Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Problem with “Preppers”

Today I was reading through a file of old letters that I had written, and came upon the attached. It was a response that I made in 2012 to another writer’s comment on the survivalblog.com website, which I seldom read anymore, and then only to check the links to articles on the economy that are posted there. I’ve edited it a little to pick up the ever-present mistakes.
I thought that I would forward it to you, as it seems to be somewhat in line with your philosophy, and it also gives you a “plug.” I doubt that such a plug was well-received over there. If I were to write the same letter today, I would likely include a reference to the Balkan experiences of Selco at SHTFblog which have surfaced since then.
By the way, thanks again for your book!(The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse) I’ve read it three times in the last few years and refer to it frequently.
Perhaps you will find my perhaps overly philosophical letter interesting. Perhaps not.
Either way, best regards!
Thanks again.
Take care.
Letter re: Why I Hate Preppers, by Allen C.
I greatly enjoyed reading the letter forwarded by Allen C. It mirrored many of my own thoughts, mostly not vocalized, that I have had about other “preppers.” I do not like the generalization implied in the word, itself, for it establishes a bias either for or against a whole group of people who seem decidedly different.
It brought to mind the much-repeated phrase among preppers: “like-minded individuals.” Now, having met face-to-face with a number of other people who are concerned about uncertain times and are preparing in one way or another for those eventualities, I found that huge differences exist in the ways of going about this task and the philosophies surrounding it. Thus, to put out an advertisement to join “like-minded individuals” in the “prepper community” is, in my view, about like making the same exhortation to a group of professional football fans on the assumption that they are “like minded,” when all they have done is to root for the same team that we do.
On the subject of paranoia, Allen repeats the oft-used phrase: “I wouldn’t be so paranoid if everyone wasn’t out to get me.” This reminded me of a meeting I had in a public place with a few other local preppers whom I “met” on an online prepper network. These were supposedly like-minded individuals, who, during the course of the meeting appealed to those present to provide their addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for the purpose of networking, “early warning,” passing the news, etc. Of course, I found this proposal astoundingly foolish, and said so. I was accused of being overly paranoid. Are there degrees of paranoia? Anyway, I refused to provide such information to complete strangers, and chalked down having talked myself into such a meeting of this kind to my own foolishness. There are few enough “like minded individuals” within a tightly knit family, or even in a pretty tight military unit, much less in the population at large. People should dispense with the notion that such a fantasy exists.
Concerning Allen’s frustration with preppers being “know-it-alls,” this statement particularly rang true to me: “Later the same evening suburban grandma is in a user group regurgitating a half digested piece of prepper knowledge she picked up on another web site without ever having to actually fight anyone, kill anything, or spend a week in the woods.”
This brought to mind the image of my teenaged grandson, who, while very bright and seemingly able to absorb any sort of material that he reads, or hears, or sees on TV, has a terrible habit, in my view, of saying “I know….” such-and-such. I have repeatedly reminded him that he does not “know” anything, nor does anyone else, unless he or she has actually done it or experienced it. Reading about, talking about, or listening to others who read about, talk about, or otherwise expound on any subject does not constitute a reason to say to oneself: “I know.” There is only one way to know, in my opinion at least, and that is to know by the experience of doing. One does not know how to fell a tree, slice it up with a chain saw, haul it, split it, and stack it, much less burn it, unless one has done it.
And Allen’s comments further lead me into the frustration I have with preppers who are constantly writing on various blogs a presumption of what “will” happen under certain circumstances, such as a societal collapse. Zombie biker gangs will roam the countryside, stores will be out of food in hours, gasoline will be unattainable, .22 caliber cartridges will be like gold, etc. Some of these events might happen, of course, but for anyone to say beforehand, and in the absence of any evidence, whatsoever, that they “know” what will happen is ludicrous. No one actually knows what will happen until it happens. Detractors have said “history repeats itself,” so we can take from history that we actually do know what will happen in the future. But we really can’t. We surmise that there is a likelihood of a similar event happening again, human nature being a constant through time, but we still do not know what will happen in a given event that takes place in present or future times.
In the popular literature, there is only one person whom I can say (because I haven’t read everything, to be sure) actually knows about what it’s like in an economic collapse. He is Fernando Aquirre, who, in his book about the collapse in Argentina (2001-present), relates what he actually saw and did in that country during that collapse. What we have in the American literature on the subject, as entertaining as it is to read, is fictional speculation. Some of it substitutes well for instruction and even education, and reflects what appears to be very good research, but it is still fiction, causing one to caution oneself, once again, that no one knows for sure what will happen. Examples of such works that I have read include the novels Patriots (Rawles), Lights Out (Crawford), One Second After (Forstechen), Holding Their Own (Joe Nobody series), Apocalypse Law (Grit), Feathers on the Wings of Hate (Grit), Enemies Domestic and Foreign (Bracken trilogy), The Pulse (S. Williams), The Rift (W. Williams), American Apocalypse (Nova), Lucifer’s Hammer, (Niven and Pournelle), Ashfall (Mullen), Molon Labe (B. T. Party), The Old Man and the Wasteland (Cole), World Made by Hand (Kunstler), The Third Revolution (Lewis), Half Past Midnight (Brackett) and Dark Grid (Waldron), among others. There are yet many that I haven’t read. Yes, I do like reading books, but seldom anymore read “survival fiction.” A few of the authors suggest what can happen or what might happen, but far too many of them purport to say what will happen, as do so many whom we see writing on Internet blogs. And yet, they cannot know. Who can know?
Still, and in spite of our differences, we continue to prepare because it seems wise to do so, even though we are not really certain of anything in the future except more uncertainty. However, I do feel that preparation is more of a lifelong challenge than one that can be accomplished in even a few years. Some people have had a self-sufficiency mindset since childhood, and so “prepping” is second nature to them. As Allen (and my father) said, they don’t even call it that. It just seems for them to be a way of life, indistinguishable from other often-practiced habits.
Further, Allen’s letter got me to thinking of a Persian proverb, which led me into thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
“He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool – shun him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is simple – teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep – wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows is wise – follow him.”
(Persian proverb).
Dunning-Kruger Effect:
According to studies published in 1999 by Dunning and Kruger, there is a difference between what we know and what we think we know. People are notoriously bad at rating their own competence at a whole variety of tasks.
Dunning and Kruger found that people who were not very good at a subject also tended to lack the skill to rate themselves at that subject. Such people often figured that the limited information they had about the subject was all there was to know, and that they were consequently more knowledgeable than the average. Hence we are skeptical when we read of so many “experts” on so many subjects on so many “survival” blogs. Take, for example, the case of a “rifleman” who espouses that it is futile to learn for himself or to teach others how to hit targets at 500 yards, arguing that his 200-yard carbine (e.g. AK/AR) will do all that needs doing. Well, the ignorance extant in such a statement is near to astounding. Assuming that a majority of our foes are not riflemen, but carbine men, would it not be wise to prepare to hit them outside of the maximum useful (lethal) range of their own weapons? But raising such a point in public (Internet) conversation is akin to banging one’s head repeatedly against a brick wall and asking for a great argument, considering all of the opposing views on that subject. Too difficult. Too far. Too risky. Why? There do seem to be a plethora of people who know not, and know not that they know not. Of course, they might well retort that I am one of them.
But then, I was in the U.S. Marine Corps, wherein it was common not only to be stubborn to the point of hard-headedness, but also to take a young man “off the streets,” and to teach him — in order for him to attain the status of “Rifleman” — to repeatedly hit at 500 yards with either a rifle or a carbine. So I can say that I have at least a little experience with that skill, and think that it can be done, and done relatively easily and safely, with most people, in good weather, and with suitable firearms and optics. Yet even then, I stop short of saying that I know that it can be done with all people.
Dunning and Kruger also found that people who really were quite knowledgeable about a subject tended to underestimate their ability, perhaps because they knew enough to be aware of how much more there was to know.
Further, they refer to a “double curse” when interpreting their findings: People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since, overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence from incompetence, people get stuck in a vicious cycle.
But one need not be obsessed with Dunning and Kruger. The same effect can be seen in other writings. Perhaps a few preppers will read this before posting their next expert “knowledge” to a web blog.
Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
1 Corinthians 8:2, King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
“And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
Bertrand Russell: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”
Thanks J, that was an interesting read.
Man, I can see why Rawles may not have liked your letter. You just skinned a few of his sacred cows. 22LR will not become the new currency after the end of the world and a bunch of survivalists won’t rule the postapocalyptic wasteland? That’s crazy talk!
You touch upon several interesting topics. You’re right about “preppers” and “like-minded people”. What’s a prepper anyway? Is it someone interested in survival and preparedness? Then I guess I’m a prepper too. Is it someone that thinks the world is about to end and spends all day worrying about EMPs or peak oil or the global financial collapse? Then no, that’s not me. People interested in survival and preparedness are as like-minded as randomly picked people from across the planet, meaning they may have absolutely nothing in common.

This is particularly true because survival and preparedness is so broad and it basically encompasses all aspects of life. You have preppers and survivalists that consider fitness essential, given how directly it impacts both their true survival rate and quality of life. On the other hand, you have preppers and survivalists that are morbidly obese, yet they are worried about biker raiders attacking the after the end of the world rather than their blood pressure and cholesterol. You have preppers and survivalists that are very pro-gun, but then there’s some that are radically anti-gun. Granted, in USA this is an extremely small minority but they do exist, and there’s a broad spectrum in between both extremes. The same goes for their political views, religion, even core moral elements. How many times have we read people say “all I need is a gun, anything else I can procure with it”. A murdering thief can be a “prepper” as well. He’s interested in survival, his approach is just different from mine. Is this individual a “like-minded” person? He sure is not. This is also the main reason why most “survival groups” and teams fail miserably even before SHTF and only work well in novels. People, as individuals, are complex and have their own agendas and ambitions. Only for a short time during extreme situations will you get them to work together for the common good. This is something important to keep in mind when talking to family, friends and neighbors if you ever have to organize people around you. Expect to be disappointed. A LOT. Trust me on this one. The kind of brother-like relationship survivalism authors casually write about in their novels, it takes years of slow-cooking friendship. Even then, true friends that you can count on during life and death situations, and at the same time, ones that is skilled enough or otherwise capable of helping, consider yourself lucky if you have one or two of those when you need him.

I believe that you can learn without the need of empiric experience. I’m more of a rationalist. My own empirical knowledge will always be limited to myself, while I can rationalize and learn from countless other experiences. If I study something, it makes sense, its from a reliable source, then that can be valuable knowledge. If I pick up a cookbook I can learn how to make an apple pie, even if I never cooked one before. Sure, practice makes perfect but it’s a start. Learning other subjects from books isnt all that different. In my books I reflect both on personal empiric knowledge and rational conclusions based on research. My first book was more based on my experience with a specific scenario, the Argentine economic collapse. My second book was mostly based on research, I spent hundreds of hours looking into data, reports and arriving to certain conclusions. Granted, this is information I ended up putting into actual practice myself when I used that same info when bugged out of Argentina. I can confirm that it worked very well in my case.

I think the important part is looking into the source and credibility of the data, and only then making up your mind if its useful or not. Lets take for example “.22 LR being used as currency after SHTF”. OK, that’s based on what exactly? When did it happen? In the case of Rawles 99% of his survival knowledge is based on his own fiction novel. Its not based on personal experience with dealing with the end of the world (because of course, it hasn’t happened yet), nor is it based on real-world 3rd party experience or historic events. I pay particular attention to that, real world events, learn from history. If someone has gone through a certain incident, a shooting, a dictatorial government, went bankrupt during the Greek crisis, I’m all ears. Now, if you want to tell me how you’re supposed to deal with the end of the world by setting up a ranch or go hiking to the nearest park and that know-how is based on watching the Walking Dead or your own work of fiction, then no offense but I really have better things to do with my time. The information you are incorporating, who is it coming from and based on what exactly? Is there an agenda I should be aware of?
If I recommend you to move to Panama in preparation for the end of the world and I have a sponsor in my website selling Panama real estate or I recommend you to move to remote locations and I’m selling you just that, then I clearly have a financial interest in you making certain decisions. What’s exactly so great about moving to Panama, or some remote location far from everything a person realistically needs such as short commute times, jobs, safety, good schools, etc? Explain why. “Because of the hordes, the golden hordes that will pour out of the cities!” Really? Besides your own fiction novel, exactly when did this happen in real life? Real, professional research ironically shows the opposite.
During tough times, both social and financial, people move to those pesky big cities looking for security and work. It happened during the industrial revolution, it happened during the great depression, it happened not that long ago in South Africa and its happening right now in Ukraine. Again, trying to learn from real events, there’s account of people leaving Donetsk and moving to western cities looking for living accommodations and work. A guy in a forum asked the Ukrainian posting this information why he didn’t go to live in the countryside instead. The Ukranian’s answer was logical enough, he needed both a place to live and work as well as security. He found those in the city of Kharkov, population 1.400.000. He rented a flat he could afford and was happy enough while getting back on his feet. Its in these examples where fantasy and unfounded nonsense crashes against reality.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.


Don Williams said...

1) Prepping is a form of insurance. The time and money spent on it is wasted unless a miserable disaster occurs. In other words, you only benefit if a catastrophe strikes you.

How many people enjoy spending their spare time on analyzing and paying for home insurance, automobile insurance, medical insurance,etc.? Even though home fires, car wrecks and sickness are far more likely than an economic collapse or nuclear war.

2) Developing poor habits in allocating resources, managing limited time and exercising poor judgment is not survival oriented. A person who read Mel Tappan's survival manual in 1979 and moved to rural Oregon probably entered a life of near poverty (Mel avoided that by marrying a wealthy heiress.)

In contrast, a person who read Mel Tappan and chose the opposite course -- going to work on Wall Street in New York City -- probably made a lot of money in the past 36 years. Who is better situated for the limited Social Security payments and costly medical bills of old age?

Anonymous said...

90% of those so-called prepper sites are rubbish. For every article containing useful information there are three more featuring a bunch of paranoid babbling and shameless shilling.

I get a kick out of the ones who think they'll be holed up with a few dozen "like minded individuals" in their little Idaho compound, with the solar power and the livestock and the crops and the guns. I guess they've never heard of drones.

Reginald Mosley said...

That was long winded. No, I did not finish it. There are all types of people in the world. Not all will agree with our way of thinking or your way of thinking and that's great. We need the diversity to help us grow as individuals. Let them follow the path they choose for themselves. Provided their choices and actions do not infringe upon your liberties or those of others, celebrate constructive differences.