I’ve recounted my beginnings several times before: homeless after high school, I searched for anarchists, found them, and through a complicated chain of events came to work with Ted Kaczynski. It took a very short time for him to break from me, though I worked with his associates for about a year after, working on various publications, studying ecological history and philosophy, anthropology, biology, etc.—eventually settling, mostly, on a core set of principles and values that I expressed in my book, Repent to the Primitive.
This is the backdrop that has informed by decision to embark on the uncivilization project—an attempt to see how independent from civilization I can become. As it stands, one other person is embarking on the project with me: Jeremy (UPDATE: Jeremy is no longer posting his story here). I hope that others will do likewise, though the success of the project is not dependent on this hope being fulfilled. See below for information on how to join.
I want to say from the outset that I do not wish to be another Christopher McCandless, the character from Into the Wild (the book and the movie) who in attempting to become independent of civilization died of starvation. There is much I admire about McCandless, and the book’s prose is beautiful. But the man was woefully underprepared, largely because of his own hubris. As Thayer writes, ” If [McCandless] had all this time to read Tolstoy, why didn’t he have time to read about what he was doing? …[He] largely ignored this consideration, planning his entire wilderness experience based on aesthetic and philosophical considerations.” In contrast, I am seriously trying to survive and flourish outside the bounds of civilization.
This entails a community, or a teacher, or a community of teachers, to aid in my transition. I could try to learn from books, but personally it hasn’t worked beyond introducing basic concepts, and I’m quite certain this would apply to most people. I’ve also already disavowed using money as a means of transition. This is a practical rather than idealistic choice. It is too easy for the culture of consumerism to drag you back in. Letting go of money, I hypothesize, is the thickest barrier to cross in order to get the rewilding ball rolling—perhaps the hardest step to take from the standpoint of individual psychology. Of course, I could be wrong, and I’m fully willing to change my mind. But in the meantime, my method is to give myself nothing to go back to while I search for a teacher (or teachers) to learn various skills necessary to rewild.
My short term goal is to gain the ability to live in the wilderness for a week with only a pack of light gear, a knife, and the clothes on my back. Again, survival isn’t the goal—flourishing is. I could survive malnourished for a week. But I want to be able to eat hardy meals, live in a comfortable shelter, etc. After that, I’ll try a month. Then, a whole season, any one besides the winter. Then I’ll try winter, then a whole year. I might combine the last two goals.
I’m not opposed to undertaking these goals with other people, and in fact I hope that I can. But I expect to have to do it alone. If you, reader, would like to come with me, feel free to contact me.
Speaking generally, I do not think it is possible for me to live permanently outside the bounds of civilization. At the very least not alone. Of course, humans can live in an uncivilized manner. The Paleolithic and extant primitive tribes prove that. But I am not a child of a primitive tribe, much less the Stone Age, and a 21-year-old learned by the city faces a hard limit in his quest to purge the civilized dependence so thoroughly bred into him. Furthermore, individuals totally independent of civilization flourish because they can live that way in groups (for the most part). That’s why banishment is so serious a punishment in primitive societies. Finally, to flourish outside of civilization, you need a flourishing habitat, and those have largely been destroyed. Those remaining are being destroyed at a rapid rate.
For all these reasons, I am fairly certain that only industrial decline and collapse would allow me an unqualified success at uncivilization. But I admit I may be wrong. I only hypothesize that collapse is necessary; the project will either prove or disprove the hypothesis.
This approach has many advantages. First, it benefits me personally by equipping me with the necessary skills to rewild. Second, it responds to the oft-heard call for rewilders to put their money where their mouth is (see “Taking Rewilding Seriously,” forthcoming in Dark Mountain). And third, it will either prove or disprove the equally frequent response: You can’t just go into the woods alone; the change has to be structural and cultural, and that change will most likely come in the form of collapse. I guess we’ll see.