Monday, April 12, 2010

Survivalism goes mainstream

If you listen out for them, you'll hear them: voices telling you to prepare for disruption to normal civil life.

Years ago, it'd be American gun nuts - the type that quotes Ruby Ridge and Waco as revealing the soul of government. They'd be researching the continental US to find rural areas safe from floods, earthquakes and tornadoes; they'd be building houses quickly and cheaply from straw bales (it works very well, apparently). Pioneering without the Apache has a superficial romantic attraction.

But there is a new Apache: your fellow man. In northeastern Ohio, a sheriff's department has suffered such severe budget cuts that it now has only one police car to cover an area twice the size of the British West Midlands. A judge has advised residents to arm themselves, to be careful and vigilant and make connections with their neighbours. (htp: John Lott)

In Australia, an investor education website has turned from advising us how to build a balanced portfolio, to considering what happens when complex societies collapse:

Marc Faber is recommending that investors have half of their investments exposed to Asia. That is a very useful advice for very high net worth people who have the money and connections to resettle. But for the rest, it is very important to have your own plan B if something happens in your local area...

Your entire country will not be likely to collapse overnight. But if you are unlucky, your local region can be the one that descend into chaos first. The hard question to ask is: do you trust that your government [...] will have the resources, and competence to cope with large-scale crisis? We are not talking about small-scale crisis that affects small communities- we are talking about a scale large enough to affect at least hundreds of thousands of people.

If you are going to plan for Plan B, then you will have to increase the margins in your life and acquire skills outside the area of your specialisation.

Here in the UK, the Fleet Street Letter (an investor publication established in 1938 and edited by Lord Rees-Mogg, formerly editor of the Times) is striking a dramatic note with its headline "The Great Financial Deception of 2010". The thesis of the latest edition is that:
  • British government credit will be downgraded (leading to a very damaging rise in interest rates)
  • The FTSE will halve within the next three months
  • A consumer sea-change from reckless spending to saving/paying off debt will tip Britain into deep and prolonged recession
  • Residential and commercial property will halve in value within the next 10 years
One of my former clients, a very decent, hard-working man whose business was wiped out in the recession of the 90s, at one point told me that he now understood why people turned to crime. Fortunately, before his understanding grew seriously practical, he sold up and emigrated with his wife to the low-cost Far East. Good for him: he acted, instead of waiting for the government to solve his problems.

Our handkerchief of an urban lawn won't grow enough to support us, and I'm still debating what to do for the best if the worst looks like happening. But one thing is clear: forming and strengthening community links will be a vital part of our survival plan.


Sobers said...

Its an interesting issue - I have had similar thoughts ever since the Financial crisis hit over 2 years ago. I have made a few basic plans to cover the major life requirements - food, heat, light, protection. Nothing very expensive, as I live away from large urban populations, and have land already. But just in case the balloon does go up in the next decade or so, I want to be ready. Better to be ready and never need it, than need it and not be ready.

hatfield girl said...

When survivalism is discussed I wonder if it's the modern mode for discussing change that is catastrophic in tone; such a change discussion can be seen in most societies, look at eg 19th century literature, (where change is change discussed as, say, irreligious - eg agricultural workers regarding railway surveyors as the servants of the devil etc.) Change threatening real catastrophe has to be much faster than almost anything that happens outside of modern war.

Change does frighten and bad outcomes can be, and are, almost wilfully, projected, it is a universal diversion to consider change, but it produces also solutions to some of the threats to 'the way things are' and it resolves other threats to a reasonable social world. The resolution of current problems of resource exhaustion, inequalities, debt, overpopulation doesn't really lie in return to past lifestyles and their social support systems; they are not there waiting to be reanimated, even if the physical environment in which those lives were lived can be reconstructed (and then only for very few).

And I write as one who has put back a physically very old world, but only within a very modern economic and institutional environment that paid for it, and guarantees the property relationships and legal systems that permit it. Even so, while it is not quite a toy, it is certainly not viable as it was from the 17th (even earlier, indeed) to the early 20th century; that world is dead and we are like hermit crabs. It produced landscapes and townscapes, buildings and a culture that is highly prized but it no longer generates itself. We pour life into it and everything is changed by our modernity. Were we required to make our livings using just these resources it would be a mean life. Mean in every way, not least the way we would be required to deal and treat with others. We must not think there is an escape from catastrophe by shutting out everyone else, we have to take our part in making sure catastrophe doesn't happen.

Sackerson said...

Thank you, Sobers, I think I may envy you your rustic location.

HG: Thanks for your considered comment. However, although like you I don't see Walden as much of a possibility here in the West Midlands, I do feel (gradually) increasingly vulnerable in my formerly-artisan-and-declining suburban neighbourhood. While I agree that we should do what we can to prevent disaster, much of the solution is out of our hands, so I'm doing what I can by contacting people who I think might get the message out, but either they have no idea what I'm talking about or they've written me off as a crank. I think Cam-Buggins won't tackle the problems at root, any more than Brown-Buggins has. So maybe we have to consider Walden v.2: smallish, mutually protective communities. Our modern, large, highly integrated societies, if they do break down, will break down very fast and very badly - I think of cities as high-entropy. Or, to use a different analogy, we're like those tech-packed jet fighters that the Viet Cong could bring down with a bullet through the cable-saturated fuselage.

hatfield girl said...

The gains obtained from greater division of labour give us a measure of the losses we would incur if that division of labour was reduced or reversed. It's bad enough to restrict international division of labour but to posit national division of labour coming to an end or slowing, with localist substitution, would reduce those who survive to abject poverty, and most would not survive. More from falls in efficiency than unequal access to resources. Eco-living is extravagantly inefficient and highly skilled so most people can't have it. All the greenery stuff is just lies, and pulling the wool over the eyes of most people about their poverty, as you know.

Paddington said...

hatfield girl - you aren't kidding. I have been wrestling goats for a week now, and I'm very sore.

Sackerson said...

HG, I'm not sure. Our present system has led to what seems like most major industrial businesses owned by foreign interest or tax-haven-domiciled magnates; it may be that the British economy is now beyond any government's ability to manage. Distribution, if it's like T***o, gives the customer "savings" by crushing suppliers, squeezing out small local businesses by selling their top lines at a discount until the business folds, and buying land so that other competitors can't set up nearby. So I'm not necessarily sold on the economy-of-scale argument. And I'm not arguing for the Saxon village model either. There must be something in between. If we move from being a nation of small shopkeepers to a nation of shelf-stackers-cum-benefit claimants, we're done for.

I take your point about needing to be rich to be "green", those eco-houses are a hoot.

Paddington: goat-wresting - what channel's that on?

Paddington said...

ESPN8 - the Ocho.

It's not as much fun as it sounds. Those buggers are strong!