Our ‘advanced’ society comprises an underlying and obscured labyrinthine linked series of dependencies. Like falling dominoes, one single failure could bring everything down.
Much of this article might be thought of as ‘preaching to the converted’. The chances are you’re already accepting on the basic tenets of the need to prepare for an uncertain future.
So why are we writing it? Not only to reinforce in your own mind the wisdom of what you do and why, but to help you when discussing prepping with your non-prepper friends and colleagues. Feel free to share this article with them; maybe it might open the eyes of one or two people who read it. We hope so.
The Domino Theory is a concept with many applications. First formulated by President Eisenhower in 1954, the theory originally held that communism would attack and take over countries, one by one by one, with each country’s fall to communism being accelerated by the fall of its neighbor.
This process was said to run in a sequence from China to Korea to Vietnam to Laos to Cambodia and on to Thailand, then Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma and India. Clearly that didn’t actually happen (thankfully!) and for a while the theory was discredited.
But the theory can be used in many different applications, not just political, although it continues to be regularly used to argue politics. For example, the theory has recently been used by people on both sides of current Middle East issues, arguing either that the spread of Muslim extremism is following a domino pattern while others are claiming that Middle East democracies (ummm – exactly which would those be?) may also take root and grow in a domino fashion.
Of course, you understand the analogy, right? Set up a row of dominoes, spaced slightly apart, then knock the first over and watch the rest of them following in a wave, each set off by its neighbor. Indeed, treat yourself to a light break for a few minutes and watch this video clip of dominoes falling in a chain (during the course of which two new domino world records were established). It is strangely compelling, and there are many similar clips on Youtube.
So what does this have to do with prepping (other than possibly being a suitable activity to enjoy on long winter evenings at your retreat, while surviving internet or television)?
We preppers see the world we live in as becoming more and more like a chain of dominoes. And whereas in a domino falling game, the rules say you start with only one domino being pushed over and then watch to see if all of the others fall, sequentially, we see the world as having several lines of dominoes all leading in to a central target, and with any of the dominoes on any of the lines being able to fall over and to start the chain reaction down the rest of their line to the central target.
That central target, by the way, is us and our current lifestyle, which we preppers understand as being full of dependencies and vulnerabilities, any one of which might tip over and start a domino type chain of events that end up destroying the lives of ourselves and everyone around us.
These chains of events occur in two ways. The first are chains of events that result in a massive disruption in society, and the second are the chains of events that sees the disrupted society become a destroyed society – an anarchistic situation where the rule of law has disappeared and the government is no longer there to help us.
How could this happen? Well, it just takes a single seed event to start a chain reaction, sort of like the child’s rhyme ‘For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost’ and which concludes with an entire kingdom being lost.
Two More Ways of Looking at the Domino Theory as it Applies to Preppers
Non-aware people – a phrase used by preppers to describe people who believe there are no risks or dangers inherent in our lives, and who believe the future continuity of a supportive society is assured – tell us that our concerns are needless, and say that there’s no possible way that some of the things we see as risks could ever become problems.
Let’s look at two more perspectives on this – one theoretical and one very real.
For the theoretical example, and in more modern terms than the rhyme about the horse’s lost shoe, people sometimes ask the question ‘If a butterfly flaps its wings in (your choice of a remote far away minor country), might it result in a (hurricane/tornado/whatever) in (your choice of major western city)?’.
In case you wondered, scientists have considered this question at length, and have come up with formulas to express the situation, which it seems is best summed up, in non-scientific terms, by saying ‘it depends’. 🙂
The underlying point in the question is ‘can a really small and safe seeming event end up as the catalyst that creates a huge disaster. Non-preppers tell us to relax and not worry. But we are like people who see a tiny leak appear in a huge damn, and worry if the leak will widen, if the crack will spread, and if, as a result, the damn will eventually crumble, with the tiny leak becoming a raging torrent.
This brings us to the real-life example. You should go read an analysis of an airline disaster as published by whatever country’s air transportation safety board was responsible for investigating the event. We’ve read plenty of them.
Almost without fail, all airplane disasters start off with a single small event which, in and of itself, is not fatal. It may not even be serious. But it is the initial precipitating event that starts the line of dominoes toppling.
For example – the pilot in command leaves the cockpit of the plane, with the two more junior pilots now piloting the plane. Domino one. One of the pilots is unhappy with his love life and hadn’t slept well the previous night. Domino two. Unusual weather causes an airspeed sensor pitot tube to ice over, and to stop sending accurate information to the flight management computer. Domino three. The flight management computer can’t understand its conflicting results and goes into error mode. Domino four. The two pilots misunderstand the error mode and do the wrong thing. Domino five. They call the senior pilot back to the cockpit but he just passively stands behind the two junior pilots rather than taking command. Domino six. One of the two pilots makes a wrong command with his joystick controller and doesn’t tell the other two pilots what he has done. Domino seven. The two pilots send conflicting commands to the airplane computer and don’t realize they are doing it. Domino eight. The dominos keep falling for five minutes, at which point the plane crashes into the sea killing everyone aboard.
Does that all sound unrealistic and impossible? Not so. We’ve just described the crash an Air France A330 in the South Atlantic in 2009. The initial events were all easy to recover from, but due to a combination of mistakes and bad luck and who knows what else, 228 people died.
Back to prepping again. Our point is that things that should never ever occur – like three highly trained pilots misunderstanding one of the simplest things in flying a plane – that when you have a plane in a stall, you push the plane’s nose down rather than pull it up – sometimes can and do occur. Some of us are trained pilots, and to us it is unthinkable that AF447 crashed, with three skilled commercial pilots having five minutes to recover the plane from the first alarm to the final crash. But, unthinkable or not, the plane did crash, and not because of a big huge vulnerability, but due to a semi-random chain of events that resulted in unexpected tragedy.
It can happen with planes – not only can, but does. It can happen with anything and everything else as well – that is, after all, the quintessential concept of ‘accident’, isn’t it. Just like if you toss a coin enough times, you’ll eventually end up with an unbroken sequence of it always landing heads, so too can ‘accidents’ happen in every other part of our life and our society. Most accidents are small and ‘self-healing’ but there is always the possibility of a really big disaster.
Let’s see just one example of how a sequence of events results in society disintegrating in front of us.
The Dominoes Fall, Part One
Let’s start with a minor event, because the point of our article is that cataclysmic events can start from the smallest and most trivial of initiating circumstances. It is the obscured way that the innocuous flapping of the butterfly’s wings grows to become a thunderstorm that is the problem.
In this case, let’s start with a person answering their cell phone while driving along on the highway. Whether legal or not, we all do this, on a regular basis. This is the first domino.
The person’s eyes glaze over as they talk, then realize they are drifting out of their lane and across the center line. Another domino – and again, something we’ve often seen on the roads. Startled, they over-correct and their car swerves in front of a truck. There’s the next domino now falling, and we’re still talking commonplace events.
The truck fishtails as the driver attempts to avoid the car. Another domino.
The truck rolls over, down a bank, and comes to rest when it hits a power pylon. And another domino.
Now the dominoes turn a corner, and the traffic events change to a very different series of events. The dominoes continue to fall.
The power pylon is knocked over, breaking the wires it was supporting. Domino falls.
The power line was only a medium capacity line (we’re not going to cheat and make it easy!). The utility that was using the power from the line switches its feed to an alternate path through the grid. The next domino wavers – will it fall or not.
Ooops – over it goes. Much of our grid operates at close to capacity already, and much of it is aging and in less than prime condition. The loss of one circuit has overloaded the alternate circuit, and suddenly a transformer blows.
Due to poor design and random bad luck (this time we’re giving ourselves some help) the loss of power meant that the control circuitry for the distribution system also fails. The backup generator failed to start. A couple more dominoes fall.
The failed control circuitry means that the regional grid doesn’t properly reconfigure itself. A couple more transformers overload and fail, and high tension distribution lines melt and fall. There’s a few more dominoes.
The regional grid was formerly a net contributor of power to the national grid, but now is a net recipient of power, overloading other parts of the national grid. In spectacular showers of sparks and noisy explosions, more transformers fail. The grid consumes itself, just like a domino pyramid collapsing.
In less than five minutes from the car swerving in front of the truck, the nation’s entire electricity grid has gone dark. Some local power utilities are still generating local power for their local consumers, but the vast majority of the nation, which relies on the grid to transport power from where it is generated to where it is consumed, are now without power.
So, big deal you might think. Change over a few blown fuses, string a few replacement wires between pylons, and we’re back to normal in a day or two? Sorry, no.
Those failed transformers can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced, and we no longer make them in the US. It will take more than two years before replacements start arriving from China, and maybe ten years before all of them are back online.
But whether it is ten years, two years, ten months, or even ‘only’ two months before power is restored, we have many more problems that will start occurring in the next ten minutes and the next ten hours and the next ten days.
The Dominos Fall Ever Faster
The dominoes are still falling. They turn another corner then split into multiple parallel streams, and keep going. The implications of a near total power loss for our modern society – which is totally reliant on electricity for almost everything – are catastrophic.
One domino stream has to do with the loss of power in the food storage industry. Refrigeration and freezer units fail, meaning the nation’s inventory of food in cool stores starts to spoil. Within a few days, much of it is no longer edible. And as for ordering up replacement food – how can that be done, and where will it come from? Because –
No power means no communications. No cell phones, no internet, no landline phones. Even if the emergency services had power themselves, they would be largely cut off from each other and unable to communicate and coordinate disaster recovery actions.
Think about the loss of communications. We don’t just mean that your teenage children can’t now spend all day compulsively texting each other or posting on Facebook. ATMs stop working, as do banks with electronic only records of accounts.
Another stream has to do with the loss of power in FEMA and the regional emergency coordination centers. Sure, they’ve backup generators, but how much fuel do they have for them? As for more fuel, well, no power means the pumps at gas stations don’t work, and no power means the refineries don’t work either.
Another stream has to do with life’s modern essentials. How about water? No power means no pumps – not for water in to your residence, nor for sewage out of it, either.
Before you know it, everything in your world has stopped working, because everything in your world either directly or indirectly needs electricity.
But wait, that’s the good news. Now for the really bad news.
The Dominoes Fall, Part Two
So we’ve seen how a driver answering their cell phone ended up with most of the United States without power. What happens next?
For the first few minutes, nothing much happens. And we truly mean nothing much happens. Failed traffic lights will put our cities into instant gridlock.
But very soon, some clever person realizes ‘no power means no burglar alarms, and gridlock means police can’t get here quickly’ and he breaks into a store. The dominoes quickly start falling down that path as copycats note the growing crime wave of looters acting with seeming impunity. Not only are there no burglar alarms, there are no regular phones or cell phones either, and even if there were, without power to their computers and radios, there is no way that the police dispatchers could coordinate sending police to multiple crime scenes. Before too long, the police cruisers will be without petrol anyway. Meanwhile, gun control laws in the largest and most crime ridden cities mean that store owners and individuals are helpless to resist the crime wave that engulfs them.
So what happens next along that domino line? Soon the looting becomes general rioting, and then, either by accident or deliberately, a building catches fire.
Even if the local fire department could be advised of this and attend the fire, what are they going to do? There’s no water pressure in the fire hydrants, remember.
Okay, so they have a few pumper trucks that can maybe suck water out of the hydrants (not sure about this, but possibly), but what happens when they run out of diesel?
Soon you have the city ablaze, both from accidental fires spreading unchecked and from copycat arsonists.
At this point, the police have not just been unable to respond, they’ve chosen not to respond (just like in the LA riots). There are too many rioters out there, and too few police, who have to cluster together in larger numbers due to not being able to keep communications up and speedily travel from one hot spot to the next.
So the city is decaying into lawlessness, one domino at a time.
The dominoes turn another corner. Stores quickly run out of food. The looters realize that you can’t eat big screen televisions, and shift their focus to food.
It isn’t just the stores that run out of food. People start to quickly run out of food, too. They’re already struggling to survive with no water, and now are realizing that if/when they manage to get sufficient safe drinking water, they’re merely replacing one pressing problem with another one, the lack of food.
Not only are they running low on food. The 25% or whatever of the adult population who smokes are running out of cigarettes. The percent of people on addictive drugs are running low on their supplies. You know that these groups of citizens will be becoming anxious and irritable, to put it mildly.
Meantime, there’s another line of dominoes toppling. You can flip a coin and decide if it is midsummer or midwinter, but either way, the lack of energy to heat or cool dwellings means that people in poor health are suffering, and those who can get to hospitals are finding little solace or assistance there. There’s a growing healthcare crisis, not yet affecting normal healthy people, but starting to become an issue. People injured in the rioting are finding it harder to get medical care, and the general restlessness of the ‘normal’ and law-abiding citizenry is growing. Their initial passive complacent ‘the government will save us’ attitude is being replaced with annoyed outrage – ‘why isn’t the government saving me?’.
The ‘government’ can’t save its citizens, because government employees are suffering the same problems themselves, and are also having to choose between protecting themselves and their family by abandoning their government related duties, or leaving their families unprotected in an increasingly hostile environment and risking their lives attempting to control an uncontrollable wave of civil disorder.
The ones who do honorably report for duty find themselves undermanned with insufficient colleagues to do anything, and find themselves confronted with no support from other government sources and resources, and quickly decide the situation is hopeless and if everyone else is abandoning their jobs, they should do the same.
Anarchy takes over from order. But even as anarchy seems to be ruling supreme, a new guiding principle becomes more and more apparent – the growing need to ensure one’s personal immediate survival. The need for shelter, water and food.
Apartment dwellers are moving out of their apartments – who wants to live on the 10th or 20th floor of a building with no elevators operating and no water? Others are being forced out by fires. Still others are abandoning their homes due to safety concerns or the need to find food. Where do all these people go and what do they do?
How long will it be before begging in the streets for help, shelter, water and food becomes demanding in the streets? How long before people start taking not just goods from stores, but life’s essentials from other people, and by force?
Time for a new line of dominoes to start falling over. The infrastructure repair workers – people who had been trying to restore power in whatever limited amount possible – start abandoning their jobs. They too have no water or food, and their families are being threatened just as much as anyone else’s.
And another line of dominoes now starts falling over too. What a few people had first started doing has become now a city-wide exodus – people are abandoning their city, fleeing to the suburbs and then on beyond, looking for refuge and safety from the civil disorder, and looking for shelter, water and food.
What Happens Next?
Sorry, all the dominoes have now fallen over. Society has been destroyed. The people tasked with protecting and defending society have fled their posts, and (this is the real kicker) the people tasked with restoring society’s services have also fled their posts, too. The city dwellers are fleeing their cities – but where will they go? Who will support them and how? Lots of questions, none of which come with good answers.
For more on this topic, please refer to Why Cities Will Unavoidably Become Lawless within a Week or Two of a Level 2/3 Event, which talks some more about how cities will fail when their support structures fail.
And for more on where people can go to when evacuating a city, we have several articles, including perhaps this one – Rural America’s Decline Means Urban America’s Increased Vulnerability.
And as to what will happen next, here’s a good article – The Four Waves of Food and Shelter Seekers.
Could it Really Get That Bad?
Many people acknowledge that society could suffer a massive failure, but refuse to accept that the net result would be lawlessness and much worse. They prefer to think that respect for the concept of the rule of law and the treasuring of human life above all else would remain, and that people would behave honorably and well.
Perhaps some people might indeed set shining examples of unselfish good behavior. But the thing that can’t be avoided is – what happens when people are starving, and they have to choose between allowing their spouses, children, and other dependents to die of hunger while acting honestly and nobly, or doing whatever it takes – anything it takes – to get food any way possible?
No matter how basically decent and honest most people are most of the time, when it becomes life or death, many people will choose life, no matter how it is to be achieved. Cities will inevitably become a ‘kill or be killed’ environment.
A breakdown in society and destruction of the rule of law doesn’t require everyone to ‘go bad’. The tipping point requires only a very few people to act that way – this has been proven time and time again with the great ‘revolutions’ in history – revolutions that now seemed inevitable and which are misperceived as having been conducted with the active support of the overwhelming majority of citizens, but which in reality were brought about by only an active few.
You may or may not be certain how you and your friends would behave, but you can be absolutely certain that enough other people will act lawlessly and violently to make ordinary normal life impossible.
Who would have thought that the US could be brought to its knees by a careless driver swerving on the freeway?
We’re not saying the scenario we walked you through is guaranteed to occur. We agree that it ‘shouldn’t’ occur, and we agree that it is very unlikely. But, planes that ‘shouldn’t’ crash still do, and sometimes with 100% fatal results.
We’re also not saying this is the only way that our society could be brought to its knees. Actually, we’re saying something much worse than that – we are saying that this sequence of events is only one of countless hundreds of ways in which the multiple dependencies on which our current world around us is based could collapse and all fall down, leaving nothing behind.
Most of all, we’re suggesting that – contrary to the misperceptions of many – our society is becoming increasingly more and more vulnerable rather than more and more resilient. Energy – and electricity in particular – is one of the core essentials that our society is built upon, and if the supply of energy were to be disrupted, society could quickly and spectacularly fail before such time as energy supplies could be restored.
We’re saying that – if you’re not already – you should become a prepper, and start to prepare for a life where you can not rely on the government saving the day in an emergency. The only people you can for sure rely upon are yourself, your immediate family, and your closest friends. The only food, water and energy will be that you’ve stored for yourselves or can create with your own resources and efforts.
Please see our introductory series of articles about prepping for more information about who preppers are, what their concerns are, and what they are doing about their concerns.