There is a common theme in most of the dystopian, post-apocolyptic, zombie, killer virus, alien invasion novels that goes unnoticed by many reviewers and readers alike. Perusal of the vast survivalist and prepper websites out there shows few articles or references made to this theme. Yet, it remains the most fundamental aspect of survival– self-awareness. I mean that no matter how many gadgets, survival kits, food kits, and weapons you have, if you are not mindful of how you will react to fear, sadness, loneliness, and loss, your survival is threatened.
Sam Sisavath has written a wonderfully entertaining book on a version of the zombie apocalypse that carries throughout it one theme– “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” I take from this not only to have the right tools for survival but to increase your self-awareness. Unfortunately, in the good ole’ USA, survival preparation has fallen victim to commercialism, and so we seek out the “stuff” to protect ourselves. However, no amount of weaponry or supplies will matter, should you be unprepared to evaluate situations, formulate a plan, and be aware of what may go wrong, and it doesn’t end there. One’s awareness has to focus internally, on what you will think and feel in times that are scary and threatening to you and your loved ones.
Awareness comes in many forms. Awareness of one’s surroundings, including physical, situational, and political, is perhaps what is taught most in many survivalist courses and books. These are critical to dealing with threats, both minor and major. What is often missed in teaching awareness is how we will emotionally react to these threats. We are so lucky in 2015 in the U.S. to have relatively significant means by which to live and prosper. Compared to most countries, our ability to eat, sleep, find resources, and thrive is very easy, even for people at lower income levels. So, I ask these questions to you: What part of your life will be most affected if the power grid fails? What will you miss most about your life should a nuclear accident occur? Is it the Internet? Is it your favorite burger? These are small questions, and they may not seem important relative to whether you have sufficient iodine tablets for water purification, but this leads me to the most important aspect of awareness– self-awareness.
Please forgive the remainder of this essay, as I will delve into more philosophy than tactics. However, I feel that this hits at the fundamental problem with a survivalist philosophy. Self-awareness is the most underestimated aspect of life. We live in a world where our motivations and desires derive from many different sources. This is based largely on how we were raised. Many of us turn to religion for answers regarding what we should seek from our lives and how we should judge our own and others’ actions. Some of us find those answers in different philosophical traditions. Some of us rely more on our own intuition. How ever we have formed our life philosophy and how we make decisions, both large and small, relies on that philosophy to carry us.
Remember, however, that our philosophy is based on the challenges we have encountered in our lives. So, if we were raised in a Christian ethic with few encounters with violence, illness, or struggle, our philosophy may be vastly different than that of the atheist who has dealt with violence on an almost daily basis. The choices we have made regarding career, family, money, housing, transportation, and more are all shaped by this life philosophy whether we admit it or not.
So what? What does this matter when the situation changes? Many survivalist writers and bloggers have stated plainly that the survival instinct trumps any life philosophy, because we will revert to more animalistic tendencies. Perhaps, but take a minute to think of your family. Many of us who appreciate the possible threats to our comfortable American life have spouses or family members who think we are “crazy” or “reactionary”. Where does this reaction come from? Likely it is from fear, fear of a world that is violent and unforgiving. Perhaps it is fear of discomfort without the luxuries of modern American life. I will argue that it comes from a lack of self-awareness. Let’s return to the question, what will I miss most in a world without power? For those who deny the survivalist philosophy, I argue that they cannot ask that question because they fear they will not be able to live in a such a world. In a world of discomfort and violence, the life philosophy you have created with those comforts will likely fall apart, and for many people that will challenge their very core beliefs.
So what really fuels our survival? Self-awareness will guide you through the most trying of times. I am not writing this from any religious or philosophical point of view, except to say that when all semblance of modern society is gone, how will you react? I don’t mean tactically; I mean how will you react to fear, to sadness, to isolation, to threats from people you trust, and to feelings of hopelessness. Because in modern society, where we can suppress our reactions to the most dire situations with a latte or a beer, we are often able to avoid challenging our most basic human emotions. We are different from animals, and it is our reason and intellect that is most at threat in a survival situation, even if we can physically survive on beef jerky and rainwater.
Our preparations are necessary. Learning tactics for finding food, surviving environmental and human threats, and rebuilding necessary infrastructure are vitally important. However, this preparation assumes that we are emotionally stable and motivated to do so. While survivalist courses and even many of our experiences in life have given us tastes of deprivation, both physical and emotional, many of us are lucky to return to the comfortable life. Have we all thought about the scenario where that comfortable life is gone? Where we can’t call our loved ones in another state to “check in”? Where our sons and daughters who are away at school are no longer in contact and we don’t know if they are alive or dead? No matter how big our bunker is, are we prepared emotionally for the loss of our family?
I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I think about this often. I love my family more than anything on this earth. If I were to be without them, could I survive? If my children were without me or their mother, could they survive? Would any of us be self-aware enough to understand our sadness or loss and to keep going despite little hope of a return to “normal society?” Do we intend to suppress our emotional response to survival situations, only to have that emotional response present itself at the wrong time? Faced with a true threat to our family or ourselves, will we be able to truly disregard our humanity and kill another person? These questions are central to survival, and our modern life has allowed us the luxury of avoiding them.
All of us have dealt with loss in one form or another in our lives, so I don’t mean to imply that we are incapable of dealing with it, but we have done so in a comfortable society and environment without imminent threat. In a world where those comforts are gone, will we still have the fortitude to manage our emotions and maintain a level head? Unfortunately, many of the situations I describe above we will not ever face in today’s modern society, and so if we don’t ask these difficult questions we may never be prepared.
I don’t have the answers for these questions, but in our worst case scenarios we will inevitably face them. Perhaps answers exist in religious doctrines. Perhaps philosophical tenets will provide guidance. Above all, preparation for a chaotic and violent world requires emotional preparation, if not only for you then for your family. If you have not thought about this, please do, because your survival depends on it.
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