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Transition or Survivalism?

March 9, 2011 – There are two main schools of thought when it comes to living in a post-collapse/post-carbon world: Transition and Survivalism. I’m still at the point of just having stuck my big toe in the Survivalism pond, so I’m not about to blind you with my expertise; I really don’t know a whole lot about it. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far:
Survivalists appear to be primarily of the masculine persuasion. Gun ownership, along with enthusiastic discussions regarding makes, models and calibers, would appear to be woven into the fabric of this school of thought. (Those of us who trend more in the direction of caretaking and nurturing can only hope they aim at each other.) Separating from urban and suburban living (i.e., life far from the unprepared amongst us) is promoted as a necessity. Stocks of food for periods ranging from a year upward are thought to be essential. Christianity would also appear to be an important feature of some Survivalist thinking.
Transitioners value community, with a literal belief in safety in numbers. Living through collapse will require all manner of skills, likelier to be found in a community than in an individual. Meetings are another feature of Transition, during which householders discuss ways in which both households, and the larger community, can prepare for disastrous times. Having sufficient amounts of food, energy, and clothing are a concern, as is the future of schooling, not only for youngsters, but for those wishing to learn basic skills. Religion is not a factor.
Areas of overlap are found in the way in which both groups plan to address the need for food in the future: by planting a garden. While I don’t know whether Survivalists know about permaculture or not, Transition communities rely upon it. Nor do I know whether there is concern about organics amongst the Survivalist crowd; there is, of course, amongst Transitioners. Climate disruption is more on the minds of Transition folks, though some Survivalists are certainly aware of it and talk about solar cells and wind turbines. Another area of commonality would be the considerable preparation necessary for either of these strategies to be a success.
To my eye, the primary are of divergence would be motivation. Survivalism seems to be largely fear based, and regards anything unknown – including strangers – as a threat with which to be reckoned. Faith and trust are accorded to an inner circle. By the same token, I have heard some Survivalists say they intend to prepare to help people beyond their family group by having extra food on hand. Another substantive difference would be the involvement of both men and women in the Transition movement, probably in equal numbers.
A major motivation for Transitioners would be the belief that there is not only safety, but strength, in numbers. Transition, at its foundation, is based upon living in community, and the resulting trust. Without these two factors, Transition cannot succeed as well as it will when they are present. This is probably its greatest liability, because the development of communal relationships takes time. These really need to have taken shape prior to the onset of abnormal difficulties. Transition is truly not a seat-of-the-pants operation (nor is Survivalism, for that matter). As previously stated, they both require quite a bit of preparation.
So – which are you? A Transitioner or a Survivalist?


  1. hi Vicki - i'm at Grailville & would love to connect with you about Transition. My email is: bonnie (at) grail-us (dot) org (or give me a call at Grailville). Thanks! ~bonnie


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