Why Comfort Isn’t an Argument for Industrial Society

Rewilding entails the breakdown and eventual annihilation of many modern technologies, certainly all the most foundational ones: electricity, roads, dams … (See Repent to the Primitive — forthcoming).

When people hear this, they respond with a stock set of statements: “You can’t go back in time” (true); or, “The system is too powerful for us to defeat” (true); and so on. But eventually, inexorably the most common statement spews forth: “I like my comforts.”

I used to respond, “Freedom is more important than comfort.” This is the wrong response. Humans have been comfortable under astoundingly diverse conditions. The flexibility of the human being is one of its most interesting and unique evolutionary features. Humans have been comfortable with bugs and dirt for millions of years. More, they flourished. They lived well and expressed contentment with their ways of life.

A tattoo I got of the spider who kept biting me because I kept bumbling into his home.

Recently I went to live in Wild Roots, a primitive skills community near Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. At first I was attacked, relentlessly, by the bugs and no-see-ums. Spiders bit me, wasps stung me, and I imagined these events the end of the world. Previously I’d been bit and stung only a handful of times, and then I always had easy access to medical technology, but at Wild Roots, all we have is the forest. Using the one truck to go to the hospital is disruptive to the tasks of the day. No matter. The plant medicine worked just fine. And eventually I got used to the bugs. No doubt some of this had to do with the way I changed my life. When I eat city food the bugs attack me; when I eat food from the land they’re more docile. But mostly, I think, the process was similar to working a muscle. When you don’t work it, it becomes weak. Your body isn’t living in the conditions necessary for strength. In the same way, as I lived among the bugs, my body learned just fine how to respond to them.

Another example. As a hitchhiker, I have always despised rain. It’s the worst thing to happen when you’re trying to catch a ride. After five minutes of heavy rain your chances of getting picked up are effectively zero percent, and you have to pray to God you’re near somewhere that will keep you dry for a while. Even if you’re near trees, you can’t always set up a tarp nicely enough to stay comfortably dry. But at Wild Roots, where I’m growing my food and sheltered by the forest, I started understanding the rain as part of the labor the land is doing for me. It helps produce my food and nourishes the forest canopy that keeps me cool in the day and protects me from harsher storms.

In short: rain, dirt, bugs, nakedness — avoiding these things isn’t about comfort, it’s about taboo. “Civilization is sanitation.” It isn’t about comfort, it’s about indoctrination. You can live a comfortable life in the wild; you can flourish in the wild. But just as you have to remove a dam to restore a river ecosystem, you must remove shame and taboo — the dams in your mind — before you restore your will.

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