Response to Critique of Human Rewilding

I largely agree with Jonah’s critique of the concept of human rewilding, but he seems to misunderstand my emphasis on the concept. He’s right: human rewilding “an utterly hopeless project until civilization has collapsed.” I write as much in “Taking Rewilding Seriously,” saying that “we can’t teach humans skills to rewild and then tell them it’s fine to keep living in civilised conditions.”

But that revolutionary implication is precisely why we should use it as a wedge issue. Stopping road development is useless without the collapse of civilization, and the same goes for stopping dams, internet server farms, and so on. But the reformist political movements working against these technologies — wilderness conservation, various kinds of environmentalism, property-based conservatism — present an already-organized base whose beliefs hold anti-civilization implications. If a radical anti-industrial politic is truly going to take hold, it will have to make use of these reformist elements, take them to their logical conclusion. It isn’t hard to convince wilderness conservationists, for example, that the whole of industrial civilization has been a mistake, because those who have been in the field long enough know that our current economic trajectory is entirely opposed to wildlands conservation. In the same way, those who belong to the human rewilding umbrella — that natural birth movement, feral children movement, back-to-the-landers, primitive skills enthusiasts — are already organized, and they’ve embarked on a project that is impossible unless they harness their organizational energy for the sake of collapse.

My focus on human rewilding, then, is less about enacting a utopian vision — like Kaczynski, I do not think it is possible to rationally plan a society — and more about pointing out the logical end-game of those who agree that civilization has disrupted human development, the human mind, and the human body.

More, in regions where civilization has collapsed, is collapsing, or will collapse, there is certainly a need for people who already have the skills required to live on the land. Here, the human rewilding movement becomes indispensable. While utopian visions are doomed to fail, any society living under wilder conditions will need to know how to use plants for medicine or how to utilize natural materials for building shelter. Investing energy in the idea of human rewilding helps build this preparatory knowledge, and gives people the confidence to dispose of civilized amenities when it becomes feasible.

On a more abstract, philosophical note, Jonah criticizes my vision of human nature, particularly the idea that there is a “secret person undamaged in every individual” or an “original personality, which is still untamed.” Here I will not renege. Jonah is of course correct that the experience of the self is a confusing thing, full of many contradictory impulses, desires, instincts. But there is clearly a biological substrate to the individual. Indeed, the message of biology as applied to human beings is not that biology resolves our inner-conflicts by giving us some “natural” standard to adhere to. Rather, it demonstrates that the inner-conflicts of the untamed personality are going to be quite different from the inner-conflicts of the tamed one. The untamed mind will still produce, for example, the universal human experience of incompatible love-affairs: do I strive to pair with X or Y? The self, in this sense, is divided. But the conflicts of the civilized man are much more taxing. Civility requires a suppression of quite natural and necessary impulses, like aggression, freedom of bodily movement, and sexual expression, that have been systematically repressed by our civilization’s manners and mores. In other words, the idea of an “undamaged…individual” is not a polemic for a unified self, only a polemic for a self that, while just as full of inner conflict as modern man, can still express its innate desires.

Finally, on the least important point, Jonah claims that I have “chucked also the more useful materialist tenets of Marxism in favor of a sort of Kabbalistic sensibility, that we must each dig to locate the divine spark within, that we may allow God to emanate properly from us.” While I do have sympathy for certain mystical systems, especially Kabbalah, because of the insights they yield regarding our experience of consciousness, I remain a strict materialist. There is no spirit; our mind is to be regarded as emanating from material body functions; culture is best understood as a product of material and structural conditions; etc. See, for instance, my recent critique of eco-socialism, which argues a number of times from a materialist perspective.

In any case, I wish to re-emphasize the main point of Jonah’s critique: human rewilding is a hopeless project without the collapse of civilization. Environmentalism and conservationism are useful for the U.S. anti-industrialists because it is the most socially legitimate variant of anti-modernism in the country. But ultimately, all versions of anti-modernism — be they conservative, environmentalist, religious, anti-colonial — lead to the same point: an utter rejection of civilization, or at least the project of world society. In a word: nihilism. The unifying element for the U.S. will almost certainly be environmentalist in character. But on the global political terrain, there is a much broader coalition to be found. Soon we will see all manner of political movements realizing that their enemy — call it capitalism, industrial society, globalism, whatever — is the same. Human rewilding is just one component of this larger struggle.

13 Comments

  • Hoot says:

    Hat’s off to the “preppers” that have been practicing for years, loving the lifestyle, and nudging along what must be done. A disadvantage that the enemy will always have is its dependence to the system that it defends.
    Hoot

  • Hoot says:

    As a storm approaches us here in the N.east and media-induced panic sets in for the sheep, I am reminded of the “ice storm of 2008” that knocked power out for 2 weeks for many. It’s amazing, and pathetic how the sheep’s priorities do NOT include surviving disasters. I consider a very high percentage of them to be liabilities during disaster. So many that can’t even grasp the usefulness of a wood stove/chimney. You can gar-un-tee there’s a satellite dish gracing the roof of their mansion though. Many had generators, but ran out of gas after a couple of days, and couldn’t get anywhere because of the warrior trees blocking the way.
    Here’s what happened up here: Freezing rain at bedtime built up a slow,but sure thickening layer of ice on the trees. The temp was just right ! Branches grew heavier. Giant limbs started to break off at 2am. Many of which,looming over the power lines. Pretty soon there were entire trees falling over into the roads, onto the lines.
    There are millions of majestic trees, many large pines,ancient oaks,maples, looming over the highways and power lines here in the N.east. A 30 inch diameter 100 foot tall pine tree that is 50 feet away from the lines,falling towards the lines, has the combination of weight and momentum that tears lines down with zero resistance. It was amazing to see the damage the next day. Took ’em a long time to restore power and mobility even with the hundreds of line repair crews that came from all over the country. Things would have got desperate for many.many, without the linesmen. Look at all the liabilities around us, many are the selectmen, police, politicians. If they all could only prioritize better.

  • It seems to me that the collapse of civilization is already underway, I mean, it’s not like cities will be burning, with angry mobs and public lynchings, after which terrible storms will come to destroy all the rest. The collapse is more like a new kind of dark age: everything will be worse and scarce for everyone involved. All of that is already very visible: no more life long jobs, health care that can only be afforded by the rich, houses that have become very expensive etc etc. In the light of all that — re-wilding seems to me to be a necessity that’s beyond left or right, beyond rich or poor, and something that we need, not just to make ends meet, but something we need to survive at all.

    It’s a plea to move out to the country, not just to grow our own food, but also to re-acquaint ourselves with the natural world on a much more intricate level. It will take time to get the word out, because how we as a society will go about re-wilding is very unclear. I believe this is linked to our need for ongoing narratives, on this site, but also in the wider sense, in that this is also linked to fiction far and wide that helps us understand more of our condition. If you look at Netflix, at the surface it’s entertainment, but what gets people to keep coming back is this same need, combined with the general lack of direction that we seem to have in our lives these days.

    It might be interesting to make this link with fiction in a much stronger way. In the fiction that I started publishing on my fiction blog since December of ’18 I let a character make a reference to re-wilding. Where it comes to fiction, I think that’s as much as you can lean into this: as a main theme it doesn’t get people to want to read, let alone read more of it, but if it’s linked to our contemporary issues, I believe there’s an opportunity….

  • I view Civilization as a mental virus and its minions as a pack of rabid animals. I have no desire to go out and exterminate all rabid animals, but if they attack me, my family or my prey, then I would have no problem slaughtering them without the slightest mercy or remorse.

    On the other hand, I’m not interested in any revolution. Time and again, revolutions end in one of two ways: a totalitarian dictator comes to power, or a new viral “scripture” is created that is just as repugnant and oppressive as a dictator. If one’s goal is to destroy the System to prevent ecological disaster, does it not entail great hubris and naivety? No matter how pure one’s motives may be, it is foolish to believe that one can either maintain control of a revolution or avoid the corrupting influence of power on oneself.

    Ecological disaster is already occurring, has occurred many times in the past, and will occur with near certainty in the future when the sun dies. Rather than fight death, I prefer to live life to the fullest in my short time on this planet. A wild raccoon is still a wild raccoon whether it lives in the silence of the wilderness or the roar of the city — or even a zoo — its mind is free of all lies and mental viruses. It respects no laws but those of nature, follows no ideology but its own instinct and and fights for nothing but the survival of its own little family.

  • Hoot says:

    Response to Nathan :The “mental virus” and “rabid animals” have already attacked you and your family. Unless, of course you and your family are existing while avoiding the evils of society, like taxation,”laws”,industry, destruction of your environment, etc… That’s the problem with most pacifists, or semi-pacifists: They hold on to the excuse of self-defense as something to use only when being physically assaulted. They can’t grasp using self defense against an attempt towards being controlled.
    So while you wait for your excuse to “defend yourself”, the mental virus and its rabid animals will continue to control you (and family) more and more, until you will no longer be able to defend yourself.
    Hoot

    • I am not a pacifist by an means, no do I even remotely believe that violence should only be used in defense. Indeed, I was heavily criticized by the early rewilding community for pointing out the prevalence of offensive aggression in both hunter-gather and nonhuman animal societies. Obviously, the internet is no place to discuss the details of such things. However, I am also not an idealist and strongly hold that organized revolution entails the perpetuation of the very mental virus that forms Civilization’s core and merely trades one oppressive civilization for another. Can one truly expect to burn down organization once it has been used to burn down Civilization? I reject the paths of both Lenin and Kaczynski and embrace that of the Lions of Tsavo. They were killed in the end, and perhaps their species will even go extinct due to the humans, but they lived their lives like Lions.

      • The Wild Will Project says:

        Nathan, I used to think along similar lines, and am still sympathetic to that perspective. But I notice that you have been trying to buy a preserve and aggregate a group of people to live primitively with you, and from what it looks like on your website you haven’t been able to. This is not a snide remark, I have tried the same thing, perhaps with less force and gusto, and also haven’t succeeded. Nearly everyone else I know with similar dreams experience the same failure. The only exceptions are those who are already well-off enough to buy property (in which case they usually succeed by becoming a family-run homestead or something of the sort) or those joining already-established “eco-communities.” But neither of these options approach your (or my) ideal of “living wild.”

        It seems that the fact that humans are social animals makes dreams of pure escape impossible. Even if you did succeed in escaping, you would have to engage in some kind of political defense, like indigenous peoples whose ways of life are threatened now.

        On the other hand, some kind of coordinated response to the problem of industry has hopes of actually putting a dent in the root cause of our foremost problems. And even if, over time, it concretizes into something undesirable, it will do so in the context of a deteriorating industrial infrastructure, so have less power than the current order.

        It seems like politics is the only way to go, either way you cut it. And since a widespread reaction to industrial society is possible — nigh inevitable! — we ought to get to it!

        • Nathan Martinez says:

          I think that we are mostly in agreement about the kind of lives we want to live. I wouldn’t say that I have been unsuccessful — I just came back online about a month ago for the first time in years. However, I would like to make a few clarifications about primitive living “projects”:

          Buying land is not an absolute necessity, but expecting others to go from living a sedentary life one day to a fully nomadic one the next is unrealistic. However, living on public land (or as a full-time hunter period) requires nomadism. By having a buffer zone, people could adjust more slowly to a fully nomadic life. If I could find others who already have extensive experience with nonsedentary life, I would dispense with any goal to buy land.
          Before people embark on a form of living as difficult as nomadic hunting (which entails the ability to endure levels of pain and hardship that few people experience in industrial society) I think that they must already be closely bonded with real biological family ties — whether biological relatives or through having children together. This is why I place such an emphasis on polyamory. I have stayed in several “primitive communes” but they had no sense of family or physical bonding whatsoever.
          Focusing on violent resistance (or even nonviolent resistance) will attract people who are more dedicated to “causes” than to family. At the same time, I emphasize the importance of aggression with a focus on hunting. Family-focused hunters posses the very capacity for the levels of violence that a real resistance would necessitate.

          I agree with you — a widespread reaction to industrial society is inevitable, but I don’t think it will look anything like an organized revolution. It may involve elements of coordination, but it will likely be a ground-up uprising with thousands of groups fighting for their very existence rather than any abstract ideals. Lots of people are willing to kill for ideals. Few people are willing to die for them.

          • The Wild Will Project says:

            I definitely agree with you on political focus attracting people “more dedicated to ’causes’ than to family.” Understand your intentions there.

            In terms of what a widespread reaction to industrial society might look like — probably it will have organized elements. But yes, largely it will be a long and fragmented process. Have you read “Desert”? It’s a bit subcultural, but its vision of collapse is probably the most realistic to come out of the green anarchist milieu (but has already been stated numerous times by anthropologists and similar thinkers): https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-desert

  • Hoot says:

    What’s great to see here is the common interests of wanting to be left alone and living closer to the land. To coexist with nature. To reverse damage done.
    The revolutionaries and the nomadic folks out there are in fact admired by the homesteading movement. Which is maybe the biggest existing movement across this land mass now. You are admired for your skills that we too, are practicing.
    Our goal being rewilding- all means that homesteading is a great “transition” approach to be in. You can’t go wrong with practicing and increasing your Independence to this society BS. Hat’s off to anybody doing this.
    There are many homesteaders, like myself, I’m sure that would be accommodating to other groups or individuals. Some that know vast amounts of wilderness.

  • Kaswyn says:

    I personally am coming to the conclusion that Rewilding is nothing more than a voluntary simplicity movement. Very few if any people who are currently rewilding are very close to actually becoming feral, I see most taking pictures of bare feet on earth, pictures of their gardens or horticultural practices (which are not rewilding) or people going on weekend to week long camping trips. Rewilding seems to be gaining just as violent a following as any other collective of people who think forcing other people to live the way they think is the correct way is justified or moral.

    The most it seems rewilding has to look forward to is people purchasing land and renting it from governments for the use of a homestead which normally implements the domestication of animals and growing of crops for consumption, it;’s a movement that was started a long time ago by the likes of Thoreau and his philosophy of simplicity and those who borrowed it from him over the years. Rewilding coming from Anarcho Primitivist perspective is full of holier than thou mentality of we know the one and only true way to live on the planet and we don’t mind violently forcing bigotry onto others (which is far from anarchist philosophy and the exact reasoning why we are stuck in this civilization as it is, violence and coercion) Rewilding coming from the perspective of those who cannot shake a need for governments and authority’s to rule their live will never be achieved, because the first step is shaking the belief in authority as it is impossible to be wild and controlled at the same time.

    Rewilding is a bundle of confused people with different ideology’s all pushing for something that will never be achieved without the violent mass depopulation of the human species, the best we have to hope for is making our personal livings be as tied into the planet as possible, food from growing it, hunting foraging, fishing trapping, and making what little income we need from the bosom of our mother earth and not everyone can do that, most have to stay stuck in city’s eating city processed trash so some of us can make our living off the wild, too many people exist to live as wild human beings and I surely don’t see that changing in my lifetime.

    • Jacobi says:

      This is an interesting comment. I agree with a lot of what you have to say, other parts seem to stem from various misunderstandings: of how radical movements work, of the inevitability of some kind of disaster to get us out of the mess we’re in, etc.

      I agree there are a lot of people in the anarcho-primitivist movement who approach their ideas in a sort of religious way. They interpret their primitivism primarily in moral terms. For example, Ria Del Montana, a so-called “vegan anarcho-primitivist,” somehow thinks you can sustain a vegan society outside of highly technological modes of production; that fire is a morally repugnant modification of nature; etc. These are kook ideologies. Some of the facts are not necessarily wrong, but the moral impetus behind their politics is mistaken. See Ted’s “The Truth About Primitive Life” and my own “More Truths About Primitive Life” for ways we have avoided falling into this trap. It’s worth noting that early forms of primitivism, like those that underpinned the wilderness conservation movement, were similarly devoid of these moral approaches until around the 1960s and 70s, when biocentrism became the dominant perspective in wilderness conservation. See Roderick Nash’s “Wilderness and the American Mind.”

      That said a movement is never homogeneous. You’ve got to put up with contrary perspectives, especially if they overlap in terms of political goals and interests. And while much of the “human rewilding” movement is, as you say, a voluntary simplicity movement, their demands for land (for example) cannot really come to fruition without certain radical political implications. Their demands for wild nature, too, come into direct conflict with development, with roads, with organizations behind climate change, etc.

      That some of them interpret this as evangelizing for a religious / moral perspective might be unfortunate, but in some ways that may even be beneficial. Those kinds of convictions are strong motivators for radical political action. They produce a certain fervor and sense of purpose, and that’s exactly the psychological climate needed to create the political opportunities unavailable to us during the normal state of affairs.

      As far as population goes — it’s a hard question. I’m currently thinking and writing about it a lot. But there’s almost no way out of our mess without SOME kind of disaster. I write in Repent:

      …many of the problems humanists have with premodern life are sideshows, and as a critique against
      primitivism they cannot stand alone. For could I not name many ills associated with civilization’s domination of nature, most of them several orders more impactful than any problems humans could have merely among themselves? I cannot help but note the ills of climate change, rapidly increasing population growth, the threats of genetic engineering, the impacts of roads, the massively increased rates of extinction, and the fundamental unrest of all human beings, and then I cannot help but challenge any individual to come up with an approach to these problems that does not in some ways have unsettling implications. Clearly, this is impossible, and in a reasoned assessment of what we can do from where we stand, we would do well to admit that we are, unfortunately, in a time where the best we can hope for is the least damage done — and this is no fault of the primitivists.

      Two more things. First, it’s well-known that humans don’t have the moral machinery to deal with large populations of people. We didn’t evolve to think that way. Patricia Churchland explains that it’s a well-known issue in population ethics, writing: “no one has the slightest idea how to compare the mild headache of five million against the broken legs of two, or the needs of one’s own two children against the needs of a hundred unrelated brain-damaged children in Serbia.”

      Second, the population problem is fundamental. It’s got to be dealt with somehow. And we basically have one of two options: a technological solution or an artificial one. If natural processes don’t regulate population, artificial and technological processes must, which means control over reproduction, and even our genetic constitution, must be handed over to technical systems and large organizations. That doesn’t get us too far in devising a policy to deal with the problem, but it does separate the possibilities into two pretty incompatible directions. See Mane’s “Technology and Mortality” for a slightly kooky but interesting way to address the problem.

  • Kaswyn says:

    I just roll with the term Voluntary Simplicity or Poverty because that is something that is actually achievable in our lifetime, something we can actually set our children up to succeed at. Having some land with a cabin running off solar with some chickens, rabbits a goat and a nice garden, while supplementing that with fish and game hunted and trapped and wild foods foraged one can absolutely live a much more simplistic life by cutting out middle men, mix in starting a small business for the meager income you need and you will be living the freest life someone can live in our time here on this planet absent living alone in the wild on private land half starving waiting for the day someone finds you and you end up in a cage, especially for those of us with partners and children and other family we love that refuses to go back to living in the dark.

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