Conventional wisdom paints an apocalyptic but not very detailed picture of social breakdown in a Level 2 or 3 situation (note – it might be helpful to refresh your understanding of what we define as Level 1, 2 and 3 events).
In the past, we’ve suggested there wouldn’t be an instant collapse of social order and there wouldn’t be an instant mass exodus out of the cities. That’s not to say the collapse won’t happen (we’re sadly certain that it will), it just is unlikely to happen immediately and instantly.
It is helpful to understand the evolving stages of social order, disorder, and then – hopefully – order once more that will transpire during such situations. If we understand this process, we can adapt our own responses to the changing world around us – and we can also draw some encouragement from the likely eventual resolution.
Here’s how we see things as unfolding. We make these predictions based on broad reading of social literature, studies of past social collapses, consensus discussions on the topic, and our own best guesses. No-one really knows for sure what will happen, but we think this is a reasonably likely overall evolution. Some parts of the six phases might be more or less prominent, but just as how a wheel has to fully rotate 360 degrees to complete a full circle, each part of it needs to occur as part of the process to the next part and to the final phase six resolution.
The time each part of the process will take is of course conjecture on our part, particularly Phases Three and Four. So consider this in broad outline and adapt it as you wish to make it part of your own planning.
Phase One – A False Calm
The first part of a Level 2/3 event may last anywhere from a day to two weeks. This will be the period during which people slowly come to accept and comprehend that life as they formerly knew it has massively changed, and that there won’t be a magical ‘rescue’ by some government service.
During this time, the rule of law will probably continue more or less unchanged. Indeed, the first steps that the civic leaders will probably undertake in response to the situation will be to declare states of emergency, call out the national guard, set curfews, limit the amount of food one can buy, and so on.
Not only will such steps be taken in an attempt to preserve the status quo, but the people tasked with implementing such orders (police, national guard, etc) will be compliant and act as directed, as will most of the civilian population.
The predominant underlying motivation in phase one will be ‘let’s all keep it together, and we will manage to survive in an orderly and civilized manner’, combined with a paralysis of belief and action in response to a situation beyond most people’s comprehension, and of course, the hope/expectation that someone, somewhere, will come to everyone’s rescue and save the day. It will take some days before supplies start to run out and the local/regional support structures start to undeniably crumble and fail.
Phase Two – A Growing Panic
Unfortunately, people can only remain so calm for so long when they’re starving. When people run out of food, and when the local supermarkets and distribution centers also run out of food (actually, this will occur first – panic buying will see the supermarkets empty out in a day or two), and when no more food comes in to replace the consumed food, people find themselves with two stark choices – lie down and passively die, or do whatever it takes to search out and take food for themselves and their families.
Maybe some form of community sharing will be instituted, but some people will refuse to share their own resources, while other people will realize they can get more by taking than they’d get by passively accepting their ‘fair’ share. The community sharing concept will not prove a success as a result – and even if it were to be a success, how long can it continue? A week? Two? With no new deliveries of food, the available supplies will quickly be exhausted. You can’t share nothing.
This challenge will apply just as much to the law enforcement personnel as it will to the civilian population, and eventually, law enforcement personnel will abandon their duties and join in the growing free-for-all that is developing.
Isolated outbreaks will grow and multiply, and before too long, the ‘rule of law’ will have vanished and people will be doing whatever they need to do, either to protect the food and shelter they do have, or to seek out and take food and shelter from those who have it.
The cities will become bloodbaths with no remaining organized law enforcement.
The predominant feeling in Phase Two will be a combination of panic and anger. ‘How could this happen to me?’ and ‘This is not fair!’ will be how much of the population perceives things, and there will come a tipping point where the former Phase One idealistic hope of ‘Everyone else is being calm and peaceful, therefore I should behave that way too’ will transition to ‘Everyone else is looting and pillaging, therefore I need to as well to get my fair share’ – a feeling made all the more essential by the clear evidence that if you don’t fend for yourself, no-one else is going to do it for you.
This phase – the breakdown of law and order, while most people remain focused on their urban/suburban residences and lifestyles – will last a short while, with Phase Three starting almost immediately and then growing more and more dominant until the cities become hollowed out.
Phase Three – Abandoning the Cities
It will quickly become apparent to people that there are no remaining sources of food in the cities, and for most people, both no way to grow their own food and also no safety in their current residences.
Again, people will have two stark choices. Lie down and die, or roam further afield in search for food and safety.
This will inevitably drive people out of the cities. Think of all the images you’ve seen of streams of refugees from war-ravaged areas, traveling sometimes many hundreds of miles, leaving their old world behind and heading towards a very uncertain alternate life. That’s what will happen, except there probably won’t be any UN sponsored refugee camps or friendly countries to host people.
A lot depends on whether the situation is a regional, national, or continent-spanning event, of course. But even if some countries remain unharmed and unaffected by whatever event it was, the numbers don’t work well in our favor. Most refugee situations involve no more than a few million refugees, and there are wealthy nations with huge resources available to assist the refugees – most notably, the US itself. If something occurs to destroy the resources of the US, and if there are suddenly 300 million of us all needing food urgently, how can any other nation adequately respond?
It is one thing for a nation of 300 million to assist 3 million refugees. But how can a nation of 3 million (or 30 million) now turn around and help the US with its 300 million people, all simultaneously now needy and starving? The sheer logistics of moving the food and distributing it are impossible to start with, and every other part of a coordinated rescue mission for the entire US also suffers from the sheer enormity of the project.
The refugees may be preyed upon by gangs of opportunists, and may also themselves be roving marauders. They’ve got to eat, after all, so they’ll have no choice but to find food wherever it is to be found, and to take it whenever they can.
The predominant feeling at this point is ‘Every man for himself’ and ‘I’ve nowhere to go and nothing to do except fight for survival at any and all costs’.
We see this phase as lasting several weeks to several months.
Phase Four – Nowhere is Safe
As people move out of the cities, they’ll variously stop and settle in places or convert to an extended nomadic lifestyle. What else can they do except just plain die? An appreciable percentage of the population will indeed die – either from exposure/lack of shelter, from disease, from hunger, or from violent encounters.
It is impossible to see how this can not occur – in the circumstance that a Level 2/3 event occurs on a national basis, it will interfere with the ongoing highly mechanized process of agriculture, and even the labor dependent parts will be disrupted by farm hands joining in the social disorder too. The country won’t be able to make enough food to feed itself.
Whatever way you run the numbers, anywhere from perhaps a half the population to three-quarters or more of the population won’t survive through the end of the first winter – even if food were plentiful, energy will be scarce, and people will die of exposure as well as of starvation. And that’s before we start to think about the disease that will ravage through survivor camps, killing off massive numbers of people too.
People who try to establish themselves in some form of sustainable environment for the future will find themselves being challenged by people who don’t want to invest in a future which – to them – is unsure and unlikely; these latter people will be living for the moment and will take what they can, and squander resources recklessly while living ‘high risk’ lifestyles.
A farmer who keeps a herd of dairy cattle will see his cattle taken from him and slaughtered – people would rather have the meat now than a supply of milk for years to come. A farmer with a supply of seed potatoes for next year’s planting will see them taken by people who want to eat food now and who can’t wait many months for the seed potatoes to be planted and to bring in a full new crop.
A person who has stored sufficient food to feed himself and his family, frugally, for a year, will see a mob take that food from him, eat some of it, waste some of it, and take the rest away with them.
A person who attempts to resist (and fails) may find himself tortured or killed (or first one then the other). A person who attempts to barricade themselves in their secure retreat may find an attacking mob will simply choose to burn his entire retreat to the ground – with him still in it, of course.
The mob mentality would rather see the person and the mob lose everything rather than the person keep anything for himself. Win-win will be an abandoned concept. Win-lose will be the order of the day, and lose-lose will also be an unfortunate approach that is widely adopted too.
Some people might keep a social conscience and attempt to lead a good and lawful life. Those people will also be known by another name – ‘victims’. It will be kill or be killed; and those who are not willing to aggressively defend themselves, their loved ones and their possessions will find themselves losing everything.
The predominant feeling at this point will be a ruthless pursuit of the need to survive short-term, never mind the longer term, and never mind the cost or casualties of what one does to survive. There will be no law and no formal consequences to any actions.
The duration of Phase Four depends a bit on the seasons and the location – a harsh winter will impose calm (and/or an icy death) on people, as well as restricting movement, whereas an extended summer will allow for nomadic roving groups of lawless looters. We of course can’t guess when during the year a level 2/3 situation may suddenly erupt, but we will say that Phase Four will run through until the winter, at which point – especially in places with harsher winters – it will diminish in scope, and by the next spring, conditions may be ready for Phase Five.
Phase Five – A New Form of Social Order
Out of even the direst chaos, some new structure inevitably evolves. We see two areas of evolution that will slowly start to coalesce out of the Phase Four anarchy.
On the apparently minus side, the bad guys will start to form into organized groups. There already are groups of bad guys in place – biker and street gangs – and they will grow enormously in size and power. Other groups will form on an ad hoc and semi-random basis.
We say this is an apparently minus development. The good part of this is that any type of organized group starts to get a structure, some controls, some vision, and some concept of a future. Most of the ‘lawless’ groups on the planet, both now and in the past, have actually been bound by very strict internal codes of conduct and behavior – their lawlessness, as has been perceived by ordinary society, is more a form of culture clash between the culture and values of the group and the society in which they live, and a harsher set of consequences for people who broke their own internal rules of conduct than society imposes on people in general.
This is as true in nature as it is in human society. The most effective parasites do not kill off their hosts; indeed some parasites create classic win-win systems with their hosts so that both benefit from the association. We see this with organized crime too, with the classic win-win being the payment of protection money to a local gang.
We won’t debate the interesting point about the differences between paying protection money to a gang or paying taxes to fund the local police department; but if you look at it dispassionately, you’ll see that in both cases, the people making the payments do so in the hope of getting a positive consequence (protection) and in the matching hope of avoiding a negative consequence (a beating or a term of imprisonment).
So we see formal gangs setting up regional territories. If you pay them protection money, they’ll otherwise leave you alone, and will endeavor to keep other would-be predatory groups away from you. If you want to travel along ‘their’ road, you’ll have to pay a ‘toll’ to do so. And so on.
We will also see groups of citizens getting together to re-constitute some sort of citizen based law enforcement, first in some sort of mutual defense agreement, and subsequently by sharing in the costs of full-time law enforcement officers, aided by citizen deputies as needed.
Some areas will be controlled by citizen groups, and others by gangsters. The citizen groups will have no interest in attacking gangsters out of their area, while the gangsters will occasionally be tempted by the thought of expanding, with ‘border clashes’ occurring from time to time as the two groups test each other’s resolve. An uneasy truce will lie over much of the country.
Within the alternating framework of either citizen or gangster controlled areas there will still be crime on a more individual rather than organized level. We predict that penalties for crime will increase – a return to the earlier settler days with summary hanging being the punishment for cattle-rustling, for example.
There may also be marauding gangs who opportunistically tour through areas, whether gang or citizen controlled. Life will be dangerous, but survivable.
Crime detection/solving will be massively less effective than previously, due to the loss of the high-tech aids the police have come to rely upon. More crime might be unsolved, but the flipside of that will be that criminals who are caught will be subject to more severe penalties.
Any people incarcerated will have to ‘work their passage’ – society will not have spare resource to feed, shelter, and entertain criminals. Whether as a punishment or just as a necessity, criminals will find themselves involved in hard labor and harsh conditions during their imprisonment.
The liberal ‘touchy-feely’ crowd who likes to fill prisons with better food and televisions and recreational equipment than many people have outside the prison walls will either have died off (been killed) or will have had their eyes opened and their value systems changed to the point where, like reformed smokers now being aggressively anti-smoking, they may be the first to demand more and more hangings for lesser and lesser offenses.
The key social and support elements will become family based as the smallest support unit, and then faith/congregation (or, in secular areas, block associations) based. Formal civic government will be bare-bones and will be focused primarily on getting essential life-support services to everyone, rather than funding minority empowerment projects that benefit only narrow groups of special interests.
People will be too busy concentrating on surviving to care about topics such as gay rights (either pro or con) or women’s issues or black history. Environmental concerns and constraints will vanish – as we see in the world today, only wealthy people enjoying comfortable safe lifestyles can afford such concerns.
The prevailing attitude in this phase will be a grim determination to survive, and a return to a social code of acceptable behavior.
The duration of Phase Five is hard to guess at. A decade? A generation? It really depends on how society as a whole feels it has learned lessons from the circumstances of the Level 2/3 event, and how it might redefine itself for the future, and also on how fast or slow ‘civilization’ in terms of services and products return to something equating to normal.
Phase Five slowly starts to blend into Phase Six, and one of the tools for this will be the growth of trading and contacts between individual settlements.
Phase Six – A Return to Normalcy
As the things that took man from the stone age to the wood age to the iron age to the industrial age to the information age return, so too will society start to adapt and become more refined and nuanced.
As trading starts to spread from one settlement to the next – made possible by the restoration of safety to traveling between settlements – this will help encourage further economies and efficiencies of scale, and economies will start to become less micro-economies and more regional in nature, with improvements in overall living standards for all in the region.
People will start to have the luxury of spare time, and spare money, and will stop living lives constrained by their immediate neighborhood and this year’s crop. Instead, they’ll again start to think of other things and the longer term. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains, as each level of essential survival is achieved, a new set of objectives and challenges replace them, evolving to higher order issues such as esteem and, at the top, self-actualization.
The prevailing attitude will become one of confidence and assuredness.
What We Need to Do as Preppers
At the very beginning of the six phase cycle, we need to take advantage of the ‘grace period’ that is ours during Phase One. and use this to give us a head start towards getting to our retreats and preparing for the difficulties that will follow.
Ideally, of course, we want to bug out before the civilian authorities start to impose restrictive emergency/martial law controls on people and their movements.
We need to be alert to the onset of a Level 2/3 event, and as soon as we view one as underway, we need to immediately bug out. During the Phase One ‘False Calm’ we won’t draw so much attention to ourselves driving somewhere in a vehicle, and we’ll encounter fewer threats and problems on the way.
But as soon as the situation clicks over to Phase Two and Three, life becomes much more difficult if we are still in transit on the way to our retreat location.
Hopefully we’ll miss most of Phases Two and Three, because we’ll be well away from the larger cities. Hopefully, also, we’ll be prepared to confront Phase 4 in a way that will enhance our chances of surviving through it.
More to the point, our understanding of this process is such that – hopefully – we are already laying the seeds of establishing a Phase Five for the region our retreat is located; we want to very quickly make not just our personal retreat but the area it is part of become a haven of citizen-supported mutual cooperation and safety, with sufficient resolve and strength to fight off both uncoordinated attacks and also to stake your claim to your area as being citizen-controlled rather than a gang-controlled area.
Succeeding in creating a positive Phase Five community will help you move forward into Phase Six.