Editors Note: This post originated as a discussion in the comments on our blog from a relatively new reader, Matt in response to another reader. His comments were so interesting I asked him if he would be willing to expand his thoughts and experiences into an entire post and luckily for us Matt obliged. I believe his conversations with other people he worked with below are very illuminating and useful to anyone who is considering what choices they will be faced with and what life could be like if all hell breaks loose and society collapses. If nothing else, it is a glimpse into the thought processes of people who are pondering some of the questions we ask on the Prepper Journal. Have you asked yourself what value you would bring to a survival situation?
This question was indirectly raised in the comments section of Pat Henry’s article about the pros and cons of joining a survival group for long-term, grid-down, TEOTWAWKI situations. The conversation revealed some readers’ apprehension their age might be seen as a liability to “gung-ho” organizations. I followed up with my personal take on the situation and was surprised to be asked to flesh it out a bit for this article. I accept this honor, but would like to disclose a little about myself in the interest of general integrity.
I’m a former Marine M1A1 tank crewman and combat vet, married father of two, and I must sheepishly admit I am brand new to prepping. Before all the readers start closing their browsers thinking Pat is scratching the bottom of the barrel for talent, I should clarify that I’m really only new to the gathering/stockpiling aspect of prepping. For many years I was asleep, but since about 2008 I have become a student of prepping philosophy for reasons which are shared by most. Additionally, I moved to southern Utah from my beloved, economically devastated Detroit for work and became a 911 dispatcher. Both living in the near-waterless desert (very similar to Iraq, honestly) and dealing with the misery and unpreparedness of hundreds of people on a daily basis for the last six years furthered my awakening until I gave in and started investigating that “kooky” prepper information on the web. Slowly yet surely with a growing appreciation for the freedom experienced in the rural, agrarian “Wild West”, I finally woke up. I’m behind the power curve as far as supplies go, but I’m in the race now.
On the surface our question seems to be pretty straight forward to preppers. Those of us who have certain tangible skills or accumulated supplies know their value and are rightfully proud of them and are probably keen to gain more or to teach others. These things help us and those for whom we care to survive or help us to trade to get things to survive. But apart from having a Cuban Missile Crisis-era bomb shelter full of Spam and shotguns as my boss fondly jokes about, what are you really worth in a SHTF scenario? If we perform a little introspection deeper than the perfunctory method usually used by most people, the answers we uncover may surprise us.
How to lose friends and influence people
Try this at the next party you’re at: ask some people why they feel they should be allowed to live. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Not up to the task? Afraid they’re going to launch into a tirade about what sort of maniac would even contemplate the question? That would probably be the normal responses of most people were we to ask them so bluntly. But that’s really what we’re doing when we ask what value someone brings to a survival situation, isn’t it? Sure we sugar coat it in the exciting context of “survival situation”, but what we mean is “why should you be allowed into my plan, to consume my resources, and to pose a security threat to my family?” We all have the “ideal” in our minds of whom we would allow into our group, or with whom we would associate in a TEOWAWKI situation, but have you ever honestly assessed yourself? The question is, after all, what value do you bring? What about your family? Are they just “empty mouths to feed”? Sure, they mean something to you, but what about to a group strapped for food? Is your infant valuable to them or need it be left to die of exposure? Are you overweight? What about being “old” or even just being perceived as old? Why should others gamble on you?
The Great Experiment
About a year ago I started a philosophical game at work when I was having a prepping itch and it involved posing to co-workers the politely framed question, “If the Great Zombocalypse occurs and there’s no way to get home to our families and we had to start a society from scratch, what do you bring to the table?”
The men were quick to tout military and hunting experience, knowledge of local geography and resources (water in the desert is a good thing), and things they’d already done to prepare such as having supplies to share. A couple brought up the idea that they had special leadership qualities that would be useful to the group. When I pressed them further they volunteered the obvious: they could be laborers and take up arms if needed. Some weren’t happy with the idea of tilling fields and manual labor in the sun, but after discussion the realization that “work needs to get done” won the day.
We joked one of the guys with military experience and leadership skills would be our explorer searching for the “Land Route to China” because it would give him purpose while keeping him out of the group’s hair when it came to making decisions as he has a penchant for arguing and over analyzing every little detail. We figured we could give him all the trouble makers to rule and keep him out and about, throw him a little party when he returned, and send him on his way again. Win-Win for everyone. Silliness aside, when it came down to brass tacks I was the only one with a tangible specialized skill – tanning leather and making clothes/shoes/other things from it (thank you medieval re-enactment hobby).
The women, on the other hand, were hesitant to participate. Save for one who said she would be our “horse whisperer” if we caught/stole horses because she was raised on a ranch, most gave non-committal responses like, “I can watch the kids” or “I can cook”. I reminded them only the employees were forming this new society as we could not get back to our old families so there would be no kids to watch and all of us could cook. I stepped it up a notch to get them to do some soul-searching by asking what value as a human being and mouth to feed they thought they had. Some of them said they could scavenge for berries or do the laundry and I countered all the menial tasks could be done by anyone and pressed them to think about any unique skill they possessed. This is southern Utah, surely canning or sewing should be on the list, right?
That’s when one volunteered to be the “baby maker” as she put it. She said she realized in a survival situation people are only good for what they can provide. I asked her how she felt deciding her main use was for sex and she said when it comes down to it it’s no different than how women have acted/been used/had value throughout most of history. She argued men want comforts and stability and women can provide that in return for shelter and food, moving up the social pecking order going for the man she can get who can best provide those things. It was a simple economics transaction. Encouraged, several others were quick to enlist in the “Pleasure Platoon” thinking they’d be spared manual labor being wives or concubines. (Our instant gratification society where money makes problems go away is in for a rude awakening if the grid goes down.)
Human value reaffirmed
Hers was a very stripped-down, bleak view of what was once the human condition and not something I envision folks resorting to unless TEOTWAWKI actually happens or they cast their lot in with one of the wannabe warlord-types of preppers who wants serfs and the associated “perks”. In truth, every group or society will need “worker ants” which shouldn’t carry a negative stigma because not everyone can be the leader, the inventor, or the hero, what have you. Throughout history we have needed and will continue to need many people for the grunt work as most of us already do on a daily basis to continue our survival and there’s nothing wrong with that. So don’t discount yourself because you’re “old”, can’t make a pair of turnshoes, or can’t bring that deer back from a 5 mile hike in rugged terrain. You can stand guard, you can dig a ditch, you can pick beans, you can entertain (there’s a reason minstrels, jesters, and bards were welcome professions when we didn’t have electricity!), and you can teach. In fact, the majority of us will be right there with you and in the best of societies (most likely smaller) the leaders will be taking their turn as well. Remember: many hands make light work.
Will there be tough, life-and-death decisions? There most likely will be, especially at the beginning. Fortunately, we Americans have democratic values which have been exercised daily in small towns everywhere for centuries. I believe these societies (not the urban jungles) will continue relatively unchanged if the grid goes down despite some disparaging the “uselessness” of particular inhabitants. The appeal of normalcy will direct most towards acting like civilized people and once things settle down more people will come out of their bug out locations either due to necessity or desire to be with people again and they will add their uniqueness and skills to the larger group. This is how towns and societies have formed for millennia and I don’t see it changing.
Photo Credits: Andy Hamilton in the featured image. His site is http://www.theotherandyhamilton.com