Zig or Zag

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Zig or Zag?

Bailing or burrowing:
The varying viewpoints of list members are invaluable as they help stimulate our thinking and planning. We have two children. We have infirm elders. Do we zig or zag?

Zig or zag? I had the same decision to make in a neighbourhood not unlike yours about nine months ago. (I assume your other post -- the one describing the neighborhood -- was pretty much your situation.) I zigged, and maybe you should, too, but not without first considering the zag. I think you have to look at all the options very carefully.

My neighbour zagged -- he decided to stay -- and I have no doubt that he has as good a chance as me. Partly this is because money is not a concern for him, and partly because he is very clever about these kind of things, as you will see, as I tell this story. Stan is 71 years old, and alone with his mother, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his middle aged daughter. He's going to survive. I'd bet on it. You tell me if I'm wrong.

Stan is in the middle of a city, lower middle class section of town. A larger lot. The place he has lived all his life. The neighbourhood changed and deteriorated around him, but he has lived in the area for 71 years, and he ain't moving Y2K or no Y2K. He has stockpiled, he has wood for heat, and he has installed the propane stove and fridge from his camper in his house and attached a good-sized tank. A combination of bottled water and cisterns, and dozens of plastic buckets to deploy in the yard are his solution to the water problem. Part of his shed is converted to an outhouse.

He is ready right now.

I would have stayed, I think, and pooled resources with Stan, but my wife wanted more for our children. It was very hard to see how this particular city could work in the medium term. We wanted power, so I started to look at small communities that were under a dam. I expect the world to go dark, but my community will not let that dam sit there for long. Even with a TEOTWAWKI scenario I expect power within months. I narrowed the choice to three communities and went house hunting. I found a place that was nearly perfect in a nearly perfect community and I moved. Stan will be okay, but my wife insisted on Paradise. Start to finish, the move took seven months, and we hustled.

If we stayed where we were, I would be ready just like Stan. I would not have spent the money on the move, I would not have lost money on the real estate, and I would not have bought chickens and goats. The stockpile isn't finished yet and I have to stockpile for the animals too. I think I have enough time to earn the extra money and build up the stocks, but I am not ready yet. Still zigging was right for me, and maybe it is right for you too.

I think you have very similar choices. If you forget about Road Warrior -- I'll deal with him at length later -- can you solve the other problems? What resources are around you? Factor in a plummeting population and look again. Green space? Free fuel? Can you see a living a few months down the road? Can you afford to move *and* stockpile? There will be plenty of ways to make a living in the city. All it will take is cooperation after the population plummets.

One of the things that has always surprised me is the pre-occupation of preparers with power after the fall. Perhaps this is because my neighbour was Stan. "A generator? What for? Too much fuel to store for too little gain. Live without power for six weeks and there will be cars and gas all over the place. I'll convert a car to a generator when gas is free." Stan has money today, lots of it, because he has always hated to spend it. He doesn't plan to let a little thing called TEOTWAWKI change that.

What kind of country skills do you have? How far do you have to go? How much will it cost? My sister can't afford to move a long way, but she is moving across town because her house is absolutely unsuitable. She cannot solve some basic problems and the entire yard is in pavement. This was an easy and inexpensive move for her because she left one rental accommodation and moved to another, one with a woodstove and a large yard. Is that a zig or a zag?

The point is that there is no single right answer. Make your choices, but do not build a choice around security. Security is a vastly overblown concern. The rampaging mob is an imaginary threat. It is imagined because everybody has seen Road Warrior and Waterworld and because CNN tells us regularly how cruel we are to each other. Stan is 71 years old, and alone with his mother, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his middle aged daughter. He's going to survive. I'd bet on it. You tell me if I'm wrong.

So what does Stan have to fear? The only thing to fear is Road Warrior. He has solved all of the other problems. Violence between people is the only concern. Everybody knows it is going to happen. One of the reasons he stayed is that he knows a lot of people in the neighbourhood. He is telling everyone he is preparing and advising them to do the same. They laugh at him. "I wear a hubcap on my head," says Stan sadly. So does he have to worry? Many people know about his preparations. Stan does not intend to come out of his burrow, and he intends to keep a low profile and be cautious, but he isn't hiding either.

We thought this through pretty carefully, Stan and I, but we are Canadians. The only people up here with guns are criminals and hunters, so the threat is less. In the States, your neighbours are armed. I don't think it matters, really, but you can make up your own mind about the risks. But listen to Stan, first, okay?

Violence between people is an irrational response. There is absolutely no precedent for this. There have been many, many instances where people have faced a no water, no food situation.

The reason is obvious. It does not solve anyone's problem and it is economically impossible. Adam Smith would scoff at the idea. So would Charles Darwin. What kind of animal chooses a course of action that is guaranteed to end in the failure of the species? After all the squirrels are eaten, Road Warrior dies. Thieves need victims to survive. The richer the society the more thieves and robbers it can support. This society is going to become very poor very quickly, and thieves and robbers cannot be successful.

"People can't make a living stealing from people who don't have anything," is the way Stan puts it, "It won't work, and any fool can see that."

What people will do is flee towards food and water. This is what people have done every time food and water is a problem. Every time. This is why the roads will lock up. Everyone agrees that people will flood out of the city. This is why. They are fleeing towards food and water. Adam Smith and Charles Darwin approve of this strategy. This is a strategy that has a hope -- a faint one, but a hope -- of economic viability.

The unprepared cannot both try to get out, and attack Stan. Attacking Stan is illogical. Getting out is logical. By the time it blows, there will be four groups: The unprepared, the fatalists, the weekend campers, and the squirrels. The fatalists go home to die. How about the unprepared? What do you do if you have a gun and little food and no water?

Why not attack Stan? Because it is illogical. Attacking Stan does not solve your immediate problem, which is water. Like everyone else you need a continuous supply. Even if you can imagine making a living by going house to house stealing food, you cannot go house to house and solve your water problem. Attack Stan for half a barrel of water? No matter how bad a guy you are, this is not a good solution because you have to attack someone new every day, and you will quickly run out of people to attack. It is not an economically viable solution.

Overpower Stan, and take over his nest? All Stan has to do is knock over his rain barrels, and you are no further ahead. And Stan is going to fight for his nest. He has a dog and he will have cover in any firefight. You are attacking and exposed. How do you like the odds? If several attack in concert? (As if somebody is going to be able to organize a gang!)

"I'll shit in it," says Stan. "A group of somebody's comes after me? I'm going to turn on the propane, and light a match before I will let someone kill me for my food."

The unprepared do not try to attack Stan, the unprepared flee, and they flee as quickly as they can. It is a race. There is not room for everyone in the sticks. Even in the sticks there isn't enough water and food for everyone. It is a race. So they race for the campground where there is water. They all want to get there first. This is why the roads lock up. Everyone wants to be out first. You don't have time to both make a dangerous attack on Stan and get into the race. Which do you choose? If you don't say "Race" you are unlike all the people who have faced this problem before. You race.

Back to Stan. We are a week into the mess, and the population has been cut in half. Perhaps by 70%. Nothing but weekend campers and squirrels are left. Some weekend campers are starting to get worried. They are using the roof for water -- they improvised -- but their problem is food. They started with two or three weeks worth and the rations have now been cut in half. What do you do if you are a weekend camper and you are running short of food?

One option is to attack Stan. Another option is to go from door to door and beg. A third option is to flee to where you think there may be food. The reason you do not attack Stan is because you know Stan will defend his nest. ("I'll shit in it," says Stan. "Somebody tries and I'm going to turn on the propane and light a match.")

Plus, and this is a key point, the weekend camper is no longer in the majority. Everybody left has more than he does. If I stand by and let you try to knock off Stan, I have to be worried about you. I might be next, particularly if Stan beats you off or shits in his nest. I am going to help Stan and so will everyone else who is left. Rich has three months of supplies left. Whose side is he on? You are hungry, Stan is not. You are attacking and exposed, Stan is defending from cover. Stan has friends and you do not. ("I'll shit in it," says Stan. "Somebody tries and I'm going to turn on the propane and light a match.") This is a losing proposition, and every weekend camper can see this.

So the weekend camper goes door to door and begs. (Stan says he is going to hand out fishing line, a few hooks and directions. Maybe a care package for a person who chooses to flee. "I'll see. I'll probably give him a job. I'll make him cut me some wood. Depends on how it looks, I guess.") Weekend campers find a job or they leave before they run out of food. They have to leave. They go to where their chances of survival are not nil. Weekend campers do what everybody does when facing famine. They flee the food shortages and head for the areas where there are surpluses of food. Anything else is stupid and illogical.

Stan and I turned this problem over and over and it came out the same way every time. Violence occurs on the road and in the campgrounds. Violence pays there. It makes sense. It is economically viable because the prey is in the open, the prey has something -- not much, but something -- and there is a steady supply of them. But attack Stan? It doesn't work. It has never worked before, and it doesn't work in this situation. It won't happen. It won't happen in the suburbs and it won't happen in the city and it won't happen in the sticks. ("I'll shit in my nest before I'll let it happen," says Stan, "Should I post a sign?") Violence pays in the campgrounds and on the road, and it does not pay anywhere else.

What does Stan have to worry about? Food, water, disease and insanity. What do you have to worry about? Exactly the same things. If you can solve those problems, you will be okay right where you are. Move if you can afford it, and if you have time and if you improve your ability to solve the real problems or make a living. Do not move to escape Road Warrior.

There will be plenty of ways to make a living in the city. A gas merchant. Hydroponic farmers. People who supply water to the farmers. Hunters. Fishers. Salvagers. We will divide the labour in unimaginably clever ways and come back like the cockroaches we are. Adam Smith and Charles Darwin approve. "I'm not worried about it," says Stan. "It is going to be a terrible but I can't do anything about that. I've tried to wake people up but they don't want to hear it. All I can do is take care of my own, and I'm not worried about that."

Road Warrior is a movie. It is Hollywood horror. Where does Dennis Hopper get his cigarettes? Focus on the real problems. Solve them and you will survive anywhere. Stan is 71 years old, and alone with his mother, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his middle aged daughter. He's going to survive. I'd bet on it. You tell me if I'm wrong.



The other side of the coin; The Cities Will Eat. You'll Starve in the Country.

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