The Modern Survival Guide Vol. 1: Introduction

Allen Faulton
7 min readApr 9, 2018

Objectively speaking, we live in the easiest time to be alive that humanity has ever experienced. Nutritious food is widely available, clean water comes from the tap, clothing is cheap, we have effective medicine, and almost everything is unimaginably attainable by the standards of generations past.

But there’s a catch.

The modern world throws all kinds of challenges at us that we simply are not naturally equipped to deal with. Most of these challenges are things our ancestors simply never had to consider, if only because we have invented so many new things over the last few centuries.

Think about it. Cars have only been around since the late 1800s, and have only been widely available for about a hundred years. The human mind is still working out how to react to them. Case in point — many, many people are afraid of sharpening their kitchen knives, because they’re afraid they might get cut (one wonders if they understand the point of a knife, if you’ll pardon the pun). These same people will happily jump in the car to drive to a store to buy pre-cut meat. Which is more likely to seriously injure you — the knife, or the car? Obviously, from an objective viewpoint, the car is the statistically more dangerous object. But virtually no one is afraid of cars.

This sort of thing is all over the place in modern society, and highlights a key point: our brains are not equipped to easily handle certain abstract concepts (like math — seriously, how many people do you think really grasp the power of the exponential function?). And because of this, we have a hard time drawing lessons from these concepts. “Common sense” is decreasing in usefulness as a yardstick to guide us through life.

Add to this the fact that modern humanity is rapidly breaking down barriers that used to separate cultures. Globalization requires us, increasingly, to interact with groups that we find strange. Meanwhile our evolving moral compass is upending longstanding biases and assumptions. Forty years ago, it was not safe to be gay. Sixty years ago, women were very much second-class citizens. A hundred and sixty years ago people had slaves, and less than fifty years ago the United States was still trying to break down Jim Crow.

This is all throwing fresh light on social pressures and mores that, again, the average person has a hard time reconciling with the new reality. We are hardwired for in-group/out-group dynamics. We are at the mercy of emotional drives designed to protect tribes, not to enable cosmopolitan nation-states.

All of this means that a modern person in a modern civilization is basically a walking pile of contradictory impulses. The only way we survive is to learn which of these are useful and which we should, for our own good, ignore, suppress, or otherwise render feeble. And once we’ve done that, we all have to program our brains to recognize the actual, important stuff that surrounds us. We do this all the time, every day. But it’s very easy to get it wrong and hurt our chances of survival and prosperity in the process.

I’ll be honest, I find the whole thing fascinating to watch and be part of.

This series is an exercise in discussing the things I’ve found in life that I think help, hinder, or otherwise affect our ability to survive the modern world. Oddly enough, I find a lot of it to be more philosophical than hands-on. I think this is because modern living requires more behavior from people, and less physical action.

For lots of people these days, it’s less important to know how to fix a car than it is to know how to deal with a mechanic. Fixing a car requires practical knowledge. Dealing with a mechanic without shooting them requires practical philosophy — namely, a mindset of “I will be lucky to get away with my shirt, but I will track this encounter for future reference and judge this shop against its competitors.” A lot of things are like that, and people aren’t taught to do many of them. We tend to muddle along as best we can.

I’m writing this as a series. I’ll add more items over time, as they occur to me, so at least at the start, this isn’t going to follow a set order of topics. That being said, I do have a number of things that I’ve already thought about, and as I add them I’ll include links below.

Why should you listen to me, though? Well, why should you listen to anyone? If anything, I think it’s easier to read someone’s (relatively) anonymous thoughts on these subjects online — it takes all the emotion out of your decision to trust… or not. Take a look, make your judgement, make your choice. If you’re reading this, you may not agree with everything I say, and that’s OK. It’s almost the point, really. But I do hope that it’s food for thought.

And last but not least, if you have an idea for a modern survival tip, let me know! I’m happy to host guest commentary or write something by request.

Contents of the Modern Survival Guide

Interlude: How to Use a Public Restroom

Interlude: How to Survive at Any Job

Interlude: How to Run a Meeting

Interlude: How to be a Host

Interlude: Getting Out of the Five Minute Trap

Interlude: How to Ask for a Raise

Interlude: How to Give a Command

Interlude: How to Talk to Doctors

Interlude: How to Talk to Lawyers

Interlude: How to Walk Through a Crowd

Interlude: How to Drive on the Highway

Interlude: What to Do After a Car Wreck

Interlude: A Practical Look at Nutrition

Interlude: How to Save Money

Interlude: How to Interact with the Police

Interlude: How to Deal with Mechanics

Interlude: How to Say “No”

Interlude: How to Buy a Car

Interlude: Thirteen Rules for Riding the Subway

Interlude: Proper Email Etiquette

Interlude: Phone Etiquette for 2019

Interlude: Thirteen Ways to Change Someone’s Mind

Interlude: A Guide to Conversational Etiquette

Interlude: How to Drink with Class

Interlude: How to Give Gifts

Interlude: How to be a Guest: 12 Tips

Interlude: How to Claim Credit (In a Nice Way)

Interlude: How to Survive a Global Pandemic

Interlude: The Art of a Good Presentation

End of the Modern Survival Guide Vol. 1

But wait, there’s more! The Modern Survival Guide continues in Volume II!