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Virtue and Vice During SHTF

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: May 24, 2021
Virtue and Vice During SHTF

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There is a lot to think about when it comes to the ethics of what is right and wrong to do when one finds themselves in a true SHTF scenario.

Ethics and morals are more fluid than what you might imagine.

During a SHTF situation, it seems like some people think that it is going to be exciting or even a bit fun.

The truth is that you probably are not going to want to be around the people that think what is going on is fun.

Here are a few facts about virtue and vice during a major SHTF situation.

People will do bad things even if they have always seemed really nice and caring

Everyone is not going to go brutal right away, but as the situation gets worse and goes on longer, people will start acting out of desperation. When someone sees their child suffering or hungry or a family member gets hurt by someone, they can go towards the dark.

Everyone has their limit. For some, it takes a lot less to get them to do something awful, selfish, or manipulative.

The level of hardship required to make someone lose it or how fast they decide to use a bad situation to their advantage will vary a lot.

Don’t make the assumption that the “bad people” will be those that you think are bad now. Sometimes the nicest people before SHTF become extremely brutal, and it can happen very fast. When someone that had it pretty good all of a sudden gets a harsh dose of SHTF of reality, all bets can be off as to how far they will take those feelings.

Some soldiers reading this probably know very well how people can act during a violent or tumultuous time.

Some of you know that I was raised by a single father who saw heavy jungle combat during the TET Offensive. Well, he saw what can happen to guys when they are in a war zone. Some guys were taking trophies.

I also learned recently about the real reason my Dad was demoted from sergeant and was lucky he didn’t get punished further. I was always told it was for fighting.  Know what his crime really was? He stopped some other American soldiers when they were trying to hold some poor Vietnamese girl’s head under water and torture her for the fun of it. I am so proud of him for standing up for what was right. He just wanted to protect me from that story over the years.

I tell this story because I bet that a lot of those involved with terrible things like that would never have done that outside of a war zone, but SHTF, war, etc. changes people.

You see so much, and you are never the same again.

There may be a time when you have to decide if someone lives or dies.

How many of us have met either online or in person, a prepper that claims they would not hesitate to pull the trigger. This type of person sometimes even seems gleeful about the prospect of taking life. It is almost like they are hoping that someone does something that allows them to live out their SHTF fantasy.

The thing that people forget is that unless you have been in a life or death situation, you don’t really know how you would respond. Even if it is your second time being in a bad situation, you may not react the same way.

One thing I learned from my Vietnam Veteran father is that you never want to take the life of another unless it seems there is no other way.

Of course, too much hesitation can lead to you or someone you care about being robbed of their life or severely injured.

If you have someone in your group that puts on a big show about being able to take life when needed, you may find that they cannot bring themselves to do anything that brutal. In fact, you may discover that you are more likely to be that person than them when faced with defending your family.

SHTF will change people and bring out underlying traits that would otherwise remain hidden.

There is no ideal answer for this level of moral dilemma. I like to think if I find myself in a situation, I will see that someone means serious harm and react accordingly, but I have not been in a life or death battle.

There are people that will thrive during a SHTF scenario and not for virtuous reasons

There are always people out there that are out for themselves and maybe a few other choice people. Life will be cheap to them during SHTF. They will not care if you get the short end of the stick every single time. They will look for any weakness and take advantage of it.

There are more bad people than you might think.

I actually was not always such a bitter person, but over the years I have been amazed how many real honest to goodness bad people there are. They are kept in check by the system we have and the law enforcement and punishments that are in place. When that safety net is gone, then they will be ready to show their true nature.

People will take advantage of kids.

If kids are too sheltered from the world around them, they can be at a major disadvantage during SHTF. Kids need to know that there are bad people out there and that you may not be able to intervene every single time. Things can happen fast during a SHTF situation. Kids are tougher than a lot of people think, but they need to gain confidence and skills during good times so that they will react better during stressful times. Older kids and teens can be a big help to younger kids during hard times.


During a major SHTF situation, you may technically still supposed to be following the law, but the reality is that the law pretty much goes out the door.

The temptation is going to be there to do what you want and not cut anyone any slack at all. Something that you might have let slide when times were good could make you consider doing something awful during SHTF just because you realize that you might be able to get away with it without any worries of retaliation.

Drugs and alcohol use can be higher, especially among groups that normally have lower rates.

Stress makes people want an escape. If they think they are in danger of death at any time, then it can be easier to decide to do a drug you never thought you would or drink heavily.

Sexual aspects of SHTF

Prostitution rises during hard and desperate times. People will use whatever methods they have at their disposal if they think it will save them or someone they love. Very few people that turn to prostitution during hard times planned on that being their way of getting by. Before we are quick to judge others for doing what they need to survive, we all should think about what we would be willing to do if someone we love is going to starve, die of illness, or be murdered if we don’t.

Bad people will be there to take advantage and manipulate the weak or desperate. This includes sexual slavery and worse during a long term SHTF scenario where resources are scarce.

Mentally and physically preparing yourself for SHTF will make it easier for you to make better decisions and faster if needed. Think about how you would handle various situations now!

Vice is a slippery slope. It is easy to take it too far especially when you don’t know what the next day may bring or if you will see it at all.

If you don’t know if you will be alive the next day, it can be much easier to indulge in various vices far more than is healthy. When people lose hope, they can make decisions that are not in their long term best interest.

Who you are and how powerful you are may help determine if someone actually responds when you need help.

Even if there are still some enforcement, chances are they are going to be stressed to the max and the response time is going to be awful. Sorry but if someone with more influence, money, power, etc. than you need help, there is a good chance they are going to get it first and you may be left with too little too late.

Recommended Reading: Being Your Own First Responder In Good Times and SHTF

Government help may seem like a blessing but be careful how much you take and where it leads you. You may lose what little control you have over your situation.

During SHTF there will be some help available at least at points. In the beginning, it may be tempting to rely on the system for the survival of you and your family, but that doesn’t mean you should take the bait. When you are tired, scared, hungry, and have others depending on you, it makes you vulnerable to persuasion. There may be people in your family that think you are reckless or not thinking clearly if you take a stand to not go to a government shelter or FEMA camp. You have to be strong.

You don’t want to find yourself at a “shelter” that has become a prison. There is a lot to think about when it comes to the ethics of what is right and wrong to do when because you are not allowed to leave for “your own safety.” If you take the handout during SHTF, there may be consequences so choose wisely.

Being too nice can get you or someone you love killed or seriously hurt.

Over the past few years, I have heard from a lot of different preppers and read a lot of conversations and comments. One that comes up time and time again is that there are a lot of well-meaning people out there that think they should help people as much as possible during an extended emergency or SHTF.

While it is great that there are good people out there, I wish they would realize that being too nice could easily get them killed. People take advantage of nice people during good times more than they should, but during a major situation, the super nice are at a disadvantage. I am not saying don’t help people at all or turn off your compassion entirely but practice some caution. Realize that the rules have changed when it comes to virtue and vice.

Consider your temper and the temper of those in your group

I have struggled to control my temper over the years. I have gotten better at it and you can too. Being too hot-headed is not a good habit to be in. While tempers flaring during good times may just lead to some harsh words and people going their separate ways, during SHTF it can be a bigger deal if you go off the handle. It is easy to make a poor decision when you are very angry.

If you choose to do violence, remember that once started, it can snowball. Violence is hard to stop once started.

If a situation escalates to physical violence or guns, it can be hard or impossible to stop it before things get horrific. Remember that battles begin with a single shot. Fights and riots start with a single fist, thrown object, etc.

Consider if you want to be a catalyst for violence and if it is necessary or worth it. Are you just letting your temper get the best of you or are you really defending all that is precious to you?

Looting and stealing

There is always a lot of talk about looting and stealing during an SHTF scenario.

People take luxury items first.

Electronics, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, fancy clothing and shoes, etc., are all examples of items that get looted first.  People go for the high-end things they have always wanted but normally cannot afford as often as they would like or at all.

Looting or scavenging can become even more dangerous later on as people compete for whatever is left

If it is clear that things have gone haywire, there is something to be said for getting what you can when you have the opportunity. On the other hand, the risk of bodily injury versus what you get comes in to play. Since all situations are different, you have to practice some situational awareness.

If you are going to loot or scavenge, go for items that will help your odds of survival in the long term.

If people are concentrating on high-end goods that are useless without electricity or other luxuries, you should be thinking about getting the medicine, canned meat, lighters, medical supplies, and other goods that can give you an advantage. Later on, people will realize the value and then it will be far harder for you to find these items. When it comes time to trade, any extra necessities will be good. Luxuries have a high value too as long as they are something like special food, beverage, toys, razors, etc.

There will likely be abandoned properties or buildings that have goods in them that are useful, but over time there will be less to scavenge.

Consider this scenario. You live in a small neighborhood. Things have been bad for an awhile. It is clear that some houses in your area have been totally abandoned.

Perhaps there is a house where you know for a fact that the occupants are no longer part of this world?

Do you go see what you can get or can you just not bring yourself to go into someone else’s place and take what you can?

There reaches a point during a SHTF situation where if you don’t take it, someone will. The further you are into SHTF, the riskier it becomes to make a choice.

The moral dilemma of bartering and trade

Trading during SHTF is not going to be fun and games or a big enjoyable social event like a barter fair. Sometimes it seems a lot of preppers are prepping for trade.  Hopefully, you don’t have to trade until it seems like the overall situation society has found itself in has started to improve.  Unfortunately, this is not very likely. At some point, you are going to run out of things.

Let’s go over a few basics of trading.

Everyone wants to feel like they did better in the trade than the other person.

Since there is no set price, both parties are going to be trying to get the best deal.

If someone knows you are desperate for something, they will be more likely to try to use that to their advantage.

If you are in a desperate situation, it is best to hide just how desperate you are. This can be hard to do when you are trying to trade for antibiotics and have a sick family member whose life is on the line.

Try to keep your emotions in check.

Don’t mention a sick person. Act like you are trying to get some antibiotics just in case and play it cool. This is just one example. There are many other items like food and water filters that could also be something that people jack the price up on a lot if they know you are desperate.

Fake goods and medicines are something to watch out for. If you are tempted to forge goods or medicines to trade with others, then realize that you are taking a huge risk that will eventually catch up with you.

If you are trading for something and can check it for authenticity, then you should. Check for signs that something has been opened and resealed. Small pinpricks even can mean that someone adulterated the contents or replaced them.

In Facebook prepper groups I have heard people discuss how they will sell or trade fake items. I told them that I would not want to be caught doing that and that people like them I will be looking out for during any interaction.

People are already planning how they are going to take advantage of you. Always remember that.

Have you thought about how you will handle temptation and bad people during SHTF? Do you have anything to add?

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected]

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11 Responses to “Virtue and Vice During SHTF”

  1. I am perfecting seed saving. That is my “go to” barter item. Everything else I will need as some point for myself. One tomato can yield about 100 seeds. One Pepper the same. A melon? Lots more. I am thinking, If people need food they will trade for seeds to grow food. I also have plants that multiply so I can trade those too. In my mind and hopefully others it doesn’t mean I have EXTRA food, just that I have enough food to keep myself alive and the ability to save the seeds from year to year.

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