Prepping versus Surviving

My friend recently sent out an email or two with some of his thoughts on the difference between “preppers” and “survivalists.” I thought long and hard about what he sent.

Being prepared, having stockpiled food, medicine, other sundry supplies on hand, will definitely get you through a “bump” in civilization disruption. Whether that’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or some man made disaster (although some man made disasters last longer than others as the Venezuelans are finding out).

Being a survivalist is a bit different, it means having both the knowledge and skills to meet your life sustaining requirements in really crappy situations. Compared to prepping, surviving is tough and uncomfortable. Surviving is a lot of hard work, while if prepping is done correctly, is a mere inconvenience.

I think that in any situation where prepping is insufficient (preparations run out and cannot be replaced) and surviving is required, you can expect mass starvation in the major cities, with an increased odds of some sort of pandemic as civilization level hygiene becomes “stone age” accommodations, and an increase in violence as people get desperate. We take a lot of things for granted that didn’t exist fifty years ago, one hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago.

But, if the “big one” does happen, and it’s global, odds are good that recovery won’t be quick. If it drags on long enough at some point, even the thousands upon thousands of rimfire ammo you stockpiled will run out if civilization doesn’t resume. Can you build a bow and make arrows? Can you farm, gather, fish, hunt, and preserve food? Can you do it without someone taking it from you?

I’m firmly in the “prepper” community, but honestly think that it is practically impossible for most preppers to become true survivalists. I believe this for several reasons.

  1. There isn’t the large expanse of untouched wilderness with large game animals who are mostly unaccustomed to being hunted by hunters with rifles. The large herds of plains bison are a thing of the past.
  2. The geographic distance between good farmland and most people is too much to support the large cities (in the US this is a real problem, in China it is an even bigger problem). So a WWII style “victory garden” is great, but only a drop in the bucket of large scale caloric needs.

Those two reasons essentially boil down to one single point, scarcity of resources. Modern civilization is based on technologies that make economies of scale happen that cannot happen at a more primitive technology state. Without modern nitrogen fixation based fertilizers a large portion of the world will starve inside of a few years as stocks on hand dwindle and cannot be replaced by “traditional, sustainable organic agriculture.” (I use the quotes to emphasize the stupidity of that phrase)

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do believe that a real large scale survivalist requirement is unlikely. But global disasters do happen, from coronal mass ejections to massive meteorite impact to even bio terrorism and plain old war and idiotic politics. I believe that the more people who are “preppers” the better, at least in terms of being prepared to handle a 2 week to 2 month emergency (Puerto Rico is still repairing stuff, but mostly life has found a new normal). I’m not an advocate for “doomsday prepping” as that is just normal prepping with a timespan of resiliency pushed out way further into the future.

So I don’t know how much time and effort you should put into learning stone lapping to make arrowheads versus stocking up on more ammunition for firearms you have, or buying more broad-heads to store as future insurance. I will say that it seems to be worth thinking about, especially skills like primitive medicine, trapping, and food preservation (smoking, drying, salt preserving, etc).

To sum up everything, I think my friend is right that the vast majority of preppers aren’t “survivalists.” I think that at this point getting more of them into a survivalist mindset would be smart, as it could really help them identify when a situation has degraded to where they need to transition to survivalism rather than ride out a disruption.

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