Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
We’ve all heard of normalcy bias, a mindset in which people don’t believe that the bad things they see on the news could actually happen to them. But have you heard of situational bias? What’s more, are you perhaps guilty of it yourself?
What is situational bias?
In the context of prepping and survival, situational bias is a systemic cognitive bias that causes people to believe that their unique situation protects them from the events or disasters that may befall others. It’s similar to normalcy bias, but a little different because it’s more thought out – the person has what they feel is a valid reason for their belief, instead of simply, “It could never happen to me.”
It’s something that we in the survival world see frequently. Perhaps it’s someone on one of Selco’s articles saying, “I’m sure it was bad in the Balkans, but what he’s describing could never happen here because Americans are different” or someone reading about a riot who breathes a sigh of relief and says, “I’m glad I don’t live in the city.”
Both of these examples of cognitive biases have some strong basis in reality. The United States is different from Bosnia and Venezuela and Greece and all those other places where we’ve watched the SHTF. Our governmental systems are different, our lifestyles are different, and yes, we have guns. A riot or an episode of mob violence is more likely to take place in a metropolitan area than down a long country road.
But societal collapse doesn’t follow a list of rules
We have to remember that there are no absolutes in societal collapse.
Our government in the United States is pretty darned corrupt or at the very least, perceived as such (flashback to the most recent presidential election for a reminder), our standards of living are falling, and the current administration is doing everything possible to get guns out of our hands.
Hatred has come further and further out of city limits. During the previous election and the hullabaloo surrounding it, supporters of President Trump in rural areas had threatening letters sent to their homes, homeowners in suburbia had their American flags set on fire, and many publications have posted gleeful essays about the election outcome, deeply insulting almost half the voters in the United States. We’ve even seen people thoughtfully pondering on social media about how to “re-educate” Trump voters and libertarians.
As poverty increases (and it is) so does desperation. I wrote a while back that people are now stealing food to get by. Hatred of “others” is blatant and public. The flames of racial divides are being deliberately fanned – and some would even say, being doused in gasoline. Leading up to the Balkan War, Selco wrote that the media bombarded people with fear and hate.
Violence is becoming easier to justify.
All of these things combine to make violence easier for people to justify. We have “othered” and “been othered.” We are divide, purposely, as a means of control. After all, if we’re busy fighting among ourselves, we’re not paying as much attention to what the government is doing. And if we feel pushed into a corner, we’re going to double down on our opinions and embed ourselves even more firmly in “our side” even if what “our side” is proposing in fact goes against our ideals.
The easier it is to justify violence and vandalism, the more likely it is to happen outside of its usual settings.
There is a definite difference in the response rioters would face in downtown Portland versus downtown Smalltown someplace in “flyover” country. So-called “peaceful protesters” would be far more likely to be met with like force.
But then, in turn, the heat is cranked up even higher and the media is screaming for heads on pikes. A good point of comparison would be the difference in media coverage and law enforcement response to the event at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, versus the response to events that have been occurring in Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis for going on two years now. The difference in those responses is…yes, again, gasoline thrown into an inferno.
The problem is, a lot of folks are still looking at this with situational bias.
We are not living in normal times, not by any stretch of the imagination. The violence, the poverty, the authoritarian abuse, and the divisiveness are far from what we’ve grown to expect living in our safe, secure, first-world societies. There’s a “mass shooting” announced every other day and they’re not just happening in big cities. There are protests galore, hatefests on social media, and a robust cancel culture that can affect you regardless of what utopian are you reside.
The internet makes a lot of things better. We can work from home, our kids can learn from home things that we might have difficulty teaching them, and we can keep in touch with the people we love while there are travel restrictions. But it also makes the world a whole lot smaller. It makes organization easier, finding out information on others simple, and a flashmob can pop up in a matter of minutes or hours, instead of days.
We write about this regularly here on The OP and every single time, in the comments, there are readers who feel they are immune. They believe themselves to be somehow untouched by all the chaos going on in our country. Maybe it’s their location, perhaps it’s their skillset, sometimes it’s because their specific neighborhood is special in some way.
This is situational bias.
These are examples of situational bias.
The unwillingness to believe the things happening in Minneapolis could ever, in any way, touch you. The resolute belief that the “others” wouldn’t dare try their shenanigans where you are. The staunch conviction that your area is somehow out of the reach of the chaos.
We all want to believe that we’ve fenced our yards, cleaned our firearms, raised our livestock, tended our gardens, live around good people, and that we are safe. We want to believe we have created our own ideal situation into which this current reality cannot intrude.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute – is Daisy writing about my comment?” well, no, I’m not writing about one comment in particular. I’m writing about all the comments of this nature, and there are many. You can see them on every single post. I was talking to a good friend about this the other night and he is the one who suggested I write about situational bias.
Yes, some of us are better prepared than others.
Yes, some of us live in areas that are less likely to erupt into violence tomorrow.
Yes, some of us have a skill set that will keep us safer from those who mean us harm.
But anyone can be outnumbered. Any area can be reached by determined groups, especially those groups which are extremely well-funded. Anyone can run into financial hard times and have to dip into our preps, therefore reducing our carefully constructed cushion.
And if you think this can’t happen to you, ever, your situational bias is blinding you.
And if you’re blinded, you’ll never see it coming. You won’t be ready. You’ll have been too complacent, too lax.
Then you will suddenly discover that while your situation may have been better than that of people living in big cities, that you, in fact, are not untouchable. Neither are your family members who work late or those who have to go into the city for a doctor’s appointment. Your friends, your neighbors – none of us are immune.
How do you reduce your situational bias?
It’s actually pretty simple to overcome situational bias. First, of course, you have to realize that you have a bias. If you don’t recognize it, you can’t overcome it.
I see this a lot where I live as I write this article. I’m house-sitting in a beautiful, oceanfront condo in a gated, walled compound with six armed guards in Mexico. I’m listening to the waves through my open windows, the birds chirping at sunset, the breeze blowing through the palm trees. Nearly everyone who lives here is American, Canadian, or European. Mexican people don’t live in this compound – they work here and it’s one of the better-paying jobs in the area.
People in this compound walk their dogs without locking their doors. We go down to the private beach and leave our phones with our towels as we splash around in the chilly Pacific. We go to the dog park or the pool or the gym and it’s all within the half-mile path surrounded by tropical flowers in our little Utopia. The worst thing that’s happened here was a couple who got into a fight and were screaming at each other in the parking lot. Within minutes, the guards escorted one-half of the couple out of the compound and that was the end of it.
So does that mean we’re safe?
Absolutely not. The safety here is a facade and I know it. I do not leave my door unlocked. I don’t walk around with my eyes on my phone. I don’t expect the 6 young men at the gate are really going to be able to protect me if a horde of angry people decided to storm it. Unfortunately, many of my neighbors believe they and their belongings are safe. They can’t imagine a breach. Very few have mapped out what to do or where to go if one occurs. Some of my neighbors haven’t given a second thought to defending themselves because they believe they’re protected by a few guys barely out of their teens.
I am by no stretch of the imagination telling you that I’m in an ideal situation. I’m willing to bear the risk for a few months to work from the beachside. I’m taking full responsibility for my decision and my safety. What I’m explaining with this description is that while it “looks” safe, I don’t delude myself into believing that couldn’t change in a split second.
You reduce your situational bias by going back to the basics, something Selco always advises when you don’t know what to do next. While your situation may be better than others (I’m safer here in this gated compound than I would be living out in the mountains of Baja by myself or in downtown Tijuana), that doesn’t mean you don’t have room for improvement. That doesn’t make you safe.
As Toby Cowern writes, “There’s always something you can do to improve your chances of a better outcome. “
Believe that it could happen to you.
You need to think like a mob, think like criminals, think like hungry people. If you were a member of one of those groups, how would you attempt to access your own home? When would you attack? Who is the weak link? No matter how prepared you are and how confident you are, there’s always a wild card (cough – COVID – cough) and that’s what means you might have to adjust your plan.
I don’t write this to be discouraging or critical. I write it because I see the same kind of cognitive bias within our own community that we accuse people outside of our community of having. Living a prepared lifestyle, knowing how to survive in multiple environments, and having ninja skills all make you a lot harder to victimize. But believing yourself impervious leaves a dangerous blind spot that is, in the end, what makes you vulnerable.
The problem with writing articles like this is that the folks who need most to absorb it are the ones who will argue most fervently.
You may not want to believe it but believing it will make you safer.
- You are NOT invincible.
- Your home is NOT impenetrable.
- Your town or neighborhood is NOT impervious to mobs and riots.
I am not telling you to live in fear. I’m merely suggesting you try to overcome the illusion that your situation is invulnerable.
Because it’s not.
Not yours. Not mine. Not anyone’s. Not anywhere.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She publishes content about current events, preparedness, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. On her new website, The Frugalite, she shares thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.