Seeing the Future by Looking Into Our Past

It’s times like these that people worry about the future. What will happen? When will this end? When can we come out, when will things ease up, when will things get better? What will things be like on the other side?

It is a quirk of humanity that we always think we are the ones living in singular times. It is all too easy to forget the wisdom that tells us “there is nothing new under the sun”.

How very right that is. This is not to say that circumstances or a confluence of events is not unique in its composition, timing, speed or severity, but no matter what kind of perceived paradigm shift you think you are facing you can rest assured and indeed take a little comfort from the fact that it has all happened before in another time, in another place.

But it happened, and it happened to people who wondered the exact same thing that you wonder now. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, life went on as it always has.

Nothing is over, and I mean “Over” with a capital ‘O’, until it is. Life comes to an end for an awful lot of people every single day resulting from all kinds of events, accidents, choices and omission of choice.

The point of all this is to reassure you that whatever might happen, life will go on for your successors and survivors, but just as importantly you can ensure that your life goes on through whatever you’re facing if only you will take the time to read the instructions that the past, our shared history, has left for us.

Learn From People and Events Who Came Before

Any prepper should take the time to learn from the people that came before us.

From our parents, from our grandparents, from our great-grandparents, our forefathers and all the great men and women throughout history whose toil, whose blood, sweat and tears brought us to where we are.

Their sacrifices gave us the accumulated store of knowledge that provides us such a huge head start on life while we hurtle through space on this big blue marble.

It is absolutely possible to glean life-saving wisdom from their struggles, trials and tribulations. Answers, or at least parts of them, can be found if we care to study in detail the events that surrounded their lives and how they navigated, or failed to navigate them.

I know this isn’t anything new to many of you. You have probably spent countless hours studying the books of the great survival instructors, Outdoorsmen, explorers, soldiers, sailors and statesmen. Good on you. But if that doesn’t sound like you, ask yourself “why not?”

Do you really think that what you were experiencing, going through or worried about has never happened before, anywhere on earth, in the sum total of human history and experience?

Is the problem you are staring down the barrel of completely unique, or has merely the technology, culture and trappings of the society experiencing it different?

Singular Times. Or Are They?

It is funny how fast things can change. Or rather it would be funny if it wasn’t so shocking and so frightening for so many people.

One minute you are moseying along through your weekly and monthly routine, getting up early, brushing your teeth to get ready for work, plodding through the work day, and then coming home to take care of a few chores, reset and re-cock for the next day before doing it all again. Then all of a sudden, things are different.

Not just a little different. Way different. Everybody needs to go home and stay there. Really stay there. Leave only for essential tasks, and if you aren’t essential then you aren’t working.

Damn the torpedoes, it is for your own good and the good of all! This drags on for some time. Days turn into weeks. Gun shops and grocery stores emptied. Weeks turn into a month.

Unemployment skyrockets, serious and dolorous questions about the economy and the future grow louder. With no end in sight people start to question. Some of them question pretty hard. Protests start.

Typical political lines of division have been forgotten. Now our politicians attack each other on a new front: who screwed things up the worst and the earliest in handling the crisis.

Progressives and conservatives no longer fight over typical cultural battlefields, instead drawing party lines based on who doesn’t follow instructions on remaining in place and being socially distant, dooming the obedient to die, or who is following the party mandate hook, line and sinker like a good little sheep prancing merrily into the slaughterhouse and obliteration.

Even a cursory glance at the news on the television or on the internet shows the situation is pretty much the same all over the entire world. The whole world is going through what you’re going through!

An invisible and silent killer stalks the cities of mankind, slaying at random. They say it is really bad, certainly the worst pandemic of our time. But is it really?

Some people don’t think so, some people think it is all a grand scheme or scam, or completely overblown if it is natural at all.

No matter how you might feel about the prevalent pathogenic threat in this not-so-theoretical scenario, the fear one might feel, the uncertainty, the gut-wrenching knowing that the times are a-changing has a profound and oftentimes deleterious effect on one’s mental state. It can feel overwhelming.

Only the crazy or the sociopathic would not worry for themselves, their loved ones, their communities and their countries.

It is easy to get taken with the idea that this great thing we are all going through is really it; it is really the end of all things.

Just one flaw in that theory: This is not where it ends. You should stop worrying and learn to lean into these paradigm shifts. They have always happened and will happen again, probably once or twice more in your lifetime.

As a prepper, you need to ask yourself if it is really in your best interest to allow yourself to think that there is anything the world has not already faced before.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

It is true that things can change so much that the wisdom that was valid however long ago is completely irrelevant or even harmful today. But an awful, awful lot of things still apply!

Especially concerning the principles of survival and of the rhythm, or trajectory, of human civilizations and cultures is as fresh and relevant and inseparable from our natures today as it was tens, hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

In the sections below you’ll find just a few examples of what I am talking about. Use this information to inform your own assessments of situations today as well as your own planning.

Also, it is my sincere hope you take comfort from what our forbearers and our ancestors had to go through; if they did it, we surely can, too.

Political Conflict and Division

The prevailing opinion about the political division and conflict we are facing in our era seems to be that it is the worst it has ever been, the most vicious, the cruelest, the nastiest.

The president isn’t acting presidential, candidate X, Y, or Z would have been better and statelier!

My party is trying to get things done, your party is holding things up! No, your party is the party that’s the problem, mine are the good guys trying to fix things! As if we truly have different parties in America anymore; we have one party that wears two different jerseys…

It is easy to believe that in some far away version of America, and this probably holds true for most countries in the rest of the world, it was a sort of real-life Leave It to Beaver universe where everyone, politicians included, always play by the rules, had good manners and spoke the truth.

Well, I have bitter news for you, friends, if you believe that: Our country was never, ever that wholesome and clean-cut when it came to politics, and neither were the constituents to their respective parties.

It has always been a battle of conservatism versus progressivism, of one ideology against another. One religion against another, or this one, or that one. This region against this one.

Wars were fought over less. Wars are fought still. People are tribal. We care about who is in and who is out, persecute according to how bitter the enmity, and how certain the chances are we will attract the sledgehammer of federal force.

Every, single era in American politics, every presidency, is marked by a certain amount of scandal, strife and standard issue, cloak-and-dagger political “wet work”. Politics is an ugly business.

It will never fail to attract a disproportionately ugly type of people who want power at all costs, even if it is only power over their fellow man.

Usually, this ends with nothing more harmful than higher taxes, the rich getting ever richer and steadily creeping inflation along with a sense that things just aren’t right.

Periodically the people at or near the bottom, now so far from the elites and kingmakers in their ivory towers that they cannot even see the glint of the spires, decide enough is enough and revolution erupts in a paroxysm of bloodshed before the cycle starts anew with fresh, truer promises paid for in blood.

A promise is nothing but a debt unpaid.

Every once in a blue moon, you might get a real gunslinger, a true believer who wants to make a difference in office, but chances are they will be drummed out of the business on their head if they are not corrupted first.

Any politicians who talked a big game about helping the common man either fail or are lying; such has been the refrain of the common people for millennia.

Ultimately, there are two kinds of people in the world- big people and little people. Chances are you are a little person, just like I am, and that means there will be no bailouts, no one coming to save you, no golden parachutes.

It is just you, your wits and whatever you can scratch or build out of the bosom of the earth and society. All you will ever truly have is yourself and the people inside your circle of trust.

Act accordingly. The decline of empire is a scary thing to consider, but people all over the world have been surviving it for ages and if you roll poorly on the great craps table of civilization you might have to weather it.

Diseases, Pathogens and Pestilence

It would appear that we have become so hopelessly inured by our prosperity, including our incredible medical technology which has made diseases that plagued mankind for decades or even centuries little more than trivialities, that we have as a First World society completely forgotten what it is like to face the fabulous and terrible unknown threat of disease.

At the first sign that a particular viral outbreak was even slightly more lethal than seasonal flu and other diseases that we somehow can’t quite seem to get rid of, virtually the entire world went into lockdown.

But far worse than any microscopic pathogen is the germ of panic. A virus, a real one, can hardly be said to live at all. It is a packet of protein or fat containing a bundle of genetic material that will hijack our cells into reproducing in its image.

The germ of panic is a phantom that travels at the speed of darkness, and infests every thought and action, corroding reason as the walls close in.

In a nonstop assault lasting for weeks on all major media outlets we have been told in breathless, shivering detail about how the golden years are over and that things going forward, no matter how bad the current outbreak gets, will be different.

Things will just never be the same. We will never get back to normal. This new virus, so very different from the ones that came before in all their countless multitude, is different.

What a load of crap.

Tell that to anyone who was alive at the time the Spanish Flu ravaged the entirety of the globe, and when I say ravaged I mean tens upon tens of millions of people killed, including with shocking regularity the young and healthy in the prime of their lives.

Recall if you will that the particularly deadly pathogen was gently eradicating Humanity during one of the largest conflicts of the 20th century, World War I.

Even well before that there were other famous epidemics and pandemics that did their best to scour the landscape of human life.

One of the most infamous and certainly one of the nastiest was the bubonic plague, colloquially and grimly known as the Black Death.

This bacterial menace killed an estimated 200 million people across much of Europe and Asia during its reign in years 1346 to 1353.

It took a long time, and the cultural scars of that event did not heal for decades, if a century, but we adapted.

Through trial, error and- Eureka! – innovation we developed countermeasures. Or, even though we died in droves, we simply grew tougher; if not immune then resistant.

In the end, humanity adapted in one way or another and we went on as individuals and as a species.

We will do the same with this current and “novel” virus, and after it is all but a memory and reduced to a punchline in a stand-up comedian’s joke, some new and dawning viral or bacterial terror will be, through accident, deliberate malfeasance or just a twist of fate, unleashed on humanity to repeat the cycle again.

This is nothing new. Where you have an advantage that your ancestors perhaps did not, is for all the ways that we don’t know germs can kill us, we do generally know how they infect us, and you can use this knowledge to keep yourself and your family safe, or at least safer.

Life will and indeed must go on.

War and the Shadow of War

If you listen to the news today, we are always on the brink of war. Wars, or what pass for wars today, are more like up-gunned police actions with all the trappings and set dressings of war.

The last, great slam-bang, roll-the-tanks war for the U.S. was in Korea. Of course, war is not defined by its tools, is it?

Is war something you make, or something you do? The fact is that the face of War has changed, once again.

We are entering an era of warfare that experts are dubbing 4th generation warfare.

It is warfare marked not by formations of troops supported by tanks and bombers on a set field of battle, but it is instead war 24/7, everywhere and anywhere, on demand.

It is not war that takes place around civilians, it is war that takes place within civilian populations and carried out by civilians who have bones to pick with government powers.

It is war of information, tiny strikes aimed at high-value targets with the objective of shifting perception and placing the blame on someone else. It is now war on a microscopic level for the most part, but war all the same.

It almost seems quaint that a formation of tanks manned by crews would roll out to a field in order to shoot at another formation of tanks with the objective of breaking the enemy’s war-making capability before they broke ours, and nothing more.

The agreed-upon Rules of War today, that are increasingly falling out of use and relevance, prevent standing military powers from deploying their full might against civilian populations.

If one is to stop and think about it, that is exactly what you should do if you want to get a war over with quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

You must break the backs of your foe in the most intimate way possible, ruining them utterly, body and spirit, so that the survivors will only whisper about what happened and shiver for hundreds of years.

In the past, war was more or less done for precisely that reason. If you went to war, you meant it.

You wanted to wipe out your enemies, with capturing them and integrating the useful, pliable and compliant survivors into your society only a possibility in certain cultures at certain times.

War was fought over many things, but always, ultimately, about resources: land, commodities, food, water, or the fear that your foes would taint them or take them from you.

Sometimes, wars were fought because people were afraid their neighbors would do the same to them first.

Unfortunately, it looks like 4th generation warfare is it least keen to that idea. Terror attacks bring entire countries to their knees, at least temporarily; a level of effectiveness that is geometrically out of proportion with the men and material involved.

Using the modern vernacular terrorism, and the terrorists who perpetrate it, are the new front line: “single cell” fighters that are the best equipped for perpetrating this type of warfare. Think terrorism is a 20th and 21st century conceit? Think again.

Terror tactics have been employed throughout human history, with the basic notion (though not the modern definition) that you could terrify or horrify your enemy enough that he would give up or leave you alone, or barring that that he would be so shaken he could not fight back effectively.

Today, our nation’s modern militaries are ill-equipped for fighting and persecuting the type of warfare that will become the new standard way of doing business. But it has ever been this way, an arms race of men, materiel and tactics.

The plate mail that stayed an enemy’s swords and arrows was little more than a shiny target for a musket.

Today, the battlefield is all around you, and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may see yourself involved in the war whether you want to be or not.

Economic Plight

Undoubtedly there is no nation on earth more out of touch, at large, with serious poverty and economic woes than the United States of America.

We live in a nation where poverty, the actual poverty level, still includes an air-conditioned and heated home, a motor vehicle, flat-screen TV and smartphone.

If that does not tell you something about being a victim of our own success, then I don’t know what will. Only in America could what is described as abject poverty be a standard of living that is utter luxury in so many other places spanning the globe.

But, economies too are cyclical, as is prosperity. They rise and peak only to fall again and sometimes they fall pretty far and pretty hard. That turns into a rollercoaster ride that some people just cannot cotton too, and they take their own life.

Chances are that our grandparents, for some of you, or our great grandparents, for the rest of us, would have laughed off our fears and concerns about the economy in our modern era, so high is the lofty summit we have attained.

Those older folks came through the Great Depression, an era of unparalleled lack. Before the Great Depression (and after in some smaller, localized areas,) there existed a level of economic desperation that is nothing short of soul crushing in some places.

Places where people today still kill each other over decent shoes. Places where people eat dirt or the bark off of trees for something, anything to fill their bellies and stave off death.

Places where families may be split up, with parents heading off in the desperate, mad hope they can procure food, or work, anything to send resources back to their family and keep them alive. Places where your next meal might come from a garbage can, if you are lucky.

But the internal and unseen cogs and mechanisms that drive markets, the laws of economics that are so interwoven and so inviolable are incredibly complex, and even the best minds in that sector of study do well to get a handle on some of the variables.

What you should take away from this revelation is this: as prosperous as we are, as prosperous as the rest of the world is happily becoming (even if some are slower than others) there will always be rough air ahead.

You will never be able to predict when an intersection of events will crash an economy.

When a major terrorist attack, natural cataclysm, or domino-effect failure from the rest of the world stock markets will have a terrible effect on the economy in your country.

Are you ready for it? Are you still holding out for that 25-year pension, gold watch and send-off retirement cake? I hope not. It is a pipe dream.

You have to have a plan for sorting out your own financial health, the entire way around.

While the world of work, investing and retirement is so different from your great-grandparents’ it might as well be in a different solar system, the old timers did know one thing…

When times get tough, cash is king, and cashy money is not necessarily the fiat currency that most major economies employ. Things like precious metals will get you favors and goods where all other methods fail.

And if things get really bad, and I do mean really, really nightmarishly bad, remind yourself that you cannot eat gold or silver.

The ability to provide shelter, supper and security for you and yours is the only thing that will make a difference in the most personal of economies, your family economy.

Survival is Survival in any Era

For all of our wondrous achievements, for however far we have come as a country, as a people and as a species, the fundamentals of survival have not changed over the years. Nope. Not one single iota.

Each and every single one of us can live without the internet. We can live without electricity.

We can certainly live without a car, a smartphone, the latest video game system, workout machine or any other artifact of modern technology.

There are just a few things, elemental things, that you cannot live without.

From the beginning of time to this very day, every single one of us needs to clean air to breathe. Without air, we die in minutes.

All of us must have shelter in order to regulate our core body temperature. A few degrees too high or too low, and we can die in as little as hours.

Each of us must have water, for without it there is no life, and we dehydrate, die and desiccate.

All of us must have food, calories, that are the fuel to drive our bodily processes and sustain life. Without enough calorie intake we will surely die, but slowly and agonizingly over weeks or even months.

Lastly, we must have a certain amount of security, from both man and beast, for the world at large is full of dangers, and if history has shown us anything it is that nature does not reward trust.

One thing you might notice looking back in history, is that the farther back you go (even in our modern era, as near gone as the early 20th century), day-to-day life saw average people much closer to the providing of those survival necessities themselves, you might say.

People grew a lot more of their own food. Ensuring that a well was both productive and safe to drink was a perennial concern.

Building community with your neighbors and your neighbors across the way was serious business, because there was no cavalry coming outside of your family and your neighbors if you got in a jam.

An awful lot of people built their own homes, either from scratch or from kits. They kept them warmed with wood that they chopped, processed and seasoned for firewood.

There was no air conditioning beyond what breezes people could take advantage of, or for the very lucky who had access to ice, perhaps something like a primitive swamp cooler.

If you didn’t have a breeze you had to generate one using muscle power.

For generation upon generation, meat was only had as the result of a successful hunt. If you couldn’t hunt, you had better sure as hell hope you could gather or grow what you needed, or else you didn’t eat.

There was no butcher shop or grocery store you could run down to and ensure easy access to any and every kind of animal meat or product you could dream up.

The point of this is not to pine for less technologically advanced days gone by, those of pastoral, subsistence living.

It is only to remind you that for the vast majority of human history the skills we call today primitive survival skills, prepper skills or austere living were called, all through history, just…


You might consider that the standard of living we enjoy today with all of our technological wonders and conveniences of modern life is in fact an extremely new and immensely precarious thing.

It can vanish in the blink of an eye, and if that happens there are an awful lot of people who will not survive the winter.

It is definitely in your best interest now, today, as it has ever been to become intimately acquainted with the most fundamental skills needed to provide the survival necessities that you and your family must have no matter the situation and no matter the year.

Instead of scaring you, I hope it comforts you that history has furnished, time and time again, a thousand lessons how your ancestors, all the way down to your progenitors, pulled it off.

How they had the grit, the tenacity and the skill to get done what they needed to get done to ensure they could pass on their genes to carry on their lineage. And on and on down the years, forever, this trial repeated until we get to… You.

However you might feel about your chances and however confident or not you are know that you are a product of immense refinement in the business of survival.

Act like it! Do not throw away idly the lessons of the past; they are the codex to your future.


Allowing yourself to think that the trials, travails and problems we deal with today are in any way unique challenges facing humanity at large is patently false and is indeed the height of hubris.

There is nothing new under the sun, there are no new problems. We only confront our problems wrapped in the garb of our era.

As our ancestors and forefathers had to face down and overcome, so must we, and we would be wise to take and implement their wisdom since it can inform so much of our own responses to our current and future survival problems.

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2 thoughts on “Seeing the Future by Looking Into Our Past”

  1. This is what I learned from actual survivors of the Great Depression: save money when times are good and buy peoples things when times are bad. Have more than one job. Barter is king. re-use until something is totally useless. Eat less, save more. a jar in the yard beats an account in a bank always. The best payment is rarely in cash. Grow it, preserve it, store it. A pig might last a winter, a chicken might last a year and cost less.

    They scrapped bottom for a decade. The wars that followed also saved them and built their futures.


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