Survival Skills

I have long pondered the mechanics of survival required in today’s world. There is a primitive movement afoot that seeks to unlearn these mechanics, or at least be set free (if only temporarily). While I can admire their ardour, I can’t respect their position entirely. Mostly because it romanticizes the reality of living primitively. It’s not easy, in fact, it’s darned hard.

I’ve spent most of my life in the woods, and am very comfortable and unafraid in the wild. I find that being in the wilderness ‘releases’ a part of me that has suppressed when living in the modern world. Hunting for example, is something that I’ve done for decades. Tracking or even trapping animals is also something that I’ve past enjoyed. I no longer trap though, because I find absolutely no need for it. And if I hunt, I only hunt what I fully intend to eat.

This is the time of year when I will hunt again, killing a large game animal for food. I’m not particularly picky and I don’t trophy hunt. I don’t enjoy the killing either, but rather the experience of being in a natural environment and engaging my skills against another animal, who is far better adapted to the woods then I am.

But I get to unwind, forget entirely about everything else for a short time. This is in fact, a large part of the experience itself – not the hunt, not the kill or the pursuit, but simply clearing the mind entirely of this modern world.

I would have to say that this is by far the most enjoyable part of hunting. Camping for the sheer pleasure of it comes close, so does fishing. Whether still hunting or stalking, fishing a stream or a river, or hiking around and simply enjoying all the scenery, the sights, the sounds and the smells, the mind clears from the daily fog of living and the senses sharpen, if only slightly.

I spend a lot of time in the woods for this reason. At this time of year, I go for long walks just to “blow out the cobwebs”. I avoid other people at all costs, because I have absolutely no interest in engaging in a conversation or injuring my woods experience.

I’ve been lost before, and it is indeed a frightening experience. Keeping your cool will save your life and it did mine. It only lasted for about half a day, but certainly long enough to make me concerned. However, in retrospect, I gave a lot of thought to survival and how “I” would fare in a survival situation. Primitivists also do this, learning exactly how they might learn to live off the land and survive.

Herein lies the dichotomy. Survival living in the modern world requires a varied set of skills and abilities, not unlike survival in the primitive or natural world. However, they only cross paths mostly on theoretical level. Knowing how to light your gas stove or the smell of leaking gas is not the same thing as lighting a fire in the woods, or following the smell of smoke back to camp. Survival living requires far more elemental skills that need to be practiced in order for your to be competent – modern living does not.

Knowing where the meat is found in the supermarket is not the same things as knowing how to kill your own food. But knowing how to cook your food isn’t that much different then knowing how to cook it in the wild. Some skills will be transferable, but not that many.

Competence is simply not required in the modern world. Anybody can live here. If your incompetent, you can still manage to survive quite well. And there is always nearly someone else or entire agencies designated to take care of you. But modern living is of course, much more then that. Modern living requires of you a great many things, primarly your time, your allegience, your subscription to a host of modern paradigms and your efforts and energies.

In exchange for all of that, you get the privilege to pay for the right to live. Modern living isn’t free, and you are required to participate in all of it’s demands in order to survive. This is a rather unfair exchange. You are required, even demanded to participate in an unfair, inequal exchange of self in order to survive. But in reality, this unfair exchange is required so that other people may survive. The interconnectedness of the modern world has created this level of dependency.
Primitive living on the other hand, is mcuh more direct and equal, exhanging exactly what you input for what you receive. It’s a one on one ratio of returns. This then is the most democratic form of living there ever was. Nothing else even comes close.

On the other hand, the modern world requires exploitation of the individual, subjugating entire continents of populations to provide the “living requirements” for distant nations. And even these requirements aren’t real, they are artificial fabrications of greed and consumption for the most part. But importantly, the basic requirements of water, food, clothing, shelter and even safety aren’t free like they once were. They are bought and paid for by every citizen of the modern world through their time, effort and exchange, but nowhere near on an equal exchange for all citizens. The inequalities this modern system has created are monumental (and worthy of entirely different blog post).

This then, is the attraction of primitive living on an social / economic perspective. The directly proportional exchange of effort for one’s livelihood and daily survival. Yet how realistic is this today?

In my opinion, not very. Few people could survive long in a daily survival situation due to many factors, such as environmental damage and degradation, overpopulation, species depletion, pollution, disease, injury and sickness. This is exactly why mankind has sought to distance himself from primitive living, so that he could avoid these things.

In exchange for that, the aforementioned inequalities were created. These are entirely artificial, manmade constructs. Theoretically at least, they need not exist.

While I am not advocating one style of living versus another, I am simply trying to point out that the “exchange” as it were, or the trade-offs between one method of living versus another is not without certain benefits. Both have advantages, and both have serious disadvantages. The problem(s) lies between the two.

Neither is entirely preferable, since both have distinctive disadvantages. Agriculture led to the population explosion and the resulting destruction of the Earth’s resources, including the enslaving economic systems, gigantic cartels and corporations and resulting pollution. Primitive living on the other hand does not afford very many people or any of the cures and comforts of the modern world, but was the only truly balanced living mankind has ever known.

Even so, what has long been needed was a reasonable balance betwixt the two. Mankinds desire to rule nature and insulate himself from it’s ravages created another even more severe ravaging, this time by man himself, the results of which we are witnesses to today.

But the issue of survival, by whatever chosen means, is becoming more and more acute as the planetary destruction swings wildly out of our (presumed) control, making our future and even present survival increasingly doubtful. Can we simply revert to primitive living as the answer? I think not.

The “answer” as it were, is to revert “back” to some point where we have previously been. Others perceive the answer as some sort of future techno-fix that will solve our energy problems, pollution, food production and environmental manmade disasters. Personally, I don’t see either option as being feasible. I think it’s too late for either one. The news reports on the environmental, species and planetary disasters now looming large over our heads tells me that.

Mankind may yet survive his follies – and then again, he may not. He is a resiliant animal, but it’s quite possible he’s gone too far this time. I won’t be around to see it and neither will any of you.

In the meanwhile, learning survival skills (even modern ones) is still a requirement. The unequal and unfair exchange required of modern survival will go on, until it finally collapses (hopefully) and then the primitive survival skills will carry that generation through (maybe) until the whole sordid process repeats itself.

I wish it could be another way. I wish we could find the ecological balance for humans in a natural world, but in all probability, it’s far too late for that. But this does not seem to be the desire of mankind, although we are certainly capable of it. This cognative dissonance between “life” and “living” will probably consume mankind for as long as he does manage to survive (somehow) on this planet.


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3 thoughts on “Survival Skills

  • November 1, 2006 at 12:53 pm

    I often wonder about that survival issue. I to be able to simply ‘revert back’, but I know that won’t be possible.

    What would I be reverting back to? My family has lived in the PNW forests for 4 generations now, which is not very long compared to some populations, but for a white guy, my family has been here for a fair bit. We’ve built up a fair body of knowledge as to what is good to eat, where to find various materials, etc.

    I won’t be able to use that knowledge, tho, with de-speciation going at its current pace. Sure, the deer may not go away, and elk may survive in some areas for a long time to come, but I am worried about the plant populations. The forests are dying – if not already dead. Plant and animal pecies are moving north, and are being replaced by others. My experience, my grandfather’s experience, does not include these animals and plants.

    Personally, I think it’s too late. Even if we could slam the brakes on, the far north is still melting – billions of tons of methane will gas out no matter what we do today. Ice sheets and glaciers are already lost. I’ve watched every glacier on Mt. Rainier retreat dramatically.

    Additionally, poisons are already lodged firmly in the local food supply – I am certain this applies no matter where your ‘local’ is. In Puget Sound, PCBs and Dioxins are plentiful. As a result, every fish or mollusk I eat will be poisonous – for decades to come. Predator populations will probably fail as reproductive damage becomes more concentrated in associated prey populations. Monoculture-based forestry practices have left massive swaths of the forest vulnerable to complete destruction by fire.

    My hope is to carry a basic set of skills and a sharp curiosity with me into the future difficult times. I prefer not to worry too much about the specifics, tho, as I don’t really think I can plan for the unknown. I envy you, you have hunting skills. My city-slicker father looked askance at such practices… and looked slightly ill at the thought of hunting. That’s my next goal – to learn hunting and dressing down an animal.

  • November 1, 2006 at 8:50 pm

    What is the name of this blog writer? Is that your picture or someone else? It would be nice if your readers had a name to address you by even if you prefer an alias! Whoever you are, you are a good writer and I hope you keep this going.

    Previously you stated our options seem to be fight or flight. That is two of our 4 basic ‘reptilian brain’ instincts. These are know as the four F’s which determine how we react. Feeding, fleeing (flight), fucking and fighting. That’s what every neuropyschologist or graduate psych knows. That being said, perhaps you can now understand mankind in his most primative form.

    I used to live in the big cities, with big houses and big new rust buggies. Just another guppy in the big tankful of mindless souls all prostituting their talents for a valueless trinkets and baubles.

    Want to learn how to survive if you are competent? Move to the country. Find a place that has no central heat or air. Learn to cut and split wood. Learn the local flora and fauna. Learn what the native americans availed themselves of in your area. Learn how to fish,hunt, gather nuts and berries and grow food. Learn how to find good water and how to purify your own. It’s not rocket science but it’s rewarding hard work. Learn from the Amish people, electricity is not mandatory.

    One thing is for sure. If anyone is reading this and they plan on being alive in the next 20 years they better learn skills fast or be put on a train to someplace not nice. They may even want to exterminate you so you will need to make the decision as to “Fight or Flight”.

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