Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Evolution Of A Modern Survivalist

From the time I was knee- high to a grasshopper, frugality, conservation and self reliance were values that were drilled into my head (and no, I did not learn them from the Boy Scouts, as my parents were FARRR too poor to afford that.) The methods my parents and grandparents employed to teach me these skills were often akin to a trial by fire, but I am happy to have learned those hard lessons, as they have proven to be invaluable to me to my survival as an adult. I have always liked to abide by the old adage of "better to have and not need, than to need and not have."

Survivalism and sustainability became a bit of an obsession for me by the time I'd reached my late twenties, and I tried to cover all the bases from urban to woodland survival, from hunting and foraging to herbalism and basic farming. I geared up and tested my ability to survive in extreme heat as well as extreme cold. I also devoted a lot of time to both armed and unarmed combatives training, finding that my initial cockiness in these areas often ended up being my most invaluable teacher. There's nothing like a few fractures and knock outs to prove just how tough you really are(n't).

Like many young survivalist types, I envisioned myself as some kind of post- apocalyptic John Rambo who ran around shooting at bad guys, taking whatever I needed and having no accountability to anyone. This is the pitfall of many modern survivalists, as they seem to romanticize an "every man for himself" type of scenario, or at the very least, a scenario where only their family/ gang/ tribe and themselves matter. This myopic super hero fantasy will not get you very far, unless your bullet belt can somehow miraculously fertilize plants and purify water.

More and more I started to realize that these "lone wolf" types were overtestosteroned, paranoid idiots, and generally just a mirror reflection of the Conquistadors we already have in our government. The Rambos would swear up and down that the government was their mortal enemy, but they seemed to employ exactly the same type of fear mongering and macho posturing that the mainstream media did. Sure, they had SOME good ideas, but their plans to rise above the rubble armed with AK47's and cans of Spam started to sound ridiculously cartoonish to me. The bottom line is- if you want to make something worthwhile happen, you NEED to learn how to work with people.

Add to that, much of the propaganda coming from the Lone Wolf Rambo crowd was brought to you courtesy of Christian fundamentalists, right wing racialists and various other sociopaths I wanted nothing to do with. I'm seeing many of these 1990's "militia" stereotypes reincarnated in the current Tea Party and Constitutionalist movements, and they still leave a bad taste in my mouth. Moreover, I'm starting to become concerned that the Rambos might actually be gaining a foothold with the status quo, and the idea of plowing some Christian lunatic's beanfield with a bayonet in my back doesn't sound too attractive to me.

As I grew older with my survivalist mindset, I started to wonder if any community of rational, pragmatic individuals could be built around the principals of self sustainability. I wondered what the role of women and children would be, and how would we address issues such as child care, education and health care. The Rambos never showed any interest in these issues. Luckily though, I was quite happy to see many inroads being made for realistic sustainability right in my hometown. By the early 21st century, farmers markets, biking and urban farming were coming into vogue, but I was still hungry to see more discussion on what REALLY could be done in the event of a societal collapse.

Enter the writings of James Howard Kunstler, particularly his books entitled The Long Emergency and World Made By Hand. Both of these books deal with the condition known as Peak Oil, with The Long Emergency being a nonfictional prediction of what might happen and World Made By Hand being a Novel about life after the collapse.

I found both of these books (as well as Kunstler's website and blog) to be very inspiring because they are quite a departure from the gloom and doom of most survivalists. Rather than pushing a "Mad Max lording over the post apocalyptic wasteland" angle, they espouse a far more pragmatic and humanistic worldview. To me this stance is crucial, because the doomers leave me feeling highly uninspired, and I suspect that I'm not the only one. Their obsession with violence and retribution is not anything that anybody could build a society around, at least not one with any longevity.

The thing is though, for as grandiose as Kunstler' claims of the importance of community are, I wonder if he actually believes his own propaganda. His snarkiness and cynicism is apparent in his blog entries and lectures, and he seems to get quite easily sidetracked and offended by non- issues such as people wearing clothing he deems too baggy, or enjoying mainstream sporting events and getting tattoos. What James needs to realize is that in order for his own vision to become a reality, he needs to get anyone and everyone on board, including the types of people he may not like very much. He also seems a bit folly to, dare I say; a bit of undeserved self importance from time to time.

But the thing about Kunstler is- we need him and people like him. We need him because whatever he lacks in charisma, charm and tolerance, he makes up for in his ability to tell it like it is, not to mention being able to outline a workable strategy for surviving the impending collapse. He's not likely to be the standard bearer on the battlefield, much less the cool neighbor you drink beer with after work, but he's definitely someone worth paying attention to.

It's easy to hate on the self centered Baby Boomers, the whiny, apathetic Generation X-ers, and the cynically paralyzed Millenials, but every once in awhile I'll meet someone from one of these age brackets who is a bit different. They'll have a glint in their eye, a positive outlook and a lot of great ideas. I hope these people keep appearing in my life because it is far to easy these days to throw your hands up, say "fuck it!", and dismiss our future entirely. Those who are idealistic and pragmatic are as good as gold to me, even if they are as irascible and tempermental as Kunstler is. Those who fight the good fight and are simply far too dedicated and strong (and maybe just a little too naive- in a good way mind you) to even think of capitulation or defeat are the people I want in my tribe.

You can watch a good James Howard Kunstler lecture/ debate at Brown University here:


(sorry for some reason the hyperlink wouldn't work with this address, so you'll have to cut and paste)

Unfortunately, you can't scroll past where the cursor is cued up, you have to wait for the video to load and get ahead of where the cursor is. At 90 minutes it takes a LONG time to load, but if you can make it to the 67:00 mark you'll see where my question about his tattoo prejudice pisses him off and gives Randall O'TOOL a chance to rip on his earring.

some great books:

Ragnar's Urban Survival- Ragnar Benson
No Such Thing As Doomsday- Philip L Hoag
When Technology Fails- Matthew Stein
World Made By Hand- James Howard Kunstler
The Long Emergency- JHK