Self-Reliance, Taoism and the Warring States

Because the best protection isn’t a 30-room bunker; it’s having 30 people who care about you.

This week’s focus is on self-reliance, a more complex topic than it may seem. Today’s essay was first posted here on Of Two Minds on June 27, 2008, and it has elicited quite a bit of commentary over the years. I’ve edited it slightly for today’s post.

I’m not trying to be difficult, but I can’t help cutting against the grain on topics like surviving the coming bad times when my experience runs counter to the standard received wisdom.

A common thread within most discussions of surviving bad times–especially really bad times–runs more or less like this: stockpile a bunch of canned/dried food and other valuable accoutrements of civilized life (generators, tools, canned goods, firearms, etc.) in a remote area far from urban centers, and then wait out the bad times, all the while protecting your stash with an array of technology (night vision binocs, etc.) Prepperu2019s Water Pu... Nash, Johnathan Buy New $17.97 (as of 11:52 UTC - Details)

Now while I respect and admire the goal, I must respectfully disagree with just about every assumption behind this strategy. Once again, this isn’t because I enjoy being ornery but because everything in this strategy runs counter to my own experience in rural settings.

You see, when I was a young teen my family lived in the mountains. To the urban sophisticates who came up as tourists, we were “hicks” (or worse), and to us they were “flatlanders” (derisive snort).

Now the first thing you have to realize is that we know the flatlanders, but they don’t know us. They come up to their cabin, and since we live here year round, we soon recognize their vehicles and know about how often they come up, what they look like, if they own a boat, how many in their family, and just about everything else which can be learned by simple observation.

The second thing you have to consider is that after school and chores (remember there are lots of kids who are too young to have a legal job, and many older teens with no jobs, which are scarce), boys and girls have a lot of time on their hands. We’re not taking piano lessons and all that urban busywork. And while there are plenty of kids spending all afternoon or summer playing videogames, not every kid is like that.

So we’re out riding around. On a scooter or motorcycle if we have one, but if not then on bicycles, or we’re hoofing it. Since we have time, and we’re wandering all over this valley or mountain or plain, one way or another, then somebody will spot that trail of dust rising behind your pickup when you go to your remote hideaway. Or we’ll run across the new road or driveway you cut, and wander up to see what’s going on. Not when you’re around, of course, but after you’ve gone back down to wherever you live. There’s plenty of time; since you picked a remote spot, nobody’s around.

Your hideaway isn’t remote to us; this is our valley, mountain, desert, etc., all 20 miles of it, or what have you. We’ve hiked around all the peaks, because there’s no reason not to and we have a lot of energy. Fences and gates are no big deal, (if you triple-padlock your gate, then we’ll just climb over it) and any dirt road, no matter how rough, is just an open invitation to see what’s up there. Remember, if you can drive to your hideaway, so can we. Even a small pickup truck can easily drive right through most gates (don’t ask how, but I can assure you this is true). If nobody’s around, we have all the time in the world to lift up or snip your barbed wire and sneak into your haven. Its remoteness makes it easy for us to poke around and explore without fear of being seen.

What flatlanders think of as remote, we think of as home. If you packed in everything on your back, and there was no road, then you’d have a very small hideaway–more a tent than a cabin. You’d think it was safely hidden, but we’d eventually find it anyway, because we wander all over this area, maybe hunting rabbits, or climbing rocks, or doing a little fishing if there are any creeks or lakes in the area. Or we’d spot the wisp of smoke rising from your fire one crisp morning, or hear your generator, and wonder who’s up there.

When we were 13, my buddy J.E. and I tied sleeping bags and a few provisions on our bikes–mine was a crappy old 3-speed, his a Schwinn 10-speed–and rode off into the next valley over bone-jarring dirt roads. We didn’t have fancy bikes with shocks, and we certainly didn’t have camp chairs, radios, big ice chests and all the other stuff people think is necessary to go camping; we had some matches, cans of beans and apple sauce and some smashed bread. (It didn’t start out smashed, but the roads were rough.) Suburban Warfare: A co... Shift, Don Best Price: $12.00 Buy New $15.99 (as of 10:30 UTC - Details)

We camped where others had camped before us, not in a campground but just off the road in a pretty little meadow with a ring of fire-blackened rocks and a flat spot among the pine needles. We didn’t have a tent, or air mattress, or any of those luxuries; but we had the smashed bread and the beans, and we made a little fire and ate and then went to sleep under the stars glittering in the dark sky.

There were a few bears in the area, but we weren’t afraid; we didn’t need a gun to feel safe. We weren’t dumb enough to sleep with our food; if some bear wandered by and wanted the smashed bread, he could take it without bothering us. The only animal which could bother us was the human kind, and since few people walk 10 or more miles over rough ground in the heat and dust, then we’d hear their truck or motorbike approaching long before they ever spotted us.

We explored old mines and anything else we spotted, and then we rode home, a long loop over rutted, dusty roads. In summer, we took countless hikes over the mountainous wilderness behind his family cabin.

All of which is to say that the locals will know where your hideaway is because they have lots of time to poke around. Any road, no matter how rough, might as well be lit with neon lights which read, “Come on up and check this out!” If a teen doesn’t spot your road, then somebody will: a county or utility employee out doing his/her job, a hunter, somebody. As I said, the only slim chance you have of being undetected is if you hump every item in your stash on your pack through trailess, roadless wilderness. But if you ever start a fire, or make much noise, then you’re sending a beacon somebody will eventually notice.

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