Resistance in Rewilding

When I think of “resistance movements” I envision a small group of people resisting against a much larger and all-powerful militarized machine. To think of civilization as an all-powerful death machine, the idea of resisting makes me feel small and paralyzed. But when viewed through the eyes of rewilding, resistance looks and feels very different.

Civilization works as way of life that attempts to domesticate, to tame, to make dependent (read: enslave) the whole world. Most basically it fuels its population growth through the domestication of plants. It cannot exist without domestication. It also must work constantly to make its domesticated members so; brain washing people through television and schooling, genetically engineering plants, growing meat in petri dishes, etc. Civilization does so much work to keep the world domesticated because domestication works as a form of resistance against the natural flow of the world, which always wants to rewild.

When a tree’s roots slowly tear up concrete, the tree does not resist the concrete, the concrete resists the tree. The tree just lives its life the way all wild things do. Plants do what they can with their resources to keep the world wild. Dams resist the natural flow of a river. Over many thousands of years, if left alone, the water would whittle the dam down to nothing. The water never resisted the dam. It only did what water does to keep the world wild.

Populations of wild plants and animals that wild humans could eat for food have nearly disappeared through civilization’s domestication. Wild humans, as elements integral to the landscape, require an undomesticated land in order to live. If we mean to rewild, it implies that like the water and trees doing what they can to rewild the planet, rewilding humans need to use the our unique, in-born tools to rewild the world.

For example; civilization has domesticated the Columbia River and all her tributaries killing nearly all of the wild salmon who once lived there. If Cascadians want to live as wild humans, they will need to rewild the Columbia River. Of course, the river itself works as fast as its water can to break away the dam. Unfortunately for the fish and other members of Cascadia, the water alone cannot work fast enough to rewild the river. But rewilding humans, whose ability to make tools comes as naturally as a trees ability to grow roots, can work much faster to undomesticate that river.

Rewilding an entire river may seem out of the ordinary for indigenous cultures. That involves the scale to which civilization has brought us. In Daniel Quinn’s The Tales of Adam, he uses a metaphor about a wounded lion. If a lion starts killing more than it needs, Adam says he would hunt down the lion and kill it because, “that is a lion gone mad.” Worried the lion would wreak havoc on the ecosystem, he would hunt it and kill it so as to prevent that from happening. I doubt that hunting lions felt like a favorable task that any ordinary person would partake in… especially lions gone mad as they no doubt have less predictability than sane lions. A task such as that would definitely not look as the tribesman going about his daily business, but it would fit in with the daily business of maintaining and care-taking the land.

Like the wounded lion who takes at random and more than he needs, civilization works as a culture that has “gone mad.” Like the hunter who has the balls (or ovals) and the skills to hunt down and kill that lion, those rewilding humans with the balls (or ovals) and the skills to remove a dam it would not look like your ordinary day of pruning your premaculture garden or checking your trap-lines, but still it would fit in with the daily business of maintaining and caretaking the land. Hunting down a lion did not require a big military operation (though to smaller scale indigenous peoples it may have felt like such). But removing a dam may require something of a more grand scale as well.

I think such actions will be dictated by whether a band of rewilding humans stands at the front lines of civilizations boundary or the further reaches already out of civilization control, as well as how far civilizations domestication reaches, with technology, into others landbases. For example, though someone may live in the Canadian Rockies, far from militarized civilization, as long as those dams on the Columbia River stay in tact, they prevent salmon from getting to the rockies. This means that the rockies still fall in the map. If the natives of old had dammed the river and disallowed other natives upriver from receiving fish, you can bet some shit went down. Similarly, if humans plan to rewild in the rockies, they’ll need to think about how civilization can keep them domesticated from afar. Of course, if we take into consideration the civilization enduced climate crisis, we see that civilization will try to keep us domesticated no matter where we rewild…

Many argue over whether or not actions like blowing up a dam will bring civilization down or merely strengthen it. To wild humans, an argument like that makes no sense. Like arguing over whether or not the tree whose roots tear up the sidewalk will bring down civilization or strengthen it. Yes, the tree may get cut down and the street repaved. But civilization will never have the power to cut them all down, to repave all of those streets. A dandelion growing in a suburban lawn, a tree ripping apart the street, an earthquake tearing down buildings, and rewilding humans dismantling logging equipment seems as natural a process as taking out the trash feels to the civilized. I don’t see a rewilding human blowing up a dam as resistance, but as the natural world going about its daily routines… with a little tenacity.

Many of the proponents who argue against such actions say that “civilization will just rebuild.” The idea that civilization will go on resisting the roots of a tree, cut it down and pave another road, does not stop the tree from growing roots. Similarly, whether or not civilization will continue to resist the flow of water and build another dam does not stop the actions of rewilding humans. The forces of nature at work, whether we mean trees growing roots, water rushing to the ocean or wild humans caretaking the land, will continue to undomesticate the world regardless of civilization’s growing or diminishing resistance to them.

The mythologists of civilization use the actions of rewilding humans to further their own destruction and may hunt down and kill rewilding humans, but they will never kill them all. Deep down we all have the genetic code to live wild lives, despite the external memetic system of domestication that most of us currently subscribe to. As civilization collapses more people will realize the need to rewild and will have more and more success rewilding body, mind, river, country, forest, farm and city.

Of course, you don’t need to necessarily blow it up. As long as you remove it and rewild the river. I think it comes down to scale, bioregion and particular rewilding groups discussions. Do Cascadians need to rewild the Columbia to have a softer crash here in Cascadia? If so, how does one rewild the river? Bombs could work, what else? etc. etc.

Resistance or Rewilding? Same actions, different perspectives. Some may argue that this merely sounds like semantics and that may prove true. Some people may feel empowered by the resistance paradigm, and others may not. I see it as a paradigm shift due to the different emotional responses I personally experience with these words. When I turn the resistance paradigm on its head and see civilization working as a small resistance movement against the much larger and more powerful natural world, I feel empowered; civilization does not have the power to resist the flow of the wild world.

When we join up with the wild forces of the world, when we rewild, we become unstoppable.

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15 Comments on “Resistance in Rewilding

  1. Nice analogies, Scout: If we just go about living our lives as wildly as possible, the civ may come along and try to pave us or cut us down, but they can’t cut us all down.

    Here’s to the weeds in the pavement, the trees by the sidewalks.

  2. Instead of blowing up a dam howabout simply undermining it in an invisible way so that no one knows a human has done it. Not only can civilisation then not use the blowing up to strenghten itself but in fact it helps to sow seeds of doubt about the immortality of civilisation.

    Imagine a series of dam collapses where they were helped to subside in natural ways and how unsettling for people’s belief in the god of progress. I have no idea how this would work in practice but instead of creating bad PR for the anti-civ/primitivist part of society (I bet the powers that be can’t wait for this to happen) it would create bad PR for civilisation itself.

  3. Of course, humans also discuss and plan and think … so wouldn’t that make our discussions about whether to blow up the dam in the first place also rewilding?

    I like a lot of what you’ve written here, but of course, I feel a little uneasy with the conclusion. Blowing up a dam seems like something well out of the ordinary for most people, hardly analogous to people just living their lives. As Rix put it, “If we just go about living our lives as wildly as possible, the civ may come along and try to pave us or cut us down, but they can’t cut us all down.” That, and much of the rest of this piece, seems to say more to me about slow and steady changes in lifestyle, rather than big military operations.

  4. “Of course, humans also discuss and plan and think … so wouldn’t that make our discussions about whether to blow up the dam in the first place also rewilding?”

    Totally. You don’t need to necessarily blow it up. As long as you remove it and rewild the river. I think it comes down to scale and bioregion and discussions. Do Cascadians need to rewild the Columbia to have a softer crash here in Cascadia? If so, how does one rewild the river? Bombs could work, what else? etc. etc.

    “Blowing up a dam seems like something well out of the ordinary for most people, hardly analogous to people just living their lives.”

    Haha. I does seem out of the ordinary for most people. But I think that involves the scale to which civilization has brought us. I’ll use Daniel Quinns metaphor from the tales of Adam. If a lion starts killing more than it needs, Adam says he would hunt down the lion and kill it because, “that is a lion gone mad.” Worried the lion would wreak havoc on the ecosystem, he would hunt it and kill it so as to prevent that from happening. I doubt that hunting lions was a favorable task that any ordinary person would partake in… especially lions gone mad as they are no doubt less predictable than sane lions. A task such as that would definately not look as the tribesman going about his daily business. But it would fit in with the daily business of maintaining and care-taking the land.

    Like the wounded lion who takes at random and more than he needs, civilization works as a culture that has “gone mad.” Like the hunter who has the balls and the skills to hunt down and kill that lion, those rewilders with the balls and the skills to remove a dam it would not look like your ordinary day of pruning your premaculture garden or checking your trap-lines, but still it would fit in with the daily business of maintaining and caretaking the land. Hunting down a lion did not require a big military operation (though to indigenous peoples it may have felt like such). But removing a dam may require something of a more grand scale as well.

    I think such actions will be dictated by whether a band of rewilders stands at the front lines of the closing map or the further reaches already out of the map, as well as how far civilization domestication reaches with technology into others landbases. For example, though someone may live in the Canadian Rockies, far from militarized civilization, as long as those Dams on the Columbia stay in tact, they prevent salmon from getting to the rockies. This means that the rockies still fall in the map. If the natives of old had dammed the river and disallowed other natives upriver from receiving fish, you can bet there was some shit that went down. Similarly, if humans plan to rewild in the rockies, they’ll need to think about how civilization can keep them domesticated from afar.

  5. I remember reading something in Outdoor magazine about how, instead of an Edward Abbey-esque attack on dams (yes, the article actually referenced the monkeywrenchers), some towns are voluntarily demolishing their dams for economic and environmental reasons.

  6. “So you see that your agricultural revolution is not an event like the Trojan War, isolated in the distant past and without direct relevance to your lives today. The work begun by those neolithic farmers in the Near East has been carried forward from one generation to the next without a single break, right into the present moment.”

    I don’t get it, though– Why the need to keep pushing these dichotomies of natural/unnatural wild/domesticated? Makes no sense. It simply doesn’t matter whether you give things a nice name or a naughty name.

    Try this:
    “When I think of “resistance movements” I envision a small group of
    people resisting against a much larger and all-powerful militarized
    machine. To think of civilization as an all-powerful death machine,
    the idea of resisting makes me feel small and paralyzed. But when I
    turn the paradigm on its head and see civilization working
    as a small resistance movement against the much larger and more
    powerful world, I feel empowered; civilization does not have the power
    to resist the flow of the world.”

    Plants do what they can with their resources, not because of some ideal “to keep the world wild”, but simply to live. (Well, I don’t know, maybe like some people, some plants do, but…)

    All in all, I like what you’re saying here, but I hate having to wade through a lot of dogmatic nonsense to get there.
    Peace

  7. Is there some way of drugging the lion with an herbal arrow, and then possibly retraining it with gentle laxatives?

  8. Pingback: Beyond Body Ecology?: My Shit Talking Debut « Penny Scout: Adventures in Feral Failure

  9. “Is there some way of drugging the lion with an herbal arrow, and then possibly retraining it with gentle laxatives?”

    This is why we have re-offending murderers and child molesters.

    Rehabilitation is a crock.

  10. Rehabilitation is a myth. There is only caging of an animal to kill it’s instinct…

  11. “Plants do what they can with their resources, not because of some ideal “to keep the world wild”, but simply to live.”

    Paul, I think you are seeing a difference where one doesn’t exist. To me, “keeping the world wild” is the SAME as saying “trying simply to live”. To all wild creatures, these things are one and the same – the instinct to live necessarily includes rewilding the civilized world. I think that it would be the same for us, if we could completely rewild ourselves (become a truly wild human).

    Another reason why I think that these are one and the same for humans too, is because our survival (as wild humans) will REQUIRE dismantling civilization and rewilding the land that it has domesticated, because civ’s domestication is progressively killing the land and its creatures, and every day that this process continues the capacity for wild humans to live is diminished.

    Take the example of salmon. Salmon form a fundamental part of the ecology of the west coast of N America, and their extinction would dramatically impact (negatively) the potential survival of a whole host of species in those ecosystems, including humans. Even the plants in the forest depend on salmon for a ton of their nutrients (as salmon swim upstream and die), so even they will be harmed in their survival by the extirpation of salmon.

    If wild humans wish to be able to live along the west coast in the future, we NEED to take out the dams to prevent the disappearance of the salmon. This is a basic matter of survival, IMHO.

  12. Also, while I agree that it would be a greatly preferable tactic to subtly undermine dams so that they will appear to be taken out solely by natural forces, I think we also need to consider how much time we have. I’ve read that the salmon may become extinct in a decade if the dams aren’t removed, so I think time is of the essence.

    Also, I think that the fact that 200 species go extinct every day (or something like that, I may be remembering my statistics wrong 😉 ) must be taken into account in every discussion of tactics. IOW, tactics that take a longer amount of time mean that more of the world will be destroyed in the meantime, so I think that tactics that take longer should have pretty huge advantages over quicker tactics, to offset that consideration.