Prepare to Thrive, Not Just Survive

“Survivalism” is big news these days, and the hottest novel on the market is Patriot.  It  contains extremely detailed discussions of everything a group of college students who banded together in 2000 bought for or did at their Idaho retreat to prepare for TEOTWATKI, which occurs in 2009.  Consider it a reference work, not light bedtime reading, because it reads far more like 4,000 pages than 400.  Their preparations are a first class hedge fund against the breakdowns of society and commerce and having to live in ditches and under hedges.

Ten presumably bright (and obviously wealthy) young people put together and stock a hideout over the course of nine years before “the Change.” The ‘net is full of lively “survival” blogs, including, very likely, Mr. Rawles’ own, that will tell you what you need to know but it will be efficient to read considerably more than the basics in one spot.  Patriot demonstrates what the ultimate hedge fund is:  having what it takes to survive in a world gone mad.

There are rousing action scenes and a couple of scenarios which will have you whimpering for a nice safe cave and a 155 mm howitzer of your own.  Towns overrun by biker gangs and houses attacked by four to four dozen vehicles full of bandits who still have fuel are enough to make moving to Argentina sound like a good choice, and the saga of two members who left it too late getting out of Chicago and had to hike all the way to Idaho…no.  I don’t want to go to Idaho that badly, not even if that were where the Cocoa Puffs and my sleeper-footed jammies were stored.  I particularly disliked the chapter that ended baldly, “That winter they ate the dogs.” (Others, not the lead characters.)

No.  We aren’t going to eat the dogs.  We aren’t going to eat our friends or even enemies; we’re going to plan ahead.

Read the first half to get a good grasp of the scope of serious preparations that could keep you safe and will make you wealthy IF you are positioned to emerge from chaos and open the first trading post in your state and learn from The Group’s mistakes.  Ignore the half about fighting a civil war against totalitarians unless you think there is a need to know eventually.

Patriot delineates clearly the difference between being a “survivalist” and attempting to become as self-sufficient as possible.   I had been using the term”survivalist” as convenient shorthand, but Mr. Rawles showed me the error of my ways:  we want to be prepared to thrive, not just to survive.  We’re capitalists here in the Bar and we want a better ROI than just living through the breakdown of commerce and law and order.  We can foresee what will constitute wealth in the aftermath of widespread destruction and our emergency precautions should take that into consideration.  You can always eat tradegoods other than silver coins and bullets.

Therein lies the big flaw in Patriot;  The Group is quite prepared to defend themselves, wage war, and survive, but that is basically all they do.  MY goal is to see that those I love are warm, dry, safe, and well-fed every day except possibly those we have to fend off cannibalistic looters or UN “peacekeeping” forces, and on those a roast or a big pot of thick vegetable beef soup can simmer on the wood-burning stove.  My definition of the new luxury remains, “sustainable supplies of food and fuel that you can protect.”  Sustainable and/or renewable resources.  Those who survive a major disruption with their trade goods intact and the ability to raise excess food will be poised to become very wealthy, indeed.  You can’t eat gold, and you can’t eat houses or land, but you can certainly swap for them if your food production shows consistent surpluses and/or you start making biodiesel or even alcohol, which are certainly feasible.

I’m the one who wrote, “I may have to live through wars in ‘injun territory,’ but I refuse to do so without ample supplies of whipping cream, fresh porto bello mushrooms, and a lifetime supply of OPI nail polish.”  Two years into the bad times our heroes have fended off assorted attackers and formed a Dudly Do Right squad to patrol a big chunk of territory assisting those they think worthy of it.  Their standard breakfast is dried wheat softened with heated water.  Lunch is a big pot of steaming rice.  Period.  Dinner is the elk or venison du jour when hunting is good and more rice.  Dehydrated peanut butter or jerky if it weren’t.  Yeech.  The calorie count is a bit higher, but other than that we’re talking Gulag food.  On special occasions they have a tasty MRE.

The leaders have lived on the place for several years, guarding the supplies various members have “pre-positioned.”  They have done great things covering doors and windows with five thicknesses of mild steel and securing the water supply…but some dull evening don’t you think Pa might have asked, “Y’know, Ma, now that we have taught the dog to chase off bears but not game and dug defensive positions, what would you think if we got a couple of head of beef cattle?  They won’t be much trouble, and when the power goes out permanently it sure would be nice to have a steak occasionally.”  (They didn’t even bother to buy a dehydrator!  I know four good ways that don’t require a machine, but I worry about people who don’t take food seriously.)  Ma might have mused, “Pa, I ought to have a little butter and egg money, the way we buy .223 by the hundred-case lot, so let’s buy a milk goat and a few chickens?”

What was the plan?  To eat MRE’s and rice until they were all gone, or the ammo was?  This appears to have dawned on Mr. Rawles about half way through, so he sticks in a hasty sentence that the tiny orchard had been upgraded with some fruit and nut saplings (at least 7-10 years to bearing, but better late than never), and mentions a tractor no one has ever used for anything; he reveals belatedly that Mrs. Leader has been building up her supply of medicinal and culinary herbs.   Call me effete, but I’d have turned some of the ingredients into elk-fried rice and told those men that they had enough trenches, go hunting and don’t come back without something that can be milked, and I don’t care if it is domestic or a mountain goat.  One of you other idlers go find a bee hive.

Three years into their communal survival experiment they still haven’t planted a garden!  They keep wonderful around the clock lookouts, of course.  They make terrific IED.  Nothing was more important than a garden, and couldn’t someone not on duty have built a still?  They couldn’t even have made soap out of ashes for lack of sufficient spare fats.

Comes the first local “barter fair,” a while later, and they concoct a shopping list that includes cows, goats, and chickens, and actually find a few goats, which is good, because 40 acres in Idaho isn’t likely to support much and in times of famine those who have them are going to prize their goats more than Afghanis do.  What has The Group got to swap?  Ammunition!  They have produced nothing.  I consider that appalling.  Certainly ammo is a first-class trade good and 25,000 rounds of .22 would be a thoughtful Christmas gift, but no one ever got rich without producing something. I am offended to my depths.

Get a grip, Group, the first thing you do once you have your land and some way to live on it (such as the old motor homes I nag you frequently to buy as “bug out vehicles”), is learn how to keep chickens and tomatoes alive and read a couple of books from Rodale Press or ancient copies of The Mother Earth News.  (Water the tomatoes and protect the chickens from skunks, raccoons, hawks, owls, and two-legged predators.  If necessary, keep them in the house until you build a secure place just for fowl, because those girls will lay an egg every 26-hours each, you’ll like scrambled eggs a lot better than wheat berries, and they are a renewable resource.)  Expand gently from there by getting a pair of companionable dairy goats (who will eat every last green shoot in your garden if you aren’t very careful.)  It takes five months to parturition, so if the girls are bred alternately in Spring and Fall, there will never be a time when you don’t have at least a gallon of rich, creamy milk that can be turned into great cheese for the very slight effort of heating it to 180 degrees F and dumping in a measured portion of ordinary vinegar.  Lovely.  If you save what is left over when the white cheese rises to the top you can make mozzerella out of the whey.  A goat can give milk about ten months out of the year, and a cow can be milked 300 days, too.

Given nine years of accumulating rations, one is at a loss to understand how the survivors managed to run out of coffee in three months.  Surely they knew how much coffee they each drank and that coffee, tea, hot cocoa, sugar, and even vienna sausages are right up there with beans and bullets for trade goods?  A hundred cans of coffee would be a magnificent way to diversify your survival portfolio.  In a world where paper money is no good, Maxwell House and Spam will certainly be very valuable–more practical than glittering St. Gaudens’ because they are far easier to divide up.  Get a good scale and lots of small ziplocks.  I admit freely that the group never runs out of dynamite or the materials to make thermite grenades, none of which I have.  Rawles gives you a safer, more efficient way to make a Molotov Cocktail, but no, he can’t have the Mason jars and their precious lids for this project.  That’s why we save spaghetti sauce and jelly jars and their lids for all non-canning purposes.  Seal them with the paraffin for those candles you never made.

I guess the Group wouldn’t have liked me, but that’s okay because even if they had a couple of million dollars’ worth of supplies they didn’t have any talent for being happy.  I can handle my stint in the LP/OP (Listening Post/Observation Post, as Mr. Rawles reminds you frequently) regularly, but not if all we have for lunch is rice.  To be charitable, they started as college kids and got tied up in preparing for the breakdown of society and perhaps there are those who think monotany is just fine so long as they eat.  They have no genuine entrepreneurial experience and not much more in keeping house.

Patriot is certainly a monumental work and Mr. Rawles really knows his armament and a fair amount about tactics, and any number of you might enjoy the book enormously if you didn’t gulp it down in two sittings.  My pleasure-reading pace is held to a hundred pages an hour, and I assure you that few will be able to get through Patriot in four hours.  I didn’t, and neither did MDC, who rarely fails to finish at least one book a day.  The information is too dense.  Patriot isn’t “The Berenstein Bears Go Survivalist.”

Mr. Rawles knows an enormous amount and conveys information clearly but the Northwest Militia, originally known as “The Group,” isn’t where I would choose to spend a period of anarchy and social disruption.  Let’s get our priorities straight around here.  Skimp a little on the several cases of olive drab Duct tape, pick up our BDU’s (Battle Dress Utility) at Good Will, and be certain that there are at least two quart tubs of Mae Ploy Thai Green Curry Chili paste and two dozen pounds of pepper corns.

Delighted gurgle of laughter.  One of my first preparations for the collapse of society was a ten-year supply of high thread-count sheets!

The first was four dairy goats.

Linda Brady Traynham

December 14, 2009

The Daily Reckoning