Should I Stay Or Should I Go
With no apologies to The Clash, whatsoever, it’s a very good question. The problem is, in survival circumstances, you have to make some decisions for yourself. Even if you’re not alone, and have talked it through, listening and coming up with objections, as everyone should, when it comes time to pack up and go or hunker down, you’ve got to commit with complete attitude. If you don’t you’ll undermine the group and yourself and that alone can be fatal.
The Staying Power of Stories
How do we know this? That’s another very good question. Very few of us have been through, or personally know, anyone who has truly faced the kind of disastrous circumstance where both options hold potential terror. This is why we have great stories, from mythology and fables up to today’s zombie flicks and disaster movies. For one, they’re entertaining as hell. And why is that? Because they scratch an itch we can’t really do on our own. From Noah’s Arc, or fleeing the wrath coming down on Sodom, to World War Z and The Day After Tomorrow … at times our storytellers pluck ancient truths even when they haven’t experienced them personally.
Side note, do you ever ask yourself why the Disaster Flick genre has gotten so drenchingly bad? Take the one just mentioned above: The Day After Tomorrow. Aside from a few scenes and high budget special effects, there are just so many moments of unnecessary sledgehammer condescension … even the tropes they attempt to carefully step around come full circle right back to some generalized lecture. There’s just no need for that. The concept of a disaster movie holds such rich troves of moral conflict, the agony of choosing between two right or two very wrong options, with nothing but hard reality forcing the decision. To try to reach some generalized ethic for all humanity to rub its chin and go, “Sayyyy, that is a good point … we really should treat each other better now, in case we need each other more than ever later on…” Please. It just ruins the movie.
Still, there was that one scene: survivors are deciding whether to stay in the New York library where help may never come and there is no food left, or brave the frozen wastes to try to get south. Jake Gyllenhaal is playing a young man who has critical information: his father is bringing help, and the unique storms coming outside create such a frost that life freezes to death instantly, as it must have in the Ice Age that encased mastodons in glaciers, mid-stride. But most ignored him, instead listening to the officer in uniform, and they left to die.
Taking away the heavy-handed elements and the silver platter delivery, which Emmerich seems unable to avoid, the insight into the critical choice is extremely worthy as a thought experiment. Very few of us have the real world experience of making the life and death decision, of staying in a (currently) secure location, versus the equally logical concept of moving, staying in motion.
Prepping for Panic
But many of us do have the experience of attempting to think in the midst of panic. Most of us who’ve made it to adulthood can remember some pretty wince-inducing mistakes they made because they ignored readily available information, or were motivated to show off rather than preserve limbs. These are what we have to draw upon, because no amount of rules of thumb, no list of priorities, can accommodate every real world dilemma. The word ‘dilemma’ is of extreme importance, because it describes what occurs in the internal reality of our mind, and in the hard external reality of living and dying.
In other words, life is full of paradox, which means even the most impeccable logic can reach two completely valid and totally contradictory conclusions. This does not mean ignore logic and flip a coin, unless that’s truly the only option left. It does mean wasting time dwelling on the unfairness of reality that doesn’t fit into boxes is just that: a waste...perhaps a fatal one.
In fact, even if no list in advance can anticipate every vagary of reality, when feeling panic claws, heart beating faster, the lives of your children in your hands perhaps, it may be that making a list is the smartest thing you can do. What is in your inventory?
If you’re a fan of our musings, you know already we both love and hate lists, simultaneously. There’s that acceptance of paradox again. Our ever-evolving List of All Things includes the concept of...nothing. Some of our favorite survivalists believe in having all the right gear, while some of our others specialize in walking straight into the wilderness with nothing but a loin cloth (and sometimes not even that). Yet there is one thing all the greatest stories contain that we all know is true: nothing eliminates our fantasies quicker or more thoroughly than crushing reality.
Yet nothing allows us a better chance to survive whatever brutal fact we’re facing, than our imagination, which is always at its best when able to incorporate fantasies: detailed visions of what is not now, but what might be.
Hierarchy of Needs
What would it take for any of us to truly face the decision whether to leave the walls of our home, or stay and defend it? We’ve mentioned in other articles times where some of us have faced real-world, modern flood situations, which severed a community from supplies. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, where people really should have left rather than waiting for helicopters, some of us remember never being in any real danger, but being very suddenly aware of the fact that every last store shelf in every one of our markets was empty, within 24 hours. In another two days, the roads were open again, but for those two days, there were several small cities, towns, and rural areas in which every human began to think about the food and water supply, much less about power and heat. And for a brief shining moment after the roads were reconnected, nearly everyone had a brand new earthquake kit, containing clothing that fit the kids, MRE’s that wouldn’t go bad for at least a decade, water purifiers and first aid kits, and...twenty years on, if they haven’t thrown them out by now, the vast majority are sitting forgotten and non-updated.
Which is just the way it goes, and even then, those earthquake kits contain a whole lot of items that could still really help someone in a pinch.
So we know without having been through a truly earth altering disaster that the first thing you do is list your inventory and compare it with your life needs. Water, food, warmth … and ready access to each that is not about to easily be taken from you. Medical aid, self-defense, a safe place to sleep unmolested. Keep going. Very, very quickly it becomes hard to tell which need should be placed higher than others. Don’t worry about that too much … just know the difference between a need and a very powerful desire. If it keeps you from dying, quickly or over a reasonably short amount of time, it’s a need.
But some things become a need over time. This is why our List of All Things always contains objects that can aid in your mental attitude. A single harmonica and someone who can play it, the works of Shakespeare, or Tolkein, or Rowling, or… you get the idea.
The Constant Variable
And there’s one thing implied in all of this that gets to the very unpleasant. Why would you leave if you had your needs essentially assured? There is no great survival story that does not introduce the human element. More specifically, the shadow side of the human. You have to assume if the material things that supply our needs become suddenly scarce, in that instant the marauders begin to coalesce and arise. To avoid becoming prey, you should learn these common mistakes to avoid while defending your home.
Which is why, since we have already published several articles on the most basic needs and supplies, it’s time to explore self defense.