Friday, August 12, 2011

Armchair survivalists

Doubtless you’ve heard the term “armchair quarterbacking.” Picture the stereotypical overweight couch-potato sports fan, yelling at the football player on television that he should have done thus-and-such in order to score a touchdown. This armchair quarterbacks certainly knows how to play football better than the players on the field, as he informs the TV screen in no uncertain terms while Doritos-flecked spittle flies from his mouth.

Unpleasant visual, is it not? Yet how many of us practice armchair quarterbacking when it comes to preparedness issues?

We’ve all been at the mercy of those who share with us their most profound wisdom on subjects they have never experienced. To paraphrase an apt line from an old Pride and Prejudice movie: “How clever of you, my dear Miss Bingley, to know something of which you are ignorant.”

These are the people who know exactly what is needed to live off-grid even though they’ve never done it. Their sentences usually start with “You should…” and imply that you’re a total and complete moron because you chose this off-grid option instead of that option.

Allow me a bit of personal history. Back when I was in college, I dated a young man who knew everything. It was quite extraordinary, actually. He was getting his Ph.D. in physics and I was still an undergraduate in zoology. I knew very little about physics but he knew everything about zoology. Amazing.

Not just zoology. He was an expert in everything I did, thought, practiced, and studied. I was a fairly good amateur ballet dancer; naturally he knew more about ballet than I did. I played the flute; he knew all about how my playing could improve. I was a keen backpacker and outdoorswoman; his knowledge of tents and sleeping bags surpassed mine. You get the picture.

Our relationship was greatly shortened because it got to the point where he knew everything except the fact that I couldn’t stand to be around him, and that was that.

A milder example happened a couple years ago when I was in the middle of canning some corn from our garden, something I’ve done for twenty years. An armchair quarterback came to visit and proceeded to inform me about all the things I was doing wrong. I happen to like this armchair quarterback a great deal, so I was able to take a long view on the unceasing stream of information on how to mend my erroneous ways… but the undisputed fact remains, I have a pantry-ful of canned food while this armchair quarterback has nothing.

In other words, just because someone has a Ph.D. in physics doesn’t (necessarily) mean they know all about ballet. Or more generally, unless you can show me that your expertise on an issue trumps all, do not presume to know more about it than someone who’s been living or practicing or studying that issue for a long time.

Now granted most armchair quarterbacks are good-natured and easy-going (my ex-boyfriend excepted). But they’re annoying. My private notion is they’re masking a deep insecurity that somehow not knowing everything is a deep character flaw. This is wrong, of course. The flaw is knowing everything… or thinking you do.

Up to this point, this issue sounds like a rant against a pet peeve (which it is). But it’s more than that. It is a plea to quite literally put up or shut up, and the preference is to PUT UP.

If you think you know so much about off-grid living or milking a cow or canning corn, by golly get busy and set up some solar panels or go fetch Bossy from the pasture or buy a pressure canner. Then maybe I’ll be willing to listen to your advice. But until then, shut up already.

In other words, quit telling everyone else what to do and get busy doing it yourself. There is a lot of prepper-related knowledge out there waiting to be discovered and utilized, and we need as many true quarterbacks as possible to learn it. The more people who possess skills and knowledge that will be useful in a post-bleep situation, the better.

Therein lays the secret. If you feel the need to criticize someone else's preparatory efforts, then be ready to demonstrate that your knowledge is superior. If our local armchair quarterback had 100 pints of corn canned up in his pantry, I’d be more open to his words of wisdom. I’m far more willing to listen to how our off-grid neighbors have solved assorted solar panel or generator problems, than I am listening to those who live in a comfortable apartment in the city and merely read about going off-grid.

If you stand there and criticize me throughout the process of milking my cow -- but then can demonstrate that you are a superior cow-milker -- I might be able to tolerate you better than if you weren’t sure which end of the cow to milk. You might still be a jerk, but at least you would be an admittedly knowledgeable jerk.

So here’s a challenge to all the armchair quarterbacks out there: put your money where your mouth is. Before criticizing someone’s technique for canning corn, show me your pantry full of canned corn. Before you criticize someone’s off-grid living choices, give a tour of your off-grid farm. Before you purport to know everything about ballet, show me a double pirouette en pointe.

Then maybe I’ll be willing to listen to you. But up to that point, you’re just a blowhard.

Okay, off my soapbox (grin).


  1. Mercy, I hope the poor fool learned something. Good on you Mrs. Lewis!

  2. This puts me in mind of a certain family member who is childless and well off, and yet is the ultimate expert on raising children in a single, working parent household that barely manages.

    Oh yeah.

    Seen that armchair quarterback movie.

    You're right. Gotta grin and go on.


  3. thanks every step of the way!

    Patrice you went from a guy who (no doubt still) knows everything to a man who knows what's really important.

    A. McSp

  4. I can always count on you to make me smile when I've had a tough day. :) Great post. Interestingly, it echoes sentiments I've been feeling lately, too.

  5. He,he,he! Sounds like you ran into my uncle Jack! He's a legend in his own mind! By the way, we wish he would put up or shut up too!

    Here's to you Patrice! Keep walking the walk!

  6. Dangit, I think I married your ex.

  7. I don't think you should be able to complain about a problem unless you have a tested way to fix it. While I never milked any cows I worked on a ranch that did pigs, cattle and wheat, I had chickens and rabbits. It ain't easy and it ain't Farmville by any stretch of the imagination. It's hard and dirty work but it has it's rewards. I wish I was physically capable of doing it. But I'm not so I'll be a wrangler of corn, beans, grapes and herd worms or chickens.
    I always love the slickers who think living on a farm is easy. It maybe simple but it's not easy!
    If farm life is so easy why do less than 2% do it here in the USA?

  8. think you are talking of my uncle he`s is single but marriage and child rearing he`s ready to give advice never farmed but he`s an expert on cows chickens anything you name he`s got it covered life is filled with these people don`t do but they know how to blow

  9. Patrice, you rock girl!!!!! I don't live on a farm, but had a ton of friends in my growing up years who did....Their lives were full of working...Now that I am over 60, I wish I would have been able to live that kind of life...and not having to rely so much on others for the food I eat.....
    Thank you for being out in bloggyville telling people about a better way to live....
    Sandy in NC

  10. Hi Patrice,
    We all know those kind of people. I have a corn canning question, and I can't find anywhere else to ask it. I did some 2 years ago, and I don't like the resutls. Qt jars, cold pack, 90 min at 15 pounds. I have a weighted canner with only 5, 10, and 15 pound choices. The corn tastes over done. I am at 1700 feet elevation. Any suggestions to get a better tasting product?
    Judy in Idaho

  11. The best thing about the internet is the information available on most any given topic. With Patrice's excellent blog, is is about relearning the basics of life we forgot or were never taught thanks to our high tech lifestyle. Unless you really live a ultra sheltered life, every person gleaning knowledge on survival or simplicity of life sites is here for a reason. The gathering of people who share the tidbits of knowledge through these blogs is a priceless source of knowledge to better your odds of surviving natural or man made catastrophes. Thanks to Patrice and all who share on this and all other like blogs!

    Had Enuff

  12. ROFLOL, message received.

    Anonymous Patriot

  13. I think we dated the same guy in college! LOL

  14. Patrice, boy do I hear you. If I get one more comment or email about how "you can't can that!!!" I'll scream. I've been canning since 1976 when I took a canning class at the University of Tennessee extension office. That's where I got my canner even. I realize that every year some new caveat gets introduced to pay some agent's salary, but I am very careful. I figure that if you can buy it in the store canned, then you can do it at home!! I have been successful for all these years. How did the pioneers ever survive without armchair quarterbacks! :-)

    And Judy - I do my corn on 10 lbs pressure, 90 minutes for quarts and 75 min for pints.

  15. I've met a few of those people myself. The scary thing is a few run blogs and/or forums that publish information on preparedness, so you have to be careful before relying on some of the information & advice out there.

    I used to part part of a group/forum where one of the key rules was not to share or post something that you hadn't done or tried for yourself, unless you stated that clearly. If you hadn't tried it, and nobody else could offer first-hand information, then you had just volunteered yourself to be the one to test it.

  16. The good people, conservatives all, will no doubt do as you ask. Liberal progressives (snarks), on the other hand, will just call you more names. Because, as a matter of fact, they think they DO know more and know better than you and everyone else who isn't one of them. Our liberal leaders, school teachers, college profs and celebrities have told them so! And THEY all wouldn't lie to them. No, no, WE are the liars. We crazy "birthers", patriots and law-abiding citizens who only want our elected officials to obey the Constitution for a change and stop killing innocent, defenseless babies in their mother's wombs. We who want immigrants to enter our nation LEGALLY. What a sad, pathetic state our nation and its people are in.

  17. Patrice,

    We have also had our patience tried and tested a few times.

    Our most recent, and last endeavor of mentoring came at the challenge of a young neighborhood couple, who "thought they could do it better" than we have. So, we took them on with a crash course version of, The How To's of living a real farm life:101.
    After one 5 A.M. morning start, of which they arrived bleary-eyed, and one hour late, they drudged themselves into the field to "help" us do it better. They spent less than 4 hours with us, and they both looked spent and exhausted and said, "This is TOO much WORK! When do you sleep?"

    We answered honestly,"When we are in hay baling season, or kidding and calving season, or if one of the livestock is ill, or grain planting and harvest time, or orchard picking and canning season, or when it's butchering and meat processing season, we sleep when God allows us to sleep! And, we pray for a plentiful bounty for our hard work and then we Thank Him profusely when we are blessed with a productive season!"

    We have since, not seen them for the rest of their lessons.
    You've got to toil if you want the rewards of a real farm!


  18. ROFLOL, Nutotopia! Wish I'd been a fly on the barn wall for that one!

    - Patrice

  19. I'm trying to get my son to understand that you won't become wise until you realize how stupid you really are.

    He thinks I'm insulting him. (Sigh..) Maybe next year.

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

  20. Loved this column. I once worked with a woman who knew everything about giving birth, rearing children, and pouring concrete among other things, even though she hadn't done any of it. Unfortunately, my husband has a know-it-all streak, which I try to tune out.

  21. LOVE this posting! Just the laugh I needed this morning.

    I once got a job I absolutely loved based on one answer during the interview. The dreaded "greatest strength/greatest weakness" question. I told my soon-to-be-boss. "Well, my greatest weakness is I don't know everything. My greatest strength is that I *know* I don't know everything!"

  22. Great post. Many prepping articles on even the best websites (like are often of the "You should do this" variety. I skim these articles quickly, but rarely read them in detail. The articles I love instead are the ones that start out, "Well, this is what I did in the situation I was in, and here's what worked and here's what I found I need to do differently."

    I'm so thankful Patrice, that your entire blog, and Enola Gay's, too, are of the second variety! That's why they're so enjoyable and educational to read.

    And no, I've never canned corn. Although my wife and I used to can quite a bit of... wait for it... tomato jam. I know, it sounds weird. But it's a great old family recipe, and it tastes basically like peach preserves with a touch of cinnamon and cloves. But we didn't need a pressure canner for that.

  23. I hear you on this one. I received an email last week after I had posted last week on my blog about water being one of the most important things for preparedness. This person proceeded to tell me what I had posted was wrong and how I "should" have posted my information, I "should" have posted pictures of my supply and how I wasn't preparing fast enough. Ugh. He must have not read my earlier posts! Plus I do not ever post pictures of my stockpiles. That is just a bad thing waiting to happen! I get really tired of the armchair preppers really fast! At least most of us preppers are working towards our goals. Congrats to you Patrice for your response to this situation and the great info you post on this site!