Who survives?

Apocalyptic scenario. I’ll leave you to imagine the particulars—nuclear event, AI annihilation, resource depletion, whatever you prefer. My question is this: in such a scenario, who survives?

My first thought was that the able and fit are most likely to endure. Here, “fit” means suited to a specific task, not possession of ten percent body fat and a good one-rep-max in the deadlift. For example, if electrical infrastructure was knocked out indefinitely, the first to go would be those who rely on electrical appliances for survival—the hospitalised.

But that’s a superficial answer. There’s more to survival than ability and fitness. The real answer, I think, has to do with two things; luck and risk.

First off, the lucky are more likely to survive than the unlucky. Running with the idea of an electrical infrastructure outage, those in a small-to-medium sized town will be “luckier” than those in a city like London or on an estate in the middle of nowhere. They’ll have access to a community of people without an immediate scarcity of resources.

Second, risk. In any scenario, those who embody the extreme approaches to risk are more likely to survive than those in the middle. The risk averse will survive because they won’t take unnecessary chances. Every action will be weighed; every deed will be weighted according to circumstance. Such mindfulness will keep many dangers at bay and allow for the slow accumulation of resources, understanding and time. 

But the risk seeking will also fare well. Being willing to hazard and sacrifice means they will gain where others lose. Where others see danger and crisis, they will see opportunity, and often, they will transform it to achievement. Theirs will not be a slow accumulation, a steady buildup. Theirs will be a rollercoaster of rises and falls.

The middlers—those who don’t risk everything, but also don’t risk nothing—will not fare as well. They will be cautious where courage is required, and make sacrifices where none is necessary. Their lack of strong conviction gives them a weak chance of survival.

Hopefully, the veracity of the above will never be tested by real life events. But even without the imposition of an apocalypse, I think the model holds some utility. In modern society, those who survive—those who prosper—are the ones who seek risk, mitigate it, or are just plain fortunate.