Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Survivalist for All Seasons

The theme of JC Dodge's essay "The Importance of the Right Label" is exactly what the title says: the importance of integrity and honesty in thinking about ourselves and others, how labels are perverted by nefarious people for nefarious purposes, and what our choice of labels says about ourselves during crunch time.

In the process of explaining all this, JC answers the question: what is the difference between a survivalist and a prepper? He has very interesting things to say there, and it is worth reading three times over to absorb it all. The following is what I gleaned from having done just that. All quotes, except for one, are from that essay, and are used with his permission.

First, what is a survivalist?
"A “Survivalist” has a mindset that makes preparing for bad times a lifestyle and looks forward to the training, education, and acquiring of the means to accomplish that goal."
He takes this further by outlining a survivalist manifesto...
"A “Survivalist” is one who isn’t afraid of the task ahead. Even though those tasks appear foreboding. The “Survivalist” is optimistic about the outcome of any future calamity, and realizes that being prepared for anything is a lifestyle, not a hobby. A “Survivalist” doesn’t give two shits about being politically correct, since reality dictates that “The politically correct” will be the first to die. This is true, when you consider their lack of foresight and the unending need for their “perception of things” to be real, and that perception will always override the true “reality of things” in their mind."
The best part of that paragraph is the realization that a man lives by his mind. Appearance is irrelevant, perception is irrelevant; what matters is that reality exists and that we are capable of understanding it. This is the absolute key to survival. A man who lives by his mind, lives; a man who ignores his mind, thereby ignoring reality, dies. Simple.

Second, what is a prepper?
"At the end of the 90’s, we started hearing a term describing those that were getting ready for the Y2K event, and that term was “Prepper”. The term “Prepper” was apparently politically correct, at least as much as a term describing a self reliant individual could be. My take on the “preppers” of that time frame was that they wanted to be ready, just in case, but they generally didn’t want people around them to know they were “nutty” preparedness types."
JC goes on to affirm the first and reject the second: "I AM A SURVIVALIST, not a Prepper! I don’t need to use a politically correct term to describe my less than politically correct mindset and actions."

Later, JC must be credited for coming up with a new name for when the SHTF: TEOTWAWKISTAN, heh! Courage wants to laugh, and you can tell he was having the time of his life when he invented that!

Finally, we have this very telling sentence: "Learning to survive alone and planning to survive alone are two different things. The difference is similar to the difference between “Living” and “Existing”." In other words, a survivalist wants not simply to live but to live as a man.

So, is the difference between a survivalist and a prepper simply that the former "has grown a set" and the latter never will? Is a prepper a "survivalist in the closet" at best? I think there is more to it.

Everyone's heard the saying that begins "Give a man a fish...". What that phrase means is that knowledge is more valuable than the immediate consequences of applying that knowledge. JC applies this to milquetoast survivalism, the prepper movement: "A lot of the “Preppers” I’ve met... seem to have a mindset similar to 'If I acquire enough stuff, I’ll be fine.'"


Let's play devil's advocate, put ourselves in a prepper's shoes, and apply Pascal's Wager to the "prepper lifestyle": either there's a ________ coming, or there isn't (fill in the blank with whatever catastrophe you want). If it does come, and I have acquired enough stuff, great! If not, I spent a lot of money and I look like an idiot. The former outcome is favorable, the latter is inconvenient or irrelevant; so I should be a prepper.

There is so much wrong with that approach, but you hear this type of spineless utilitarianism all the time. Let's start at the start, and staying with JC's theme of the importance of integrity, all of the problems that preppers have - and that survivalists don't - stem from that blank spot in the above argument.

The goal of the survivalist is just that: to survive as a man. By "as a man" I mean that the survivalist wants to protect the ideals, people, and things he values - in a manner appropriate to men, not savages nor animals. Whatever the catastrophe, the survivalist's goal remains the same. For the survivalist, it is the goal that determines the means.

For the prepper, it is the catastrophe that determines the means. The prepper focuses almost exclusively on the means to get through a calamity, and any goals beyond that are left nebulous. The prepper wants a lifestyle, not a life. He will end up having neither, for no prepper's hyper-detailed plan will survive contact with reality: change the details of the catastrophe, and the prepper is caught off guard.

(You can also see the consequences of this omission of goals in prepper fiction: their novels frequently read more like how-to manuals than fiction. The goal of fiction is to show, not to teach. Besides, any good how-to manual must have an index.)

There's also a problem of magnitude: many preppers fill in that blank with huge and sudden natural disasters, such as: Yellowstone volcanos, solar flares, asteroid strikes, etc. What about events that aren't huge? What about events that are gradual rather than sudden? What about man-made disasters?

February 2010 Snowstorm in Frederick, MD: Not something a prepper would consider worthy.

By being stuck in the mechanics of prepping for a particular large-scale event instead focusing on the goal (to survive as a man), the prepper is missing the opportunity to apply his "preps" to small and/or gradual events. Instead of worrying about Yellowstone volcanos, think of major snowstorms. Instead of solar flares, be concerned about the impending layoffs at your company. Instead of a sudden asteroid impact, prepare to fight creeping socialism.

From that standpoint, the S has already HTF, repeatedly.

Going back to Pascal, and back to JC's essay, there is another problem that preppers have and that survivalists don't: the "if not" part. What happens if the catastrophe never comes? As a solution to this, JC quotes Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long character (in "Time Enough for Love"?) as epitomizing the survivalist:
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
The particular list of skills is not as important as the contrast between that variety and the single-mindedness of an insect. Taking this quote in isolation, one must ask of each of those activities: to what end? For Heinlein's answer, read any of his novels.

Notice not only the breadth of those skills, but also the depth to some of them. Most of those skills are nontrivial tasks, and require serious effort and discipline to complete. What Heinlein is saying here is the ideal man is not to be just a "competent man" or a "generalist", but an "exceptional man". He won't know how to do all of those things, but he has the ability to learn and adapt, and he knows that he must do so in order to survive.

One last thing about those skills: all of them are worth doing outside of catastrophic situations, and many of them pay quite well. This, I think, is a key difference between a prepper and a survivalist: the prepper wins Pascal's Wager only if a catastrophe happens; a survivalist wins either way.

In summary: a prepper is prepared to live through a disaster; a survivalist lives as a man, regardless of whether a disaster happens or not.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Eyes on the Prize

We think of militias in terms of what they prevent - government overreach and foreign invasion. While militias can indeed defend against those, that’s a negative description. Think of it like this: a Catholic is a non-Protestant Christian, but being non-Protestant doesn’t tell you much about Catholicism!

So really, what does a militia do? More to the point, what does active membership in a militia do for us, individually? Everybody has their own answers; what follows are mine.

What convinced me to join was the expressions you see in people's eyes.

When you look into a man’s eyes, you sometimes see confusion and apprehension – he is confused by the present and fearful of the future. Other times, you see a sick kind of giddiness, as if he is being pushed off of a cliff, and no amount of his scheming can prevent it. On still other occasions, you cannot look into his eyes at all, for he is always looking at other people – he is trying to determine what to think since he is too lazy to think for himself.

No fire, no passion; no brightness, no eagerness.

Those are not the looks of men; those are the looks of chattel.

I grew tired of seeing that in people's eyes, and what it implies: that they are not men; that they are indeed chattel.

That’s why I joined a militia: the fire and passion in a militiaman’s eyes has not been extinguished; the brightness and eagerness remain. I want to be around such men, for they are the only ones worth knowing.

Now, why I stay in a militia is more about how our society got to this point.

Let’s face it: our popular “culture” and our “education” system do as much damage to our way of life as does the intrusive government. This is especially true of the education system.

We are taught just enough knowledge so that we can barely hold-down jobs we hate, instead of being able to use knowledge as the powerful and elegant tool that it is - and we are left with nothing but superstition, rumor, and opinion. We are taught that we exist for the state, not the other way around. We are taught that we should turn control of our lives and property over to "qualified experts," without questioning why those so-called "experts" are qualified and how they'll be held accountable if they aren't. We are taught that handouts are the way to success, not productivity.

We are taught that confusion, fear, and the lack of control are normal and acceptable – and if we doubt that, just ask what everybody else thinks.

Pop culture distracts the chattel, the government herds them, but it is the education system that produces such helpless people.

That is why I stay in: the militia is a rejection of this learned helplessness. Active members of a militia expand their comfort zone and learn to take care of themselves in that expanded zone. Then they repeat, repeat, and repeat again. Militia members are anything but helpless.

There’s more, though. To quote Nietzsche somewhat out of context: "Free from what? As if that mattered...! But your eyes should tell me brightly: free for what?"

Free for what, indeed!

If we don’t make our own future, it will be made for us. The militia is living proof that we can make our own future. It is human ability made manifest.

Those are my reasons for joining and staying in. Everybody will have their own. Some assembly required, and your mileage may vary. However you approach it, though, the end result is the same: not only freedom, but worthiness of being free.