Monday, November 23, 2009

The Survival Instinct - “Cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

You have come to this blog (a place that advocates leading a responsible lifestyle with a slant towards self reliance, self awareness and a recognition that things can and sometimes do go terribly wrong) for one of two reasons. You are either lost and didn’t intend to be here, in which case this is your lucky day, or, somewhere in your brain, a neuron has fired resulting in you being aware, ever so slightly, that there may be things you could and should be doing in your daily life to ensure that you can continue to reaffirm that the sun really does rise every morning.

That little twinge of awareness in your brain is not something that should be stifled or suppressed. That’s instinct, survival instinct to be specific. All of the animals on this planet have instincts and all share one in common – the overpowering desire to survive. I’m not going to dwell on how instincts are employed by members of the animal kingdom; the TV nature shows do a good job of that. I do, however, wish to speak with you about how humans deal with instinct and in particular how we tend to ignore and shy away from our own survival instinct.

Before we get too far along, let’s consider for a moment, that as children we learn fairly early on that hot hurts. Some of us learn this by touching a hot stove, from the flame of a flickering candle, or a hot drink that burns our tongue. We learn this lesson very quickly and completely. Pain is a stimulus that compels us to engage our survival instinct so that we do not damage ourselves and are thus treated to another sunrise. Our survival instinct when called to action forces us to make an instantaneous decision: To run away screaming or to stay put and deal head-on with the situation. Most should recognize this response from 7th grade biology as the “fight or flight” response. It is how mankind has come to use this combination of stimulus, instinct and response in our modern would that I would like you to think about.

We all respond pretty well to direct stimulation. You drop a can of kidney beans on your bare foot and instantly know it hurts, you subconsciously pull your foot back. If you feel cold, you put on a sweater. If you are hungry, you eat. In other words, if it is in your face and imminent you react as instinct dictates. As our societies have developed over thousands of years, slowly, almost imperceptibly, we have dulled our survival instinct. As our ability to meet our daily needs improves more of us need to do less and less on a daily basis to survive. As life gets easier the more we tend to consciously suppress our survival instinct – choosing instead to put all of our trust in a system of supply we have created. Embracing this artificial system as we do diminishes our daily awareness of the ultimate biological imperatives.

Modern life today is divided into daily time frames. There is the period of time that we spend ensuring that we have the means to feed ourselves and remain warm and dry. This is usually called the “work day” by those of us who need money to accomplish these objectives. There is a period of time each day that we must sleep. Not getting enough sleep will render your body unable to function in short order. Apart from the biological function of recuperation, sleeping is pretty much lost time because nothing truly constructive occurs when you are asleep. The rest of the day, is primarily the time when we use our hard-earned $$$ to actually procure our food and clothing and maintain our homes, thus satisfying the three fundamental necessities of life: Food, clothing and shelter.

For as long as I can remember, there has always been a grocery store with food in it. Water has always flowed from the tap and a light switch has always abated the darkness. Society’s ability to provide easy access to these resources consistently and reliably over a very long time has led to the development of a weakness in our survival instinct that may well one day lead us not from disaster but straight into the grip of our undoing.

Solely because we can get what we need without having to make it, grow it, raise it or conceive it, we have started down the long path of becoming detached from reality. Be honest, when was the last time you went to the store to get milk and there wasn’t any? Not very often I suspect. Forget how. How is not important. Today you went to get milk and there isn’t any. There isn’t any anywhere. Sure you might be able to barter or trade with a neighbor who has some powdered milk, but that too will be gone soon. No milk, obviously, means no more powdered milk. Unless you have the right kind of cow, the knowledge to care for said cow and how to milk a cow; it’s safe to say, “No more milk for you”.

It’s inconceivable you say that there will come a day when there is no more milk. You may be right, but that’s not my point. You pull into a gas station and the pumps are empty. How or why is not important, they are just empty. You only have what is left in your tank. You know that once gone, your car becomes nothing more than 2 tons of useless junk – at least as far as being a transportation tool is concerned. If you can no longer drive, what is your back up plan? Do you have a bicycle, roller skates, or just your feet? What will you do if or when you turn the water faucet on and nothing happens or what comes out is not safe to consume. Again, how and why there is no water is not important; the reality is that you do not have easy access to a potable water source - bad news for you.

Life is too easy these days. We humans as a species no longer concern ourselves with the fundamentals of sustaining life, but concentrate our energies on procuring them within the confines of a society where the few provide for the many. We assume that when it gets dark, the light switch will solve the problem. Some day, it might not. No matter how unlikely, it's possible that that electricity might not be available, for a day, a week or for years. “Preposterous you say”, you may be right. Consider this; a solar flare (which does occur regularly) hits our atmosphere and blows out a significant number of electrical transformers (which has happened before). Only this time, the solar flare is bigger and stronger and it takes out many of the transformers in North America all within a few minutes of each other. Do you think that there are several million transformers sitting on a shelf somewhere waiting to be installed? How about as few as 25,000 transformers being available for immediate use, of course there aren’t. You should be able to see how it might take many months or years to build enough transformers to replace all that have been damaged. An unlikely scenario for sure, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

In our modern times, in our modern societies, we are too concerned with the “what”, the “how” and the “why”. We have become stuck in a groove of denial when we think about unpleasant scenarios because we have no memories of ever having to do without. Over a long period of time we have convinced ourselves that there will always be food at the store, that clean water will always be available to drink and that the light will always come on anytime we flick the switch.

That subtle message your brain is sending to your conscience mind is your survival alarm clock going off. If you are honest with yourself, you can admit that you are very dependent on society to provide for your daily needs. If you are honest with yourself, you can envision a situation that could happen where you live that could deny you access to some or all of those things that you need to survive. Just three days without water to drink and you’re just about done in this life. “It’ll never happen”, I know, just ask those left in New Orleans after Katrina or those in Homestead Florida after Andrew. Ask those living near Mount St Helens, or on the island of Montserrat. Talk to those old enough to remember the depression, the dust bowl or to those in Africa after a crop failure. Bad things do happen all over the world for all sorts of reasons all the time. “It wont happen to me”...maybe, but are you sure?

Your life depends on others. From the guy who grows the food and the guy who makes electrical transformers, to the guy who delivers the stuff we need to the stores and electric companies, to the owner of a store that offers what you need for sale. From the cow that makes the milk you drink and the steak you eat, to the veterinarian that allows us to raise lots of animals in close quarters, to the bankers who finance the whole shebang. You have no control over anything other than your own personal actions. If you cannot find water, or eat, or stay warm and dry you will die. For most people, the ability to meet our fundamental needs in this modern world has without exception been delegated to someone else. In recognition of this simple truth, you hope everyday that nothing changes to upset the balance. We assume that all will always be well. We choose not to think about the day when we have to go without. It’s scary and upsetting. Not being in control and totally dependent on others is not a natural state of affair. An eagle, when hungry will catch something to eat. It is not dependent on all of the other eagles to satisfy its hunger, to find shelter from the elements or to get a drink. In general, all living creatures possess the knowledge, skills and instinct to survive just fine in their environment without assistance. Mankind has gone and done just the opposite. Ideally, society is meant to enable the many to cooperatively work towards common goals to ease the individual burden of subsistence. Our modern way of life, however, has unwisely become structured to promote and sustain a level of interdependence that does not allow an individual to easily provide for themselves and keep a significant amount of control (of their destiny) in their own hands. We have forgotten how to provide for ourselves. We choose to ignore the fact that most people are no longer capable of looking after their own biological needs if someone else is unwilling or no longer able to do it for them.

In South America, Africa and elsewhere, there are isolated tribes of humans living just fine running around in clothing made from plant parts and eating whatever they can find or catch. These cultures are quickly succumbing to the pressures of the modern world. As they come to depend more and more on the trappings of a modern society, they too will begin to embrace the folly of a false sense of reality. It won’t happen over night but generation after generation will be more dependent on others than the generations before them.

I am not saying that the modern societies are inherently bad. I am saying that they are extremely complicated and predicated on many other interconnected systems that must work together to support each other, or the whole house of cards comes falling down. A failure in one system will have a negative impact within co-dependent systems. A prolonged problem with the electrical system would result in the milking machines on the dairy farms to cease working and as a result milk production would plummet. Without refrigeration, the ability to store perishable foods such as milk would cease to exist. An outbreak of mad cow disease in England may not seem a big deal to us in North American at the time, but the resulting conditions being just right to give rise to a disease that infects their cattle, can and has migrated across the seas to infect our cattle – before we know it, no more milk. A significant portion of our food comes to us from afar. A blight that attacks potato plants, wheat crops or whatever can seriously impact the ability of farms to produce enough food to meet our needs. Remember, it’s just not you that wants to eat each day; there are billions of others with the same expectations. A fuel shortage could prevent the trucks from getting food from the farm to the distributors and then on to the stores and eventually to us. Anywhere along the line, a delay could cause the food to spoil and become both worthless and useless.

We all hope that we will always be able to go to a store to get what we need. We hope that the lights stay on and that the wind doesn’t knock our house down. We all hope that disease won’t spread rampantly cutting our lives short. More importantly we pray that nothing happens to those who supply us with want we need. We pray because we are being honest with ourselves and know that we are not prepared to provide that which we must have for ourselves.

Truthfully, we know that our hold on life is tenuous and right now, we control very little that determines whether we live or die. You hear your instinct speaking to you. You can choose not to suppress it, (presumably that’s why you are reading a Prepping blog) or you can choose to hit “snooze” because you prefer not to think about bad things and troubled times. Through repeated denial and avoidance you reinforce the erroneous belief that it will never happen to you. Wake up! Stop hitting “snooze”. Listen to what your instinct is telling you. Resist the temptation to numb yourself against those things that are unpleasant to ponder. Look to nature and accept that our species is wholly dependent on a structured system that is unique in the natural world. Never before in history have so many been so dependent on so few for their ability to see the next sunrise. Accept the possibility that things could go terribly wrong and you have taken the first step to reversing your predilection to deny the true reality of the world you live in. You can build some level of self-sufficiency into your otherwise normal life that will leave you much better able to satisfy your own fundamental needs - but not if you continue to deny reality, in favor of the more comforting state of blissful ignorance and denial.

With help from bloggers such as Riverwalker and a directed effort on your part, you can learn how to better your chances if the unthinkable happens. You are reading Stealth Survival because this is a place where you can learn and acquire new ideas on how you might improve your odds if all the kings’ men can’t put society back together again quickly. It’s all up to you – you can continue to believe that all is perfect and someone else will look after you just as they currently provide for you, or you can decide to act and take steps to reduce your complete dependence on others, at least for those things that are fundamental to being able to keep yourself alive. It’s your life; it’s up to you to protect it. Having all of your eggs in someone else’s basket doesn’t come across as a sound personal survival strategy to me.

The journey towards self preparedness starts with the first step. It is too easy to delay your departure on this journey for a whole host of reasons. If you keep hitting “snooze”, you stay in perpetual denial and that is where you will be until the sun sets on your life for the last time. Stop running away. Make the decision to turn and face the reality of your life. Understand that bad things don’t always happen, but when they do, you need to be able to react in a meaningful way. You can prepare to react only when you admit that someday there might not be any milk, or municipally supplied water or fuel to beat back the cold temperatures of winter.

We tend not to think analytically anymore. We absorb whatever the TV says, what the politicians proclaim even though we are still waiting for “no new taxes” for the umpteenth time. We choose to not question the news as it is told to us or hold our politicians accountable for the very same reasons that we believe that there will always be milk. To think otherwise means that all is not as it seems in Shangri-la and we might actually have to think about, plan for and take action against that which we refuse to acknowledge as being a threat to our continued existence. For someone to choose to continue along this path of denial and to dismiss outright the possibility of serious trouble down the road is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face - Also not a very productive survival strategy.

I am asking you to rely more on yourself and less on someone else that you don’t know in some far away place. I am asking you to make that all important distinction between the real reality and that which you have created in your consciousness that reinforces the erroneous belief that all is well and will always be so. I think that most of us do know that modern life is an illusion. We just can’t seem to admit to ourselves that living requires that we accept direct personal responsibility for our continued survival. Your life is too precious to completely entrust to anyone else. Or if you prefer, you may not abdicate the responsibility for protecting your own life, because it is yours alone to maintain and defend.

Wake up, get up and look to the sunrise as your daily inspiration and reminder that it is so, only because you choose to make it so.

A big thanks to Riverwalker for his invite to make use of this prestigious forum to pass on my thoughts. It is my hope that we as a species can regain a bit of the control over our destiny that we have given up as individuals to the systems we have constructed and have become so keenly dependent on. We all have to eek out an existence; it doesn’t have to be this complicated and precarious...



A proud member of the Canadian Preppers Network.


riverwalker said...

Thanks my friend for a truly excellent guest post.


Kymber said...

i think it another one of Scarecrow's truly original and thought-provoking posts...but i am a little biased, i must admit!

thanks for featuring the CPN's best writer and prepper extraordinnaire on your site Riverwalker - we really appreciate it!!!

Chris W said...

Excellent post. This is definitly one of those I will have my non-mindset people read in hopes get them thinking. I've read it twice already myself.

Chief Instructor said...

Excellent post. I think the message, though, falls on too many deaf ears.

I've always prepped with the expectation that I will need to share some of our stores. But the numbers are unmanageable, for all intents and purposes. SO MANY have lost the ability to care for themselves - the survival instinct is gone. As Scarecrow noted, we (as a society) have become detached from reality.

IF the balloon goes up - even for a short period of time - it is going to get very ugly, very quickly.

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