In the immortal words of Stephen Paul Taylor, “Everybody’s knows shit’s fucked.” 11,000 scientists recently announced that shit’s fucked. While many of us would prefer to just handle business as efficiently as possible (please don’t), this list is about useful skills you can learn to do in the immediate future, which we are assured is going to be somewhere further down the Shit Spectrum™ than we are right now.
The good news, gentle reader, is that we’re far from helpless in the coming fuckery. Helpless to create meaningful, dramatic change on a global scale under late stage capitalism in time to prevent unprecedented human suffering, yes, of course, but not at all when it comes to that most important group: people we like!
Whether it’s for yourself, your family, or a beleaguered community you don’t really expect to get a lot of outside help, there are a lot of skills and areas of knowledge that will make you instantly valuable when the shizz hits the fizz. Best of all, many of them are very accessible, free, or cheap to get into.
Permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems to be sustainable and self-sufficient. If you care about creating human habitats on any scale, permaculture is an accessible area of study. You can practice on your patio or backyard, and there are numerous areas of specialty including composting, soil health, water systems and, of course, gardening.
Entry ranges from free (Youtube videos and tons of blogs and websites) to moderate (great general practice and theory books, and books about specialty) to expensive (online university horticulture and design courses).
Here’s a link to a roundup of permaculture channels on Youtube!
Permaculture, animal husbandry and farming all overlap quite a bit, but for our purposes here we’ll define farming as mastering a small number of monocultures for optimized food production. You could specialize in wheat, sorghum, soy, corn, almost any staple crop. There are advantages to becoming an expert in a narrow number of crops, including different strains and how to grow them in different climates. You don’t have to live on a massive farm to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of sowing, harvesting and agrarian practices. With the global shift to agribusiness, fewer and fewer people understand farming on a smaller, less destructive scale.
Entry ranges from free (seeds and some dirt, blogs and websites) to moderate (books, classes, training resources), to expensive (some land and equipment).
3. First Aid
The world has always been dangerous for humans with our fleshy meatbags and propensity to fall down, but ever since walking upright, we’ve been inventing horrific and increasingly complex ways to hurt ourselves. We take doctors and hospitals for granted in the modern age, but even in a world with ambulances, it’s good for everyone to know basic first aid. You’ll be surprised at the confidence and peace of mind that can come from knowing what to do when the worst happens. When hospitals aren’t an option first aid is one of the most useful skills.
Entry is usually free! Just search for “first aid training” in your area. While you can learn most first aid techniques online in a pinch, there is no substitute for direct real life instruction here.
Bushcrafting is the art of advanced wilderness survival. You’ll learn to make tools, shelters (some crude, some impressively semipermanent), hunt, fish, trap, capture and process water, and live in the wild with very, very little. While that might sound like iron man camping, the most valuable skills in bushcrafting are fire starting, working with cordage, and learning to make basic tools and structures that you probably didn’t realize you could make. The real lesson is just how much a single human being can do with almost nothing. If you get good, you’ll be pretty close to your not-so-distant ancestral roots.
Entry is free to inexpensive (Youtube, blogs, articles, a place to practice), to intermediate (lots of generalized and specialist books). Bushcrafting only gets expensive if you start investing in really high quality tools (if your life depends on a knife you want to have a reliable and versatile one), or if you’re trying to buy land to craft on.
Check out Survival Lilly and Joe Robinet on Youtube to see what bushcrafting is all about.
Bag? Check. Shears? Check. Expansive knowledge of local flora, what’s nutritional, what’s medicinal, what will make you sick, and where to find them? That’s where you’re going to spend your time with this new hobby. If you have the type of brain that likes learning Pokemon, then you’ll enjoy foraging. One of the simplest human pursuits, foraging is literally just finding things to eat and finding things for medicine, and not harvesting things that are poisonous or non-nutritive. Sounds easy, but how many species of plants grow in your area? Do you know all their properties, growing conditions and seasonal habits? Foragers have extremely useful skills, and can specialize in particular kinds of plants or even mushrooms!
Entry is free (Youtube, articles, local groups), to intermediate (plant guides, gear). The easiest way to learn is from local foragers, and luckily there are foraging groups everywhere, even in urban areas (urban foraging is its own thing!). Just look for a local group, they’ll be thrilled to meet a budding enthusiast.
Check out 5 Common Myths About Foraging Wild Edibles on Youtube.
Whether you’re shooting clay pigeons, cans on a fence, or targets at the gun range, shooting can be a fun thing to do and a satisfying skill to improve. Obviously, it benefits both hunting and defense as well.
Entry is widely varied. A friend or family member who owns guns and is happy to shoot with you and teach you is free. Guns can be expensive. Ammo can be expensive. Gun range fees can be affordable or expensive, and they aren’t universally available. Searching social media for local clubs and groups is a good place to start, as is the Socialist Rifle Association.
You mean you aren’t familiar with the art of pigeon training? Pigeon Post was used to deliver mail and messages for 2000 years, stopping only after World War I at the advent of the Information Age. Learning to work with these birdo comrades is surprisingly affordable and easy to start on a small scale.
Here’s a good site to delve further.
8. Animal Husbandry
Animal husbandry at its most basic, describes the relationship humans have with domesticated animals; we provide for their needs, keep them healthy and (unless you’re an asshole) happy, and breed them to make sure the process continues indefinitely. While we would generally prefer an outcome wherein we didn’t have to interfere with animals at all, we believe that if we’re going to have relationships with them, we can make those as compassionate and mutually beneficial as possible. Animal husbandry is a whole industrial field of study, but you can learn yourself on a small scale, and with almost any type of animals you like and can care for with your resources. For the basics, start with a book like The Backyard Farmstead Guide To Raising Farm Animals. You’ve always wanted a goat. Admit it.
9. Martial Arts
This is fairly self explanatory. There are a ton of benefits to practicing martial arts beyond just being able to kick someone’s ass, or keep someone from getting their ass kicked. Fitness, inner discipline, confidence, reduced anxiety, cardio, flexibility, functional strength. Just try not to learn from a guy named Skeeter who tells you his own personal style was deemed “too deadly” and “banned from MMA”. Also try not to get sucked into a Rex Kwon Do situation. Really do some research. Talk to people. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga are both good practical options if available locally at a price you can afford. If that isn’t an option, watch some videos. Do some karate in the garage. Get weird with it. Something is better than nothing. Usually.
Here are some tips on picking a martial arts studio.
America might be crap at arts funding, but humans have valued art for 40,000 years, and will for as long as we’re here. Sculpt. Paint. Draw. Learn an instrument. Don’t be afraid to suck! Get in there and make as much bad art as you can! The very act of creating art is where you get the benefit, and some of the most powerfully resonant things you can do don’t actually require a whole lot of skill (think of cave paintings and drums). Remember, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to monetize your work, you can be an amateur, you can share your art with people and THAT. IS. GOOD. ENOUGH. And don’t sleep on your performance arts! Acting and storytelling are fundamental human skills and they are valuable at any level. Youtube gives you no excuse not to get started.
Arts tutorials of every variety are available on Youtube. You can learn to sing right now.
11. Trade Skills
Oh hey, do you think in a future where we have to do everything ourselves, that being able to wire a house, or install plumbing, or repair things might be useful? Can you see a place for woodworkers, concrete masters and people who can weld, forge, and cast? Good, because I promise you those people are going to be the ones getting heaping seconds at dinner time. They’re called “trade” skills because they’re valuable.
Entry: Youtube can teach you a lot about almost anything. Books can teach you more. Retired experts can teach you the most. Try to learn from someone directly if you can, but most things you can figure out with some videos, reference material and lots of practice. Safety first.
You can start by teaching yourself home wiring, or learning the basics of plumbing.
If you’re going to learn herbalism, now is the best time in human history. Our problems won’t be going away when the labs do, and herbalists will be our pharmacists. Herbalism as a science is perfectly sound – we know how plants and natural substances work, how they interact with our bodies, and we can predict and reproduce those results. Herbalism as a practice is full to the gills with bullshit. Woo in your personal practice is fine. Woo in the application of medicine is not fine at all. When we talk about herbal medicine, we are talking in the strongest terms about non-supernatural, scientifically-sound information. Keep your wits about you.
Entry: You can get books, take classes, watch videos, talk to other herbalists. When you’ve reached the point that you’re growing medicine gardens and successfully treating ailments from it, you will be part of a beautiful, ancient and highly valuable tradition.
I’m using this word to cover all of the fiber and textile arts: sewing, knitting, crochet. If you had to, could you mend something with needle and thread? Pick up a sewing kit for $1 and spend a couple of hours on Youtube, and you’ll walk away with a valuable basic skill for very little investment. Arts like crochet and knitting take more practice, but chances are you know someone in real life who would love to teach you. That seems to be a common trait among ravelers. I’ve never heard someone say to someone else, “Ugh, no, I have no interest in teaching you how to do this.”
Entry: Books, Youtube, Meemaw, go to literally any fabric store and announce to no in in particular, “Help! I want to learn how to _______ and I don’t know who can teach me!” People will materialize from nowhere. Follow them. They will show you the way.
How to Crochet for Absolute Beginners
Once upon a time, barbers were something of a one-stop-shop. Barber surgeons performed minor surgical procedures, various therapies we no longer use (unless you just really want leeches), pulled teeth, and, of course, wash and cut hair and beards. They were also perfumers in their own right! While your enclave might not have you pulling teeth, people are still going to want to look nice, and have some sanity-repairing control over their appearance, no matter how tough things get. While cutting hair is extremely easy, cutting hair well is a skill that takes a lot of study and practice. Anyone can learn to do it with those two things, however, and learning the proper tools, their maintenance, hygiene, and skill will make you a popular person wherever you go.
Entry: Bear in mind that barbery (and cosmetology in general) are regulated practices for which you have to have a license in the U.S. So make sure you maintain your amateur status and work for free, or for trade. Don’t go hanging up your shingle and charging people money or you’ll be slapped with some ugly fines. Actual hair school is best, but expensive. Apprenticing informally with someone is second best (you can get away with a lot if you’re learning under someone with a license, who extends that license to you). Learning from someone unlicensed but good is third best. Lastly, there’s our old friend Youtube. You can learn a lot of very good techniques there, just ask yourself if you’d let someone do their first haircut on you after watching a Youtube video.
The value of being able to smelt, forge, shape and repair tools cannot be overstated. The principles are simple, the mastery is hard, apparently there’s something about becoming a blacksmith that just makes you cool, because I’ve never met a dorky smith. It’s worth a try.
Entry: Forges and smithing setups can take some doing, but I’ve seen people do a lot with very little. Join some groups, read some subreddits, watch vids and read books, of course. All you need is some space, some metal, tongs, hammer, water and a hot, hot forge. Easy, right? You might be surprised.
I can’t think of a single reason you might want unfettered ingress into any place you might want to go. Can you?
For humans, cooking is about as ancient an activity as it gets. We started putting meat on fire, and have found infinite ways to complicate it since then. Cooking is a great skill to learn, because once you really understand the principles of how it works, you can adapt it very easily. Knowing how to source local herbs and spices, how to procure oil and fat from nature, you can keep morale up in almost any situation with next to nothing, as long as you have something to cook, and that sounds like a problem for the hunters and foragers. Unless you master one of those too, and become some kind of unstoppable food juggernaut.
Entry: Get some food, get some fire, cook you that which you desire. But also Youtube and most of the same sources from above. Ask someone you know who’s a good cook to show you the ropes. They will.
18. Food Preservation
Keeping everyone alive for today is relatively simple compared to keeping them alive for 6 months when there isn’t much food available. That requires some chemistry, math and logistical planning. Whether you’re making pickles or smoking meat, you’re participating in a critical life-sustaining activity with high stakes. You can suck at music, but you can’t suck at canning. Learning this skill can save you a lot of money under capitalism, and if you garden or farm, or have friends that do, you’ll be able to save most of their surplus. You’ll be surprised how much peace of mind comes from knowing you have a store of food set aside. That is a very human comfort.
Entry: As above. People who can and preserve food are usually happy to teach if you know someone. Otherwise, all you need is some food, basic supplies, some videos and articles and some time for trial and error!
You can start here with Canning 101.
CAN WE BUILD IT? NO, WE CAN’T! Because our enclave doesn’t have a single builder, Bob. If you know anything about construction, you know there are more bad ways to build things than good ones, and making a structure or improvement that’s built to last takes some knowledge and experience. You’re also a master of efficiency, knowing where to invest the hard labor and what can be done more easily.
Entry: Getting into building isn’t as hard as you might think if you have some room to work and a way to transport lumber and some basic tools. Start with easy projects. Build things you actually need or want. Scale your ability up to more ambitious projects as you get comfortable with techniques. As usual, it’s best if you know someone who can teach you – maybe you know a contractor who’d take you out on some jobs and teach you in exchange for labor – but it’s something you can DIY if you have the space and passion for it.
Learn how to frame a wall and door to see if you’re inspired to learn more about How It’s Made™.
As mentioned earlier, it would be preferable to live in a world where harvesting game wasn’t necessary, but it might be, and having people around who know how to do it might just save you during a crop shortage. Most Americans probably think of deer hunting with rifles when they imagine hunting, but it can be done on a variety of scales at different levels of skill and expense. Every kind of game has their own nuances. You don’t even need firearms; you can hunt small game with a slingshot if you practice enough. Our only rules about hunting are: 1. No unnecessary cruelty (ie, nothing that adds ‘fun’, but prolongs suffering or reduces efficiency), and 2. Hunt for necessity only, not recreationally. It isn’t a sport, it’s a survival skill.
Entry: Hunting isn’t something most people can just go do on a whim. There is a lot to consider from what, to why, to how and where. There are licenses and laws involved. For this one you should go straight to Google, “How to hunt in [my state].”
Apply everything above about hunting, except to fishing! Seriously, everything, down to the licenses. By the way, it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy something you’re doing for necessity as long as necessity is your primary motivation.
Entry: Lures are there to catch fishermen, not fish. You need precious little gear to get started. Your focus should be on what you’re trying to catch, and where, because fish have wildly different habits and needs in different places and times. Fishing one spot might give you as many fish as you can haul at one time of day, and nothing the rest of the day. The more you learn about your local fishing and fish, the fewer fish you’ll need to harm while you learn.
Briefly covered under Arts generally, music is low tech, and essential to human well being. It alleviates suffering, enhances the good times, connects us with stories and with each other. Learn to play an instrument or even just learn to sing! That’s an instrument you’ll always have with you. Music makes everything better.
Entry: Help support a local musician by paying for some lessons! Used instruments can be found almost anywhere if you’re on a budget! Just don’t give up when you aren’t amazing right away. Music is something you have to suck your way through. Like politics.
Yeast. Water. Sugar. Time. Those are the basics. Learning to brew is easy and it’s one of those hobbies that you can do well with minimal mental investment, but that is so deeply nuanced that you can dive as far into fine-turning your craft as you want. Me? I make mead in my closet.
Entry: Some glassware, tubing, and stuff from your kitchen is all you need (you might need to pick up the right kind of yeast for what you’re brewing). There are millions of books for beginners, and if you have a local brewing supply shop, someone there is guaranteed to walk you through it.
I say this with an enormous caveat: If you’re going to learn to tattoo, learn from a professional tattoo artist. For once, don’t go on Youtube. Don’t rely on grainy printed-from-the-internet books on Amazon. There are a lot of bad tattoo artists out there just dying to teach you how to be a bad tattoo artist, and if you go looking, you’re probably going to find one. You don’t have to learn with the intent to practice professionally. If you can learn primitive methods somehow, that’s cool. What I’m NOT telling you is to go out there and put shitty, unhygienic tattoos on people. What I AM telling you is that if you happen to have an opportunity to learn how to tattoo correctly from a professional, take it, because that will be a valuable thing to be able to do.
Whether you’re carving spoons, making toys, or building furniture, wood is an abundant material and knowing how to select and work with it will improve lives in countless ways. Woodworking is the difference between “shelves” and “nice shelves”. It’s using tools to make other tools. It’s knowing how to carve, shape and plane. Knowing what different woods will and won’t do. Take it from me, building something – even a crappy, beginner something – from scratch out of wood is viscerally satisfying.
Entry is like most things mentioned here; If someone can teach you, fantastic, and if you can only work on your own using $10 worth of stuff in your livingroom, that’s okay too. Just start somewhere. My advice is to pick something you actually want and have a use for, and learn how to make it.
Are these all of the possible useful skills? Absolutely not! Can you think of some good skills we haven’t listed? Feel free to contact us or join our Facebook community group, and we’ll round up more for future installments!