I rob banks because that’s where the money is.
– Misattributed to Willie Sutton
Gummint, Bandits, Lone Opportunists and EROEI
I was picking thimbleberries, this last week, pursuant to our next batch of wine.
Thimbleberries seem unusual, in that they only ripen a few at a time. Most clusters of several berries generally only sport a single ripe one. When it falls of its own volition, is picked, succumbs to mildew or other insult… only then does the next ripen in turn.
To make a 4 gallon batch of wine, a gallon or more berries are needed. Picking too early – when only a few are ripe and they replenish slowly – is a waste of time. But a couple of weeks after the first outliers ripen, there develops a workable density, and the clusters push out a new ripe berry overnight. Focusing over a few days of passes, we can collect enough to ferment. If we wait too long, though, the good ones thin out again... they remain available for the occasional treat, but not in quantity.
Low density output may be a thimbleberry strategy. Despite being tasty as can be, they generally take too much effort to collect en masse. It's just too much effort to support a dedicated harvest. We, birds and bears soon move on to higher yield berry species.
All this got me thinking about the post-collapse threat of a) the Gummint, and b) bandits, both of major concern to many of my fellow ‘Doomers’. To these, I add c) the Lone Opportunist.
Me? I’m not too worried about the first two, thanks to low EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested).
Gummints, bandits and we who gather thimbleberries can only thrive on a considerable net return on the energies we invest. Those who operate at a loss are not long for the world, as we know it or otherwise.
To be successful, predators require several things of their prey. Prey must be subdued with reasonably low risk to the predator. Resources taken from prey must be considerably greater than those required to acquire them. Prey populations must be sufficiently dense to support a predator. Prey must replenish their numbers (or the resources they generate) rapidly enough to support themselves and the predator.
In short, EROEI is vital to predators.
So, what are the odds that small, dispersed populations of those of us subsisting in a future backwater will attract Gummint ‘sweep-up’ operations, or support bandits? My guess is low.
The Gummint, I believe (including those foreign to my native lands), will have more important things to attempt, such as locking down strategic resources, pacifying urban centers and/or turning warlord. They will have limited resources at all levels, poor logistics and personnel issues. I’ll be surprised if they can ‘project force’ beyond their home bases, if that. Rounding up unknown numbers of hillbillies far from ‘vital interests’ is likely to be given very low priority.
Bandits are more flexible, and therefore potentially more dangerous. Yet they, too, will be focused on high-return situations. Concentrations of people or goods, high traffic routes, high value items. Historically, this has been the case, and I see no reason for it to change in a diminished future. Avoid these situations, and bandits will have neither reason to pursue us, nor the means.
The Lone Opportunist concerns me more. Someone much like ourselves, who has chosen our area, managed to survive for some time on their own, yet is willing to take advantage by force when opportunity presents. EROEI is unburdened by overheads, in this case. They aren’t making their living by predation, but see a little here and there as bonus. I see them as a positive danger.
I hope that this type will see more value in cooperation than coercion. History isn’t entirely comforting on this score. Still, if the Wild West is any example, people by and large got along. Frontier encounters between strangers appear to have been guarded (good boundaries, good manners, weapons ready) until trust grew, which it most often did. Most often warranted.
So I’m cautiously hopeful.