next several months.  Lost in the cracks is the "standard of living bubble."  While is alluded to from time to time by apocalyptic writers and in shows like Downsized, the impending end of the consumer economy (and all the associated service jobs) are going to cause some serious changes in the expectations of people, as well as how they map out their future existence. 

One response to this has been for people to move back home to live with parents, or perhaps siblings or other relatives, when they can't find work, the work doesn't pay enough to support an independent existence, and so on.  This is fine for the moment, but what becomes of these people when their parents and relatives themselves find that they are in financial trouble, that the home is being foreclosed on, or one of the many traditional forms of wealth drain strikes?

There are three forms of living arrangements which I expect will emerge over the course of the coming years.  The first of these is likely going to be a greatly increased servant class.  As middle class wealth drains away, there are going to be people who have social backgrounds of good standing, but little in the way of family or friendship ties, nor will they have the means to obtain good employment, if it can be found.  Even minimum wage jobs may face fierce competition.  As a result, I expect that people who still have some means will be looking at the glut of labor in the nation and realizing that there are quite a few people who would be willing to be domestic servants in return for room, board and a small stipend.  While this may seem like a return to a demanding and harsh existence, consider that the alternative (starving in the cold) is going to be worse. 

The second, I believe, will be the emergence of clans as a social, economic and political structure.  While the traditional clan has largely been organized family groupings and common ancestry, I think the near-future equivalent will involve people who have a common social positioning, shared viewpoint, and so on.  Additionally, not all members would necessarily be related, as shared interests would at some point lead to social bonds that could be recognized to be as strong as what biological relatives share, if not stronger.  This type of arrangement will likely grow out of the need to establish some sort of mutual defense or order in an area, as well as simply banding together to be part of a larger bargaining/social unit.  Given that law enforcement funding has been on the decline, this type of arrangement seems inevitable.  Some of the advantages are sharing resources, a stable form of leadership in an area, and a sense of community which might not otherwise occur.  Obviously, disadvantages would exist, too, especially for those who were on the outside of a clan arrangement and looking in.

Last, I think that communes could be expected to grow in number and importance to people as they find a need to share resources, living space, and so on.  While I think communes might mimic some characteristics of clan arrangements, I expect that they will have looser ideological ties and will not be as rigid in terms of who belongs, who doesn't, and will likely not exert much social, political or economic influence outside of a very small area.  Far from being places for organized slacking, such as during the 60s, they will fill an important role for people who need to find some means of cooperative living.  As an aside, while monasteries somewhat mimic communal existence, they tend to be highly ideologically united and marked by a lifestyle of discipline.

Obviously, while we would like to continue living the lives which post-World War Two society has provided for us, the troubling economic times are going to force us to consider other ways of living and doing things.  While I don't necessarily consider these arrangements to be ideal, I think they are definitely going to evolve and become recognizeable components of human society once again as we descend into the new Dark Ages.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The fifth knowledge area of the Leibowitz Society is Science.  The area of Science is the theoretical companion to Civil Engineering, covering everything from Biology to Meteorology to Physics and Genetics. 

Science has the potential to be a controversial subject area at some point.  Scientism, the idea that science can provide all answers to life's questions, or is the ultimate authority in all areas, is really no more welcome as a worldview than is dogmatic religious fundamentalism.  As Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."  I think, in essence, what Einstein was attempting to say is that we cannot take a wholly irrational approach to matters, but that we also cannot take a singular approach to matters that also involve consideration beyond simple, objective analysis.  Obviously, we would not choose to consult a priest, rabbi, guru, etc, when it comes to particle physics, as these people do not normally study this field to any level of expertise.  At the same time, why would we consult a scientist on matters of philosophy, ethics, etc, when they also do not study these fields on a professional basis?

This aside, no one can look at the accomplishments and contributions of science to the development of the modern world, and the progress of humanity, and in turn argue that we should not study and preserve scientific materials with the intent of letting our descendants build on the works of our ancestors.  As always, suggestions on how to modify or improve this list are welcome.

Arithmetic (up to Algebra)
Mathematics (Algebra to Calculus)
Alternate Mathematics (linear math, binary trees, decision matrixes)
Time, Including Basic Estimation
Measures of Distance, Weight, etc.
Electrical Theory
Species Classification
Psychology and Personality Typing

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


   Most people have already seen the headlines about Wikileaks, as well as the outraged blowback from the global leadership.  The details of the content itself are irrelevant, as is the revelation of what people in other nations think about what is being said about them -- I'm sure that Vladimir Putin probably has some distinctly unkind things to say about his counterparts, even as he does business with them.  No one is vain enough to think that nothing bad is said about them or that everyone likes them, even at the level of national leadership. 

   What is relevant from the perspective of the Leibowitz Society is the fact that these secrets were able to be released in the first place.  Much like a bickering family, the global community of nations has its share of arguments, disagreements, and grudges.  Yet there is also a need for national leaderships to be able to talk to each other and sort out these problems and disagreements out of the sight of the public eye where leaders can be frank and not worry about what other nations are thinking of what they are doing, nor worry about public reaction where the public may not have the whole picture. 

   National leaderships, when they communicate, are using trust as their currency of exchange, in essence.  They have to be able to trust that what is being said is going to stay between them in order to be able to have open and free communication and private.  Now that these leaks have exposed things that weren't meant to be exposed, is this going to lead to a climate where national leaderships begin refusing to discuss private matters, or at least are much more guarded when it comes to these serious matter?  For all the talk of "information wants to be free," the flip side of the coin is that there needs to be some sense of the consequences of releasing some information.

   In a way, this parallels the increasingly shaky monetary system in the world, especially the troubles with the dollar and being tied to the massive United States debt.  Just as nations will begin losing faith in the ability of the currency to reflect any kind of value, they will also begin losing faith in the worthiness of diplomatic communications to resolve problems that might otherwise grow to be more drastic and require more extreme solutions (economic or actual war).  Once nations quit trading with each other and quit talking with each other, we are one more step toward a new Dark Age.

                                                                                   * * *
    I wanted to add a brief note here.  While I talk a lot about how economics, and unsustainable economic practices, are related to ,and contributing to, the next Dark Age, I think it's worth mentioning that humanity can experience a Dark Age from a number of sources, be it war, plague, a meteor strike and so on.  Imagine what the effect would have been on the world had the Black Plague been 95% lethal, instead of around 33%?  Or if we saw a very nasty strain of bird flu erupt?  The odds of all these things happening are not necessarily high, but they are real enough for people to at least put some thought to how to get though them.  I want to encourage people to think of ways how to rebuild afterward, not just survive.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Blackest Friday

   As my regular readers have noticed, I've taken a few days break between postings.  The holiday season can be distracting sometimes, of course, but my absence has more to do with the desire just to stop looking into the abyss for a time than anything to do with family, cooking, traveling or any of the dozen or so other things we find ourselves doing this time of year.

   I've always enjoyed the Twilight Zone both as an entertainment experience and a metaphor for when things seem normal, but there are little signs that they are really, really wrong.  I pulled up Drudge today and saw that on one hand, there were several links about more apocalyptic economic news on one side, and on the other were links about violence, stabbing, near-riots during "Black Friday" sales.  These little Twilight-Zone style signs show disconnect between the reality of a shrinking global economy on one hand and the orgy of spending on the other hand, and convinces me that most people, outside of perhaps the "99ers" really just don't get it. 

   The world, and America, in particular, has really become the embodiment of the grasshopper in the fable of the "ant and the grasshopper."  The ant knew winter was coming and prepared for it, while the grasshopper "partied on," so to speak, and didn't put a thought to tomorrow's troubles.  Right now, the grasshoppers are spending, spending, spending on electronic gadgets that will be useless without a stable power grid, cheaply made clothing that risks falling apart in the wash, much less being worn during hard manual labor and plastic toys that will probably end up being turned into a toxic smoke cloud as people try to burn them to stay warm.

   The people who know me in person know that I'm the person who is probably first to find shelter when a storm is coming, who takes a warm jacket, gloves and hat with me even when it's sunny and mild out, the person who has a water bottle and couple of energy bars stuffed in a pocket even when just going to the park.  Why?  Because I know that we don't always have the luxury of being able to adjust our circumstances to us.  We can't change the weather or much of what other people around us do.  And, we surely to God cannot right an economy which was built on quicksand and is now starting to sink. 

   It's one thing to be caught napping when it's been sunny all day.  It's quite another thing to see it raining outside and not bother to take an umbrella.  All the crowds running around at the malls and big box stores today, even when they are looking straight into the maw of a Category 5 economic hurricane, tell me that there is not much hope for seeing a return to responsibility and preparation for the downsizing about to hit America. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rumors of War

   Since part of the mission statement of the Leibowitz Society is to chronicle the collapse of the world into a new Dark Age, as well as preparing to save civilization's accumulated important knowledge, I check the news often to see what is happening with domestic and world affairs.  If I didn't think it wasn't important to at least record some historical milestones, I probably wouldn't bother.  After all, there's very little at this point we can do to make a difference in anything and instead we need to concentrate on our own "golden parachutes," so to speak.

   Usually the news is boring and repetitive, like another half point rise in unemployment claims.  It is very sad for the people who are affected (and there is a piece on this over at The Economic Collapse blog I highly, highly recommend:, but not dramatic from a historical point of view.  This morning, however, I check the news and see that a new Korean War is on the verge of breaking out.  It's hard to say if this will be just another border incident, or if it will break out into open fighting.  Things can sometimes get out of hand with very little notice, like World War One, so who knows what the ultimate outcome will be.  The First Korean War itself isn't well known to most people, but the roots of the conflict, growing from centuries of Korea being ground between one power in the region and another, are interesting to study and I highly recommend David Halberstam's history of the war, The Coldest Winter.  While it is detailed, he was an excellent writer and the volume is very readable.

   Taking a step back, the possibility of war is often mentioned in both fiction and non-fiction dealing with the topic of collapse.  One point of note is that survivalist writings often include war as the cause or precursor to collapse, such as in Alas Babylon, while doomers often write of war in the expectation that it will come in due course as resources dwindle and people for survival.  I think a third view is relevant, that wars of opportunity may break out as nations scramble for position when they see weakness displayed by their neighbors or rivals.  This is critically important to people who are looking for a safe haven as conditions deteriorate.  After all, there is an anecdotal story about a man who was looking to escape the then-coming World War 2, who moved to Guadalcanal(!). 


   The other story which seems to have been in the news a lot lately is the backlash over extra TSA screening.  Flying is really not the most pleasant experience to begin with, and facing an overly "personal" experience like this isn't going to endear it to many more people.  In the end, while I think the policies will be changed, it may be too late by that point to rehabilitate the flying experience in the mind of the public.  Flying itself has really always been a luxury item for the majority of the population, a necessity for some (due to work), but it has also represented a major step in creating a global community of sorts -- after all, a person can get on a plane and be halfway around the world in a day or so, something that would take a week or two by ship (not an inconsiderable amount of time).  It contributed to making the world smaller, and when it once again becomes a luxury item available only to the wealthy (due to high fuel prices and the fact that the airline industry is something of a "bubble" industry to begin with), we will see the world begin to grow much larger again, something that is a hallmark of a Dark Age.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Response to Scott

   A reader named Scott was kind enough to take some time to comment on my last blog post, with some suggestions and questions.  It's good to hear feedback from people -- at times, I feel a little like a DJ running a pirate radio station with no phone line for people to call in. :)  The feedback I have had has been overwhelmingly positive and I think that the Society is beginning to fill a need that people have had and not been able to articulate or have had met anywhere else.  However, I think his comments raise some points that I think need to be addressed and would be helpful for a number of other people reading the blog.

   First off, I want to talk about the idea of "membership" in the Leibowitz Society, so people don't misinterpret the intent behind this concept.  To be a member, all one has to do is consider themselves to be a member.  If they don't want to be a member any longer, they're not a member.  There's no organization, no hierarchy, no place to give money -- just a conviction that we are going to soon experience some very rough times and that there are things we need to save for future generations and that they are worth saving.  Like you, I have been concerned that there was the possibility of something like this turning into a cult, but I tend to think people who appreciate the Society's emphasis on rational thought are also the kind of people who are unlikely to be involved in a cult.  I do think that, down the road, people may eventually form communities of learning and knowledge.  While I have no idea what form that will take, I think the monastic model is a candidate for what form the Society will take once the bonds of organized modern civilization have been broken and people enter a strange new world.  Monastic life offered order, discipline and stability in a very rough time, combined with the opportunity to become educated when education itself was a rare commodity.  It may also be that when civilization has stablized and is seeking to learn from the past that the knowledge of the Society is instead exposed through something along the lines of the classical schools of learning and philosophy.  While this bears some thinking about, it's still probably beyond the scope of what needs to be done in this day and age.

   Second, "prepping" (as it has come to be known in recent years) is one of those things that I approach warily.  The problem is, if we look at the decline of Rome, it was not something that happened in five or six days.  The signs were clear much further back, so for the people living in the Empire in the latter days, it seems to have been like looking at a swaying tower about to topple -- there was plenty of time to get out of the way and find a relatively safe haven.  Much of the time -- although the emphasis does seem to be shifting -- people seem to be expecting an acute event and hoping that their supplies and preparations will be enough to carry them through to the other side when things become stable again. What I think instead that people need to be doing is realizing that the state of things at this time is probably as good as it is going to get in our lifetimes, or even the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.  The "machinery" of the global economy took roughly eight hundred or so years to put together, beginning with the early banking systems of the Knights Templar (and the Renaissance a couple of centuries later), then being developed into full-fledged commercial systems in the late 1600s, finally to our completely global system of the modern day.  So, in our current state, trying to force this system into an artificially sustained level of luxury and productivity, we are essentially destroying this system which took nearly a millenia to assemble.  Realistically, we are not going to have the chance to try to put something like this back together for quite some time, if ever.

   So, barring a sudden, cataclysmic event (which leaves us all living in a world as illustrated in The Road), we are going to simply see a steady decline, with ups and downs as the global system (and civilization which has grown addicted to it) grinds to a halt.  There are little signs of this happening all around us -- for example, I was coming down the highway today and saw three billboards with the number listed for the advertising content and nothing else on them.  The vast tracts of empty commercial real estate, foreclosed homes, etc -- all the "broken windows" which are never going to be repaired -- are just signs upon signs of what is happening.  In this kind of a world, we need to expect that once something's gone, it's gone and is never coming back, be it jobs, businesses, cities, whatever.

    If anything, I think the kind of things we will be facing at first are going to be increased crime as people become desperate once the social safety net is gone, as well as problems finding medical care, food and other essentials of daily life as the economic apparatus which has supplied them begins to hiccup.  It should be expected that the coming crash of the dollar (often predicted, but now looking increasingly likely) will exacerbate these problems as no one will be sure what anything is worth.  The implication then is that we need to be able to think on our feet, understand how to be effective members of the larger society as long as it can still meet our needs.  We need to know how to barter and interact with a wide variety of people, many of whom won't believe what they're living through even as it slaps them in the face.  We need to know where the safe places are to land as the herd is running off the cliff.  We need to learn to live with less and still thrive.

   As far as sites I would recommend, I want to point out that the focus of the Leibowitz Society is mostly concerned with preservation of knowledge through the coming Dark Age.  There are other places which are going to be better sources of information as far as what to store, how to store it, etc, although FerFAL's Argentina Collapse Blog is a good starting point.  Argentina suffered something similar to what I think we're about to experience, although it was localized to only one country back in 2001, while we will be dragging the world down with us.  Things we have never dreamed of -- bandits on the highway -- may become commonplace.  I like Kunstler's site (and The Long Emergency was one thing that finally pushed me to get this effort rolling), although he tends to think that no real hope lies for salvaging anything on the other side.  Backwoods Home is a pretty good source of information for self-reliance.  I haven't looked at it in a while, but Mother Earth News also used to be good. 

   People tend to want to look for a magic formula for prepping, and keep searching for information, like people do with fad diets and weight loss books, but a friend of mine once pointed out that what people lack isn't information, but motivation.  There is plenty of good information available for people who are looking for it, although it can usually be boiled down to the basics.  Putting aside a few firearms (where legal) for hunting and self defense, some fuel for your car so that you can get around when there aren't any gas trucks running, having a house which can be habitable off the grid, a year's supply of food and medicine and the ability to produce more food, and having a good source of clean water is probably as much as anyone should reasonably expect to do.  Anything beyond that is probably bonus territory.  The motivation for us should come from just looking at the news and how bleak things are becoming.

   Last, and probably the most important, the type of help we need (and, remember, people are helping each other, not helping me) is for people to begin looking at the knowledge content areas I'm posting and commenting on what else they think should be included, how it can be organized better, etc.  On top of that, people with expertise in certain areas need to start putting together 10-20 page overviews of the various content areas so these summaries can form the text of the Codex Universalis.  Obviously, some of these content areas are going to lend themselves to shorter or longer entries and aren't going to be complete, even if they were to run into several hundred pages, but they are intended to familiarize people with these areas and serve as starting points.  For those with professional skills and knowledge, suggestions for written texts for people to begin storing in their personal Repositories are necessary.  A couple of people have mentioned an interest in long-term digital storage, which would be invaluable if a durable form could be developed.

   I'm planning on putting up a forum fairly soon which will allow people to start discussing these topics in a more user-friendly and dynamic form.  I had hesitated because I wasn't sure if there was enough interest, but I think it can easily be justified now.  Once it goes live, I will announce it here, along with some guidelines on its use.  The blog will still be active, of course, as a good introduction to what the Society is about as well as random items I come across which may be of interest.  At some point, I anticipate other people wanting to write blog entries, once they have a comfortable understanding of the Society's approach and interests. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010


   I suspect that at least a few readers of this blog -- and people aligned with the principles of the Leibowitz Society -- are avid readers.  Of those readers, perhaps a smaller few have picked up the book "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson.  I had purchased it some time ago, but only now have begun working my way through it (anyone familiar with his writings will appreciate that one does indeed "work" through a Neal Stephenson novel).  Being that it deals with a fictional version of monasteries, something that it has in common with a Canticle for Leibowitz, I found the subject matter of some interest.

   Early on, a key idea crops up in the book as a first-page exchange between an instructor monk and a craftsman from outside is explained to the protagonist of the novel.  Without going too much into detail about the exchange (and spoiling that part of the novel), the monk is apparently trying to determine a causal link between what happens outside the monastery and what happens inside the monastery.  In other words, does the outside world affect the cloistered world that the monks live in? 

   With the Leibowitz Society, I think we are eventually going to face a similar divide.  Even if it does not exist as a formal, physical separation in the way that the monks experience, just by beginning to accept the idea that the world is sinking in a new dark age, and that we need to preserve and protect civilization's intellectual achievements, then we are already cloistering ourselves from the larger population's mode of thought.  At some point, can we undertake a similarity measurement of casuality of thought between what the majority thinks and feels about events, and what we think and feel about events, and describe the differences?

   The detachment of casuality of thought has another aspect here, too, and why it is vitally important in many ways.  Consider the following notion: Rational thought may be the pinnacle of achievement of the arc of civilization beginning with the Middle Ages, reaching a zenith in the Renaissance, becoming a widespread ideal during the Age of Reason, and experiencing a twilight as the destruction of the twentieth century came to a close.  Now, I should make it clear that I do not consider rationality as necessarily opposing ideas such as religion, the arts, altruism, etc, only that process of taking something mind and working through it to come to a conclusion about it should be an intact process. 

    Now, if the great intellectual tragedy of the last few decades is the movement away from rationality, into emotionality and even anti-rationality (i.e. "I don't care what you say, because I know in my heart that you're wrong"; "I go by my feelings"; "Why argue?  Everyone has something to say/is right in their own view"; "Can't we all just get along?"), then if we, as members of the Leibowitz Society, operate with rationality, then we have achieved causal decoupling from what is the popular (albeit incorrect) mode of thought.  In essence, if we approach a problem even from a relatively simple evaluation, using a structured method, then we are practicing something which has become less and less common in modern society.  If one carries this notion out, we can use the same test as a means of determining if we are ourselves beginning to fall into the same trap, and the effect of the world outside of the Society on the Society's efforts can be measured, or at least accounted for.

   This isn't meant to be a screed against the modern day, just that when we think of the "Dark Ages," we are often thinking of bandit raiders, people huddling in the burned-out ruins of a once wealthy city, and so on.  Instead, we need to remember that the new dark ages can take many forms, across many stages, and that we are already beginning to be at the point where we need to start taking steps to protect our accumulated knowledge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Have a Knife Day

   From time to time, I plan to share my insights on the use of tools and equipment, as well as things that I think which may be useful to keep in mind as the global economy stumbles into the dustbin of history.  While I think that dealing with the change from a functioning world system to a completely broken one is going to mostly be a matter of thinking on your feet and having a plan in place, there's no denying that certain pieces of gear, which are readily available in the industrial world, could be very valuable as time goes on.

   In what is arguably the best fantasy novel I've read the last year, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, one of the main characters says that you can never have enough knives.  By and large, unless you have several dozen in a sack over your shoulder (and you're not selling them), I tend to agree.  Right now, knives are cheap to purchase, especially if you keep an eye out for deals.  Recently, I found someone selling closeout Smith and Wesson folding knives for a fraction of their original list price and bought several, some to give as gifts, some to keep for myself.  As time goes on, companies go out of business and the economy fails, production of knives is going to slow and prices are going to go up (both from scarcity of product and the inevitable inflation which is coming thanks to Quantitative Easing 2, 2+1, 2+n...).  People may still manufacture knives, especially in home workshops, but the quality may be questionable unless you're very familiar with the person and their work.

   The variety of knife is important, too.  Even when common sense thinks people should know better, I've seen plenty of mistakes with trying to use the wrong knife for the wrong purpose.  I think my favorite example was someone who was using a Gerber Mark II (!) for cleaning fish.  Likewise, people have used butcher knifes for offense and defense, folding knives for survival knives and knives are too-often used as screwdrivers. 

   Knives, of course, are a good self-defense tool, as well as working tool, too.  Most areas of the world tightly regulate firearms, but knives are somewhat less regulated.  While, obviously, a factory-made knife is probably going to be superior in quality to what is made by hand, it's still possible to produce a decent and functional knife from a file, spring or some other appropriately sized and shaped piece of metal.  In a pinch, they can be improvised from bone, glass, plastic or stone.  Learning to use a knife for self-defense is not a difficult task, as there is ample intruction available in the form of videos, books, class, etc.  It should be noted that most knife violence doesn't seem to occur the way it is often pitched in knife circles, however -- the idea of two people drawing their knives and squaring off for a duel seldom, if ever, happens.  The Logic of Steel by James LaFond does a good job of dispelling some of the myths about knives and knife violence (hint:  it's often done by people who don't have training and who seldom use fancy "tactical" knives) and I highly recommend it.

   Of the choice of knives on the market, they are limitless, as is advice on what knife to choose.  From my own personal experience, I think there are three types which every person should own -- a fixed blade "survival" knife, a utility-style folder and a multitool.  I've used the Cold Steel SRK in the past and found it to be a heavy, tough, effective no-frills knife.  With care, it should last a long time and a lot of use.  As far as utility-style folders go, there are a million choices on the market.  Cold Steel also makes excellent knives in this category, although one of my favorites was a little $25 folder from Rigid (in Ireland) which has seen a lot of use.  I do think it's a good idea to have a folder you can easily open with one hand.  Finally, there are also a ton of multitools on the market as well.  If anything, I think these are there to save your knife from things it was not meant to be used for -- plus, the pliers will come in handy for times that you would ever expect if you've never owned or used a multitool before.

   The long and short is that a knife is a tool you will not think about until you need it, and if you do need it, you'll be glad it was there.  Now is the time to be thinking about purchasing your knives, not when the lights are going out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Civil Engineering

   After writing up the section on Defense, I was depressed by thinking about the failure of people to ever learn to work together and quit killing each other over petty ambition and senseless quarrels.  The World Wide War Project (, regardless of whether or not one ultimately agrees with the hypothesis presented by Dr. Kolkey, does tend to show us that things sometimes never change.  So, as a counterpoint to talking about destruction, I decided to go ahead and post the section on Civil Engineering to get past the negativity associated with Defense.

   Civil Engineering itself is intended to be the practical application side of Science.  To further clarify this distinction, think about the difference between science and technology.  If we are describing gravity and how forces act against each other to produce motion, this is science.  If we are saying that you can use water spilling over a waterwheel to power a grain mill, then this is technology.  In some cases, Science can be used to affect what is done in Civil Engineering.  In other cases, people may have an obvious and intuitive understanding what needs to be done without resorting to Science. 

   Some people may be wondering what point Civil Engineering is going to have in a post-industrial world (depending on what form our collapse takes).  Even if we enter an era which any trace of modern technology is gone, there will still be a need to know how to build simple shelters and other items such as bridges and irrigation networks.  In essence, as long as anyone is still using tools, Civil Engineering is still going to be of interest.

Basic Shelter Construction
Advanced Shelter Construction
Electical Theory
Internal Combustion Engine
Steam Engine
Printing Press, Paper and Ink Making
Timbering and Forest Management
Bridge Building and Related Works
Boatbuilding (Power and Sail, Large and Small)
Power Generation (Including Hydroelectric)
Mining Techniques
Plumbing and Water Purification
Soap Making
Basic Auto Maintenance and Repair
Sewing and Clothing Construction
Demolitions and Construction Blasting


Defense covers everything from unarmed self-defense to organization and employment of large armies.  The expectation is that most violence in a post-collapse world is going to be sporadic, but the threat of it will be ever-present, a state of low-intensity conflict like what American settlers experienced.  Ammunition and modern firearms are complex and difficult to manufacture and maintain without access to certain raw materials, much less the larger weapons of war such as jets, tanks, warships and artillery.  It can be expected that these will grow increasingly rare and unreliable as priorities shift in the wake of a collapse.

In turn, it seems reasonable that the tools and techniques of defense will change over time, going from modern cased ammunition, reverting back to the use of black powder firearms (which are much easier to manufacture, both the weapons and ammo), and the use of medieval/Renaissance weaponry, which was often brutally effective and more reliable than black powder weapons were for a long period of time.  With this in mind, both modern military and classical military topics are covered.

The inclusion of these topics might be seen as controversial by some, as either advocating violence as a positive or the practice of violence being a purpose of the Leibowitz Society.  Neither of these assumptions is accurate.  The fact remains that part of building a stable society is being able to protect oneself both as an individual and as a community, therefore this information is collected and presented on morally neutral grounds, with neither glorification or avoidance of the topic and is intended to be used responsibly and legally in the absence of direction or support from legitimate authorities.  Finally, as always, please consider your local and regional laws before participating in discussions on these topics, or collecting information on them. 

Basic Gun Safety
Small Arms Care and Operation
Guerilla Warfare
Fortifications (Ancient and Modern)
Manuever Warfare
Siege Warfare and Weaponry
Combined Arms Operations (Ancient and Modern)
The OODA Loop and 4 Generations of Warfare
Field Logistics
Primitive/Improvised Weapons Construction and Use
Unarmed Combat
Intelligence Gathering and Analysis
Skirmishing and Scouting
Interrogation Techniques (No Torture!)
Escape and Evasion
Air Combat Theory and Development
Naval Combat Theory and Development
Personal Security
Conflict Resolution
WMD Use and Effects

Arms and the Man

   The next "Codex Universalis" topic, that of self-defense and military subjects, is probably going to be somewhat controversial for some readers.  In the popular mind, survivalism is often associated with violence, and the topic of violence itself is not one that people necessarily want to think about.  People who claim to be "survivalists" often have large armories, more firearms and ammo than they could ever hope to use, in anticipation of the collapse of civilization being a time of nonstop violence, something that sometimes brings unwanted attention from the police and media.  On top of this, people often don't want to think about having to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  They also don't want to think about having to try to protect their food and supplies, as they are often feel charitable impulses -- "I would be happy to share if I had enough to share."  These topics are often viewed with suspicion in the light of a more security-conscious modern world.  Finally, there is the potential for good old "pissing contests," where people claim to be ex-Special Ops badasses, or gun gurus, or just want to argue about which caliber is better, probably the most complete waste of time on the planet.

   Unfortunately, the view that the new Dark Ages will be more violent than what we are accustomed to is probably not without merit.  Part of the impetus for establishing systems of control in the Middle Ages was due to the ever-present threat of external invasions, as well as internal violence and strife.  Banditry itself has been a staple feature of human society and a serious problem even up into modern times, regardless of what it's called or who is doing it.  The fact that people can travel relatively free from threat of being attacked in modern first-world nations is, like many other parts of first-world life, an anamoly compared to most of history.  One the carefully assembled systems of control are gone, due to lack of resources and interest in controlling banditry, it's likely that we will see a return to this lifestyle in many places.  Murder rates, also, which have fallen dramatically century-by-century since the Middle Ages (when reliable estimates can be made), can be expected to climb.  One can imagine they were even higher during the Dark Ages, when there was little lawful authority organized to prevent crimes or catch criminals.

   Part of the Leibowitz Society's emphasis on preserving knowledge is creating safe havens for it to be stored and taught.  In turn, this means that these safe havens need to have some sort of ability to be "safe" -- in other words, protect themselves from people who want to loot and pillage.  This in turn raises the question of what people consider to be a lawful entity, with a "right" to obtain resources from a community in turn for protection, such as a conventional military or police force, but political restructurings and debates are really beyond the scope of the Leibowitz Society.  The fact remains that there may well be times when people and communities will need to protect themselves and trying to ignore this fact is setting people up for failure if they are trying to accomplish the goals of the Society. 

   Equally, it is important to emphasize the need to cooperate with legitimate authority.  The point of the Society is to preserve, protect and interpret knowledge.  Some people make take this as a copout, selling out to a ruling class or political elite, but the simple truth is that most people are going to be looking for security and stability in a time and place where it's gotten scarce.  In the industrialized world, exposure to violence is not a common part of the lives of most people.  For anyone who's had to deal with an aggressive or violent person by themselves, the first thing running through their mind is wishing they had a gun (or a bigger) gun.  The second is wishing they had some backup. 

   There is also mention of WMDs in the topics list, something that might provoke a little surprise and discussion.  I think it's not unrealistic that these weapons may be used at some point by one power or another, or terrorists, as resources grow scarcer and tensions rise.  Therefore, while the Society does not include information on the construction or delivery of these items, there is information on the effects of these weapons, what they can do and how/when they are used to allow people to seek refuge from them (maybe it's not realistic, but I'd be just as happy to see these things vanish from the human conciousness forever). 

   The bright side to all this is that even with a breakdown in lawful authority's ability to protect people, and increasing rates of violence, most people can still probably expect to go through life without having to feel like they are living in a warzone.  When we look at the history of times past, the violence and wars stand out, because they simply get more attention in the historical record.  One interesting anecedote that opposes this was the career of Ulrich von Lichtenstein, the alias of the protagonist in the Knight's Tale.  Von Lichtenstein was born in a period of relative peace, in the height of the Middle Ages.  Knights of the era were expected to glorify themselves in battle, but he was instead forced to distinguish himself in tournaments and through his writing, dying at the ripe old age of 78.  If anything, we can draw hope from his example and realize that peace can still be possible in a rougher time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Good News

   I don't know how many people reading this blog have seen the movie Hardware, but there was a line in it that went "The good news is, there is no f---ing good news." Seemingly, it doesn't matter where you look, there's very little, if any, positive news about the economy, either locally or globally. Much is made of China's "miracle," but the stories which report that China's economy is set to overtake ours have missed the little trickles of news that suggest not all things are well behind the bamboo curtain. Or maybe it's just that we're sinking so hard, so far, so fast that we're like someone caught in an avalanche, passing China on the way down as they cling desperately to a pine tree.

   Things in Europe look to be considerably worse lately, with a new round of bad news coming from the "PIIGS" (an unfortunate name -- the "PIIGS" just got hind teat while the wealthier nations suckled away at the debt sow). This, in turn, will continue to drag down the other economies of Europe. How long will it be until France and Britain face a crisis of government because of increasing civil unrest? Will the same current of unrest travel to the United States? People forget that the Cold War was a godsend to the governments in the "Free World" -- no matter how bad or weird things got, no one was going to march in the streets because the Communists were always a worse threat, looming off in the distance. When people see their savings and chance for any meaningful retirement gone, will they feel so moderate in their stance?

  Domestically, things aren't much better here in America. Wal-Mart has quietly observed that inflation is beginning to occur (something that anyone who has filled their tanks lately should now). As people spend more on food, less and less will be spent on all the junk and trinkets (much of it made in China) which will in turn further cripple any "green shoots" that might somehow be making it out of the bombed-out, burned-out debt economy. Those who invested heavily in gold are doing well, at least until it gets confiscated to try to pay at least some of the service on the debt. On a personal level, I have been in a few department stores recently. The Christmas decorations would have been mostly picked over by this point in the past. Now, the shelves are still fully stocked with all kinds of pretty trinkets and items, even with half-off sales running. It will be interesting to see how "Black Friday" goes, if the American public can muster up enough will and credit to go for one last shopping binge before they're also living in a tent city.

   There's a news item about a truck dealership in Florida selling $400 vouchers to a gun shop to buy an AK-47 in honor of Veteran's Day. With the declining dollar, $400 soon probably won't buy a box of 20 cartridges. Regardless, I've always thought that the surge in gun sales had much more to do with the fact that people have begun to realize what the declining ability of cities and counties to finance police forces than it ever did with the election of Barack Obama, who is facing such a gigantic political and economic mess that causes for easy times, like gun control, have been largely pushed aside.

   Some readers are probably wondering what this has to do with the coming Dark Age. In a nutshell, we are living through tomorrow's history. These days are like our own version of the 400s in Rome, though they are occurring at a faster pace. We see the end in sight, brought on by a dozen or more causes, yet we try to still cling to some normalcy in our lives.

   How much worse for those who do not see the fall coming.

   Some might be wondering where I stand politically after reading a few of these posts. I've been conservative-leaning, libertarian-leaning, tried being green-leaning for a little while. The simple fact is that I don't much care anymore who's in charge, because it doesn't much matter. If anyone thinks holding the reins of power is going to mean anything outside of possibly finding a safe landing spot as the system crashes, I think they delude themselves as much as the people voting for them. Things have gone beyond the point where politics and economics don't matter, like the warping of space and time around a black hole of inevitability.

   Finally, if anyone thinks I'm being pessimistic, I'm not. Sometimes it's good to be a realist, sometimes it hurts. Either way, we're still building the Great Wall, one block at a time, as Steven King would say.