Preparing… for What?

I have the feeling that there is something terribly wrong in the world.  I don’t believe I’m alone.

I could start with the Federal deficit: every day the government spends about $10 billion, of which maybe $6.5 billion is funded by taxes.  The government must then borrow approximately $1 trillion every year to fund the rest.  There is no sign that tax revenues will increase  substantially (perhaps a few ticks, but not enough to make a dent) or that spending will drop (everyone loves to talk about it, but no politician actually wants to cut spending) to make a difference.

Debt serves a useful and necessary purpose an a productive economy: it enables people to do things today on the premise that they will be paid for by future productive activity.  And as long as the new debt does not outstrip the rate of growth of productive activity, the whole system floats skyward and everyone is happy.  Bad things happen, as they do now, when debt grows and productive activity is stagnant.

The debt problem is causing trouble all over the world.  The Cypriot parliament was considering a measure this week to tax people’s bank deposits (not just the interest, but the actual amounts on deposit) to help fund a bailout.  As of now, the thought is to tax only large deposits.  Alternately, Cyprus could end up being the first country to be tossed out of the Euro zone.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the government is becoming increasingly authoritarian.  If the powers that be wanted it, I could get locked up at any time and the key thrown away, on suspicion of being a ‘terrorist.’  And who exactly is a terrorist?  A terrorist is anyone deemed as such by our leadership.

So what can I do about it?

It’s beyond my power to change politicians or public policy: I can write to my elected representatives, but I’m better off saving my breath to cool my porridge.  I can vote for the other guy, but even if he wins, nothing changes.

OK: what can I do to save myself?

I know the conventional prepper wisdom: move out to the boonies; arm yourself; stockpile food, water, and ammunition; don’t tell anyone your plans, unless you’re positive that you’re in the company of like-minded individuals.

But I bristle at some of these suggestions: I’m a city boy, always have been, and was bored to tears–literally–living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; I don’t know how to shoot and don’t have time to learn; I live in a relatively small apartment without very much storage space.

And then I ask, what am I preparing for?

The prepper answer is some kind of extended public emergency, with no electricity, no banks, no supermarkets, no police, no ATMs, for a period of weeks or months, if not longer.  It is typically accompanied by widespread destruction, either as a cause or a consequence of the emergency.

But is that a realistic assumption?

I look back through history for an event in which civilization in a region simply shut itself off in a period of days or weeks and didn’t try to restart itself.  I’ll exclude events resulting from an attack by a foreign military, and I’ll consider events in the last 200 years.

I was coming up empty until just before I wrote this, but there is an example: the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which emptied the cities and forced everyone to work in the fields.

As much as I wonder what our government may be up to, I don’t see that as a realistic alternative.

11 thoughts on “Preparing… for What?”

  1. I have had the feeling that we are in a time of bread and circuses since I was about ten or so, when I first read of that period in history. I live in one of the ten lowest cost of living cities in the United States. It isn’t a bad place, but I’ve been following the police reports for nearly a year, and theft is up by 50% or more, depending on the category (theft from merchants, theft from non-merchants, other thefts) in the last year.

    What I would look for rather than widespread collapse is shortages of various items, and when they are available, for the cost to be 50% or more than you are used to paying. If you have limited storage space, you could do worse than to store a month’s worth of canned goods, rotating the stock so that they are always fresh. Don’t forget some bottled water, at least 20 gallons worth, to last a week at a gallon per person per day. This is probably a closet of stuff. Don’t accumulate more than you are willing to defend or lose. There are bigger and badder people than you, and you are unarmed.

    One weapon that you might like is The Judge, which is a revolver that fires either .410 shotgun shells or .45 ammunition. It carries only five rounds, which is typical for a revolver of that caliber. It is best for close work, and was designed to defend against carjacking. I own one, and once you get used to the recoil, it’s a fine gun.

    I find it difficult to separate what I might think that economic collapse or a plague might look like from what the media has told me that it will be. I have spent much of my career contemplating biological and chemical warfare, so that gives me an odd perspective. The thing to fear is what happens when the power goes out or food supplies fail, We’ve had the experience of grocery stores getting stripped before a snowstorm. Now imagine that the stores are not resupplied. The obese may last longer, but they will be a lot crankier. We depend on what James Howard Kunstler calls “the thousand mile Caesar salad”, so if fuel supplies fail, we might wind up back on the farm to harvest the crops.

    I have come to believe that what makes people law-abiding is the sense that they will be caught and punished, and to a lesser extent, having something to lose through criminal prosecution. Even with all the jails that we have, we can’t imprison everyone who might need to be punished.

    Having the amenities of a city requires a well-functioning society and the ability to pay for those amenities. Eventually, we will have to go back to reading or settle for less-stimulating forms of entertainment. I like the title of one of Harlan Ellison’s books that deals with television: “The Glass Teat”. We greatly underestimate the role that television plays in our society. Preempt the Super Bowl for Mahler’s Fifth by the New York Philharmonic, and there would be rioting.

  2. I don’t know if “doing” anything will help.

    Seems as though this kind of thing has always been hanging over our heads. Look at the literature that’s been written over the years and in good years and in bad years — whether it is fiction or pop culture or tv, it’s “been in the water.”

    I can name you a slew of movies, tv shows, miniseries, books and whatnot. The media over the years has been overloaded with it: “Preppers, Brave New World, Mad Max, Soylent Green, I am Legend, The Stand, The Day After, On The Beach — to name a few.

    The monster shouters are always throwing in their 2 cents: take the Blackout of August 2003: “Somebody is practicing for something.” “This was no normal outage; something’s going on…”

    And of course the same monster shouters will say “Hurricane Sandy was all due to global warming” or “Somebody is manipulating the weather…this was not normal…” or this or that.

    And you are right, IAM — we cannot imprison the nasties that need to be imprisoined. Our local news: there was a mistrial declared in the murder of a couple, coming home 3 years ago from their engagement party. I firmly believe both of the perps belonged in jail, with the key tossed away for all eternity.

  3. In the case of a mistrial, it can be possible to bring the charges again. There is a huge difference between a mistrial and the charges being dismissed with prejudice. Dismissal with prejudice requires new evidence to be brought by the prosecution, and a fairly high standard has to be met to be able to bring the charges. It depends on the circumstances that led to the mistrial being declared.

    Worrying about global economic collapse may not be on your radar when you’re getting ready to file for bankruptcy or you simply can’t pay your bills. I remember the billboards that BEGGED people to file for bankruptcy before the new law went into effect in 2006. Bankruptcies are higher than they were before “bankruptcy reform” was passed.

    Cities and towns need the money that fines raise. Over the last decade or so, they have become a source of revenue that matters. Suppose that you are convicted of theft in my town, fined $500 and sent to jail for 30 days. The law allows your fine to be forgiven as part of the jail term at the rate of $40 per day that you serve, plus another $40 per day for every day of “good time” that you earn at the rate of a day of good time for every day that you behave. Because we send people to county jail, and have to pay them to take the prisoners, sending people to jail is a money-losing proposition UNLESS the judge denies the convicted the ability to have the fines forgiven and makes the fine high enough to pay the cost of incarceration. This order must be made at the time of conviction. Collecting this fine is another question, because many if not most of the people who get hit with fines do not have wages that can be garnished, either because they don’t make enough money or are self-employed. Increasingly, the only punishment is the conviction.

  4. My sense is that events will not unfold as they have in Greece or Cyprus. Our leadership has been preparing to drop the hammer on us: arranging contracts to run detention camps (interesting how they expect the contractor’s employees will show up just like normal in what would seem to be a major civil disturbance), stocking up on ammunition, playing war games. We will not see riots, or at least not many of them.

    I’ve thought about getting a gun permit in NYC: it’s a major production, although not as difficult as it used to be. But I’ve never felt endangered living in the city, at least from common criminals, even in the 1980s when crime was far worse than it is now. I have to admit that ‘the Judge’ seems a really cool idea: if I were in the market for a weapon, it would probably make my short list.

    I’m not sure I could reasonably prepare for marauding hordes, but a period of martial law, where we’re stuck mostly in our homes for a couple of weeks, seems a more plausible scenario, and indeed one that I can prepare for.

    When I was a kid, and in my twenties, we worried about the possibility of nuclear war. But somehow there was the sense that responsible adults were in charge, and we went about our lives. Now we have the sense that our civilization is about to run off the rails at any moment.

    Yes, I was one of those people who believed that the 2003 blackout might have been a warmup exercise for the terrorists. However, I was not reassured to find out that it was just the usual combination of decrepit infrastructure and incompetence.

    Maybe global warming is real, and maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, from my own experiences. But what I can tell is that everyone with a public position on global warming has an ax to grind, either for or against.

    Question for the group: the US has the highest incarceration rate (both in absolute numbers and per capita) of any nation in the world. And yet, we ‘cannot imprison the nasties who need to be imprisoned’ in what are still relatively normal times. What has happened to us?

  5. Just as we have banks that are deemed to big to fail, we have people who are too rich to jail.

    Much of the criminal justice system is geared toward control rather than rehabilitation. I’m pretty amused by the local municipal judge who orders restitution, and then can’t do anything to help the victims collect it. or the fines that he imposes other than put out a warrant for the person four or five months after the fact. Even if you have an outstanding warrant against someone, it’s a question of waiting for the police to catch up to the person. Traffic stops are a way that people are picked up for outstanding warrants.

    Increasingly, the police and courts are looked at as revenue sources and sources for cheap labor in cases where the convicted work off their fines at $10 an hour.

  6. Part of the reason we have the highest rates on incarceration is due to drug offenses. In this country the system has deemed drug abusers or even drug dealers far worse than murderers, rapists, and pedophiles and I don’t get it. I remember a horrific story years ago about a convicted child murderer/pedophile who was released after killing a child then did it again. Why are child murderers even released? they should receive automatic life. Meanwhile a former neighbor received a 20 year sentence for possession of heroin and selling.

    If it was up to me I would legalize drugs and tax them. It would cut down on crime and give much needed income to those who need it in the form of taxes. I know many crimes are caused by those on drugs but these people would commit crimes whether or not on drugs. Many people convicted of drugs were people like a guy who got several years for smoking marijuana.

  7. NWP, you’d like “A Place for Pedophiles” by Louis Theroux. You can look it up on YouTube. In California, pedophiles are sent to a psychiatric hospital to be judged when they are fit to be released (if ever) AFTER they have served their jail terms. This is a documentary about the place where they are sent in Coalinga, CA. Many people would argue that the place is too good for them.

    Why is it worse to kill a child than to kill an 80-year old man or woman? Both victims can be raped or tortured to your taste to make the comparison more comparable. The argument that is usually made for child murder being “worse” is that they were deprived of seventy or so years of life. Being a sympathetic victim counts for more than I like when it comes to getting someone convicted of a crime, any crime.

    One of the questions that I’ve been considering over the last few months due to the handyman who ripped me off is what makes punishment effective. He has a warrant out for indecent exposure, aanother one for theft, nd hasn’t been picked up yet. If he is convicted of indecent exposure, he has to register as a sex criminal. He’s been convicted of theft and I won the civil case against him, so I have to decide how much more I want to chase him. He should have yet another warrant out for his arrest for not paying the restitution. The civil judgement is good for six years, and can be extended.

    One way of looking at it is that the penalties that society imposes for a particular crime reflects the behavior that society wants to deter. Only about 30 years ago, drunk driving was still pretty common, and relatively unpunished. I would argue that robbing a drugstore to get Oxycontin or other drugs is a more serious crime than diverting a few pills of Oxycontin from a fmaily member’s prescription and selling them. Both might get the same penalty, but I suspect that the person who diverts drugs might be punished harder.

    One reason that drug crimes are so heavily punished is that the right to an attorney if you can’t afford one that the Supreme Court granted in Gideon vs. Wainwright about 50 years ago has been badly eroded. Funding for Legal Aid has been just about wpied out. If you’re broke, you can’t afford a lawyer. There is also a good chance that the average person charged with a crime does not have the ability to do research and argue his own case. It’s also hard to defend yourself when you are caught with the drugs in your possession.

    I do dislike mandatory minimums for drug convictions.

  8. New York passed the ‘Rockefeller drug laws’ around 1970, with stiff penalties for anything and everything. They filled the prisons but didn’t do much to actually reduce crime in the streets. They’ve tweaked the laws to make then less severe, but every time they try, there is an outcry about being ‘soft on crime.’


    = There is also a good chance that the average person
    = charged with a crime does not have the ability to do
    = research and argue his own case.

    It’s not just a matter of access to the information: it’s knowing what to do with it. I suspect that over half the population, including many college graduates, wouldn’t know how to begin to do the necessary research and even attempt to defend themselves. Yes, education has gotten that crappy.

    As far as what keeps people in line and what makes punishment effective, those are interesting questions, and the subject of my next post.

  9. And they still give pedophiles the media time of day! Jerry S just spoke from his incarceration: everybody’s got it wrong, what the witness saw was misconstrued, etc etc etc…

    WHY are they even bothering to give this scum airplay????? WHY are they bothering to even talk to this guy at all???

    itsallmadness: You are right — the last thing that’ll be on your mind is the hammer coming down — that’ll be the last thing you are concerned with if you’re trying to keep your own head above water.

    If it happens, who knows? I really don’t know what will happen.

  10. One of the reasons that the “mentally disordered sex offenders” are kept in Coalinga indefinitely is that what one finds sexually attractive is not amenable to change. You can suppress your desires or not act on them, but your desire for a certain type of person, be it age, build, or whatever it is that floats your boat, doesn’t go away. This is why reparative therapy for homosexuals fails.

    The reason that Sandusky still gets airtime is because it gets ratings. Where’s the inmate to beat him to death with a barbell as was done to Jeffrey Dahmer? Sandusky might be in protective custody inside whatever prison he is in.

    We are in a high-interrupt society, and that makes it hard to concentrate sufficiently to get much of anything done. We also tend to project current trends indefinitely into the future, which is why people don’t have a substantial food and water supply unless they are preppers or Mormons.

  11. Madness I will look for that video and I like his work quite a bit (used to watch his show). I think murder is bad but of course there are different levels. Someone who plans the murder is different to me than someone who snaps or someone who murders on accident (usually manslaughter).

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