I’ve been considering lately the threat the idea of human rewilding poses in potentially advancing agendas of behavior control. Consider how we rewild animals: GPS collars, medicines, tweaking their behaviors in zoos as a building block to their release in the wild… Although human rewilding, by virtue of the fact that the involved animal is the human animal, will obviously look much different, the analogy makes it clear that the threat is a potentially real one.
And it is. Any efforts involved in modifying the human psychology will necessarily involve data that will be useful to behavioral sciences, and that data will be and is applied to purposes useful to mass society. However, most if not all of the data that would be useful to human rewilding is already available, so does not so much advance agendas of behavior control so much as capitalize on them. More, the goal of human rewilding ensures that any acceptable use of mental training and conditioning will not lead to control so much as adaptation to local and ecological circumstance.
To make clear why this is, recall what I wrote in “The Parable of the Magician“: “It seems as though humans are a sort of race of magicians, able to create fire and people and even machines with life-like qualities that provide them what they need.” The problem is that this seemingly-magical ability to modify the self and environment can get carried away, trapping humans inside their own artificial systems so that humans begin to be modified by their artificial environments rather than being able to use their abilities to provide for their own needs. The problem, in other words, is not the human ability to modify or the act of modifying them selves and their environments — such a thing is intrinsic to their humanness. The problem is the way our technological conditions permit us to exert an extreme, thorough, and frankly destructive level of control. In Repent, pp. 101-102, I write:
…primitivism is not a solution to all of man’s ills. Unchained from civilization, individuals will still draw blood against thorns, will still fight and kill, will still feel the shadow of existential dread. But consider a madman who finds a hammer and cannot control his irresistible urge to bash and smash and trash everything he sees. It compounds his madness and consumes him. What man of grace would not gently pry the hammer from the lunatic’s hands, even if it does not cure his fundamental madness?
We might compare human rewilding techniques, then, to yoga or shamanic systems, both of which harness human beings’ psychic and technical abilities for conscious purposes, in a way not fundamentally different from our modern methods, except in degree and intended purpose. Whereas today the same principles are used to adapt humans to a mass society and for technical efficiency, those systems were rooted in individual and small-group needs. Whereas today the same principles are used for exacerbating human psychological problems (see “Parable,” note III), to make them adapted to prevailing social mores, those systems harnessed the power of the mind to liberate individuals from their neuroses. That is not to deny that there is a high degree of plasticity and diversity in the outcomes of both yogic- and shamanic-like systems. As Jung points out:
The products of the unconscious are pure nature… But nature is not, in herself, a guide, for she is not there for man’s sake. Ships are not guided by the phenomenon of magnetism. We have to make the compass a guide and, in addition, allow for a specific correction, for the needle does not even point exactly north. So it is with the guiding function of the unconscious. It can be used as a source of symbols, but with the necessary conscious correction that has to be applied to every natural phenomenon in order to make it serve our purposes.
Perhaps, then, we can regard the knowledge of the methods of human rewilding in the way we regard the methods and techniques of mystical and meditative systems: diverse, sometime complementary and sometimes competitive methods and techniques that function as collective soruces of knowledge for how to “jack” humans back into the land. …The same that herbal medicine, classifications of the local ecology, or localized building techniques function as sources of collective knowledge.
Finally, we must avoid that all-too-common error among primitivists: the need to “sanction” an action or behavior on the basis that our primitive ancestors did it. Otherwise nothing will be achieved. We live in the present, and in the present we are very closely approaching a world that will allow us to, say, play virtual reality games that really, truly, teach us primitive skills. Would this not be useful for the city kid who needs training before living a traditional life? Of course, these are tangential to the main concern: land, and stopping industrial development. But even then — you’re going to need computer nerds to have any kind of lasting impact on technological society. See also note III, below, on our nihilist, not primitive, condition.
In terms of theory my main hope is to integrate the ideas of Stirner, Nietzsche, and psychoanalysis, and place them all in the context of human ecology. Psychoanalysis, especially Carl Jung’s school, is the link here, since it has already been placed in the context of human ecology, primarily through the works of Paul Shepard, the founder of the field. More, the psychoanalytic perspective does well in rooting the more abstract of Nietzsche and Stirner’s ideas into realer conceptions of human nature and human needs.
For example, Stirner’s description of “egoism,” and man’s need to come-of-age out of ideological adolescence, often quite closely parallels what a psychoanalyst would call “becoming conscious.” To the psychoanalyst modern adolescence is a hodgepodge of developmental limbos, repressed desires, and so forth, which lead to a youthful way of thinking that does not quite line up with reality — external or internal. However, through the psychoanalytic process — or psychoanalytic “initiation” — the repressed contents of the unconscious come into consciousness. No longer do individual neuroses and developmental limbos, the root of Stirner’s “spooks,” string the individual along. Instead the individual, now conscious, can direct himself — Stirner’s “egoism.”
But Stirner, writing mostly from a philosophical perspective, tended to describe his egoism in terms of instrumentality. The individual sees the Other solely in terms of his own satisfaction or well-being. And to a degree, the conscious person does see things in an “instrumental” way, in that he is conscious of elements of use involved in any relationship. But clearly something in Stirner’s language is lacking. It is, in a very important sense, too abstracted from human experiences of love and connection, and could benefit from psychology and biology to root the described phenomenon in actual human nature. Nietzsche, in his critiques of morality and his concept of Will to Power, suffers from similar defects, but seen through the eyes of, e.g., Jung, I believe his ideas are sufficiently redeemed. For example, where Nietzche advocates supermen who will “create” their own values, Jung points out that it is more a process of awakening or discovering inner values — an outlook much more compatible with the basic ideas behind rewilding.
Put in the context of human ecology, all this becomes much more interesting. I’ve pointed out before that Shepard himself argued from psychoanalytic concepts, insisting that human beings in civilization are creatures intentionally left in developmental limbo, since proper development is unsuited to the technological efficiency civilized society requires. But, he says, the sciences of human ecology, with their studies of primitive life and child-rearing methods, might provide the keys to proper development and reawaken the “secret person undamaged in every individual.” We are, after all, “civilized, though not quite domesticated.”
In integrating the ideas of Stirner, above, we see that the uncivilized, adult self looks very much like the “union of egoists” described in The Ego and Its Own, and in fact this jives nicely with anthropological accounts of nomadic hunter/gatherer bands. It also provides us with a theoretical basis for diagnosing the sicknesses of civilized culture. Erich Fromm, for example, in Childhood and Society, starts writing with the assumption that we “live in a sick society,” and argues that developmental problems are largely at the root of it; psychohistory, too, analyzes cultures in developmental terms.
Aside — Correction: I’ve previously written that “history parallels psychological development: material infancy, ideological adolescence, egoist adulthood.” This is not quite true. It is not that “history,” our account of the linear advance of time, parallels development; but that our cultures manifest the psychologies of its constituent individuals. This is, in fact, where the ideas of Stirner are in great need of revision, since he models his book as a progressive tome, in terms of “history,” rather in more materialist terms that individually situate the psychologies of each analyzed culture.
I must reiterate that I have thoroughly broken from traditional primitivist thought in that I do not think the object is to go back to the primitive, but to repent to it. In Repent, pp. 87-88, I write:
A trope in primitivist politics is the notion of return: return to the primitive, return to simplicity, return to the land. But too often the language is botched, ironically, by the idols of progress. “Return” is seen as a nostalgic call for a lost Eden, leaving open the obvious rebuttal that that great garden’s gates are still guarded by an angel wielding a fiery sword.
This is a simple linguistic misunderstanding. “Return” does not, in fact, only have meaning in the context of something lost to history. The something can merely be lost spatially or spiritually, both of which are the case here.
The Hebrew word “teshuvah” provides an analogous case of ambiguity. It, like its English counterpart, can be understood as either “return” or “repent”; but, unlike its English counterpart, the overwhelming connotation rests on the latter meaning. The Jews, then, perform teshuvah when they turn their face from the world’s idols and back toward the light of God, who, though invisible to them, was never lost.
The primitive has never been lost to us, not yet. Though civilized, man is not domesticated. And in this lies the origin of the intractable wild will.
Rather, than, saying that we live in a “future primitive” condition, I insist that we live in a nihilist condition. That is, we live in an age where our civilization, as such, has emptied all its principles and values of meaning, leading to decay, and resulting in a situation where the only good politics necessarily involves a rejection of civilization.
Other civilizations have faced this condition of nihilism, where members of the society realized that all their transcendent values were really only valuable because they valued them; that it all reduced to an ultimately subjective and relative existence. Nietzsche describes a few such civilizations in his genealogical accounts: Greece, Rome, France, etc. According to him, in each case the civilization in question either collapsed, or it produced “great men” who confronted the nihilism by “willing a new truth,” by embracing the uncertain nature of existence and deciding anyway that what they valued mattered. This, in turn, established a new basis for unity and transcendent value in the following civilizations, or in the following stages of a civilization.
As Nietzsche points out, though, today we live in a condition where these kinds of “great men” will have to come about in a thoroughly different way. Maybe in previous times “great men” could get away with “willing a new truth.” But today we have an anthropological history of man, and we have seen that each new truth only leads again to the realization that our values are subjective and relative; the decaying force of nihilism is irresistible. Men who today try to re-establish a “new truth” become a joke, objects of humor. Consider only the many attempts in our industrial world to come up with new religions. They may succeed, to a point, but will fail to ever catch on enough to renew the overall civilization, still in a condition of decay.
How then, will the modern age “confront” its nihilism and thereby complete our encounter with it? Nietzsche suggests that we will produce an age of “supermen,” who are not striving to institute a “new truth,” but affirming the uncertain nature of life and human values. In this way they will have a “Dionysian” spirit, in no need of “Apollonian” systems to impose on an ever-changing natural condition — what he calls “strong nihilists.” I insist that the politics described here — a rejection of civilization and an embrace of rewilding — is precisely the strong nihilism Nietzsche describes — and rewilding is its logical program of action.
Rewilding, as I have described it here, is about releasing nature from technological and human strongholds; and it is based on the idea that we want to preserve the wild because we value it, rather than any transcendent quality. Further, it is not based on instituting any new set of specific values — like peace, or equality — but is based solely on a rejection of civilization and an embrace of the uncertain conditions the “wild” brings with it. If anything, the one unifying “value” of rewilding is, appropriately, the “wild.” But we must not make the error many from the progressive environmentalist faction of rewilding have made, as they flirt with ideas of “universal compassion” and “peace”: we must not reify the wild, that is, make it concrete. “Wild” is an abstraction, a “meta-value,” so brings with it diverse possibilities for actual values. In other words, a wild area may host a multitude of societies, each with differing social systems, some, perhaps, based on equality, some, perhaps, based on totemism, some, perhaps, based on traditionalist principles, and so on. The point is that these will arise organically, and as closed societies in opposition to our open society; that is, the values will be in a sense traditional and anti-democratic. Further, the specific values are absolutely not the unifying element between the various social groups: the unifying element, again, is solely their embrace of the wild, or, put the opposite way, their rejection of civilization as such.
Interestingly, this condition of many different societies with many different “new truths” jives nicely with Nietzsche’s idea of an almost anarchic aristocracy to arise in the age of supermen (see Will to Power, notes 123-4).