Post-Apocalyptic Book Club – Lucifer's Hammer – Is This How to Prepare?

Sharon July 28th, 2008

I thought that during the second week on each book, I’d have us look at it as though it were a work of non-fiction, a preparedness manual designed to enable us to face the crisis they imagine.  I didn’t do this with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, because the whole point of the book is that the crisis is ultimately avertable.  But most of the works we’ll be reading don’t have that premise – they assume we have to face the crisis and go on.

Of course, the first question this raises is whether this is a realistic worry – something we have to be concerned about.  This is one of the other reasons (besides the fact that astrophysicists save the world) that I keep my husband around ;-) – he’s very good at analyzing the actual science of a scenario.  And the answer to this one is – yes. 

Now I don’t plan to convert this site to an asteroid-strike awareness one anytime soon, but a recent article in The Atlantic did explore the fact that large asteroid strikes are actually more common than was once thought, and that we don’t do a very good job of looking for them.  Generally speaking, the science of the strike in the book is quite accurate – including the evocative hot fudge sundae analysis.  The only significant thing (there are minor ones) they got wrong was the idea that a water strike was actually worse than a land strike – despite throwing up water,into the air, the dust thrown up by a land strike is actually a bigger deal.  But, for example, it is perfectly possible to imagine that we could not know that an object would strike us until right before it did, depending on how it came at us.

Still, I hope no one is panicking right now – while I generally agree with the author of the above article (and my spouse) that NASA would be better off spending more time tracking near earth objects, I still think there are better things to worry about than this, if you are not an astrophysicist or amateur astronomer, and can’t do anything about it anyway.  Put it up there with giant tidal waves and supervolcano eruptions in the category of “not my job to worry about.”

But many of the books we read will have far sillier premises (if we do the zombies, for example, I’ll expect you all to have zombie-preparedness kits ready), and most of them function fairly well as models of a kind of preparedness.  And since honestly, the preparations for most crises, likely and unlikely, from peak oil to zombie attacks to epidemics to nuclear holocaust really aren’t that different – there are some refinements, but essentially you need an evacuation plan and the resources to stay put – most of these books offer an exploration of how to get ready and how to respond to an immediate crisis.  So how does this one stand up.

 Our Hero, Harvey (only in the 1970s could Our Hero be named ”Harvey”) gets a little nervous when he thinks about the Hammer falling, and he does try and make some preparations for staying in place - if rather late, odd ones.  But, of course, the book tells us that “them” will begin rioting, looting and murdering not when they are hungry and desperate, but the moment the bad stuff begins.  So Harvey’s rather wise basic precautions turn out not to be all that useful – but Senator Jellison’s do (it helps, if you are planning, to have a compound). 

Harvey decides he and Loretta will survive on beef jerky (btw, don’t follow his instructions – the temps at which he dries them are too low for safety) and vitamins.  I will say, if you are making emergency plans, I’d suggest a vegetable here and there.  He also buys a lot of liquor, which isn’t a bad strategy, but since he knows LA is likely to be underwater, and liquor is in glass and hard to transport, is a bit of a strange choice.  But it goes with the manly themes – beef and whiskey are a man’s survivalism – none of this veggie stuff. 

Now Harvey does have grits, and this is genuinely useful and interesting – because we’re in a scenario when other people are stocking up, there’s already “unofficial” gas rationing, and Harvey is smart enough to buy stuff that other people won’t think of.  This is actually a very useful strategy, even if the world isn’t going to end – as prices of commonly used staples go up, those who can use unusual foods will have a flexibility that others won’t.  So grits and cornmeal become Harvey’s grain staple. 

And his making of pemmican (which generally has dried fruit in it, but doesn’t seem to) and storing of bacon will work, and are interesting – although again, I’d have put the effort into getting some veggies if it were me.  Filling the swimming pool with water is smart, as is using the old bleach bottles for water storage.  There is some good scenario modelling here – for example, even though Harvey knows he’s likely to have to evacuate, he does have a strategy for staying in place and making do – and that’s wise even for people who imagine that they might leave town in a more-likely crisis – because sometimes you can’t get out, or sometimes your evacuation plan might lead to a place even worse hit. 

Afterwards, we see a shift in people’s attitudes towards resources – the most immediate example of this is that Eileen tells Tim Hamner that he should save the pop-top of his beer can, because no one is making any more of anything.  No one ever explores the question of what one can do with beer bottle pop tops (I’m sure dozens of things), but there is a radical shift in the world works in people’s minds. 

Now this something that does happen in the face of the disaster.  Some of the assumptions about what shifts are made are disturbing, some are interesting, and some are both.  For example, a child has a tantrum because of the loss of television, and his father strikes him for the very first time, and explains that the days of instant obedience being necessary for survival have returned.  It is an interesting scene, precisely the implication isn’t simply that the father was angry about being interrupted by his son’s tantrum, but that he truly believes his children’s future may depend on their ability to obey when it is essential.

Of course the most interesting question is the one that many people get obsessed with – how do you sort out resources when there isn’t enough to go around.  I’ve articulated my own concerns about the fact that so many conversations *start* from this premise – that we create self-fulfilling prophecies.  But lifeboat games are interesting, and a fascinating subject for fiction – so how do we sort – by relationship, patronage and usefulness?  Or something else?

What do you think?


39 Responses to “Post-Apocalyptic Book Club – Lucifer's Hammer – Is This How to Prepare?”

  1. I wish I’d had a chance to follow along with the reading! I guess I’ll satisfy myself with a vicarious experience.

    I’m especially intrigued by the question of what are the implications of coming times for parenting? There was a post on the website of a woman named Annie the Nanny about this, about how attachment parenting wouldn’t work in a peak oil scenario, but she was starting from a particular vantage point on what attachment parenting means.

    I think it’s interesting how various sources make the leap to think, “None of this permissive crap anymore; time to institute authoritarian rule!” (although further communications I’ve had with Annie the Nanny have made me conclude that she is actually not authoritarian but quite sensible). But this excerpt from Lucifer’s Hammer about the hitting of a child, and the justification for it, do raise further questions about what is appropriate parenting in various situations.

  2. Sharon says:

    I don’t honestly know what to think of it – I think, for example, that there are scenarios in which instant obedience (and it doesn’t have to be the apocalypse for this – just running into the street would be suffiencient) is required. In our case, we have always had a couple of basic things that we absolutely require our kids to respond to – if one of us yells out “STOP!” – my kids stop, no questions asked. The penalty for not stopping instantly is quite high (although not hitting across the face, certainly) – mostly revocation of priveleges, but we have spanked toddlers running towards the road, and my autistic son for trying to climb the fence that keeps him safe. But the penalties simply don’t have to be applied in our household anymore, because the basic requirements are so ingrained.

    So I think it would depend on the situation – parents who had never prepared in any way for a different world might need/or not need but use for lack of better techniques a way of making clear that sometimes in any world – and particularly in a more violent one – authority is necessary for parents.

    That said, however, I think the version of “attachment parenting” Annie the Nanny describes is different than, say, the version of attachment parenting that has been practiced in much more vulnerable traditional societies for centuries – so I’m not at all sure that buy the idea that extended breastfeeding and gentle parenting won’t be the rule most of the time. I do think, however *permissive* parenting, or any model of parenting that doesn’t allow parents to have authority when it is needed, will not be highly successful. It doesn’t mean that parents have to abuse that power, but I do think that for young children, who are not capable of sound judgement, the ability of parents to make decisions and command obedience in a crisis will be important.


  3. Rosa says:

    That’s funny, Jen H., because I think a lot of modern American parenting (containerization, kids in a separate room, single-age classrooms & daycare rooms, the role of parents as chauffuers) are the direct result of lots of extra resources & a kind of industrial mind set. Not to mention the banishment of large predators (though I know they’re making a comeback in a lot of places) – I was thinking about that this weekend, walking down the graveled hiking trail with our toddler on his one 20 feet behind us. I wouldn’t do that if there were predators, I’d carry him on my back.

    I do think the idea that authoritarianism is the only response to crisis is another part of the guns & hot women fantasy – Heinlein certainly falls prey to it in other books than TMIAHM. The truth is, there are times when instant obedience is necessary to survival in our lives right now, and most of our kids recognize the tone/response they get in those situations.

  4. When my son was an infant I carried him, or at least had his hand in mind (once he could walk). I made sure that he matched my stride, that he kept up. I also made sure that he knew I expected him to obey when I laid down the law. At the same time, I listened to him and learned from him. Now, he is fifteen and is the first person I would turn to in a survival situation, not as a dependent, but as a partner. Almost all of the ways I raised my son are unusual and out of the norm. I never took him for activities, never drove him around, made sure that he got money by earning it, and made sure that if he asked me a question he got a real answer. The answer to “why is the sky blue?” involved light refraction, not magic. The answer to some questions was an honest “I have no idea”.
    His latest project? He is building a set of lock picks for himself, as it gives him some experience with machining and lets him develop the eminently practical skill of lock picking.
    I believe that you treat children with respect, and only then can you ask for respect in return. Note: respect doesn’t mean they don’t have to do what you say, it just means that you deal with them honestly.

  5. I’m not part of this book club, but I love reading everyone’s response to the books. You guys do a great job!

  6. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Post-Apocalyptic Book Club – Lucifer’s Hammer – Is This How t… Now I don’t plan to convert this site to an asteroid-strike awareness one anytime soon, but a recent article in The Atlantic did explore the fact that large asteroid strikes are actually more common than was once thought, and that we don’t do a very good job of looking for them. Generally speaking, the science of the strike in the book is quite accurate – including the evocative hot fudge sundae analysis. The only significant thing (there are minor ones) they got wrong was the idea that a water strike was actually worse than a land strike – despite throwing up water,into the air, the dust thrown up by a land strike is actually a bigger deal. But, for example, it is perfectly possible to imagine that we could not know that an object would strike us until right before it did, depending on how it came at us. [...]

  7. @ Traverse Davies: This sounds like exactly the relationship I have with my son, who is 24. We are partners in planning for “after the zombies come,” a code phrase that allows us to make serious plans and preparations while simultaneously amusing in a non-threatening way my husband, the resident of the state of denial.

    My son made the comment to me last week that he was DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and I was FEMA (although I sincerely hope it was the pre-2000 FEMA to which he referred).

    “Security” to him is tools and the ability to fix and maintain, and to defend if necessary against marauding zombies or other large creatures regardless of numbers of legs. “Security” to me is the ability to feed, clothe, maintain health and comfort (to the extent possible) of my family.

    I’m in charge of “bugging in” (sheltering in place); he’s in charge of “bugging out” if we have to evacuate. Good division of labor. I’m blessed to have him.

    As for Lucifer’s Hammer, I read it once many years ago. At the beginning of this month I pulled out my yellowing copy, looked at the back cover, put it down, and never picked it back up again. From reading the comments earlier about the execrable writing, I’m just as glad I didn’t.

    Sharon says:

    Afterwards, we see a shift in people’s attitudes towards resources – the most immediate example of this is that Eileen tells Tim Hamner that he should save the pop-top of his beer can, because no one is making any more of anything. No one ever explores the question of what one can do with beer bottle pop tops (I’m sure dozens of things), but there is a radical shift in the world works in people’s minds.

    This shift happened in my mind several years ago. I went from declutter to I might need that someday and they won’t be available anymore literally overnight. This is somewhat of a problem. Yes, I will need the 200 yards of mosquito netting, but I am not sure I will need the 200 baby food jars that I can’t yet bring myself to give up. Storage space is, shall we say, at a premium around here.

    From the book: The main scene I remember had to do with partially letting the air out of tires on a Jeep so that the protagonists could drive on a railroad bed during a flood. I remember thinking “that’s clever!” while simultaneously wondering about the convenient synchronization of railroad/automobile wheel width gauges and the availability of air compressors at the other end when the Jeep needed to take to the roads again.

  8. MEA says:

    Frankly, I think hitting a toddler and expecting him to stop having a temper tamtrum just like that and obey instantly from then on, only re-enfources my believe that a lot of people writing survival fiction don’t have children.

    I don’t want to start a debate about the effectivenss/necessity/whatever of corpral punishment, just note that most children don’t work that way.

  9. Susan in NJ says:

    Harv’s preps and the septic tank of books are two things that stuck with me from my ’70′s reading of this book (cannibals didn’t stick). To jump the gun a bit, I think Harv’s panic shopping experience (with extremely picked over shelves and odd neglected but useful items) more approximates what one would find then the shopping experience in Life As We Knew It, just consider what happens when hurricane warnings go up or even better winter storm warnings (because if you can’t get out of the house for a day, you might need 100 rolls of toilet paper). I thought the spices were creative — light (if not in glass bottles), compact, useful and potentially valuable, and put on the credit card you will never pay, even economical at grocery store prices. In a panic (pre-iminent emergency) situation though I wonder if stores will still be accepting credit cards, especially if the grid, communication network is down.

    While face slapping was not acceptable even in the dark ages of my childhood, I think the instant child discipling comes across as harsher now then it did when the book was originally published. All my peers and no doubt Harv’s were familiar with the family (or school) weapon of choice — wooden spoon, belt, spanking paddle. Just commenting, not defending the choice.

  10. Carla says:

    I couldn’t help but read LC as a potential adventure-disaster flick, and couldn’t get pictures of Tim Hanmer’s character being played by Jeff Goldblum out of my mind from the very first time his character appeared in the book. I HATE it when that happens! And, unfortunately, I’ve already ready Life As We Know It, so it’s I look back on it as even LESS serious now… although, upon checking, I do have a copy of The Way Things Work from a Library used book sale…

    I have used cleaned out (VERY cleaned out) jugs from purchased cat litter for short-term water storage for household use (toilet flushing, floor scrubbing, garden watering) because I can’t think of anything else to use them for…

  11. Hummingbird says:

    Since I wasn’t able to get a copy of the book and have no children I haven’t a lot to contribute here. On the topic of how scarce resources will be allocated, however, I would say probably by relationship-clan. The incompetence of FEMA during Katrina and the state of Florida after Wilma shows that widespread allocating of resources according to need or some other priority will probably not happen. The lesson is we are on our own (unless we have been able to develop some cohesive local community organization that will supersede the “take care of mine first” reflex of patriarchal culture.)

    Thus the preparedness education on the family level that Sharon is facilitating is extremely important.

    Another lesson is that we can never be completely prepared to survive on our own (at least I can’t). We can only hope that the breakdown will not be total or forever and that we can be prepared enough to get through it.

  12. Here’s a serious question: is it immoral to “take care of mine first?”

    I’m thinking family and neighborhood level as “mine.” I can’t save the whole world, or the whole US, or even the city I live in. I can make sure my family is as ready as possible, with as much left over for neighbors as I can.

    At what point does this become a selfish thing?

  13. Rosa says:

    The thing about any of these novels as survival manuals (I finished Life as We Knew It on Saturday at the campground) is that none of the things we might need are likely to be available at the kind of stores that get panicked buying, so the kind of OMG moment the protagonists have seems to not be very useful. Sure, stockpile food…but will your grocery store have six months worth of anything? I assume in the ’70s grocery stores got fewer deliveries and stored more stuff, since JIT retailing has only gotten popular since then – certainly your modern chain grocery doesn’t have a big stockpile of canned goods in the back room.

    I have a whole list of things to acquire as I get the money/time. None of them are for sale at big box stores. Laundry mangle, self-watering containers, a new haybox, more water-catchment barrels…

    In fact, we were at REI on Sunday (boyfriend got a crank flashlight for his birthday…suprisingly, that was the plan even before I read LAWKI) and I was thinking about how, even there, the ratio of useful/decorative is close to 50/50. The less yuppie camping/fishing stores are even worse, because they assume you are traveling in something powered – we tried to get a plain mosquito net from a Dick’s sporting gear during a bike trip a few years ago, and you could only get the ones designed to hang off your RV.

  14. Sharon says:

    MEA, the kids are 8 and 10 according to the book (it doesn’t say which is which). Not an argument in the method’s favor, but it isn’t a toddler, which makes the behavior more egregious and the response less appalling, IMHO.

    More on Kate’s interesting question a bit later.


  15. jerah says:

    I think you’re right, Rosa, but we DO have a lot of large, unpredictable predators out there: cars and trucks and SUVs. Maybe that’s why a lot of people who live in cities with small children are gravitating to child-carrying. :)

    As for the lifeboat triage issue, it’s something I think about a lot. I mean, I think a certain amount of it is just plain wishful thinking. Like, “hmm, maybe I could only hang out with people I LIKE for the rest of my life, and dump all the rest of’em”. :) It’s certainly tempting to daydream about living in a small community with a hand-picked group of people who I know, trust, and actually enjoy spending productive time with. And there are certainly some individuals and behaviors that I only tolerate now because it’s not life-threatening to have irresponsible people around, just mildly annoying.

    But it’s also way too reductive, I think, to only think of people in terms of the skill sets they represent. As in, no, you can’t come past the roadblock, you’re an office drone with no real skills. And what are we talking about, when we talk about real skills? Being a good camper? Knowing how to can? These things are teachable to all but the most stubborn, really.

    And the examples in the book are mostly just silly, I feel like. How would being a general contractor in this day and age really prepare you for building something with no heavy equipment, no cranes, no gas, no concrete, nothing but hand tools and horse power (literally)? Wouldn’t it be much better to raid the colonial re-enactment village down the road and kidnap all the nerdy play actors in their bonnets? Or a couple of honest-to-goodness Amish people? Cause THERE are some people who can survive without modern conveniences. I feel like the authors of Lucifer’s Hammer want it both ways: both total destruction of all the annoyances of modern life (including the people they find annoying, like ad execs and Hollywood liberals) AND the willingness and ability to rebuild the “best” parts of civilization (nuclear power, conservative family values, male empowerment).

    But my real problem with all this is: I don’t really believe that being a go-getter with marketable skills necessarily means you’ve got a better chance at surivial. I have quite a few friends, for instance, who aren’t bothering to learn how to can vegetables or salt meat or even use a worm bin, cause they’re too lazy, and really, they don’t need to right now, so why should they (their reasoning, not mine)? But I think there’s a certain amount of laziness that’s a good thing. With laziness comes a certain amount of adaptability, a certain amount of being to roll with whatever comes along. And that’s really the invaluable skill set, here. Just being able to deal, mentally and physically.

    I’m not the most adaptable person on earth, I’m not really good at just rolling with it. I really, really like to know what’s coming next, it makes me feel secure. So I’m learning how to can, and reading up on the apocalypse, and learning to grow vegetables from seed. Not everyone is as industrious. Thank goodness, though. I need some slower-moving, non future-oriented people around, we can’t all be canning vegetables and making beef jerky at the same time in the same kitchen.

    My husband, for instance, (who I might keep around in case of emergency :) is learning an old French figure-drawing technique, learning all about light and lines and whatnot. It takes forever to learn, but the end result really is a lost art: portraits of people that are realistic enough to be up to Renaissance standards (or better). I mean, he’s also learning how to home brew beer and wine and fix bikes and work with wood, but all of those are of his own choosing, and he’s certainly not learning them with the same urgency that I am. And I often get annoyed at how much time he spends just sitting around sketching things and people. But really, while classes are still available and we can afford them, this is the perfect thing for him to be learning. He’s learning an irreplaceable skill. I’m just learning to make tomato sauce. :)

  16. I see everyone avoided the sorting process and how we decide who we try to save and who we will have to cut loose in a PA setting.

    My wife and I have considered the hobby farm scenerio many times and have come the conclusion we cannot do it ourselves, Yet we have not found any suitable co-tennants to work with. We’ve discussed various friends and know which ones we would like to have around and which would be advantageous and the funny thing is no single couple we know both qualify.

    Do we take women who can weave and knit, her two nearly tweens, basicaly good kids who would make good labour and shepards for our younger constant care children? The answer should be yes yet her Eng husband who is strong and energentic is even more arguementative than myself and would likely not take direction from me. To order a pizza usually ends up in a power play with this guy.

    A moraly strong fellow, believer in the coming calamity and his barely functional depressed wife?

    An amiable computer geek and his type A princess bride?

    The cripple who totaly agrees with me but cannot offer viable skills?

    it goes on and on, each person you examine comes with abilities that may or may not aid survival, their own families which may have individuals who are needy or useless, they also come with attitudes which can disqualify them despite needed skills.

    Like in the moon is a harsh mistress, certain people skilled or not will tend to get pushed toward the air lock lest they bring disfunction and chaos to working groups which are essential to the whole.

    I’ve warned family for 3-4 years that shit was going to happen, I’ve offered to let them in on the ground floor and build something together, after being berated by the live for today crowd, hear no evil crowd. I told them I will not endanger my kids survival by taking in last minute strays that cannot further our chances.

    I’ve saved and done without things my friends and family expect from life. My wife never got and does not expect a diamond from me, we never had a honeymoon, we don’t vacation abroad, go to shows, buy designer etc. I’ll be dammed if I’m taking from my kids mouths to feed those who I spend years trying to educate and heaped scorn on me for my beliefs,

    It’s harsh but I see no other choice. While decisions must include some charity you cannot go so far to endanger those who you are most responsible for. Extended family will not get a free pass over someone else who can bring something of value to the endeavour, unless there is already the expectation of surplus and the means to support them, and even then they will learn to work or get turfed out.

  17. MEA says:

    Oh — even I with my somewhat disunctional style of parenting never thought a 8 or 10 year old would react like that, though now that I think about it, could it have been the child’s panic as he realized that the world had changed. It wasn’t the TV or lack there of that was freaking in out, but the realization that along with TV had gone all his assumptions about life and safety ect. Of course, I ought to check the scene myself, but rather than than, I’m going to posit that just as adults have moments of panic and get pissy and all that good stuff, so do kids.

    And how do we prepare them for this transition without inducing panic.

    My 11 year old has her own (more or less sound, IMO)theory about the ecconmic crash, her own ideas about how to help, and even some which I’m implimented about AIP. I think the fact we talk about this sort of thing and that she feels she’s doing something help. I have to confess, I have to discussed the more horific outsome with her, in part because I don’t think they are upon us.

    My eight year old sees all that we do in terms of her beloved polar bears…but she has a strong sense that as along as her family is about her, all is well.

    How are other’s handling this?

  18. jerah says:

    Hmm. I think the “me and mine first” idea is pretty much inescapable. It’s how we function now, so how is that really going to change in the future? The only problem I have is that most of the time that mantra is being invoked, it’s got a not-so-subtle secondary idea tacked on: “first me and mine” and “and also, the rest of you deserve what’s coming”.

    I don’t think that second part makes sense at all. It’s uncharitable, and it has nothing to do with whether you’re taking care of yours and yourn (? :) or not. People do not deserve the suffering that’s coming. They may not see it, and they may be contributing to its causes, but to blame individuals for the failures of industrial civilization is just silly. It’s just another way that we’ve let capitalism as an ideology creep into our thinking. We think that if people are poor, or hungry, or suffering, it must be their fault for not working hard enough. That’s just not true now, and it certainly won’t be true in the future.

  19. Rosa says:

    Green Assassin, I’m ignoring the lifeboat “sorting” because I’ve always been in the lifeboat – we all are, even the people who don’t know it. Right now, somewhere near you, there are people who are broke. Homeless. Hungry. In need of medical care. Probably people you know. Which ones are you helping now, while there is plenty to go around?

    If things fall apart, I’ll continue to do what I do now – share what I have, try to cut off the really toxic people, hope somebody helps me out when I need it, and watch some people slip hopelessly off the edge despite anything I can do.

    A young woman I knew when she was a little girl is couch-hopping and sometimes homeless now. I put the word out with mutual friends that she’s welcome at our place; if she shows up at my door, I’ll feed her, house her, clothe her – but probably she won’t, because anything beyond a meal and a few days’ stay is dependent on her working, cleaning up after herself, and not using illegal substances in my home. A close friend of mine has a brother who is homeless due to mental illness & addiction issues. A college friend is fundraising to pay for his child’s leukemia treatment; a coworker has brain cancer and needs money to cover travel to the specialist center. The food shelf in my neighborhood is more under water every month. The library desperately needs tutors & volunteer teaching assistants. A friend of mine just learned her son died. Another old friend’s husband came back from Iraq drinking a lot and talking suicide.

    So, how do I prioritize? By how I feel, by what I think I can handle, sometimes by what I will get the most reward from. I don’t think that will change as things get worse, except that we’ll all be stretched thinner. It’s like how in fairy tales the injured animal or ugly old woman has a gift to give the makes the quest possible – you can’t know, really, whether it’s an angel at your door, so you have to let in everyone you can.

  20. Susan in NJ says:

    Well said, Rosa. Although letting in “everyone you can” ultimately becomes an individual, situational issue.
    In Lucifer’s Hammer, it was better to be a sorter than a sortee, and if a sortee, a selected rather than a rejected, or so it seemed at Jellison’s compound, if not at the cannibal camp. And it was as haphazard, unfair as any sorting process will ever be — supposedly by skills, but knowing the senator’s daughter is a big help, as is judicious “puffing” of one’s abilities.
    There’s a famous Indian movie, the name of which I can’t remember, concerning a well to do family and the way the famine resulting from (?), anyway occuring around the time of the partition of Pakistan and India affected this family, what they ate originally, who they shared with, when they tried to close their doors, how they to ended up with the starving. Very powerful stuff. I remember being truly jarred when a friend asked after a group of us watched it, whether we wanted to go out for pizza.
    Chance is always a powerful element.

  21. Meadowlark says:

    Re: “take care of mine first” reflex of patriarchal culture

    Patriarchal? I think not. I’m a mother, and when TSHTF, I’ll protect my babies first, even though they’re both over 20.

    Or is this just part of “patriarchal culture” again and I’m some sort of misfit?

    I hope none of us really believe that a world ruled by women would be perfect. I’ve lived in groups of women (40+) and the same dynamics happen as with groups of men. Maybe someone out there has 20 or 30 friends who all get along and sing kumbayah, but I remember how terrible it was when just THREE little girls got together. Someone ended up crying before the night was over.

  22. Greenpa says:

    Kate Peterson- excellent question.

    Hold on to your hat- I have an actual answer! In this vast morass of ifs.

    It’s on every airplane now flying.

    The instructions on the oxygen mask say – “in the event of mask deployment; PUT YOUR OWN MASK ON FIRST- BEFORE helping your infant, child, or disabled adult seat mate.”

    They’re absolutely correct, and the clarity of the situation is perfect. SEE this image please, and hold on to it:

    The aircraft has hit something in mid air, and has lost air pressure; the masks drop; the plane is jolting, jerking, almost tumbling; the young mother is desperate to get an oxygen mask onto her toddler, who is squirming and fussing. No one else can help; the plane is jolting too much to allow anyone to move.

    She is not successful. Without her own mask on, she becomes more and more oxygen-deprived (“drunk”) – and less and less capable. She passes out. Both mother and child wind up dead. (ok, I’ll let you go with “severely brain damaged” if that’s too icky for you.)

    If she’d put her own on FIRST – she might have been able to save the child.

    In the years ahead, it is never going to be easy watching others who are hungry, cold, and desperate. But hold onto the fact- if you give all you have away- you won’t be able to help anyone, ever again. Keeping you, and yours, healthy and functional is probably the best way you have to help others.

  23. MEA says:

    Green — may I suggest some simple mate reallocation and magical removal of the unwanted spice.

    Greenpa — I call it the pee first response. Whenever I had a sick child in the night, I’d try to pee before I started to tend her, because it’s hard to make good decisions when you are busting and immeshed in a situtation. (If you aren’t female and over 45, you may know what I mean.)

    And it will work in the future too, though it maybe much harder. I don’t see any point in my feeding people seed potatoes when that means no crop next year. In reality, if my household were starving, and there were no other options but to eat the seed stock, it would make the most sense for me to give it to someone who would keep it and plant it. I don’t know if I’d be able to make that rational decision, though.

  24. Texicali says:

    I was reading the other day in a book about Amish forgiveness that they teach infants how to hold still while getting their diapers changed. They didn’t explain how, just described it as one of the many strange and amazing things the Amish do. Likely it results from using pins while the cloth diapers go back on, too much moving around is likely to get you stuck on accident. While I dont have any kids, I was a kid, and it seems like most of discipline resides in being consistent. I can see my nieces and nephews trying to play their parents off of each other, and it is because they know discipline is different between the two. The scene in LH is the result of no longer being able to shuffle the kid to the TV. So much of the parenting seems to be based on making the kid shut up by promising something, buying something, or turning on the tv. In the LH scenario those options were no longer available, so the parent who was not used to having to listen to the kid snapped. Not the best reaction, but I suspect that many parents will be reexamining the boundaries they set, and many tweens who were not used to that will examine the idea of forming bands with their friends, like the boy scouts.

    The question of who to take care of seems to have been thoroughly hashed out, but I will take issue with the idea of giving the seed potatoes away instead of eating them. I am both of a doomsdayer and an optimist. If starvation was knocking on the door and spring was many moons away, I would eat them myself and hope to use that energy to find something else to eat. I feel responsibility to friends, family, things under my control; but I don’t feel a lot of responsibility for humanity as a whole. Why would I go in search of someone who has enough to make it through the winter to give them my seed potatoes?

    I liked the idea of getting the spices and alcohol when everything else was picked over. Throughout history there has almost always been someone with a surplus, so you need something to trade. Otherwise you need an obvious skill to trade.

    With regard to the commune idea, I think that it would be better to buy land as a group and then split it up. Land is cheaper in bulk. If every decision is communal then you will have a constant butting of heads between the stronger personalities. Frankly Green Assassin I suspect from your description of others that you may not be all that easy to get along with. Most people I know dont seem to think about this stuff all that much, and I dont bring it up with many people besides my wife. She is dubious but has learned to garden, can, knit, and is an excellent cook from scratch. Mostly she thinks it is interesting, and is willing to let me spend time and effort on preparing. She is dubious on the possibility of impending doom. Which is fine. However, in such an event I am concerned about her mental health. Her family has a history of bipolar and depression, with suicides happening pretty much every generation. She, and all of her immediate family, are on anti-depressents. I am dubious about the efficacy of things like st. johns wort, etc. Mostly I suspect that things will just be a little more on edge around the house. But that is true about a lot of medicines. The book barely touches on the diabetic, but there are a lot of people who are only alive because of modern medicine. Heck, I had my appendix out when I was young. To the extent that things were to truly fall apart, many of the people that we anticipate would be a substantial burden would not be able to survive. And on that depressing note I will go work in the yard :)

  25. MEA says:

    If I thought there was a way to keep on surviving after the potatoes were going, we’dd eat the potatoes. If there seemed no way to survive beyond the period of time the potatoes would support us, I think they ought to go to someone who would plant them. However, I don’t live my life by moral imperatives now, so I don’t suppose I will in that situtation. I also don’t beleive that just becuase I think this the right thing to do, other people should either think it or do it.

    In the exterminations camps, groups of prisoners were kept outside at night in groups, with the expectation that they would freeze to death. Many of them did, but, in accounts I have read, at times a sort of group think took over, and people felt that if anyone survived, it would be a moral victory, and those at the outside of the block stayed there instead of shifting into the middle (the way a flock of sheep mill around so that each sheep gets a turn in the middle of the warm flock) becuase they knew that the only way the ones in the middle had a chance of surviving was to stay in the middle all night.. Too much body heat would be lost if they shifted out and then in again. Sometime they even passed clothing to the people in the middleI think those people were very noble. Other people (who may well be right — I don’t claim to be the abrater of morals) think they were suckers and only those strong enough to dive into the middle and stay there against all costs deserved to survive, even though that constant shifting of people might have resulted in everyone death.

    I’d like to think that in the face of certain death, I could do something to help other survive — but just because I have delusions of grandure doesn’t mean I’ll act on them.

  26. Texicali says:

    I do agree that what they did was a form of honor. I differ in that I mentally prefer a different approach (this may be all bluster as I have never been in the situation). General Patton is quoted as telling his soldiers something to the effect of “the point is not to die for your country, but to make the other guy die for his.” In the context of the Holocaust a better thing may have been to just rush the guards. Now I know that this question has been debated at length for the past many years, and one wins nothing by questioning their approach, but in the case of Treblinka they did rush out and some survived. One become inured to poverty, to unjust punishment, to abuse. If one is not already in that position (and even if one is) I think that it is better to be vigilant about why you are in that position. If it is not right than it is better to do try and change the situation.

    My wife, ever the pragmatist, says that it is better to put the seed potatoes in the ground. That way whoever does manage to survive has potatoes and is not tempted to eat them. I am still inclined to think I would eat them.

  27. MEA says:

    I like your wife’s thinking.

  28. Sharon says:

    I agree with Greenpa, you care for yourself, and then your immediate own, and then the next tier and the next tier out. The question is when you decide that you can only handle “your own” – you can do that at times of exigency, or earlier. IMHO, I’m hoping I can keep “my own” as wide as possible – my community, refugees – for a while, because it is a loss to imagine this narrowing of my world. I think that’s one of the most fascinating things about Life as We Knew It, jumping the gun again, is that the price of survival is this narrowing of the world to the tiniest possible space. Sometimes, of course, that’s necessary. But it isn’t always, and it isn’t always clear what the alternative is. For example, I think the scenario in which you *know* that there will never be any more food, so your choice is to eat the seed potatoes and then die or die otherwise *WILL NOT HAPPEN* for most of us – no one ever knows what the next thing will be for certain.

    GAB, I have to say that I think that the problem with your thinking is that it presumes that you’ll never need people to be more accomodating of you than you are of them. If everyone is always too imperfect, you risk being judged that way yourself. I think that’s too high a price for someone who wants to survive.

    Meadowlark, a woman can have patriarchal viewpoints ;-) – I don’t know that that is one, but you being female doesn’t prevent you from being patriarchal in approach, just in a biological sense ;-) .

    I think historically speaking the “take care of mine first” attitude is not patriarchal, it is normal. But the sense of what is “mine” varies enormously. My mother used to be a social worker, placing children from terrible homes for adoption, and she personally objected to foreign adoption (we can skip the debate on whether my mother is right, I’m just mentioning this) because “we have to take care of our own.” I argued that there was no empirical reason that “our own” didn’t include children from very far away places – and I still think that we can afford a wide ranging view of “our own” – all of us have complex “owns” that include the deserving, the undeserving, the near, the far, the people we love, the people we’re stuck with. We can go out of our way to narrow the field in advance as fast and far as we can, but that strikes me as not only self-fulfilling, but useless – we may find ourselves dependent on the people we could never bear because when push comes to shove, we need each other. Or we may find ourselves welcomed among people we never expected, particularly if we are made refugees (which can happen to anyone). We don’t know enough to do advance winnowing – sure, it can be an entertaining party game, but that should be all it is, IMHO. And the longer we can keep our world wide, not only do we do good things for ourselves, but we open the possibility that other people will perceive a wider world and aid us. Finding the moment to stop is a challenge – there are dangers tied to that – but it doesn’t make it any less true, I think, that the best we can do is deal with the circumstances as we face them.

    As for Holocaust survivors, I’m reminded of something someone said about rape survivors – there is no judgement appropriate – period. Whatever anyone had to do to survive, no matter what it was, they had the right to do without anyone sitting in judgement of them – and if they didn’t survive, we still don’t second guess them, because they did what they could, when they did.


  29. MEA says:

    Re: me and the seed potatoes, I agree, it’s very unlikely to happen. In fact, last night I was trying to construct a senerio in which I’d know for a fact that we had no chance of getting food later. I’d just gotten to a point where aliens had isolated us in hexs, and you could pass things (but not people) from red hexes to blue, but not the other way around, when I feel asleep.

    However, I am very consious of the ancient Chinese, who used to leave their seed stock in their houses and go out begging when there was no food, with the understanding that no one would take the seeds and they would leave the seeds (dying, perhaps) in the house they passed by.


  30. Texicali says:

    The better part of wisdom would likely be to leave it alone, but I am going to question the saying re:holocaust and rape survivors. I do not advocate standing in judgment of any individual, but how can one learn from history if not by using ones judgment to evaluate what lessons are there? Certainly the point is not to criticize the victims or survivors but to ask what lessons are contained in this event that I find which would help me to survive such a scenario (Or to die well as the case may be). It may be that the lessons include doing exactly what was done, but what was done varies widely between individuals. Perhaps it is a difference of opinion in what judgment means. I hope to stay away from condemnation, but I don’t believe that we (a global society we) should maintain sacred events that are free from analysis, critique, evaluation, or whichever word best illustrates a rational evaluation of the options available during an irrational situation all the while acknowledging that you weren’t there (and hopefully never will be).

  31. MEA says:

    Just realized that by saying what one group did was noble implies that a group doing something else would be less noble. Is it possible to condem either course of action, but to express that I feel that one group exhbited qualities that I admire? I didn’t mean to condem anyone (there are lots of situtations similar to the Holocuast (alas) where I wouldn’t presume to judge people, but still find that certain people behaved in ways that seem extra-ordinary to me.

    For example, I understand people who feared to shealter fallen airmen lest their entire families were shot, but I think those who took the risk were admireable.

    Hope this makes sense,


  32. Sharon says:

    Texicali, I think we can say that while history has to be open to analysis, I think it is far too easy and superficial to say that X set of particular people in X set of unimaginably horrible situations should have rushed the guards because another group in a very different set of X horrible situation did and some survived. IMHO, particulars matter – what worked to allow one group of Holocaust survivors to survive might not work for another, and vice versa – our generalizations at this point, I think aren’t helpful. It might be possible to speak of very precise situations, and come up with optimal scenarios (if the rapist has a knife but no gun, if he seems impotent, if he’s not too angry…it might generally be best to do…) but the kind of broad generalization that is occurring here – X Holocaust survivors ought really to have done Y because another totally unrelated group did Y or Rape victims should do Z because it works 42% of the time – that seems less useful to me, and to walk the line of unproductive, and perhaps unintentionally judgemental. The truth is that situations like these are incredibly particular, and people are incredibly particular in their ability to adapt to them.

    I don’t think anyone attends harm, but I think the dead in hard situations, and the survivors deserve more nuance than we’re able to give them at this level.



  33. Anonymous says:

    Well said. I can agree with that.

  34. Meadowlark says:

    Just a last note on “Our own”.

    Sharon, when TSHTF, I’m sure it will come as no surprise that for me, “our own” will include my brothers in arms. But I’ve always considered them family anyway. And the bond is immediate and deep.

    Semper Fi.

  35. Pat Meadows says:

    As to the realism of the asteroid strike, while not an astronomer, I did work in the Physics and Astronomy Department of a university for eight years, mainly word-processing technical papers. Yes, it’s realistic. It is totally realistic that this could/will happen at some point.

    Also, we experienced a ‘mini-Hammerfall’ of our very own.

    Right after we moved to this very rural and somewhat isolated area of Pennsylvania in 2001, I was reading one early evening in summer. It was around 6 pm. My husband was taking a nap.

    There was a loud BOOM – the air cracked open; the actual ground shook. ‘Loud’ is a wild understatement. I was literally dazed; I was dizzy and my ears rang for some time after. I was *dazed* too just from the amazing volume of noise; it took me a while to think clearly.

    (It even woke up my husband, not always an easy task!)

    After I could think again, my first thought was an explosion at a major chemical plant. But I knew there was no industry anywhere near here.

    We had one of our dogs then; she was whining and pawing at her ears (no wonder).

    Afterwards, it turned out that most people’s first thought was a plane crash. In fact, some people called the fire department and fire trucks went racing past.

    I considered a plane crash, but this was WAY beyond what I would *ever* expect from a plane crash (unless the plane landed in our own front yard). Just way beyond. I cannot describe it; it was beyond my descriptive powers.

    It took me quite a while to think it might be an asteroid or comet. But I did eventually come to that conclusion that night.

    Anyway; to make a long story short, it *was* either a comet or an asteroid; it was believed to have exploded in the atmosphere, not far from Earth. They found just a very few fragments about 40 miles south of here.

    They didn’t find much, but it is difficult to convey to anyone from other areas just how much state park and state forest land – totally wild, totally unpopulated – is in our immediate area. Our town is almost surrounded by huge areas of forest. You could have a plane crash and it would take a very long time to find it; especially if it landed in the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The fragments they did find were just east of the Canyon.

    We have a local friend who has cows, and she said the cows went bonkers, running as fast as they could around and around their field. She had never heard anything like it either. No one had.

    The whole experience was almost ‘unreal’.

    This was just the tiniest, smallest, most modest of Hammerfalls.

    Pat Meadows

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