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.