As someone who lives in an economically, climatically and politically stable Western country, the chances are somewhat remote that I’ll ever encounter an emergency that requires forethought and careful planning1. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying this list of the 100 most in-demand goods during an emergency.
This list apparently originates from someone called Joseph Almond who created it in 1999 after observing the behaviour of consumers preparing for Y2K-related problems. I say “apparently” because I can’t find any suggestion that this is actually true.
Neverthless, there’s something about this list that is inherently intriguing, even though I’m far from a member of the survivalism movement. Oh, and feel free to share this with the more voguish title: How to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Now that will get you some of them precious retweets.
The conclusion to Cialdini’s book points out why, in this increasingly complex world, resisting attempts at “enforced compliance” (deception) through these key principles is as important as recognising and responding to truthful instances of their implementation:
Because technology can evolve much faster than we can, our natural capacity to process information is likely to be increasingly inadequate to handle the surfeit of change, choice, and challenge that is characteristic of modern life. More and more frequently, we will find ourselves in the position of the lower animalsâ€”with a mental apparatus that is unequipped to deal thoroughly with the intricacy and richness of the outside environment. Unlike the animals, whose cognitive powers have always been relatively deficient, we have created our own deficiency by constructing a radically more complex world. But the consequence of our new deficiency is the same as that of the animals’ long-standing one. When making a decision, we will less frequently enjoy the luxury of a fully considered analysis of the total situation but will revert increasingly to a focus on a single, usually reliable feature of it.
When those single features are truly reliable, there is nothing inherently wrong with the shortcut approach of narrowed attention and automatic response to a particular piece of information. The problem comes when something causes the normally trustworthy cues to counsel us poorly, to lead us to erroneous actions and wrongheaded decisions.
The details of Lycerius’ “hellish nightmare” world are absolutely fascinating: the military stalemate; the 1700-year war; and the global warming epidemic that led to melting ice caps, famine, and the end of cities. This is the political situation:
The only governments left are two theocracies and myself, a communist state. I wanted to stay a democracy, but the Senate would always over-rule me when I wanted to declare war before the Vikings did. This would delay my attack and render my turn and often my plans useless. And of course the Vikings would then break the cease fire like clockwork the very next turn. [â€¦] I was forced to do away with democracy roughly a thousand years ago because it was endangering my empire. But of course the people hate me now and every few years since then, there are massive guerrilla [â€¦] uprisings in the heart of my empire that I have to deal with which saps resources from the war effort.
This reminds me of Magnasanti: the totalitarian city created in Sim City 3000 that sustains the maximum population (six million) for 50,000 years. The interview with it’s ‘maker’, architecture student Vincent Ocasla, is worth a read.
Keep these people away from town planning departments, please.
For book recommendations, most of us rely on the suggestions of trusted friends and on word of mouth. This, at least, allows us to hold someone accountable for those inevitable poor recommendations. But what of ‘professional’ book recommenders (writers in publications, not algorithmic ‘recommenders’)?
“You can’t recommend books to strangers without asking personal questions,” [editor of the Paris Review, Lorin Stein] told me. As he pointed out, what we want to read is often pegged to transitory moods. The same book may not thrill the same person at every point in his or her life. “I don’t think people read ‘for’ pleasure, exactly,” he went on. “Of course there is pleasure in reading. But mainly we do it out of need. Because we’re lonely, or confused, or need to laugh, or want some kind of protection or quiet â€” or disturbance, or truth, or whatever.” The recommender must take this into account.
Pearl suggests that there are four “doorways” that intrigue readers in the books they read: story, characters, setting and language. One or more of these doorways appeal to each type of reader and the task of the recommender is in matching the reader’s doorway preference with a book that delivers exactly that.
I’m particularly fond of the final two topics and this, from Why is Greater Than How:
This complex world has made us over-emphasize How-based thinking and education. Once the tools are understood, understanding why to do certain things becomes more valuable than how to do them. How is recipes, and learning a craft is more than following instructions.
How is important for new practitioners focused on avoiding mistakes. Why is for those who wish to push, are not risk-averse and seek to improve. How is coulda, Why is shoulda. How is finishing tasks, Why is fulfilling objectives. How usually results in more. Why usually results in better.