From my angle, not suffering the myopia of many, the prepper movement seems to be rekindling. After the siesta many seemed to take after November 2016, a large number are waking up to the reality that no, your problems are not solved by simply voting and that no, they won’t be any time after. We can easily see that all of the same issues which motivated the many are still omnipresent- the shaky basis of our economy, the very real threat of domestic discord, and the increasing likelihood of terrorism or even a possible nuclear exchange. I can’t help but wonder if this is what the early 80s felt like. Coming of age in the 90s survivalists were far more concerned with the rise of globalism and the threat of domestic tyranny, listening to William Cooper on our Sony Shortwave receivers that we bought at Radio Shack. Those threats haven’t gone away, but what has changed for the good is the approach many are adopting to preparedness and survival compared to the past- embracing a small group and community model versus the inefficient and socially obtuse ‘lone wolf’ stereotype. Before anyone hisses at their screen while reading this, take a moment to reflect on some of the things that have been either written, filmed, or observed in the past few years. Look at the growth of all things survival, primitive living, or just asking for a simpler and more resilient lifestyle. What was once a fringe notion among social outsiders is now mainstream. Look at the resurgence of the ways of yore and the reembracing of simpler, more resilient and less wasteful lifestyles. The age of tradition is coming back, fueled in part by a need to reawaken those bonds with our past meanwhile recognizing the need for community. The days of the large family gatherings and community get-togethers seems to be returning, and its a welcome sight.
Rugged Individualism doesn’t negate the need for others. I think of myself as a fairly well rounded individual. I can build anything from a lean-to shelter to a radio shack. I can keep a person alive from trauma long enough to get them to a higher tier of care. I can communicate around the world with basic equipment, I can make accurate shots with a 7.62×51 past 1k meters, lead a combat patrol, fix my diesel truck, brew my own beer, hunt any game out there, and can make it into the best smoked sausage you’d want to eat. But those skills at a basic level only serve me. What of my family? What of yours? I have to sleep sometime. Who watches over you when the body or mind shuts down?
And that’s where the confusion comes in. The idea of the well rounded man, rugged individual, or as I like to call self starter, doesn’t mean you don’t need anyone else. Could I live like that, alone, in total isolation? Maybe for a little while, but it wouldn’t be much fun. Without others to share a good laugh, food, drink or the human experience with, what’s the point of ‘surviving’? Many of the libertarian mindset pride themselves on personal liberty, not being reliant on anyone else for anything and accountable to the self alone. While I share those views it cannot negate the reality that I cannot do all things alone nor would I want to. Specialization may be for insects, but we do all have our talents. Groups tend to coalesce around skills that add to the whole. And that brings us to how we stand up communities of preppers.
The first thing to recognize is that prepper groups are voluntary and should be based on respect and friendship. People must have some compulsion to dedicate their precious time and resources to the larger group, and in many cases that begins with a need for protection. For this reason a lot of groups turn into a type of militia and end there. The better bet if defense is your only goal would be to join a local hunting club to at least get used to moving in the woods with a group of armed people while being quiet and still putting meat on the table, but I digress. A disproportionate focus gets put on weapons, ammo, and gear to carry it. This turns into group defined standards wanting a military look and for many this is isn’t natural. It can actually make you and yours worse in a number of ways- just do what comes natural and you’ll be fine- if that’s Mossy Oak and a 30-30, then have at it. I’ve seen small, nearly insignificant issues like brands of rifle or camo patterns lead to larger group conflicts and at its worst, people losing interest. Since that’s the last thing we want, more of an open standard is better; the gear really doesn’t matter much if at all, and the weapons do only for ammo and magazine commonality to make stocking supplies easier. Another point to make here is remembering to stay humble; check your ego at the door. There’s always something we can learn from another and everyone brings a skill to the table. So rather than argue over things that ain’t that important in the big scheme, just calm down and accept the minor differences.
Every group needs to realize you’ll be managing far more mundane tasks day to day than trigger pulling or playing with cool-guy gear. Of the many points of view I get to hear as a trainer and consultant to the prepping and survivalist community, one of the most common is the fact that homesteading is hard and has a steep learning curve. The more you master now, before times get rough, the easier the transition will be later on- you will not be learning this easily on the fly. I wrote long ago that the mark of a true survivalist is the person who “doesn’t even notice the lights going off” and that’s still something I agree with. Start small; grow some crops, meet your neighbors, find out what resources you have locally. Because its them that will make the difference in the end. Start planning your calendars around the growing seasons. Growing small crops and herbs as well as animal husbandry should be next on the list. Chickens and goats are very hardy animals and fairly simple to get started with. With herbs, I strongly suggest Rosemary Gladstar and the Peterson’s guides to the wild flora and fauna in your area as top notch references. Another great collection of books that have served me well are the Foxfire series for all things primitive living as well as Appalachian and Foothills culture. But remember that people are the best asset: the more people you have the easier the farm life becomes, and we end up wasting less and getting closer while sharing the bonding experiences of hard work.
Never stop adding tools, especially quality hand tools. Don’t forget the skills to back them up. Simple items like a splitting maul, framing hammer and wheelbarrow make life tremendously easier- and are a challenge to replace in a down-grid world. But having a set of tools is one thing; learning to use them is quite another. But this gets back to the necessity of community. There’s always that blacksmith in a rural town, that welder or shade tee mechanic, who’s skills may be undervalued now but will become highly sought after in the coming years. While it might seem mundane, even picking up a few of those skills yourself will become a huge deal and bring a high amount of value to your community. It’s even an economic asset- you can trade and barter with skills long after you run out of material goods. The craftsman never goes hungry- the community protects and provides for what it values the most. Realize you can’t learn everything. There’s a reason why the guild system of apprenticeship developed over time- mastering a trade is a lifelong ordeal. So this gets back to the need to build a community. The more diverse the skillsets you find and foster, the stronger your preparedness is going to be.
And how do you find all this? It’s actually a lot easier than you think. With the booming popularity of primitive skills, there’s few places out there that doesn’t have some sort of gathering, rendezvous or expo, and there’s normally special skill classes at many local community colleges- take advantage of it. Hit up the local Farmer’s Market or organic Co-Op. Take every opportunity to meet people in your community and remember, loyalty is to people; not ideas. You don’t have to see eye to eye on every issue to build good community. You don’t have to run around wearing every opinion on your sleeve. You do, however, need to go along to get along on your part and that usually includes keeping your mouth shut. Sometimes the only difference between a prepper, a libertarian and a organic farmer hippie-type is their opinion about the world’s problems, but in the end the solutions are similar and we can learn quite a bit together. The more skills you bring to the table the better your group will be, and the more people you bring into the group the more diverse the skills will become. The old ‘lone wolf’ model is only held by misfits and outcasts- it’s nothing more than a dead end- true preparedness starts with building community. I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to be into survivalism and preparedness, and the future only looks to get brighter.