Summary—The Wildist Institute is an organization dedicated to spreading the ethical philosophy of wildism and helping create a movement able to pose a real challenge to the industrial destruction of wild nature. Towards these ends, this article is the Institute’s 2016 strategy.
I. What We’re Sure Of
This journal is meant to investigate what we don’t know, but there’s still quite a bit we’re sure of. For example, although we are trying to decide exactly what it means to be in conflict with industry (e.g., should we wait for collapse or instigate collapse where possible?), we are sure that we ought to preserve and restore nature from the remnants left. To this end, the Institute will be encouraging at least four kinds of work through Hunter/Gatherer.
First, of course, is conservation work. Conservation biologists have been essential in outlining the ways current industrial practices are incompatible with wild nature, destroying the wild to a degree offensive to just about anyone’s moral sense, if they have one. Furthermore, in the very act of protecting the things we love, conservation activists are bringing to the forefront the tension between nature and industry. What does it say about a civilization that extinction of non-human life is a normal part of its operation, and, worse, that conservation of that life is completely at odds with it?
Second is journalistic work. So long as the journalists stick with the facts, not intentionally bending their narrative to fit their politics, their work should be as effective as the conservation biologists. On the other hand, if they lie or distort the facts, which, even apart from being unethical, is completely unnecessary, they’ll do more to inspire tension between the public and conservationists than the public and industry, hurting, rather than helping, the cause.
Third is academic work. Deep ecology has a strong academic base that sustains the intellectual foundations of the movement. There ought to be more concerted work being done specifically under the heading of wildism, particularly in the area of applied ethics.
Fourth, monkeywrenching can at times be a very effective tactic that we will not condemn, and in fact will report on when it is done strategically and for the sake of conscience, rather than the sake of simply breaking the law. What we will report on includes old tactics like tree spiking and sand in bulldozer tanks, but it also includes new tactics like whistleblowing and urban-oriented actions. We’re serious about the importance of conscience, though. Dave Foreman wrote a great piece on the topic entitled “The Perils of Illegality,” in which he wrote, “Be careful and deliberate in choosing the laws you break for ethical reasons, or the targets for monkeywrenching. Be sure you are justified, that you have exhausted every legal means.” Please also keep in mind that our domain of work is wholly legal and will remain that way.
Finally, we’re sure that all this work ought to be done on the basis of wildism. As explained in this issue’s “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” deep ecology has served its purpose, but it’s time to focus and to no longer obscure the incompatibilities between some deep ecologists, focused on a reasoned defense of wild nature, and most of the others, who belong to left humanist movements, who espouse social progressivism, or who are interested mostly in woo woo spirituality. Rather, our resistance must be based on scientific and reasoned principles, it must be concerned with increasing the autonomy of nature, and it must reject all narratives of progress, including and especially those of the social progressives.
II. Our Work
One of the aims of the Institute is to build the intellectual foundations for a movement that can pose a real threat to the industrial destruction of wild nature. The core of this is the ethical philosophy of wildism, but there are other important topics of investigation to work through as well. Most of this long-term work can be divided into three general categories—wildist ethics, scientific analysis, and conservation strategy—with three tangible counterparts—the ideology, the publication, and the conservation program and projects.
A. Wildist Ethics
Most of the foundational work in this category has been done and merely needs explication. This is a primary task of the first volume of Hunter/Gatherer, and it has mostly been done with “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” but no doubt some clarification essays will be necessary. After that, however, the foundations will have been set.
The next step will be to introduce wildism to environmental ethics journals. This will achieve many things, including increased credibility, a more distributed and therefore resilient movement infrastructure, and a greater field of influence. It will also ensure that the ideas will be long-lasting, since academic preservation practices are meant to withstand time. And, finally, it will allow people better acquainted and equipped to deal with philosophical conundrums relevant to wildism to address them and maybe even sort them out.
These first two steps are necessary to have a consistent and exact language for conversations about wildism among wildists, but the third step is to spread wildism outward, into the real world, most likely with accompanying activism. Earth First! did this with deep ecology, for example. (This is not to say that we need to do it the same way as Earth First! To the contrary, while Earth First! contributed a great to the movement for wild nature, much has changed, and our efforts must be properly attuned to the political landscape, both the broad, mainstream one, and the narrower, ecological one.)
B. Scientific Analysis
Theoretically there is a major gap that must be filled for wildists to make a proper analysis, namely, the gap in our knowledge of cultural and technical evolution. For this, there must be a synthesis between cultural ecology and sociobiology, as the former gives too little attention to human nature and the latter has major gaps that cultural ecology could fill. Those at the Institute are provisionally calling the synthesis “biocultural materialism.” Sometime in the near future we will be publishing reviews on the available literature to instigate work in this area.
A second area of focus should be on human nature. Sociobiology has the most to offer on this topic, and being familiar with the concepts of evolution, evolutionary psychology, game theory, and so forth should be necessary for most wildist cadres, especially those that do journalistic or theoretical work (and by default those that do scientific work).
Finally, of course, is the work of the conservation biologists, which is already well-understood.
C. Conservation Strategy
Much of the work in the area of conservation strategy will have to be highly innovative. This is especially true given the seriousness with which we at the Institute are outlining the utter incompatibility of industry and nature’s wildness. If our conclusion that the collapse of industry is our only way out sustains itself through critique, then clearly this will require some changes in strategy. Still, innovation is not our focus right now and won’t be for at least another year or two.
Our primary effort is building what we call the “tactical spectrum.” The concept is best explained by a David Brower quote:
The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We’re still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable.
In recent years, leftist swarm has successfully broken down this spectrum which used to unite radical and moderate efforts in the conservation and environmentalist movements. It is absolutely necessary that the spectrum be rebuilt and strengthened, because the time is indeed fast approaching for a movement that makes Earth First! seem reasonable. As discussed below, one of the primary ways to go about doing this is through tangible conservation projects.
D. The Role of the Ideology
Radical ideologies serve at least three functions that are relevant to us. First, they mobilize a small core of committed people, and are emphatically not for large-scale mobilization. They are important especially in asymmetric battles where the smaller side cannot rely too heavily, if at all, on the usual tools of hierarchical organization, bureaucracy, and so on. Instead, ideologies provide a sense of unity and a basis for independent but coherent and directed action without the overhead of bureaucratic management.
Wildism exists, then, to motivate only a small party of people. It’s not just that one can expect the party to be small; smallness is, in fact, desirable, since it allows quicker and more unified action. Thus, the party should not be afraid of factionalism per se. Minor disagreements should be no big deal, of course, but major disagreements that can’t be resolved in a timely manner would be better ended with a split. Because of the importance of ideology in maintaining the strength of the small side in an asymmetric conflict, a primary goal of the party should be to preserve a loyal core even at the expense of greater numbers. This is the first function of the ideology.
The second function is to allow the core to speak about relevant issues exactly and efficiently.
A different and looser approach is required for broad-based action, but even in the context of specific actions or conservation projects, wildist cadres should strive to make the wildist narrative the dominant one, where appropriate. Speaking in technical language is in most of these circumstances unnecessary or even harmful, but it is important to answer the public’s “Why?” with wildist answers that point out the tension between nature and industry, rather than, say, the social ecologist’s pro-socialist answers. To put it another way, if you throw a pie at a Jewish CEO, it matters whether your reason was that he was a CEO or whether it was that he was Jewish. Thus, the third function of the ideology is ensuring that the cited reasons for an action are well-reasoned and true.
E. The Role of the Publication
The publication is the most important project of the party. It always serves more than one function, and because it is such a versatile tool, these often change with the shifting political landscape. Still, one consistent function it has is unifying the party with a single project that teaches members how they best work with each other and which keeps them consistently working on the stated cause.
The publication also provides a means to consolidate wildists. Whereas conservation projects and actions are usually geared toward the general public, the movement publication is for an internal audience. Public-facing publications should also exist, but are not the purpose of Hunter/Gatherer, at least at the moment. Most of the public-facing work should be done by cadres and individuals who read Hunter/Gatherer and can translate the ideas for the general public through projects, art, articles, speeches, etc.
The final function of the publication is, of course, to spread information and provide a forum for movement discussions.
F. The Role of Conservation Projects
Whereas the ideology and internal publication exist to consolidate and maintain networks, relationships, and infrastructure, more broad-based mobilization should be done through tangible conservation projects or specific actions with concrete goals. These sorts of projects allow a wider range of ideological opinions because, although a certain amount of unity is important, people mostly need to simply agree on the goal, no matter their stated reasons.
Given that the Institute’s primary focus is laying intellectual foundations, for now we will mostly be focused on ideology and the publication. Other tangible work we do will not innovate on conservation strategy much at all, and will stick with the normal goals of protecting wildlands, connecting habitats, conserving species, and so forth.
At some point we hope to produce a general program that will consolidate many of the grassroots efforts we are and will be involved with. This will build on much of the great work already being done by organizations such as The Wildlands Network, Yellowstone to Yukon, and The Rewilding Institute. But we will also try to fill in the gaps in the programs, such as the conspicuous absence of any mention of ocean life.
We will also work to develop effective talking points for the public. Some issues are complex and difficult to deliver in soundbites, but with care the gist of the argument can be delivered quickly and eloquently. To give just one example, in arguing that industry is incompatible with nature and nature’s wildness, we need not bring up arguments about technical and cultural evolution, we merely need to focus on technologies that function as “pressure points,” such as roads, mines, genetic engineering, agriculture, and dams.
III. The Big Questions
In addition to outlining the basic ideas of wildism, a goal of the first volume of Hunter/Gatherer is to intensely scrutinize the hypothesis that industrial collapse is the only way out of our ecological problems, and even more intensely scrutinize the hypothesis that we must therefore aid the process of collapse. While most of us are fairly convinced of this conclusion, its repercussions are too far-reaching for us to run with it without carefully considering the alternatives first. This is especially true in the case of aiding collapse—which could mean a broad range of things, many of them not what we espouse at all. To this end, we are putting effort into answering the following questions:
- Is there any viable alternative to the collapse of industry given our stated values?
- What are strong criticisms of the idea that collapse or aiding collapse is the solution to our ecological problems?
- What is the moral difference between collapse happening and helping collapse along, if any?
- How true are the Anthropocene booster’s claims that technology can decrease human impact on nature?
Individuals attempting to take on these questions will have to draw from a wide range of sources and fields, such as population ethics, the ethics of war, conservation science, and, in the case of the last question, technical and engineering sciences. This should consume at least a year of time, possibly more.
The Institute is focused on issues that fall into three general categories: wildist ethics, scientific analysis, and conservation strategy. These roughly parallel the three components of our work, namely, our ideology, our publication, and our conservation projects and program. At the moment and into the near future, we will be focused on only the ethical and analytical components, working especially to ensure that we are correct when we say that the collapse of industry is our only way out, which could mean aiding collapse is a moral obligation. These immediate tasks should take at least a year or two.
This work is especially important in light of new revisionist ideologies and the left-wing takeover of environmentalism. It is important to reinvigorate the tactical spectrum that once strongly united radical and moderate conservationists, and to build a group that can maintain that spectrum and function as the conscience of the conservation movement, guarding its critique from the revisionism of the boosters, the watered-down critique of the cowards, and the anathema that is leftism, so that we might move far, far away from this industrial disaster and toward a wild earth.