The Skills to Hay the Bales

The end of the world.  Be it zombies, nuclear warfare, comets, Cthulhu or unpleasant frost giants, it’s a topic that has long obsessed humanity.  I suspect the current popularity of both zombies and cosmic horror is they serve as metaphors for something far scarier than either—climate change.  But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion. What I want to talk about today are skills.

Apocalypse Then (DPG Aug 2011)

What kind of skills would best be suited to living in a world that has suffered a cataclysmic event?  We are assuming that there are survivors, that modern technology has failed, and that people have time to build a community.  (Zombies, for instance aren’t attacking in this scenario.)  Max Brooks covered the military side pretty well in Zombie Survival Guide—what I’m looking at here are social/ domestic skills that you could learn now (and many people, especially in developing countries, already have.)

Fermentation  – Without power and refrigeration, this will quickly develop as a vital way of life.  In addition to preservation, this treatment will help provide us with all the necessary bacteria.

Carpentry – Perhaps we’ll begin to live more naturally, but in cold or wet places, these skills will be incredibly useful.

Weaving/Sewing – Clothes, rugs, curtains…okay I actually don’t really know much about what you make with these things, but it seems useful.

Horticulture – One of the very most valuable skills—turning tiny seeds into heaping feasts.  After the apocalypse, everyone will be a farmer.

First Aid / Holistic Medicine – Without great big hospitals, the knowledge of fix-it-up will be much more spread out.  Hopefully preventative will have overtaken curative as the default choice, if only by necessity.

Foraging – Knowing which mushrooms are tasty and which aren’t, whether those greens are hemlock or cilantro, and other skills would be vital in the early months/years while farms are being planted.

Yoga – More than ever, actively building your mental and physical health will be crucial.

Hunting/fishing – Assuming the apocalypse left any animals alive, they would probably remain part of the human diet, though in far less quantity than now.  (This includes making basic, Rambo-style weapons and trap setting.)

Oratory – Charisma will replace corporate bondage as the prim ary tool for leadership.

Brewing/Distilling – Not unrelated to fermentation, this would be highly valuable for morale.

Cooping – Assuming there aren’t tons of containers lying around from before the apocalypse, barrels will be important for lots of reasons.

Fletching/ Archery –  Bow and arrows can useful for lots of things, including shooting scary things or taking down big deers.  Perhaps this should be a subset of hunting?

How many of those skills do you currently possess?  Odds are, if you are from a first-world nation, it’s not a lot.  (People from developing countries would have a lot more.  This would subvert a lot of the status quo; as Brooks points out in World War Z, a gardener is a lot more important than a lawyer after the world ends.)

I know there is something in Idaho where people practice crafts that have become archaic. The Oregon country fair (and thousands of similar things across the world, I’m sure) have classes on some of these as well.  Likewise, the fermentation field is booming, led by retropioneers like Sandor Katz.  I’d love to write a book or film a documentary about acquiring much of this knowledge–if we all started practicing these things now, it would actually help end the threat of apocalypse.

What do you think?  Anything I included that you’d disagree with?  More importantly, what did I forget?   As always, your thoughts are welcome.


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