Pessimism Vs. Rewilding

For the most part, I consider myself an optimist. I find it funny that a lot of people label me as a pessimist because I advocate for the collapse of civilization. When I say “civilization will collapse no matter what we do,” rather than see that as an opportunity for something new, they file it away under “doom and gloom.” I think these people have it all backwards.

[This blog forms a chapter in my book-in-progress Born to Rewild]

I used to spend hours in fear of the collapse and all the horrific images of the apocalypse. But the more I study civilization, the more I realize that as long as it continues to grow, it will continue to devour the planet. As soon as it stops growing, and begins to descend, life will reclaim and rewild the planet. In fact, I can’t think of a better set of descriptive words to refer to civilization than the words “doom and gloom.” The collapse signals the end of the doom and gloom caused by civilization and the rebirth of something sustainable.

You want to know what the apocalypse looks like? Go outside and look around. The apocalypse looks like alienation from your neighbors and family. It looks like eating food sprayed with toxins and than shipped 3,000 miles to the store. It looks like slaving your life away for mere pennies so you can afford another drink at the bar or puff on your pipe to forget about your slaving. Oh god, let’s not put an end to any of that!

Martin Prechtel, a native who lived with post-civilization Mayans, explained that in his indigenous Mayan village the elders understood that the buildings in the village didn’t make the community, the need for the buildings in the village created the community. For this reason, every year, they would take their village down; when you have nothing you need community. People helped each other rebuild their houses and in doing so strengthened their communities. They didn’t build their houses to last because then they would have no reason, no need for their community. Martin saw his community shattered when the government forced people to build houses that would last. Nomadic people constantly broke down and dismantled their village and rebuilt it elsewhere. The end of civilization, the collapse, means the end of alienation and the rebirth of community. Geez. I feel like such a pessimist right now.

Fear of collapse works as a myth created by civilization in order to allow people to remain in denial and cling to the system. Civilization wants you to think you need structure, satelite TV and loose-fit jeans, and that any life where you actually have to participate in the world will feel worse than the awful depression you currently struggle with. You want doom and gloom? The apocalypse came a long time ago. It just happened slowly enough that we didn’t notice.

I’ve seen a bumper sticker around that says, “No Farms, No Food.” This just goes to show how people in civilization perceive subsistence. Without farming, you’ll starve! No… You’ll garden, hunt, gather, share and trade with your neighbors and it will feel great. It may feel like more work than sitting at a laptop all day (like me right now), but it will feel great because our bodies expect and can easily handle that work.

This existential perception of collapse as pessimistic really only takes hold of people in “more developed” countries (meaning the countries that steal from everyone else). Rich people will no longer have the ability to steal from poor people. Doesn’t that make you feel sooo sorry for those rich people?!? They won’t have cheap IKEA crap filling their previously air-conditioned McMansion, built by Mexicans. I can guarantee you that people in third world countries do not fear the collapse of civilization. Those at the bottom of the pyramid, the tortured slaves who make our affluent, luxurious American life possible, will no longer experience oppression and can live more comfortable lives, restoring their connection to their land.

The horrors of civilization devastation and oppression will immediately lessen in most areas when it collapses. The rich will have the most difficultly dealing with collapse, as will those who live in densely population areas. Those in power, those used to living in McMansions and ordering take out on their cell phone, those who sit at the top of the pyramid have the furthest to fall. They will (hopefully!) feel discomfort as they have to adjust to a more normal, less decadent, less luxurious (at least in the civilized sense) life.

Believing we can encourage collapse and rewild feels optimistic to me. Yes, we have over shot the carrying capacity of the planet and plenty of people will die. Yes, that will feel terrible, but will it really feel more terrible than the alienation and environmental destruction and the “modern comforts” of sensory suffocation we experience right now? I don’t think so.

Show your support and appreciation for Urban Scout

17 Comments on “Pessimism Vs. Rewilding”

  1. Great blog, Scout…

    “…This existential perception of collapse as pessimistic really only takes hold of people in “more developed” countries (meaning the countries that steal from everyone else). Rich people will no longer have the ability to steal from poor people. Doesn’t that make you feel sooo sorry for those rich people?!? They won’t have cheap IKEA crap filling their previously air-conditioned McMansion, built by Mexicans. I can guarantee you that people in third world countries do not fear the collapse of civilization. Those at the bottom of the pyramid, the tortured slaves who make our affluent, luxurious American life possible, will no longer experience oppression and can live more comfortable lives, restoring their connection to their land….”

    I was thinking this same thing today when I read these two links about what’s going on in Burma, where, while all the reports say “how the gov’t there is “very secretive” ” and I keep thinking, “uh, yah–It’s called prison mentality, assholes–Those people are prisoners, and they happen to know it, while the rest of us look on and wonder what the big secret is…”
    The apocalypse started in Burma long before the mongroves were decimated, and I was thinking about how those people and that land are victims of their gov’t’s imprisonment of them and their land:

    Mangroves would have protected villagers Related Articles

    By Geoffrey Lean Sunday, 11 May 2008

    Tens of thousands of people died in the Cyclone Nargis disaster because vital mangrove forests had been cut down, destroying the land’s protection against the sea.

    Far more people were killed by a 12ft wave which stormed ashore during the violent storm than by its 120mph winds, the Burmese government admits. “It swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages,” said the minister for relief and resettlement, Maung Maung Swe. “They did not have anywhere to flee.”

    But the wave could only be so devastating because the thick mangrove forests had been almost entirely destroyed; intact, they would have absorbed much of the power of the sea.

    “…International agencies called on the country’s secretive military junta to allow immediate access to those stranded without food, clean water and medicines….The military authorities are continuing to delay giving visas to foreign aid officials, and insist on taking control of such shipments as are permitted….”

  2. Ya know… I was pondering a similar concept recently.

    I too have been very fascinated (and terrified) by visions of apocalypse ever since I was little. I’m drawn to it like a moth to the light. Hell, even my alias for music production is Apok. My favorite TV series was Jericho. I’ve been lead down a path to radical lifestyles and visions of dystopian and/or apocalyptic futures. I plan on living off the grid someday, perhaps in an Earthship. I daydream of revolution, rewilding, suvivalism, steampunk, cyberpunk, etc.

    But on a more serious, and less fantasy-driven note, I really do see the possibility (perhaps even the inevitability) of civilization’s collapse, be it partial or absolute. I also am very intellectual, politically/philosophically minded, and very concerned about our effects on the environment. I have developed principles, morals, and ethics based around these ponderings. I want to live a lifestyle that allows me to follow such personal maxims. I also think that the amount of damage we do to each other and our environment is undeniable, so I can set aside any doubts that my beliefs are too radical or idealistic. We REALLY NEED CHANGE in this world, and we’re overdue for it. Everybody knows this, at least deep down.

    Ok, but I sorta digressed from my point I originally set out to state. I was pondering apocalypse and all that stuff. Most peoples’ visions of apocalypse, including my own, include very abrupt, harsh, violent collapses of society. I think that I’ve finally questioned this vision. I imagined what it’d be like if apocalypse, or civilization’s collapse came on very gradually and relatively slowly. An apocalypse that was difficult to define and faded out pathetically rather than burnt out brilliantly. Or even… an apocalypse which was slow enough to allow it to become a transition to a fundamentally NEW and BETTER lifestyle(s). Pondering such a real possibility gives me increased hope that sustainable lifestyles can be implemented in the nooks, cracks, and decayed holes in civilization. And I know this is somewhat of a cliche, but perhaps sustainability can grow through the ruins of civilization (quite literally) like a blade of grass breaks through asphalt.

    Hope I made sense there. 😉

  3. Also!

    I must agree with Roxanne in the first reply to your article, Scout.

    For many third world peoples, this world is already an apocalypse.

    I mean, we watch a movie like Mad Max or Escape From LA like it’s perceived as some futuristic fantasy world that nobody has yet seen. However, when you really look at some of the most impoverished places on this planet, those chaotic, dirty, wild, and colorful third world countries really do look post-apocalyptic to me. Those people live modern apocalypse at the feet of the wealthy/powerful. I suppose the only thing left for a full apocalypse is when those wealthy/powerful are dragged down into the blood and mud along with everyone else. Their structures, physical and personal, collapsing, leaving the gaping voids back to the gods and the living environment to reclaim.

    There is beauty to be found in the chaotic contrast of such collapse.

  4. Scout, i soooo agree!! We are in the fucking nightmare NOW, as soon civilisation starts to end, the rest of the planet has a chance to start living again..there is nothing doom and gloom about that..

  5. Interesting stuff. I would bicker on a few points – but I don’t wanna bicker right now. This blog got me thinking about the “positive” aspects of social collapse, which is a new way of thinking for me. Here are my thoughts:

    I see the “conforting” aspect of social collapse like this: The collapse is due to a bad idea taking it’s inevitable course. The bad idea is something like: We can take from nature without giving back, or we can take faster than nature can regenerate, or we can defy the ecological web of life for our own benefit, etc. And we not only have the idea, but we have an entire culture of which every aspect is based – bottom line – on that idea. If we don’t voluntarily get rid of the idea, nature is going to make us do it. One way or other the idea has to die – the question is whether we do this voluntarily (separate the idea from us) or not-voluntarily (we die along with the idea).

    The “positive spin” or “conforting” aspect of social collapse is the hope/expectation that the bad idea will finally die, and the survivors (if any) can start fresh with better ideas. Or at least without the one bad idea.

  6. thanks, US, that blog needed to be written. I see collapse as inevitability. It gets pegged as “doom and gloom” because denial is a powerful force. And I LOVE your reminder that apocalypse is already happening. It’s also a powerful reminder about everything beyond the bright white light of the first world is already falling to ruins for our comforts. “Deserts dog at our heels….”

  7. Myself I can’t wait…Out with the old , in with the new. Hell, I’m thinking of getting a head start and dropping out anyday now…Thars food in thim thar hills… Hell I might just come up to Cascadia to look it over… Anyone up there need a blacksmith? Dragon

  8. I’m just hoping to see a complete collapse of the economy soon enough that I can not pay off my student loans without someone coming to hassle me.

  9. How can you be optimistic about a world where we won’t know what color underwear Paris Hilton is wearing? You are a disturbed and twisted individual.

  10. I must agree with Peter…I spent a short amount of time in Malawi, in Southern Africa and I laughed every day because in a way I felt like I was living on some post-apolopiptic movie set…of course the locals had no idea why everything seemed so hilarious to me; but living in a place without any “infrastructure” to speak of was simultaneously fun and scary…I mean, even traveling takes on a whole new courage when you are traveling in a place with hardly any paved roads, where people still ambush travelers and take everything they have Robin Hood style and of course, being a white girl, I stuck out like a sore thumb as a good person to ambush.

    But that was the fun part as well! Nothing was boring in Malawi; you hitched a ride in the back of a mini-pickup truck with thirty other people and some goats and chickens up a rutted dirt road as fast as the truck could go, always excepting to be robbed and for the truck to break down, just to get to town! God that was fun! I always planned for chaos and usually, it came…

    I think as humans, we need a certain amount of disorder/anarchy and chaos to keep our brains sharp, to keep us healthy and happy. Malawians are some of the happiest people I know, and they lives lives always teetering on the edge of chaos…

    I think that is why I continue to ride my bike down 122nd Ave in Portland as well…gotta get some use out of those adrenal glands…

    Let’s end civilization!

  11. Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Third world has been in collapse since the dark ages, they just move it around. But that will stop with the end of oil and environmental collapse.

  12. How bout the bumpersticker “did you feed your kid today?Thank a farmer” After reading the book Against the Grain,I started to re-read it “did you eat your kid today?Thank a farmer”in reference to the descriptions of ancient chinese famines in agricultural areas.

  13. Lately I’ve been thinking that this planet can’t last forever – maybe as we are reborn (if we are, it certainly seems so to this skeptic) so will the planet, next as venus, as it was last mars which had life – and then mercury, and then the sun, and the sun will explode after that – can you imagine living in the sun?… and who knows after that. maybe this planet is going, knows it, knew it would happen all along, and is using us as it’s euthanizers… a test to see who makes the cut and who doesn’t… did you hear it’s cries? did you cry with them? did you love it while it lasted? what’s the meaning of all this? has anyone figured it out? would you want to? — seems like some cosmic comedic experiment. thou a post apocalyptic world does sound purty great to me, I’m not going to hope and give in to the circular trap of wishful thinking. any good doctor knows that easing suffering is the primary function in such -up in the air who knows- situations. i’ll tumble joyfully the whole way down, and try to help everyone i can reach do the same. (:

    all i can say is, learn to shake the reapers hand, mirror it’s grin – it’s going to take the whole damn universe someday. and then, another beginning? this is how stories go.