“I urge readers to use less than lethal means when safe and practicable, but at times there is not a satisfactory substitute for well-aimed lead going down range at high velocity.”

— James Rawles, SurvivalBlog

With oil and food prices reaching all-time highs and food riots breaking out in the global south, a bit of good old-fashioned end-is-nighism is creeping into our popular culture.

It hit me when I read a report in The New York Sun — the one I blogged about — making the startling claim that food rationing has begun in places like New York City and Silicon Valley.

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The article itself, weakly sourced and tentative, didn’t really worry me. What did was the casual way the reporter leaned on a fellow by the name of James Rawles, who runs a blog called SurvivalBlog, as an authority. A survivalist? You mean the guys who have been pining for “societal collapse” since the 1970s and stocking up on firearms (and Chuck Norris DVDs) ever since?

As we head into undeniably shaky economic and ecological times, I find the survivalist line of thinking crudely individualistic and repugnant — the sort thing that actually could sink a fragile society.

I went poking around SurvivalBlog, expecting to be freaked out; I wasn’t disappointed. A student posts about “preparedness” for college life (sample advice: stash food and “bugout gear” under your bed; live off campus, if possible, so you can store guns). Blog editor Rawles adds this choice nugget:

I guess that things have changed since I was in college in the early 1980s. There was a “no guns on campus” policy, but it was largely ignored. My dorm room often resembled Peshawar workshop. It was where my shooting buddies would congregate for gun cleaning and for gun assembly. I lost count of the number of M1911s and AR-15s that we parted together in that room. We even had a miniature Unimat lathe in the dorm room for one semester. (It was a Unimat DB200, if I remember correctly.)

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Yikes. I have no idea what all that lingo means — something about the size and power of guns?

At another point, Rawles lays out his vision for post-meltdown life:

Rugged individualism is all well and good, but it takes more than one man to defend a retreat. Effective retreat defense necessitates having at least two families to provide 24/7 perimeter security. But of course every individual added means having another mouth to feed. Absent having an unlimited budget and an infinite larder, this necessitates striking a balance when deciding the size of a retreat group.

What a nightmare vision — two-family units prowling about “defending a retreat” around the clock, all the while suspiciously eying each other, wondering if the other mouths to feed are worth the trouble.

Rawles says some stuff that makes sense — on a societal level.

Food storage is one of the key preparations that I recommend. Even if you have a fantastic self-sufficient garden and pasture ground, you must always have food storage that you can fall back on in the event that your crops fail due to drought, disease, or infestation.

I, too, support diverse and even redundant food systems — I’d like to see more of everything from neighborhood gardens to small farms, mid-sized farms, and national grain stocks. I think the way nations, including the U.S., have sold off grain stores is insane. But rather than pack my house with years’ worth of food, I’d rather participate in a movement to rebuild robust local and regional food-production networks — ones that are linked globally to avoid famine when scarcity breaks out somewhere.

That, to me, represents true survivalism; angry men packing guns and defending canned-food stashes from the hungry strikes me as the end of civilization.