Surviving survivors: What to do with people that survive a catastrophe but are dangerous to others.

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Pablo Edronkin

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There is a tendency to bet on the assumption that survivors of any serious catastrophe would be, become or act like good people as a result of the introspection that any big disaster produces on those who witness or experience them, but one thing doesn't necessarily lead to the other; some survivors might be actually dangerous to others... what needs to be done then?

If we divide conceptually any imaginable survival situation according to the dimension of the catastrophe or disaster that causes it, we will end essentially with two different types: small and big situations. Aside from that, when we judge and classify such situations our minds tend to fall into some assumptions: "Small" survival situations, such as those involving a small number of people or focused in a small are, like in the case of car accidents, or when you get lost in the wilderness sometimes produce changes in the way survivors behave after such experiences due to introspection. However, it is a common mistake to assume that because some survivors learn about their experiences and do some soul searching, everyone would do that in the event of some serious, widespread catastrophe (See "Is Noah's Ark a realistic, valid survival strategy?"). But reality shows that not all human beings extract positive conclusions from their bad moments and experiences, and not everyone learns from past mistakes. After all, WWII happened as a consequence of WWI, which was terrible enough in itself.

And while one person might be a true, honest victim of an unpleasant situation, we tend to generalize and extend victimization to everyone else in a similar distress. For example, when the Southeast Asia tsunami happened, every inhabitant of the affected areas was considered a victim equal to the rest by most people of the world. Of course, they were victims but not every single one behaved as innocent victims and some - the minority, but a real number nevertheless - began taking advantage of the situation by sacking and stealing. Everyone merited the help of the rest of the world, but solidarity doesn't - or shouldn't - imply a blank check because not every person is a good one and not every bad person is reborn after a bad situation.

Assuming that all survivors are nice people by the nature of the catastrophe that affected them is a frequent mistake that usually leads to a lack of control that ultimately ends promoting robbery, illegality, black markets, piracy and even worse.

Sometimes, a bad person might redeem if confronted with a terminal situation. That is of course, better than nothing. But in other cases, bad experiences might empower and amplify their evil intents. Just thing of Hitler after WWI, in which he fought and was wounded. In apocalyptic scenarios, even good people might transform themselves: Civil wars are usually fought among former neighbours. Mass hysteria promotion is a method often used by twisted leaders to attain their goals using the populace: Many Hutus were convinced by their own national leaders to kill their colleagues, former friends, neighbours and associates who were Tutsis in Rwanda. The genocide in that country wasn't perpetrated by specially-trained extermination squads, but by common Hutu citizens organized in loose units, belonging to all walks of society.

In a survival scenario in which a major part of the pre-catastrophic environment has been destroyed, a fight for remaining resources would almost surely follow. Some people might ally in order to rebuild a notion of order and society, but others might do so to commit piracy, robbery and murder. If all that happens today, considering that there are laws and institutions keen on maintaining law and order, there is no reason to assume that it wouldn't happens once all those legal, ethical and moral barriers are gone. In order to gamble on civilization, you need civilized people, and not everybody is like that.

In that case, the outcome of the fight for resources will depend on two factors: the number of persons on each side and the firepower they might have. Thus, in a post-apocalyptic scenario, things and skills that are not usually required in a civilized world might make the difference between life and death, such as combat and survival training, weaponry, the ability to improvise expedient explosives, arms and traps. The odds will certainly favour those with such knowledge and expertise.

The intentions of people in daily, normal life are unknown for the most part. Some of those persons do harbour ill desires, impulses and plans but are for the most part inhibited by taboos, cultural norms and laws. However, if society crumbles such barriers would disappear, and people with negative impulses might act on their own, with no way to put limits on them. Thus,a side from not knowing the intentions of other people, survivors will be confronted with a higher than usual possibility of being attacked by others. To all this we should add that the lack of knowledge about potential enemies includes also ignorance about their combat capabilities and weaponry. Thus, the most prudent way to proceed in every case of human contact under such circumstances would be to be cautious.

Survivors betting on staying alive would be unable to trust others. Doing so might prove to be like playing Russian roulette.

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