When the Shit Hits the Fan II – How to Keep Your Stuff
The current political situation notwithstanding, I reckon the odds of a major societal collapse to be pretty low. Things aren’t so hot right now, but the power is still on and the gas stations still have fuel. But still – we do have rolling blackouts in California. We have had riots in the streets over most of last summer. So, in the event the malodorous assimilated residue of the digestive process meets the oscillating air-movement device, it’s probably good to have some idea of what to do next. In fact, it’s probably good to have some idea what to do well ahead of time.
Even if it doesn’t actually happen, well, times are interesting, and in times like these, it’s sometimes entertaining to examine what life could be like after a major societal collapse. So, this series will give the thoughts of a simple old country boy from Allamakee County on how to get through any such really, really bad times.
Location, Location, Location
In such an unpleasant situation as we’ve been discussing, your location will be key. If you’re in a major city, you may well be hosed. The suburbs? Depends on where, I suppose, and in which city you are in the suburbs of.
Rural locations will, in most ways, be the most survivable. Why? Food.
Mind you, I harbor a little bias here. My upbringing was largely rural, and my preference today, as you will have seen, is rural. And it’s generally in rural areas that you can keep enough stock and grow enough of your own food to keep your belly button from rubbing your backbone.
It’s not impossible to live in the ‘burbs, even if you have to convert your back yard to a truck farm, as long as you have enough of that yard to make a go of it. And in such an environment, it’s not likely that the city zoning people will come around to complain about your chickens. If you don’t have a big back yard and don’t have the opportunity to move, make sure you have some trade goods on hand. Salt comes to mind, or .22 shells – see farther down the article for more.
There is one big advantage of a rural setting: Isolation. When you have neighbors, you’re more likely to have some idea what kind of folks they are and enjoy pretty good odds of them being out there because they want to be left alone, too. And in the event of Something Bad Happening, you’re already farther away from unprepared townies who suddenly discover their local Home Foods is out of arugula.
Another big advantage of a rural setting is in the event things get really, really unsettled: A well set-up country place, with just a little bit of planning, is defensible.
If you have the opportunity to choose your location, there are two words you should remember: High ground, for the two big reasons: Defense and Drainage. (I’ve learned from hard experience that creeks and rivers inevitably flood, whereas high ground is usually dry ground.) If you already have a location, there are some things you’ll want to consider.
- Visibility. Suburban housing tends to be rather poor in this regard. There are generally houses on either side, usually fencing – these days, often “privacy” fencing. Solid fencing is great most of the time, but if Something Bad Happens, it can cover an intruder’s approach until it’s too late to take much action.
- Neighbors. Know who they are ahead of time. Make contact. When things look like they’re going south, make plans. Coordinate. If something goes south in your neighborhood, make sure the whole neighborhood turns out. If you have to, Roof Koreans the shit out of that situation.
- Fakes. Some folks with bad intentions may disguise themselves as police – or they may actually be police who have abandoned the whole “serve and protect” thing in favor of the “fuck you, I have a badge and a gun and I’m taking your stuff” thing. Be careful of “authorities,” especially if they demand to enter your home or confiscate your property. It’s pretty ingrained in most civilized folks to not aggressively resist someone wearing an official uniform, but in extremis that uniform may not signify anything much.
- Sanitation. In less densely populated areas this isn’t as much of a problem, as lots of garbage can be burned, other, buried. But in town, you and your neighbors will accumulate trash in a hurry. A community burn-pit or burial pit would be a good idea. And when the plumbing doesn’t work, an outhouse can be the answer, but make sure it’s located well away from any water source.
- Visibility. Don’t let brush, weeds or trees grow right up to the house. Know where all of the high-speed avenues of approach are – those being avenues where a vehicle can approach. Have a location picked out where you can see (and cover) most of the property; if you can see it, you can hit it. If you can hit it, you can kill it. If it’s a deer or a moose, you can eat it!
- Neighbors. See above, but also: Have a communication plan. If something suspicious is going on in the area, make sure everyone around knows about it; rural homesteads tend to be spread out more than suburban housing, and an event at one end of the road may pass unnoticed at the other.
Intruders. If Something Bad Happens, folks from the cities may well flood the countryside, thinking that there’s plenty of food in the sticks, but having no idea how to produce or obtain such food – and they may try to take yours. See Prudence, below.
- Sanitation. Most rural locales are already pretty well set-up here, but if you’re on a well or septic system, you may not have the opportunity to gain the specialized maintenance that these systems sometimes require. Keep a good supply of your favorite septic system treatment on hand and monitor your water quality. Your garbage pickup, assuming you have one, may not be available; burn what you can, feed to livestock or compost leftovers and organic trash, bury the rest. And if your septic system fails, well, consider this: Japanese farmers and gardeners have had good success with “night soil” fertilizer for a long time. Don’t be afraid to culturally appropriate that practice, even if most Westerners do find it off-putting.
Caution is the order of the day.
Some time ago I related the story of watching a “reality” TV show which set up the participants actors in a small settlement on a riverbank in a supposed post-collapse countryside.
In the course of the show, two men in a boat appeared, displaying trade goods. The entire damned population of that little settlement, including two attractive young women, walked down to the riverbank, unarmed, and greeted the traders – not knowing who they were, where they came from, whether they were armed, what they really wanted or what nefarious intentions they might harbor.
I shouldn’t have to point out that, in a real-life situation, this is one of the most staggeringly stupid things anyone could do. At the very least, one or two members of the group should have been visibly armed and stayed at some distance from the strangers.
Why? Because if things get really bad, there will be people out there looking to trade, sure, but there will be people out there looking to take what you have without trade – and the latter may be willing to become the former if they see that you’re prepared to repel any nonsense. And to be perfectly blunt, in such an environment, it’s not unlikely that the two aforementioned attractive young women would themselves have been trade goods with considerable value in some quarters.
When unfamiliar people approach you after Something Bad Happening, it’s prudent to have them see you as a hard target. Be armed and cautious, but not threatening. The NAP applies, after all, but there’s nothing in the NAP that prevents from you responding to aggression with an overwhelming rejoinder.
Trust is something that should be earned in the best of times. In the worst of times, trust should be doled out with great parsimony, and only after a long time in the making. It’s not impossible, though, which brings us to:
Trade and Alliances
There will be people around you’ll want to engage in some form of commerce with, sooner or later. Once trust is established, trade is not only possible but desirable, as everybody has different skills, can produce different goods with ease and quality – thus re-establishing the basis of an economy. Some trade goods that can be produced:
- Food. You might have a big plot that produces potatoes or carrots like a house on fire. Your neighbor might have an apple orchard. Another may have a drove of swine or a big flock of chickens. Someone specializing in one commodity can generally out-produce an amateur. Take advantage of it.
- Salt. If you’re near an ocean, this could be a really valuable trade commodity, as salt has many, many uses, from seasoning and preserving food to curing hides. If you’re not near an ocean, well, that may not work so well, unless you’re in a salt-mine area.
- Niter. This is the primary component in black gunpowder and can be produced by anyone with livestock that produce a lot of manure, or in smaller scales from an outdoor latrine.
- Charcoal. Not only is it an important component of the aforementioned black powder, charcoal can also be used for cooking and even smelting.
- Soap. One can make lye from water and hardwood ash, and as long as you have some source of oils or fats, you can make soap. It may not be the flowery stuff you were once accustomed to, but cleanliness is next to healthiness, and that’s a lot easier to achieve with soap.
There are plenty more, not just commodities but skills that are valuable.
Also, once trust and trade are established, alliances are already well on the way to being formed. Next, consider a response team to address any challenges from people fleeing the cities, or just looking for trouble. Your group can contact other, like-minded groups in the larger area, which is a first step to restoring something like normalcy. Which brings us to:
Hopefully, there will be some light at the end of the post-apocalypse tunnel. That means rebuilding some sort of societal order, and that will necessarily start locally. In fact, a ground-up development of a society may end up being a pretty groovy thing. But more on that another time.