Saturday, November 29, 2008


Michael sez: This is a very nice article sent to m by Jim Haddix. It is amazingly well spoken. I especially liked the part where survivalism was called a celebration of community. I will try to make it to that party!

Survivalism: for Peak Oilers and Ecotopians Too?

Written by Jerry Erwin, Portland Peak Oil

As a peak oiler myself since 2002, I have often wondered why most of the prominent peak oil authors and activists dismiss the survivalist movement.

It seems that many of the peak oil heavyweights, including Richard Heinberg and Dmitry Orlov, in particular, despite their own ingenious contributions to analyzing our current predicament, seem to blithely dismiss survivalism. They apparently do not understand the basic technical constructs of survivalism, such as the military skill sets, weapons, and organization that go into survivalism. They also do not seem to understand the technical aspects of long-term food storage (i.e. oxygen absorbers, desiccants, dry ice, etc.), or the emphasis that survivalism also places on organic gardening and food preservation.

Survivalism derives its origins from several sources: Government-sponsored civil defense, threats of nuclear warfare, religious beliefs, writers warning of social or economic collapse, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and climate change.

During the 1970s, modern survivalism, as we understand it, was pioneered by various individuals: newsletter writer Kurt Saxon (who may have invented the term survivalism), and the combat shooting instructor Mel Tappan, the author of several books. The main threat being prepared for during the 1970s and 1980s was that of nuclear war.

The practice of survivalism seemed to wane around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, during the 1990s under Clinton’s presidency, a small fringe of ultra-right wing people did begin forming militias, which seemed to associate itself with survivalism. These people, mostly religious fundamentalists, had a fear of a one-world government and UN occupation of the US (this may have been due to UN troops training at the US Army’s Joint Readiness Training Centers, with their vehicles and equipment seen being transported by rail and flatbed semis).

During the late 1990s however, there was a more mainstream following of survivalism, particularly among technical professionals, due to the perceived threat of a Year 2000 computer crash. Many of these survivalists had established retreats in rural areas, with a deep larder (i.e., long-term food storage), complete with perimeter security and military-grade weapons. This was in preparation for wandering looters and hostile refugees, looking for food and other supplies. There were also fears of FEMA exercising Executive Orders that would allow them to confiscate personal property for redistribution, along with the use of vehicles, etc (this actually took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina).

Currently, people having learned about peak oil, particularly from documentaries such as The End of Suburbia and various books written on the subject, have swelled the ranks of people within the survivalism/preparedness movement. Jim Rawles, the modern patron saint of survivalism, has acknowledged this himself. Rawles runs, the number one internet site on survivalism/preparedness.

There are many misconceptions between peak oilers and survivalism. The following are the main two:

Claim: Peak Oilers believe in community, and survivalists don't.

This is false. It also depends on what you physically have around you for a “community.” For instance, if you already live in an intentional community, an Eco-village, or similar type of urban or rural environment, then you are set, regarding community (assuming you can survive an outside armed threat, which has already manifested itself by “the bad guys” within Survivalist chartrooms, message boards, etc). This would also include neighborhoods with like-minded, progressive-thinking individuals.

If however, you live in suburbia, where all your neighbors are trapped within the dominant culture, never heard of Peak Oil or any other collapse theory and get all their news from the major corporate networks, these neighbors could be your worst nightmare. As several posts to have indicated, based on actual occurrences of power outages, etc., these neighbors borrowed things without giving them back, or before the fact, had admitted, “Now I know where to come if (fill in the blank) happens…” However, these same people offer nothing in return to the prepared individual, or the rest of the neighborhood, for that matter. This attitude seems particularly pervasive in upper middle-class, suburban communities.

Granted, an individual who practices survivalism could try to organize his or her community, but depending on the mindsets of the neighbors, this could be difficult to impossible. Having a feel for my own neighborhood, I have concluded with the latter, except for possibly the family directly across the street. Based on the characteristics and behavior of our own neighborhood association, my own wife and I have concluded that we should maintain an extremely low profile. Otherwise the other neighbors will expect me to protect them, or for us to feed them.

Survivalists also have their own communities; nationwide on the internet, and in local areas, where survivalism is an accepted norm, such as in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, etc. To the people in these areas, “survivalism” is simply a newer word describing the self-sufficiency practiced in these areas for generations. Many of these people routinely barter between their rural households, and in many ways, already live the “Post Peak Oil” lifestyle. "I'd say that survivalism is indeed a celebration of community," Rawles asserts. "It is the embodiment of America's traditional can-do spirit of self-reliance that settled the frontier." [editor’s note: it was already settled, although significantly depopulated by European diseases.]

Claim: Survivalists will only add to the problem, once the problems start.

This is another misconception, and has been clearly stated by several peak oilers, particularly Richard Heinberg, author of the masterpiece The Party’s Over: War, Oil, and the fate of Industrial Societies.

First off, in terms of a “fast crash” (as compared to a “slow crash”, similar to what we are witnessing the beginning stages of, currently), survivalists are people who have already prepared for their own civil defense considerations, and will therefore not seek to burden the authorities, FEMA, Red Cross, etc.

Second, the more theologically motivated practitioners of survivalism have specifically set themselves up, in order to dispense charity, or to “give until it hurts”, to quote Jim Rawles, himself a fundamentalist Christian. This is also a concern for many other survivalists, as they see people reduced to refugees, who have children among them. In the event of a fast crash, we could witness heart-rending hardships among refugees, the likes of which have not been seen since the American Civil War.

From a scene in his prophetic Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse (the current ‘bible’ of the survivalist movement, an instruction manual dressed as fiction), a passing group of refugees with children is ambushed by the main characters from concealed spider holes, without any shots being fired (roughly one year into the collapse). After going through a number of security procedures, they determine that this group is indeed peaceful. The refugees are then given an entire five gallon storage bucket of grain, in addition to peanut butter, potatoes, onions, ammunition for their weapons, etc. They were also given the warning that if they came back, they would not get anything, and that if they moved on their retreat, they would “get cut down like sheep”.

However, in all honesty, some survivalists will not be in a position to dispense charity, especially if their suburban home is their retreat, or they happen to live near a high-traffic area for refugees, etc.


The bottom line here is this: The Peak Oil movement has got to acknowledge that people under the circumstances of a fast crash are not necessarily going to be nice. Personally, I have met many other professional people around the country, who flatly admit, “I’m not worried about anything. Besides, if anything happens I’ve got a gun, so I’ll have food”. In addition, based on the message traffic on the internet previously mentioned, there are already people with their own plans to ‘go shopping,’ so to speak, at the expense of pre-announced, unarmed ecotopian communities, as one discussion board post has already stated. As someone who was forced to live in California’s foster care system during a previous period of fossil fuel scarcity (late 1970s), I am reminded that people will resort to whatever means to economically (or physically) survive, especially if that means exploiting the weaker members in that society.

Octavia Butler seemed to understand this. In 1993, her brilliant, fictional masterpiece, Parable of the Sower, was published. It takes place in the year 2025, in an oil-depleted and climate-changed world. After traveling north on Interstate-5 within a sea of refugees from the Los Angeles area, the main characters settle into their own eco-village, complete with perimeter security, to include obstacles, as well as posted and roving armed security.

Being unarmed, and simply trusting everyone around you, when they happen to be struggling with their own survival, is not necessarily a good idea. Even in a slow crash, we will experience more crime in the form of break-ins, robberies, assaults, murders, etc. As Dmitry Orlov himself has stated in one interview conducted earlier this year, there were many people who simply disappeared during the societal decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union, who were likely murdered. These deaths were “hardly ever investigated, much less solved” (Orlov).


hilljack33 said...

Parable of the Sower is indeed a great read. This is a good article.

Anonymous said...

One thing's clear to me - better to live in an already established (even if informal) community that are used to doing with less, and that have communal/family bonds. Whether the crash is fast or slow, there's a vast number of individuals in our society with 'entitlement' issues that are going to be trouble. I see these as the upper classes (excepting the very top) and the welfare types - strange bedfellows to be sure, but each has come to rely on a societal structure that will either be going or gone.

Trying to find the right charitable balance for these people has always frustrated me. Toomuch toosoon and there's hobo signs surrounding your community, toolittle toolate and you risk playing the role of the mountain people in the One Tin Soldier song.

Staying Alive said...

We will be prepared and we will triumph over the bad meanies, at least I hope we do. I never read Parabal of the Sower so I can't saay anyting about it. I'll check it out.

I already have a position in a community that has 42 yeara old roots. I would say that wanderers who come in after the collapse will find a food for work if there is anything going on, and food exists to feed them. The desire to work for your food and raiment is stronger in some than is others.

Those that won't work, neither shall they eat. Whether they stay or not, if they hang out here they work.

Ain't running a jail or nothin', but anyone destroying the sanctity of the camp will be put down, up to 6' down.