In defense of optimism…


I commented:

By “fix” I meant 20-30% casualties. Another term or two of an approved candidate and I’m groking 10%…survive.

The question was poised to me by Concerned American in the comments on this thread:

You know what RADM Stockdale said about optimists…. citing quote:

“…Finally, after about a hundred meters of silence, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Harden your heart.

10% is 32 million people.



Optimism. Cynicism. Realism. The meaning of these words often say little about the situation, but much about the person using them. Like poverty, the meaning of these words in the English language must be couched in much context, for without context they are truly meaningless. Poverty in Palo Alto is vast wealth in Bangladesh, if we were to fix poverty on strictly monetary value. The concept is further complicated by the abstract ideas of value humans place on things, some would argue a monetarily poor man with family, good friends and employed doing the thing he loves is not poor at all. Many would posit that a 10% survival rate in the event of a nationwide socio-political, racial, and economic disaster would be pessimistic. Others, Concerned American among them, would consider it optimistic. However, I digress. Either label does not get to the true crux of the matter. It merely indicates where my position lays in relation to their point of view, the sole fixed point on the gradient scale.

Why do I believe 10% of Americans have it in them to survive the coming badness? I have an acquaintance who does such estimation professionally for .gov and while this is strictly hearsay to you, 10% was the figure given as a survival rate for a nationwide EMP. Apples and oranges, but the outcome is much the same in my opinion. Those with medical conditions and on regular prescription medication will likely have a massive die off, along with those who have compromised immune systems and a severe lack of common sense about where they live, the ownership of weapon and the reality of socioeconomic conditions. The reasons for people’s demise are nearly infinite, so perhaps it is more germane to focus on why those who survive will survive.

America is a large place, over 3.8M square miles. A reduction of 90% would significantly separate groups, leaving miles between single families. Tribal and internecine fighting is much more difficult to conduct when your population is less that 1 per square mile. It becomes more so when the prevailing mode of transportation for nongovernmental actors becomes bipedal or horse drawn. Vast swaths of the land will support significantly more than 32M people, roughly 10% of the population, even if ancient agricultural methods were required. A significant portion of the midwestern states and rural areas still raise gardens and posses a rudimentary knowledge of raising food, and the growing interest in sustainability within the last 10 years has further increased that knowledge base among the general populace. It’s my hope that this helps to ameliorate some of the die off with respect to those unable to feed themselves. I credit the preparedness movement with raising awareness nationally to the vulnerability of many people to their food situation. While merely storing food does not solve the problem, it buys you precious time to arrive at a solution to it. Much of it will be luck. Right place, right time, right action. The 10% will be comprised of effective leaders and their tribes, those fortunate enough to already live on functional farms and brutal enough to keep their farms. I see much sharecropping. 2% of the population currently farm or ranch. While small, I do not think it improbable that their extended family decides to take up the only viable family business. Not included are those that do it on a recreational basis, such as a family garden or hobby farm.

Lastly, I fail to recall (with an admittedly faulty memory after a 13 hour workday) any catastrophic national event incurring even close to a 90% die off. While not impossible, it would make the event one with no historical precedent. I suspect most of those lucky enough to survive will depend on the geographical location, their nascent knowledge, and the effectiveness of their local tribe and their willingness for what we today see as sheer brutality, or total war. I mean Old Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah, scorched earth killing. In short, Americans 200 years ago. Ultimately, I believe in our ability to adapt, morph and thrive in adverse conditions. Within this continent lies the genes that built and carved this country out of wilderness and continued to flee civilization until they reached the west coast. For better or worse Americans have always excelled at being the rebellious son of Western Civilization, and I suspect this time will be no different. Yes, the vast majority will die, but those who survive will likely return to their roots. If we truly believe that values matter, skills matter, and tribe matters, then those will make up the vast majority of the survivors.

I am optimistic because as dim as our light is, like Bradford, I still believe we are the city on a hill. We are the only western nation that still retains that ability to look imperious authority in the eye and spit in it. Europe has a generation of decline on us, and is far beyond hope, not simply because of her culture but also her concentrated population. I continue to believe the saving grace of America is her sheer size. An undercurrent of decency and values still exist, albeit an extremely small minority. This has been allowed to continue to exist because the sheer breadth of the country and ingrained rebelliousness against authority, particularly among the white middle and lower classes, prevents all but the most despotic regimes from exercising true control of the population. So while perhaps I am optimistic, the zeitgeist I have seen building in the United States tends to make me believe that there is a minority of people who have the ability to survive and thrive a catastrophic disaster of the first order. There certainly exists other and varied analysis that is far beyond the scope of this reply. Insurrection here will not exist in a vacuum, and there will be state actors. However, this is my reasoning as best as I can explain it in this short amount of space. What say you?

– Jesse James


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