Are you a lifehacker, a prepper, or a survivalist? Maybe you do not even know what those words mean, or are just a highly creative, intensely innovative, self-sufficient individual?
I have always had an interest in the concepts of self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. In recent years, other terms and descriptions have come into use to describe various elements, and perspectives concerning these concepts. Among the most common have been lifehacker, prepper, and survivalist. Being all of these, I am not quite clear about the rigid distinction between a person who is self-reliant, self-sufficient, lifehacker, doomsday prepper and survivalist. It can all be a bit confusing.
All of these words and terms somewhat overlap to a point that they mean everything and nothing. Thus, I will use this short newsletter to explore each of these concepts. Let me add, I am not just talking, or (actually blogging) out of my butt here. I have some experience in all of these areas for a number of reasons.
- I am a wildcrafting herbalist, meaning that I can recognize edible and medicinal plants in the wild. In fact, I am mentioned in the acknowledgements to the classic book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, by Steven Brill a former student of mine.
- I am the author of a book on Lifehacking – How to Hack Your Life Through Game Thinking. This is a compendium of tools, techniques and strategies on this subject.
- My best friend lived in the jungles of South East Asia for a number of years (for reasons too complex to go into here), and told me much about how she survived.
I actually never thought of myself as a prepper, but when the Corona-19 Pandemic hit on 2020, it had little effect on my life. We had already stored most of what we might need, and there we were watching everyone else freaking out. I am not gloating about this in anyway. The point is, there really is no downside to a self-aware, emotionally and mentally grounded person being prepared for a worst case scenario; especially a person willing to share that information with others, such as a younger person.
Let’s begin with some general definitions:
- Prepper definition: What is a prepper? This is a person who believes a catastrophic disaster or emergency is likely to occur in the future and makes active preparations for it; typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies. There’s no agreement among preppers about what exactly a disaster is, and when one is most imminent. I thought about this as I watched people stand in line for 2 hours outside of a supermarket in Toronto waiting to buy toilet paper. I assume most of these folks have never watched “Survivor” or “Bear Grylls” on TV, or on their Iphone. Clearly in a bad situation they would not be a sensible prepper.
- Survivalism definition: A skilled person who has an array of strategies, tips, techniques, and tools (generally made by them), which would enable them to fairly confidently, (and occasionally comfortably), survive in the anarchy of an anticipated breakdown of society.
- Lifehacker definition: An individual who has accumulated an array of tricks, shortcuts, skills, or novelty methods, that increase efficiency, effectiveness, precision, and productivity, in all walks of life. The term was originally used by computer experts with a playful curiosity in the ways they can accelerate their workflow, in ways other than programming. The term has become a general description for an individual, who can apply special problem-solving shortcuts in both the analog and digital worlds.
First of all, there is no standard definition for the distinctions between self-sustainability and self-sufficiency. They are actually overlapping states in which a person, or organization needs little or no help from, or interaction with others. Self-sufficiency entails the self being enough. A self-sustaining entity can maintain self-sufficiency indefinitely. This is especially so if they have a certain level of self awareness, and are willing to engage in introspection. They must also be willing to ask themselves the important questions concerning meaningfulness in life and living. Still, there are plenty of free prepper books floating around, and there is a prepper forum you can land on if you look.
“So, where,” you may ask, “does game theory fit into all this?” Well, no matter how skilled a survivalist, prepper, or lifehacker may be, they will not survive and prosper if they cannot make wise decisions, and the right moves. There are few wise decision-makers who do not have a fundamental understanding of game theory.
One of the great constraints for many preppers and survivalists is, though they are skilled at developing winning survival strategies, they are not very skilled at avoiding errors in judgment. In addition, they often lack common sense, common knowledge, and intuition when these are truly necessary. One cannot be a master strategist and problem solver unless, one has a hold on all of these skill-sets. In order to develop these skills, one must have a profound understanding of numerous concepts drawn from game theory and design thinking which include; collaborative intelligence, critical mass, tipping points, ripple effects, Black Swans, the Butterfly effect, Support Triangles, Cognitive Bias, Trembling Hand and other elements. Simple explanations of all of these concepts can be found through the internet, or in Harrison’s Applied Game Theory: The Quirky Genius Glossary.
The prepper and survivalist gametheorist will usually be a tolerant and progressive thinking individual, who avoids alternative realities (conspiracy theories), that do not meet the standards of critical thinking and evidence-based facts. This is not a political position. It is pure applied game theory. How can you make wise survival decisions if you confuse your biases with facts? As my mentor, Vincent, always said, “The truth you ignore will come back to bite you on the ass!”
Still, I am a big fan of self-sufficiency through lifehacking. I have seen the failure of the government to protect the water supply in Flint, Michigan; the levees in New Orleans, or prevent unnecessary death in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria (2017).
A person skilled at applied game theory doesn’t need to be an expert at anything else but game-based thinking. They understand that the more brilliant, knowledgeable, and expert a specialist may be, the more likely they are to make some error; often a small one, that can have a major impact on any system ( sometimes the error is called a Black Swan). The most skilled Lifehacking-survivalist-game theorists can hit the nail on the head. What I mean here is, they have the ability to isolate and predict just the type of thinking-errors that certain types of specialists and experts are likely to make.
There is a number of reasons why skilled individuals make mistakes that have major ripple effects, can cost millions of dollars, and lead to death and destruction. These include;
- Failing to see that information received from other experts on their own team or project was false.
- Paying attention mainly to what they were asked to pay attention to, thus missing some bigger picture.
- Failing to notice what they were not directly asked to notice.
- Addressing a small problem without realizing that the problem is an indication of a much larger problem.
- Falling victim to their own cognitive biases, and logical fallacies.
These are mistakes that skilled preppers, survivalists, and lifehackers seldom make if they wish to survive. Transcending flawed thinking gives them tremendous freedom.
A basic principle in game theory-based troubleshooting is to start from the simplest and most probable problems first. This is illustrated by the saying, “When you see hoof prints, look for horses, not zebras”. Use the KISS principle (Keep it simple, stupid!). This principle results in the common complaint about help desks or manuals. They sometimes first ask, “Is it plugged in?” and, “Does that receptacle have power?” This should not be taken as an affront, but should serve as a reminder to always check the simple things first, step-by-step, before calling for help.
A skilled game thinker can check each element in a system one-by-one, substituting known good components or approaches for each potentially suspect element. This process of “serial substitution” can be error prone. This happens when components are substituted without regard to how their failure could result in specific problems arising. However, when a skilled gametheorist survivalist-prepper avoids a flawed approach to serial substitution, they are almost always successful and are likely to prosper even in treacherous situations.
If one is interested in exploring these ideas there are a number of places to start. Of course one can read a prepper magazine to help you put your prepper checklist together. Prepper storage is like a huge jigsaw puzzle where you have all the pieces and you know where they fit. This prepper kit needs to include; food, soap, alcohol, band-aids, gauze, condoms (they are sterile and wateroof), bleach, a tarp, rope, string, duct-tape, contact cement, and a Swiss Army Knife or equivalent.
If you consider yourself to be a creative and innovative, lifehacking- prepper-survivalist-game theory strategist, you can learn much more about strategizing your life by exploring my course…
Applied Game Theory from A to Z and Beyond.
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