Uncivilization: Vision, Goals, and Principles (Jacobi)

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.


  • Jeff says:

    I think we see this time and time again the civilized, disconnected, domesticated human alone trying to decivilize, reconnect, and undomesticate. It is a wonderful thing to see the young (or anyone for that matter) rebel, revolt, and the work to dismantle this brutal way of life. The Hobbesian thesis is without doubt the greatest of lies along with its predecessor the shift to the agrarian age. Yet, there is something missing from the our awareness, the primitive dimension that we have ingrained in us all but has been take from each generation that has been infected with consciousness – separation from the living world. Why can’t we hear what the trees are saying to us? Because we are cut offf from life and there is no skill, no ego, no pretending we are not disconnected from the living world. We must support the endeavors of rewilding, unlearning, and practicing something deeper. The Feral insurrections are incredibly important and essential! We can only hope for such inspired actions shows us the way to the primitive.

  • ken foley says:

    Hey John, I wish you the best of luck,or should I say the best of skills to be acquired. Have only come to the realization of the horror of domestication/civ a little over 2 ya at the age of 49 and wonder what my life would have been like if I had that realization at your age….? May you and Jeremy find some good teachers (you can only get so much from books,articles and videos).It is my love for the wild that helps get me out of bed everyday.

  • Robert McGuinn says:

    With all respect, your project goal to thrive in the wilderness is the same exact goal that all of human society had leading directly to the place to which you now reject. We are all thriving in the wilderness when you extend wilderness to encompass the whole of our universe. Limiting your concept of wilderness to this planet alone seems an arbitrary distinction. All of human society and civilization is part of a grand plan to thrive in and explore this great and infinite wilderness. I think that full and intense participation in this grander project is more adventurous than one man trying to reinvent the wheel alone in the forest. That has all been done and proven time and again. Come and participate with all of your curiosity and intensity in this grander mission and it will bring you as much satisfaction as your self imposed lonely struggle. We are standing on the shoulders of giants and climbing back down is pointless. What you set to prove has already been proven. Society, as it stands, is the end result of that previous struggle. The next stage is interplanetary exploration.

    • Jacobi says:

      Thank you for your comment, Rob. My response: You can define all those things — “wilderness,” “thriving,” etc. — in the way that you do, it is true. But redefining the terms misses the point. I put certain meaning behind those terms, and it is that meaning, not the words, that I am attached to.

      It doesn’t matter if all humans have been trying to thrive in the wilderness and that’s how we ended up here. The point is that I think what they have achieved has led to the opposite of thriving.

      It doesn’t matter if you can define the whole universe as wilderness. The point is that there is a difference between the civilized world and what you know I mean by “wilderness.” There are many differences. And I prefer wilderness — what I mean by it, not what it is called.

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