The Japan Quake, The Bug Out Bag, And Reality

In the few days since the Japan quake and tsunami I’ve been interested to notice an increased number of hits on this blog. According to the handy WordPress tools, it was largely due to search terms that led them to my recent post about my bug-out bag. As a quick recap, a bug-out bag is a pack containing what you would need to survive for about 72 hours while you walk out of a very bad situation. I wrote about the BOB as it related to the role of self-reliance in being Agathos. Like most people I’ve been alternately fascinated and saddened by the news and images coming out of Japan. I suppose it is not surprising that people might suddenly start thinking more about how to deal with emergency and disaster. If you haven’t really given it thought it is unsettling to suddenly see that the planet may do something not in your best interests and in truly spectacular fashion. Packing a BOB may seem like a bigger priority this week.

The unhappy truth is that a bug-out bag probably wouldn’t have done squat to save most of those quake victims on the first day. As I considered the searches, and also a surge in discussion board posts on the BOB concept, I had to wonder how many might be looking at this backwards.

The Stoics teach us a couple of things that may be applicable here. The first is to practice the mental discipline of seeing things as they really are. We have to break down our impressions of an event and see them only for basic facts and not our emotional responses. Second, we have to learn to accept that there are many many things in the world that our outside of our control. Where we can show our greatest virtue as human beings is not in altering events beyond our control but in how we respond to those events.

If you look outside your window and you see a gigantic wall of water flinging boats and cars and flaming debris at you with massive force and traveling at hundreds of miles an hour you cannot change your circumstances. Most of those people were screwed. You have no control. You can only choose how you respond. I saw one piece of helicopter footage where the tsunami was barreling across farm fields towards a road. One poor individual was on that road in a car. Whoever it was drove like hell to get away. I have no idea if they made it since the news clip ended (I hope so but it didn’t look promising) but they chose how to respond. It wasn’t preparation it was response.

The late John Boyd created the OODA loop concept (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) and it is an excellent guide for 1) Seeing things as they are 2) Recognizing that the environment is fluid and potentially hostile 3) Choosing a response. It certainly applies in this case. Observe (Gigantic tidal wave from a nightmare), Orient (If I stay on this road I am dead), Decide (Either die or drive and probably still die), Decision (DRIVE). No prep kit can help you through that process.

So does that mean I suddenly think its worthless to have something like a BOB? Not at all. I just don’t think its good to have any illusions about the power of preparation.

In the aftermath of the quake and tsunami, Japan is still a disaster unfolding. Food, fuel and water shortages, housing problems, potential disease issues and radioactive contamination are going to be challenges for the people who still live. Those are the folks who might be glad to have a bug-out bag. If you are a survivor in one of those remote northern coastal towns you might be very happy to have the means to walk out of there on your own. Perhaps more to the point, if they still have a home intact they may be very very glad if they prepared to bug in. Despite having written about a bug out bag I also have food, water, med supplies, etc stored at home. Its pretty hard to maintain self-reliance when you are a refugee standing in line for everything needed to live.

As I stated in my previous post, I don’t do these things because I expect to survive Armageddon and the zombie apocalypse. I embrace these concepts primarily because self-reliance provides dignity to our lives. However, Japan is just another lesson that teaches us we don’t get to pick our disasters. We only get to pick how we respond.

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