Monday, August 29, 2011

To Prep or Not to Prep?

The posts which have received the most comments on the blog have been centered around "prepping" and the speed at which we expect collapse to occur, if we expect it to occur at all.  Prepping has long been a staple of the idea of personal survival, even if it hasn't always occurred in the framework of a breakdown of modern civilization.  After all, what's a root cellar but a means of putting food aside for when it might not be available in the future?  Prepping, itself, is just a modern, reasonable, interpretation of "storing up for winter," expect that we're storing up for when there's nothing left on grocery shelves and never will be left again.

The attitudes around it, either favoring prepping, or dismissing it, seem to really reflect our own personal views of how we think the course of civilization is most likely to proceed.  Logically, this makes a lot of sense.  If we think that we'll see a gradual decline, why would we spend a lot of time and effort on acquiring supplies that would likely never get used, when we could still obtain what we needed?  Likewise, if we expect that the bottom could fall out from things overnight, we would want to have all we would potentially need because we would think that we could not acquire it again. 

Logic tends to point to this being the safer route.  The assumption has always been the collapse of industrial civilization through attrition of resources as being the most likely form of collapse, to the point where looking at anything else becomes somewhat "heretical."  The idea of a gradually decreasing slope on a curve of resource availability and industrial activity is just there to keep people from getting too nervous about the contraction.  The reality is that a best-fit isn't going to reflect what is most likely to happen -- a chaotic curve of fits and starts as we see pockets of collapse appear, followed by desperate human activity to try to restore some sense of normalcy (the "bailouts" in the past few years as evidence of this).  For a casual observer, that would be a blip on the radar, but for the person living through a food riot, it would be very real.

Collapse through de-industrialization would proceed in fits and starts, but what about a more sudden and profound sort of collapse?  A pandemic, resulting from the bird flu or somesuch, would be devastating and would quickly spell the end for our complex systems as people would not be able to maintain them.  War of some sort is always a spectre waiting in the wings.  The poles shifting, pick something.  If we look at things from a mathematical perspective, the odds that there will be a civilization-ending event are almost certain, given enough time.

In the end, I think a reasonable case can be made for erring on the side of having more goods set aside, than not.  In a sense, this is a companion to Pascal's wager -- instead of dealing with the existence of God, we're dealing with the possibility of collapse.  Does it make more sense to prepare for a collapse that may not come within our lifetime or does it make more sense to assume it won't occur and then be left with only hoping that it doesn't?


  1. Clearly, logic, forethought and planning is the only way to survive; whether it be a food crisis or financial one. Environmental planning is all good, but what about the preppers whose preps flooded out? How long will 50 pounds of wheat last under water?
    Some things just can't be planned for, but it makes more sense to me to try and envision as many different forms of collapse as we can, and then, logically plan for them. It's not a perfect solution, there will always be events that throw us a curveball, but at least we'll be better prepared than our government, no matter what side of the big border we live on.

  2. Does anyone think(excluding short term drops due to market fluctuations) that Oil is going to be less expensive/more readily available in the future?

    Doesn't it stand to reason that goods & services dependent on oil would be dearer as price rises/availability diminishes.

    Unfortunately an individual can't practically store oil itself, nor can one store 'services' ... but one can store the products that required oil to be manufactured and transported.

    The world population continues to grow,contention for resources increases, even if our decline is gradual from a larger perspective there always exists the not insignificant chance of pockets of scarcity, localized in either time frame or location.
    Serious stuff if one happens to be caught in it.

    There's a famous quote known to mariners:

    "The time for taking all measures for a ship's safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy."

    This applied well to anyone with a mind of prepping.

  3. OK, I'm definitely in the anti-prepping camp. I think that the whole prepping concept stems in part from American optimism -hey this peak oil thing sounds scary, but there is something I can DO about it to get my family through it- and partly from leftover cultural baggage around fear of nuclear war.

    As it happens, I think actual nuclear war is more likely now than ever, but I don't think its something you can "prep" for. My plan to prep for nuclear war is to walk down to Time Square (I live in Manhattan) if I get enough advance warning and to hang out there. The area should be interesting again once the tourists are gone.

    I moved my weekly grocery shopping up to Friday in the face of a hurricane coming to the city, and the governments' response in shutting the subway for two days. But this made sense because I was dealing with a three day event at the most. If the grocery stores in New York shut down for several hundred years, for example, a week's worth of groceries would keep my family eating for exactly one week. Maybe I could cut loose and get to someplace more favorable for survival, or maybe I would just be f-----. But the point is that prepping doesn't make sense for a permanent change in conditions. You are better off in this situation in having as few ties as possible to things as they are now, which actually means you are better off with fewer assets.

    Fossil fuels becoming more expensive not only isn't something that can't be ridden out with adequate supplies on hand, as has been pointed out, the process is gradual enough that you will still have to live halfway it the world produced by the period of abundance until the process is well advanced anyway. Of course, government and business mishandling the situation may well produce a more acute crisis. Otherwise I don't see what people can do other than be aware that they and most everyone else are going to be alot poorer in the future.

  4. It is the ant and the grasshopper tale:

    I would like to share the first two paragraphs of my essay:
    We will go kicking and screaming down the path to the new Middle Ages as fossil fuels desert us. With the decline of available energy, those of most of us who have sat at the top of the energy pyramid will become the new peasants. With the popular view of the Middle Ages as a brutal and dirty time filled with famine and disease and at the mercy of armed overlords. We cringe at the thought.

    With great sadness, we must recognize the direct connection between present day population levels and the use of fossil fuels in food production, medical procedures, medicines and hygiene. With the fall in fossil fuel availability there will be a reduction in population. Population soared with the industrial revolution and the development of industrial, fossil fuel based agriculture. It cannot be sustained.
    From: The New Middle Ages

  5. There seems to be a real divide on this issue, reflecting a larger split in the "collapse community," and I don't think it's going to be settled soon.

    My best thought still is that "prepping" is probably the answer to the unexpected. It's there if you need it, there if you don't need it. We can speak of simply letting death overtake us if circumstances are that dire, but the urge to survive is very strong indeed at times, even in spite of our previous stabs at philosophical arguments against it.

    It's obviously insanity, of course, to assume that if we are just able to put enough "stuff" aside, that we'll be able to make it through any crisis to emerge in paradise. Obviously, the terms that we're speaking of here, there is no "other side" to emerge from, at least not for a long, long time.

    The other point to be made is that a fundamental shift in lifestyle is almost the same thing as "prepping" to the outside eye, and may be more useful in the long run, being a sort of hybrid approach.

  6. I don't know if a lot of you are in my situation, but I have two older kids and a wife, and no amount of talking from me will convince them that they need to alter their course of living to prep for something I cannot convince them will happen. "yeah, dad, sure.........but right now I'm busy with my buddies and we're gonna go to NYC and ........."
    I'm on the treadmill right now, with one right out of college and trying to get a job, the other in high school with all the social pressures and college looming. The last thing on their minds, or my wife's, is some collapse that they only hear about from me: none of their friends know or think about it, and the news media ignores it, and our national leaders are oblivious to it. So, they are going ot listen to ME??? Nope. Not a chance.
    I have huge debts, am 62, busy in my dental office, working every day all day, and I have to keep this going. So, I can leave the family and do my thing, but that ain't gonna cut it.
    Remember, I am in sthe situation of most people in industrialized nations..working all the time, paying off mortgages and school expenses, trying to enjoy life with some consumption, vacations, etc, and keeping up with the rest of society.
    I wish I could get off the treadmill, but, really, I can't. Not without a huge disruption in the family and lives of my wife and kids. Families can't take that kind of stress, unless it is mandatory. For me to just say, "hey, we're going to live a whole different lifestyle"....that is tantamount to ruining their lives because of some "whim" of mine.
    On the other hand, I have 12 acres, an orchard, nut trees, ponds, woods, garden, sheep and goats, and chickens. I'm getting solar panels. These things can fit into my lifestyle without destroying my family's social needs.
    I know all this will change one day. It will become obvious to everyone what is obvious to me now: the collapse of industrial society is heading this way. But until then I have to live the fairly normal lifestyle, with my family intact. One day they will understand, and we can work together somehow, facing the monumental events that will come. We'll do the best we can, then.

  7. Pfgetty,

    You raise a lot of good points and thoughts that I think are shared by a lot of people. We can see the gathering clouds, but we are limited in what we can do to adjust our lives to account for them.

    On the other hand, much of it seems to be mental. Once we read and look at the expectations which are placed on us by the consumer cult, how the system is bound to undermine itself as time goes on, then we can at least shift our context from pretending that there is permanency to the modern industrial lifestyle to being realistic about the future, however it plays out.

    Part of the purpose of the Leibowitz Society is to keep the information people would want and need available after the collapse, so even if people have neglected to consider the long term, there's something to fall back to. It seems like an odd notion at first, caring about what comes after we're gone, but I've long thought we need to reverse the sense of thinking only to the end of our lifespan that has become the most common way of looking at things in the modern world.


  8. Interesting perspectives. For me, preping is simply a means of effecting an orderly transition should events take a turn for the worse. For the past year, I've been stocking up on non-perishables, buying equipment and tools and learning some practical skills. It stands to reason that you can make more rational decisions and create a more practical escape or survival plan if you and your aren't distracted by hunger pains or overwhelmed when you discover you don't even possess a working flashlight.

  9. ...con't

    Of course, I'm not one who is terribly concerned about the possibility of nuclear war and I'm not sold on the theory of peal oil etc. Rather, these days, I'm worried about the very real possibility of economic collapse and the inevitable social breakdown that would ensue. Like most Canadians, the anarchy in the aftermath of Katrina left a big impression. I realize it was an overwhelmingly black phenomenon but it should give every white person pause - after all, black ghettos can be found in every American city and here in Toronto. The recent spate of black on white (and everyone else) violence should serve as a warning of what could come. If black race-hatred is on such open display in these (still relatively) normal times, it doesn't bode well. Our elites, in their wisdom, have recreated the Balkans everywhere in the West. Toronto has over 150 ethnic groups whose ties to one another are non-existant. One can only imagine what will happen when the economic pie gets down to one small piece and a few crumbs. Preparedness and a clear head will make all the difference.

  10. I was appalled the other day to find that so few people can rig up something as simple as a comfortable eye patch for a friend. Their only resource was to go to a chain drug store/supermarket and buy the same crappy one that they already have...people have no idea how to actually make things themselves anymore.

    I think the idea of prepping that one of the Anonymi mentioned is worthy: getting some tools and learning how to use them. Learn to use a boat, learn to hunt or fish.
    Learn how to preserve the food you grow. Always grow something, even if it is just herbs and tomatoes on a balcony.
    Cook for yourself, becoming more independent of the supermarket processed prepackaged food etc. (Healthier too).
    Exercise, reduce your bad habits and addictions (including shopping!)
    Pay off your debts, and try not to incur more debt for things that you don't need. Send your kids to practical medical or technical/engineering school if you can.
    Live in a small town.

    Even if the worst doesn't happen you will live longer and be happier.

    Take care.

  11. Well, as far as the Balkans in Toronto is concerned, you should do what you can to help all such folk to come together in a community. Not only is it intrinsically a good thing, it may save you trouble in the long run.
    There are several things that we should strive not to lose in the event of a collapse of "high civilization" - one is female emancipation, the other is dialog between people of different ethnic backgrounds.


  12. I live in Europe and to me there's something very American about "prepping" and "preppers". The words used here are different, but the ethos seems to be the same and the idolatry for American-style prepping and American culture is there. These people seem distinctly out of touch with lived reality, its pace, its challenges and its joys. I don't know if I should call it idolatry for "American-style" prepping as Americans are a diverse bunch, but I see a similar American cultural influence in this group that I'm talking about, as well as in prepping discussions online, including this one. The simple fact that smart people even decide to talk about the need to prep or not to prep is worrying, because it's a really stupid question to ask and a stupid discussion to have. And why on Earth would someone preparing to live in a future very different than the present want to identify as a "prepper"? Like why would any outdoors and traditional camping, hunting and fishing type of person identify as a survivalist? Because hunters otherwise mostly drive around and can't be bothered to walk anymore, so suddenly you need a brand-new identity to feel different and feel secure about what you do? If so, isn't that a red flag? It's as if the culture of deeply stupid suddenly arrived and nobody noticed. In my experience, self-identified "preppers" are no more likely to be in their right mind than the rest of the population and many are obvious nutcases who a culture of prepping helps to tolerate instead of isolate. I have nothing against people taking some obvious steps to not get as badly hurt as they otherwise might when a hundred euros is worth the paper it's printed on, shops go empty, and a feudal society tries to rear its head, but I do have a bad and wary view about self-described preppers.

  13. Those are some interesting comments. I think the difference between "prepping" in America and overseas is that America, outside of the Civil War, has been largely untouched by a serious, society-shattering event like either of the World Wars. There is both the fear of everything falling apart all at once and the fear of the unknown, whatever form it may take.

    I don't necessarily think it is a "stupid" discussion to have. If we're tackling the idea of collapse, this is a discussion which often comes up. People do tend to operate under the assumption that bad times can be "prepared for" and that they will not last. Is that a correct view or is it more realistic to accept that collapse is going to result in a lifestyle change that is so drastic that any kind of "preps" will make only a very short blip on that type of timeline?

    The other point -- which I think is lost -- is that the position of the Leibowitz Society doesn't necessarily except that collapse will be gradual. The Black Plague, for example, wiped out upwards of half the people in Europe within a few years. We look at bird flu (which was a very big topic amongst preppers in Australia a few years ago) and think that a mutation would cause it to be lethal to a large strain of the population. Or, there is the possibility of an extra-terrestrial event (i.e. a comet strike, solar eruption, etc) which would have an immediate and profound effect on the world. Any of those cases would require having at least something on hand to get past it. Yes, they are corner cases, but the potential still exists.

    The irony is that there seems to be no "via media" between the two positions, of prepping or not prepping. With either notion, there seems to be a whole range of other notions which have to be accepted as gospel and in turn held by anyone who approaches either position. It's these "extras" which seem to ultimately define how we think we should feel -- or others think we should feel -- about these things.

  14. It is a stupid discussion to have, if people take a for or against stance and won't discuss the "extras" you mentioned, which are some of the most interesting and potentially helpful things there are to discuss.

    For my point to make sense, it doesn't really matter what form one expects collapse to take. What would matter was if one didn't genuinely believe in significant change anyway. That would make all discussion wholly useless right then and there, no comments about stupid or any faults in the discussion necessary. I suspect that that kind of disingenuousness is behind a lot of this so-called discussion, which is stupid to get into.

    As for this:
    "People do tend to operate under the assumption that bad times can be "prepared for" and that they will not last. Is that a correct view or..."

    Why do you even ask? It's true what you write about how people tend to operate, but that's just the environment we live in and what we also find in ourselves (that we should be aware of if we've decided we should do otherwise). But are you seriously asking is that a correct view, in my opinion? You're too polite.

    If in your comment you're talking about the discussion as a learning process, then it's the process that's important and there should be stupid questions. As an educator, though, you shouldn't expect everyone to be at the same level when you start and to contribute in equally valuable ways. Teachers also don't generally discuss and evaluate their pedagogy and the correctness of their views with their students, especially on an open and continuous basis, which I think is right. And by this I don't mean teachers in Western schools don't do it and therefore it's a fine practice. Western schooling is horrible. But true teachers don't either, yet they're not rigid.

    I have had good discussions about where we're at, where we might be going and what options any given person has and how they value this and that, but the less than fruitful discussions about "prepping" stand apart from those. Actually, the people I've had good discussions with just won't bite if I for some reason ask them a question or make a comment in prepper or doomer language or whatever special language, and that's exactly as it should be. You tend to pick up some of the language when you read online or take some course to supposedly learn a skill (haven't done much of that anymore). If you don't pick up the vernacular then maybe just the way the topic is framed, and it puts off people with a strong sense of self, a strong sense of identity and who have their feet firmly on the ground. You simply get back that you're uninteresting or odd and they didn't understand what you just said and have no intention to delve into it. It makes you realize what you said was stupid and not relevant to their (or your) lived reality and that's that. And then, when you start a real discussion, those people will have a lot of good "extras" to share.

  15. If you take the prospect of collapse seriously, you have to ask yourself where in the world would it be safest to be when that collapse occurs.The answer is not going to be America, Europe or any of the rich countries of the world. Whatever happens there it is not going to be pleasant and the only way to survive will be to be utterly ruthless. You could prepare as much as you like, but you will have to fight off those who haven't prepared and thats the tricky bit.

    An alternative approach would be to move to a part of the world where people are still growing their own food and do not rely on the complex systems on which we depend. In parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia, particularly those blessed with temperate climates, good soils and relatively low population densities, life will carry on even if Western civilisation and capitalism fall apart. Of course, any people who are integrated with the modern world will endure some hardship when things fall apart, but the more isolated they are at this stage, the more easily they will be able to cope in the future.

    A smart move would be to leave America or Europe and find somewhere to live among the poorer people of the world, somewhere far away from the main centres of population. An even smarter move would be to sell all your possessions, or if you have a skill which is transferable, use your wealth and/or your skill to help the people in the community in which you settle. That way, not only would you be working for the greater good, but you would be helping to ensure your own survival if or when things fall apart. Most important of all, this would be following the teaching of Jesus Christ. Not an easy thing to do, though, particularly as we don't know if collapse is coming this year or in thirty years' time.