What should I learn for doomsday?
March 20, 2006 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Imagine the standard post apocalyptic scenario - social order collapses, technology is set back hundreds of years, people are struggling to create something like a livable society again. What skills would make a person especially valuable in a situation like this? Bonus points for things that would be useful in everyday life now.

There have been questions relating to things like this (there was one about how long it'd take us to get back on our feet technologically right now), but I'm asking specifically about the kinds of knowledge and abilities it'd be good to have.

Not that I'm, you know, paranoid or anything.
posted by borkingchikapa to Education (59 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Scientific farming. Metal-working/blacksmithing. "Folk" medicine/herbal remedies. Veternary skills. Medical skills. Basic chemistry.

But mostly, farming.
posted by orthogonality at 9:29 AM on March 20, 2006


You should read Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time. I couldnt finish it but one of the main criticisms is that it is TOO detailed about all the processes and skills needed to survive thousands of years ago - the basic mechanical skills needed to build simple machines, the agricultural skills needed to grow food, manage livestock and so on...and even what things are of value for trade and, of course, the building of weapons.
posted by vacapinta at 9:33 AM on March 20, 2006


Depending on how badly borked things get, engine repair could be very useful — especially for mechanical farm equipment like tractors and harvesters. If engine repair is out, then horse training, breeding and care are in.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:36 AM on March 20, 2006


What the hell is "Scientific farming?"

I think a good skill to have would be "waving shotgun around in front of abandoned diesel tanker."

Or, you know. Breeding.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:37 AM on March 20, 2006


Being a doctor.

Get paid a lot now and be completely invaluable when the world ends. Get the other people to do the farming while you concentrate on patching them up.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:40 AM on March 20, 2006


100's of billions of diesel engines will not disappear in any scenario humanity can survive. Find some tools.

Open up a scrapyard, salvage the best machines for making /restoring farm tractors .

Then grow corn or soy or switchgrass, make biodiesel. You may have to do this first if you cannot find some fuel beforehand.
posted by ernie at 9:46 AM on March 20, 2006


Piggybacking on this a bit, what are some good books to read or activities to engage in to help a person learn agricultural/folk medicine type skills? I have the basics of vegetable gardening down as well as skills with draft animals, but how can I get to the next step of being self-sufficient in the worst case scenario?
posted by fancypants at 9:49 AM on March 20, 2006


Another vote for farming. This Reader's Digest book is a great reference volums on most things that would be handy to know to be self reliant. I recommend it for everyone planning for the apocalypse.
posted by JJ86 at 10:00 AM on March 20, 2006


Shooting a bow and arrow, and knowing how to make them. Knowing how to make gunpower, bullets, and maintain guns. Carpentry with non-electric tools.
posted by miss tea at 10:01 AM on March 20, 2006


Building a generator. Reading.
posted by Hildago at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2006


I don't agree that a doctor would be very useful. Doctors nowawdays depend on the internet for information & pharmacies for medicine & fantastic diagnostic equipment to make diagnoses. What you need is an old sawbones, so folk medicine. Midwivery. Farming. Basic plumbing & sanitation, since water & sewer systems would be gone. Lumberjack skills, masonry - you'd need chimnies if gas & electric were gone. Canning technologies, since freezers would be gone. The Amish would suddenly be in great demand - & they wouldn't notice much of a difference.
posted by clarkstonian at 10:22 AM on March 20, 2006


Marketing. Business development.

Seriously, public speaking, interpersonal skills, leadership/organizational skills. The brave new world will need leaders and organizers (or high priests(esses), for that matter). It'll be a mess, and people who can navigate that mess and turn it around will be invaluable. Best case, you run the show and get others to farm and whatnot for you. Worst case, keeping your wits about you and talking your way out of trouble may save your bacon.
posted by loquax at 10:23 AM on March 20, 2006


100's of millions of diesel engines
yikes
posted by ernie at 10:26 AM on March 20, 2006


Following up on vacapinta and responding to ernie. Stirling's most recent series, which starts with Dies the Fire, operates on the (admittedly contrived) premise that no technology works; electricity, internal combustion, steam and gunpowder have all been rendered ineffective.
If you're interested in seeing what skills it would take to survive in the modern world without modern tech, those books are a good place to look.
posted by Octaviuz at 10:26 AM on March 20, 2006


Mechanical engineering -- what about a degree in organic chemistry? While it will be impossible, or economically unfeasible, to synthesize complex pharmaceuticals I would say the more basic and crucial medicines could be made without a billion dollar factory. I'd rather have someone on hand who can make antiobiotics than someone who picks out green tea herbs.

I think, in any likely scenerio, surpluses of food and goods should keep whatever survives going for some time. Energy will be the biggest problem as the processing and capital intensive processes involved would definitely work against you.
posted by geoff. at 10:27 AM on March 20, 2006


Any ER doc would instantly be the most valuable person in town.

Doctors nowawdays depend on the internet for information

So I guess you're saying that books don't survive this apocalypse? ;-)

Another idea ... brewers and wine-makers would be instantly valuable.
posted by frogan at 10:28 AM on March 20, 2006


Actually they say when times are tough, trade in vice items flourishes -

Get into setting up a distillery or brewery.

The number one item in the US supposedly sold out first in severe storm preparedness (or reaction) is supposed to be beer.
posted by ernie at 10:29 AM on March 20, 2006


While it may make interesting fiction -- if electricity didn't work we'd have a hard time beating our heart, no? Any disaster which changes the fundamental laws of physics (steam, combustion, electricity) is not something I'd want to survive anyway.
posted by geoff. at 10:30 AM on March 20, 2006


Comic timing.
posted by jasonsmall at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2006


Hunting, fishing, trapping, growing, building, canning, and the like. Basic hippy homestead stuff. Also, knowing how to rig up PV panels, fixing engines, making fuel.

Book: Five Acres and Independence (this is some no-nonsense, excellent information)
posted by recurve at 10:34 AM on March 20, 2006


Bascially the currently homeless would become the new evolutionary kingpins.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:38 AM on March 20, 2006


The current homeless would suffer harshly. In a collapsing society, they would have millions of more people to compete with for dwindling resources. The reason why many homeless people manage to survive now is because of the generosity of existing society and the scavenging of societal waste.
posted by storybored at 10:49 AM on March 20, 2006


The skill that would be important: Being able to know a good how-to book from a bad how-to book and amassing a big collection of the former.

You'll also need some good fiction to tide through those dark cold nights.
posted by storybored at 10:50 AM on March 20, 2006


letterpress printing. hand typesetting. bookbinding. signpainting.
posted by luriete at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2006


Comic timing.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:20 AM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Demagoguery. You won't need any practical skills yourself if you can get other people to use their skills for your benefit.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:22 AM on March 20, 2006


The most valuable attribute would be having a score of men who obey your orders and possess rifles. With that one attribute, you could obtain anything else you wished.
posted by jellicle at 11:24 AM on March 20, 2006


The teacher will be the most important guy after the apocalypse.

In the book Earth Abides, the tribe collapses into a primitive, impoverished hunter-gatherer lifestyle in just one generation, because the group of 8 or so surviving Americans are all just scavenging, always talking about how "We gotta get organized", but they never do, they just live off the surplus of the past, as everything slowly breaks and falls apart.

The main character is the only educated guy in the group of survivors. He tries to run a school for the new post-plague generation of kids, but things just don't work out... the new generation is illiterate and totally SOL...

So, you need a guy who can figure out how to teach the new people all these basic skills (metalworking, farming science, basic meds, etc.), even if you aren't an expert yourself. And most importantly you need to preserve the (paper) books, and make sure that the kids can read them.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:48 AM on March 20, 2006


(wow, quite the opposite of jellicle's concept, I see)
posted by Meatbomb at 11:49 AM on March 20, 2006


Oh, and one more thing re. all these comments about just needing guns and whatnot...

Those violent brutal people will be remembered as thugs and bogeymen, but the guy who teaches the new people will be the God Mother / Father of the tribe after all of the old people are gone, for hundreds of years into the future... Thenew people will write their creation myths about YOU.

I'd say that's a more noble thing to shoot for!
posted by Meatbomb at 11:56 AM on March 20, 2006


Opportune timing. Loompanics is going out of business and selling everything at reduced prices. Check out the sections on "Self Sufficiency" and "Head for the Hills".
posted by Gamblor at 11:58 AM on March 20, 2006


I'll take live thug over dead myth any day as many days as I can manage, thanks. I'd say beat-cop level law enforcement skills would be highly useful in addition to the earlier ones re: marksmanship & weaponsmithing.
posted by phearlez at 12:09 PM on March 20, 2006


Skinning, preparing, and cooking human flesh. Being well fed will help you perform the hard work you'll need to survive and humans are probably easier to catch than most mammals.

Plus, if your camp is lined with skulls nobody will want to fuck with you.
posted by bondcliff at 12:26 PM on March 20, 2006


If Charlton Heston has taught me anything its that the proper skills to survive the apocalypse are as follows:
1. The ability to wear an ascot
2. Prowess with weaponry (preferrably automatic)
3. An appreciation for the finer things of the past (booze, sculptures)
4. A strong desire to solve mysteries
posted by fidgets at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2006


Since there won't be doctors, and you might end up poisoning yourself with your canned food or ill-prepared meatstuffs or developing gangrene from futzing around with rusty machinery you don't really know how to use or some other sort of unforeseen buffoonery ...

Figure out the way you're going to put yourself out of your misery. If it comes down to bleeding like a stuck pig or watching your flesh rot slowly from the toe upwards or letting a parasitic worm eat your insides away, you'd probably rather want to know what poison to take so it'll kill you quickly and painlessly.

Also, beware of run-on sentences ...
posted by clearlynuts at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2006


Wow Loompanics going out of business?

That in itself is kinda an ironic comment on ze doom scenario.
posted by storybored at 1:00 PM on March 20, 2006


Water filtration and purification professional.

No water =! no life.

So a civil engineer or mechanical engineer.
posted by bigmusic at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2006


Huh, I am surprised at how optimistic people are in this thread. Maybe it's a lifetime of depression, sci fi books, or both, but I'm pretty sure that without weapons as a woman I'd be at the (rapist) mercy of a whole lot of sicko men. Give me some solid self-defense skills, including distance weapons, and then I'll be able to farm.
posted by miss tea at 2:27 PM on March 20, 2006


The currently homeless have spent a lot of time knowing where resources exist that we do not know about. Sure, some people give them money, but that isn't reliable and you can bet that they have scavanged plenty. They are the ones who can live out in the open. Sorry to bust your bubble storybored, but they live in a very harsh reality which will be similar to the one described. They know how to keep warm at night with very little. They know where to hide, they know how to be unconspicuous when they want to--all things we don't.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2006


Distilling ethanol.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:49 PM on March 20, 2006


get some sweet sniper skills. any gang/clan would love a decent sniper.

also, think about other gun related skills as well as demolitions.
posted by 29 at 2:50 PM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


comic timing.
posted by ook at 3:00 PM on March 20, 2006


Being able to make guns and ammo would be pretty big, I'd think.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2006


Dentistry.

Enough with the "comic timing" jokes. Once was mildly amusing, but see down there where it says "Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers"? I think Matt means it.
posted by languagehat at 3:06 PM on March 20, 2006


It depends on the type of PAW (Post Apocolyptic World)we get when TSHTF (The Stuff Hits The Fan). If it is pandemic and most people die, there would still be huge piles of consumer goods to "scavenge" or loot. If it is a peak oil or social breakdown, the number of people would only be reduced by starvation and destruction and they would grind the machinery of society down like a gearbox full of gravel and sand. The job I would take would be very different in either one.

If there aren't a lot of people and plenty of resources, I would fortify a building and loot books to build a secure library.

If there are large numbers of survivors, I would head for the hills and survive as well as I could until you all die down to manageable numbers.
posted by Megafly at 3:24 PM on March 20, 2006


Animal husbandry (calm down, Senator!)
posted by rob511 at 4:21 PM on March 20, 2006


get yerself a heapin helping of fox fire books and sit in yer cabin in the woods polishin the skills they'll teach ya
posted by Jonsnews at 4:41 PM on March 20, 2006


Making shelters out of cardboard boxes and duct tape.

Did anyone mention comic timing?
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:51 PM on March 20, 2006


Um, sure, you could waste your time learning to farm and all that crap but these skills are useless if somebody attacks your farm and kills you. It's just silly to waste time trying to survive when your greatest concern in most scenarios will be other human beings. And, of course, which is more efficient: slaving away on a farm and scraping up just barely enough to survive or forcing other people to slave away on a farm for you?

So.

You need to learn how to kill. You have to start training in order to become a cold, calculating killing machine. Firearms, blades, throwing knives, booby traps, small group tactics, urban assault, demolition, explosives, artillery, poisons, tracking, survival... the max. You'll also need to condition yourself to be able to take life without a second thought. This'll require undoing a lifetime of liberal conditioning but it can be done. Once you're a highly trained killer you need not fear the apocalypse. You'll be able to sweep in and conquer any patches of civilization that might arise.
posted by nixerman at 4:57 PM on March 20, 2006


I'd want a beer-maker, a teacher and someone who could start a fire with rocks and sticks in my group, definitely.
posted by mediareport at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2006


Is there something you know that you should be telling the rest of us?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:05 PM on March 20, 2006


What should I learn for doomsday?

A little bit of everything. I know you said, "people are struggling to create something like a livable society again," but until people get to that point, or if the disaster is such that that doesn't happen, you'll want to be able to take care of yourself. I wouldn't want to have to trade my skills for others I don't posess - you might be far from anyone who can do necessary things that you can't do, or there might be an overabundance of people nearby who can do the same stuff you can.

The stuff that keeps you alive after The Big One is not necessarily very economically viable today.

Contrary to what nixerman (hopefully not serious) says right up there, you do want to first look out for yourself, and only then watch out for others. You will want some defensive skills, but offensive skills? Someone would take you out sooner or later. Why depend on forcing others to produce food and shelter for you when you can do it yourself, thereby making yourself more valuable (for your teachable knowledge), not to mention not oppressing X number of people who will rebel and kill you?

Several people mentioned things like engine repair, but;

a) there may be little or no fuel (one person addressed this)
b) there may be no use for engines (depending on how far back we have been set)
c) dependence on that sort of thing may well have been what caused the apocalyptic scenario in the first place

Ditto for animal husbandry/horseshoeing/etc - who says any work animals will be left?

Props to jonsnews for the Foxfire books recommendation - good stuff about living off the land, just like our ancestors did - and many people in rural areas do today. Want to build some tools, then build a house with them? It's in there. Want to learn how to catch, clean, and cook small game? Read up.
posted by attercoppe at 6:41 PM on March 20, 2006


Telling other people what to do, and getting them to feed, protect, have sex with you etc, in exchange for your telling them what to do.
In other words: priest or politician,
posted by signal at 8:13 PM on March 20, 2006


So I guess you're saying that books don't survive this apocalypse? ;-)

You joke about this, but in a couple of doomsday scenarios (not the least of which is nuclear annihilation) I can easily imagine it becoming extremely difficult to get your hands on a book, let alone find a well-stocked library.

Along Meatbomb's line of thinking, Threads depicts a post-nuclear-attack British Isles, and near the end shows a thoroughly barbaric and barely functional second generation: practically unable to communicate, lacking the most basic of skill sets, and without much of a social order. It's implied that a lack of educational resources is one reason for the sudden decline; when the movie jumps to a decade after the attack, the teenaged children of the survivors are watching a badly mangled videotape of an elementary child's program. In addition to being damaged, the tape also makes little contextual sense; the woman on screen is describing various zoo animals, which doesn't help if you have no idea what a zoo even is.

So, in addition to having many of the skills listed above, being able to record and teach those skills to others would indeed be a valuable asset. If Meatbomb's suggestion that you will be remembered as a god doesn't do it for you, here's my take: you will singlehandedly save the human race at least a couple of centuries of figuring everything out from scratch once the initial survivors die.
posted by chrominance at 8:23 PM on March 20, 2006


Actually comic timing would be a definite plus, human society has always valued its storytellers and entertainers. Somebody will be the strongman's jester, might as well be you.
posted by cali at 9:40 PM on March 20, 2006


i'm pretty sure that being a scolding schoolmarm is a skill that will go over as well as piggy's asthma.

what will really serve a person well in the coming dystopia is skill in hunting. you eat, you feed others. you survive to hunt another day.
posted by Hat Maui at 3:25 AM on March 21, 2006


I'm pretty sure being a flaming asshole will get you killed right quick. And nobody will mourn.
posted by languagehat at 5:10 AM on March 21, 2006


frogan writes "Another idea ... brewers and wine-makers would be instantly valuable"

Any fool can make beer or wine but the inputs aren't readily available. Distilled spirits is where it's at. Learn how to make a still out of a bucket of clay and then how to use it.

Meatbomb writes "Those violent brutal people will be remembered as thugs and bogeymen, but the guy who teaches the new people will be the God Mother / Father of the tribe after all of the old people are gone, for hundreds of years into the future... Thenew people will write their creation myths about YOU"

As much as it pains me we still remember Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great. Still I'd rather be dead then be one of those people who only takes and never acts cooperatively.

nixerman writes "Um, sure, you could waste your time learning to farm and all that crap but these skills are useless if somebody attacks your farm and kills you. It's just silly to waste time trying to survive when your greatest concern in most scenarios will be other human beings. And, of course, which is more efficient: slaving away on a farm and scraping up just barely enough to survive or forcing other people to slave away on a farm for you?"

What if it's a "Night of the Comet" style PAW?
posted by Mitheral at 11:39 AM on March 21, 2006


I'm pretty sure being a flaming asshole will get you killed right quick.

couldn't agree more.
posted by Hat Maui at 12:19 PM on March 21, 2006


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