Awareness and Survival

In a survival situation, your awareness of your surroundings could determine whether you live or die. However, awareness of our surroundings is influenced by those very surroundings. Let's look at two people: a woman lives in New York City, a man in 'the bush', meaning surrounded by nature. Compare their daily experiences of life and how each responds to them.

Our New Yorker is immersed in the ceaseless hum of city life: traffic, horns, sirens, people talking and shouting (possibly screaming), dogs barking, machines, aircraft. When she leaves her home and mingles in her surroundings, her senses are overwhelmed with sights and smells and the sounds of countless people doing what they do. In order to remain sane, she tunes a lot of that overstimulation out. She cannot possibly acknowledge the presence of the hundreds, even thousands of people passing her on the street, as she goes to and from work. She consciously ignores them, along with the stream of countless cars. What would be the point in looking at every person and car? So she tunes them out - ignores them - and only gives her attention to things that concern her. The rest of the buzz is distracting and must be blurred into the background. She must desensitize herself to her world in order not to be overstimulated and overwhelmed by it. Why? Because she cannot possible process all of the sensory stimulation.

Our man in the bush, on the other hand, seldom hears a car, a dog or even another person, so when one is approaching, he is aware of it. His world is far more quiet, so sounds are more noticeable, and he need not tune them out. Since people are few, he greets each one he meets, and because his survival may actually depend on his being aware of things around him, he trains himself to be acutely aware of his surroundings.

When a city-dweller goes to live in the bush, there is a period of adjustment - re-sensitization. There has to be, because, although living in a natural environment is more quiet, there may be hidden dangers that one would rarely encounter in a city, like predators (okay, cities are full of those), snakes, scorpions, centipedes, thorny plants and trees and biting or stinging insects. Dangers in a city are mostly from other people or from vehicles operated by them, or from dogs, and less from the environment itself.

Since this web site is about bugging out, i.e. relocating from population centers like cities and moving to a rural area, the change in awareness that must accompany that move is an appropriate topic, because it is not automatic. As I have been living in both rural and city environments for many years, and because I often teach city-dwellers how to do things, like grow food, in the bush, I have had some time to study these phenomena of desensitization and resensitization. People who come from the city to the bush often do not become aware of their new surroundings - they remain tuned-out, until they make a conscious effort to be more observant. Remaining tuned out can be dangerous.

It should come as no surprise that I recommend a practice bugout for the purpose of observing what happens in your mind as you acclimate yourself to the natural world, as well as for practicing for an actual bugout, should the need arise. Find a quiet place in the woods or elsewhere where you can camp for a night or two. If you take a friend or partner, observe silence as much as possible - tune in to the sounds of nature instead. Sit quietly, meditate, and notice what is going on around you. Have your friend try to sneak up on you - notice how you are suddenly aware of every leaf moving, every sound that isn't part of the background. The ability to isolate and recognize a specific sound and separate it from the backgound is the result of living in the bush and practicing it. Since a real bugout might reasonably be in your future, it will increase your chances of survival if you intentionally put yourself in that situation in advance.

If you read any of the books I list (see Defense and Resources) for the defensive use of handguns, you will eventually come across the 'color code' of readiness, originated by the 82nd Airborne Division during WW II and later modified and adapted to personal combat by Jeff Cooper and widely adopted by many trainers, which describes a person's state of mind in relation to his environment. The colors are white, yellow, orange and red. In 'white', a person is unaware of his environment; if danger is there, he's oblivious to it, because he's just not paying attention to what is going on around him. Most people are in the white state most of the time. In 'yellow', a person is paying attention to things around him, who is there and what people are doing. He does not detect danger, but he is actively observant and keenly aware of his surroundings. In 'orange', he has detected danger or a possible threat and is mentally prepared to deal with it. In 'red', a specific threat is identified and is being monitored, and should it take action, he is prepared to neutralize it.

As Stephen Wenger (Defensive Use of Firearms) points out, the color code actually describes a person's preparedness, his mental attitude towards harming and possibly killing another human in self-defense. One estimate says that 98 percent of the population have a strong reluctance to kill another person. In 'white', a man is in denial of the need to use deadly force or senses a barrier to the use of force. The one in 'yellow' has become aware of the possibility of having to use force or has lowered that barrier. The one in 'orange' recognizes a potential threat and the barrier has dropped very low. The one in 'red' sees a specific threat and the barrier has been removed. So rather than an increase in awareness, the color code identifies a person's increasing readiness to take action - to overcome the natural hesitation to shoot someone.

If you carry a concealed handgun, you must be ready to remain in condition yellow at all times and be prepared to escalate your readiness to orange and red should the situation dictate. A person in 'white' should not carry a gun, because he is not ready to use it. Simply brandishing a gun in hopes it will scare off a threat is courting disaster. When you carry a gun, you may have to act to protect yourself and others, so prepare yourself mentally.

In the bush, the potential dangers are often different than in a city, but the need to remain in condition 'yellow' does not go away, especially in a state of lawlessness. The most serious threats, both in the city and the bush, will probably be people who are armed and not respectful of the properties or even the lives of others. Choose your bugout location carefully, so that your encounters with such people will be rare or non-existent. It is always better to avoid a fight, but if it cannot be avoided, make sure you are the one who survives to avoid the next one.

Speaking of cities and their effect on people living in them, a few more observations might be useful. I mentioned how the constant activity and noises force people to tune them out, making them less aware of their surroundings. This conscious denial or avoidance extends to personal encounters, or the lack of them. Is it even possible to make eye contact with the hundreds or thousands of people passing on the street? Of course not. You enter a building and get into an elevator with a dozen other people, what do you do? Do you look at each one and greet them, or do you pretend they don't exist? Obviosly, if you work there and know these people, you might greet them, but in a big city where you may more often be in an elevator full of strangers, you will probably look anywhere but at the person closest to you. Why is that? Because the small personal space we have around us is normally reserved for our family and closest friends, not strangers. So when we are forced to allow strangers in our personal space, as in an elevator, we conciously ignore them, because to acknowledge their presence so close to us would be uncomfortable.

The result of this consciously-ignoring people becomes a habit, part of our way of life in a city - it's one way we avoid discomfort and confrontations with people. We simply deny their existence. What do you suppose the end result of all that conscious avoidance and denying people's existence is? Take another example: You pass all these people on the street and avoid eye contact - you pretend they are not there. Obviously, there are too many people for you to say "Hi there" to every one, so you ignore them instead.

Ever been in a village in any country? You walk on a rural road anywhere on earth and when you meet another person, you say something, you exchange greetings. In Central America I often heard "Adios!" (to God). I never passed anybody where we did not exchange greetings - rural people simply do not ignore others - that's their lifestyle, their habit, to greet everyone they meet. You might say it's human nature to be friendly and to greet others.

What, then, can we say about the effect of living in a city, where there are too many people to greet or even notice? The effect, I believe, is de-humanizing. If it is human nature to be friendly, what do we call the behavior of ignoring others? Perhaps being inhuman. Cities force people to become less caring, less interested in others, less human. I would go further: I believe cities create criminals. Here's why:

People are attracted to cities because they hope to find work, especially when so many rural communities - and employment opportunities - are vanishing. People move to cities to survive. But there they encounter so many others who also want jobs and housing, and in that competition for jobs and housing, there are many losers. What do these people do who cannot find jobs? They often turn to crime just to survive. Some women become prostitutes, some men become thieves. Now combine the dehumanizing effects of living in a city with the tendency for have-nots to become criminals, and what do you have? A recipe for disaster, even in the best of times! Criminals and crime are the inevitable by-products of big cities.

Now imagine a serious disaster or economic collapse - what will it be like in a big city? A disaster on top of an existing disaster. In the coming economic collapse, you don't want to be anywhere near a city.

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