• How to think about survival

    by  • August 4, 2011 • Everything Else • 1 Comment

    ((from a post made to the Reddit PostCollapse forum – just kind of a braindump to help some folks out who were just starting to grapple with these problems. Survival Epistemologist!))

    ((The Gupta State Failure Management Archive, 4.3gb of lectures and documents on managing state failure, is in the Public Domain and available for download.))

    SCIM (http://files.howtolivewiki.com/Dealing%20in%20Security%20JULY%202010.pdf) is a model in use by the US military STAR-TIDES project (see http://www.ndu.edu/CTNSP/docUploaded/DH%2070.pdf). It provides a really, really simple and objective model of function in disasters. Here’s the basic model:


    * too hot
    * too cold
    * hunger
    * thirst
    * illness
    * injury


    * communications
    * transport
    * workspace
    * resource control


    * shared map of reality
    * shared plan of action
    * shared succession model for replacing leadership


    * list of persons
    * map of claimed territories
    * effective organizations (police, army, bureaucracies etc.)
    * international recognition
    * legal jurisdiction

    Each one of these services is provided by a complex matrix that you might, for now, call “society.” There’s a more precise term, AIAC (agro-industrial auto-catalysis http://vinay.howtolivewiki.com/blog/other/the-november-plan-finishing-the-future-we-deserve-2082) but that’s an entirely different conversation.

    Society can be simply grouped into seven tiers of complexity, namely

    * individual
    * household
    * village / neighbourhood
    * town
    * region
    * country
    * world

    Something like the fuel supply which provides transportation has a Town level (the gas station), a regional level (the supply depots), and a national/global level which is the pipelines, tankers and terminals which actually process and distribute the fuel.

    There are two basic types of crisis:

    * point crisis and
    * systemic crisis

    Point crisis moves the load from your local Town (say) up to the Regional and National levels. New Orleans floods, and support rushes into the area to help from the Federal and State level, for example.

    Systemic crisis is much, much more dangerous, because the Regional and National levels just stop being able to provide services as effectively, and suddenly you’re left with what you have locally. What State and Federal resources exist go to the worst-hit areas, but the total size of the potential first responder force – all troops, police, firemen etc. together is about 1% of the total population. Hence you’re expecting to be getting along and getting through with your neighbors, and there’s not much more to be done for it.

    Systemic crisis is what leads to collapse: banking, national electrical grids, international oil shipments are probably the most fragile systems, with the internet and telecommunications networks not far behind. However, in most cases systemic crises don’t get back enough to cause massive deathtolls without an authoritarian state response (i.e. China during Mao’s famine, the Ukranian Genocide etc. require the State to step in and prevent people self-organizing a response to keep them alive.)

    Three final concepts.

    All shared property is managed by the Three Bureaucracies: Ownership, Management and Protection. Take a town water tower. There’s a company that owns it, say the Municipality of Smithville. Then there’s a guy who manages it, who’s hired by the Municipality of Smithville to keep it running, and who also allocates the services (pressure, feed) supplied by the water tower. Then there’s the Police who protect the water tower. That’s three separate groups of people involved – the Town Council, the Water Manager, and the Police force before you can have a municipal water tower.

    It’s a hell of a lot simpler to have a barrel on your roof and a hose pipe 😉 If you’re going to share anything, you need to explicitly model the Three Bureaucracies – who Owns, who Manages and who Protects. Otherwise it’s easy to wind up with shared property enmeshed in horribly complex implicit social arrangements which fall apart into squabbling and fighting as soon as something goes wrong.

    Secondly, violence. Fundamentally violence falls into three broad categories:

    * defense
    * status fights
    * offense

    In a defense situation, the goal is to escape or prevent an attacker from entering an area, roughly. Defenders win when the attackers either give up or leave, or when the defenders escape from the attackers. Running is a perfectly effective defense, but in most survival situations people want to stand their ground to protect their supplies and stable living conditions. This is clearly a very general model, but the psychology is what I’m discussing. Defender psychology ends when the threat goes away, and anything which works is just fine. Defenders are not necessarily passive, but the situation resolves when the attacker withdraws or is no longer pursuing.

    Status fighting is different. Status fighting includes the concept of winning and proving that one’s side or oneself is in some way better than the person you’re fighting with. Defenders stop taking risks as soon as attackers withdraw. Status fighters will pursue or brag to cement a victory. If two people square off to fight, that’s not an Attack/Defense situation, that’s a Status fight. The message on Status Fights is very, very clear: DO NOT EVER STATUS FIGHT UNLESS YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE AND ACCESS TO A GOOD EMERGENCY ROOM. You have nothing to gain, and it’s very easy to get hurt much more seriously than you expect to if a fight escalates.

    Then there is attack. Attack is where you decide you’re going to kill somebody, or force them to do what you want them to do or face violence. In a survival situation attack may become necessary for a variety of terms (for example, breaching a roadblock where people are trying to blockade a road you need to get through.) In an attack, the most important thing is to realize that there is no predictable graduation in violence: if you start a fight, you may wind up killing or having to kill somebody. If you are not prepared to do that, you aren’t mounting an attack, YOU ARE STATUS FIGHTING. If you’re not willing to kill, you are status fighting. Status fighting in an emergency situation will get you killed. Here is why. Most of the real nasty violence we see comes when Person A thinks they are in a status fight, and Person B thinks they are in an Defensive or Offensive situation. We all have sophisticated ways of showing status by violence – highschool skirmishes are not intended to leave anybody disabled or dead, but to rapidly and safely establish a hierarchy. Those reflexes and subtle implicit signaling behaviors have nothing to do with Real Violence, because a Person B, an Attacker or Defender who’s willing to kill is going to stab Person A through the eyeball to get what they want while Person A is still squaring off, yelling and posturing. People who are willing to kill, whether Offensive or Defensive in intention, have an entirely different fight psychology, and nearly everybody who’s in Rambo Mode is not in that psychology – they’re in Status Fight mode, but with guns. Combat psychology is a big area, see “On Killing” for the full chapter and verse if you’re interested. If you’ve a mind to be a fighter, it’s more important to read “On Killing” than to be a good shot.

    Finally, you need to understand poverty. 20 million people a year – one third of the people who die every year – die of poverty. The breakdown is roughly:

    * 5m from dirty water
    * 5m from cooking smoke
    * 5m from various kinds of malnutrition, mostly shortened lifespans from poor diet rather than just plain starving to death
    * 5m from lack of vaccinations and similar basic medical care

    That’s a very crude breakdown, and all of these factors overlap in complex ways. 9m of the 20m who die are children under the age of 5.

    A collapse means living in the same conditions as the people who grow your coffee. You have to understand that people are living in collapse or near-collapse conditions all over the world, in fact it may be considered normal or average all over the world. It’s not a new or unique position, it’s just poverty and it’s everywhere already. You have to face this to be able to think accurately about collapse. If you can’t face the poverty problem, you can’t plan accurately because your mind will route around unpleasant facts, and those unpleasant facts are exactly what you need to be thinking about to survive. Your mind must be clear, and that means thinking about the hellish problems of the world, so that you can avoid them. (see my talk at Uncivilization 2010 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkQCy-UrLYw)

    Finally, four technologies you should know about, all easy to build and open source.

    * the hexayurt (http://hexayurt.com) a very cheap emergency shelter which is somewhere between a tent and a house in basic utility. Think “big shed” but for a few hundred dollars.
    * the biosand water filter, which will peel out most of the nasties from water (99%+ of pretty much everything infectious which can make you sick) and is basically a big plastic bucket, a hose and some sand/gravel.
    * the rocket stove, which burns wood 3x as efficiently as an open fire and is well suited to general cooking, though perhaps not so good for heating
    * the composting toilet, which at its simpler is buckets, sawdust, leaves, straw or paper, and a place to dump waste to rot down over time. Composting toilets appear to be safe, and are a little more complicated than the other two technologies.

    I hope that’s a useful overview.

    Vinay Gupta Director, Hexayurt Project
    PS: a little bleach goes a long way in a disaster. Cleans drinking water, sterlizes medical instruments, washes clothes. If there’s only one thing you can stockpile, it’s simple bleach. Dirt cheap and can save your life. Enjoy.


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    One Response to How to think about survival

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