This post was originally written in 2009 for the now defunct American Survival Blog:
Imagine yourself in a rapidly de-industrialized America (or Europe, Canada whatever) due to financial collapse exacerbated by food shortages, disease and a chaotic world exploding in the wake of American power receding. Maybe solar storms or an E.M.P. have knocked out the grid, or cap-and-trade has created energy shortages like we see in places like Venezuela and are beginning to see in Europe. Imagine that supermarkets are empty, refrigeration is unreliable and there is no guarantee that things will ever get back to normal. What would you do?
For many survivalists, myself included, the solution is “prepping” for such a scenario. This involves stockpiling long lasting foods and perhaps water if there is no other way to ensure supply. Those are short term solutions however, completely unsustainable for a lifetime. In the long term many survival minded people learn hunting, trapping and fishing skills. This is a sure way to starvation if it is your only option to put food on the table for you and your family as anyone who has ever been hunting or fishing will tell you. A better option is to supplement those skills with the art of growing food and foraging for wild plants. All together you now have a recipe for a short and brutish life much like that of ancient man when he still lived as a hunter-gatherer. Doable but hardly ideal.
Man is a social animal for a reason: our needs are more easily met when we cooperate in large groups. We need an economy to truly live a sustainable lifestyle; we will need to trade with others for things which for one reason or another we will not be able to produce ourselves. In short the best case scenario for a survivalist is to be enmeshed with a large group of people living in an area they are invested in securing who all produce various things that they will trade internally and on occasion with outsiders.
Producing things people will trade for is the ideal for long term sustainability after a collapse. Much has been written on how to avoid looters by looking like you have nothing to loot. Many survivalists are planning on spending years, maybe decades, hiding in bunkers with a select group of fellow survivalists. This too will end badly for many as anyone who can envision several well armed families living in close quarters and sharing finite resources will conclude. Those who survive any coming collapse will do so by being able to produce things others need, not share things from a collective and steadily depleting survival pantry. Food would be the most valuable resource of course, although a good seamstress or carpenter will likely be able to get by. What we are talking abut is wealth in the old sense of the word, not acquired through business deals or wise investment but through production.
Eggs, for example, are a kind of wealth. Many suburbanites have begun keeping their own hens for economic reasons (they save money on eggs) but we see more and more that a person with small flock of chickens is doing something most Americans have little experience with – producing actual wealth. Even survivalists often don’t fully understand this idea, explaining why people who think America is about to descend into a new dark age think one ounce gold coins (or worse, gold certificates) are going to pull them through while the rest of us starve. Gold and silver have their uses (one of which is enriching bloggers pre-collapse) but gold and silver represent wealth. They are not necessarily true wealth.
I’ll give you an example. I have two neighbors in the above worst of the worst case scenario. One has a veritable dragon’s hoard of one ounce gold coins each of which are now theoretically worth $10,000 in the new, desperate America. The other has a micro-farm consisting of a flock of chickens, a couple of milking goats and a large garden. Now let’s suppose that both want to get a couple of bowls of Rob Taylor’s famous five can chili or some homemade cough drops I mixed up in my spare time. What happens? Do I make change for a $10,000 gold coin? Or do I take a small basket of eggs for a batch of chili with a home made cough drop lagniappe? Sans a banking system to standardize currency bartering with precious metals is a risky proposition which is an idea I have put forward to before. This is not to say gold will be worthless, but it will be hard to trade with and if push comes to shove, harder to digest. Historically this has always been the case.
The first verse of the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem reads:
Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.
This line references the rune Feoh which represents wealth in general but its name literally means “cattle” which was the the measure of wealth the ancient Northern Europeans used. Those who study runes for religious reasons point out this understanding of wealth, as practical goods like livestock and furs, provides both historical and spiritual insight into the runic tradition. For the survival minded of any religion it is instructive to note that people who lived in a harsh environment of low technology and scarcity of resources, livestock was how people measured wealth and was the currency that common people traded with.
Of course, many people don’t have room for cattle or other sorts of livestock like goats which are increasingly popular. But depending on the laws in your areas and rules of your homeowner’s association if you happen to be unlucky enough to have one, almost everyone can own a few chickens or grow heirloom vegetables. These renewable resources have value to you and others. If you find no buyers for your eggs, goat’s milk, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, you can still use them to provide comfort and security for you and your family which is literally what wealth is. Not so your gold hoard or your ammunition reserves. It is time for survivalists to have a fundamental rethinking of what wealth means and how we can acquire it in a post-collapse world.
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