“Free” vs. Rewilding


Now that I’ve decided to make my living from teaching rewilding skills, I find myself in a conundrum. How much money do I charge for my classes? Can you really put a price on information that everyone needs in order to save the planet and live a good life? As it turns out I have found that, yes, you can.

A friend of mine told me a story that sums up the psychology of living in a capitalist society. He put out an exercise machine in his front yard with a sign on it that said, “FREE”. It sat in his front yard for two weeks. No one took it. Then he got an idea. He changed the sign from “FREE” to “$25”. Someone stole it from his yard within the next couple hours.

I had a similar story to the one above. I bought a shitty lemon of a motor home. I lived out of it for a year. I didn’t know how to get rid of it. I put it on craigslist for free. No one took it. I tried a few more times. Finally I put a price tag on it for $250 and 8 people had e-mailed me within the hour.

We live in a capitalist society. Everything costs money, even water. These stories show how our psyches work in this culture; if something has a “FREE” label smacked on it, people think the item has no worth. No one wants something that has no worth, unless it has sentimental value. As soon as you put a price on something, all of a sudden people perceive it as having worth.

Putting a price on my book and my workshops has always felt difficult for me. How can I put a price on thoughts? My ability to teach? How can I put a price on information that needs to get out into the world in order to save the future generations?!? Ironically, I want to believe that having my book for free or running rewild camps for free will attract more people to them, but in reality that doesn’t mirror the psyches of people in a capitalist culture. If I put a price on it, especially a high price, I know more people would come. You see, it has to have a price, to have worth.

Charging money also forms a bond of commitment. Once someone has paid money for something like a class, if they don’t go, they lose the money they spent. It encourages people to follow through with decisions. They have made an investment in what you have to offer.

When people have to work for something, it has more value to them. I remember saving up $1,000 at 16 years old, as a runaway, simply so that I could go to the teen version of the Tracker School in New Jersey. I couch surfed while working at a natural food store for 8 months. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket so I took the Greyhound bus. A sleepless three day trip across the continent. I remember one kid at the camp complaining about it. He would rather have sat at home playing video games but his parents paid for, and made him go to the camp. I wanted to tear his eyes out. The camp felt worth every penny to me. Every hour slaved away. I loved every minute of it.

I also have to say I get really annoyed at people who demand free things. In my experience these people generally come from a privileged background. They have had everything handed to them and don’t understand that all life comes at an exchange. Even in a gift economy (which those people always espouse but never enact) people constantly give away their things and get other things in return.

In the end, I see more problems coming from running “free” programs. After an analysis I find myself asking, “How high of a price seems too high?” Of course, I run a non-profit so I have limits, and I will always run Rewild Camp for “free” (suggested donation $5-20).

19 Comments on ““Free” vs. Rewilding”

  1. Hello Scout, long-time lurker here. Thank you for another thought-provoking essay. I’d like to respond in stream-of-consciousness style, and not as a judgment of or argument with your essay.

    First, I was reminded of a past essay that resonated with me

    “I recently decided against doing the Urban Scout “Sunday School.” Why teach classes on wilderness survival? Is it for the money? If my goal is to hunt and gather and not need money than isn’t spending time running classes to get money hypocritical? What if I spent that time hunting and gathering with friends instead? Then I wouldn’t need money. It’s a paradox. It’s civilizations mythology furiously spinning it’s web trying to keep my psyche enslaved. So why teach? Do I justify it the same way I do celebrity? That I do it to “spread the message?” Why spread it to strangers? Why not just invite your friends and family along with you and teach them? I think the idea of “wilderness schools,” like celebrity, are a distraction and fear of truly abandoning the civilized economy.”
    -Urban Scout

    One comment following that essay left a particularly strong impression:
    “I can’t afford wilderness schools, and I kind of disdain the idea as well of people charging me for something that should be common human knowledge. I applaud them that they have broken out of the work slavery. But they’re still keeping a lock on the food, on the houses, on the clothing, on the tools by charging me vast sums of money to gain their knowledge among a group of strangers.”

    It’s one option to accept that we live in a capitalist society, and another to claw your way out of that box and develop different relationships. If alternatives to capitalism are only open to the privileged, then what entails privilege? Does privilege mean having leeway and abundance in one’s life? What are each person’s self-determined standards for leeway? It could be a slippery concept, especially for those indoctrinated with self-entitlement. Each of us in capitalist society determines our own comfort zone, where we draw the line between living lightly on the earth and martyring ourself. A person’s leeway and comfort zone can enable him to live (virtually) money free.
    I for one aim to create that leeway and comfort for myself, so that I can help others to get free (from capitalism) if they so wish. While others may treat gift economy as barter, there is no reason I must do the same.

    Another quote that comes to mind:
    “Dropping out is elitist because not everyone can do it.
    But everyone can do it, just not right away. I figure it’s going to take thousands of years, if humans don’t go extinct first, before all of us can live in societies that are sustainable and non-coercive. In the mean time, we all have to do the best we can, and take any opportunity to get a little more free. The key is, when you get more freedom and autonomy, you have an ethical obligation to help others instead of exploiting them.”
    -Ran Prieur

    When I moved apartments in March, by using freecycle.org, craig’s list, and other classifieds, giving stuff away was a cinch. In fact, I received aggressive responses almost immediately. Of course, those could be second-hand dealers cruising for free merchandise with no intention to pay it forward. Another thing I’ve realized is that in face-to-face gift transactions, it sometimes requires a relationship of trust to give things away, because people are afraid of incurring a sense of debt. I enjoy giving and receiving freely with friends and family, because I’m secure that there are no strings attached.

    Some related questions I continue to pose to myself. Is money made necessary due to lack of intimacy? What are the hidden harms of using money, such as support of banks which fund harmful corporations? Although money might be used like any other tools to bring down civilization, is it possible to achieve that end without money? Instead of taking the need for money as a given, what can I do to free myself of that need? What do primitive skills teach me about my essential needs and joys? Can I feel joyful and healthy without money, and what skills do I need to actualize that?
    At the moment, these questions are leading me to pursue wild food procurement, allopathic and complementary medicine, and ever more intimate relationships. Another topic for discussion: As I investigate the intelligence and intention of other-than-humans, the line between domesticated and wild blurs.

  2. *claps* One of your best articles I think, Scout. Very entertaining, too, I practically busted a gut with the exercise machine story. Really makes you think… Now we all know how to get rid of our worthless junk in a hurry!
    I debated quite a bit with myself on whether I should want to charge money for the stories I planned to write and/or tell orally. This makes me realize that charging for them is absolutely the thing to do – people will be more interested in what they have to say! The mainstream capitalist economy may be a piece of utter filth but you work with what you have I guess. We’re not practicing rewilding while living in urban or suburban environments because it works well.. but because that’s where the people are, who don’t have the skills and wish to learn. And urban environments of today generally use cash. Wild crows in urban settings don’t hesitate to use metal laundry hangers to build their nests. Seaside-living indigenous people of today even use civilization’s trash that washes ashore (not that I recommend it). Being wild as a lifestyle and mindset doesn’t need to exclude “money”, it just doesn’t create or sustain it. I look forward to the day when money makes handy tinder and toilet paper.
    Meanwhile, I think if one’s priority is just to become wild one’s self, money can take a hike, but if one intends to help others do so, one should learn how to coexist with money.

  3. Scout’s point appears to be that usage of money has been strategically advantageous for his own situation in pursuing rewilding as he defines it. Without accepting that as a blanket assumption for all capitalist society, one question for each of us is, how strategically sound is money in your particular situation for your rewilding goals? My personal experience has been that money can be alienating to those striving for moneyless existence, acts as an impediment to the practice of gift economy, and can unwittingly and indirectly funnel power to the military-industrial-academic complex. So is money an indispensable tool in removing barriers to your goal, or is it simply a lifestyle choice? By redesigning your life and examining priorities in order to create abundance, could you achieve your goal without the collateral damage that money causes?
    The same could be applied to eating factory-produced food, riding in cars and planes, or using electronics and computers. Yes you can resign yourself to the fact that you grew up in a culture of such things, and rather than practice self-denial or self-mortification,you can use them with a holistic understanding for the purpose of bringing down civ. But why limit yourself from the outset? What if it is not only unnecessary to do so, but also strategically unsound, and only made necessary by your own comfort level and lifestyle choices?
    In the case of crows or trash collectors, salvaging and scavenging seem to involve co-existence on the fringe of but not support of industrial society, like freegans, whereas using money is direct participation.
    Yes it may be possible to use any and all tools as weapons for rewilding, yet I invite each of us to choose our weapons with careful discrimination based on self reflection.

  4. Hey Greg, Thanks for the ball-busting. 😉

    While I work on a response, can you give me a living sustainable example of people living without money?

  5. Now that I’ve decided to make my living from teaching rewilding skills, I find myself in a conundrum. How much money do I charge for my classes? Can you really put a price on information that everyone needs in order to save the planet and live a good life? As it turns out I have found that, yes, you can………….thank you man

  6. Hey Scout, I apologize if my tone came across as ball busting. I admire your efforts very much and am just trying to open up the conversation.
    I’m guessing you don’t mean individuals like Mark Boyle or Daniel Suelo, but groups of people. That would make a fascinating and urgent anthropological or sociological study, if someone hasn’t already done it. I suppose at least there are uncontacted tribes, but who’s to say how sustainable those are with the encroachment of civ? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncontacted_peoples
    So are there sustainable moneyless groups within capitalist society, and moreover in urban environments? Not that I’ve seen in my neighborhood. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to actualize moneyless relationships, by using my leverage and relative privilige, which I’ve actively cultivated through lifestyle choices. The point for me is not finding an existing model, or working from within the current solutions, but rather to challenge my cultural filters and remain open to potential. I’m not saying don’t use money. I just see value in scrutinizing its necessity, and not encouraging its usage if you believe in its inherent flaws. If you want to live moneyless, you shoot yourself in the foot by promoting money as a necessity from the outset. On the other hand, gradually phasing out money presents some interesting possibilities. Perhaps that is one of the goals of your teaching program? I didn’t sense that, however, in your conclusion:
    “In the end, I see more problems coming from running ‘free’ programs.”

    While I recognize value in being practical, how can that be balanced with nurturing potential? As another example of challenging assumptions and filters, I’ve had a fun time learning to eat insects. Stepping outside my culinary comfort zone has liberated my thoughts on food sustainability. Without becoming ascetic, how far can we transcend societal constraints in a calculating and strategic way?

  7. Hey Greg,

    I still emphatically agree with everything I said in my posts;

    This is a case of “yes, and” (http://www.mythic-cartography.org/2008/08/06/podcast-the-power-of-yes-and/).

    I’m not going back on what I have said in those posts, I’m going forward with even more understanding. I have a “fundraising vs. rewilding” that plays into this too.

    You mention using “your leverage and privilege”… I’m wondering if you menat leveraging your privilege to promote rewilding? That’s what I plan to do with a Rewilding School. Leverage others privilege (in the form of money) to create rewilding communities. The other side of this, is that like I said above, I continue to offer free programs. In fact, one of the main reasons I want to run an immersion program is to “teach teachers” and you can bet that rewild camp will explode as a free educational environment once I have an entire immersion program practicing their teaching there. Of course, Rewild Camp is once a week and more introductory, but it is also a social-networking event which is more important because it’s about building relationships, not just skills. So while the immersion program will be learning more about skills and teaching, the community building development part is always free. This means that “friends will teach friends”.

    My main point with asking you if you know of a living sustainable model that does not use money is that there is none. Dumpster diving is certainly not a sustainable method of getting food (do I really need to go into why here?). I actually do not think you have to expand your comfort zone or fit into some other model for living with less money (unless you can’t live without your netflix subscription). I want a sustainable system that doesn’t require me to eat dirty rotten food. That’s not asking much. But even to forage/hunt (legally) you need licensing. Which means you need money. You need storage (which means money), etc. etc. The point is, if you are borrowing space in someones house, THEY are still participating in the monetary economy and so are you. The idea for me is to be that medium between a monetary economy and a different kind of economy. In order to pay for the land, house, horses, taxes, etc. I need to make money and I don’t want to do it by making television commercials for Nike, working at a coffee shop or chopping vegetables. I would rather make that money in a way that provides maximum rewilding potential, and that means charging money for me to teach rewilding. As long as Empire exists and I have to pay them with money (and really it’s not actually money we should be talking about, but Taxes). So I might as well do it in a way that keeps this knowledge alive. Or would you rather I waste my talents selling shoes?

    Do you mind if I ask what do you do for a living? What did you mean when you said you were privileged? In what ways has that allowed you to exist without money? I’m enjoying this conversation, as it’s one I’ve obviously been having for almost 10 years.

  8. I think you should charge, for example people are realizing that they dont have the answers and know that they way we are going as a society isnt right, they have accumulated money/material goods for years and years and now have a shift in their thought/heart and know that this will only lead to destruction..ie rewild or die, so now they want to learn.. but how? oh you mean there is a guy who has been practicing this stuff for years.. shoot i dont mind paying him to teach me how to live, what would i do with my money/material possessions in a post apoctalyptic world anyways.. ie pay Urban instead of continuing on their path of material accumulation and stuff which doesnt really matter like keeping up with the jones…and since no one really lives without money unless they eat out of the trash and since its a transition to rewilding i think you ought to charge… it makes since.

  9. Leveraging other people’s money seems to encourage people to continue viewing money as a legitimate tool. I view it as playing with fire. Perhaps your new school has built-in obsolescence, like the word rewilding, in that it aims to create a gift economy. From a tactical standpoint, I hope the change your school enables will offset any potential harms of money usage.
    I consider rewilding skills to be sacred because they are necessary for dropping out of civ. I’m less concerned about charging money for products and services that support the empire, because people such as me who are uninterested in supporting civ can choose not to buy them. It’s because the rewilding know-how is so urgently needed that I don’t want to limit its dissemination by involving money.

    While there may be no existing sustainable moneyless model, I thought the idea was to build one. For me, that means extreme minimizing of money usage from the outset. I think sustainability requires adaptation. Dumpster diving and roadkill may not be sustainable as civ wanes, but the approach they represent may be. For the time being, they are ways to obtain acquire food and other resources without supporting civ. As they become unavailable, I would use the same flexible scavenger mindset to find new resources. I can attest that far from all dumpstered food and roadkill is dirty or rotten. There’s some tasty and useful stuff out there.

    In my area, licensing is unnecessary for ocean fishing, foraging plants, nuts, fruits, mushrooms,fruits, and gathering insects, amphibians, and reptiles.

    As for borrowing space, if you allow a coyote or crow to live on your land, I don’t think that means they are participating in monetary economy.

    As for intermediary economies, how about barter, local currencies, or community currencies? Selling shoes actually doesn’t sound bad, as long you crafted them by hand out of natural materials. You could be a cobbler/revolutionary icon. If you agree that money is toxic, why not make the bare minimum amount that is necessary through a non-industrial job, and completely take the money-lock off of access to rewilding know-how? As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” Why not sell enough fish to pay the bare minimum needed to live in civ, then volunteer your remaining resources to teach others to fish? For example, sell some fruits of your rewilding labor, such as tanned pelts/baskets/music performances, but volunteer the teaching and learning methods? As I think I understand Derrick Jensen’s message to be, it’s the ends not the means that count, and we need every type of effort. My question is why not lessen collateral damage along the way where possible? In other words, why not exclude money as much as possible?

    I do translation work (very) part-time. I consider myself privileged because I’m able to pay the bills by working only twice a week. It has been necessary to reduce my spending habits and basically give up restaurants, bars, concerts, air travel, scuba, skiing, etc. I moved to the outskirts of the city so that I could practice homesteading and procuring non-toxic wild food. I sought out mentors for trapping, fishing, gardening, and foraging, none of which involves lesson fees. Of course, the translation work is a compromise. I sometimes translate investment portfolios and see exactly where big companies tied up with banks are investing. It is sickening to watch the money go to firms dealing in chemicals, heavy industry, mining, drilling, power plants, clearcuts, etc. It’s a reminder of how money enables tangible destruction. I aim to transition to a non-industrial job asap, hopefully in healthcare, but I will not charge money for sharing rewilding know-how. I could do translation of literature or other non-industrial fields, but honestly I don’t enjoy staring at computer screens. Speaking of which, that’s enough typing for now.

  10. I agree with all of it except where you list your goals for the money.Land is something we all need access to so understandable to want that.Houses can take different forms.Most are unsustainable and thus cost money.Ive built several dwellings for a few thousand each that are well built but no electricity,running water ect…Horses are ill adapted to the west side of the cascades(more specific browsing/feed needs than goats or cows) and seem to me to be pretty much conspicuous consumption…anyway,I cant judge a person for needing money but I really dont want to know what your spending it on because that is all to easy to judge.Good luck!There are no easy answers to this conundrum we all face.

  11. Fascinating post. It’s funny because my acupuncture practice is gift-economy model, and I am often in the position of articulating “gift-economy vs. free.” But, I welcome gifts of money with the same relish that I welcome gifts of food. However, I do not ask for either, or allow the thought of working FOR something other than the genuine experience of giving my work as a gift. I should also mention that I get paid for teaching my seminars and set a tuition for the beginning installments, while as students enter into a more specifically mentoring phase of learning that becomes more fluid. I appreciate the aspect of your thinking about “teaching teachers,” which is an important part of the picture.

  12. 1.Charge for your time not the information.
    2. suggest a minimum donation
    3. have a ‘dana’ (pron. dana >as in the ar in barn). It come from the pali language and it is a gratitude or thanksgiving box so people can choose how much to donate. Explain that you don’t charge for the information or your time but like to eat…so any generosity is greatly appreciated.
    All the best

  13. Thought-provoking stuff. I agree that in my experience people successfully socialized to capitalism tend not to value things that don’t have a price tag on them. Hence, as horrible as it is that they can even think of things like carbon markets, the internal logic is sound.

    Two examples of people that have lived without money. I wouldn’t call either example sustainable in the long run, but I do find them inspiring.

  14. I think we all struggle with this one Brother when we set out to teach what we can to help make the connections for others as others struggled to make the connections for us…..Everyone’s situation is different…..your Heart knows what is best in the moment…..thanks for all the ripples you send across the thought waves , the Earth , and the stars………

  15. money? just a form of currency. barter systems, exchange systems, relationships… all different ways of giving and receiving. money in capitalism develops over and undertones of unsavoriness. methinks of it as lubricant developed for efficiency – but not to the exclusion of other forms of payment. bike chain and bike gears move more smoothly with grease.

    i applaud the essay – acknowledging value/worth helps me, and perhaps others (regardless of where a person’s perspective lies).

    when will you issue a second book?

  16. Nice post. It brings to mind a saying I’ve used mockingly, “If it don’t make money, it don’t make cents”.

    Money is fictitious but it’s a comfortable lie. As you say, paying for something makes one more compelled to stick with it. I think you have something valuable to offer. Money has a consistent (if only sociological) value, so you should charge money for your services.

    Humans are reciprocal altruists in the bleakest sense. People would have you think they are selfless, when really its more like complex personal economic analyses involving long time spans, other people, and forgetfulness. I barter with neighbors and friends for goods and services. We keep a pretty tight tit-for-tat system going, but it works well.

    I do like free things. I consider myself a freegan, mostly because I use the things that others consider valueless and I will work for food. Maybe freegan isn’t the proper name, but you have to admit it’s pretty catchy!

    I’ll enjoy reading more about your rewilding experiences and I may purchase your book (as soon as I figure out what’s in it for me ;D)