The Rewild Frontier: Life in Collapse
No one knows what the future will bring, but this we know: Civilizations destroy the land. Our civilization won’t last much longer. A movement known as rewilding has started against civilization. This movement has a frontier and we live in it.
We generally refer to forces of nature as forces out of human control. We cannot control which direction the wind blows, we cannot stop fields from turning into forests, we cannot stop the earth from spinning around the sun (though civilization continues to attempt to!). I believe that culture functions in a homologous manner; a force of nature out of our control.
Often we hear the debate over whether human behavior comes more from our nature than how we nurture and vice versa. But I never hear people say that no difference exists between the two. That these elements have separate names gives rise to a meaningless discussion that only serves to confuse and separate us from understanding how we can relate to the world. If we believe that nurturing somehow exists separately from our nature, we believe that we have some amount of control over our own nature. This means that the term nurture describes the systems we have in place to control behavior, where our nature looks like something outside our system of control. I believe that these systems of control come from our nature. If systems for controlling behavior come from our nature as socially organized animals, our nature involves nurturing and our nurturing does not separate itself from our nature; our nature involves nurturing. Got that?
I don’t think many would argue if I said that our nature lies out of our hands (except, of course, genetic engineers). Humans have characteristics brought about through evolution. Our behavior varies from strategy to strategy of living with this nature. We could say that the culture (our real “nurturer”) controls us. That myths and/or memes dictate how we behave, what decisions we make. But above culture, above nurture, lies nature, the environment, and the natural laws of the planet. So though our nature involves nurturing, our strategies for how we nurture, how we create cultural behavior, dictates itself through the environment through which we live. We have no control over the forces, or systems, of nature, only strategies for living with them. Those strategies shape themselves according to environmental systems. Because we have no control over environmental systems, in a sense we have no control over the cultural systems that adapt to them. We only have the power to adapt to environmental changes; the ability to change with the environment, not change the environment to live with us. People must respond to environmental changes or they die.
I refer to this process as The Power of Need. Needs make the world go round. People need food to live, so they hunt and gather. People need sex to proliferate, create culture and feel good, so they have sex. Needs can feel physical, like the need to eat or sleep. Needs can feel emotional, like the need to feel supported. Needs can feel mythological or spiritual, like the need to go to heaven. None of these needs have the same immediacy as the need for water. A friend of mine refers to this phenomenon (force of nature) as the “brown water effect.” Meaning, people will not take up arms until they have brown water pouring out their faucets. When the culture cannot meet the the direct survival needs of its people, you cannot have a culture. We need clean water to live… Duh!
When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, she began a cultural movement of environmentalists who foresaw the coming brown water. At this point, the majority of people (in America at least) have clean tap water (aside from chlorine, chlorimine, fluoride, arsenic… uh nevermind). I guess they have water that looks & tastes clean. Even though they have seen the film “An Inconvenient Truthâ„¢,” and have an awareness of the “Climate Crisisâ„¢,” they still have clean tap water, air-conditioning, internet access, cell phones, SUV’s, McDonalds, Saturday morning cartoons, Happy Hour specials and HBO. As long as this culture continues to provide these privileged distractions, only a subculture of people with the wits to see and/or the heart to feel, will look for alternative strategies like rewilding.
Rewilding doesn’t just mean learning edible plants and how to make buckskin. I can stand around here all I want and learn plants and tell stories and have babies and still the world will die at the hands of the civilized. Still civilization will meet me with outward violence as it collapses. As long as civilization holds its monopoly on violence and control; as long as the wildfire has fuel to burn, abandoning the system of civilization, for something else remains a problem. Many laws exist to prevent people from rewilding; hunting & gathering & gardening fees, regulations, restrictions and taxes that make self-sufficiency through rewilding a hard game to play, especially for a family. Breaking the law (civilizations threat of violence to you) works as an inevitable step in creating a rewilding culture and surviving the collapse of civilization. Rewilding also means fighting back. With fuel to burn a wildfire will gain in momentum and appears unstoppable. However, it becomes very easy to put out a wildfire after it passes the point of diminishing returns. With no more fuel to burn it begins to die.
In order to fight back against civilization, we need to have lives worth fighting for. Indigenous peoples who fought against civilization had something we civilized people don’t; a connection to land and family worth fighting for, worth killing for. Hunter-gatherers fought for the land and lifestyle and culture that they had for millions of years. They had a system that worked, that they defended. They fought side by side with their brothers and sisters and uncles and cousins and grandfathers and grandmothers both humans and other-than-human. We have nothing like that; no familial, supportive, life-giving culture to fight for, nor to care for us as we succeed in bringing down civilization. Unless we simply feel suicidal (nothing wrong with that), we need lives worth fighting for. Rewilding means reclaiming a life worth living and defending it against those who wish to domesticate it.
Often we hear the term “life boat” used to describe these plans for surviving through collapse. I prefer to not use that term as life boats merely suggest a temporary safe place. We want to abandon the ship for a new one, better than the one we left, not small and temporary. Noah didn’t build his ark as a life boat, he built it as a boat big enough for every living thing in the world. Rewilding cultures have no less space. (sorry for the biblical reference… don’t know where that came from!)
In the story of rewilding we have three acts; before collapse, during collapse and after collapse. In the first act we need to develop an escape plan from the barriers that hold us captive to civilization. The second act involves living a life worth fighting for as we hold our ground and encourage the collapse along. In the third act we will celebrate the end of civilization and continue to rewild all of the places that civilization has domesticated. I see a whole cast of characters working here. I see people rewilding outside of civilizations control, holding their own. I see people on the borders of the rewild frontier, pushing civilization into retreat where its weak spots exist. I see people in the lions den, rewilding right in the middle of civilization. I see an “underground rewildroad” along this continuum helping those in civilization escape to live back in the wild areas.
Of course, rewilding doesn’t mean that you have to take civilization head on. Not everyone in a culture takes the role of the warrior. We need nurturers and healers and mothers and fathers and everything. Just make sure whether you choose a different role based on your own fear of living as a warrior, and don’t disguise that fear as pacifist ideology and than condemn those who have no fear and live as front-line warriors (unless you want to disguise your real ideology and actions behind a pacifist smoke-screen. wink wink.) As a warrior remember not to let the fight against civilization get in the way of living, make it part of a whole life of rewilding. What else do we have to fight for but our loved ones, human and other-than-human? To fight back, I need a life worth living, and to me that means having children and growing a family and learning to hunt and gather and give back to the land and kicking civilization’s ass for my family and rewilding cultures.
The rewild frontier looks similar to the civilized frontier, only backwards; We will see people stop tilling the soil, stop farming and instead encourage succession. We will see violence as the civilized try to resist those-who-rewild, but no longer have the energy or resources. Rather than see the wild retreat from civilization, we will see civilization retreat from the wild until one day we will see civilization no more.
Go out there and start rewilding now. Breach a dam. Plant an orchard. Chain yourself to a tree. Teach your children that “weeds” don’t exist. Talk with other-than-humans. Shut down the grid. Learn to hunt and trap without modern tools. Take out roads. Make a family. Push a bill through congress. Hold your ground. Make friends. Discover enemies. Reclaim land from civilization. Get really fucking angry. Relax. Cry. Laugh. Think clearly. Don’t get caught. Follow your heart, follow your heart, follow your heart and live a life worth living, worth remembering, worth mythologizing until the sun engulfs the planet.
You have a choice. What role will you choose to play in this rewild frontier? E-prime will not stop civilization. Diets will not stop civilization. Permaculture will not stop civilization. Primitive Skills will not stop civilization. Anarchists will not stop civilization. This book will not stop civilization. I will not stop civilization.
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