How to survive a breakdown of the social order

How to survive a breakdown of the social order

A sign indicating a fallout shelter at a government facility. Look for these signs anywhere you go so you know where they are.

Surviving the Apocalypse

The world has just ended. Societies have collapsed. The government has fallen. What is the first thing you are going to do? You are going to read this article on how to survive a collapse of civilization and social order, of course!

The truth is that no one really knows how to survive such an ordeal. Sure, governments rise and fall. Rioting happens. Social order decays for brief periods of time. But in our modern history, there really hasn't been huge collapses of entire civilizations. So no expert can properly say how you can survive such a thing. It all depends on how people react. However, the history of mankind has given brief glimpses on how people react when even small governments and countries fall, which can give us a clue on how to survive a large-scale collapse of civilization.

This article provides information on how to best prepare for the apocalypse.

Supplies Needed to Survive the End of the World

The truth is people don't prepare for emergencies as well as they should. You may have a small first aid kit, food for a few weeks, and enough batteries for that one flashlight that barely works a month. When society collapses, so do the laws. Which means anything goes.

  • Scavenge for supplies. Since there are no laws, thievery is something that will be needed to survive. This will be the first thing that most people will do. They will head to places like grocery stores, drug stores, etc. to obtain supplies by any means necessary. Be careful taking a car though! It could easily be stolen. Even during minor riots people go looting. Imagine how it will be like when society collapses.
  • Arm yourself. When society collapses there will be no police that will protect you or your family. If you don't have a firearm, you will need to find one, with lots of ammo. It sounds brutal, but history has shown that people kill for less things than the survival of one's self. So obviously they would kill for some food or gas. You don't need just a gun either. Most anything can be used to protect yourself.
  • Gasoline. Many places around the world are heavily dependent on gasoline. We use it primarily to get around in our vehicles. Once society collapses, that stuff will be hard to come by. Most times you won't have a stockpile of gas on hand, unlike food or medicine. So unless you ration how much you use, then you will want to get your hands on some gas when possible.

What do you choose to go for first? That is for you to decide. It depends on what happened to cause the collapse of civilization, how easy it is to get some of these supplies, etc.

Essential Supplies for the Apocalypse

These are the essential supplies for the end of the world. Notice how money isn't on this list? Money will be useless in the apocalyptic world.

Apocalyptic visions tell us it’ll be every man for himself, but some historians suggest The Walking Dead has it all wrong.

How to survive a breakdown of the social order

Photo illustration by Slate. Images via A24 Films, AMC, and Dimension Films.

The new apocalyptic horror film It Comes at Night dwells, like so many bits and pieces of pop culture lately, on what happens when a society disintegrates. “Preppers are crazy people and they’re kooky,” writer-director Trey Edward Shults told Slate’s Jeffrey Bloomer earlier this month, “but then once you start hearing that economic collapse is not insane, then you start thinking about what people do when things fall apart, and how primal that gets, and what you need to do to protect that, and that started to fascinate me.”

Most of the apocalyptic movies, books, and TV shows I’ve consumed have, like Night, taken an extremely dim view of human nature. Prepper fictions assume that weak “takers” will try to mooch off of better-prepared “makers” in the wake of the flu or an electromagnetic pulse, and that the makers will need to terminate the takers with extreme prejudice. Even more literary apocalypses feature chained-up human livestock in basements and infants on spits. I had to finally stop following The Walking Dead, once one of my favorite shows, because I couldn’t stand to watch the baseball bat scene. “There’s no trust in [the show’s] world, no kindness, unless it’s exhibited by some soft-hearted fool who’s about to end up as walker chow,” my colleague Sam Adams wrote after that episode aired.

But a commenter on Slate’s review of It Comes At Night declared himself untroubled, even mildly irked, by the darkness of this film and its kin. “I get a little bit annoyed by the constant ‘hell is other people’ themes of US post-apocalyptic movies, because it’s pretty well known what happens when society collapses, and it’s not dog-eat-dog every-man-for-himself, it’s society-rebuilding. Pretty much instantly,” the commenter wrote. “We know this because society has collapsed thousands of times, on smaller and bigger scales. What always happens is that the survivors regroup, organize, and rebuild.”

Can this ray of sunshine be trusted? I’d love to believe it can be. I asked Scott Knowles, a historian of disaster, what historians and sociologists who study collapses and disasters have to say. His answer: It depends. “We help, and also we don’t,” Knowles said in an email to me. Over the years, academic researchers have gone back and forth on the question. “This whole area of work really got going in the Cold War when defense planners wanted to model post-[nuclear] attack scenarios,” Knowles wrote. The Disaster Research Center at Ohio State University (which has since moved to the University of Delaware) “did the work over years to model community response, and they pushed back strongly on the idea of social collapse—they found instead too much of the opposite—people converge on a disaster scene!”

In a 1961 paper (unpublished until 1996), sociologist Charles Fritz laid out the case for this “contrary perspective” that disasters and other majorly stressful events don’t necessarily result in social breakdown and trauma. Fritz, who had begun his observations of disasters while stationed in Britain during the Blitz, reported that during that time he saw “a nation of gloriously happy people, enjoying life to the fullest, exhibiting a sense of gaiety and love of life that was truly remarkable,” with Britons reaching beyond class distinctions, sharing supplies, and talking to people they had never spoken with before. Marshaling sociological and historical evidence, Fritz recounts example after example of people pulling together in the middle of tragedy: black and white police and militia members uniting to maintain order during the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1878; enemies forgetting old quarrels during the German bombing of Krakow in World War II; community members reporting strengthened personal relationships with neighbors after the White County, Arkansas, tornado of 1952.

Bunker repurposed for a US ‘doomsday’ community. A study proposes that countries able to grow food for their populations, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration and maintain an electrical grid, are best placed to withstand severe shocks. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Bunker repurposed for a US ‘doomsday’ community. A study proposes that countries able to grow food for their populations, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration and maintain an electrical grid, are best placed to withstand severe shocks. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Last modified on Wed 25 Aug 2021 14.42 BST

New Zealand, Iceland, the UK, Tasmania and Ireland are the places best suited to survive a global collapse of society, according to a study.

The researchers said human civilisation was “in a perilous state” due to the highly interconnected and energy-intensive society that had developed and the environmental damage this had caused.

A collapse could arise from shocks, such as a severe financial crisis, the impacts of the climate crisis, destruction of nature, an even worse pandemic than Covid-19 or a combination of these, the scientists said.

To assess which nations would be most resilient to such a collapse, countries were ranked according to their ability to grow food for their population, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration, and maintain an electrical grid and some manufacturing ability. Islands in temperate regions and mostly with low population densities came out on top.

The researchers said their study highlighted the factors that nations must improve to increase resilience. They said that a globalised society that prized economic efficiency damaged resilience, and that spare capacity needed to exist in food and other vital sectors.

Billionaires have been reported to be buying land for bunkers in New Zealand in preparation for an apocalypse. “We weren’t surprised New Zealand was on our list,” said Prof Aled Jones, at the Global Sustainability Institute, at Anglia Ruskin University, in the UK.

Jones added: “We chose that you had to be able to protect borders and places had to be temperate. So with hindsight it’s quite obvious that large islands with complex societies on them already [make up the list].

“We were quite surprised the UK came out strongly. It is densely populated, has traditionally outsourced manufacturing, hasn’t been the quickest to develop renewable technology, and only produces 50% of its own food at the moment. But it has the potential to withstand shocks.”

The study, published in the journal Sustainability, said: “The globe-spanning, energy-intensive industrial civilisation that characterises the modern era represents an anomalous situation when it is considered against the majority of human history.”

The study also said, that due to environmental destruction, limited resources, and population growth: “The [academic] literature paints a picture of human civilisation that is in a perilous state, with large and growing risks developing in multiple spheres of the human endeavour.”

Places that did not suffer “the most egregious effects of societal collapses and are therefore able to maintain significant populations” have been described as “collapse lifeboats”, the study said.

New Zealand was found to have the greatest potential to survive relatively unscathed due to its geothermal and hydroelectric energy, abundant agricultural land and low human population density.

Jones said major global food losses, a financial crisis and a pandemic had all happened in recent years, and “we’ve been lucky that things haven’t all happened at the same time – there’s no real reason why they can’t all happen in the same year”.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a parable of social breakdown.

Taylor Marvin’s musings on the breakdown of social order and the loss of the state’s monopoly on violence in Gotham in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is well worth the read.

I’m not entirely sure I agree, but it’s a smart post either way. Marvin argues that Batman’s vigilantism underscores the loss of the monopoly of violence by the state, that the tension over this loss is what defines the conflict between Batman, the Joker, and the city itself.

I always saw Gotham as a sort of damsel in distress or a loved one lost to the ravages of drug addiction. But the anarchic take is fascinating and worth delving into.

Certainly in The Dark Knight social order has collapsed at the hands of a terrorist that nobody understands and nobody can control; only Batman is able to really do anything about the Joker and in the end, he takes the fall in order to preserve the very social order he helped upset.

It’s this social breakdown — the loss of government’s monopoly on violence — that’s the film’s central theme. Heath Ledger’s hyperactively schizophrenic Joker is so compelling because Ledger was an amazing actor, but also because he embodies an anarchic concept of state failure that’s deeply foreign to most audiences. The Joker’s insistance that “the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules” is disconcerting because it is true — in the absence of the social order guaranteed by government’s monopoly over the legitimate violence no social norms survive, or at least that’s what we fear. This motivation is compelling and disturbing because we fear that he’s right; that in the absence of a guarantee of social order successful individuals are those best able to employ violence, something most of us aren’t very good at. This vulnerability is disconcerting. Human psychology, and by extension society, is very careful to draw a line between legitimate and illegitimate violence, a distinction that rests in the concept of the state. Violence within the structure of governmental monopoly on force is psychologically acceptable; violence outside of it isn’t.

I think we have to look at Batman Begins, however, if we’re to gather any context. In Batman Begins we have a villain that is essentially the antithesis of the Joker. Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows represent order and balance, or at least claim to, and they’ve turned their fearful gaze on Gotham.

In the first of the Dark Knight trilogy, Gotham is in the clutches of organized crime. It’s corrupt at every level, violent, chaotic, dilapidated. The legitimate use of violence hardly exists since the state itself has no legitimacy.

Batman prevents the destruction of the city at the hands of Ra’s al Ghul and his men who, despite their devotion to balance, threaten to tear the city apart through the use of weaponized hallucinogens. Batman stops them, restores order, and exposes much of the corruption in doing so, effectively thrusting the city in a new direction.

And yet, by the time we fast-forward to The Dark Knight the government is still far from clean. The social order is already broken down to some degree prior to the Joker’s arrival.

While we do have some forces of good emerging, Gotham is largely at war with itself. The forces of the old status quo are upset by the state’s new assertions of its own authority. Letting the clown out of the box is their attempt to rein in the state, preserve the status quo.

Of course, The Dark Knight’s central thesis is that social norms don’t break down in the absence of governmentally-imposed order. But this isn’t a happy revelation. The fact that one man can demolish governmental authority in Gotham and strain social order to the breaking point illustrates just how illusionary the foundation of order society — and our comfortable lives — rest on actually is. Commissioner Gordon and the impartial state authority he personifies nominally guarantees Gotham’s social structure, but can’t function in its absence. Only vigilanteism — by definition violence outside of state legitimacy and what’s, in the Joker’s words, “part of the plan” — can.

This is true enough, but it assumes that social order breaks down when in fact social order has already broken down. Gotham is teetering on the edge when the Joker comes and pushes just hard enough to topple it; Batman is a vigilante only because the state itself has been captured by criminal forces.

The central thesis, as I see it, is that Batman would be unnecessary if good people not wearing masks would actually stand up and recapture their own self-determination. A vigilante is not necessary for this at all. Batman is the option of last resort.

Still, there is much to agree with here, and perhaps I am merely picking at nits. The arms race quality of both films is fascinating and important and yes, explicit. Gordon worries over it and Batman dismisses his worry in the first film. Then along comes the Joker. Harvey Dent is transformed into Two-Face. In the next film we’ll get Bane and Gotham truly will go to war. The violence only escalates.

Nolan leaves us with few other alternatives. Good people who stand up are killed. Without the Batman, Gordon is alone. Without something outside the social order – even something violent that breaks the government’s monopoly on violence – the state itself would be little more than a legal crime ring.

Batman is indeed a tragic hero made all the more tragic by his inability to extract himself from the violence. Such is the tragedy of many places in this world, still, where the cultural and social norms necessary for democracy and liberal government do not exist, and so violence remains in the hands of a government that is hardly legitimate and few avenues for change exist.

We’ve seen this in the Arab Spring. Tyrants are toppled and new tyrants rise up in their place.

Gotham, it seems to me, represents the failure of civil society and, perhaps, the failure of force to do what people themselves must eventually do to become free.

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How to survive a breakdown of the social order

economic system, any of the ways in which humankind has arranged for its material provisioning. One would think that there would be a great variety of such systems, corresponding to the many cultural arrangements that have characterized human society. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Although a wide range of institutions and social customs have been associated with the economic activities of society, only a very small number of basic modes of provisioning can be discovered beneath this variety. Indeed, history has produced but three such kinds of economic systems: those based on the principle of tradition, those centrally planned and organized according to command, and the rather small number, historically speaking, in which the central organizing form is the market.

The very paucity of fundamental modes of economic organization calls attention to a central aspect of the problem of economic “systems”—namely, that the objective to which all economic arrangements must be addressed has itself remained unchanged throughout human history. Simply stated, this unvarying objective is the coordination of the individual activities associated with provisioning—activities that range from providing subsistence foods in hunting and gathering societies to administrative or financial tasks in modern industrial systems. What may be called “the economic problem” is the orchestration of these activities into a coherent social whole—coherent in the sense of providing a social order with the goods or services it requires to ensure its own continuance and to fulfill its perceived historic mission.

Social coordination can in turn be analyzed as two distinct tasks. The first of these is the production of the goods and services needed by the social order, a task that requires the mobilization of society’s resources, including its most valuable, human effort. Of nearly equal importance is the second task, the appropriate distribution of the product (see distribution theory). This distribution not only must provide for the continuance of a society’s labour supply (even slaves had to be fed) but also must accord with the prevailing values of different social orders, all of which favour some recipients of income over others—men over women, aristocrats over commoners, property owners over nonowners, or political party members over nonmembers. In standard textbook treatments, the economic problem of production and distribution is summarized by three questions that all economic systems must answer: what goods and services are to be produced, how goods and services are to be produced and distributed, and for whom the goods and services are to be produced and distributed.

All modes of accomplishing these basic tasks of production and distribution rely on social rewards or penalties of one kind or another. Tradition-based societies depend largely on communal expressions of approval or disapproval. Command systems utilize the open or veiled power of physical coercion or punishment, or the bestowal of wealth or prerogatives. The third mode—the market economy—also brings pressures and incentives to bear, but the stimuli of gain and loss are not usually within the control of any one person or group of persons. Instead, the incentives and pressures emerge from the “workings” of the system itself, and, on closer inspection, those workings turn out to be nothing other than the efforts of individuals to gain financial rewards by supplying the things that others are willing to pay for.

There is a paradoxical aspect to the manner in which the market resolves the economic problem. In contrast to the conformity that guides traditional society or the obedience to superiors that orchestrates command society, behaviour in a market society is mostly self-directed and seems, accordingly, an unlikely means for achieving social integration. Yet, as economists ever since Adam Smith have delighted in pointing out, the clash of self-directed wills in the competitive market environment serves as an essential legal and social precondition for the market system to operate. Thus, the competitive engagement of self-seeking individuals results in the creation of the third, and by all odds the most remarkable, of the three modes of solving the economic problem.

Not surprisingly, these three principal solutions—of tradition, command, and market—are distinguished by the distinct attributes they impart to their respective societies. The coordinative mechanism of tradition, resting as it does on the perpetuation of social roles, is marked by a characteristic changelessness in the societies in which it is dominant. Command systems, on the other hand, are marked by their capacity to mobilize resources and labour in ways far beyond the reach of traditional societies, so that societies with command systems typically boast of large-scale achievements such as the Great Wall of China or the Egyptian pyramids. The third system, that in which the market mechanism plays the role of energizer and coordinator, is in turn marked by a historical attribute that resembles neither the routines of traditional systems nor the grandiose products of command systems. Instead, the market system imparts a galvanic charge to economic life by unleashing competitive, gain-oriented energies. This charge is dramatically illustrated by the trajectory of capitalism, the only social order in which the market mechanism has played a central role. In The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that in less than a century the capitalist system had created “more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.” They also wrote that it was “like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” That creative, revolutionary, and sometimes disruptive capacity of capitalism can be traced in no small degree to the market system that performs its coordinative task. (For discussion of the political and philosophical aspects of capitalism, see liberalism. For discussion of the political and philosophical aspects of communism and socialism, see communism and socialism.)