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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Generalist or Specialist?

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein



Generalist or Specialist?

Preparing to face a disaster requires a self-sufficient mindset; your goal is to take care of yourself and your family/tribe. The basics of food, water, and shelter should be (in my opinion) the responsibility of each individual (or family), but once those are taken care of, things get to be too complicated or time-consuming for a single person to be able to handle on his/her own. While it may be possible for a person to live the hermit lifestyle and be a "lone wolf" after TSHTF, it is neither as easy nor as comfortable as being part of a team or tribe where duties and responsibilities can be shared. Nobody can stay awake forever, so you must have exceptional security measures in place while you sleep... or you could just have someone else stand watch while you snooze. Certain things just can't be done alone, so having others around you will be important.

The question is, what kind of people do you want to surround yourself with?  There are two types: generalists and specialists. 

A generalist is someone who has at least a minor level of knowledge about a wide variety of things. (See the quote that opened this article.) I consider myself a generalist - as one of the older members of the writing staff here, I have led a varied life that has exposed me to a lot of things and I've tried to learn from them.

A generalist will usually be able to "get by" on what he knows and be able to adapt knowledge from one area to suit a problem in another area. An example would be a Ford mechanic having to work on a Honda, or an electrician rebuilding a car starter. The job would be close to what they're used to doing, and if they have general knowledge of what needs to be done, they stand a good chance of being able to make it work.

Specialists are people who have detailed and intimate knowledge of a specific field. Doctors are a good example of specialists, even the general practitioners. They have very detailed training and knowledge of the human body, what can go wrong with it, and possible ways to fix damage to it. Doctors are very useful to have around, but they have gotten so specialized that they are almost worthless outside of their specific field of study. Would you ask a plastic surgeon to do heart surgery? How about seeing if the ear, nose, and throat guy can do anything about a burst appendix? Unless his hobbies range beyond golf and watching others play sports, your doctor may be "dead weight" on the team more often than not.

Most preppers are going to fall into the category of generalist with maybe a specialty or two per person. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. We tend to be "tinkerers" with a wide variety of interests and are looking for ways to "make do" without the aid of normal infrastructure. Until there is the established security (food, water, shelter, and protection) afforded by a community, there will be very few true specialists.  It takes too much time and effort to become a specialist in any field for any one person to do it truly alone; they will need to be supported as they learn and practice their art. Someone who is spending four hours a day tending a garden or searching for food and then another four hours standing guard duty will not be able to become, or work as, a specialist in any field. Most skills are perishable, which means that they will deteriorate if not practiced on a regular basis. There is a place for specialists, but it is not somewhere in the backwoods, living in a cave all alone.


Making it Work

Now that you have a team or tribe, how do you break down the many jobs that are going to need to be done?

  • If all of the members are specialists in one area or the other, they may not be of much use outside of their area of expertise.
  • If you're all generalists, you're going to run into problems that only a specialist can handle. 

Your team is going to have to find that point of balance where things can get done with the people available, but without having to carry "dead weight" in the form of overly specialized people. There will be a certain level of dead weight present in the form of small children and the elderly, but one represents  the future and the other brings knowledge of the past.

Situations will vary according to your location (climate, terrain, resources, etc.), the specifics of how TSHTF (earthquake, EMP/CME, civil war, etc), and the members of your team/tribe (age, level of training, injuries, relationships, etc.). I have written before about nobody being useless, and I stand by that belief. Find out what you have available in skills of your teammates and work with what you have or go looking for what you need to round out your team. Only you can really decide how to divide the labor involved in staying alive after TSHTF, so start talking to your team or tribe now, while you can still do it in moderate safety and comfort.

All of this is my round-about way of setting up the next several articles. I will be focusing on old-time skills and how they were used in the past and how they may be used in the future. As I've stated before, I am what used to be called a "survivalist" back before that word got negative connotations attached to it by the media. My preps are aimed more at the next generation or two than the next day or two.

The Fine Print


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License


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