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The “Lie” of Off-Grid Living

It was brought to my attention recently that, at a social gathering at our farm, an acquaintance had the audacity to gossip to other guests, behind our back, that my family “isn’t really ‘off-grid.’ They’re just relying on the grid that everyone else is paying for.” Since this is a common refrain heard by off-gridders, I thought I would discuss this, as well as some of the reasons why moving towards a more off-grid lifestyle is—I believe—a key aspect within preparedness.

To begin with, we need to establish some definitions, so we have parameters within which to frame the discussion.

“The Grid,” generally, refers to the electrical grids that provide electrical power to the nation. Using that impeccable journalistic resource (notice my tongue firmly planted in my cheek!), Wikipedia, “…and electrical grid is an interconnected network for delivering electricity from suppliers to consumers. It consists of generating stations that produce electrical power, high-voltage transmission lines that carry power from distant sources to demand centers, and distribution lines that connect individual customers…” In that context then, anyone who doesn’t have their home connected to the industrial electric grid can accurately be said to be “off-grid.”

More generally however, “can refer to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities…Off-the-grid homes aim to achieve autonomy; they do not rely on one or more of municipal water supply, sewer, gas, electrical power grid, or similar utility services.

While neither of these really encompasses my personal definition of “off-grid,” particularly well, they’ll do to start the conversation. To do this, very briefly, I’ll discuss which “utility services” we do without, and what we utilize instead.

1) We are not tied to the electrical grid. The power line ends at our property line. We generate all of our household electrical needs from our solar panels and battery bank. We have a 1.4Kw solar array (with twice that in extra panels still in storage), a 60A charge controller (the highest level of commercially available MPPT charge controller apparently, a 5KW inverter, and a 13KwH battery bank (which means we’re practicably limited to about 6.5KwH of power from them, to avoid more than 50% depth of discharge, in order to maximize battery life span). That runs our chest freezer, lights, television and DVD player, a radio, as well as charging cellphones, laptops, flashlight batteries, etc (our refrigerator is a propane model from Dometic. I hate it. It’s a propane hog, and is going down the road soon, to be replaced with a standard electric model. This will require additional batteries in the bank though).

We also have a 5KW gas engine generator that I use to run power tools for various building projects, when I’m in a hurry, and cannot afford the time to use my more traditional hand tools (although, I have to admit, in many cases, I’ve found the hand tools are actually faster than the power tools!).

2) We’re not on public sewage. We use a composting toilet system, which I’ve written about before, and we use greywater disposal for bathwater and dishwater. I’m working on that system’s improvements, so the greywater nutrients are more efficiently utilized than the current hole they go into under wood chips.

3) We don’t utilize municipal trash service. First, we live well outside city limits. Second, while there are commercial trash collection services locally, we don’t use them. Burning trash is illegal in our county, according to county regulations. So, we don’t burn trash. What we DO have however, is a fire barrel next to the rifle range table… for warming fires….It’s just most efficient to fuel it with waste products, rather than firewood. For waste items that won’t burn, I built a large wooden dumpster on the farm. It is 4x4x4, for a total volume of 64 cubic feet. That gets filled about every 2-3 months. Then, I load it in the back of the truck, and haul it to the local dump. Each load weighs between 150-200 pounds, according to the dump scales. While dumps are not particularly environmentally friendly, our wastage is so small that it’s a trade off I’m willing to make, in order to avoid having a dump on the farm itself. My more liberal-leaning environmentalist friends like to claim I am externalizing the costs of those wastes. They’re absolutely correct. Nevertheless, with five people, we produce less than ½ of the landfill waste of the “average” 3 person American family, so…

4) We’re not on the county water system. We utilize rainwater collection of the roof of our house for household water use, filtering cooking and drinking water through a couple of Berkey filters on the counter. Water is currently heated on the stove, because I’m still working on the plumbing system in the house.

5) We’re not on the natural gas system, even though it is present in our community. We DO utilize propane gas for cooking (and the refrigerator, currently). We transport the propane to the farm in 100# and 20# tanks, in the back of the pickup. A large 500 or 1000 pound tank with delivered propane would be more efficient, but the delivery truck couldn’t make it up our driveway most of the year, and the current system works well for us. We keep roughly 18 months of propane on hand, given current usage.

6) Our kids are homeschooled. We’ll get into this in more detail elsewhere, but suffice to say, while we pay the local schools tax, we aren’t getting fuck all benefit from it.

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But, are you “really” “off-grid” if you’re driving on the roads, or spending money on things? How are we producing even the landfill waste that we are producing, if we’re off-grid?

Again, it depends on how you’re defining “off-grid.” Every single society, in the history of mankind, has produced non-organic waste. Even the much-lauded “nature-centric” traditions, so-beloved of modern liberals (from a distance mind you…they’re not going to give up their SUVs and laptops, in the interest of “nature,” by any means), such as the American Indians and the European Celtic tribal cultures, produced wastes. You know how we know this? Because their trash heaps are a significant source of archaeological research material.

Further, every single society in the history of the human experience, has engaged in external commerce. In my ancestral cultures, in Norway, Germany, Ireland, and Scotland, archaeological goods from trash dumps and grave finds have been found with clear origins in Asia and the Middle East and Africa. While some of those were undoubtedly the result of post-conflict looting, much of it was also—according to other source material—the result of peaceful commerce.

In North American Indian culture, there’s a really interesting example I first read about when I was in grade school. The finest bowmaking wood in North America is the Osage Orange, or Bois D’Arc tree. Planted across much the Great Plains as windbreak hedges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this thorny tree is native to the Ozark Plateau of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Yet, bows made of Osage Orange have been found in archaeological sites as far away as the Pacific Northwest, and Hudson’s Bay, in Canada. The bow of this wood was so highly prized that commerce routes for its trade were established the width and breadth of the continent! How’s that for commerce? There are other suitable bowmaking materials pretty much everywhere in North America. From horn-backed bows, to Pacific Yew in the PNW, to hickory and cedar…nevertheless, Osage Orange was desirable enough to make the effort to get it, much like the best yew for English bows in the middle ages was imported from the Mediterranean.

This idea that being “off-grid” means giving up anything that you cannot produce on your own, with your own effort, off your own property, flies in the face of reason and history. Someone with a 1-5 acre homestead on reclaimed cow pasture doesn’t have the same resources as someone with a 40 acre homestead in the mountains of Idaho. Someone with a 160 acre homestead—or a 200 acre homestead, in Appalachia has far more native resources on his property than the dude in Idaho does on his 40 acres.

——

So, how do I define “off-grid?” What makes our farm different than what my neighbor who is grid-tied?

The most important distinction, to me, is that we are reducing our DEPENDENCE on outside resources. There are things that we WANT, that we cannot produce on our own place, and there are even things we NEED that we cannot produce on our own place. What we’ve done is reduce both of those, as much as possible.

This serves two important purposes, from a preparedness perspective.

1) By reducing our dependence on outside resources, we’ve reduced how much capital we are expending on those things. This means we have more available to procure those things that we cannot—or will not—give up, except under the most dire extremes.

2) By reducing our dependence on outside resources, and concentrating effort on finding alternatives or work-arounds for those things we cannot—or will not—give up, we are increasing our resilience in the face of the decline.

Even those ties we still have to the “grid,” are—for the most part—things we could work around pretty easily, given the requirement.

Switching totally to hand tools would be more time-consuming, and potentially limiting, but our farm is also a designated “bug out location” for a number of people, most of whom have contributed effort to the building process. They have a proven record for being willing to do work that is necessary, and multiple vested interests in seeing the place succeed. So, while switching to all hand tools BY MYSELF would be limiting, with a proven work force on hand, it actually accelerates how much can be done (as I mentioned, in many cases, I’ve actually found hand tools are faster than power tools. An example? Turning a hardwood log into a square building timber, it turns out, is actually faster with my ax and broadax than it is with my chainsaw and Alaska Mill. Granted, it took me a couple of beams to get to that point (and I suspect the chainsaw and Alaska Mill work considerably more efficiently in softwoods than in hardwoods like oak and walnut), but it did turn out to be the case rather quickly.

Using a No5 Stanley hand planer turned out to be faster at planing building timbers than using a power planer, when dealing with knotty oak and hickory, and considerably faster than using a power sander. I will admit though, a worm-drive circular saw is still faster than my antique, one-man crosscut saws, and my Stihl chainsaw is WAY faster than my two-man crosscut saw, although both are actually far more pleasant to use than the chainsaw.

Switching from the propane stove to cooking in a wood-fired stove or wood-fired oven and an outside open fire (in summer time), is a pretty simple switch (I’ve had a LOT of experience cooking on wood stoves and open fires).

Eventually the batteries in the battery bank will die and not hold a charge anymore, but that gives us time to adapt to the changes in circumstance. It’s a “cushion” that is far more desirable than the sudden transition from “All is well, we’re watching American Idol (or whatever the fuck the Bread-and-Circus Show of the day is….) and surfing PornHub!” to “Oh shit! The Lights Just Went Out, and They’re Not Coming Back On!

Ultimately, “off-grid” for us is about choices, and options. Because we are mostly self-sufficient (and the stuff we DO buy, we could probably do without, in a pinch, although, if the grid does go down completely, one of my very first priorities is reestablishing commerce with South Texas, so I can still have oranges. I fucking love oranges!)

One of my favorite “collapsitarian” authors (other than myself, of course) is John Michael Greer, of the EcoSophia blog, and formerly of The Archdruid Reports. One of Greer’s books is titled Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush. While I certainly don’t agree with everything Greer writes, I do agree with a lot. More importantly, the title of that book jumped out at me the first time I saw it, as a practicable, actionable step I could take. We haven’t “collapsed” to the point of “let’s live in a bush hut, and eat rodents we can hunt and snare with primitive technology,” but we’ve collapsed a lot, by choice. This softens the inevitable fall, considerably, as things continue to fall apart, and gives us breathing room as others are scrambling. It’s a piece of advice I suggest to everyone. The degree to which you choose to “collapse” is up to you, but it’s worthwhile advice.

I was talking with one of our people the other day, and he made the comment that it was “frustrating,” because “I have to keep doing the ‘normal’ 9-5, in case there is no SHTF, but I still need to be prepared, because I know it’s coming.” I’ve never particularly understood this, which is why, in my entire adult life, I’ve never really stuck to the “norms.” If you KNOW that shit is falling apart around us–and I would, and have, argued that everyone does–then you have zero vested interest in continuing along doing the ‘normal.’ Quit worrying about that 9-5 and the 401K, and etc. Start looking at ways YOU can “collapse now, and avoid the rush.” Start small, but start today. Look for alternative sources of income. Look for ways you can reduce your external dependencies. Look for ways to become more self-reliant (within your community). Collapse now, and avoid the rush.

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From the Library

I haven’t read as much this week as I normally do. One, I’ve been particularly busy with spring cleaning type stuff, cleaning out animal pens and tool sheds, etc. Two, the first book on the list is a particularly long work, with small print, and lots of end notes for me to cross reference. In the future, even if I’ve only read one or two books in a week, instead of my normal 5-6, I will include extras, out of my personal library, that I recommend, even if I haven’t read them in the last week or so.

Baden-Powell by Tim Jeal; This is a lengthy, thorough biography of the founder of the Boy Scout Movement. It covers a number of controversial areas in the General’s life, and uses primary source material to rectify some of the errors that other modern historians and biographers have made, in the interest of pursuing their own agendas against B-P and/or the Boy Scout Movement. It’s a really well done biography, and I even got an idea for the next subscription drill out of it, based on B-Ps exploits in Southern Africa, and his leadership at the Siege of Mafeking.

Harris on the Pig by Joseph Harris; Originally written in the 1800s, by THE expert on hog-raising. One of the things I—and others—have found about the modern Permaculture and Sustainable Ag movement is that most of the books and articles written seem to be of two flavors: a) they are written by people who have taken one or two Permaculture Design Courses (PDC), and have little or no actual experience raising foods, or b) they are hackneyed rewrites of original material from the 1800s and earlier, often missing the critical details that—because of lack of depth of experience—define the difference between success and failure.

This is one of the original, go-to manual/handbooks for hog farmers on the small-scale and commercial scale. It is well worth studying, if you are looking at small livestock as part of your preparedness journey (and I would argue, if you’re not, you’re not serious about being prepared).

School of the Moon: The Highland Cattle-Raiding Tradition by Stuart McHardy; A look at the raiding cateran tradition among the Scottish Highlands, pre-Clearance. This offers a pretty good look at a European clan/tribal society functioning in a state of endemic conflict, despite attempts by outside social mores trying to reduce or halt that violence (in this case, both the Lowland Scots government and the British government tried to halt the traditions. Both were unsuccessful until the overwhelming defeat at Culloden, and even then, it took a number of years to really halt the raiding) and how the numbers of casualties, while apparently low in any given encounter, tend to add up quickly. It also looks at the manner in which, in such societies, skill-at-arms and practical intelligence quickly become markers of success in society.

From the Library

(I don’t have an Amazon Affiliate account. The bold-faced, underlined book titles in this series are NOT hyperlinks.)

Building With Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction by Paulina Wojciechowska

This is the fourth or fifth book I’ve read now, specifically on Earthbag building. I’m really looking forward to building some earthbag structures on our farm, for various applications. This was one of the earliest books on earthbag building, from way back in 2000. With the exception of her chapter on cob and earth/clay plasters—which was excellent—this was probably the least useful of the earthbag books I’ve read thus far. The technique has advanced enough in natural building circles since the publication of this book that the newer books have a lot more technical information to share. The chapter on plasters however, made the price worth it on this one.

The Way of the Wise by JT Sibley

This is an ethnographic study of traditional medical practices of Norway. Including both herbal remedies and mechanical interventions (think splinting a broken bone or sprain), as well as magical healing methods like rune magic and incantations, this is an interesting book so far. While I suspect magical healing is largely psychosomatic/placebo effect (I don’t KNOW it is, but I suspect it is…), the use of herbal and mechanical interventions was particularly useful. When combined with other references like Sam Coffman’s The Herbal Medic Handbook, I suspect books like this will find increasing relevance for many of us, especially anyone who suspects they will find themselves in a healer role in their community, as the decline continues, and allopathic medical care becomes increasingly unaffordable for many people.

Get Tough! The US Special Forces Physical Conditioning Program by Tom Fitzgerald

This is an older book. First published in 1985. Mr Fitzgerald is a Vietnam-era SEAL, and this is a straight calisthenics/endurance book. I picked it up for two reasons. One, I was trying to come up with some alternative PT ideas for some of our guys that don’t have access to a regular weight-lifting gym, won’t/can’t drive to my farm and use my gym daily, and/or have injuries that they feel currently preclude them from weight lifting seriously. Two, this is the book I used, way back in the early 1990s—when it was NOT an “older” book—to prepare myself physically for going into the Army on a Ranger contract. It worked pretty well back then, and it still looks good today.

I would recommend this one, even if you are weightlifting regularly, just for the running program, if you’ve not done much, or any, distance running. His progression for running is still solid, and can be utilized for building ruck-running/conditioning as well, simply by doing it while wearing a rucksack.

The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival by Selco Begovic

I’ve been reading Selco’s blog off and on for a number of years now. Someone sent me a copy of this book, asking for my thoughts on it, because, according to the sender, “this seems like something out of a horror movie. Surely it won’t be this bad here, right?”

For folks who have spent time with the locals, in war-torn and failed-state environments, there will be nothing novel or revealing here. For most others, including a number of people I know with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with conventional forces, this will be eye-opening. One of the things I’ve noticed, in conversations with Big Green guys, is that they tend to have not really interacted with the locals nearly as much as they might think they did. Returning to the FOB regularly, and being surrounded by other Gis, even in a patrol base, living out of rucks and gun trucks, does not provide the same impression of local events, as spending weeks on end living with the locals, and even eating their food.

If anything, I suspect Mr. Begovic’s descriptions are tame compared to some of what many people will see in the near future.

Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph and Frances Gies

The Gies have written a LOT on medieval life and society. This is part of a series (I have the individual volumes, as well as a combined version with this one, Life in a Medieval City, and Life in a Medieval Castle as well as several of their other books). This is an area of interest for me personally anyway, but I find, the more I consider the ongoing decline, the more I turn towards ethnographic and archaeological studies of medieval and Iron Age societies, looking for hints of models to follow in our community-building efforts.

One thing that most modern westerners don’t know is that life in a medieval village was arguably not as unpleasant as we’ve been led to believe. From the fact that the average medieval serf actually had far more time off than the modern wage employee, because of holidays (look at a calendar of Catholic Church Saints’ Days sometimes), to the fact that many—if not most—serfs actually had a better chance at advancing their socio-economic position than the working poor in America today do, for a variety of reasons, I tend to think the village model of the Iron Age and medieval periods, is one that folks looking at building community for surviving and thriving during the decline should look at seriously. Additionally, a well-organized village community, with genuinely shared traditions, values, and interests, has the potential to develop into something far bigger and greater than most would initially imagine, even—perhaps especially—under post-grid conditions.

Post-Grid Hygiene Considerations

Originally Published in two parts, February 2014

 

 

Hygiene (noun)

1: A science of the establishment and maintenance of health.

2: Conditions or practices (as of cleanliness conducive to health.

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary (from merriam-webster.com)

Hygiene (noun)

1: The science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health. Also called hygienics.

2: Conditions and practices that serve to promote or preserve health: hygiene in the workplace; personal hygiene.

–Oxford English Dictionary (from thefreedictionary.com)

 

Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: and though shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.

–Deut 23:13-13, King James Version, Holy Bible

Further, there shall be an area for you outside the camp, where you may relieve yourself. With your ear you shall have a spike, and when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement.

–Deut 23:13-14 Jewish Study Bible

(According to the JSB, this rule is covered in greater detail in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ War Scroll and Temple Scroll. –J.M.)

But it will come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statements which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee; and overtake thee…

…The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew, and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.

–Deut 28:15-22 King James Version, Holy Bible

But if you do not obey the Lord your God to observe faithfully all his commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day…

…the Lord will make pestilence cling to you, until He has put an end to you in the land that you are entering to possess. The Lord will strike you with consumption, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew; they shall hound you until you perish.”

–Deut 28:15-22 Jewish Study Bible

It’s no secret to long-time readers that I’m not Christian (nor am I Jewish). Regardless of your faith, or lack of faith, in any particular form of divinity however, the fact is, modern science has pretty well demonstrated that the Mosaic hygiene laws are a pretty good place to start when considering what hygiene in primitive conditions should look like. One of the “interesting” (?) historical side notes of the schism between Christianity and Judaism, following the life and death of Christ, is the belief of Christians that defilement comes from within, rather than from external sources. While this is undoubtedly true from a moral standpoint, one has to wonder why, if the external defilements were unimportant, God spent so much time in the Laws of Moses emphasizing them…

The hygiene consequences of this aspect of the doctrinal schism between Christianity and Judaism were not immediately apparent, since Christianity initially developed during the Roman Empire, with highly developed sewer systems, aqueducts that brought water to the Empire’s cities, and a near-religious emphasis on socialized bathing. With the collapse of the Roman Empire however, we see that the decay of the Roman infrastructure lead to a serious decline in the hygiene—and thus the health—of people throughout Christendom. Bathing was no longer emphasized. On the contrary, it’s pretty well-established in the historical record, that for medieval Christendom, bathing was a once-a-year event, if that (even many non-historians have heard the story of the nun that went to her deathbed, of old age, and took pride in the fact that the only part of her body that had ever been washed were fingertips, when she genuflected with Holy Water).

Combined with sewage being simply dumped in the streets of large urban areas, dead bodies sometimes being left to rot for days or even weeks, and other normal practices that both we—as a modern, largely scientific culture—and the ancient Jews—for thousands of years—consider not only unhygienic, but also pretty much totally fucking disgusting, this inevitably resulted in a somewhat steep price that we now know as yersinia pestis: The Black Death.

One of what I consider the most interesting scenes in contemporary cinema occurred in the 2010 Russell Crowe rendition of Robin Hood. When Crowe’s character, Robin Longstride is sitting at the table with Sir Walter Locksley, the scene opens with a couple of “cute” little mice crawling across the food on the table. While obviously disgusting to most modern Americans, what many people fail to realize is—this was the NORM at that point in history. Yet, anyone who had actually read (granted, not a common ability at that point in history…but you’d think the priests—as one of the educated classes of European society at the time—would have at least considered it…) the Books of Moses would consider this an abomination.

Had people remembered and practiced the Mosaic Law of considering rodents “unclean,” they might have spent more time and effort making sure there weren’t mice and rats running wild through their homes, and across their food. This would have—if not prevented the Black Death—at least seriously reduced the effects thereof. Yersisia pestis, you see, is spread from rodents to humans through two vehicles: being bit by an infected rodent…or being bit by a flea that was infected by previously hosting on an infected rodent.

These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind.

Leviticus 11:29

The point of this is not that I’m Jewish, nor that I’ve suddenly discovered “that ol’ time religion.” It’s certainly not to denigrate Christianity or any other faith. Rather the point is…good hygiene, even in primitive living conditions, is not some obscure, specialized skill known only to special operations soldiers.

While hygiene, when considered in light of the definitions that began this article, can cover a very broad spectrum of considerations, for our purposes, we’re going to look at it in one consideration…how to stay alive, at least long enough to die from enemy action, rather than from illness.

This means, a) how can we prevent the propagation and spread of disease, and b) what can we do to protect ourselves specifically.

One thing that must be considered, in the context of this blog, preparedness, and post-SHTF, grid-down scenarios, is whether by “camp hygiene,” we mean life on patrol, living out of rucksacks in a patrol base, or the more general primitive living to be expected with grid failures, while still living “indoors.”

First Things First….Drop Your Preconceived Notions

The first thing that must be done (and this is probably becoming a tiresome refrain by now, if you’re a long-time reader of this blog) is that you have to get rid of any preconceived notions. The fact that you intend to “bug in” and stay home does NOT mean you’re going to be able to comfortably use your toilet and bathtub. The fact that you live alone with your family on an isolated mountainside in the American Redoubt does not mean that you won’t have to deal with many of the same hygiene issues and crises that urban and suburban dwellers will (as an example…I’ve been told by several medical professionals, ranging from M.D.s to 18Ds, that the highest concentration of giardisis within the US can be found in area where Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada meet).

One benefit of living in the modern world, even in the event of total socio-economic collapse, is that while technology may go away, or retreat in accessibility, knowledge won’t. You may not be able to go to Cabela’s and buy a new Katahdin water filter, but if you know that boiling water is a scientifically sound method of water purification—and you practice it religiously—then not having the cool-guy gear doesn’t matter…you can work around it, because you’ve focused on software instead of hardware.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

While modern Americans—especially amongst some of the neo-primitive, dirty, smelly, hippie types—sometimes debate the health benefits of NOT bathing every day, I’d say it’s fair to claim that the vast majority of modern, middle-class Americans do not subscribe to the medieval belief that bathing robs the body of natural protections of diseases. I shower at least once a day, and generally twice a day—once after PT, and once before bed. If I don’t do PT until shortly before bed, then I might only get one shower in a day (I do feel obligated to admit, since we are now off-grid, and use rainwater catchment for our water source, that while sponge baths/combat baths still occur basically daily, daily showers are a thing of the past, with no real harm). One of the more disturbing concerns I hear voiced by many people in regards to preparedness, is the fear that they won’t be able to shower twice a day…or even once per day.

Remembering that I’m not a scientist, and certainly not a biologist, here’s my take on it….while bathing daily can do a damned fine job of killing off micro-organisms on your body that might be harmful, it’s equally effective at killing off micro-organisms on your body that are beneficial. Additionally, there is the fact that most soaps dry your skin out. While that’s not a major issue when you have lotions and balms readily available with a quick trip to Wal-Mart, dried, flaky, itchy skin can cause health issues in itself.

While we all spend lots of money stockpiling things we believe we might need post-crash, and hopefully include lots of hygiene items amongst them, unless we’re totally fucking deluded, we have to acknowledge that there is a finite amount of material goods we can stockpile. Instead, we have to look at ways to deal with primitive living when the modern conveniences run out (and in many ways, they are conveniences, not necessities). Our ancestors, from the pioneers that fulfilled Manifest Destiny, all the way back to the pre-Christianization tribal societies had a way to deal with these issues…in the Jewish faith, this was the Mosaic prescription for bathing before Shabot (the Sabbath).

If you’re living in primitive conditions, but have the facility to allow it, bathing even once a week can provide many of the benefits of daily bathing…as long as you follow some other prescriptions for cleanliness.

The simplest method of preventing the spread of disease is one we learn as young children—assuming our parents are even moderately intelligent: wash your damned hands. Before you eat, after you eat, after you urinate or defecate, before and after you handle food…and certainly before and after dealing with bodily fluids from someone else (“modern” science caught up to the Judaic law on this subject in the mid-nineteenth century, when a Hungarian physician, named Ignaz Semmelweis noticed a particularly vast difference in infant mortality between two different birthing wards in the Vienna General Hospital. The ward with low mortality was dedicated to birthing with mid-wives. The other, run by physicians, was adjacent to a morgue. Apparently, the Doc noticed that doctors would conduct an autopsy, then immediately go deliver a baby…without even washing their hands…Sadly, I’ve actually heard of this…and read more than one report from .gov sources, that this kind of utter stupidity still goes on. Not that doctors are performing autopsies, then births, but doctors and nurses not scrubbing in before going to work on pediatric cases…I’ll leave it to health care professionals to address that).

Obviously, there are limits to how much soap a person can stockpile….except, even in Moses’ day, people knew that animal fats, hardwood ashes (lye), and water made soap. Worst case scenario, even simply rinsing your hands off in clean water is better than nothing.

One of the biggest health care issues we in the preparedness culture have to deal with is the apparent ability of common illness pathogens to develop immunities against “antibacterial” soaps and cleaners. This has led some people to abjure cleaning or washing as frequently, and others to actually promote exposing themselves to minor pathogens intentionally, in the hopes of developing a resistance to them. I certainly don’t get my knickers in a twist when my kids gets muddy, or even when they play in cow shit. I’ve been known to giggle like a schoolgirl when I see a kid (yes, including my own), eating dessicated animal shit, like a dried out cow patty in the pasture, and go into my “Ah, she’s just building immunities!” spiel (to be clear though, we DO actually stop our kids from eating animal dung, when we see it. It’s still funny as shit though…..see what I did there?)

My kid still bathes once a day. I still bathe once a day. My wife still bathes once a day. When we lived primitive, on the side of the mountain in Idaho, last winter, in the uninsulated shed? We bathed once a week. Hauling water from the creek, in quantities large enough to take even a decent sponge bath, was a pain in the ass. None of us got sick.

I’ve gone weeks without bathing or showering, out of necessity. At the same time however, I always made it a habit, if I were going more than a couple of days without an actual full-submersion bath or shower, to wash the grungies out by using a wet rag and soap to wash those areas of the body most likely to harbor and encourage bacterial growth. What do bad bugs like in a home? Warmth, moisture, and darkness.

So, where do we wash up to take care of those, when we don’t have the luxury of a full-on bath? Places that are warm, moist, and dark, duh. Your armpits, your crotch, the crack of your ass, and your feet, are good places to start. I would hope it goes without saying….wash your face first, and your hands after, preferably with clean water.

And, in the spirit of levity….

A working-class guy is using the urinal in the bathroom at a restaurant when a distinguished looking fellow, in a tailored suit walks in and uses the other urinal. As Joe is walking out, without having bothered to wash his hands, Mr. Hoity-Toity looks aghast at him.

Didn’t your mother teach you to wash your hands after urinating!?”

Naw…but my daddy taught me not to piss on my hands!”

It’s not piss on your hands I’m worried about, when you’re cooking the camp stew (okay, it IS, but not solely…). WASH YOUR DAMNED HANDS!!!

 

Next to washing your hands and bathing, one thing that infantrymen and backpackers should learn from the very beginning, but all too often don’t, is the importance of dry, preferably clean, clothing to hygiene and survival.

There are a couple of considerations here:

1) If your clothes are dirty and wet, and it’s cold outside, you’re begging for cold-weather injuries, ranging from “mere” immersion foot/trench foot, to full-on hypothermia and death.

2) If your clothes are dirty and wet, and it’s warm outside, your clothing is a breeding ground for bacteria and other do-nasties.

3) If your clothes are just dirty, but dry, they will be wet and warm as soon as you start sweating from exertion. On top of this, is the fact that the dirt fills in the air spaces in between the fibers of the material, robbing it of insulative value. On top of this, what is often overlooked is the fact that dirt molecules in the cloth cut, tear, and abrade the fibers of the clothes. This reduces the life-span of the fiber and clothing.

Ideally, in primitive conditions, washing your clothes means using a washboard, soap, and hot water. Somewhat less ideal, but still acceptable? Washboard and water, period. The old-time backpacker’s remedy of rubbing and beating the clothing on stones while alternately dipping it in the running water of a creek is easy on the environment, and pretty effective at getting the clothing clean. Unfortunately, in a grid-down situation, where replacing your clothes is going to labor-intensive and expensive, at best—if not impossible—it should also be pointed out that it’s really, really, REALLY fucking hard on the clothing itself.

In the short-term of a patrolling situation, you can get away with a lot of unhygienic practices—not washing, wearing dirty clothes every day, not washing your hands before and after you eat, and a host of others—as long as you have the ability, when you return to a more permanent base of operations, to get cleaned up, put on clean clothes, and dose up with antibiotics if necessary. In a grid-down scenario, these may not be as readily available as options. Your “patrol” might be a two or three-month “bug out” evasion. Your “base of operations” might be a pretty primitive encampment in the woods, because your house and neighborhood was burned to the ground by bad people. The veterinary antibiotics you stockpiled in anticipation may not be available, either because you didn’t stockpile enough, they ran out or expired, or they got stolen.

What is the lesson? Hygiene isn’t some sissy concern of soccer moms, that tough-guy supermen can ignore. Simple solutions of course, are not readily available.

In Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3), we have a saying, “Sometimes good tactics are bad medicine and sometimes, good medicine is bad tactics.We have another one too though, “The best medicine on the battlefield is fire superiority.”

The decision of how much hygiene you HAVE to practice, in order to maintain good health must be balanced and weighed against the need to maintain good tactics. So, taking a full-submersion bath, once a week may not be possible. Washing your clothes regularly, so you always have clean, dry clothing to put on, might not be an option. So, we make compromises. We wash what we can, when we can, in the form of “combat showers,” washing the nuts, butts, feet, face, and hands. If we can’t wash our clothes, we lay them out in the sun to dry, allowing UV rays from the sun to help sterilize it and destroy/kill microbes, recognizing that the risk of disease and illness is a more grave concern than the damage to the clothing. It might be difficult to replace your bad-ass multi-cam ACUs, but it’s a lot easier to replace clothes than it is to replace a trained shooter, let alone a husband and father.

Shittin’ and Grinnin’

The first verse from Deuteronomy cited at the beginning of this article lays out the rule of shitting in the woods hygienically. If you shit, bury it. This is simple woods-living 101. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every swinging Richard needs a tri-fold entrenching tool, or the Cold Steel Spetsnaz shovel in his ruck. One for every two men is arguably enough. If you’re with your Ranger buddy, you can take turns using it. If you end up separated from your Ranger buddy, and don’t have the shovel? It sounds heinous, but use your fucking knife to dig a hole, if you have to (although, personally, I recommend cutting a stick and digging with the stick instead).

Dig the hole, squat and shit, wipe thoroughly, and then bury it all. If you don’t have toilet paper? There are probably ten times as many brown shirts rotting away in landfills, with the bottom one-third missing, than there are experienced infantrymen in the US Army. Alternatively to cutting your t-shirt off, you can do as my brother-in-law did on a hiking trip with his girlfriend, and end the trip missing a sock…(in the interest of intellectual honesty, I’ve done this too…..)

One alternative I have used is to keep two one-gallon ziplock bags, one of them crammed full of scrap cloth, cut into handy sizes. Shit goes into the empty bag, until it can be buried somewhere more secure, along with used rags that I wipe with. If I’m camping in a well-used populated area, with lots of other campers, but no Porta-Johns, this is actually my preferred method. In classes, I just carry some toilet paper, because I’m a lazy fucker like that…and my wife gets pissed when I toss the feces-filled ziplock in the trashcan at home.

When you’re done burying your crap? WASH YOUR HANDS!!!!

If hygiene can be defined as the science and actions needed to prevent the spread of illness and disease, then a modern understanding of illness and disease clearly demonstrates that our health and fitness is a critical aspect of personal hygiene. In some ways, it can be argued that these are at least as critical to personal longevity as staying clean, or getting clean is. There’s a reason a fit, 19 year old infantryman can withstand living conditions that would put those of us more….ahem…advanced on the age scale, under a moving Greyhound Bus.

What is Your Strategic Goal?

Originally published 11MAR16

One of the mantras I had drilled into my head as a young NCO in the special operations world was, “think strategic, plan operational, fight tactical.” That’s something I’ve mentioned, probably in passing, on this blog before, but it’s something that really needs to be emphasized far more often, in preparedness planning. The lack of strategic thinking and planning, including the development of a basic strategic goal for preparedness, is something that is all too often, tellingly absent in prepper planning and actions.

The Oxford Dictionary defines strategy, first among several definitions, as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” Thus, in order to “think strategic,” we need to develop a plan of action or policy that is designed to allow us to achieve our overall aim. What is your overall aim?

For many in the preparedness world, the simple, primary answer is, “I want to survive!” Well, I’m sorry, but I’ve got a newsflash for you: that is a dead-end, no-win goal. The one thing I can say, with absolute certitude is, “you’re going to die.” I’m going to die. My kids are going to die. Their kids are going to die. The one sure bet is, we’re all going to die. We need a far larger goal than “I want to survive!” We need a greater—more important—goal than simply, “I want to survive!”

Some will instantly latch on to the “I want a return to the Constitution!” argument. That’s cool. It’s completely ignorant of history and reality, but it’s cool. Who gets to define what the Constitution says? You? What if I—and the rest of America—don’t agree with your definitions? What if you and I agree, but no one else does?

Perhaps we should allow the Founding Fathers to tell us what it means? I hope you’re not using their definition of “freedom” and constitutionality to oppose the “militarization” of police and the arming of tax collectors though… After all, George Washington used the Army of the United States to crush a tax revolt, less than three years after the Constitution was ratified. Or, perhaps you understand what the Constitution was supposed to mean, better than Poppa G?

Or, maybe you think the Constitution says you should be able to grab a bunch of your homeboys, gun-the-fuck up, and go stage an invasion of another state, to force a return to Constitutional law? Obviously then, you know more about what the Constitution is supposed to mean than they did in the 1790s, when at least a dozen different, state-commissioned militia commanders from Kentucky County, Virginia were prosecuted by the State of Virginia (under governors like Henry Lee…who fought in the Revolution…) for leading their forces outside of the borders of the state, in pursuit of hostile Indian forces, without the specific authorization of the governor or the President…

We could argue that “I want a return to the Constitution!” is a valid goal for preparedness and survival, but again…by whose definition?

I would—and have, and do—argue that the goal of preparedness, in the midst of the ongoing decline of the American Empire, should not be a “return” to the Constitution, nor survival of the individual(s). Rather, the end-game goal of preparedness should be the survival of the cultural values that you hold dear and sacred. The problem with that thesis, of course, is that the cultural values you hold sacred may be not only different, but even diametrically opposed to those I hold sacred, or someone else holds sacred. How do we define whose cultural values get to survive, and whose get kicked to the curb?

The simple answer is the correct answer, according to the greater part of the collective human experience, over the last 200,000 years of anatomically-modern human social development: it’s about your community. Quit worrying about other people’s values, and focus on the survival of the values of your friends and family. Quit trying to impose your beliefs and supposed moral superiority on other people, and teach the children of your community what you believe are superior moral values. If you’re right, it will prove out in the end, by the success of your community, and others nearby will start looking at why your community is successful, and will follow suit. Voila! Your moral supremacy wins out in the end. If you’re wrong? Then your community will fail, because your morality was unsustainable in the real world. The people within your community will look elsewhere for cultural values that work for them, and will go there.

If we define our strategic end-game goal—our “major or overall aim”—as “the survival of my community/tribe/church’s cultural values,” then we can begin developing a strategy for achieving that goal. Or, you can stick to “I want to survive!” or “I want to return to the Constitution!” as your strategic end-game “major or overall aim.” Regardless, in order to have a strategy, you have to have that end-game goal.

How Do We Achieve It?

For the sake of argument—and because it’s my fucking blog—we’re going to look at the very sensible, very achievable “my end-game goal is the survival of my community/tribe/church’s cultural values,” for this article. How do we achieve that?

The standard response in the preparedness community seems to fall along the lines of “gun up, talk about getting training, and be ready to shoot people!” or “Bitch and whine about how the government is not protecting us from the incursion of foreign values!” to the perennial favorite, “everybody wants a revolution, yeah! Everybody wants to change the world!” (I probably dicked up those lyrics. Not my music or my band…).

Let’s look at these, and then let’s look at a sensible, historically proven model…

  • “gun up, talk about getting training, and be ready to shoot people!” Valid….ish… One of the common characteristics that history and archaeology tell us that the decline of civilizations and empires share is, the increase of violence. Whether by the imperial power, in its grasp to maintain legitimacy, or the rise of aggressive, militant new powers, or the internecine struggles of groups within the collapsing empire, trying to control things around them, violence just…is. While your ancestors probably dealt with this with swords, spears, and archery tackle of one sort or another, the rifle is the spear of today, and the pistol is the modern man’s sword.

    We should be armed, because if we aren’t, we’re subject to the whims of those who are. That means, their cultural values survive, and ours don’t. While it’s commonly believed that “all men are created, but Sam Colt made them equal,” that’s really only partially correct. Sam Colt, like the Constitution, didn’t make men equal. He provided them with equal opportunity to be lethal. To grossly misquote the late Jeff Cooper, “Owning a gun doesn’t make you a gunfighter, anymore than owning a guitar makes you Jimi Hendrix.

    HH6 and I used to know a dude with a safe full of guns: expensive guns, like custom 1911s and match-grade M14s, and a .338 Lapua Magnum from Surgeon Rifles that I’d have given up a testicle to own. I got to finger-fuck his Surgeon Rifle one day. When I mounted the gun to my shoulder, you know what I saw? The mounted scope was canted somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. I turned and asked him if the rifle was zeroed or not. “What? What’s that? I’ve never even shot that thing! You know how expensive that ammunition is!?”

    I hope of course, that anyone still reading this blog IS shooting, and training, regularly, with any firearms they own, but…I’d be surprised, if I had the ability to do so, if I peaked in on everyone and saw that every single one of you reading this was actually doing any sort of training with your guns. So, yeah, lots of people talk about getting training, but I know for a fact that most don’t. I don’t teach a lot of classes. I’m not interested in teaching a lot of classes. I have other, far more important things—from the perspective of my tribe—to do. I talk to a lot of trainers in the industry though. If all of you were training regularly, or even just training once a year and practicing the rest of the time, we’d know. We’d see it in your performance at the classes you do attend, and every class any of us taught would be turning away prospective students. That’s not happening, because people talk about getting training (for the record, in 2015, I attended training courses under three different instructors, so I’m not just talking shit).

    Finally, shooting bad people in the face is an important ability to have. Unfortunately, in the course of the decline, we’re going to spend a lot more time not shooting bad people in the face than we are going to spend doing so. If your solution to the survival of your community’s cultural values focuses on that, you’re either a) sociopathic, and need to be put down for the betterment of the world, b) are living in some sort of first-person shooter video game alternate reality, or c) are 12 years old and have no experience in the real world.

    I’m a lot more impressed with the prepper that brags to me about how successful her garden is, than the dude who brags about his tight shot group—although I’d rather she bragged about both, honestly. I’m far more impressed with the young couple who is raising 90% of the food they consume, while he works a full-time job outside the home, and she works a full-time job at home, raising and educating their kids in their cultural values, than I am the corporate wage slave who sets aside XX% of his income each month to buy stuff that he hopes will help him survive. The difference? In both cases, the smart people are living life now, rather than thinking about living life in some dystopian future that is actually already occurring around them.

  • I want to return to the Constitution!” There’s really nothing wrong with this goal, on the surface. I love and adore the values enshrined in the Constitution. Limited, representative government, individual liberty and responsibility, etc. I’m all for it. Unfortunately, too often, those who voice the loudest cries for this have apparently never even read the goddamned document, let alone the surrounding documents. As historians, we have two basic sets of resources we can utilize, primary and secondary sources.

    Primary sources are actual documents and records that have survived from the era of study. Examples include letters, books and magazines, artwork, tools and equipment, and clothing, among others. Secondary sources are accounts retelling what happened, often written long after the events occurred. Reading a modern historian—or worse, politician or activist—writing about the goals and aims of the Founding Fathers is not as legitimate, from the historian’s perspective, as reading the actual documents written by the Founding Fathers.

    At the same time however, we have to recognize that the culture of colonial, Revolutionary, and post-Revolutionary America, was considerably different than the culture of modern America. Our understanding of the precise meaning of words can be aided through the use of a primary source such as a contemporary dictionary, but our actual understanding of the contextual meaning of the words needs to be developed through developing an understanding of how the Founding era USED those words.

    The fact is, most of what passes for “Constitutional Scholarship” in this country, is intentionally polemic drivel, from both sides of the false political dialectic. Worse yet, it’s just not important.

    The Constitution of the United States of America is a piece of parchment with some ink stains on it. Period. Full-stop, end-of-story. The Constitution is not important. What is important, regardless of which side of the contemporary dialectic you fall on, are the values embodied in that document.

    That sounds pretty fucking heretical and unpatriotic, but it’s true. If some Mohammedan jihadist detonated a “dirty” bomb in the middle of the National Archives building tomorrow, and the physical Constitution was destroyed, the spirit of that document—the values enshrined in it—would still hold merit, right? So, it’s not the Constitution we value—it’s the values enshrined in it. That’s what is awesome about the Constitution…it’s simple, which means it’s actually pretty robust. Anyone of average intelligence can memorize the exact verbiage of the entire document, including all twenty-seven amendments, in a week or two of devoted effort (I know this for a fact. An entire class of thirty students was required to do so for a school project, when I was in the eighth-grade. Not a single one of us failed the examination. None of us were stupid, but we weren’t MENSA members either.).

    The secret to the survival of the cultural values of the Constitution is not some American Re-Revolution. The secret to the survival of the cultural values of the Constitution is for people to start LIVING those values again. If you focus on your local community, and I focus on my local community, and John Smith focuses on his local community, guess what? In our communities, those values will survive.

    In Forging the Hero, the explanation I offer for this is pretty simple. If you vote for Mayor Smith, he knows he’s accountable to you, the voting public. If he fucks up too egregiously, he knows he can be reached. If Senator Sam goes to Washington, DC, and fucks up, chances are, none of his constituents are going to drive to DC, track down where he stays in the District, and cause him physical pain. Mayor Smith though? He knows he can be reached. Whether that’s him getting voted out in a recall election, or some pissed off ol’ boy curb stomping him on the steps of City Hall, before the local police can restrain him, or it’s some random voter hiding in the shrubs next to the Mayor’s driveway, and emptying a 12-gauge in his ear, as he parks his car at the end of the night, the Mayor knows he can be reached. He’s got to stay accountable—as long as the people in his county make sure he knows they’re going to keep him accountable.

    That’s the problem with focusing on your community though; it makes it too real. It can work, but in order for it to work, you’ve got to be willing to do, and that requires dedication and effort. If it can work, then people might actually have to make it work, and that is scary. It requires effort. It’s easier to scream at the cable news commentators who are bloviating about how your presidential candidate is going to fix the problems POTUS created, using the exact same methods you’re pissed off about POTUS using. It’s easier to scream about “Constitution!” than it is to actually read the fucking document, and think about how it is supposed to actually work (I’ll give you a hint…the President is supposed to “preside” over the executive branch as it “executes” the “legislation” that the legislative branch passed. The executive branch may create regulations regarding how that legislation is executed, but the President really isn’t supposed to DO much to change a damned thing.)

    If you want a “return to the Constitution,” politically, I suggest focusing on your local community government first. If you want a return of the values enshrined in the Constitution? Then start fucking living them. If you want “freedom of religion and expression?” Then practice your religion, and say what you want to say…but be ready to let others do the same. If you want the freedom to keep and bear arms? Then fucking keep and bear arms. If you don’t want people peering into your documents? Then use fucking encryption on your email, and quit posting your personal details all over fucking Facebook and social media. Etc, etc, etc.

  • Everybody wants a revolution, yeah! Everybody wants to change the world!” One of the most common refrains I read on the Internet, and hear in classes, is “people are sheep! Nobody is aware! It’s hopeless!” I’m here to tell you, that’s bullshit. Everybody—EVERYBODY—knows “shit just ain’t right.” From the Social Justice Warrior, college kid, to the middle-aged socialist utopian dreamer, to the farmer at your local feed store; everybody knows the system is falling apart around them. They may not know the solution—and a lot of them that do have a solution, have a really fucked up, demonstrably wrong solution—but every-fucking swinging dick KNOWS that shit is coming apart around them.

    The problem is that everybody is still stuck in the false dialectic of the modern political system. “Oh, if we can get our guy elected, he’ll fix it all.” “Well, I’ll vote for this guy, ’cause he’s the lesser of two evils, and if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch!”

    Point the first: It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché precisely because it is true: voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. If you vote for evil, you really have no excuse for being surprised when the guy you voted for turns out to be a douchecanoe.

    Point the second: “If you don’t vote, you can’t bitch” is a bullshit meme, created to keep people supporting the false dialectic. If you vote, you’re giving your consent. You’re saying, in effect, “I recognize the legitimacy of this process.” If you vote, you’ve got zero legitimate reason to bitch. You played the game and you lost. You got stuck inside their box.

    One of the biggest issues I see among people today, is the fact that they’re stuck in this trap and don’t even recognize it. Even otherwise smart people, bitching about Progressives and Socialists…This shit is not new or novel. It didn’t originate in 1917. It didn’t originate in 1848 (publication of The Communist Manifesto). Every empire in the history of mankind has gone through the exact same issue. The Romans had their Conservative and Progressive party as well, and they bickered and fought over the exact same issues ours do.

    You know which party survived the decline of the Roman Empire? Neither fucking one. It was the dudes who didn’t give a shit about what they were doing in Rome (and later, Ravenna, when Rome was no longer the seat of political power in the Empire), but focused on the situation in their local communities. The people and the cultures that survived the decline of the Roman Empire didn’t revolt against Rome…they existed outside of the Empire, even when geographically, they were in the middle of the Empire.

Too many preppers focus on the short-term. They want to learn tactics, which is fine. If you don’t have tactics, you can’t execute your strategy. The problem is, strategy drives operations, and operations drive tactics. In The Reluctant Partisan, Volume One: The Guerrilla this was discussed, in brief, before we started discussing tactics. In Forging the Hero, I returned to this, in more detail, before discussing the strategy of ensuring the survival of the cultural values of your community of friends and family.

You need to develop a strategy, before you can even begin to understand what operations—and thus, what tactics—are relevant. If you don’t have a strategy driving your operations and tactics, you’re pissing in the wind, and playing Whack-A-Mole. If you’re playing Whack-A-Mole, you’re probably the mole, even without recognizing it. For those unfamiliar with the game, that means, you’re waiting to get smashed in the fucking head with a big club. I’m no expert on getting hit in the head—wait a minute, who am I fooling, yes I am. Let me try again…I’ve been hit in the head a lot. It hurts. I don’t recommend it. If you want to avoid it, and learn from my mistakes, don’t get hit in the head.

Determine what your strategic end-game goal is, and then you have the tool to begin developing a strategy. When you know what your strategy is going to be, you can determine what operations will best help achieve that strategy (chances are, it’s not going to involve nearly the amount of gunplay that most preppers believe it will, although even a little suggests the importance of getting training, right?). Once you know the operations you will need to master to achieve your strategy (I’d suggest self-reliant living skills/homesteading skills, even in the city, would be a really swell place to start), then you can determine what tactics will allow you to complete those operations (determining WHAT type of crops and livestock will survive in your backyard, and what materials you should stockpile to expand into the neighbors’ yards, when they no longer have jobs, and cannot afford their mortgages, so they move in with mommy and daddy. I suggest rabbits. They’re quieter than chickens, and provide a metric fuck-ton of meat—pun certainly intended).

 

Meta-Cognition in Survival Preparedness

We’ve been particularly busy the last week, around the farm, and in life in general. I didn’t really get much writing done. So, this week, in addition to the From the Library, I’ve reposted a few older articles that I suspect some newer readers may have missed, and that some older readers may get some benefit from reading again. I know I got some benefit from reading them again.–JM

 

(Originally Posted 17APR15)

(Before we even start, I know some dumb motherfucker is going to pipe in here, that he has a PhD in Educational Psychology, and I’ve not adequately described metacognition, or I’ve left out critical elements. Before that happens, I’m going to take the opportunity to point out, this article isn’t written for people with expertise in metacognition, and a legitimate expert in the subject would get that. So, if your only comments are, “John oversimplified it,” go kick your PhD committee in the fucking nuts for granting you the Piled Higher and Deeper degree, because you didn’t earn it. I’m writing for a layman audience.)

The word cognition is defined as the mental processes of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. In plain English, cognition is how we learn.

Metacognition, with the prefix “meta-” meaning beyond, goes, well….beyond basic cognition. It is most commonly defined as “cognition about cognition,” or “learning about learning.” At practical level, metacognition can be defined as thinking about learning; it’s studying how we learn. It is used, most practically, to determine when and how to use particular strategies or techniques for learning or problem-solving techniques, and the control/selection of which particular technique will be most applicable, in a given situation.

Metacognition refers to a level of thinking that involves active control over the processes of thinking in order to make the learning process more efficient and effective. It can involve planning the way to approach learning a task, monitoring comprehension of the learning, and evaluation of the students’ progress towards completion of the learning process to the standards desired.

To practice metacognition effectively, there are three basic types of thinking that need to be practiced:

1) declarative knowledge is knowledge about oneself (or a student), as a learner, and about what factors can influence one’s performance.

2) procedural knowledge is the heuristics and procedural knowledge of how to perform the task that is being taught. Someone that doesn’t know how to perform a task, obviously cannot teach it correctly. They lack the procedural knowledge of what comprises the skill, to break it down and teach it.

Learning to See Clearly

On the other hand, a high degree of procedural knowledge can allow individuals to perform tasks automatically, without conscious thought. While that should be our goal, the ability to do so often precludes the ability to teach the skill well, due to the very heuristic nature of the practice that comes with expertise.

Having the metacognitive ability to break a process down, into simple, repeatable, teachable components, is necessary to teaching any skill or process. Further, to be most effective in teaching—especially complex skills—the teacher needs the metacognitive knowledge of a variety of strategies that can be accessed at varying levels of efficiency by different individuals. This is what educational psychologists refer to as “learning styles.” Some people are auditory learners, some are visual, and some can only learn something through applying it.

The problem with the educational psychology approach however, is that we’re humans. We’re not that simple to categorize. Each of us can learn—at varying levels of efficiency—across different learning modalities. Nevertheless, having the metacognitive ability to present the same information across different learning modalities—auditory, visual, and tactile (note that this word is NOT “tactical,” but “tactile,” referring to touch, or hands-on experience…).

3) conditional knowledge is an understanding of when and why to use the above two types of knowledge to allocate teaching/learning resources most efficiently.

So, what the fuck does this mean in the context of training, within our context?

Well, it actually means a metric fuck-ton.

In the declarative knowledge realm, we need to know what we do know, and what we do not know. This is often the hardest part for people to develop, since we all suffer from cognitive biases, like Dunning-Kruger. Admitting, “Hey, I don’t know shit about XYZ,” can be tough. Recognizing it in the first place can actually be significantly tougher.

The ability to recognize D-K and other cognitive biases that impact your level of declarative knowledge requires an understanding of the procedural knowledge of the subject. It also requires—at least at some level—an understanding of the history of that subject, in order to discover what has already been tried and failed.

“But…but…but….history is past! Aristotle is dead! Fuck a bunch of dead people!”

There’s a famous cliché, “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” The entire paragraph, taken from philosopher George Santayana’s The Life of Reason, Volume One: Reason in Common Sense, actually reads thus:

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute, there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Ignoring the obvious cultural bias that Mr. Santayana demonstrated by overlooking the oral tradition amongst “savages,” there’s a whole lot of wisdom in that paragraph. It’s important to look at the shortcomings of the current methods of doing anything. Tossing the baby out with the bathwater however, is sort of retarded though…unless, I suppose, you hate children. In that case though, you should just eat a fucking Glock.

We see this a lot amongst those in the preparedness movement who are too ignorant to recognize their own incompetence. “I don’t need to learn small-unit tactics, because I’m all about 4GW!“I don’t need to learn how to shoot CQB, because I’m a ‘sniper!’” “I don’t need to do PT, because I’ve got a 1911A1!” “I don’t need to learn to work as part of a rifle squad, because I’m a ‘colonel’ in the militia!

Declarative learning fact #1 for future tribal chiefs/warlords/leaders/”colonels”/etc….if you don’t know how to perform the tasks you will expect of your subordinates, your subordinates will tell you to go eat a bag of dicks, as soon as they realize it.

Declarative learning fact #2 for future tribal chiefs/warlords/leaders/”colonels”/etc…you’re not going to be able to “hide” your ignorance from your subordinates. Period. Even if you manage to hide out “in the rear with the gear,” your ignorance will shine through when you start developing plans that are outside the realm of reality, based on the training, experience, and equipment of your subordinates. It will shine through when your logistics efforts don’t take reality into account. “Oh, I’m just going to have them do a four-day forced march, covering 300 miles, on one MRE a day.” (Yes, it can be done. Even accounting for four hours of sleep per 24 hour period, at a 15-minutes per mile pace…which CAN be sustained…that still theoretically allows for 369 miles to be covered. It’s not going to be done by most people, and it’s certainly not going to be done by most people in the preparedness movement. Even those that CAN do it, are going to completely fucking wasted by the end of it, and probably useless for at least a week.)
You’ve GOT to know what you need to know and you’ve got to know, now, what you don’t know out of that body of knowledge. You’re not going to “fake it ’til you make it.” At a bare minimum, it’s reasonable to expect ANYONE in the preparedness community to have a practical grasp of the four fundamental pillars of individual tactical proficiency:

1) combat weaponscraft (marksmanship and gun-handling) with the most common rifles and pistols.

2) physical conditioning, at least to a level that they can excel on SOME form of physical conditioning assessment as a metric. I like the Operator Ugly Assessment from Rob Shaul, and the Upper Body Round Robin, reportedly being used by some elements within USASOC, and the Ranger Regiment’s RAW v4.0 assessments, but if you want to stick with the obsolete three-even APFT, at least it’s a metric.

3) Trauma Medicine at the TC3 Care-Under-Fire and Tactical Field Care Phases. If you’re training for bad shit to happen, it’s common sense that bad shit can happen. If you don’t know how to help yourself or someone else when it does, you’re as useful as missing two good people. A good TC3 instructor is going to completely shred the cognitive biases that result from Red Cross First-Aid training, because of the differences in paradigms. I’ve had nurses and paramedics with three decades of experience in trauma medicine take a TC3 class and respond with “How the fuck did we never think of this!? This method makes SO much more sense, from a trauma perspective!”

4) Small-Unit and Individual Tactical skills. If you don’t know how to perform as part of a small-unit light infantry element, there are some serious limitations on your ability to do fuck-all. You’re not going to be able to do shit against even two trained bad guys. You’re certainly not going to understand the planning and logistical requirements of a small-unit infantry element in the field, and you sure as shit aren’t going to be leading a bunch of meat-eaters that have been training to a proficient level. If they don’t shoot you themselves, or even just kick the dog piss out of you, they’re damned sure going to laugh you out of a job.

In the procedural knowledge realm, we need to know two things: a) what methods we’re going to use to achieve any given task, and b) the step-by-step…wait for it…procedures…to achieve those methods at a competent level. Whether we’re discussing shooting, PT, medicine, or SUT, you’ve got to know the step-by-step processes that are involved. If you don’t know the doctrinal methods, then you have “no direction” for “possible improvement” on the existing methods. You will remain in a state of “perpetual infancy.” It’s easy to say, “well, those method won’t work for me, because I’m not an eighteen year old infantry private!” It’s also intellectual laziness, because if you don’t know those methods, you don’t have a god-damned clue whether they’ll work for you or not (chances are, they’ll work better than whatever fucked up abortion you concocted on your own from watching Airsoft videos on YouTube).

Of course, absent training that breaks the skills down in a step-by-step fashion, you’re going to have to do so yourself. The ability to do so is a metacognitive process that cannot be achieved without practice and experience in both the technique itself, and the methods used to break down skills procedurally. Those methods will vary, based on the nature of the task. It requires different education to break down, say the biomechanics of a pistol draw and first shot break, than it does to break down the foundational principles of a break contact drill. Both require you to know a) the procedures involved, and b) the individual components of those procedures, but breaking down the biomechanics of the pistol draw requires an understanding of human physiology and anatomy, as well as the basic ways the brain works. Breaking down the break contact drill on the other hand, may also require those, but it certainly requires an understanding of how an armed contact between multiple personnel elements occurs. It may require understanding how a chance encounter occurs, how a hasty ambush occurs, and how a deliberate ambush occurs, among others. And, for the record…no, simply reading FM 7-8 and SH 21-76 do not constitute the requisite procedural knowledge. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a load of bullshit. If you’re buying that, my neighbor that raises cows said he’d sell you a pick-up truck load for $50.

Finally, conditional knowledge requires you to understand when—and why—to use the preceding knowledge to most efficiently learn or teach the necessary skills. It also requires understanding the CONTEXT of when/where the knowledge will be used. A break contact drill is a break contact drill, and the foundational principles behind it remain the same, regardless of environmental context. Teaching it at a practical level however, means having the conditional knowledge to recognize the differences in application of those principles, to an urban versus a rural environment, and to mounted versus dismounted troops. Guess what, a break contact drill for troops mounted in armored vehicles is NOT executed the same as a break contact drill for troops mounted in soft-skinned vehicles. Someone teaching them the same way either a) lacks the conditional knowledge (most notably experience), or b) is feeding you a line of shit.

Conditional knowledge also requires you to understand the different learning modalities, and take them into account during the teaching and learning process. In the military training context, this is most simply accounted for doctrinally. This involves using a multi-pronged approach to teaching a skill. We demonstrate the skill, then we explain the skill—ideally with a step-by-step explanation of the procedures. We then allow the students to practice the skill “by-the-numbers,” before we have them perform a skill completely. By doing so, we’ve accounted for visual learning focus, auditory learning focus, and tactile learning focus, as well as those people (like myself) who learn most efficiently with a blend of the different learning modalities (for example, I can pick up pretty much any physical skill simply by watching it executed properly a few times—the more complex, the more times I need to watch it, obviously—and then experiencing it through trial. Listening to someone explain it doesn’t do fuck-all for me, really. I’m a visual learner, with a strong tactile bias. Another example of this, from my perspective, is the ability to read—a vision-centric learning mode—a well-written description of a skill, and then trial-and-error it to a passing degree of proficiency. This of course, requires having someone look at my results later and point out any errors that occurred in my translation, as a result of cognitive bias)

Beyond the three types of knowledge required for metacognition, there are also—conveniently—three aspects to regulating cognitive learning. Those are planning, monitoring, and evaluating. You have to have the requisite declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge to plan training. That means, you need to know enough about the subject to plan training that will pass on the appropriate, critical information, in the most efficient method possible. You also however, need to understand enough about the teaching and learning process to pass on the information usefully.

One of my mentors once pointed out to me, that the mark of a great teacher wasn’t the ability to perform a skill flawlessly. On the contrary, the ability to break it down to the core components, and the willingness to open yourself up to learning how to teach, was far more important. Further, he pointed out, doing so would actually take you past the skill level of the guy who seemed to master it effortlessly.

It’s a truism that “the best way to learn something is to teach it.” That is a direct result of the metacognitive processes required to break down the procedural knowledge of the skill, and the ability to understand how to plan learning.

In order to determine if you’re actually teaching—or learning—anything, you need a method of monitoring the teaching and learning process. This can range from practical exams to written or oral exams of the knowledge. “Do you understand what I’ve just told you? Can you repeat it, in your own terms, back to me?” “Can you demonstrate that you understand the fundamentals of marksmanship, by like, actually hitting that target at 500 meters?”

Finally, we need a method of evaluating our teaching/learning. This is why we have motherfucking standards. The teacher that doesn’t offer you a standard of performance—whether that’s a hard standard, like “you need to be able to do XXX,” or a soft standard like “did you improve XXX from last time to this time?” is not a teacher at all. He’s a charlatan; a snake oil salesman.

MSK

An important sub-component of metacognition is metastrategic knowledge, or MSK. MSK is general knowledge about higher order thinking strategies, and involves understanding the things that impact our ability to recognize validity in cognition. Some aspects of MSK that have a widespread impact on preparedness include:

1) false knowledge. MSK requires us to understand that a belief about any subject is only one of many possible beliefs about that subject. It further requires us to understand that not all of those beliefs will be correct, and as such, yours might be the incorrect one.

2) Appearance/Reality distinctions. Our cognitive biases strongly influence what we perceive. We’ve all heard the idea that no two witnesses will see the same occurrence the same way. This is a real-world example of appearance/reality distinctions. What you perceive as true or correct is predicated on experience and education. While a combat veteran will have obvious cognitive biases about what works and what doesn’t in a gunfight, this doesn’t preclude the non-veteran from suffering the same problems. The difference is that the veteran’s biases will at least be based on the experience of reality, while the non-veteran’s biases are filtered through not only his OWN biases, but also the biases of whatever exposed him to beliefs about gunfighting, whether stories he heard, or read, or fantasies he watched on television or in movies.
The issue that arises, from a MSK perspective, about appearance/reality distinctions, is the inability too many people have in separating their perspective of an event from the event itself. This requires a level of intellectual rigor that most of us are never taught. This is another reason why collaborative processes in developing training are so critical.

3) Visual Perspective is closely tied to the appearance/reality distinction. It requires understanding that how we’re seeing things is not the definition of truth, regardless of how it appears. This is only slightly different from the appearance/reality distinction, in that it pertains specifically to what we see, versus what we believe, based on not only what we see, but also how our beliefs interpret what we see.

Conclusions
So, what does all this metacognition bullshit have to do with Mountain Guerrilla, preparedness, and you, specifically? A couple things. On the one hand, it means you need to continue looking objectively at your preparedness and the conclusions behind your decisions in regards to the preparedness decisions you make.

Most of what we “know” in preparedness culture, from food storage “rules” to live by, to what kinds of firearms are “ideal,” to where we should live, are filtered through the teachings of somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen “experts.” The problem is, those preparedness experts all go back to the same one or two people as authorities. Until we can objectively look at that…and question the validity of those one or two people’s beliefs on the subject—based on a study of history, rather than our own cognitive biases.

History may not be a perfect vessel for determining validity, but it’s hell for more valid than theory made up out of thin air and wishful thinking, which is the only other vessel available to us. I’ll take an objective study of what history illustrates to us over some dude creating a fantasy in his own mind any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

Finally, the focus on metacogntion should incorporate this, and means focusing on learning/teaching the highest percentage skill sets needed for survival in a collapsing social structure. That means focusing on individual survival skills to a quantifiable level of skill, then focusing on collective tasks at an elementary level, also to a quantifiable level of skill—which will help maintain the individual skills—before moving on to the development of the more ephemeral skill sets that are predicated on a practical knowledge of the elementary tasks and skills.

 

Skull-Stomping Sacred Cows: Doctor’s Notes Don’t Apply

One of the books mentioned in this week’s “From the Library” article is called “Warrior Pose,” written by Brad Willis. Mr. Willis was a correspondent for NBC for a number of years who suffered an injured back, ignored it in the interest of pursuing his career, and ended up with surgically irreparable spinal damage. He was told he would never walk again. At roughly the same time, he was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer of the neck, and told he had less than two years to live. He wrote the book ten years after that, and is still alive today, as far as I can determine, which is almost twenty years after the diagnosis.

He also picked up the practice of Yoga (traditional yoga, not the pop culture spandex and gym class yoga most people are familiar with), and managed to completely rehabilitate his back on his own. The catalyst for his rehabilitation, he claimed in his book, was his then two-year old son’s plea for him to “Get up, Daddy!” because the lad wanted Dad to come outside and go to the beach with him and his friend and the friend’s dad.

The reason I bring this up, is because I was having a conversation with one of our people the other night. Despite being active in a very physical martial art for the last twenty years, and a high school athlete before that, and having been preaching to people for at least a decade that they needed a “BugOut Bag,” and food storage, etc, “Bob” managed to get VERY overweight. He is aware of the fact, and has started losing a significant amount of that weight through very effective better dietary practices, and a significantly less effective PT regimen.

The problem with the exercise regimen(s) is his weight, combined with a fall-related injury some years old resulted in the typical middle-age lower back injuries. My suggestion was “Start with kettlebell swings.”

Of course, to a lot of people, the idea of doing the very hip- and lower-back centric ballistic exercise of kettlebell swings might seem like a bad idea for a dude with lower back issues. My experience has been the exact opposite. I’ve broken my back twice. Admittedly they were both “minor” fractures (as “minor” as a BROKEN FUCKING BACK can be…..). In both instances, the recovery process eft me with significant atrophy of lower back and hip strength from lack of use for some months. In both cases, kettlebell swings, starting with a light kettlebell of 25# or so, hastened the rehabilitation process dramatically. Now, it’s not entirely painless. Even today, if I’m not exceedingly conscientious about my form, and keeping my torso taut during the execution of the exercise, I end up with significant lower back soreness and strained tendons or ligaments. Of course, I’m also swinging anywhere from a 70 to a 100 pound kettlebell, but…

I also have a spot on my upper back where the ribs tie in that was injured in a fall. I was about six feet off the hard packed ground, fell, and landed flat on my back. I separated three ribs. The same issue arises if I lose form and tightness during any pulling exercise (kettlebells, snatches, swings, cleans, deadlifts, etc).

This really isn’t about me though.

Our guy has been to his chiropractor. He “likes” his chiropractor. His chiropractor specifically recommended against doing kettlebell swings, apparently. Of course, every single exercise regimen published in America today, whether online, in print, or on video, very explicitly advises people to “Consult your personal physician before beginning this or any other exercise regimen!” Ignoring the fact that publishers’ legal departments demand that disclaimer in a litigation happy society, I don’t even disagree with it, especially if you’re suffering from a chronic injury or illness.

Here’s the thing though: If your doctor (for the record, for this article, I am specifically including doctors of chiropractic, and general practititioner physicians) says “No. You should not do this exercise regimen!” and then doesn’t hasten to point out not only WHY you should avoid this specific exercise regimen, AND guide you to an exercise regimen that you can use to build towards doing one that will allow you to reach your goals, then you need to fire the cocksucker. At that point, you know he’s not interested in you getting better. He’s interested in getting paid, and if he teaches you to get better, he’s not going to see you as often.

Your doctor is not a god. He’s not THE God. He’s not A god. He’s not even a minor demi-god, probably. He’s not omniscient. Unless he is a sports medicine specialist, there’s a damned good chance he lacks even continuing education coursework relevant to physical therapy and sports medicine. That means, despite his degrees and titles, he doesn’t have a goddamned clue what he’s talking about. For fuck’s sake, there are still doctors out there who insist tourniquets are a bad thing in emergency medicine, and should ONLY be used after direct pressure and pressure point methods have been attempted to stop arterial bleeding!

Second, your doctor is not your friend. Even if he is your golf/poker/drinking buddy, when you step into his office—unless he’s a really shitty doctor—you’re not his pal. You’re his patient and his client. That’s not to say he’s going to give you bad advice, or try to upsell you on shit you don’t need. It means you should feel free—and he should even suggest it, especially if he is a friend outside of the office—to get a second and even third, opinion, without feeling like you are “cheating” on your doctor.

You need to be fit. Period. Full-stop. End of story. I don’t care how you specifically define “fit,” you need to be able to meet that definition. If you find yourself caught in the midst of an angry mob, and are not fit enough to fight your way to the edge of it (having the technical ability to do so is a different issue), and then run several blocks to safety, you’re not “prepared.” But, perhaps you’re less “prepper” than that. Perhaps you’re only worried about dealing with asocial violence on the personal level of robbers/muggers/etc.

The gun world tends to be cyclical, just like everything else in human life, and one of the trends that seems to be returning, is the emphasis on pointing out that many—most—self-protection situations are not particularly well-solved with guns. The caveat to that of course, is the unspoken reality that, if you’re going to convince some skell to not take your money, life, or dignity, without shooting him, you’d better be fit enough to—if not actually fight him off—convince him that you COULD fight him off.

Another increasingly vocal message in the training industry is the very real fact that medical training is infinitely more important and commonly useful than being a IPSC Grandmaster with a blazing fast draw and sub-quarter second splits. Are you fit enough to carry, or even just drag, your spouse, partner, or kid, and drag them to safety, where you can begin to apply aid? It needn’t even be a shooting situation. Car wrecks happen all the time. You don’t want to be performing first-aid on someone, in a car with smoke bellowing out of engine compartment, and the growing smell of leaking fuel. You’re going to want to get them to a safe place to continue aid. Are you fit enough?

There’s lots of people that point out that “running away” is a better option than getting in a fight, even if you’re justified in shooting the dude in the face. Are you fit enough to sprint 10 or 20 or 30 or more yards, fast enough to actually effect that plan? What about while dragging a scared spouse or child with you?

I don’t give two shits what old injuries you are suffering from. I don’t care what your favorite doctor/chiropractor/acupuncturist/Chinese folk medicine practitioner says. If they say, “Don’t do this exercise,” but don’t immediately follow that statement with some suggestion of what you CAN do, that involves PROGRESSIVELY MORE CHALLENGING EXERCISES (seriously, if they give you AN exercise, and don’t tell you when and/or how to progress from there, they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about and are simply humoring your request), you need to fire the fucker. Specifically, try looking for a sports medicine practitioner.

If you’re suffering from an “old injury” that “limits” what you “can” do, and you cannot afford GP, let alone a sports medicine specialist? That’s okay. An increasing number of people in this economy cannot, despite ever present claims of recovery. I cannot. We leverage networking, barter, and the gift exchange economy for both chiropractic care and for pediatric care for the kids (and, for the record, we have an amazing sports med chiro, and an equally amazing pediatrician).

That may not be an option for you though, for any number of reasons. I get it. So, start slow, go slow, but continually progress. If you stall or hit a wall, step back a couple steps and try something different to get around/over/under the wall, instead of just trying to bull your way through the wall.

Get on YouTube and find a beginner’s Yoga series, and work your way through it. At the same time, get your hands on Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning book about gymnastic style strength-bias calisthenics. Start with the beginning, and follow the program as far as you need to. Start walking. Walk 100 yards, every single day for one week. For the second week, increase it to 100 yards, twice, with a minute or two break in between. For the third week, increase it to three intervals of 100 yards. When you’re doing 100 yards ten times, change it to 200 yards, and drop the number of intervals to 4 or 5, and build back up. When you can do 10 of those, start alternating. One day, do 10×200, but run or jog as much of each interval as you can, before you start walking. On the other day, increase the distance to 400, then 600, then 800, then 1000 yards. Add a loaded backpack.

If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you know all this. Whether you’re doing it or not is immaterial to me, but you know WHAT to do. You probably know HOW to do it by now. It’s up to you to decide TO do it. Nobody cares about your old injuries. There are dudes running missions with SOCOM with prosthetic fucking legs….and you can’t do a fucking push-up?

My seven year old daughter does 30 pushups. Her form isn’t perfect, but she does full-body pushups, several times a day. She’s SEVEN! And, she’s a GIRL! What the fuck is your excuse? If you can’t do a single full-body push-up, let alone 10, 20, 30, 40, etc, and you’re a grown-ass man, you are not “prepared” for a goddamned fist fight in the Wal-Mart parking lot, let alone a firefight in the Apocalypse.

Just do your fucking PT. Stop making excuses.