Intelligent Survival

20160716_114551There is no shortage of information on survival on the net, both good and bad. But how does one separate the chaff from the seed? To First understand how to discern fact from fiction, one has to understand how people tend to accept information.


A fallacy is a flaw in reasoning, undermining the validity of an argument or position

Though many, here are some common fallacies found in the survival community.

Appeal to authority— People tend to accept, at face value, information put out by leaders in the community, even if the information sounds illogical. So and so carries a ferro (ferrocerium) rod and he’s been studying survival forever, therefore it has to be the best. I am so and so and have done such and such. You should listen to me.

Appeal to celebrity— People tend to believe the word of popular people. This is why celebrity endorsements are so popular. Marketeers understand an endorsement from a celebrity can reap millions.

Appeal to the populum—This fallacy is especially dangerous, because people tend to believe what is popular. Throughout history, however, millions of people have believed in things which proved to be wrong, i.e. the earth is flat. In an effort to fit in, people will go to great lengths in assuming proficiency with a skill, which then leads to  confirmation bias.

Appeal to tradition—People tend to hold on to beliefs rooted in history, even when presented with facts proving a stance obsolete. Such and such has been used throughout time, therefore it must be valid and true. History books are notorious for this. Often times there is new information that disproves what is in history books, yet what is in books still persists. This fallacy, however, doesn’t take into account the perspective of the time. Often times, the technology we have today was not in place back then, so there were no real viable options back then.

Confirmation bias—People tend to believe what works for them, with little to no regard of how well it will work for anyone else. An example of this could be someone saying, “Delta airlines is the best airline to fly, based on my experience.” This, however, does not mean it reflects everyone else’s experience.

Appeal to the stone—A claim is dismissed as absurd, yet no proof is presented for its absurdity. I claim the reflector wall does not work as described in all survival books. I even provide tested based evidence, along with physics based proof why it doesn’t work. My claim is rejected, yet no proof has ever been provided by anyone proving my claim wrong.

Biased sample fallacy—this is a fallacy where information is cherry picked by going to a select few for an answer. An example of this would be the ferro rod is the best fire starting tool in cold weather and at high elevations. This was information cherry picked (another fallacy)from say the survival community. However, climbers who ascend Mt. Everest and clearly have more qualifications in that regard would willfully disagree and claim a BIC lighter is the best.

Anecdotal fallacy—This is a very strong argument where people try to use stories, personal and otherwise, to solidify their position. Like confirmation bias, this doesn’t speak of the populum and is very narrow in approach. An example of this argument: a compass is more important than a map, because based in my experience (confirmation bias), I used it to help find my way through the jungle when no terrain features were available.

Applied reasoning

Now that you’re aware of some of the fallacies employed during the course of discussion, an easy way to vet information is to question everything

The knife is arguably one of THE most important tools in a survival situation, but is it really? Could it just be a product of propaganda and rhetoric? Are we simply saying it is, because leaders, celebrities and the populous say it is? Perhaps it is a tool so interwoven into the fabric of history that it stands the test of time—appeal to tradition. Can it be this once relished tool is no longer as relevant as it used to be, falling the way of the once ubiquitous VCR, 8 track, and rotary phone?

To answer this question, one has to define what a survival situation. From there, one can systematically find the answer in a logical manner.

A survival situation is a situation in which one’s life is at risk. When one’s life is at risk, one should attempt to mitigate the situation as quickly, effectively, and efficiently as possible.

So lets start with who claims the knife is the most important tool in a survival situation. By and large, it is the survival community, with little to no mention outside the community. Right there we can already see there is a biased sample flaw. Next, one should ask why is it considered one of the most important tool in a survival situation, by said community? Most often, the answer will be, “because one can craft the other tools needed for a survival situation.” With today’s technology, is this really the most efficient and expedient way to mitigate a survival situation? When you dig deeper, one will see many of the other fallacies rear their ugly head. Some of the answers one will often encounter are: “going back to the greats a knife was always a part of their kit [appealing to tradition],” “Everyone knows a knife should be a part of your survival kit [appeal to the populace]”… So forth and so on. With so many fallacies in place, one’s argument for the knife begins to fall apart. When we step out of the survival community one begins to see a very different picture.

Looking to the backpacking community, including those who cross the PCT, AT and others, one has a very different idea of survival. In fact, when it comes to carrying a knife, many carry little more that a small swiss army knife, with many not carrying a knife at all. In this community, a survival situation is very much handled as it would be back in the city with a direct call to help. No a mobile phone doesn’t work well in the back country. Instead, many tend to carry a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), be it a SPOT, ACR, or DeLorme.

So who’s right? Well, the answer is quite simple. The survival community will create what “if” scenarios and cherry pick points dismissing the PLB as unreliable because it doesn’t work in some areas. However, the community doesn’t include in their argument the THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of people rescued through the use of a PLB.

Many stories can be found here on the ACR website

Now, for my money, I would bank on a PLB for rescue in a life threatening situation, far before a knife. Personally, I just don’t have the desire of playing Daniel Boone when my life is at risk. I like to have what I need to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.

Many of you will be surprised to read this, but I don’t carry a knife unless I’m teaching a bushcrafting class. I don’t carry one when I backpack, but you can bank on the fact I carry a PLB. I also don’t and will never carry a ferro (ferrocerium) rod, based on applied reasoning and common sense, but instead carry multiple lighters.

When it comes to survival, one should always look at it with a critical eye, especially the kit and tools so often touted by the community. Ask yourself and research what others outside the community are using. Just because a ferro rod is billed as an emergency fire starting device, doesn’t mean you’ll know how to use it. People who know how to use one reliably do so because they’ve put in the time to learn how. Unless you’re willing to put in the time to learn how to use one, a bic lighter is far more logical than a ferro rod. Even then it doesn’t make sense. And I would most certainly NEVER encourage a bow and drill or handdrill for an emergency kit.

Do not be swayed by rhetoric and propaganda. Do your research, ask questions, and step out of the narrow community to seek answers.

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