Defining a Survivalist
What is Survivalism? by Meg Ryan
What is Survivalism? by Douglas Good
Survivalism Gets a Bad Rap! by Meg Raven
Defining The True Meaning of Preparedness by Jonathan Byrne
What is a Survivalist by Kurt Saxon

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What is Survivalism? - By Meg Raven RMSG

The original file can be found at: What is Survivalism?

Survivalism is a philosophy - a way of life – and it is as varied in its methodology as the worlds’ religious or political theories. The primary goal of survivalism, by any method chosen, is to increase the odds for the continued existence of its followers, when faced with a threatening situation. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not an "activist" tautology. Most survivalists are reserved and quiet individuals who have lost faith in society’s ability to protect its own, and who have taken steps to lessen their dependence upon society for aid in an emergency situation.

Survivalists realize that modern society is a long and twisted chain of interdependency. Each link of this societal chain is dependent upon every other link to maintain its integrity. At various points within this chain are links that provide the rest of the chain with food, shelter, power, water, communications, transportation, and medical and physical protection. Should one or more links fail, those placed before and after the broken link(s) may find themselves without these necessary resources. Should enough of these links be suddenly broken, the entire chain may collapse.

Survivalists attempt to reinforce the chain of society by strengthening their own links. They do this by actively learning and practicing the necessary skills to provide or obtain the basic necessities of life for themselves, their families and their friends. They learn to build and maintain their own homes, provide their own clothes, find, store and purify their own water, establish and maintain their own communications and transportation. They learn to grow, hunt or gather their own food and how to process and store it. They learn to produce, maintain and distribute their own power. They learn to maintain their health through diet and exercise, and how to avoid or handle basic injuries and illnesses. And yes, they learn to defend themselves from aggressors when there is no one else there to protect them.

Survivalism does not necessarily concentrate on global catastrophe or the collapse of civilization. The profile of a "true" survivalist is someone who is concerned with planning for and avoiding the pitfalls and dangers of daily life and short-term emergencies and disasters of a local and temporary nature. In fact, since the frequency and likelihood of personal and local emergencies are more common, these situations are of primary concern.

Long term and widespread disasters are of concern to the survivalist, but they are extremely difficult to plan for. The individual (or single family) often does not possess the resources – either financially, materially, or intellectually – to efficiently plan for a long term, widespread disaster. This is where survival groups enter the picture.

Survival groups are formed to pool the resources of individual survivalists. They are generally formed of like minded individuals interested in a particular theory, or method, which they believe will be the most effective, in the event of an extended catastrophe. Survivalist theories can be broken down into several broad categories based upon a.) Primary survival techniques employed and, b.) Perceived threats. Each of these categories can be sub-classified by the members’ political beliefs, religious beliefs, environmental concerns, and even racial biases.

Broad Based Categories:
Primary survival techniques:

  1. Low Impact, Back to Nature groups;
  2. Primitive Skills Groups
  3. Hi-Tech Groups
  4. Paramilitary (Survive by Force) Groups
  5. Positive Action/Combined Skills Groups

Low Impact, Back-To-Nature Groups:
These groups believe that living in harmony with their natural surroundings is the best method for survival. About half of them are peaceful, extremely friendly and unobtrusive folks willing to share their knowledge of "one-ness with the planet" without seeming the least bit pushy. Most, but not all, are vegetarian types, with a great deal of insight on plant cultivation & usage, veterinary skills, foraging, and the geology of the planet. They often include a surprising number of individuals who are highly skilled in botany, geology, organic & inorganic chemistry, meteorology, natural, holistic and homeopathic medicine, and other scientific disciplines.

The other half, however, can include extremist groups of the pseudo-survivalist label. Pseudo-survivalists are generally the only types mentioned by the media. They are not actually survivalists at all, and are only valuable to the media for their entertainment and shock value. These groups are usually ill-prepared for operations outside of modern society. They include the 60-70’s type "hippie communes," the polygamous partner (read: free sex) groups, the New Age religious retreats, and the more aggressive (and often militant) anti-technology "save the earth" groups. While they may be well organized as a group, the only thing they have in common with true survivalist groups is the label they’ve been given by the media.

These groups operate under a separate set of philosophies that have little to do with survival or survivalism. They wish to live outside the laws of society and/or seek to create their own. They are often concerned with building membership solely for the purpose of withdrawing from society, draining their members’ bank accounts, establishing new "profound" religions, or butting heads with the current political philosophies. They are usually anarchistic and nearly all have a flamboyant presentation. Most of them have established an "infallible" figurehead council or leader directing every aspect of their membership’s lives. They make for interesting news, but they are not survivalists.

Primitive Skills Groups:
These groups believe that developing non-technological (though often quite technical) skills are the only way to ensure survival in a prolonged catastrophe. They are often "purists" and sometimes of a particular religious sect, such as the Quakers and the Amish. Normally, they do not claim that the Primitive Skills method is the best, the preferable, or the only method, but that it is the only reliable method for survival. They believe that technology will be difficult to maintain or re-establish in an extended survival scenario. The primitive skills of generations past – using only their hands and what they can find or make for themselves from the surrounding countryside – they believe, will always be available to anyone with the drive to learn the skills. These groups are similar to the "Back to Nature" groups in their avoidance of technology and technological materials in their methods. Many of these groups have amassed centuries of valuable information and techniques for survival in the absence of technology, including natural mechanics (hydro & wind power using simple energy transfer devices), herbal medicine, and basic primitive chemistries.

The drawbacks of this survival theory stem primarily from the purist point of view. Many of them have romanticized their method without immersion in its reality. They often fail to realize that, while this method is undoubtedly valid and of great value, the pre-technological era was a nightmare of disease, shortened life spans, and constant hardship for the common man. The primitive lifestyle cannot efficiently support a large group of people and often requires a nomadic existence. Careful cultivation of the local flora and fauna must also be exercised at all times, and while one group may indeed practice this technique, those survivors who do not follow their philosophy can easily denude their environment in a matter of days or weeks.

The Amish, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Quakers have created long-lasting and highly successful primitive technology communities. This is an excellent example of proper management of resources for primitive living. Unfortunately, most folks do not have the desire or ability to "go primitive" every hour of every day of their lives. Nor do they have the discipline it takes. These religious communities survive because they are founded in their religious beliefs, and because they do not, at this time, face any direct threats from aggressive opposition. Since they do not have an organized defensive capability, I do not expect these communities will last long, on their own, in the event of a catastrophe severe enough to force the breakdown of civilization.

The Primitive Skills group also has their fringe elements of anti-technology activists and eco-terrorists.

Hi-Tech Groups:
These groups rely on advanced technological systems to sustain them in the event of catastrophe. They use computers and various independent energy generating systems, short-wave communications, mini-labs and medical facilities, microwaves and freezers, alternative fuel vehicles and production plants, and heavily constructed shelters with air filters and elaborate locking mechanisms. They stand an excellent chance (better than most) of surviving the immediate effects of a major catastrophe in a superior & relatively comfortable lifestyle.

The drawbacks of this mindset are many, beginning with the cost factor. This type of survival approach is unattainable to the common man. It takes an enormous financial contribution to set up, stock, and maintain this system. To do it correctly, all components must be available initially and immediately – for this system relies on the total integration of technological systems performing in harmony. Remove one or more system, and the entire system begins to self-destruct. This means you must begin with a basic, yet complete, system and continually upgrade as the project progresses.

Because of the initial financial requirements, this system is rarely used outside of governments, government officials, the military, the very wealthy - and large religious organizations. This system also requires either secrecy or a large security force/system capable of repelling all manner of aggressive and desperate opposition. Because of the integration of systems, this group must stockpile or have the capacity to manufacture every conceivable component of the systems they utilize. Unless civilization is restored in a fairly short period of time, this system is bound to eventually degrade until it is no longer a viable survival solution.

The weakest link in the system remains, however, the personnel involved. This technique is the most attractive to those least prepared to survive on their own. They are the technologically dependent. Whoever controls the technology will have the ability to control all others in the group. This is the perfect recipe for tyranny. You either perform exactly as demanded, or face certain death (by your lack of survival skills) upon banishment from the group. This is a pretty persuasive argument and could lead to some very unsavory situations.

These groups also contain the most arrogant, suspicious and paranoid members of any group save, perhaps, for the paramilitary groups. They also attract the laziest and least physically fit members who depend upon the technology to sustain them. Unfortunately, they have a great capacity to attract the most intelligent scientists and technologists, as well.

Lest anyone debase survivalism and survival groups automatically, they should know that this type of group is the very type your Senators, Congressmen, bureaucrats and officials belong to.

Paramilitary (Survive-By-Force) Groups:
These groups are not, in fact, survival groups at all. They are aggressive forces completely dependent upon each other - and on the ability of other survivors to sustain them. They are neither independent in thought nor in action, but rather a successive chain of "leaders" and "followers" who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions by the simple expedient of "following orders." Their leaders are completely dependent upon their followers commitment to carrying out their orders, and their followers are completely dependent on their leaders ability to track down and successfully implement a plan of attack against other, true, survivors.

Few of these groups have the ability or desire to survive on their own. They invest their efforts in little more than guns, bunkers, and military training. Oh, yes – and uniforms. They are fraught with egotistical, paranoid, antisocial individuals from all walks of life and often display deep seated hatreds for certain races, religions, or political theories. The majority of members are ill-trained, ill-educated, underachievers who can be satisfied with a meal, a uniform, and some semblance of rank conferring power over others.

These groups will be the greatest threat to the post-catastrophe world. I suspect that 20-50% of their initial followers will desert the group in the months immediately following a major catastrophe. These "deserters" will be the semi-independent hopeful few who were mislead (by themselves, of course) into joining the group for reasons of security through superior firepower. The dregs that remain, however, will be the most brutal, aggressive, and desperate bunch to ever roam the countryside – and they will be well armed. With powerful, persuasive and moderately intelligent leadership, this remaining group could wreak havoc among other survivors.

These groups are not survivalists, they are predators. Many of the groups actually hope for a catastrophe to take place – and some may even be actively involved in creating their own catastrophes. They are borderline terrorists held in check only by the civilized majority and current military and police forces. Given the chance, they will run rampantly and violently to their own extinction – taking anyone in their way with them. The are the absolute antithesis of survivalism and the survivalist theories.

Positive Action/Combined Skills Groups:
This type of group seeks to combine the best of all theories, and is the most difficult to form – not because of financial concerns or individual skills, but because of the inability of the members to accept the basic philosophies of the others. This type of group, once formed, probably stands the best chance of extended survival, as it covers the broadest range of circumstances and the skills needed to overcome them.

This group integrates primitive skills and back-to-nature members with those who have the knowledge and ability to build and sustain a more technologically advanced existence. It combines the pacifist elements with a protective corps of defense specialists, and requires a great (and difficult) degree of logical acceptance, integration, specialization and commitment among all its members. It demands that each member recognizes the value of the others to the group, and that each performs to the best of their abilities (in their specialized skills) while accepting the contribution of others to the security of the group as a whole.

The "positive action" aspect of this type of group refers to the individual members commitment to help out in whatever manner needed – regardless of their specialized skills. Survival is a labor-intensive endeavor, and each member must be willing to lend a hand - or a strong back and shoulder – wherever & whenever needed. In this day and age, these types of individuals are not easy to find.

However, having formed such a group and successfully integrated its members, this group stands the very best chance of surviving and rebuilding some semblance of civilization. They combine all of the elements necessary to forge on without having to relearn the basics of modern life and suffer through a "Dark Ages" progression to technology. If large enough, intelligent enough, and sufficiently motivated, they could conceivably build (in time) a far better world than the one we live in now. They could integrate the best of modern technology and science with the best of "natural" living – discarding the destructive and wasteful technologies & lifestyles for what they are.

Perceived Threats:
Daily threats: Power Outages, Medical emergencies, Lost individuals, Crashes & derailments, Mugging, robberies & car jacking, Gangs & drugs, Lost employment & disability recovery, etc.

  1. Local/Widespread Natural Disaster
  2. Famine & Disease
  3. Terrorism & terrorist activities
  4. Government/Economic Collapse & Civil Unrest
  5. Global Warfare/Catastrophe
  6. Class/Race/Religious War and/or Government Tyranny
  7. The Apocalypse, Invasion from Outer Space, Etc.

The above list is not comprehensive or all-inclusive. These are simply the more visible threats and popular reasons for joining the survivalist movement. Granted, some of them are a bit far-fetched, but who are we to say what will or will not happen? Survivalists do not discount a threat simply because it is improbable, they access the level of probability and do what they can to plan accordingly.

Survivalists are a minority in a world that has accepted majority rule. That those who have a majority of dollars, pounds, rubles, francs, lire, shekels, etcetera, usually represent the "majority", is completely beside the point. Someone else controls the destiny of the world. We can only attempt to control our own destinies within our environment. Should civilization stumble and fall, the prepared survivalists will be the only ones capable of making Mankind’s last stand.

In my opinion, the amount of energy and vehement diatribe aimed at belittling and debasing survivalists and survivalism is directly proportionate to the need for survivalism to continue. Our current society appears to be in the throes of a delusional belief that, as long as we refuse to recognize a threat and act accordingly, the threat will refuse to impose itself upon us. Well I, for one, will not cross a street without looking both ways, and tend to dodge large falling objects. It seems pretty simple to me…

4 May 1998

Comments on this editorial can be sent to Meg.


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