Ageism Vs. Rewilding

In our culture, the young and the elderly experience perhaps the worst amount of prejudice and abuse. Living with abusive parents, families and forced into schooling where the system coerces us to do what it tells us than dumped in nursing homes and forgotten. Oppression among the young and old happens so often and looks so normal to us, most people don’t even see it as oppression. Of course, children and old people don’t get a voice in this culture. As you age you see a positive progression up the hierarchy; as an adult you forget the oppression as you accept the benefits that come with growing older. Once you reach a certain age, you once again receive oppression as a senior citizen.

As we discussed in Hierarchy Vs. Rewilding, civilizationists like to project hierarchy onto non-hierarchical structures. This happens when we look at indigenous cultures system of information dispersal and transformation. One of the elements of culture commonly discussed in rewilding involves the notion of “elders” specifically their purpose in an indigenous context. The concept of elders has not evaded civilized cultures entirely (the word originating through Christianity) though the “elders” in civilization teach a very different structure than those of indigenous peoples.

In indigenous cultures, elders help keep their communities intact by teaching the young the ways of nature. We know that a tactic of white civilizationists, used to assimilate Native Americans involved removing the young from their elders. So an elder from a natives perspective, does not look like someone with generic “wisdom,” but someone with a special kind of wisdom that relates to living closely with their particular landbase.

To call an elder simply an old person with wisdom, does little justice to what elders actually do. “Wisdom” varies from world view to world view. In a world based on direct experiences in a particular landbase, elders would have the most time spent observing that land through their years. It makes sense that they would hold the key to cultural transmission. Elders occur more organically from that kind of system. They do not force their knowledge or perception of the land on people younger than them. The younger people recognize that these older people can give them insights into how to live on that particular piece of land, in that particular way. In a culture that continually destroys its landbase, we can rest assured that our “elders” have no land-based wisdom. Noticing that these elderly people in civilization do not have special, landbase-wise qualities, and do not act as keepers of a sustainable culture, some people have made the distinction between these civilized “Olders” and Native “Elders.”

I find it funny when older people use the phrase, “You act childish.” Children have a nature of their own for sure, but mostly they mimic the adults and culture around them. So they act out how they see their parents act. They reenact their parents. Therefore, children don’t act childish, they act adultish. And as American children have proved… most adults seem to act like crazy, controlling assholes. This explains all the accounts of indigenous children acting confident and cool.

I have seen many wilderness-style programs mistakingly refer to elders as “the over 50 crowd,” as though the age of 50 signifies something. Perhaps in real, intact indigenous cultures the elders have aged over 50 years, but it does not apply to civilization’s olders… at all. What happens when you take a bunch of crazy, controlling asshole-olders and tell them they need to live as elders? All hell breaks loose. I have noticed that within a culture based on domination it seems all too easy to simply project domination onto an egalitarian system and call it egalitarian. This methodology has spawned many vampiric olders who seek nothing but a power-over based relationship with youth, which I have experienced first hand. The kind of advice they give you? “Get a job.” I find this laughable, until they start trying to suck my blood! Without fully articulating an elder’s social position, we see a bunch of olders who now think of themselves as elders. I only know one word to describe such a person; a fraud.

It seems like many older people feel entitled to praise & respect from youth, despite their potential lack of experiences or wisdom over the youth. I see olders adultishly attempt to assert themselves as elders the way nerdy children in middle school flounder while trying to act “cool” (myself included there). Rather than have comfort with themselves, olders want to have something they don’t. They can fake it for a while, but in the end it will bite them in the ass, when the younger people realize they have been deceived by the olders and take their friendship away, leaving the older worse off than before. Rich, childless olders seem the like the worst of this batch. They can’t even hold a conversation with someone younger than them without pointing out their age, as if positioning themselves into a place of power. And there you have it. To olders, people within a domination-based civilization, an elder looks to them like someone in a position of power. Power the older never had. And when young people buy into that, the results look disastrous, let me tell you!

Both olders and elders remain defined through age and yet age does not dictate experience. Experience dictates experience. Age relates to experiences since the more you age, the more experiences you have. However, the kinds of experiences you have determine what you know, how you know and what you have learned from certain experiences. A particular set of experiences gives someone a particular set of wisdom, not age. Age relates to wisdom only as far as the number of possible experiences.

If experience foundations wisdom, and indigenous cultures worked well at regulating experiences through yearly rituals, it makes sense that they would have a group of people who had reached a certain age and had gone through all of the same rituals and rites and shared similar experiences that the youth had not yet undergone. The group we refer to as elders became members of that group not because they aged, but because they went through similar rituals together on a particular piece of land and then led those rituals for the younger people.

If we understand that an elder means someone who has gone through many rites and rituals, and has had a set of experiences that we know we will have one day, it makes sense that they would know and feel things beyond our recognition. Since civilization has such a vastness of (or more accurately, a lack of) experiences and a complete disconnection from the land and from the self, we cannot produce elders the way indigenous cultures did. It means that elders happen organically as cultures get more specific and congeal on a particular piece of land.

If we see how age creates an elder in this kind of indigenous culture, and how age relates to power within civilization, we can easily see how a civilized person would project their world view onto another’s. The term elder does not allude to an unarticulated hierarchical structure, with which elders sit atop. If elders get some sort of special treatment, in involves their dependency on the younger. I don’t get an elder a plate of food because they have a special status in a hierarchy, but because they have trouble walking. It almost seems as if their powerlessness in physicality has given them power in sociality and/or spirituality. This leads to another quality of an elder; humility. It seems that elders carry humility, both because of years of nature tricking them and also because, like children, they require help from people younger and healthier than they.

The age of seeking elders ended for me a few years ago after receiving many burns from olders. If the term elder refers to someone with humility that has gone through experiences I want to go through, who has rewilded in my particular bioregion and has wisdom of living in it over a long period of time, well… none exist. Bits and pieces of wisdom exist here and there in different people and in books. I use those to create my future. Perhaps someday we’ll have elders again, but it will probably just happen without anyone noticing the change. I think the key to having a successful culture does not involve mimicking what we see natives doing, but truly understanding how their cultures functioned. A highly-functional culture produces elders who than teach the young how to have a highly-functional culture. In a world without elders, I don’t think rewilding humans need not try to act like them or fill in their social position. I think we need to learn how to live off the land. Those who experiment living with the land, regardless of their age reveal the people that I have something to learn from. And when these people have aged with the land and have much knowledge and experience, if they have young people who want to know how to follow in their footsteps, and these young people help the older person get food because they no longer can get it themselves, we’ll know we’ve got an elder.

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5 Comments on “Ageism Vs. Rewilding”

  1. I would like to point out that while we do seem to lack what I would consider _whole_ elders, we do have quite a few partial ones… people who have lived here for a long time and have learned a great deal about one or two things. I had an excellent conversation with my father just earlier today – during which I was reminded of how much he knows about setting clear boundaries of fair treatment around himself. he has NOT learned how to not bring insane people into his life, but he HAS learned how to set boundaries that keep them from disrupting his own sanity.

    when I think about the situation I often see that there has been a great deal of physical and mental injury laid upon the generations before ours, and healing those wounds will take several generations more yet. I don’t think we will have true elders until more healing can take place. but for that healing to take place, we must take advantage our olders’ experiences which can help us heal the wounds they have passed on to us, as well as learn our own lessons to heal a bit more.

  2. I only talk with people older than me who treat me as an equal. Who never judge me in that they know more than me, and that that somehow makes them better and in a position of power. That is disgusting. There are plenty of people older than me who I consider friends and who are constantly teaching me things, though they don’t act all high-and-mighty like these elder-wannabe’s. I would refer to them as elders, but that brings with it all of these unspoken premises of a power-based relationship. I would even refer to them as mentors, since elders and mentors often get conflated in their heads as well, but I also see the term mentor used in the same power-hungry context. At this point, I will continue to call them friends and family. However, even though my grandfather is totally pro-civ, he’s 80+ years old and I consider him the only elder I really have. I love hearing his stories about old-time Portland and learning about my ancestry. Everytime I’m with him I think to myself, “Oooh. That’s why my dad always says that. Now I get it.”

  3. Sorry to hear about your experiences with the Jon Young people. My experience has been the opposite. Otherwise, I’m with you on this one. I try to respect the limited wisdom that many olders in my life have about certain things, but honestly we’ve had so many lost generations of people that true elders are as rare as unpolluted water. It excites me and horrifies me at the same time when I realize that I’m the elder in my foodshed. There may be others, but they’ve yet to make themselves known to me. Most olders have spent their lives building the nightmare of a world that we have. It’s only a few of us that are attempting to find the path to something better (rewilding/feralization), and more often than not, we’re young.