Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


When the shit hits the fan

I am a prepper’s wet dream.

I’m male. I’m a vet (and a combat vet). I was in Intelligence (and better yet Interrogation, with time spent instructing). I know how to make gunpowder, and turn that into grenades, bombs and rockets.

I’ve studied martial arts. I know how to use bladed weapons. I can ride a horse, and a motorcycle. I know how to make minor mechanical repairs. I’ve studied fortification. I can use swords, pikes, axes, knives, bows, crossbows and firearms. I’ve made cannon.

All of which makes their eyes glaze over as their breath gets short. They see me as some massive asset in the bloodbath they expect to come when The Shit Hits The Fan.

And they are wrong. Not only is that not the likely scenario, even if it were I’m not on their side. I’ve studied history. All those times of death and destruction from one end of, “the world” to the other… were not because society fell apart. Nope, the death and destruction were why society fell apart. The plague comes, people hunker down and try to ride it out (or they move to cities. France didn’t recover the population she had in 1300 until 1900, but the distribution of population changed, a lot).

Preppers don’t get that. Even the ones I’ve interacted with who seemed to get it (that more than just gun and guts are required), still fail to see how things work. I was on a couple of panels with John Ringo a few years ago. Now John seems a tolerably decent fellow, but in the course of a couple of hours of discussion I realised he’d picked up some of the same blinkered ideas that so many End of the World sorts have; mainly that the end will be sudden, and then it’s warlord city.

So when the conversation got to farming, he was dismissive of pretty much everyone; until I told him I’d run a small farm (and I do mean small about ½ an acre). That said, with a bit of work, and some knowledge of what was required, that’s enough to add a fair bit of food to the table for a family of six (which is what I was doing with it).

Some chickens, some attention to the compost and putting in a balance set of crops (such as with the milpa systems in Meso-America) can get a lot of food out of a moderate amount of land. It’s not that tricky to set up, and a small investment in practice (a working vegetable garden is often enough to see what’s needed), and some books are all one needs (that, and seeds).

Want to have fun with a prepper… ask them where they intend to get socks. Most clothes are pretty durable, so it will be a couple of years before the supply of pants, shirts, coats and hats run out. But socks, socks get a lot of wear, and (as one who spent a lot of time in the Army) if they don’t get washed frequently your feet rot. Also, if they don’t get changed/washed regularly, they wear out. I have a lot of socks, and I change them. A four day weekend means I pack six pair (yeah, I might obsess a bit about socks).

That’s where my predilection for books, and futzing, comes in. I’ve done a lot of crafty stuff. I was a machinist for several years. I can run a lathe, or a mill. I understand the basics of using brakes. I’ve done a bit of forging. I make yarn. In theory I can weave.

This is where the preppers fall apart. They think of marauders. They contemplate a world of scavengers, living off the plunder of those fools who didn’t prepare. They imagine Mad Max, and envision the wasteland of the 30 Years War. They forget it was marauding soldiers who made that wasteland.

They don’t know how to make things, and they don’t know how to run things. I’ve been fortunate. The choices I made in my life mean I’ve never been rich. I have (through good fortune, and the help of my friend and my partners) been able to live a life which allowed me to indulge in hobbies which are modern luxuries, but used to be essential skills.

Take my spinning. I have a wheel at home. It cost, all in, about a grand. I paid for about half of it, and my partners kicked in the rest (as an early holiday present). I spin when we watch television or when I need to take a break and compose my thoughts for some piece of writing. I use it as therapy when I see something ungodly stupid on the internet, and as a way to unwind at the end of the day (the moreso when the winter comes and I can’t garden). It is, for me, an interstitial pleasure.

For much of “civilisation” it was an interstitial need. Women did (and do, if you look at the Andes today, as well as the highlands of Afghanistan, parts of India, etc.) spin when they had, “nothing else to do” (women, largely, did the spinning, while men did the weaving). I’ve got a project on spindles right now. I have about an oz. of Merino/silk spun up. I think I might be able to get to an oz. and a half before the total weight is too much to keep working.

That oz. is about 450 yards of fine yarn. To make sock-yarn (you thought I’d forgotten the socks), needs three plies. It happens I intend to spin three singles (ea. of which becomes one ply), and then make some sockweight yarn. For the other singles I have alpaca/silk (80/20) and pure merino. Socks last longer when you have cellulose, like tencel, or bamboo, or silk in them, which is part of why I’m adding to this yarn; but mostly because the fibers I had were blended, and I thought they would be pretty together.

I do most of my spindle spinning (up to about .9 oz. before the spindle start to be too heavy to manage when the train slews) while I’m on the subway, so it really is interstitial. I’m making yarn when I don’t really have a task at hand. I could, read (or play games on my phone, but I do this (and it ties me into the work of women going back some 10,000 years, maybe more). I will probably sell this yarn, so I can afford to buy more fiber to make more yarn (it’s sort of Ourborosian).

So, to get 450 yards of sock yarn, I need to spin about 1,500 yds. of singles (because twisting them up to get the final three-ply will reduce some of the total yardage, which varies based on how tightly the yarn is spun). I’ve spun about ½ oz. of the second spindle in the past five days of commuting, but it’s the sort of thing preppers don’t account for.

They see cans, not chickens (to quote @civilwarbore), and don’t think about the nature of the lifestyle they imagine. Yes, one can be a marauder, if there is a stable society to pillage, but as with any predator, the prey can’t be depleted if they want to survive. Since the actual prey of Vikings, Mongols, Huns, etc. was the fruits of urban cultures, it behooved them to not destroy those cultures (which is why they tended to settle down, and set up shop… thus becoming potential targets for the next wave of marauders).

And they somehow think it’s impossible for people to co-operate. They ignore the aftermath of disaster. New York has a blackout… people come together. Post Sandy, when Lower Manhattan was dark… restaurants were running on cash, or tab. There wasn’t any light, but the gas worked. They didn’t have refrigeration, but they could get deliveries. I stopped into a liquor store, and they offered me lunch. The vast majority of people are, at root decent. Not saints, maybe not even nice, but decent.

So, when I said, in one of those panels, that while I didn’t have experience in lots of things (e.g. I’ve never tanned leather), but you should see my library, John Ringo laughed, and said that wasn’t going to be good for much. Perhaps, for him, it wouldn’t, perhaps he’s not good at research (one of his books says black powder has more energy than smokeless), but for me, they would be.

In part because I trust that other people will pitch in, that we can divide the labor, and find materials to let us make mistakes. Some things (like brewing, and pickling, and salting), I’ve already practiced. But when the “Next Dark Age” comes, it will, as with Rome (both of them) probably be more a gradual loss of the trappings of easier living than some cataclysmic catastrophe.  I know how to do more than I can do (run a herd of cattle, tend sheep, grow grapes, grow cereals, thresh grain, harvest corn, make pots, build ovens, dry lumber, felt wool, make a yurt; or a tipi, build a weir, build a dam, make a catapult (or a trebuchet), fashion bows, entrench a town, set an ambush, cook, knit, plough, sharpen, play pennywhistle, play baseball, football, soccer, skittles, turn wood, make glue, make wine, beer, and vinegar, press olive oil, prune fruit trees, &c. &c. &c.), and I can teach.

And for that, I am as prepared as I can be. Preppers aren’t. Because people who can do violence (and well) are easy to come by (e.g. me). People who can do the rest of it are more common than people think. People who can do both aren’t thin on the ground. And people who value comity will band together, where those who are good at violence will (in all probability) leave the plough as needed, to put paid to those who plan to live off the sweat of other’s labors.