Post-apocalypse without the militias: The Outquisition

WorldChanging's Alex Steffen and I sat down last week for a cup of coffee and got to talking about post-apocalyptic life. I noticed that while there's a whole ton of stories -- and people who emulate them -- about heavily armed survivalists bravely holding off the twilight of civilization after the Big One, there are damned few stories about super-networked post-apocalyptic Peace Corps who respond to the Great Fall by figuring out how to put it all back together. I even came up with a name for it: the Outquisition; the opposite of the Inquisition -- missionaries who come to your town to remind you of how awesome it can all be, leave behind a bunch of rad, life-improving systems and tools, and generally get on with the business of being happy, well-fed and peaceful.

Alex wrote up a great post about this and 24 hours later, some WorldChanging readers created Outquisition.org. I'm not sure what they'll do there, but in my dreams, they're off building a non-secret society of emergency-preparedness Nice People who think that the response to catastrophe isn't lifeboat rules and militias, but humanitarian aid and kick-ass tools.

What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed. We imagined that it would need an almost missionary fervor, something like the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge) in reverse, a crusade of open sharing, or as Cory promptly dubbed it, the Outquisition.

Imagine these folks like this passing out free textbooks, running holistic programs for kids, creating local knowledge management systems, launching microfinance projects, mobilebanking and complementary currencies. Helping rural landowners apply climate foresight and farm biodiversity. Building cheap, smart, quality housing for displaced people (not to mention better refugee camps), or an Open Architecture Network for cheap informal rehabs of run-down suburban housing. Hacking together DIY windmills and ad hoc smart grids, communication systems, water treatment systems -- and getting really good atadaptive reuses of outdated infrastructure. In other words, these folks would be redistributing the future at a furious clip.

Link to Alex's post, Link to Outquisition homepage (Thanks, Alex!)

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  1. What would be a little more interesting is the idea of a race of aliens (space, not..across the border) that come down once we’ve turned the whole world into stone age Afghanistan and steer us to peaceful future vs. a Mad Maxian one. Think Interstellar PeaceCorps.

    Then of course the kicker would be a rogue element in the aliens government that wants to turn the newly pacified and dependent Solians (because of course every alien culture calls Earth “Sol”) into a slave planet. The one sorta hot female alien PeaceWorker teams up with the anti-hero Hugh Jackman-esque human un-leader and they thwart the plot, and fall in love, but she leaves regardless in the end (due to prior commitments)

    You can contact me for the bank account to send the royalties too.

  2. (Yeeg – I need a stiff unicorn chaser just for having been reminded of Costner’s The Postman.)

    I’d say you may be overlooking some fantastic examples of this genre just because they’re often excluded from the SF genre. Nobel Laureate Doris Lessings’ Canopus in Argos series is, IMHO, exquisite literature on this theme…her Canopan agents (maybe they should be called Canopaners?) are basically an intergalactic Peace Corps (although as a Disgruntled Returned Peace Corps Volunteer myself, I must say their organization kicks the US Corps’ ass), and in “Shikasta” in particular they’re trying to help the people of Earth cope with their decline and collapse. “The Making of The Representative” etc. comes to my mind often these days as well, since it’s about a planet coping with massive climate change (with Canopan advice). Like the Peace Corps, public school teachers or any realistic Outquisition, the Canopans can only achieve as much as human stubbornness allows, which makes them precious role models for me.

    The myth that the postapocalyptic future belongs to gun-toting cowboys fighting for freedom etc. is one of a classic set of swell myths that make fine fiction for firearms afficionados…but if the events of the past few years stateside have proven nothing else, it’s that a well-armed citizenry will amiably surrender all their other rights to an oppressive government rather than fight back with bullets or even ballots, as long as the guns, TV and beer are still available…and maybe as long as the price of petrol remains sound?

  3. These “missionaries” would require vast resources to accomplish anything close to what you envision. One can’t simply roll into town and establish local knowledge management systems, DIY windmills, communication systems and farm biodiversity. Given a world altering, apocalyptic event, where would these resources come from? Do you envision a Asimov style repository of information designed to help ease the transition for survivors?

    One need only look toward New Orleans or the recently flooded Midwest for an example – even on a small scale, rebuilding a devastated community is an incredibly challenging, costly and time consuming undertaking.

    Further, would “dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities” accept assistance from a small band of technically savvy outsiders? New systems of communication and infrastructure require leadership and vision – would local leaders step aside or would they react negatively to crusading strangers? I suspect the latter.

    The conflict that these well meaning individuals encounter might make for an interesting SF story, but the crux of it would lie in their painfully limited ability to effect change. Indeed, I recall a few Star Trek episodes based on similar themes.

  4. We (and my that I mean you) should really work on this because we (see above) will have to choose between a “Mad Max” or “Outquisition” future soon.

    Oil is not going to get any cheaper. What’s left will be bought by countries with money (IE not the USA).

    So we (or rather you) will have to adjust to a more agrarian rural society where almost everyone lives within reasonable walking (human or equine) distance of their jobs and primary food sources.

    Or be nomadic, in a traveling salesman kind of way.

    Not everyone can telecommute, but the lucky few like Cory et al will.

    With less pollution, locally grown food and plenty of exercise, we (and by that I mean you) might be better off!

    I will be living in a country with money and oil. If you try to take that from me it will be 1812 all over again bud!

  5. Wrote something once about an “engineering corps” that maintained the wind turbines after the apocalypse–maybe I should pitch it somewhere!

    I’d love to read a story of someone resigning themselves to the success of a peace corps; set at a point where American isn’t so interestingly post-apocalyptic anymore. Functioning services, foreign peacekeepers mopping up the biker gangs, the trains running on time: that sort of thing!

    Oh, for the the good old days of chaos, self-sufficiency and genetic novelties.

  6. What exactly is apocalypse supposed to mean? I can think of a number of scenarios you could call an apocalypse, but in most of them, it would be hard for a large number of people to drive automobiles around carrying vast quantities of cutting edge green-technology and textbooks.

    I wish we could do what you propose right now given our pre-apocalyptic society. I have a hard time imagining it would be easier after a major catastrophe.

    对不起,我的英文水平不太高。

  7. There are two problems. First, a collapse is when people are d*m tired of experts telling them what to do and they refuse to cooperate or even listen. Even if you really do know what you are talking about, they don’t trust you. Second, they are having enough trouble just taking care of basic needs and have no time for heady ideas or philosophical discourse, no matter how much they need it.

    What happens in the real world is that monasteries preserve knowledge until the people once again have the leisure time to consider it and the resources to distribute it. Until that time the people are forgetting their history, their heritage, even their language. That is why it is called a dark age.

  8. Michel Houellebecq’s book ‘The Possibility of an Island’ explores similar terrain, but is slightly bleaker and more literary than the confetti of Wired articles described in this post. Highly recommended. (Although, perhaps for aesthetic reasons, the internet appears to survive intact apart from the DNS protocol).

    Bear in mind that most of the world as it is right now could benefit greatly from your roving bands of techno-positivists. No need to wait for an apocalypse.

  9. Wow. Like minds and all. I’ve been writing up a blog for a while now sharing information and ideas on how to form trusted networks for suburban surviving in the event of a serious economic depression/recession, or an apocalyptic disaster – preparedness for any event on a local level, because the government has proven it’s not able to respond rapidly or well. Why wait for an apocalypse? By forming such networks now, before any major disasters and apocalypse events, such “outquisition” work would be more viable should such disasters happen.

    I know a number of computer techs who are preparing for an apocalypse by making sure the internet survives, somehow. I think that’s awesome.

  10. Octavia Butler’s books are kind of like this.

    Drat. In case of apocalypse, I’m going to end up being a wastewater engineer. Just about everything else I can do requires more significant infrastructure.

  11. “What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed.”

    This sentiment is incredibly laughable and typical fantasy. There is a huge base of old-time skills (green and sustainable) in the US that has survived the industrial revolution in the form of the “DIY movement”. It has nothing to do with where you live, other than, people in the bubs and country typically have DIY skills more appropriate to growing food, building things.

  12. #11 – I agree people eventually start to mistrust ‘experts’. So an important part of a ‘missionaries’ skillset would be communication and trust building skills. What a missionary is in this case is a person trying to get these places to stop turning inward and paranoid of the world outside, and start opening up. Its not easy and someplaces won’t accept it, so the missionary moves on and tries to help other places… the differences I would hope for these missionaries would be to avoid accepting certain dogmatic requirements in order for this information. Which is kind of hard because acceptance of ideas and technology is in essence acceptance of certain dogma of a sort.

    Cory, in a way isn’t this much like the missionaries of Down and out of the Magic Kingdom, they would go to places and help bring them into the bitchun society dogma by helping them, eventually showing them stuff like how to cure death. (forgive me if I got things messed up its been a while since I have read Down and out…)

  13. Ironically, one of the things that gives me comfort is that we have already lived in a post-apocalyptic world. One need only look at World War 2 to see every little detail of what a worst-case apocalyptic scenario can be: from food and fuel rationing, to death camps and atomic bombs. We survived, at great cost, and then rebuilt very successfully (though flawed.) There’s no need to imagine what a post-apocalyptic world would be like. We lived through the apocalypse (1929-1945) and the post-apocalypse (1945-?). “The Outquisition” seems to me like a 21st century version of the Marshall Plan. If you really want to know how to survive the 21st century go talk to your granddad and grandma before they’re gone, and ask them how they made it through the 20th century.

  14. Outquisition, meet metanoia.

    RA Wilson recounts a conversation about paranoia with PK Dick. What if, they wondered, the universe were out to help you? They coined the word metanoia (despite it already being a word with a completely different meaning) for “the irrational belief that the universe is out to help you.”

    Paranoid future – Mad Max gangs
    Metanoid future – The Outquisition

  15. In Cory’s original post he says “…..the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge)….”

    Where did that come from?

    Our friends over at Wikipedia say that “Inquisition (Inquisitorial system) is a common legal procedure where the tribunal is actively involved in determining the facts of the case. Inquisition can also mean a systematic procedure used by Catholic and Protestant Churches to prosecute alleged heretics (using inquisitorial procedures)….”

    Not an Inquisition therefore cannot be an Outquisition.

  16. In my opinion, the first thing to do is start seeding libraries with all the DIY books you can.

    Back in the 70s, Mother Earth News had some paperbacks with all kinds of useful DIY/Back to the Land info and DIY energy.

    If Something Happens, the local library becomes the “monastery” preserving knowledge AND dispensing knowledge.

    In theory, I can build a power generating windmill. In practice, I can’t. I need some info I don’t have at my finger tips or in my brain.

    However, the Boston Public Library DOES have that info and more, and will happily help me find it.

    Anyone remember “Public Works”, a huge book filled with public domain documents on everything from building a log cabin to mending the elastic on a bra, its purpose was, according to its compiler, was so that “anyone dropped into the wilds, with nothing more than a Swiss Army Knife, could triumphantly drive out in his hand made Land Rover!” (or words to that effect.)

    If the information is already in place, that’s half the battle for the “outquisitioners” right there.

  17. Awesomely self-important and condescending presentation of your concept. Bumpkins everywhere await the arrival of their shiny green urbanite saviors. Yeah, sounds great, thanks in advance. We’ll be watching for you.

  18. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer,knowing the efforts (twice) of the GOP to lessen the impact of volunteers: (1) Nixon’s administration became aware of the fact that young Americans were returning to the US knowing too much about what was going on in other countries (i.e., how the industrial/military complex operated)and (2) the Bush administration feeling the same way, the following occurred. Nixon tried to place the Peace Corps into a larger agency, diminishing the group and better controlling the exposure of volunteers to the realities of the World. The Bush cohorts did not want former, potentially progressive, volunteers to make contact with present in-country volunteers … so they have isolated them from “contamination”.

    My point here is, be careful of anything involving a conservative regime … such folks aren’t really interested in just “helping”; they want to use it as a means of control of other nations.

  19. “Do somethin’ smart!”

    “I don’t think we should be putting Brawndo on the plants.”

    “But it’s what plants crave…”

  20. Would it be a little corny and sappy to say that the concept expressed in this article was so beautiful that I almost wanted to cry a little?

    I remember the Cold War; I remember growing up and maturing in the days when just as things looked good, someone ruined them for you, or being certain that things are fine now, but its all on borrowed time. I’ve lived on a diet of dark future stories

    I’ve plumb forgotten that people can be good.

    This reminded me that they can be. Well, any civilzation that can come up with a thought like this can’t be all bad and completely doomed, neh?

    I’m glad this got posted. Seriously.

  21. Cory, et al.

    Have you heard of a book called
    The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen?

    Really interesting reading. Set in the influenza pandemic of 1918, it’s about a utopian community that cuts itself off from the world.

    Unlike the usual “get guns and shoot the zombies” setup Mullen wrestles with the question of how people of conscience would deal with horrid events.

    Not quite the outquisition but good stuff.

  22. “Fire Upon the Deep” had these little handheld thingies which were like an iPhone, but with enough memory to store an entire repository of knowledge inside it, rather than rely on a network connection. I forget what it was called.

    Anyway, the device had some super software in it that would figure out how smart/dumb you were and always try to teach you more from whatever level you are at.

    Some of these iPhones end up on a planet that is goign through its medieval phase, castles, catapults, and whatnot, and one ends up on each side of an ongoing war. An arms race ensues as each side tries to build cannons.

    Which is to say, in the outquisition, you’re Monks of Higher Learning are still going to run into the occaissional heavily armed gun nut survivalist who might use that knowledge to make himself warlord.

  23. There’s a book series by Jack Whyte that somewhat reminds me of this… about the creation of Camelot in England after the Roman legions pull out in the 4th century… it is essentially very military in nature (in the sense that the two guys who decide to create a colony are most interested in protecting themselves from barbarians et al) but it’s more than a singular “let’s protect my family” goal. In the end the colony they create is peaceful in nature and tries to deal with the fact that news, roads etc. just eventually collapse due to the absence of the legions.

    If modern society collapses, communication and transportation systems break apart and such, it will leave a hole in terms of basic skills. Sure, people know how to plant gardens, but do they know how to collect and store plant seeds? People know how to build stuff but do they know how to make lumber? The common people don’t know how basic materials we take for granted are made anymore and I wonder how people would deal with that situation. Once the Home Depots are all ransacked, how do you go about building something new?

  24. Guess I’m biased but this sounds delightfully Reithian!

    Also, I have this thing in my mind about the collapse of civilisation- we won’t have the metal and fuel deposits near the surface that ‘blessed’ europe and boot strapped the industrial revolution, but we may have landfill and thousands of square miles of urban wreckage- will they be viable resources?

  25. “‘Fire Upon the Deep’ had these little handheld thingies which were like an iPhone, but with enough memory to store an entire repository of knowledge inside it, rather than rely on a network connection.”

    Why are you using a locked, crippled, and DRM-riddled device as a metaphor for a portable library of all human knowledge?

    Back to the topic at hand, the primary problem of any apocalypse is mass starvation. If you’re traveling and not heavily armed with a shoot first, ask questions later attitude, you’re as good as dead, and quite likely, food. All your fancy book learnin’ won’t amount to a can of beans, literally.

  26. Some of these posts are just laughable. The concept of this book only works in a suburban setting where indeed the culture and connection to the land is lost.

    As for the rural part, in reality it would be the opposite of individuals with real hands on skill sets (not academic) that would be sharing what they have been doing for centuries.

    This piece is so self important and although well intentioned is offensive to those of us who live in small rural towns. Because instead of talking about help there are those of us who have left the city, and are actually doing this. (& it has been the locals that have taught us the majority of how to succeed in being alt-ag and off grid.)

    I really think anyone showing up in these smaller communities during a time of crisis would be laughed at or worse.

    Stick to the Linux and lattes, and leave the logging and legumes to the locals.

  27. “Once the Home Depots are all ransacked, how do you go about building something new?”

    A DVD box set of How It’s Made?

    Seriously, Cory, I see great potential for a book here. The main conflict could come from the Outquisitors (I’m still not sold on Outquisition. Maybe Unpocalypse?) clashing with factions who have different plans for rebuilding civilization. And maybe one group thinks humanity had it coming and intends to finish the job. Hell, throw in a group who wants a steampunk utopia!

  28. @BucolicHooligan:

    You bring up an interesting point, all be it in a unnecessarily snotty way.

    I’d counter by saying that while it would be presumptuous in the extreme for some “Outquisition” group to show up in Richland Center, Wisconsin and start lecturing the locals the basics of agriculture, I think you forget just how dependent on scientific infrastructure modren farming has become.

    Cut off the supply of agri-business fertilizers and pest control bred insects, even for one growing season, and you’d see some truly epic crop loss. Even accounting for “The Fall” cutting down the number of mouths to feed, you’d still see entire fields going fallow. Think of those crops as addicts, they need those fertilizers at this point to produce.

    The assumption that everything is going to be just fine, ‘we don’t need yer fancy city ways’ in rural areas is profoundly mistaken. Many of these communities rely on large chain stores for durable goods including clothes, food and tools. The notion that every farmer can just plant a vegetable garden and be a-ok hasn’t held true for the better part of a century.

    The solid nature of this “outquisition” concept is that is doesn’t assume that farmer john is going to be gunning down lawyer mike over the last ear of corn. Rather it sees tech-savvy people combining skills (organizational, technical, scientific) with people in rural areas who have land and skills of their own. Combining forces to survive rather than fighting in the growing dark.

  29. @ #5

    In many circumstances, the most valuable resource is knowledge, and that is something that can be shared without depletion.

    Make estimates about outcomes based on Star Trek episodes is a little sketchy, don’t you think?

  30. There’s a Phillip K. Dick story on this theme. “The Last of the Masters.”

    Very good story.

  31. Make it less like the handcopied versions of the Bible and more like the printing press. Decentralized and grassroot in each community. And why wait.

  32. Why do all the wandering humanitarian geek squads wait until the apocalypse has already happened? If people were really like that on a widespread scale, shouldn’t it be even easier to pull off now while there’s still infrastructure?

  33. Whoa…I know your intentions are good, BUT:

    Cory, all you’re doing here is advocating another conventional “international development” or “sustainable development” movement–movements that have been deemed incredibly controversial since they started being implemented some 20+ years ago (or earlier?).

    History has been full of well-intentioned do-gooders who aim to bring the “tools” of well-being to folks who they deem are in need of them. Sometimes these “tools” are Religion, sometimes these tools are Capitalism, sometimes these tools are fancy new technologies (computers, genetically modified seeds, etc.), sometimes these “tools” are systems of governance (like Democracy…hello, Iraq??) The list of “tools” that have been promoted by (well-meaning, but rather arrogant) people who parachute into someone else’s community and aim to “show them the way” is sadly, incredibly long.

    One problem with this idea (there are MANY) is that it IS knowledge destroying, as what you’re advocating is people adopting the new tools and new ways of doing things that these “well-intentioned foreigners” are promoting, while casting their own tools and ways of doing things aside.

    Anyway, THIS REALLY NEEDS TO BE RETHOUGHT.

    I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the International Development literature tout suite before history repeats itself–or at least before helping it along the same, problematic path.

    Start with the International Development entry in Wikipedia. And then, this might be a good guy to read: http://www.unc.edu/~aescobar/

  34. the only important thing is that they convert to the One True Faith in exchange for the help and knowledge.

  35. You want seminal, see H.G. Wells.

    Things To Come

    You’re not catching Raymond Massey with his lamé skirt down. Wings over the World, to rescue! Who knew it would come in the form of begoggled balloonists?

  36. According to John Titor you might also want to pack away an IBM 5100 computer and a solution to the UNIX 2038 timeout error!

  37. In terms of telecommunications over long distances without reliable centralized infrastructure, for distributed coordination, I highly recommend people own and learn how to properly use an amateur FM mobile transceiver (or at the very least a CB and/or marine transceiver).

    For those of you with automotive (or marine) vehicles, installing a scanner radio in the dashboard such as a Uniden BCD996T or BCT-15 (using a combiner not a “coupler” with your existing car antenna) can be invaluable for monitoring “troop movements” (friend or foe) in a destabilized region.

    (Although I cannot legally recommend unlocking your USA scanner to receive the antiquated 900MHz analog phone bands, the way Canadian and Chinese models can, even though it’s almost always just a matter of desoldering a particular resistor. This basic hack should be familiar to anyone who’s had to overclock their graphing calculator.)

    And of course for international news, everyone owns a portable shortwave radio, right?

    For more information, the Radio Reference wiki is most excellent.
    (I just wish it used the GFDL as Wikipedia does so content could be shared between them.)

  38. Hm, interesting that when someone challenges the gun-toting-post-apocalypse view, the gun toters attack with fairly standard “go drink your latte and let real men with real guns worry about real problems like that”.

    I think someone missed the point.

  39. @ mgfarrelly

    “all be it in a unnecessarily snotty way.”

    As opposed to your counterpoint which comes in the most erudite and gracious of deliveries?

    But thanks for proving my point, as you go on to list all of the commonly known issues present within big AG, which no rural farmer has ever come across during either AG school, or experience first hand in the field. (you use em big fancy words mister) Yes, your gifts of wisdom so valuable to those who tend the land.

    So, your academic inference that big farming practice leads to lack of long term sustainability is correct. & the answer to this problem is returning to a sustainable model that has been practiced in all rural communities until the 50s, and still exists today.

    Which is my very point to begin with, it is these individuals with generations of knowledge who are the assets not those who vicariously follow from academia.

    Finally, in this scenario being “tech savvy” is perhaps the least useful skill as org culture, policy analysis, data constructs, mean shit compared to existing social capital of a small community and the ability to fashion logs to build, dig wells to drink, and use traditional farming equipment.

    Would you like low fat free trade cinnamon flakes
    to go with that? ; )

  40. …if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities…

    This really has to be about the most narrow-minded and condescending thing I’ve read here.
    What? Big cities are inherently immune to the ravages of an apocalyptic event, thanks to high-density geekage? In the case of an apocalyptic collapse of society, I’ll put my (now worthless) money on the abilities of the “climate-smacked farm communities” to pull through far better than urban hipsters armed with Make back issues.

  41. I’m betting post-apocalypse fantasies are common among SF readers. I’ve harbored one since I read ‘Earth Abides’ when I was fourteen. It’s heavily larded with an earlier childhood reading of ‘Swiss Family Robinson’— Jesus, that shipwreck had a lot of neat shit onboard!

  42. @mgfarrelly #32
    I don’t like the sound of those people with organisational skills turning up. You can be sure they’ll organise it so they don’t have to dig the ditches or the wells, but’ll get a share of he food.

  43. Cut off the supply of agri-business fertilizers and pest control bred insects, even for one growing season, and you’d see some truly epic crop loss. Even accounting for “The Fall” cutting down the number of mouths to feed, you’d still see entire fields going fallow. Think of those crops as addicts, they need those fertilizers at this point to produce. The assumption that everything is going to be just fine, ‘we don’t need yer fancy city ways’ in rural areas is profoundly mistaken. Many of these communities rely on large chain stores for durable goods including clothes, food and tools. The notion that every farmer can just plant a vegetable garden and be a-ok hasn’t held true for the better part of a century.

    I feel like I’m citing James Burke quite often lately, but this is essentially his premise / introduction to the Connections series.

  44. an old joke about “appropriate tech”: the generator bicycle. The optimist sees light without dependence on the power grid. The realist sees the gun and whip that keeps someone else pedaling.

  45. Why is armed self policing assumed to be a bad thing? I would rather have a just militia of my neighbors any day than a gestapo or stasi police system. Is it reasonable to assume when poeple are starving that the bent morals that lead to raided pension funds and naked short selling will not also motivate bad people to rob families of their last bit of seed or food?

    Most of the people with the engineering, medical, agricultural, and personal coping skills required to make it through the coming chances have already moved out into the rural areas, I have been out there with the “yokels” who are not as stupid or useless as those soft handed elite in university may think. I imagine the rurals would be the ones cleaning up the urban areas and universities once the die-off has passed.

  46. I like the idea, and I like the title. But an Inquisition doesn’t have anything to do with “missionaries who come to your town … [then] get on with the business of being happy, well-fed and peaceful.”

    Inquisitions are when the church looks at itself to root out perceived evil, not when it goes out to evangelize the poor.

  47. pop over to Bosnia and ask around about militias. You may learn a new word: “ethnic cleansing”

  48. In much the same way that gun-toting desperadoes are a neat post-apocalyptic fantasy (where will they get the bullets and gun parts one wonders?), so too are the Outquisitors. Any decent civilization-ending event will leave the survivors in a profoundly local situation. If there’s enough left to put together an “Outquisition,” it’s doubtful they’d have much to add that the locals wouldn’t have already figured out for themselves. The most they might offer, other than information, is free labor.

  49. Yep, folks from suburbia know all they need to know about getting by. Don’t need any outside help or advice. That’s why they happily buy homes on lots that have been stripped of their topsoil.

    I’m watching a former farm get converted into a development of McMansions and the very shape of the landscape has been changed. It is truly a depressing thing to watch.

  50. Why is armed self policing assumed to be a bad thing?

    Uh, we’ve seen what happens when guns are plentiful and there is no government at all. Afghanistan might as well be post apocalyptic.

  51. I’m not so sure the survivors would try to piece everything together anyways. I mean, were I in their position, I’d opt for an inquisition-style post-apocalypse, considering all the rad, life-improving systems and tools are already out of commission, to settle back and just enjoy whats left would be the path of choice. Why rebuild?

  52. re #62

    Why is armed self policing assumed to be a bad thing?

    Uh, we’ve seen what happens when guns are plentiful and there is no government at all. Afghanistan might as well be post apocalyptic.

    My point exactly, an outside invader from elsewhere was able to waltz in with their Saudi funded and armed Wahabist army and force the mostly unarmed locals to bootlick or die. Afghanistan is post apocalyptic dystopia, and now NATO is their new foreign king.

  53. I, for one, welcome our green urban hipster Outquisition overlords.

    Come on, after the apocalypse, you just know someone will want to know how to make a steampunk R2-D2 wastebasket.

  54. Me I just want to continue growing winter crops in my desert greenhouses and drip irrigating my few acres of crops in peace, hipsters please stay in your fortress cities and stop raiding our farms for food and supplies.

  55. I think I’ll talk to the Mennonites who live a few miles away if I want to know how to farm without advanced technology. I’ll also talk to the people who are really into guns, because my community might need to defend itself from the crazy city folk who think they know all about farming but have never thrown a bale of hay in their life.

  56. I’m with the anti-hipster set on this one. Cory et al, you probably didn’t mean to insult, but you really came off with a “we know better” attitude. Remember that the world is filled with comfy bright green little towns, villages and neighborhoods. And

    You’re more than welcome to visit my nice little community surrounded by trees and farmland to tell us stories. But really, if you come thinking you’re the only one who’s got something to teach, be prepared to be … er … taught a lesson.

    Myself, If I was going to “spread the seeds” I’d do it Johnny Appleseed style. I’d pack little boxes with books, instructional material, hard to find pieces of USEFUL technology and so forth. I’d assume people knew how to read and knew enough to understand the value of what I had given them. They may not need it immediately, but they will need it eventually.

    That or I’d put all the women folk in underground high tech bunkers run by a brain who controls all, while the men folk would remain on the surface. Givers of pain and delight indeed.

  57. @ BucolicHooligan:

    Dismissing everyone who isn’t getting their hands dirty at work every day as soft and “latte-sipping” is a very weak point.

    Yes, someone showing up with a hybrid loaded for bear with GPS and iPhones for all isn’t going to be very useful. “I has come to gives you technology!” No, that’s not what we’re talking about.

    But what about engineers who can get solar panels and wind turbines and simple gas generators running? What about hydroponics? What about creating grey and blackwater recycling systems to help reduce the drain of potable water? What about chemists working to create tailored pest control formulas that don’t pollute the water supply? What about communications experts to get information architecture up and running?

    All those skills combined, organized, could be a very potent force. Barter and trade for services rendered.

    Look, if you want to see it as all the “latte-sippers” are going to die off or go Randall Flagg that’s a fine point of view. But John Lennon challenged, “War is over, if you want it” No reason that can’t extend to post-war thinking too.

    I’m a librarian. All the books on edible plants, water filtration, home remedies and making your clothes last are sitting on shelves. The Outquisition would do well to base itself out of a library.

    Where we don’t ever serve coffee.

  58. er…

    Remember that world is filled with comfy bright green little towns, villages and neighborhoods as well as cities

    If only I was a mod and could go back and change my posts without anyone knowing I’d made a mistake…

  59. If only I was a mod and could go back and change my posts

    Speaking of which, has everyone noticed that when we approve anonymous comments, the numbers all change and numeric references become unintelligible or even the opposite of what you intended? It’s really better to pull a quote or use a name.

  60. “Dismissing everyone who isn’t getting their hands dirty at work every day as soft and “latte-sipping” is a very weak point. ”

    Just as responding to my one quip vs. the actual salient content of my post.

    I would just say read above as feel the point has been made far better than I.

  61. That or I’d put all the women folk in underground high tech bunkers run by a brain who controls all, while the men folk would remain on the surface.

    Ah, yes…

    Dr. Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary, Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills. Of course, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.

  62. Cory,

    I’m sure that most of these people who romanticize apocalyptic scenarios and advocate gun control are well-meaning, but they are also quite ignorant. It is because of their ignorance that their ideas are poison. The last thing this world needs is more FICTION. We get enough of that through our “trusted” news outlets. No, we don’t need more distractions, gadgets, or techno-babble to keep us occupied and dominated.

    Your dystopian future is already here, but it isn’t the one you wanted. Sadly, Orwell’s prophecy came true in spite of his book (1984). Let that be a lesson to you, and other great writers: We can use your skill, but we need you to expose the actual perpetrators of the world’s evils.

    Perhaps, if Orwell had identified the Rothschilds, or other banking dynasties, as being war financiers, profiteers, and generally just a group madmen bent on world domination, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in. I find it impossible to believe that he could have written as presciently as he did without that knowledge, so I assume that he knew.

    Anyway, I hope you will consider my opinion. Thank you.

  63. I gotta agree with several other comments here that this does at first blush come off as a little condescending, though your hearts are certainly in the right place.

    It’s great to be a creative, ingenious person with some programming chops, but what’s a zillion times more valuable in disaster-type situations are creative ingenious people who also HAVE EXPERIENCE. Don’t assume that just because you have that charter subscription to Make and that you’ve watched Mythbusters a lot you’re all set to knock out an irrigation system or wire a farm with solar power. It REALLY helps to have some actual experience. If you don’t, don’t be surprised to be made one of the ditch diggers instead of the master architect when you blow into the rural dystopia.

    Happily, getting at least bits of this type of hands on experience is not hard. Even urban dwellers have all sorts of organizations (usually community or non-profit groups) who would love folks to pitch in on building, repairing, or gardening projects.

    And if you have your own house, you can go totally crazy! Think of your house as your own experimental facility. Why not build a windmill of your own? Or plow up that lawn and plant some crops? Don’t just be a talker and thinker, be a doer!

  64. Imagine these folks like this passing out free textbooks, running holistic programs for kids, creating local knowledge management systems, launching microfinance projects, mobilebanking and complementary currencies. Helping rural landowners apply climate foresight and farm biodiversity. Building cheap, smart, quality housing for displaced people (not to mention better refugee camps), or an Open Architecture Network for cheap informal rehabs of run-down suburban housing. Hacking together DIY windmills and ad hoc smart grids, communication systems, water treatment systems — and getting really good atadaptive reuses of outdated infrastructure. In other words, these folks would be redistributing the future at a furious clip.

    I’d like to repeat a point others have made:

    Why do all the wandering humanitarian geek squads wait until the apocalypse has already happened? If people were really like that on a widespread scale, shouldn’t it be even easier to pull off now while there’s still infrastructure?

    Perhaps, if Orwell had identified the Rothschilds, or other banking dynasties, as being war financiers, profiteers, and generally just a group madmen bent on world domination, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in. I find it impossible to believe that he could have written as presciently as he did without that knowledge, so I assume that he knew.

    Those living in the United States are facing a decline and fall of the American Empire right now. (The Romans didn’t know it was happening to them at the time either.) So we don’t have to wait for the apocalypse to come, we’re already circling the drain and could use those tools in the immediate.

  65. Afghanistan is post apocalyptic dystopia, and now NATO is their new foreign king.

    Yeah, it’s too bad too, because Afghanistan was once a dream destination for the rich and famous.

    Back to reality for a moment, and a little history. Afghanistan was like the poorest nation in the world in the 70’s. Carter sent a few hundred million dollars to import weapons and start a rebellion against the Soviet backed government, the Soviets get bogged down in their own version of Vietnam, the US spends more money to import weapons including stinger missiles and training, which helps bin Laden establish his private religious army called al Queda, and when the Sov’s pull out, the US does nothing to help rebuild, Afganistan becomes the epitome of post-apocolyptic war zone. The ensuing power vaccuum in Afghanistan leaves a bunch of mujihadeen with lots of guns and tribal-based armies turn the country into an internal warzone as various factions fight for control. Culminating in the fricken taliban taking control of the capital and a number of southern provinces, and the Northern Alliance retreating to, well, the north. Meanwhile, bin Laden sees the Soviet pullout as proof that his mujihadeen (holy warriors) are capable of taking down a superpower, and sets his sights on taking down the US.

    Yeah, lots of guns in a lawless, stateless, post apocalyptic region certain makes the region, and the world as a whole, a better place.

  66. Don’t just be a talker and thinker, be a doer!

    The Things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.

    R. Buckminster Fuller,
    Letter to “Micheal” (16 February 1970) Micheal was a 10 year old boy who had inquired in a letter as to whether Fuller was a “doer” or a “thinker”.

  67. I think that some of the die-hipsters-die folks on this thread are a little confused about where the knowledge is distributed in this society. Knowledge comes in books, and you can find the widest selection in the city. Knowledge comes in people’s skulls, and most of those can be found in cities as well. Knowledge comes on hard drives and lives in server farms, most of which can be found in heavily populated areas. Knowledge lives in universities, which tend to be in cities (even the ones that focus on agriculture). Even the Wikipedia contributions made by rural type persons end up being more widely replicated in cities than in suburbia or rural areas.

    There is an online wiki all about how to build solar ovens, probably encompassing just about everything people know about building them. Such knowledge was probably developed in rural areas, but the latte-sipping hipster who comes to your post-apocalyptic suburb with a copy of that information will probably be the expert on the subject. If he also has schematics for turning discarded car alternators into wind turbines, that probably makes him almost as valuable a resource as the guy three towns over who had a backyard full of that sort of thing before the Fall.

    Another thing to point out is that networks matter. Cities are where networks grow, because the number of people make it easy to find people with shared interests. You pit a hundred urban organic farming hobbyists against twenty rural farmers who do it for a living out in the boonies, the rurals would probably know more. But it’s much easier to get the hundred together in the same room.

    Stop whining about how condescending the idea is. It’s not that “our knowledge is bigger than your knowledge”. Much of the knowledge the invading hipsters would be carrying would come from rural areas, just not necessarily *your* rural area.

  68. There’s a theme in these comments that I would boil down to, “We don’t need you city slickers with your art, and your literature and your medical expertise! We have turnips and that’s good enough for anybody!”

  69. #59: The realist sees the gun and whip that keeps someone else pedaling.

    That’s “realism”?

    Yikes, you got a scary mind.

    I’ll be steering clear of your town.

  70. “We have turnips and that’s good enough for anybody!”

    Exactly.

    The presumption that even the most rural community in America is going to downshift to 19th century with a shrug and a smile is kind of silly.

    My family in the utter boonies of Wisconsin and Iowa have Tivo, energy drinks and iphones just like we dazzling urbanites.

  71. bucolichooligan@52 :Which is my very point to begin with, it is these individuals with generations of knowledge who are the assets not those who vicariously follow from academia.

    Uh, I think you’re solving a differnt problem. The problem Cory was looking at was “post apocalyptic scenario” and the solution he was wondering about was whether or not it can be solved without reverting to regional warlords.

    “the response to catastrophe isn’t lifeboat rules and militias, but humanitarian aid and kick-ass tools.”

    You’re solving a different problem, something along the lines of “big agriculture is not sustainable” and the solution you’re looking at is how small farms can implement methods of sustainable farming.

    This piece is so self important and although well intentioned is offensive to those of us who live in small rural towns

    Is that collective “us” you speak for? I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere an hour from any decent sized city. And this thread doesn’t occur as self-important or offensive to me.

    Yes, your gifts of wisdom so valuable to those who tend the land.

    That’s a mighty fine and well-worn chip you’ve got on your shoulder. Do you show it to all the latte sippin linux users who’ve done you so terribly wrong?

  72. What about in Jericho, Kansas?

    They seemed to be doing fine with their candle and shampoo factories. For a town that was cut off for months, they sure did light a lot of candles and have really clean hair.

  73. our expanding technological civilization is expanding at the expense of the environment…in this case: oil. when the oil is all used up, it’s collapse. this is also known as apocalypse. since the food supply depends on oil and the transportation system depends on oil it follows that a lot of folks are going to die and the few who are left won’t be traveling any where. what we have here on the miserable planet earth is Easter Island writ large.

  74. I’m curious to know if the internet, or at least some low bandwidth version of it, could work over a network of short wave radios. Or maybe some IT geek out there has already started putting their head to this problem. I remember in Alas Babylon, radios were the only source of outside information left, though sometimes it was cryptic and hard to decipher.

    I’m guessing this thread serves as a good prognostication of how attempts to ‘help’ would be received. And therein lies the tragedy. In a situation like that, we’ll ALL have to rely on each other to a far greater degree than we do today, to look past the ever popular labels we love to use and just decide we’d rather survive than attempt to preserve some ideology that’s just of no more use when modern technology is largely stripped away. And we’d have to get along without all of the civil structures we have today that force us to play nice (flawed as they may be).

    Instead of dismissing the ex-city-slickers with their book-learnin’ out of hand, the survivable farming communities would be far better off saying “we will gladly learn and assimilate what is of use to us”. And of course the city slickers would have to have a humble “we offer what help we can, if you desire it, and we are willing to learn from you as well” attitude. In other words, respect for others, real empathy, to a degree far greater than our modern technological existence makes necessary would be called for. Frankly, based on what I know of human nature, I hope I never see that day.

  75. when the oil is all used up, it’s collapse.

    Peak oil is an intriguing theory, but now with all of those new oil fields discovered off the coast of Brazil, I’ve been more focused on how we’ll choke the planet with CO2 long before we come close to running out of new places to find oil. So running out of fertilizer and plastics doesn’t seem so likely next to the need to discover the science behind sustainable fusion reactions (with plentiful deuterium as a fuel) to provide for our ever-growing energy needs.

  76. @ZUZU

    Ah, Jericho. Where a full on nuclear attack on 30+ major US cities did not interfere with Skeey Ulrich’s moisturization routine. Thank you god.

    I’ve been reading “The Stand” for the first time since I was 15. Besides being ooked out that I’m not Harold’s age anymore and am just a tick younger than Stu Redman, it’s an interesting look at getting things back online after a disaster. There’s enough preserved food to keep people going, and techies/doctors and farmers come together to get ‘rocks back in people’s scotch’ fairly easily.

    Yeah, there are plenty of horrors in any post-collapse scenario. But the notion that people are going to start eating their young and firing guns into anyone and everything say more about the person proposing such a notion than anything else.

  77. I’m curious to know if the internet, or at least some low bandwidth version of it, could work over a network of short wave radios. Or maybe some IT geek out there has already started putting their head to this problem. I remember in Alas Babylon, radios were the only source of outside information left, though sometimes it was cryptic and hard to decipher.

    Absolutely! Check out the whole world of packet radio.

  78. 1. Cory’s general point that it would be nice to have an apocalyptic story that does not resemble something written by Larry Niven is a good one. Neither are particularly realistic, since IRL people in apocalyptic situations tend to muddle through without saviors.

    2. In the same way that mafia movies aren’t really about the mafia, but are about other mafia movies, apocalypse stories aren’t about real apocalypses; they are about other apocalypse stories. Real apocalypses tend not to be that interesting.

    3. Although I am, if anything, an urban hipster, I think that the rural folks are the people with the most to offer in apocalyptic times – if anything, they will be the people coming to the cities bringing knowledge, not vice-versa.

    Our society today is a highly specialized knowledge based society, where people with very specialized knowledge are highly compensated. By contrast, in less advanced circumstances, *skills* will be much more valuable than they are now – and IME, people in rural areas have more *skills* that will be useful in a low tech situation.

    And it’s not like rural people are backwards bumpkins, either – they are just as capable of looking up “solar oven” on wikipedia as anyone else is. Plus, while I have invested time and money in advanced degrees, retirement accounts, and a house with a small yard, rural folk are more likely to have investing in 160 acres filled with crops and edible animals, plus an education that helps them run it productively. Even if everything else is not equal, that investment looks better than mine in an apocalyptic-type situation.

  79. because of course every alien culture calls Earth “Sol”

    Wouldn’t that be “Sol-3”?
    As in “Men are from Sol-4, women are from Sol-2.”

  80. @ post #33, re Ark II —

    Funny, last night I was talking to a friend about that TV show, which I’ve recently re-acquired on DVD. Laughing at the premise of the show – that there are these clean, super-science types who roam around like the GeekCorps helping out the unwashed masses.

    It seemed arrogant and naive to me.

    But this post, and the ensuing discussion, are making me re-visit that assumption.

    I live in rural New Mexico, a landscape which has been mashing up low-tech and high-tech cultures for at least four centuries. A mile south of my house, if you turn left and go 60 miles, that’s the first atomic bomb. Turn right and go 60, that’s the Very Large Array radio-telescope. Which leases land from a longtime rancher, whose grand-daddy came here as a mining engineer. And so on.

    I wish I could see GeekCorp/OLPC-type projects tested around here. The juxtaposition of high-tech and native america is mind-boggling. Bradbury’s Mars, indeed…

    High-tech doesn’t help everyone equally. All the poverty here… I suppose “appropriate tech” is what we would strive for. Harder to do.

  81. One of the big horrors of the post-apocalypse world is the idea that it’s a zero-sum game: two starving men fighting over a gnawed bone. It’s that idea that you can’t share and you have to fight, that makes things as grim and martial as they are generally presented.

    As long as that notion is held, we’re going to lose as a society. But as soon as that notion is discarded, the whole game changes from how to survive into how to help each other to thrive. Lemonade from lemons.

  82. The Inquisition was the Outquisition– the dissemination of ideas that the church thought pertinent and the removal of destructive ideas was a reactionary consolidation that came with the influx of wealth that gave Spain the ability to consolidate, and ‘help’ the people they thought needed helping. How could they actually be good Catholics if they tolerated the presence of Jews? How could they be good people if they did not use their wealth to such pious ends as jamming red coals into the anuses of sinners? Surely, the conclusion wasn’t what they had in mind, but the intention is what’s interesting here.
    Thems a whole heap of words that read, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  83. If you wanted to write a really interesting book, it would be about people who wanted to help and thought they were helping… but really were messing things up badly but didn’t realize it. They would be frustrated and disappointed that all their efforts were for not.

    And if it was a really good book, it would make you think a lot – be able to see both sides. Be torn about which side was right and which was wrong. Think “Atia vs Servilia”

  84. Everyone would be killing and pillaging for sure. I wouldn’t want to be in a country with say really high gun ownership

  85. I’m thinking like Antarctica myself Squib – or Svalbard and hide out in the bunker. “Seed cake anyone?”

  86. I thought it was better to aim for Fishing and Agriculture, so then you get Pottery then Writing.

  87. My question is: When you’re talking about geeks dropping technology on the needy, are you talking about them dropping best practices and know-how, or are you talking about them dropping silicon and steel?

    The latter ends up turning into a bit of a cyber-utopian fantasy. The question being, who will be manufacturing all of that technology? We aren’t currently (as far as I know) dropping geek squads into China in order to “liberate” those near-billions of poor souls toiling, being polluted, sickened, and dying in order to create the techno-cultural revolution the rest of us are currently experiencing.

    Sorry that sounds like a bit of a rant. But until we get those robot-automated moon-factories going, technology (at least *high* technology) is going to globally remain only an unequal redistribution of wealth and quality of life.

  88. I am a left-leaning liberal in nearly every way – except one: I believe strongly in the right to own guns. I say this not because I have a fervent love of them; not because of some subconscious need to augment my manhood; and not because I think it would be a necessary tool for feeding my family should the apocalypse come. I say it because I cannot bring myself to believe that I will never encounter someone who IS armed and feels a need to harm, suppress, enslave, etc me or my family – especially in a world where society, and presumptively the rule of law, have fallen apart.

    I admire Cory’s idealism. I also admire those who have written here to object to the notion that people living in rural areas would have more to receive than to give. In such a world as described, their knowledge and skills in providing the basics of life would be just as important as that of utilizing and maintaining the technology to keep us connected and to help restore life to a more comfortable state.

    What I do not admire here are the arrogant and condescending generalizations about “gun-toting nutjobs”. Yes, there would be some of those. And that is exactly why the willing among us should always maintain the ability to defend ourselves, and to defend those who prefer not to be armed but are doing what they can to help restore and provide.

    Also, I have seen the videos of Xeni shooting and I want her on MY side!

  89. I have a tractor, a gun, and lots of porn. I think I’ll be OK after the societal apocalypse to come. Just gotta stock up on beer.

  90. Treyguy,

    You seem to have mistaken this for a forum on the right to bear arms. It isn’t.

  91. #116
    “I am a left-leaning liberal in nearly every way – except one: I believe strongly in the right to own guns.”

    So am I (except further left), so do I: Bolt action rifles and shotguns—nothing semi- or full-automatic. And no handguns, especially for cops.

  92. You mean like David Brin’s “The Postman”? One of the things I really like about that book is that it isn’t the war and disease that really do society in… it’s the survivalist nutjobs coming down from the hills as everyone else is trying to put it all back together.

    Bad call trying to reference the Inquisition at all… I’d have stuck with a “Canticle for Liebowitz” reference if you wanted a religous tone.

  93. OF course souvenir flamethrowers are okay. And single-shot rocket launchers, panzerfausten.

  94. Post-apocalyptic life will not revolve around technology and gadgetry. Nor will it revolve around guns and violence. There will most certainly be violence during and after the fall as those with power struggle to maintain it. The violence however cannot last forever and eventually the dust will settle. After the dust settles people will begin to leave the cities looking for a different way of life. The most valuable teachers will not be survivalist gun nuts nor will they be some kind of benevolent spreader of technology. The most valuable teachers will be the people of the so called “third world” who have always know how to live without technology and “culture”. These peoples, the first peoples of the world lived for thousands of years in a well balanced system that is infinitely more sustainable than our current “culture”. Our best hope for survival is to abandon all parts of this failed cultural experiment we call civilization and flee into what is left of the wild lands. Once there we must learn from the “first peoples” of our land base and attempt to recreate a tribal way of life. This will not be easy nor will it be fast but I believe that the best hope for humanity lies in this direction.
    -Patches

    For a good read on this subject try: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart.

  95. Some years back in my college days I was working with a young Vietnamese gentleman. We were taking a first aid course together as part of a certification process. During the training we were each handed a blanket. When he took his I saw him visibly shudder and asked him if he was okay.

    He told me that as a youngster in Vietnam he had to walk across Cambodia to make it to a refugee camp in Thailand. They had the same kind of blankets in the camp and being handed one in our class had brought back some painful memories.

    He was an example of a survivor of a society in collapse.

    Having known him for a while and hearing him talk about his experiences I gained a little insight into what makes for survival in such circumstances. He was a clever, decent human being and had a great sense of humor. The kind of person you would instinctively trust and would easily develop a friendship with.

    Reading about the lives of people who have survived the variety of apocalypses that have plagued our planet over the years (human and nature created) it seems the best survival skills are social skills. Do you have friends who will take you in when you are homeless? Can you talk your way through a check point? Can you get people to cooperate in organizing food or shelter? Do your neighbors like you enough to lie to protect you and your family? Or hide you in the attic for 3 years?

    Guns, gold, canned food and farming skills are great, but its hard to predict just what the apocalypse will look like. But one thing is certain, there will be other people involved, and how well you can get along with them makes all the difference.

  96. Open Source Ecology (openfarmtech.org) is a wiki dedicated to encouraging the development of tech that’s appropriate for building resilient communities.

    “Resilient communities” is a term coined by fourth-generation warfare guru John Robb to describe physical localities that, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb might put it, organize themselves for maximum benefit from positive black swans and minimum disruption from negative black swans.

    If you’re drawing a blank on fourth-generation warfare (think MEND hitting that Shell facility 75 miles off the coast of Nigeria a couple of weeks ago) or black swans (think punctuated evolution), a quick Google will get you to Robb’s blog and Taleb’s website. Robb’s “Brave New War” and Taleb’s “The Black Swan” are well worth a read.

  97. “The reasons for the sloth of invention in primitive societies are not hard to understand. For one thing, primitive peoples live a hand-to-mouth existence. Most of their foods cannot be stored, so that they have no economic surplus. Therefore they can less well afford to risk experiment than more advanced peoples. If an experiment fails, they die.

    As a result, primitive societies are very conservative. Tribal customs prescribe exactly how everything shall be done, on pain of the gods’ displeasure. An inventor is likely to be liquidated as a dangerous deviationist.”

    The Ancient Engineers, by L. Sprague DeCamp.

  98. Antinous

    This isn’t about us country idgits scorning you city folk and your larnin.

    It’s about pointedly asking questions like:

    Have you ever milked a goat?
    How much food should a pregnant mare be given?
    Do you know how to fix the carb on a small gasoline engine using a plastic bb and a rubber band?
    Have you ever set a broken bone?
    Nursed an infant with a fever?
    Deliverd a baby?
    Set a broken bone?
    If someone pointed at a cow and said “make dinner for 100 people”, what would you do?
    Can you hunt?
    How much water should you give to soybeans?
    Have you ever even canned vegetables?

    You also attempt to silence treyguy by saying that this isn’t a forum for discussion of the right to bear arms. Erm, it sure as hell is. It’s far more on-topic than posts about, oh, how about posts about troll-baiting? Or posts about the editing of posts? They don’t seem to be on topic at all, and yet the rest of us tolerantly skip over them to read stuff which is, in fact, interesting and on-topic.

    To all of us who live within walking distance to a movie-theater: big-city folk need to make sure that we REALLY understand even a small amount of what it means to live anywhere but the city before we try to tell the rest of the planet how to do anything.

  99. I just read Darth Shmoo’s comment…

    Before there was a thing called a wiki I was using a solar oven (when I was about 10). I didn’t need teh interwebz to use it because I learned it from my dad.

    I know how to bake cornbread in a dutch oven, catch, clean and cook a fish, patch a leaking canoe, chop a tree down so it lands where I want it to and not on myself or people I like, start a fire in the rain, sharpen a knife, shoot a 6 inch wide target at 700 yards reliably, wire a house, frame a building, hang a door, bird hunt, build a wooden dory, build a long-bow, cut the breasts out of a wood pigeon…

    I know how to do these things because I’ve personally done all of them (many of them many times) in real life, and in many cases I learned how to do them personally from people who knew how to do them.

    I don’t know lots of stuff too. LOTS of stuff.

    EG I don’t know how to slaughter a pig. I’ve read about it and I know the mechanics. I know I need to keep the pig calm as if I don’t it can ruin the meat. That implies the pig has to die fast and clean and that it shouldn’t see it coming.

    But I’ve never done it in person, and so I would never try to tell anyone else – god forbid someone who lives near pigs – how to do it.

    If I needed to slaughter a pig I wouldn’t be looking for help from an urban-hipster because he knows how to do it from teh interwebz. I’d be looking for someone who’s done it before.

    Really, if you want to carry knowledge of how to do things around with you, you must go out and do those things, ideally do them in a way where you, your life, or your livelihood is dependent on them.

  100. In many post apocalyptic stories aren’t the militias a dramatic device to force the hero/protagonists to come to terms with the fact that they will have to defend the way of life they’ve decided upon?

  101. I really want to see some positive post-apocalyptic visions…

    but what do the green city folk eat before they bring their helpful ideas to the countryside?

    and Chas44, where do you get gas for your tractor?

  102. I know how to bake cornbread in a dutch oven, catch, clean and cook a fish, patch a leaking canoe, chop a tree down so it lands where I want it to and not on myself or people I like, start a fire in the rain, sharpen a knife, shoot a 6 inch wide target at 700 yards reliably, wire a house, frame a building, hang a door, bird hunt, build a wooden dory, build a long-bow, cut the breasts out of a wood pigeon…

    change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly?

    p.s. Nice find with The Ancient Engineers.

  103. Zuzu – Heinlein, right? I certainly didn’t mean to be imitating him, but I suppose I could start at worserer places. It’s been a long time since I’ve read those books.

    I won’t know if I can die gallantly until I do.

  104. He would admit that as many of them as he could do, Doc Smith could do more. Heinlein admired that kind of general competence; and thought that Doc Smith embodied it.

  105. Well, people need to know there’s someone out there to help things work out; we don’t know the specifics of energy generation but we expect our machines to work when the switch is thrown.
    Now, socially speaking, and this coming from someone who has lived in a mild dictatorial country, people keep expecting the established goverment to force change in spite of laws and regulations, because we assume it’s all powerful and by the power of democracy – “right”.
    Now, a little knowledge in an ignorant world means power, and i’m quite sure that any postapocaliptic world will have it’s share of those hungry for it. As an old manager I had used to say: I don’t have to know everything, only know (and manage) those who know things.

    That said, Cory’s idea sounds to me like the Istari, the Wizards of Middle Earth, who came from the god’s abode to help mortals to fight Melkor and Sauron.

  106. How would these benevolent projects be carried out in a way that doesn’t change the status of members within these communities? Better give everybody a copy of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ or at least ‘Violence and the Sacred’.

  107. Wait a minute. Isn’t this the theme of Neil Stephenson’s next novel, Anathem?

    Cory Doctorow, you little meme-seeder, you! What would advertisers do without your insight and genius to guide them?

  108. When Obama wins…

    Seriously, this sounds like a consultant’s post-apocalyptic paradise.

  109. It is a hallmark of a true modern civilization that one can have all those skills listed a few post above and still be utterly unemployable.

  110. This has been a delightful thread in terms of interesting ideas, websites, and references to dodgy 1970s TV series, but I’ve just got to say:

    ‘Outquisition’ is the clumsiest, ugliest, and most etymologically challenged neologism I’ve heard in quite a while. Someone’s got a nasty case of tin ear.

  111. if “inquistion” is “the question”, then the logical outquistion is “The Answer” . Re-coin away.

  112. This post reminds me of a real life scenario – a group of Canadian emergency response people who volunteer to use their vacation time to go to disaster areas with these super high tech water purifying breifcases from the future;
    http://www.dmgf.org/index.html

    It also remindes me of my friend who says that when the crap hits the fan the first thing he’d do would be go and comandeer the local Canadian Tire. Everything you need to fight the apocalypse (how do you do that again?), including guns and deck chairs. Well, bb guns at least.

  113. Tharklord @ 125:

    There’s a whole bunch of academic theory and community development practice that supports your observation, and there’s even a name for it:

    ” ‘Social capital’ refers to the associated benefits, assets, and resources available to an organization, an individual or to social groups (such as families, communities, firms and social clubs) because of their networks and relationships of mutual support, reciprocity, trust, and obligation (Goucher, 2007; Agyeman and Angus, 2003). The concept of social capital is premised on the idea that well-connected individuals or groups are better able to mobilize other resources to pursue desired outcomes (Agnitsch, Flora and Ryan, 2006). Two forms of social capital have been identified, “bonding” social capital which refers to the strong, close-knit ties among similar individuals or groups with (presumably), similar resources, and “bridging” social capital which refers to ties that connect people or groups that are different from each other in some way to a wider variety of resources, and can enhance information diffusion within and between groups (Agnitsch, Flora and Ryan, 2006). Both forms of social capital have been identified as an important asset for individuals, communities and organizations by a wide variety of scholars, policy-makers and practitioners.”

    What you seem to be observing is that those who are particularly adept at building both forms of social capital, are those who will survive apocalyptic situations. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. And it’s better to know people who will help you out when the going gets tough, than those who will simply turn their backs on you and walk away.

  114. PeterNBiddle, above, has it exactly right when he says…

    Really, if you want to carry knowledge of how to do things around with you, you must go out and do those things…

    Be a doer! Go actually some of these things.

    As for me, when the Big Collapse comes, I’m going to make sure I’m as close as possible to Jaime Hyneman.

  115. This is very reminiscent of what is going on in the peak oil/survivalist communities now. The good, god fearing christian types over at http://www.survivalblog.com seem to believe that you need at least 50,000 rounds of ammo in your bunker so that you can kill all the city dwellers and other non-prepared types before they take your food, rape your women, and eat your children. On the other hand, there are these nice sane people like Sharon Astyk (http://www.sharonastyk.com) who are really into the idea of building communities and sharing sustainable farming ideas. BTW: Sharon is an academic who decided to devote her energies and intellect to survival in a post oil world… JWR who runs survivalblog is an author and survivalist with a military background.

    In my city, there are a number of us who are working on developing the skills to survive. These skills are simple skills, and many people in rural areas have many of them, but there is a concentrated effort here in the city to pick up a cross section that will allow us to survive the kind of collapse we are likely to see (a long slow descent into societal poverty and subsistence farming… not roving bands of nuclear mutant cannibals… and do they qualify as cannibals if they have mutated enough to not be human any more?)

  116. Saw someone else reference Canticle for Leibowitz. For failure of attempted preservation of knowledge, see “The Earth Abides.” Also, there’s short story called “Shark Ship” (ship as in sailing ship, not space ship) by CM Kornbluth. Unintentional preservation of knowledge by a group isolated from the rest of the world and unaffected by the apocalypse. Similar thing is hinted at at the end of Farnham’s Freehold, but with intent.

    In fact, Farnham’s Freehold inspired me as a kid to prepare for the coming apocalypse by learning how to find and isolate fungi with antibiotic properties and then extract antibiotics from them. I also learned how to make beer. I figured if I had those memorized, I’d be set for admission into any enclave. I even had a list of stuff to learn how to do, and had some of them worked out on paper but never memorized. Smithing, making textiles, making paper, canning & preserving foods, farming, a bunch of others.

    Man, I wonder how many people I would have accidentally killed before I got kicked out/strung up.

  117. Thanks, but no thanks. I have no intention whatsoever of living the worlds you people are describing. When the ship of our civilization sinks, I plan to go down with it. As Einstein said “The living will envy the dead.”

  118. not what you know but who you know… Japan had its moment of introverted criticism; “The Sinking Of Japan” (tectonic doom). During this phase of fiction inspired posed question: What nations would help Japan in light of Japan’s past conduct? A question then for America: What nations will raise a hand to help an America prostrate?

  119. Takuan @160:

    I don’t think altruism is ever the reason that one country helps another, so I doubt very much that a country’s past conduct will have much affect on whether or not it will receive another country’s support or help. These decisions seem to be purely utilitarian and/or political.

    As long as “helping” the US is thought to be a) a way for a country to make money, b) a way to sustain/secure an economic relationship that would have negative implications for the country if it were to collapse, or c) a way to gain access to US resources, then other nations will raise a hand. If the public is against the idea of charity, then the action will simply be spun a different way by the powers that be.

  120. @154
    “Two forms of social capital have been identified, “bonding” social capital which refers to the strong, close-knit ties among similar individuals or groups with (presumably), similar resources, and “bridging” social capital which refers to ties that connect people or groups that are different from each other in some way to a wider variety of resources, and can enhance information diffusion within and between groups….”

    Anthropologists call the means Exogamous Marriage. Been around quite a while, say 100,000 years? I’m not being facetious.

  121. Y’all seem to be forgetting one social element to this: criminals, in particular criminal gangs.

    Really, this is a very practical thing to think about. They exist today, they aren’t going to dissappear tomorrow.

    Pretend for just one second that all the urban hipsters are deeply valuable (mwa ha ha ha haaaa) and all the rural folks are totally adapatable (more mwa ha ha). So if food goes up to $5 for a can of soup gas is $20 a gallon, they are doing just fine. But what about the criminals? Will they just give up their lives of crime?

    Hell no! Criminals love scarcity. It’s going to be salad days for organized crime…

    Generally speaking, we can assume that people will do and act the same ways they do and act now. Most people will try to be good and take care of the people they love and survive with their dignity and morals intact.

    But criminals aren’t going to suddenly decide that mulching their own feces for their gardens and sharing tips on the how to purify water are better alternatives to simply taking other peoples stuff.

    What are you going to do when you have the only clean water in a 10 block radius and the local gang leader wants to use it to bath in?

  122. @164

    Sure, that would be one (of many) ways to build social capital. Basically, the argument goes that *any* interaction between people/organizations/groups has the potential to build social capital. I’m sure the concept is not new to anthropology.

    There are other terms for “social capital,” social capital just happens to be the one that is most popular at the moment–probably because its framing of social issues in economic terms makes it have more resonance with economically-minded decision-makers and policy-makers.

  123. What do you do when the food stops magically appearing in your grocery stores, and you may actually have to kill something or grow something to live?

    Seems to me that if something so bad that it deserves to be called an apocalypse happens to us, then the urban centers will be the worst places to be.

    So I wouldn’t be counting on any help from New Yorkers, but I may volunteer to come up there and help.

    As far as the survivalists, they do understand something that you do not: What you must do to survive in a post apocalyptic world will be determined by the size, strength, and organization of the worst people you meet, NOT by the best people you meet.

    We aren’t one big happy family now. What makes you think it will be easier to be that when the stresses on everyone will be much greater?

    Survival means living in society, but do not forget how bad people can be when society breaks down.

    http://www.thkyhrprt.cm/

  124. Ah. I see now.

    So, a bunch of independent-minded individualists have gotten their noses tweaked at the mere thought that sometime in the future someone might come out to their farm and, god forbid, offer them suggestions for improving the way they’re doing things.

    And of course, the way they spin it, it’s a bunch of latte sippin’ linux heads who grew up in a city who come out to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs (in case anyone is unclear about that idiom, it means it’s something so simple that no one needs to be taught it) or tell Independent Farmer John something that Independent Farmer John would already know by virtue of being a farmer. Leave the logging to us, they say. It smacks of arrogance, they say.

    So, I made three (count them, 3) mouse-clicks and found an about page about Alex Steffen, the heir apparent to latte sippin linux heads who will tell your grandmother how to suck eggs once the apocalypse comes:

    http://www.worldchanging.com/bios/alex.html

    Worldchanging has become the most widely-read sustainability-related publication on the Internet, with an archive of over 7,000 articles by leading thinkers around the world. It’s played an important role in revealing formerly obscure innovations and groundbreaking ideas, thereby pushing forward the sustainability movement and assisting in the growth of its network.

    Steffen was also the editor of Worldchanging’s wildly successful first book, Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century (Abrams, 2006), a 600-page compendium of writings from over sixty noted leaders around the world, with a foreword by Al Gore, an introduction by Bruce Sterling, and design by Stefan Sagmeister (winner of the 2005 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award).

    And so what Independent Farmer John is saying is that there’s nothing Al Gore, Bruce Sterling, or 7,000 other leading thinkers around the world could possibly say that Independent Farmer John wouldn’t already know. And Independent Farmer John would like to point out just how arrogant these other people are for even thinking such a thing.

    Now, I don’t know if this Alex Steffen guy ever pulled teets on a cow. I don’t care. Because I’m pretty sure they’re not talking about a repository on various ways in which to suck eggs.

    Likewise, I don’t know if Alex Steffen has anything that he himself built or designed that Independent Farmer John might find useful. But it appears that Alex Steffen has a few thousand friends, and one of them just might.

    But by all means, stamp yur feet and pound yur chests about how no high falutin city slicker could ever tell you something you didn’t know. Tell us how arrogant they would have to be to even think such a thing.

  125. greglondon, you are assuming that us rural folks ain’t already reading Alex Steffen (and his friends). In fact, you seem to be assuming that we’re a bunch of uneducated, contentious idiots. As a rural citizen, I rather take offense to that. Rural != Amish. We have the internet. We use it. To look stuff up, even!

    I furthermore take offense to the incredibly patronizing assumption that city folk are the bearers of all Smart Things. Lawd knows we don’t have any artists, authors, doctors, engineers, or architects out here!

    All that local/organic/sustainable/certified humane stuff that you buy at Whole Foods…. where do you guys think it comes from, exactly?

  126. Greg,

    Conservation was a way of life in the boonies before most people (Al Gore included) ever thought to put “global” and “warming” together in the same sentence to the tune of Thus Spake Zarathustra.

    All of a sudden you and he are the messengers to those who’ve lived by the principle of the message all their lives?

    Hey, you want to see something? Go SEE a carbon footprint map of the United States and compare the carbon output of New York City to the entire state of South Dakota.

    The carbon output of New York City is the consequence from a choice, following millions of other choices, to live in a populous urban setting in an industrialized nation that runs on fossil fuels.

    There’s a reason some people move towards the city and others move away.

    If the “apocalypse” is as bad as it sounds, the cities will become dead zones like the abandoned cities of the Maya. Help will not come from the cities; cities will empty LOOKING for help.

    I suspect Steffen and his salvation army will be among them.

  127. DMDuncan,

    You’ve forgotten to adjust for population. Per capita, New York has a much smaller carbon footprint than South Dakota.

  128. Foobar, I forgot nothing.

    The environment doesn’t decide to warm up based on per capita carbon footprints. The environment doesn’t play politics or care about what ifs. It’s clear where the overwhelming carbon emissions are coming from.

    It AIN’T South Dakota. It’s URBAN SPRAWL, and in the East more than anywhere else.

  129. I furthermore take offense to the incredibly patronizing assumption that city folk are the bearers of all Smart Things.

    I didn’t read anything that said someone who works a farm couldn’t be part of the outquisition. However, I assumed that they might not be able to go around as missionaries making sure everyone has all the knowledge they need that can help them, because they were busy farming.

    Being tied to the land sort of does that. Having grown up on a farm and worked my ass off during that time, I seem to recall not being able to go on missionary type journeys or even vacation much because animals had to be fed, shit had to be shoveled, bedding had to be replaced, water had to be refreshed, and all that.

    So, if you are too busy tending the land, and therefore are tied to the land, then you probably will be too busy to go on a missionary type journey to rebuild rural electrification, reestablish communication with other areas, and other stuff beyond the basic “this is how you pull teets” sort of thing.

    No one proposing the idea said that “farmers are stupid and need city folk to tell them what to do”. The idea sounds more to me like farmers are too busy farming to walk the earth. You can’t go on walkabout if you’re tied to your crops and livestock.

  130. Back in Iowa, where I grew up, I used to do the occasional stint as a corn tech for companies like Pioneer, and the evil evil Monsanto. A corn tech means I go into the field and hand pollinate corn, plant by plant. Field labor. Our bosses were farmers that grew up in Iowa and worked on farms before getting their Ag engineering/biology degrees.

    They knew what they were doing, could drive tractors with 8 water coolers precariously balanced in the back, could erect a tent in 100 degree weather in a very short time. They also knew the difference between the hybrid inbred crosses and double crosses by phenotype (they could tell what corn was what tell just by looking at it).

    I think the point that many here are making is that the Outquisition is a joke. If anything, Alex Steffen and his group of leading thinkers would be working the fields as corn techs for a while before they graduated to things like, refilling the water coolers or making an inbred cross map of a production field. Maybe they could build a solar oven to stick their heads in after they realized they don’t know shit from shinola about real world food production, I don’t know. I doubt any of them would have the technical ability to even do anything with the schematics from any wiki anyway, so thats a moot point.

  131. A story about knowledge missionaries would have to have give them some form of income or barter or trade that doesn’t tie them to the land.

    Maybe they collect lightning bolts and trade them from town to town. Maybe they have a flying radio show and ask for donations. Maybe they’re part of a traveling entertainment group. Maybe they’re a ragtag group with neurosurgeons, physicists, mechanics, gunmen, and specialists. Maybe they offer transport for hire or trade.

    The thing would be to find a way to carve out a living traveling, rather than carving out a living tied to the land.

  132. I drive my little Chevy a few miles 4-5 times a week. How much does it contribute to global warming compared to one farting cow? Just askin’.

  133. I read a Poul Anderson novel once, forgot its title (could have been “The Burden of Knowledge”), whose subject was exactly the one that you describe. Some parts of it are dated, but the basic idea is that following a global upheaval the good guys win. There was also a novel by John Brunner, again I forgot its exact title, about a network of people trying to hold the world together after it fell apart (“The Networks of Infinity” or something).
    I don’t think this would work in practice, though.

  134. I’ve lived in cities and in small rural towns, and I think we’re all forgetting the most important survival skill: cooking.

    It never ceases to amaze me how little people both rural and urban actually know about cooking. Urban people tend to think cooking consists of nuking a frozen meal for precisely the right number of seconds, and rural people tend to rely on “miracle” recipes that call for a can of cream of chicken soup or some other modern convenience. Neither of these will be available in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

    One time I made my own cheese and my (rural) neighbor was all astonished that a mere person could do something to milk that would result in cheese. Even those who know where food comes from seem to be in awe of anyone with the capacity to transform raw ingredients into edibles. The Outquisition, if there is one, will have to include a chef.

    So yes, worry about the criminal gangs that are coming to steal your bucket of wheat– but unless they know how to cook the wheat, it’ll be entirely useless to them as food. And if you don’t have a gun or militia on hand to defend you and yours from the gangs, that’s the skill you trade for your life: the ability to cook from scratch.

  135. Very interesting idea of an “Outquisition” I think it’s possible to have groups try to bring back some level of civilization after a collapse. Their success would be in how well they prepared beforehand. This may not be a good thing however if the leader of this “Outquisition” is a dictator bent on inforcing their will on others.

    I’m also working on a post apocalypse survival guide website please chek it out and let me know what you think the link is http://therazorsedge.weebly.com

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