Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confusing Fantasy and Reality

This doesn't connect directly to writing. Or maybe it does. I just felt like posting it. I bought something once from an online merchant called BudK. Naturally, they were so overjoyed that ever since that day, they have been blessing both my inbox and my snailmail box with advertisements. This goes with the territory nowadays, and I usually ignore it. But today's spam got me brooding.

As luck would have it, I have also been monitoring some of the survival and camping groups on google+. I write a lot of stories that are set in primitive conditions, and although I did spend most of my formative years in mud up to my ankles I figure I am never too old to learn a few new tricks. Besides, there are a lot of clever ideas presented on some of those threads that have triggered story possibilities.

This is where BudK ties into things. Budk sells blades. All kinds of blades. Kitchen knives, pocket knives, hunting knives, machetes, scissors, you name it, they got it. They also sell what is supposed to be camping and survival gear. And of late, they have a relatively new category that the they call, 'Zombie Survival' equipment.

I am old. Let us get past this aspect of things right up front. I am a doddering old carcass on its last feeble wheeze. But I am not completely insulated from the world at large. My children insist on dragging me out from under my nice comfy rock periodically. I have read World War Z. I have played zombie themed video games. I know what a zombie is. I am even aware, in a dimly confused way, that for some reason there has been an enthusiasm about zombies in the broader culture.

Fine. let the kids have fun. No problem with that. I don't have a problem with merchants cashing in on the craze either. That's what fads are for, after all. To drum up business. But this ties in with the survival groups on google+ I was talking about earlier.

I am, in a real sense, a survivalist. By that I mean that I like to survive and I want my family to survive. I keep a spare tire in the vehicle, along with basic tools and car insurance. I try to keep a little drinking water put back in reserve (a butt saver recently, in case anyone has been reading the news about Toledo's water supply) as well as canned goods.

I lived through the blizzards of 1978, and last year. I keep flashlights AND candles, along with batteries, matches AND lighters in the house. I spent the late 1990's in KY, living in a rural area where we were literally without power for weeks at a time during the worst of the ice storms. The little home town, West Liberty, was smashed flat by a tornado a couple of years ago along with a good chunk of the surrounding countryside. My niece's car was pulverized about thirty feet from where she was crouched under a counter in a restaurant.

So I take the idea of preparedness seriously. Many of the people who post on the survival groups claim to do the same. But it's easy to see that to them, it's merely an excuse to play zombie survival games without using the name. Either that, or they are dumb as a post.

I am not talking about all of them. A lot of the people who post actually live in rural areas, or post about gear that they actually use when they go camping, or hunting. I am not referring to those people. I am talking about the people who are daydreaming while pretending to make preparations for something that they seem incapable of actually imagining.

For example, when someone starts a thread about what to stockpile for the day the fecal matter strike the rotating blades, one of the the most strident questions is often what kind of weapons to gather. Really? I even see this in posts from people who say they live in areas where they aren't allowed to buy weapons routinely, so they have to improvise. Then they talk about the best kind to improvise. Please...

If a person in modern times, in the developed western world, is going to face an emergency it is unlikely to be something that an untrained civilian has any business diving into with guns blazing. In his book "Tunnel in the Sky," Robert Heinlein had a character who told her little brother that in a survival situation, "You are the rabbit, trying to elude the fox. You are not the fox." It's remarkably good advice, in my opinion. This is a case where a relatively harmless indulgence in fantasy might really lead one into the kind of idiocy that gets them killed.

Even in Katrina, when looters became a real problem, guns didn't help a lot of homeowners because a good number of the looters were corrupt cops. Right or wrong, pulling a gun on a cop is a BAD IDEA. Even if you are defending your home against a cop who is trying to loot it, what difference will that make to your corpse? Unless you are already a trained soldier or policeman, and already in good physical shape, and already well practiced, put weapons at the bottom of the list.

Then there is the concept of what many people call the bug out bag. The concept of the bug out bag is based on the idea that when an emergency hits, the first and best thing to do is leave your home and run out into the chaos, fighting the panicked mob to join the stampede trying to escape from whatever is happening. The bug out bag ostensibly contains everything that you need to stay alive, and even comfortable, while you are on your excellent adventure. Wow. All the comforts of home crammed into something the size of a backpack. Where can I get one? Heck, we can get one apiece for everyone in the family and move into the SUV. We can save a fortune on utility bills, and property taxes.

The bug out bag is derived from the idea of the field pack that soldiers carry. After all, if an infantryman can carry everything he needs, why can't you? Of course, the infantryman has logistical support from an entire quartermaster corps. He has supply trucks that haul food to his unit, and a medical corps that follows along to patch up anybody who skins their knee. But that's just nit picking obsession over minor details.

Granted, sometimes you actually need to run for it. Rarely. If the flood water is rising, or if the forest fire is closing in. If you decide to run, you don't need a bug out bag that will keep you alive while you make a covered wagon trek across the great plains. What you need is enough money to get wherever you can find refuge, hopefully a family member or friend's house, and the basics that you would pack for a weekend visit. Your car should already have basic hand tools for simple roadside repairs, a case of drinking water and snacks, and emergency blankets on general principles. You might, maybe take a weapon in case you are attacked by criminals along the way. A big maybe on the weapon.

If things have collapsed to the point that the disaster is not a local one, if the entire country or planet is coming apart at the seams, we all have much bigger problems than anybody can solve by sneaking off and hiding. I hate it when people waste their time and resources on things that won't help them. I have seen too many real world emergencies that were made worse than they needed to be. Most of them were floods and killer storms. They were made worse because people weren't properly prepared.

I see a lot of 'survivalist' sites who advocate having a secret refuge where you can sneak off to when the apocalypse strikes. Ideally, you will grab your bug out bag, saunter out to your fully equipped four wheel drive vehicle, and cruise happily into the wilderness. There you will meet up with the other members of your survival group and form your new community to begin civilization again, untainted by the corruption of previous life, or something like that. I also read comments where people boast about the skills they are learning in preparation for the inevitable. One says they are learning to garden. One says they are learning to can. One says they are learning to to take old car alternators and fans and use them to improvise a home power supply.

Nobody talks about learning how to dig a latrine for some reason. Nobody talks about the proper way to take hog intestines and clean them in preparation for making sausage casings. Apparently these people plan to never taste sausage again. Or meat, since nobody talks about being able to properly butcher anything larger than a squirrel or a rabbit. Nobody talks about the proper way to construct an onsite sewage disposal system. Apparently the idea of spending the rest of their lives using an outhouse holds some kind of rustic charm? Trust me on this, it gets old fast. Especially in the winter.

Nobody talks about how much chicken or hog manure is appropriate to spread on which type of plants. Nobody talks about how much ass-busting work is involved in raising one pig from piglet to pork chop. Nobody talks about the fact that plowing without a mule is impossible, and growing a garden without a plow is not feasible, and a roto-tiller won't run without gasoline. So somebody is going to have to muck out that stable. Nobody talks about how to go about digging a drinking water well by hand, and how to go about using local stone to brace the walls of it.

Instead of stockpiling weapons and pioneer tools, I would advocate making sure to have a claw hammer, pliers, carpenter's hatchet, a handsaw, a few boxes of assorted nails and screws. Simple things that a person can use to actually make and repair things. No untrained city person is going to be building their own log cabin, especially one who literally has never seen a broadaxe or put their hand on an auger. They might, however, be able to fix a roof, or nail up some plywood over a broken window.

I'm going back to the subject of weapons to finish. This one really bothers me. I grew up around weapons. I am a hillbilly, weapons are to a hillbilly what pasta is to an Italian. But what I read on many of these posts, both on google+ and others, worries me. Some of these people are setting themselves up to get hurt or killed. Or worse, kill somebody else.

Sure, keep a weapon for personal and home defense if you wish. By all means. I would never try to tell someone not to exercise their inborn rights. But make sure it is one that you can realistically own and practice with. Don't buy one because it seems cool, or because someone told you that it would be the perfect zombie killer, or because someone else told you that you absolutely-must-have this particular type of killing tool. And never forget that a weapon, especially a gun, is a killing tool. It is not a fascinating toy that makes loud noises and looks impressive. It is designed to rip huge bloody holes in living flesh and leave a decaying carcass behind.

Someone who rushes out an buys a .44 magnum, never having fired a handgun before, is living in a world more fantastic the anything Tolkien wrote. It isn't nearly as easy to hit something with a gun as it looks on tv. You will spend thousands of bullets getting close to accurate with any gun of any kind. A crossbow is even harder to get good with, because the bolt doesn't fly flat. A regular bow is harder yet. Whatever you pick, you will need to spend time practicing with it. And do it at least once a week for the rest of your life. Even then, you ain't gonna turn into Rambo.

If you really want to survive, never touch a weapon unless you are cornered. Even then, don't use it if you can possibly run or talk your way out of it. That particular part of the survivalist fantasy is the only part that really disturbs me.  I literally cut teeth on the stock of my father's shotgun. I have killed my own meat many times. I know what a weapon is. People who own and use weapons, knowing what they are, and accepting what they can do, are not a source of concern to me. People who think weapons are the subject of fantasy scare the living hell out of me.

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