Conflicting Interests or Alternative Routes to the Same Destination?

A funny thing happened when I got caught in the Interwebs.

Not that whole “the housework went to Hades and the family was scouring behind the fridge for clean underwear and under the dryer for edible crumbs” thing—although that happened too, for a while.  Most of the time I’ve got that part under control now.

Most of the time.

Or maybe the family just had to become more self-sufficient or go around nekkid and hungry.  Whatever.  Whatever gets the job done, right?

Which brings us to the point of this article.

Once immersed in the endless ocean of information online, I did what most folks do when faced with limitless possibilities that stretch the boundaries of personal experience and the promise of other worlds, other realities, and yea verily other universes thus far foreign to me.

I joined some forums that think the exact way I do and made myself at home.

Or at least I thought I did.

The first place I landed really is “home” to me, and I’ve been there almost 8 years—which in the world of the Internet is an unbelievably “OMG that’s FOREVER” amount of time.

The people on this forum are by and large small family farmers—homesteaders.  People who may make their actual livelihood by farming, but usually not.

They may come from a rural background, but more often not.

The overwhelming desire is to be able to provide for themselves and their families in the way of food, shelter and energy needs because they have a deep-seated feeling, a little voice in their heart, possibly a gigantic nagging worry that the society that we live in is not sustainable as is, puts way too much emphasis and reward on all the wrong things, and has actually moved way beyond the human community basis that is part of our very souls—leaving a population that hungers for real food and is fed genetically modified artificially colored sugared salted fare, longing for shelter and given identical chemical filled temperature controlled boxes to live in, and feeling all alone against the world while surrounded by people everywhere.

In other words, they don’t necessarily want more, they want better. They want a better world for their family—a better place for their children and their children’s children and all the way to infinity and beyond.

Most of the time this means actually moving to the country, but not always since there’s an awesome Urban Homestead movement fueled by folks who stay city-bound by employment or desire, and they too are making a better way for themselves and their environment.

There’s also a host of disenfranchised farmer-wannabees.  They know something is wrong with how they’re living and know they should be doing something different, but either by choice or by temperament this whole homesteading thing is just not gonna work out for them unless it literally falls in their laps.

Which it won’t.

They’re not bad people—they’re good people trying to figure out where they fit and how they fit in a world that seems just a little “off” to them. And that’s OK.  Somewhere, somehow there is a place for them to be comfortable and happy.

So that’s the first group: working towards self-sufficiency, stemming from a desire to create a better world for the future and a more healthy (mentally and physically) home for their family.

The goal is based on the desire for a better future.

Forum number two seemed to be the same sort of thing, but the more I chatted with folks there, the more I noticed the difference.  You see, these were not “homesteaders”, these were “survivalists”.

Some were rural, but some were not.

Their overwhelming and palpable driving force is to be self-sufficient in the way of food, shelter and energy.  Looking around at the state of the world they see the same things the homesteaders do… with a difference.

Call it dread, call it negative thinking, call it despair.  Those feelings are not strangers to anyone, homesteader or otherwise.  The difference is that these feelings, with or without the temperance of Hope are what drives survivalists to self-sufficiency.

Their main goal is safety—safety for their families from… well, I’m not always sure what, because while I and other homesteaders see the decline in our society, we see a slow plodding continuation of a crumbling from within and not a sudden and unexpected explosion from without.

The stuff of survivalists’ nightmares that goads them into action (or paralyzes them into buying up as many assault rifles as they can without even knowing how to shoot the damn things) is the stuff of Mad Max movies and End of Days novels—terrorists, nuclear attacks, government takeover, zombie apocalypse.  The TV show “Doomsday Preppers” is a huge hit—bigger than “Wife Swap”, and that’s saying something.

The survivalists tend to lean more towards “prepping” or stocking up on everything from toilet paper to canned goods and while that’s great and a good idea (we’ve got a modest stockpile of stuff of our own just because it makes sense to stock up on stuff when it’s cheap/readily available in season) too often the prepping is an end unto itself.

Once they have, say, a year’s worth of canned and dried goods or a generator with stockpiled gasoline and if they’re very lucky (and have enough money and high level of paranoia) a disaster shelter, they’re cool.

Here’s where “cool” turns into “what?”

Because of the economy, some of the people on this forum lost their jobs.  Most were one-income families with moms staying home to raise kids, so once the one job was gone… it was bad.

Several of the women came online to confess that they’d dipped into their preps in order to feed their families.  The reactions were not what I expected.

From, “Well, just replace it as quickly as you can”, to “You never should’ve done that” the general consensus was that Preps are Untouchable because…?

I couldn’t stand it anymore and added my two-cents worth. “You have nothing to be ashamed of and EVEYRTHING to be proud of – THIS is what you’re prepping for—the loss of this income has heralded the end of YOUR world as you know it and you have done it—you’ve made sure through thrifty shopping and sacrifice that your family can eat NOW—in your own personal time of trouble.”

Survivalists want safety.  Safety from disaster.  They want safety and security for themselves and their families and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Out on the furtive edge of this group are what I can only describe as the Takers.  These are people who train as though for battle.  Sometimes they also have caches of food and other supplies, but most of their inventory goes “boom”.  When the world ends and their supplies run out, their answer to, “What will you do then?” is, “Well, we’ll have the guns and the ammo and we’ll just go get what we need”.  The fact that that translates into, “I’ll come take it from YOUR FAMILY FARM” does not endear me to these folks.

As two separate groups, homesteaders and survivalists don’t seem to have much in common and tend to look at each other as though all members of each group belong to the fringes—“All homesteaders are hippie tree huggers who smoke dope and smell of patchouli” and “All survivalists are gun toting tin-foil-hatted paranoids”.

But after a very short while immersed in both cultures, I noticed something about the two seemingly disparate groups of people, these homesteaders and survivalists.

The first thing is that there is actually a huge overlap between them.

Many, many homesteaders are crack shots and military trained. They believe in a coming meltdown of society and are getting their places prepared for such an eventuality, and many, many survivalists are well down the road to sustainability in food and energy needs as a way of not needing so much stockpiled—if you know how to MAKE more, you don’t need to HOARD more.

We are smack dab in the center of that Chinese curse- “May you live in interesting times”.

We all really want the same thing—a safe and secure world for our families now and for generations to come.

And here’s where the two seemingly unblendable paths converge and start running together.

Over on the homesteading site, people who used to just “want to live in the country and grow organic veggies and free-range poultry” are becoming more aware of the way things are going in the world—from peak oil to economic instability, it’s becoming increasingly important to have not only their food sources local and safe and under their own control, but also their energy needs—and they’re looking more at solar and wind power (or chucking it all and going “Pioneer style”) whether or not their acreage and farms are within grid range or not.

The importance of having a homestead that can feed and shelter itself in a sustainable manner without outside help is becoming the end goal.  What started out as a simple desire for rural living has become…more.

Over on the survivalist site, people who used to just “want to stock up a year’s worth of supplies so when the shit hits the fan they’ll be ready” are looking at learning how to plant and garden and do some small livestock farming even if it’s in their garage or basement.  They’re looking at renewable energy seriously.  Because what if you have a year’s worth of stuff and the bad times last two years?

The importance of having a home that can feed and shelter itself in a sustainable manner without outside help is becoming the end goal.  What started out as a simple desire to keep family safe and secure has become… more.

See?  Convergence.

Here’s what I see.

I believe that we can work together.

A MAG (Mutual Assistance Group)

Oh, I know (and am guilty here) that the homesteaders tend to get our feathers ruffled and grow weary of hearing the survivalists announce with much fanfare some “new” idea—perhaps for a MAG (Mutual Assistance Group) or some such that are merely ideas taken from the ‘60’s, co-opted and renamed and minted out fresh for a new audience.  When I was first approached by the whole MAG idea I listened as politely as I could, then burst out laughing.  “Oh. So, like a commune?” and was met with stony silence and denial.

It’s tiresome and discouraging to see all this stuff coming out that’s the same stuff we’ve been trying to get people to listen to and live by for over 50 years.

We need to show people that it’s not necessary to follow the fear-driven hype.

Survival Seeds are another one.  Hermetically packaged and sealed to last for close to forever—FOOD SECURITY for only a few hundred (or thousands of) dollars.  What they don’t tell you is that seeds are kind of picky—some things will grow well in your climate, others not so much.  Unless you have put together your own Survival Seeds from local plants and varieties, there’s no way you’re going to be able to grow this stuff.  Especially considering the “end of the world” scenario.  If you can’t water them?  Fertilize them?  How’s that gonna play out?  And even in the best-case scenario, when the canned goods are gone and you break out the seeds and your child says, “Mommy, I’m hungry; when’s dinner?” will you read the back of the package and say, “In ummm… 58-63 days, dear”?

I know there plenty of the same sort of thing in the homesteading world—from incinerating toilets to pre-manufactured raised bed kits to rolling chicken tractors that cost more than my brand new car, the clarion call should be Buyer Beware and Low-tech Rules.

I remember when Mother Earth News was the homesteaders’ bible.  It showed you no-nonsense ways to grow food, build shelter and generate power on a shoestring—sometimes literally.  Some time in the last decade or so, that’s changed.  It’s now a shiny slick publication with a lot of advertisers who want to sell people a lot of very expensive doo-dads to be able to live simply.  Ridiculous.

So what’s needed is leadership from both sides.  Common sense leadership that embraces new and different ideas if it brings us all closer to our goals.

Because except for the fringes of both groups—places that really aren’t productive healthy happy places anyway—our basic goal is the same even though our motivation is different.

Being able to feed and shelter our families no matter what comes our way in a manner that does not depend on running to Walmart or writing a check to the power company.  And being able to do it gracefully and without panic over and over again, without end.

I believe that the most important thing we can all do is open our minds to the possibility that perhaps we’re not learning this stuff and shifting our lifestyles as an adjunct to how we live now—that our real goal shouldn’t be to figure out how to maintain our current lifestyles in an atmosphere of adversity, but to foster a mindset that doesn’t require our current lifestyle to consider ourselves civilized.

Whether rebelling against Monsanto and chemical additives, big pharma or big petro-chemical companies or looking over our shoulders for an EMP or terrorist attack, collapse of the grid or the economy, one thing we need to remember is not to forget that we’re social animals—we need community.

No matter what the movies show about the mountain man heroically going it alone above the tree-line with nothing but his wits, three matches and a fish hook, those stories rarely end well in real life.

A successful community consists of people who simultaneously strive for a shared goal while being able to evolve and change with circumstances and remain strong and respectful to its individual members.  The more diverse and creative each member is allowed and encouraged to be, the more resilient the community and the better equipped it will be to adapt to Life’s guaranteed curve balls.

Homesteaders and Survivalists—once we set aside our learned stereotypes of each other, we have more in common than not.

Power to the People.

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