This article has been updated slightly for a 1996 audience.
As a subscriber to PS LETTER, you do not need to be told that our system is in trouble. However, you may be unfamiliar with the steps leading up to major problems within many systems as well as whole civilizations. The present and projected disasters facing world civilization are mirrored in the past.
Unfortunately, few in our population study history from the standpoint of cause and effect. Without the knowledge of what led up to the decline of the past cultures, it is little wonder that even survivalists are uncertain of the causes of our own decline. The lack of such certainty can cause a survivalist to waver under pressure from the ignorant and thus reduce his chances to escape the fate of the ignorant.
Therefore, I want to sum up my evaluation of our situation and give some possible solutions for individuals who must change their present lifestyles in order to better enhance their chances for a secure future.
Civilizations have been rising and falling since long before written history. General patterns of development have applied from the most primitive to the most advanced cultures. Gatherers of roots and berries advance socially as hunting techniques are perfected. Animals are domesticated and, if pasture is favorable locally, herdsmen then become farmers rather than nomads. The planting of seeds is learned, providing more food for people and livestock. Animal husbandry develops, providing even more food for even more people.
The most successful at farming and animal husbandry delegate the drudgery to those who are less competent and a propertied, managerial class evolves. This class, having more leisure time, develops, or encourages the development of crafts such as pottery, carpentry and other skills which make life easier.
Every advancement in agriculture, animal husbandry and technology has provided survival for more who would otherwise have perished.
Classes developed as specialization became necessary. The most able and intelligent managed the lesser skilled and so tribes evolved into civilizations. Those least able to perform social routines were driven out and resorted to banditry or were hired as soldiers to fight off previously expelled bandits or social losers from other societies.
Often organized bandits would swarm over a society and their warlord would proclaim himself king. He would then delegate titles to his lieutenants depending on the size and complexity of the respective societies.
As societies grew through better organization of the systems, surpluses also grew, providing for even more of those less able to survive under harsher circumstances. If the technology failed to grow apace with the population, providing employment for those unable to fend for themselves, a surplus population developed.
Such surplus bodies were useful in developing new territories, or if the nearby territory was already developed, warfare ensured. Thus, the surplus was killed off and, if the leaders were lucky, the civilization acquired more territory whose inhabitants became slaves.
Slavery freed even more of the higher civilization's population from responsibility and so more soldiers were drafted to take more territory. Those unfit for soldiering were put on the dole provided by the looting of weaker neighbors.
While all these advances were developing, less intelligence and ability were needed by more and more of the population. Rome degenerated to the point where there was a great leisure class of landlords, managers and politicians with little to do but to direct the activities of slaves.
The slaves, like our modern machines and computers, became the hands and brains of Rome and the higher classes actually had little knowledge of their overall system. Merit counted for little, so mating was unregulated. The feeble-minded cohabited casually with the genius as ability became less important. After all, the nation's slaves took over the bulk of the work and managerial functions. The original managerial class became largely occupied with partying and pageantry with little actual direction of the nation's affairs.
Of course, this same pattern applied equally to Babylon, Egypt, Greece etc., as well as to New York City today.
As populations grew beyond the limits of local agriculture, then foreign imports were crucial. As foreign markets were looted, their own surplus populations revolted against the looters. With less able citizens being born to send out to put down the starving and rebellious barbarians, starving Romans rioted as starving barbarians invaded.
The above is a broad generalization and many aspects may not apply to our time or in every case to all past civilization. Suffice it to say, however, many similarities are inescapable.
Our planet now has a population approaching six billion, two-thirds of which are inadequately fed. Such a population was encouraged by the needs of the Industrial Revolution in the progressive societies and the need for hands in the backward, agriculturally oriented countries.
But raw materials and fuels maintain the world's industries and are fast becoming depleted or are harder to get and therefore more expensive. This is leading to massive unemployment in the industrial nations.
Agriculture is in major trouble as the world's weather patterns change, or actually revert to the normal patterns of the last century. The basis of our present food problems is ignorance of the fact that during the 1920's to the 1950's, abnormally good weather visited the planet. Not recognizing the bountiful weather as temporary, agriculturists allowed the lower yielding but more resistant strains of plants to die out and developed weaker but more prolific food plant strains.
Now the weather is reverting to the more normal turbulent and harsher climates which are expected to be with us for the next few hundred years. The weaker, less cold and insect resistant strains of food plants cannot prevail for long. Going back to the less productive, but cold and insect resistant strains will be difficult, as many have been lost to agriculture. Moreover, their lower yields will not begin to feed the world's still growing population.
Many believe that science will come to the rescue of a food and resource starving world population. Science is simply the accumulation of knowledge and is no more a solution to the world's problems than is any book of knowledge in the hands of an illiterate. Ecosystems, alternate energy sources and any number of scientific breakthroughs have been laid before the world's governments.
Applied thirty years ago, solar, wind and other alternative energy sources would have solved today's energy problems. In temperate weather, insect resistant, high yield plant strains developed in anticipation of today's weather, would have been a stopgap to the present threatened world famines Anticipation of present trade wars thirty years ago would have held up our economies today until rival industries could adapt to the realities causing modern trade imbalances.
Thirty years ago many people anticipated today's problems. But they were pessimists, alarmists and who listens to such when times are good? Now it is too late. Practical developments take years for overall implementation. Last minute reconversion costs are staggering and cannot be borne by even our top industries. Moreover, thousands of major industries worldwide are going bankrupt yearly.
The devastation of the dollar abroad and runaway inflation here, prohibit long-term investments in reconversion to alternatives to our foundering industrial and agricultural systems.
About 55% of our population are functional illiterates. They vote only for those politicians who promise them the fulfillment of needs best supplied by individual effort, of which they are incapable. So not only do we have an electorate of incompetents, but we are at the mercy of their chosen representatives who are pledged to enslave us on their behalf. Our president was elected by a majority inferior to any electorate since the Roman proletariat. Clinton's approval rating coupled with his faith in the system, seems to have given him a Christ complex, whereby the trust of the people and his own good intentions will triumph over any and all ills besetting our system. But his record so far has proven that he is no more aware of the overall situation or the solution to society's problems than was the last of the Roman Emperors.
Less advanced societies grow and die, often uninfluenced by their neighbors, leaving said neighbors untouched. But as societies merge economically and become interdependent, despite political, cultural or racial differences, the ills of one affect all the others.
Hence, in our century alone, we have had two world wars followed by Korea and Viet Nam. Both of those last wars influenced dozens of countries seemingly disinterested, since both began as civil wars. Today, Africa is a tinder-box, holding raw materials necessary to the economic survival of the major powers. All eyes are on the Mideast since the world depends directly or indirectly on its oil.
It should be plain to anyone that our world civilization, being hopelessly interdependent, is facing total collapse. Whether or not it will go with a bang or a whimper, it will go, and soon. Within three to five years our economy will be in the midst of the ultimate depression. Within the next decade world civilization will undergo a total collapse.
But there are survivors in most calamities and unless all life is scorched from our planet's surface, some of us will survive. Some of those will do so through sheer luck, but their suffering may make survival a curse, rather than a blessing. Also, being unprepared, they will probably not live long enough to contribute to the next civilization.
To simply survive will be to revert to a state of savagery genuine survivalists must avoid. The rational idea of survival is to make the transition from our civilization to the next with as much benefit to one's self and posterity as preparation can insure.
Location is the most important consideration of survival. Choose a small town several miles from urban areas and away from the main highways. Buy or lease a home with several acres of arable land. Buy weapons, ammunition, reloading tools, shop tools, seeds, canned goods, barter commodities and how-to books. Buy as if you will never see such items again. With few exceptions, after the crash, you won't.
Preserve as much of the modern technology as you can. But remember, if an item uses more energy than your home power plant can supply, or if it will require replacement parts later on, forget it.
My main emphasis on survival is the collection of books on the 19th Century skills. The backpack mentality will lead to the deaths of thousands of survivalists who expect the wilderness to supply their needs. On the other end of the scale, the $100,000 survival home with its intricate commercial solar reflectors and $5,000 wind energy system will doom its inhabitants as irreplaceable parts break or wear out.
You must reject anything you cannot build with local materials in your own shop with hand tools or those powered by energy systems you can build. If you have nothing but money, the expensive but short-lived survival equipment would be helpful in easing you into a more or less permanently austere lifestyle. But to buy only modern survival conveniences will be a mistake and a waste of money better spent on simpler and more durable goods.
Ideally, you should learn a trade such as carpentry, blacksmithing, furniture making, pottery, etc. Such trades are easier learned from material published fifty or more years ago.
19th Century trades required few if any materials the tradesman had to send out of the immediate region for. Also, such trades insured a living from the neighbors. Say you learn to make shoes and your neighbor learns to tan hides and another fellow has a blacksmith shop and yet another is a weaver and another grows flax and so on. You have a community which can perpetuate itself completely independent of all outside influences.
The best attitude toward survival is simply to think of reverting to a simpler life. The best example of such a simple life lies in 19th Century technology. That was far from primitive, yet was unaffected by foreign intrigues or the Federal Government.
After all, if you have a skill useful to your neighbors, you will never lack the creature comforts. Also, if your trading is mainly by barter, you will never have enough money to be taxed. Of course, when the crash comes, there will be no government to demand taxes and any upstart posing as a tax collector can be put to work around the farm if your generosity compels you to let the rascal live at all.
There are grim aspects to survival many people do not want to face. The idea of the simple life makes many become nostalgic and imagine the life of a gentleman farmer. But, at first, it would be terribly hard even for those living in rural areas now.
The further out you go, the greater adaptations you will have to make. If you are lucky, you will see little of the suffering and carnage in the urban areas as the doomed destroy each other in their own pitiful attempts to survive yet another day.
Even so, there will be refugees from the cities. The most violent will be destroyed in battles with townsmen. The more provident who have at least stocked campers in time to leave the doomed cities, may still make it out your way.
These will be the good people. Decent and law-abiding members of the establishment now, they are the ones who will smile indulgently at your fears of a socioeconomic collapse. Some time after you have moved to a safer locality they will finally wake up to the fact that the warnings coming through between the lines in the newspapers and vaguely hinted at on TV now were all too true.
They will leave the cities just one jump ahead of the rioters. But even though they may have a range of a couple of hundred miles, they will not be able to survive long once their gas supply is exhausted.
They will most certainly have guns and if they also have a couple of children and a wife in their van, they will present a definite problem. These will be the most dangerous since they will intend to save their families even if it means doing so at your expense.
So, if you think you will just move to a secluded spot and escape the troubles ahead, you may be mistaken. You must plan to defend your holdings from anyone, even those you admire now as exemplary citizens.
Aside from the rigors of change, your survival may mean the beginning of a dynasty your descendants may revere you for creating. Even more, you will see the end of the mightiest civilization in known history. What you have seen and experienced in your lifetime will not be known again and its like will not come again for several generations. You will be a living part of history and will get free beers wherever you go.
If you collect and pass on information and skills for the new age, you may be great and even merit a chapter in later history books. So to the real survivalist, the coming collapse may be your chance to help to inaugurate the next step in the evolution of human civilization. With but little education, you may found colleges. With no military background, you may become a respected warlord.
But always remember, if you plan to survive, you deserve to survive. Your foresightedness makes you too important to future generations to let anyone or anything stand in your way. If your ancestors had not believed in this concept, you would not be reading this now.
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