A Journal on Resilience, Independence, and the Self-Assertive Personalities That Define Humanity.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Grey Skills

Everyone should be familiar with the idea of Grey Markets; Those markets which, while not entirely legitimate are not illegal (as opposed to black markets, which deal in the illegal or deal illegally). Such markets often deal in providing products outside the channels established by the primary producers. In independent communities, grey markets are strong due to a lack of corporate/establishment dependence.
Most should also be able to grok Grey Hat “hackers”; Those who, uninvited, attack systems without malicious intent, to bring awareness to vulnerabilities and encourage stronger protections.
However you slice it, independence and resiliency tend to thrive in greyness (and/or vice versa).
I mention all this to highlight a definition that struck me the other night – That of Grey Skills.
Skills, and the application of them, which ride the interstice between legal/legitimate and illegal/illegitimate, or which knowledge of is allowed but practice would cross legal boundaries.
These could be different types of skill:
- Skills that can be used legitimately, or illegally, depending on what you're doing or where.
- Some of these skills are generic – Gardening, farming, hunting, etc.
- Some less generic skills, while not typically restricted by law, are not commonly available outside of specific professions. Your community college likely does not have a class on lockpicking, or combat handgunnery, though they may offer both locksmithing certification and live fire courses related to law enforcement certifications.
- Similarly, skills in sciences and medicine where work in the field is often regulated and tightly controlled through specific institutions.
The knowledge that drives these skills is legal to obtain, though often considered secure due to assumed state monopolies on teaching it (war-fighting, for example), and available to anyone willing to invest the time and the money. Those demands, with global communications and networks, have dropped significantly and a functional education in a subject needn't require great outlays of money, or extensive time/incursions into regular schedules. (Note I say functional education – Good enough to perform the skill, without requiring achieving a degree or certification).
Any skill that is commonly monopolized by the state/industry, or regulated by such, but can be learned and used legally (or, without it being expressly illegal) is a Grey Skill. As an example - Computer hacking is a grey skill, until used to commit crime. Hacking in general, actually – There is great value in hackers of all stripes, as John Robb notes here: Hackers Essential to Resilience
Three of the easiest to grab ahold of grey skills would be three of my favorite: Skill at arms, medical skill and locksport (aka lock picking).
Skill at arms is a grey skill – There is a robust private training industry dedicated to it, providing some legitimacy in the US, but its one of those things many NGO's and government groups would like to see monopolized by the state.
Medicine in another grey skill, when taught outside the conventional medical community. In the developing world teaching simple medicine, or even some not so simple, to individuals in communities to create healthcare workers capable of functioning without access to a doctor is a common aid activity. In the US, medicine is almost exclusively run and taught within the medical community, and what most private people know about it comes from extenze ads and maybe a CPR class. Basic levels of medical skill are easy to obtain through the system, up to Wilderness EMT can be obtained by anyone with several weeks time, the funds and an ability to learn traditionally and perform tasks, skill recall and simple math under simulated stress. There are also private concerns that teach medical skills to anyone with the money. I teach a class specifically for concealed carry permit holders and other armed citizens on initial field treatment of gunshot/penetrating trauma injuries. Other trainers teach similar course work, some also teach more extensive field medicine courses that more resemble what a good expedition medic or military medic can do. There are also plentiful books on this topic that represent serious scholarship not anti-science/medical new age quackdom. Most of this training is being distilled from the professional world, but it is being provided to whoever can pay for it (or shows up, in the case of some free clinics), or purchase the books/videos (or download them).
Physical security, particularly locks and lock systems, is another grey skill. It is commonly encountered only via professionals, and some private training entities only provide it to select clientele, but in recent years “lock sport” (lock picking and the academic study of locks) has become an extremely popular hobby. As with skill at arms and medical skills, there is an extensive amount of knowledge in this field available to anyone with the time, interest and money. Again, much of it is often free or extremely inexpensive.

Skills acquired in the white realm can convert into grey skills when taken outside of there for reasons of resiliency (vice reasons of crime) – The soldier who teaches his family to move, fight and communicate like a small infantry unit. The doctor/RN/paramedic who teaches her domestic partner to run IV's, dress wounds and drop endotracheal tubes. The pharmacist who teaches his apartment gardening co-op how to compound medicines.
Some grey skills are far more common, such as on the job skills that are learned out of necessity and never certified. Most of the people I know who can weld, hold no certification in it having learned it on the job. Same for many construction and building related skills.
At various points in the past, other grey skills have been an ordinary part of everyday life for some people. In the rural western US, until the late-middle 20th Century poaching as a component of subsistence living remained common. My father (born 1945) grew up knowing an old man who had all his life bought one box of cartridges a year for his rifle and considered that his “meat budget”. Poaching, successfully, is different from reasonable sport hunting, and is a “skill” which employs means and methods not commonly taught or used in legal hunting, but those skills are often taught and passed on in a community, or provided in that grey area of non-illegality for studying them. Paladin Press, a long contributor to studying various “grey skills” even publishes a book on poaching.

The value of these skills, to the resilient person and within resilient communities, is in filling the gaps left by failed/hollow states and infrastructure breakdowns. Security, medicine/health, fabrication and production – All these things (and more) are increasingly needed to be handled on a local level. Where providers of those skills already exist, they will begin to fill those gaps and new orders of training and replacement will come to bear. However, as many skilled individuals are leaving one area in favor of another, the absence of critical skills could be strongly felt. Particularly in rural areas where people already have to drive hours to access doctors, police officers and medical care.
Traditionally, those rural environments were rife with skilled individuals. Now as more people have retired or moved for other reasons out of the urban environment, less of these skills exist in communities that remain rural. Lots of aerospace engineers and sewage treatment chemists, very few home-spun “doctorinarians”, blacksmiths, farmers, etc. Of those who've moved in, most are accustomed to having immediate access to services such as security/policing and have little or no skills to contribute there either. Those who are long time rural, having grown up or made their life in such places, will be the ones to put it all together in a collapse, or in growing a resilient community ahead of it. The newcomers will have to re-skill or find themselves unable to cooperate and forced to rely on altruism of their neighbors.

Today's Grey Skill may be tomorrows Black (or White), as political/moral climate change, and communities experience the inevitable shake-ups. What the State (or its remains) calls Black, your local community/tribe/family may call White, and vice versa.
Building those Grey Skills and availing yourself of their easy availability now, is probably a wise move. Both to counter restrictions in their availability as a floundering system makes last grasps for control, and to sustain in a world where access to professional services is going to be difficult, but skills will be highly valuable locally.
These skills are only a small part of the skills package that someone needs these days, I think – Looking to Robb's Global Guerrillas again, there's this excellent piece of advice: I'm Young and Need Advice

As a note: These skills are often found in the survivalist movement, but that area lacks the long term vision of more reasoned approaches, and reasoned behaviors (including succeeding and gaining wealth, not merely surviving). I don't think the Russians are going to nuke us into a subsistence living nightmare, nor am I planning for it. I am planning for, and suggesting planning for, rough periods as the economy and governments of the world settle themselves out in the coming years and difficulties - And thriving in those environments. Being able to do, make, provide and trade locally within a resilient community (and secure those activities from those unskilled and forced to resort to strict predation) is the way of the future – It is already the way many are riding out the “recession”, and will continue to be proven out as the model for success as time goes on, I believe. Re-skilling, and returning to a common multi-faceted skill level is an important piece of the puzzle each individual (or each family) should be putting together at this point.

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