The Myth of Self Sufficiency : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

There is a picture on the cover of "The Good Life," a classic in the homesteading genre. Scott Nearing is holding an axe.

Mr. Nearing must have bought or bartered for the axe... the head was forged and ground at some distant plant. He and his wife, Helen, are both wearing "store bought" shoes and clothing. In truth, the Nearings were more "self reliant" than "self sufficient."

One might suggest this is just semantics, but I think it an important point. The jars filled with jelly and other wonders Bonnie Camp describes so beautifully--all manufactured in a glass plant. The sugar we use to make jams edible comes from overseas. If you have tried some wild berry jams without sugar (Oregon Grape and Elderberry come mind), you know they need sugar.

Very few (if any) homesteaders have the ability to make forged steel tools. As I have pointed out, almost all the supplies required for homesteading (or Y2K preparation) are mass produced. No different than they were a hundred years ago.

My great grandmother's wood-burning cookstove was shipped out from some long departed company in Michigan. Her well-used cast iron pots and pans were store bought. My grandfather ran the local feedstore. While many families raised chickens, rabbits and hogs, they did not grow grain. It was shipped by rail from eastern Montana. In the Yankee tradition, we bought or bartered for good and services. Gardening and raising small stock mostly extended the family budget... as did working on the truck, splitting wood for heat and buying in bulk.

As one considers Y2K preparation, it is good to keep in mind the distinction between self-sufficient and self-reliant. Division of labor has made sense for centuries... and will continue to make sense no matter what your outlook. It is difficult to survive outside of a community where goods and services (like medical care) can be fairly traded.

Greater self-reliance can be a noble goal... when governed by common sense. Today you cannot raise vegetables (when you factor in your own labor) for less than you buy them at the local farmer's market. I still think a kitchen garden is a wonderful joy, but I decline to rationalize it on an economic basis.

It is important to look around and realize how much we depend on the goods and services provided by others. Even the most self reliant depend on others to bring goods to market... like Scott Nearing and his well-used axe. On a very small scale, this is the power of the free market.

When people begin to think they can be "self sufficient," they ignore the interdependence of the human community. For better or worse, we are in this together.


P.S. For homesteading devotees try the "Encyclopedia of Country Living" by Carla Emery, "Five Acres and Independence" or "The Have-More Plan," all available through

-- Mr. Decker (, April 26, 1999


Mr. Decker,

thank you for the commentary. Truer words have not been posted here. This is the type of commentary we still need here.

Take care, you are starting to fit in here!!(;-} LOL)


-- chuck, a Night Driver (, April 26, 1999.

We, the people, are more interconnected than all of the machines are.

-- Doomslayer (1@2.3), April 26, 1999.

Actually Chuck, I think you missed an enormous hole in Mr. D's "logic". Unless Y2K is exceptionally bad, then those who have prepared well will have the potential to be truly self-sufficient for the duration of the worst of the problems, and that is exactly the point of Y2K preps. (We will have both the glass canning jars on hand, as well as the ability to fill them.) It is only in the much longer disaster scenarios that the distinction between self-reliant and self-sufficient becomes important for a GI. DGIs will find out *much* sooner.

-- Brooks (, April 26, 1999.

DOOMSLAYER,what are you saying?as a buddhist,I would take the view that EVERYTHING is interconnected and trying to view ANYTHING as separate is an erronious view that causes you to needlessly what are you trying to say?or is it just a troll thing?

-- zoobie (, April 26, 1999.

Mr. Decker, you raise some good points but the outlook for self sufficiency is not nearly as bleak as you post implies. First off constructing an aze, or gardening tool, or whatever other simple tools you need would not be nearly the challenge post Y2K as it was in the last century. Refined metals would not have to be mined or smelted, as they exist in prodigious quantities to be had for the taking. There are kazillions of junk automobiles, appliances, structural steel, and scrap steel plate readily available as source materials. Obtaining the metal was always the hardest part of constructing metal tools, and is not an issue in a post Y2K scenario. I would imagine that most everyone is aquainted with the simple notion of a hammer and an anvil used in conjuntion with a furnace or other heat source to reshape metal. It would take a little practice but would not be beyond the physical or mental capacities of most people. Sugar is surely a desireable item as far a palatability of food goes, but not a nescessity. In any event maple trees and sugar can can provide this substance if you just can't live without it. Shoes are'nt a problem either. Even if every hide bearing animal in the country were slaughtered ther e are another kazillion automobile tires which could be cut for soles and workable footwear constructed thereby. I think you would be hard pressed to come up with any basic nesessity which could not be constructed or obtained in even a worst case scenario by an enterprising individual.

-- Nikoli Krushev (, April 26, 1999.

This is an excellent, thoughtful post. Actually, Nearing's book itself makes this distinction, in effect, and details very clearly exactly those areas where the Nearings were truly self-sufficient, and where they relied on outside contacts and materials. The book makes very interesting reading. Note also that Helen Nearing, after living the self-reliant lifestyle for so long, later moved to a town nursing home after Scott died - another reminder that we're all going to need help at some point, and that we're all weak/sick/dead in the long run, as Gautama pointed out some time ago.

-- Blue Himalayan (bh@k2.y), April 26, 1999.

Mr. Decker

Good point. We can go back to the stone age or keep on going. I see it though from two views.

One; we have far to much "stuff" that is not necessary. If you have lived a rural life then one can realize what is needed to live a reasonable life with out all the choices of societies consumerism. There is a point where folks have no use for much of what is produced and bought. By the way sugar is a bad choice as I have never heard of it being needed to survive in any condition :o)

Two; This is not really the case, people can survive all be it unlikely with out mass marketed goods. The Natives in BC as of a hundred and fifty years ago managed to build a life that was self sufficient and highly complex socially with minimum or no outside trade.

I don't really consider your view relevant with the post that Bonnie shared with us. You are talking from the perspective of someone that relies on society. If it gets so bad that a person can't get an axe then we are in very bad shape. Bonnie was not looking at that position and I feel that yours is not a fair view. If you would look at the difference between self sufficiency and the life style that she described it is quite evident that self sufficiency is not the point. The point is that this JIT mentality and 3 day prep is just a social construct that is in no way based on reality from a historical perspective. Actually JIT manufacturing is a very weak link in the world of economics and Y2K. "We" have set ourselves up and if Y2K is bad we are going down if we are relying on JIT to supply the needs of the people. I don't have the answers if that happens. And I have lived a life that is pretty dam minimalist and self reliant.

I do know that it takes a person with unusual skills to manage in an isolated self sufficiency conditions and that might not be me. But the goal is to work towards being able to understand what is a priority and what is not.

I do know of folks that tried it up north and they lost it and nearly died. I do know people that can survive with little more that a knife and snare wire.

Niether option is viable. The best idea is to figure out the minimal requirments of life and work on those.

This is not a argument of the need for self sufficiency it is a matter that the society as we know it might not last with the JIT mentality that has developed over the last two decades. It is that kind of mentality that we must work around. And I do know someone that can forge an axe. And I can build a stone fireplace. I don't use sugar. Alergic to it.

-- Brian (, April 26, 1999.

Excellent comments. In response, even primitive tribes have division of labor, if not internal trade. As a lifelong outdoorsman, I can "survive" for a time with the barest essentials. If I have acute appendicitis, however, I hope to find a qualified physician quickly. As "BH" pointed out, we all depend on others at some point in time. A society of economic freedom allows individuals to secure what they need, including medical services. While some degree of self reliance is laudable, it does have logical limits. You are right about sugar as a nonessential. I should have said coffee. (laughter)

As a side note, I think if if one attempts to heat and reshape steel, the original temper is destroyed. Beating swords into plowshares may be more complex than we thought. (Of course, I am waiting for an expert in metals to weigh in and correct me.)


-- Mr. Decker (, April 26, 1999.

Mr. Decker, I'm just curious. What part of the country are you from? What type of winters do you have?

-- just wondering (not@important.really), April 26, 1999.

Mr Decker, You raised an interesting point about hoping to seek out a physician if needs be. Have you thought about the change in attitude that could occur towards the value of human life?If medical resources are scarce will they be prioritised? Who will be the lucky ones ?? Will this lead to a better understanding of the true reality of the frailty of life.

-- Chris (, April 26, 1999.

Mr. Decker, your points were covered in part in a thread titled Long/ Short term Prep.


-- Mitchell Barnes (, April 26, 1999.

I am from Montana. The winters are... brisk. Because of my work, I now reside in the Mid Atlantic region where the winters are much shorter, but the humidity makes the summers a touch warmer. If I may ask, why?

I presume the laws of supply and demand will govern medical services no matter what the economy. In a serious economic downturn, I imagine the demand for elective surgeries (like face lifts) might decline... although I hate to underestimate the power of human vanity.

Finally, I think every topic has been covered. To borrow a quote, the ancient stole all my greatest ideas. I simply wanted to make a point about the difference between "self sufficiency" and "self reliance." Of course, in my own sneaky manner, I worked in a plug for market economics. (laughter)


-- Mr. Decker (, April 26, 1999.

personally I think zoobie deserves acknowledgement for advanced troll baffling...good one zoobie!


-- Arlin H. Adams (, April 26, 1999.

Mr. Decker, just thought you might be from the fair state of South Carolina.

-- just wondering (not@important.really), April 26, 1999.

I would be proud to share the home of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. He was a childhood hero of mine.

Do I write with a southern accent?


-- Mr. Decker (, April 26, 1999.

Mr. Decker,

You have a certain and forceful skill for deconstructing delusions and placebos. How terrible and ugly of a talent! (laughing) Yet, the truth shall set us free. Should, however, the good doomers suffer the brunt of unequal punishment alone? Have at the poly side of things, and you will win more friends and better influence people than Mr. Carnegie could have ever hoped for.

Sincerely, Stan Faryna

-- Stan Faryna (, April 26, 1999.

Once again, Mr Decker, you are spot on with your observations. Anyone who thinks the disruptions we can expect will be short-lived... I hope they're right, but I fear we could be in for a new Dark Age.

-- David Harvey (, April 27, 1999.

Mr. Decker,

the temper in the steel, after reshaping, and anealing, can be restored via heat treating/quenching. This is a simple matter, assuming we're going from plowshares to swords. Swords to plowshares is actually simpler, except that we're using a type of metal that doesn't lend itself to being melted down and re-cast into large chunks of metal in the shape of plowpoints.

You would really rather get some simple iron and go ahead and cast it then case-harden it (simple process involving re-heating the iron in the presence of some carbon [powdered charcoal] on the surfaces you wanted hardened but out of the presence of lots of air IIRC). All of which presupposes the construction of a forge (table) and some means of generating forced air flow. And the acquisition of an anvil of the proper size.

Chuck, who is still looking for a 25# ANVIL.

-- chuck, a Night Driver (, April 27, 1999.

Dear Chuck,

Why a 25# anvil? I think Harbor Freight, the mass discounter of all tools foreign, has sold them from time to time. While I loathe their cheap hand tools, I think it is difficult to mess up an anvil. You might also check where the local farrier buys his anvil. We used ours for reshaping logging tongs. You might poke about old farmsteads, there are probably a few hand-cranked portable forges left here or there... and you might find some blacksmiths tools and your anvil.


-- Mr. Decker (, April 27, 1999.


I call 'em as I see 'em. I have sparred with a few "pollyannas," mostly on the subject of investment. My personal peeve... that the hot Internet companies are fairly valued. Every time someone says "new paradigm," I check my wallet. I have clearly stated the market is at least 20 percent overvalued... and I have starting taking profits. I have a few more stocks and funds to unload, but I'll be largely out of equities by June 1. I'm bargain hunting overseas in the depressed international markets, but most of my money will sit sitting in short term T Bill. Is this Y2K panic? (laughter) I have made a nickel or two over the past few years, and am content to buy back in when the blood starts running on the Street. If there is no correction by the end of 2000, I will drink a toast to the profits I missed and buy back... I do have about 40 years until I begin my retirement.


-- Mr. Decker (, April 27, 1999.

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