Thursday, October 1, 2009

State of Being Survival Savvy

A clear sense of purpose, or - in the extreme - paranoia, instead of a sense of assuredness and the self-confidence of knowing what's going on around you (and which way to jump if things go wrong). School buses stop at all rail crossings for a reason. Sometimes things don't work the way they should, and everybody knows that trains love to eat vehicles. We live in survivalism, by any method chosen, is to increase the odds for the continued existence of its followers, when faced with a threatening situation.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not an "activist" tautology. Most survivalists are reserved and quiet individuals who have lost faith in society’s ability to protect its own, and who have taken steps to lessen their dependence upon society for aid in an emergency situation.

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

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

Survivalism does not necessarily concentrate on global catastrophe or the collapse of civilization. The profile of a "true" survivalist is someone who is concerned with planning for and avoiding the pitfalls and dangers of daily life and short-term emergencies and disasters of a local and temporary nature. In fact, since the frequency and likelihood of personal and local emergencies are more common, these situations are of primary concern. Long term and widespread disasters are of concern to the survivalist, but they are extremely difficult to plan for. The individual (or single family) often does not possess the resources – either financially, materially, or intellectually – to efficiently plan for a long term, widespread disaster.

What Does It Take To Survive?

A lot of people have their own ideas about survival and what it takes to survive. Whole (expensive) books have been written on the topic. This is how I feel on the subject, with the most important qualities listed first.


Among survival experts and survival communities it is generally accepted that the preeminent requisite for survival - beyond all the doo-dads and gewgaws and training and know-how - is simply this: the WILL to survive. Without the will to survive, there is no hope, no desire, and no chance whatsoever that, barring rescue from an outside source, anyone can survive a perilous situation. It doesn't really matter what the situation is or where it is taking place: a fire at home, a shoot-out at work, a pile-up on the freeway, a combat mission in Iraq, or being lost and stranded in the wilderness... without the WILL to survive, all is lost. There are countless astonishing tales of people surviving well beyond the expected norm - people who have had no significant survival training, skills or tools - simply by refusing to lay down and die when circumstances, the pain in their bodies, and the ravages of their minds told them that there was nothing left for them to do but die. Babies, children, women and men - few people really know how to survive, but the common denominator among those who do is the indefatigable desire to make it through one more day. Happily, having found this website and actually making it this far down the page, you too have demonstrated a certain degree of perseverance in your quest for knowledge of survival topics. Whether this is because you actually have an interest in surviving trying times and difficult situations, or because you are simply doing research for a paper on "those nutty survivalists" is beyond my ability to discern. If you are here to learn to survive, go ahead and pat yourself on the back - for you are in fact exercising, through your own will, that gift that nature has provided each of us: the instinct for survival. If you are only here to research an article because you are "curious" about what makes us tick, you might be surprised to know that most of us are just as curious about you - and at what point it was that you decided to turn your back on the natural inclination of self-preservation and relegate your personal well-being to that amorphous entity (society) that you seem so smugly content with. I have my own theory about "civilized society" and how its insidious effect is to numb natural instinct to the point of despair... witnessed by the rise of suicide and suicidal tendencies in direct proportion to the size of cities... but that's a discussion for another time.


The term "ability" might (and usually does) encompass many things, but in this context it focuses on mental and physical freedom of thought and action. If you can't think straight (because of dementia, intoxication, etc.), can't think for yourself (cults, taboos, peer pressure, etc.), or are physically restrained (shackled, imprisoned, restricted by "authority") from acting in your own best interest, then your chances of surviving a direct physical or environmental threat are severely limited. This does not necessarily include physical handicaps. If the will to survive is stronger than feelings of self-pity or helplessness, a physical handicap may only serve to enhance other aspects of a person's capabilities - including the determination to succeed where others might simply give up. If you are healthy, clear-headed, free to act in your own best interest, and have a developed will to survive, your chances are very good that you can weather most hazards, provided that you've been paying attention.


Survival awareness is a developed faculty which, like a muscle, grows stronger and better with practice. If abused, however, it can also become "sprained," resulting in harm. Sprained awareness may result in an over-abundance of caution, hesitancy where action is required, indecisiveness insa wonderfully intricate world filled with all kinds of potential hazards. In the "civilized" areas we have traffic and crime and drive-by shootings. Various solid objects occasionally tumble from unseen heights for no apparent reason. Buried gas, sewer, and water lines in obvious as well as the most unexpected places. High voltage lines and toppling construction cranes. Innocent looking stairways and cracks in the sidewalk. Chemical plants, and aircraft that fly into buildings. Muggers, molesters and panhandlers. In the wilderness we have storms and crevasses and wildfires. Hungry - or just exasperated - wild animals. Ticks and chiggers and gopher holes. Crumbling trails and avalanches. Bad water - or no water at all. Poison Ivy, oak, sumac - and those boys from "Deliverance." Survival awareness is about recognizing where you are and where you are going and understanding the potential hazards that might confront you on your journey. It's about thinking through the task at hand and understanding the consequences of a failure to focus on what you are doing. It's about being proactive, avoiding unnecessary risks, acknowledging unavoidable risks, and doing whatever you can to ensure a positive outcome. With the acknowledgement of unavoidable risk also comes a plan for handling them, should they present, and minimizing their effect after an event. This sounds like a lot of work. It's not, really. The more you exercise your survival awareness, the more "automatic" and effortless the correct proactive solutions become.


Survival knowledge could be an endless odyssey. With something in the neighborhood of 800 pages and tens of thousands of links on this site, I'm still finding new information or things I've forgotten about - as well as many I never knew. I'd have to say that it is, if not completely in the realm of then right next door to, impossible to find it all, learn it all, know it all or even compile it all. I've given it a pretty good try - but I've got way too much time on my hands. Aside from us obsessive compulsive types, no one should feel compelled to know everything there is to know about survival in every conceivable circumstance. None of us operates in every conceivable aspect of life, and so you should learn to "let some of it go" when it comes to survival techniques. If you don't expect to be sailing or flying or mountain climbing or hiking to the North Pole, chances are your need for survival techniques specific to those actions and environs, while interesting, are of little value to you in the real world. Survival knowledge is as much about knowing what you need to learn as it is in knowing about the topics you eventually choose. Knowing 1001 things about tsunami survival in the middle of the Gobi desert may be a source of fantastic amusement to the natives, but unless they are really, really desperate for entertainment it is not going to help your chances of survival. Knowing which mosses and lichens are good to eat in the arctic is unlikely to keep your belly full in west Texas.


Knowing how to start a fire, build a shelter, set a broken bone, or fly an airplane is not the same thing as actually doing each of these tasks. Knowledge is not skill. "Skill" is the well practiced implementation of knowledge in the correct manner and to the exact degree necessary to produce the desired result - under any conditions you are like to face, with or without the preferred and recommended assortment of tools. The only way to develop and perfect your survival skills is to actually do them - over and over again - until they become second nature to you.

To learn how to start fires, you begin with the easiest method under the best of circumstances - on a clear, dry, warm day with little or no wind, in a secure location. You learn how to set up a proper fireplace, how to collect available fuels in your area, which fuels burn best, hottest, longest, and produce coals or smoke. You learn about tinder, what types are available to you, which types are best and what will work in a pinch. You learn how to prepare a fire and then you learn how to start it. You burn fires of various fuels and sizes, in various places, and learn how the fire and smoke patterns change with the conditions or placement or configuration. You learn how reflectors affect heat and light output and burn conditions. You learn all this by doing it. In doing it - even under the best of conditions - you learn about smoke in the eyes and lungs, flare-ups and sparks and burns (and burn care). Cuts and splinters and blisters, and how to treat each of them. Once you become proficient and confident in your ability to start a fire under the best conditions with the best tools, you begin to throw in variables: wet or cold or windy days, damp or poor quality tinder and fuel. When you can successfully create a proper fire under adverse conditions, with inferior material, while using the best tools, you begin to vary the tools and methods. Eventually you will be able to start a fire under nearly any condition, with or without modern tools and techniques. It is then that you have acquired the survival skill of "fire making.


Survival Savvy is a combination of INTUITION (knowledge + awareness), CREATIVITY (will + skill), and ADAPTABILITY (intuition + creativity + ability) and is the ultimate culmination of the above five qualities developed to a degree of confidence. With intuition, creativity and adaptability there is little that life can throw at you that cannot be turned on its tail and taken advantage of. Developing and perfecting these qualities is essential to nearly any circumstance in life and, having been once attained, cannot be lost, broken, or taken from you.


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