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Let's hear it for the ants

Posted By Patrice Lewis On 06/21/2008 @ 12:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Well, survivalism seems to be big again. There are a bunch of whackos who believe that the world’s oil is running out and civilization as we know it will come to an end. When that happens, these guys think they’ll be standing guard over their food supply with an arsenal of weapons, prepared to defend themselves against the desperate and unprepared hordes who want to steal their provisions.

Ha ha ha. Pretty funny, isn’t it?

Laugh if you must, but … could they be right? Maybe just a teensy-weensy bit right? I’m not talking about the peak oil situation; I’m talking about being prepared.

Preparedness doesn’t have to mean you have to hole up in the mountains against the collapse of civilization. Rather, it suggests that when a natural or man-made disaster strikes, you won’t be hungry, thirsty, in the dark and unable to use the toilet.

Right now, most of us wouldn’t make it for a day without needing help.


We are a nation that has totally, utterly, completely lost the ability to take care of ourselves. Virtually everything we own or consume – our homes, our transportation, our clothes, our food, our water, our basic sanitary needs – are provided by someone else. The division of labor has gotten so extreme that we are now parasitically lost without it. One small interruption and we’re in trouble.

I’ve heard it said that most Americans are so helpless and ignorant that we would starve to death standing next to a cow in a field of ripe wheat.

We are astoundingly vulnerable – not just because of our dependency on foreign oil and other such issues, but because we have lost much of the knowledge and connection to the skills of our forefathers, the wisdom mankind has honed since the dawn of civilization. We have lost that wisdom in only two or three short generations. The pioneer spirit may still be among us – after all, there are lots of entrepreneurs – but the basic, butt-hard, labor-intensive skills that used to be common knowledge are gone.

Raise your hand if you can:

  • Set a broken leg
  • Milk a cow
  • Build a shelter
  • Butcher a chicken
  • Make bread from scratch (including harvesting and grinding the wheat)
  • Make soap from homemade lye and rendered fat
  • Can tomatoes

A little too rustic for the urban types? OK, how about this. Can you:

  • Prepare a meal without electricity? (Can you prepare a meal at all?)
  • Purify filthy water?
  • Get out of a city without a car?
  • Use a weapon for defense?

The list is endless. And no, I can’t do all of these things either. When I do learn a skill – my particular specialties including canning and milking – I didn’t learn it from someone else because I could not easily find anyone to teach me. I’ve had to learn from scratch, often by consulting books as I go.

I was lurking on a “green” forum one day when the subject of survivalism came up. People were confidently stating how, if food supplies dried up and grocery store shelves were empty, they would forage for wild foods.

What I wanted to ask these people is: “You live in the middle of the city. Where will you find a place to forage wild foods in sufficient quantity to feed your family week after week? How will you get there? Can you recognize even one edible wild plant? How will your children – raised on a diet of potato chips and soda – like the taste of plantain leaves and yampah roots? And if civilization as we know it falls to pieces, don’t you think there are going to be 230 million other hungry people trying to do the same?”

Imagine the entire population of Los Angeles fleeing to the hills to dig up yampah roots.

The comical thing about all this chatter was it never even occurred to anyone – apparently didn’t even dawn on them – to stock up beforehand. No one thought it necessary to stockpile food, water, medicine, pet food, ammunition, or other essentials for … well, let’s call it a rainy day.

There is always a fraction of the population who feels it is important to have a lot of supplies on hand in case of … a rainy day. But here’s what I find particularly offensive: Every time the excrement hits the fan and the folks who prepared are comfortable and not suffering, some talking head accuses them of hoarding unless they immediately distribute their entire stash of supplies to others. Talk about an insult!

People who stockpiled are called evil and wicked for taking food out of the mouths of starving children. They are accused of taking more than their fair share from society. It doesn’t matter that folks who stashed supplies did so when supplies were abundant. Now they’re called hoarders. How anyone has the gall to say this is beyond me. How conceited and arrogant is that?

These prepared folks are the ants to everyone else’s grasshoppers. An ant, as the saying goes, thinks winter all summer. Grasshoppers are too brainless. When things get rough, the grasshoppers scream, “Help me! It’s your responsibility to feed me and take care of me because I’m too stupid and helpless to do it myself!”

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where grasshoppers make the laws, thus rewarding other unprepared grasshoppers and punishing those evil hoarding ants. That’s why most ants don’t like to advertise that they’re prepared. Smart critters, those ants.

Let’s work on recapturing some of the critical skills and knowledge of our ancestors so they’re not lost forever. And if you can’t or won’t learn some survival skills, at least be smart enough to stash some supplies under your bed.

I am still ignorant of many of the skills of our forefathers (and mothers), but I’m learning. And at least I won’t starve while standing next to a cow in a field of ripe wheat.

Will you?


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