Into the Wild, Part One: Towards a Post-Civilized Critique of Civilization

Jeriah Bowser I Ecology & Sustainability I Analysis I November 24th, 2015

I am holding a large pair of pliers, one handle in each hand. I am trying to take apart this pair of pliers, but the only tool I have to accomplish this is… the same pair of pliers. I twist the metal arms this way and that, contorting my body around, my elbows knocking together as I frantically manipulate my body in hopes of finding the perfect angle. Ultimately, I know that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to take apart these pliers in this way. The more firmly I grasp the handles in an attempt to wrest them from their hinges, the more committed I become to the project, until it is no longer clear where I end and the pliers begin.

The solution, of course, is to simply set down the pliers and walk away. Yet here I sit, both hands firmly attached to my computer keyboard and my books, my eyes transfixed on the symbolic mediums in front of me, my thoughts and words twisting this way and that, as I am somehow convinced that I will be able to manipulate my words and ideas in a creative enough way that will finally satisfy my quest and allow me to walk away. I am not alone in my endeavors - to my left and right are walls of books and essays written by men and women with fancy letters after their name which allude to the many years of plier wrestling that have come before me.

Is it hubris that drives me to read, write, and discuss these ideas with others? Is it simply boredom? Do I really think I have anything to add to the grand narrative of philosophy or literature? Why can't I just accept the world as it is, accept the meaningless futility of intellectual discourse, fully inhabit my body, smash my computer, burn my books, and begin living an unmediated existence? Why can't I just walk away?

I believe I will one day, but today my fingers grasp the pliers ever more tightly; some part of me needs to try a few more twists before I am satisfied. Lately, my plier-gymnastics have led me to an exploration of the tension between wildness and domestication in a way that may be helpful to others who are also exploring these ideas, yet who are also not ready to walk away. As I have posited myself in the past few years as someone who is opposed to domination, oppression, and domestication, I often find myself at odds with others who are supposedly opposed to the same things. To be more specific, I have come to understand that the entire spectrum of technology, accomplishments, relationships, and ideas which are collectively known as civilization is inherently destructive, disconnected, unsustainable, and an aberration from the rest of the human and biotic community. I don't know this as a fact, I feel it deeply within my body, a thousand times a day, as I watch the process of domestication relentlessly execute itself on me and those I love.

As I began understanding what it meant to be anti-civilization, I found myself sharing space with several other ideological categories-- mainly, anarchism, primitivism, deep ecology, rewilding, ecopsychology, ecofeminism, animism, anti-modernism, animal and earth liberation, and neoluddism. This was a very exciting and empowering experience, as I found friends and mentors who validated my experiences and encouraged me on my path of resisting and rewilding while continuing to study the effects of domestication on my species. However, I also encountered a lot of anger, judgment, and ignorance from many sources, namely fellow radicals. For a while I wrote their vitriol off as simple ignorance and misunderstanding, and made great efforts at attempting to bridge the ideological gap between myself and other radicals who were accusing me of various liberal epithets due to my self-identified categories. My frustrations turned to curiosity as I asked myself: why did so many radicals, specifically anarchists, have such a hard time understanding or hearing what I and others were saying about civilization?

Only recently, with the help of several patient and encouraging friends and many boring books, was I able to unravel the complexities of this question and understand that my fellow anarchists were right the whole time: anarchism, insofar as it is an appendage of socialism, Marxism, liberalism, the Enlightenment, Modernism, and civilization, is truly incompatible with my search for wildness.

For that matter, any ideological categories which draw their axioms from the well of civilization find themselves at odds with wildness - primitivism, deep ecology, eco-psychology, and many others. But this is not a polemic against any of these categories, I am not drawing any lines in the sand or banishing any ideologies from my presence; I am more interested in understanding what the base philosophical assumptions of these categories are so that we can explore their relationship to wildness.

And what are these base philosophical assumptions? I have distilled them down into ten basic myths that compose the philosophical framework of civilization. These are the assumptions of civilization as we know it. They have each evolved within specific contexts and traditions, and show up to varying extents in almost every modern religion, philosophy, and idea you've ever heard of. Of course this list is by no means exhaustive; it is intended only as a starting point for understanding some of the ways that we are influenced by civilization's assumptions, often without even being aware of it. These ten myths are, in no order of appearance or importance: Objectification, Progress, Anthropocentrism, Androcentrism, Dualism, Hierarchy, Power, Property, Morality, and Atomization. For those interested in a more exhaustive narrative of these ideas and how they have developed during the course of civilization, there are no shortage of books and essays on the subject[1].

Objectification is seeing another person as an object, it is the act of making someone Other; that is, the act of disconnecting from another being in a spiritual way so that you can act with violent hatred upon them. This typically takes place in three general ways: 1) the Other becomes a tool to serve you or help you get something you want; 2) the Other becomes an obstacle in the way of something you want; 3) the Other is irrelevant to you, they are dismissed due to anonymity. Objectification presupposes that there is a fundamental difference and distance between Self and Other. Objectification says that what is good for you is bad for me, and what is bad for you is good for me; it lays the groundwork for competition, scarcity, and every other philosophical assumption.

Progress is the belief that time progresses in a linear, observable, controllable, and predictable manner. Progress connotes that we have been somewhere that we can see and study and know with almost certainty, and therefore we can see where we are going with certainty. The combination of beliefs in (time- and place-fixed) Origins, Paradise, and linear Historical Time are the constituents of Progress. All political campaigns (right or left) are predicated on this fundamental myth of civilization, as the fear of a terrible past and the hope for a better future ensures that humans will continue accepting the terms of their society in the moment, no matter how terrible they are. instead of actualizing their desires in the present, they delay them for the future (Paradise). Instead of questioning the direction of Progress, they accept it, in all its horror, as better than their Origins. [2]

Anthropocentrism means human-centered. Any belief that assumes humans are the pinnacle of evolution, any religion which seeks the betterment of our species only, any philosophy which grants humans a level of sentience or privilege above other forms of life, is anthropocentric. Anthropocentrism makes all non-human life an objectified Other.

Androcentrism means male- or masculine- or yang-centered. Every person and every facet of the biotic community has potential yang and yin energy in them, it is not limited to sex, sexuality, gender, or species. The entire narrative of civilization can be understood as a gradual domination of yang energy over yin energy. Androcentrism is present whenever an ideology gives prominence to male/yang energy or accepts deterministic roles of sex, sexuality, and gender.

Dualism is the attempt to divide all experiences into two primary categories: that which is metaphysical/spiritual/relational/subjective/intuitive/irrational separated from the physical/material/objective/rational/factual/observable. This is a fundamentally desacralizing process, as it removes sacredness and mystery from everything, focusing only on what is left: dead, inert, predictable, controllable, exploitable matter. Dualism is different from experiencing dualistic forces in the world and attempting to live within them. I experience many dualistic forces: death/life, chaos/order, beauty/ugliness, fear/love, yin/yang, wildness/domestication, etc. but my approach to these forces is to strive to understand them so that I may live within them, not to dominate and control them. It is the difference between, having fallen into a raging river, attempting to fight against the current to freedom (nearly impossible, for those familiar with powerful rivers) or feeling what he water is doing, relaxing my body to match the energy of the river, and moving with the river until I can find an exit point. Dualism serves primarily to separate the physical from the metaphysical, to sever spiritual connection and accountability to the Other, and to separate our minds from our bodies.

Property is both the belief that somebody can own another living thing, a bioregion, a tool, or an idea, and the belief that everything can be reduced to a quantifiable value or a commodity (everything has a price). Property is the process of making everything humans have found useful, interesting, beautiful, or helpful in the universe commensurable; that is, establishing a baseline for trade (of which money is the reification of this concept). Property is an inherently desacralizing belief, as whatever can be bought or sold is no longer held sacred. This assumption lies at the base of all economic theories, for without price tags on things and people to own them, what use is a market economy? Property is predicated on Objectification, for we can only buy or sell that which is Other to us. Property also obfuscates and normalizes Power; instead of resisting Power and rejecting the lie of scarcity, we become focused on our access to the means of survival (money), and end up inadvertently reinforcing the whole system. Property replaces value with relationship.

Hierarchy is the belief that all of life is organized on a scale of importance, sentience, or value. Anthropocentrism and Androcentrism are both Hierarchical ideas, but because they are so invisible and ubiquitous, they earned their own designation. Hierarchy extends to more than just human or male dominance, it attempts to organize every form of life, every human experience, and every unit of knowledge or matter on a position within a pyramid. Atomization works alongside Hierarchy in this way; as Atomization separates life into smaller and smaller parts, Hierarchy places them all on a scale. The most obvious manifestation of Hierarchy is in Marxist class analysis, as most of us are somewhat aware of our position within the human hierarchy. Hierarchy also serves to legitimize and mystify Power, as Power imbalances become normalized and even encoded into Morality. The myth of Hierarchy is different from hierarchic relations between individual priorities and hierarchic relations within societies (many indigenous, nomadic, non-domesticated, gatherer-hunter societies have/had leaders and informal hierarchies.) This pack-hierarchy is still vastly different from the myth of Hierarchy which is a formal, fixed, all-encompassing belief in the value of certain people/things/places/ideas.

Power is whatever influences us to act in non-autonomous or non-authentic ways; it is that which carries out the narrative of Progress. Of course, there is no objective definition for what autonomous or authentic is, each person must decide for themselves what their authentic way of being is and how they are influenced to act differently. Power can be understood as the praxis of civilization, it is that which carries out the logic and processes of civilization and domestication. Power looks like coercion, manipulation, violence, oppression, injustice, and fear. Power is also very adept at hiding and manipulating, it takes much effort to realize the many ways that it manifests itself in civilization.

Morality is the myth that says, "The one right way to live is found outside of yourself, others have figured this out already, they know more about how you should live than you do." Another term for Morality is Objective Truth. It is an abstraction and function of Power, which means that it is another way of implementing the agenda of civilization. The myth of Morality is different from what one might call individual or unconventional morality, which are manifestations of Morality. Morality is also the process of internalizing and legitimizing Power, as once there is a cop in our head, the cop in the street has a much easier job. It is an objective set of laws, codes, rules, or correct modes of action which our culture teaches us. Morality is manifested most obviously in law and religion, but also shows up in many subtle and invisible ways throughout civilized cultures.

Atomization is the process of separating everything into tiny bits of matter or information with the intent of understanding and controlling them. This is also known as mechanistic reductionism. Just as Science strove to break down matter to the smallest unit possible (atoms), various fields of academia (the manufacturers of Modernist Truth) approach their subjects with equal intent. Atomization serves to reinforce separation and objectification; as we break down the biotic community into smaller and smaller bits of information, we lose context and connection with the Other. Atomization is the belief that the whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

Working from these incredibly brief descriptions, I will explore their influence on anarchism, primitivism, deep ecology, and ecopsychology. I am particularly interested in these four ideologies and the cultures surrounding them because they tend to hold much of the space that people who are attracted to wildness and resistance are drawn to, yet never seem to break past.

Anarchism: I have identified as an anarchist for many years now, with much pride and great dedication to the ideals and implications of said category. I remember reading my first anarchist text (I believe it was lady Goldman's "Anarchism and Other Essays") and feeling an incredible surge of validation and permission to see the world in terms of power and oppression. I burned flags, harassed cops, started a distro, engaged in extralegal activities, and participated in various rituals of dissent. I read all the tomes of anarchist history, and even contributed a little work of my own to the mix [3]. Anarchism introduced me to many of my best friends, opened my eyes to the complexities of Power and oppression, and carried me through a significant period of my life. I am, and will always be, an anarchist.

Anarchism is enormously important to understand (even if one does not agree with its tenets or identify with the culture) because it relentlessly questions and rejects Power more thoroughly than any other tradition. I understand Power to be the systems of coercion and violence which force us into non-authentic behaviors and beliefs. All forms of life on this planet have authentic forms of expression and autonomy (wildness), it takes an outside force (Power) to manipulate us into other ways of being. As civilization and domestication are predicated on this concept, understanding how Power perpetuates and manifests itself in our world is a major first step towards rewilding and resistance. While many individuals and -isms question or challenge some aspects of power, anarchism stands alone as (largely) uncompromising in its critique and rejection of systems of power. It is unfortunate that the anarchist critique has been so stigmatized, demonized, co-opted, and mostly just ignored in academic discourse; I see this ignorance in almost every book I read and every conversation I have. Anarchism, unanchored from its historical and philosophical context, can be understood as simply the study and rejection of Power. As I understand civilization to be the most massive manifestation of Power to ever take place on this planet, it follows that, as an anarchist, I study and reject the language, culture, ritual, mythology, technology, and processes of civilization.

But what am I to think of other anarchists who are engaged in activities that I consider ignorant of and complicit with Power (and they feel the same way about me)? How do I make sense of my friend who is constantly encouraging others to participate in the economy, so that they can build anarcho-syndicalist unions and take over their respective industries? What do I say to a comrade who criticizes my animal liberation activities because I am disenchanting farm-workers from radicalism and besides, "the animals will never organize"? How is it that we can occupy the same ideological space? The simple answer is to qualify my anarchism with the prefix of "green/anti-civ" or suffix of "primitivist," but I think another answer lies in the history and philosophical development of anarchism.

Let's work backwards. Anarchism can be understood as a non-hierarchical variant of socialism, as the first anarchists were all contemporaries or students of Marx but with less totalitarian leanings: a suspicious Marxism. Marxism/Socialism was born out of Liberalism, a social/political development of the Enlightenment - a nice word that really just means, "The birth of Modernism." Modernism, in the narrative of Western philosophy, signified the transition of Truth and Power being firmly placed in the hands of the prophets of Science, Production, Industry, and Logic. We could go farther back, but I think I made my point. Anarchism, as a branch of Western political philosophy, is ultimately an ideological extension of civilization. Anthropocentrism, Androcentrism, Progress, Objectification, Dualism, Morality, Atomization, Progress, even Property and Hierarchy show up in some (hotly contested) strains of anarchism. This becomes more apparent when the writings of early anarchists are closely analyzed, especially their memoirs, prison writings, and personal correspondences. These early prophets of anarchism are not interested in reveling in wild places, foraging for food, or having conversations with coyotes. They are firm believers in Industry, they glorify work and the working man, their eschatological depictions of utopia sound like a world that I would love to burn.

When I began understanding anarchism as a post-Christian religion, a sort of Marxist postmodernism, a lot of cultural nuances started to make sense for me. For one, the incessant infighting and finger-pointing that anarchism is (regrettably, but accurately) known for. When Anarchism is posited as an Objective Morality, it grants legitimacy to the self-professed priests of anarchism who regulate anarchist Morality and punish offenders harshly (usually with pies, bricks, or long facebook rants.) This potentiality for Moralism is heightened because anarchism is a negativist term. When I say it's a negativist term, I mean that it points away from a world of "archism," but it doesn't point towards anything else; it defines what it is against, but it doesn't even try to define what it for. In those rare moments where we find ourselves free of domination and authority, anarchists are left wondering: what do we do now? This wouldn't be a problem if Power was only an external force. Unfortunately the "cop in our heads," the ever-present specter of domestication/colonization, tends to show up even when there are no cops present.[4]

When I say that anarchism is a Moral term, I mean that it very often ends up becoming an abstract, externally-legitimized Truth concept which we should aspire to live up to. Anarchism fills the space that so many of us, having grown up in a thoroughly civilized world, are convinced must exist. We all carry around the DNA of civilization in us, and we all tend to reproduce it at a moment's notice. For those who, like myself, had an extra helping of domestication served to us by growing up in the context of Christian fundamentalism, this need to have a template of objective Truth is very hard to shed.

Anarchism fills this role perfectly: we have our origin story of the dark and sinful past of Hierarchy, Property, and Statism; our prophets and ancient texts which show us the path to enlightenment; our salvation moments of liberation; our clearly defined enemies - fascists, Statists, and their ilk; our own rituals and rites of passage; our own language and culture which nurtures young people into full membership; and our own utopian visions of the future.

All of this culture can be very healing and meaningful, as it has been to me and many of my friends. The problem arises when an objective model takes the place of subjective experience; that is, when it becomes Moral. When Johnny Anarchist says "THIS is what anarchism is, and anyone who isn't doing this is doing it wrong," well, that's a very Christian (and therefore, very Modernist/Civilized) thing to say. There is nothing inherently Moral in the word "anarchist," the Morality comes from the history and context that anarchism has grown from, as well as from the world full of people walking around who need such a Morality compass in order to understand the world... even if that compass is provided from such dubious characters as anarchists.

I am an anarchist to the extent that I study and resist Power. I am not an anarchist to the extent that I spend my life trying to live up to Anarchist morality, culture, and eschatology. As someone who is actively rewilding my Self, attempting to extricate the DNA of civilization that I carry around with me, I have no need for anybody's Truth or Morality, even the good lady Goldman's.

Primitivism: My first experiences with primitivism were not ideological; they were practical - I began learning primitive technology when I was 19, at my first wilderness therapy program. Although I had dabbled in bushcraft and survival skills, I was totally unprepared for this world of ancestral wisdom and how it would affect me. Over the next several months, I wandered around the Desert with a group of socially maladjusted young adults, learning how to make friction fire, flint knives and arrow points, willow-frame backpacks, baskets, pottery, and cordage with only my hands and whatever the Desert generously provided as my tools. I immediately fell in love with this simple way of making and using tools, and have not stopped making, learning, and teaching ancestral skills since the day I was first introduced. I have since taught this ancient wisdom at primitive skills schools, programs, and camps, sharing my passion for these ancient methods of non-specialized technology. The experience of creating something incredibly beautiful and useful with only your hands is deeply healing and spiritual. There's a very good reason why it is an integral part of (a few) wilderness therapy programs.

I came to my ideological understanding of primitivism primarily through the works of John Zerzan, when I stumbled across a copy of his "Future Primitive" several years ago. That essay, along with Zerzan's work in general, impacted me so much that I packed up my meager belongings and moved thousands of miles away to his town in Oregon, in order to study and mentor under him. I read every work of radical anthropology I could find, met with Zerzan weekly, and slowly worked my way through all the great primitivist texts. I befriended many other anarcho-primitivists as well, strove to understand their language and culture, and (hopefully) contributed to the work of anarcho-primitivist theory through the dozens of essays I published on the subject. Primitivism has greatly shaped who I am and my understanding of the universe. I am an anarcho-primitivist, and I always will be.

Primitivism is built heavily on the work and assumptions of the radical anthropologists/archaeologists: those scientists who have rejected the civilized narrative about uncivilized peoples, trying to experience indigenous cultures with openness and humility rather than arrogance and violence. This is incredibly valuable and important work for many reasons, two obvious ones being: a) primitivism exposes the Hobbesian assumption of non-civilized life as false (this assumption being the axiom of the argument for a social contract aka participation in mass society) and b) primitivism brings many ancient beliefs, cultures, and practices to the table for us rewilders to learn from. As a radically domesticated animal awkwardly stumbling my way towards wildness, it is extremely helpful to be able to read stories of non-domesticated peoples and know that I am not hopelessly delusional - there is another way of being with the world that does not involve violence, deception, genocide, and hatred at every corner. There are thousands of human cultures that have lived and are living in happy, healthy, connected, sustainable, and meaningful communities, and their stories (which the primitivists bring to me) are invaluable in my search towards a similar way of life.

Primitivism has its limits, however. Anthropology/archaeology (no matter how radical) is an extension of Science, it is a product of Modernism, it is a function of Civilization and Progress. Primitivists who formulate models of Truth based off anthropological data are ultimately looking at wildness through a heavily domesticated filter. Anthropological research is, by definition, a presentation of the lifeways of a certain culture as experienced through a person heavily trained and indoctrinated in Modernism/Scientism. Not only are the beliefs and experiences of a particular indigenous population highly specific to their bioregion (making them somewhat irrelevant when taken out of that context), but these beliefs and experiences are then observed through an agent of civilization (the anthropologist), sorted and organized according to a scientific formula, and then presented through another heavy filter of symbolic culture - written language.

When a person interested in learning about a specific non-civilized culture reads a book on this culture, they experience this narrative through several layers of domestication. Reading these books/essays or listening to lectures on non-civilized cultures can be an incredibly powerful, relevant, and healing experience (as it has been to me), but we can easily forget the context that the narrative takes place in and begin automatically building a model of Objective Truth in our heads: we take a culture out of their context, idealize them, and then hold ourselves (and others) to that standard. I've done it, and I've seen many others do it as well. Social trends of indigenous peoples become Morality, highly theoretical accounts of ancient peoples become Historical Truth, and we begin attempting to define what "primitive" is and isn't. It's kind of ridiculous, but that's what domestication does to us.

One huge obstacle to the body of work that primitivism presents is simply the name itself. I would say that a good 80% of the conversations/arguments I have had with people who are struggling to understand primitivism stem from this: they are unable to see past the racist, ignorant, Hobbesian assumptions of "primitive peoples." This has led some efforts to redefine it as "aboriginalism" or "ancestral lifeways," which I think are worthwhile efforts, but doesn't really change the fact that no matter what we call it, it always subtly conveys a belief in Progress. It does this by bringing up a linear time scale in our heads, in which primitive peoples are in the far left-bottom corner of a steep staircase that climbs steadily towards the upper-right side of the screen/page, with the pinnacle of civilization as the tip of the staircase on the right side. Primitivists are seen as trying to reverse this image by presenting the "primitive" as an ideal moment of Historical Time, a golden age, a garden of eden, with a long descent into domestication and civilization. While I would tend to agree with the primitivist narrative, I also realize that the concept of Historical Time itself is a function of civilization; there is no Time, there is no History or future or Progress, there is only the present moment. The wild one has no concern over what did happen or what may happen, they are only interested in what is happening. Although speculations about our past may indeed be fascinating and illuminating, it is ultimately an act of plier-wrestling… trying to use the tool of Time to free ourselves from Time.

A second problem with describing a culture as "primitive" is that there is no specific cultural aspect which this word refers to. "Primitive" can refer to one or more of many different cultural aspects, and there is little consensus as to what warrants the designation of "primitive," even among primitivists. This opens up primitivism to much confusion and ignorance. This is very different from words such as "indigenous" which describes a human culture with a long-established relationship with a particular bioregion; "nomadic" which describes a human culture that moves seasonally within a given bioregion; or "gatherer-hunter" which describes a culture that obtains food from gathering wild foods, scavenging, and hunting other animals. The word "primitive," if anything, describes cultures that look so different from ours that we don't know what to call them, so we lump them all under an umbrella category; which is where the legacy of Hobbes and the origins of anthropology/archaeology reveal their ugly heads.

To be clear, many self-identified primitivists, myself included, intend no such homogenization or disrespect in our usage of the word. If anything, our acceptance of the term is an attempt at reclaiming language, as for centuries the word has carried blatantly negative and racist imagery. Proudly reclaiming an insulting term is an affront to and means of taking power away from the dominant historical narrative, and I believe that is partly why the word has developed into the ideology that it is today. Obviously, those who identify as primitivists do not come from "primitive" cultures, so the argument for language reclaiming fails somewhat.

I have drawn much meaning for my own life from studying various works of anthropology, archaeology, and primitivism, and will continue to do so. However, I also realize the limitations of the medium, my tendency to erect temples to Primitive Truth in my head (Morality), and the connotations of Time, History, Progress, and Hobbesian assumptions that the word "primitive" carries. I am a primitivist to the extent that I read accounts of various human cultures and I weigh that narrative with my own context and experience, attempting to learn from other cultures successes and failures. I am not a primitivist to the extent that I take these accounts to be objective Truth, that I rely on linear Historical Time to guide my actions or beliefs, or that I create definitions (Morals) of what/who is "primitive" and what/who isn't.

Many non-civilized cultures (according to anthropologists) engage in practices that I find horrific from my domesticated point of view: casual beating of women, torture of human and non-human animals, infanticide, and genital mutilation. As I read these accounts, I weigh them against my own contextual reality and realize that I don't think these specific practices relate to me and my community... and I move on. I then read accounts of non-civilized cultures engaging in practices that I find inspiring and challenging: gift economies, ecstatic dances with groves of trees, and an incredible level of connection with other forms of life. I read this, weigh it against my own contextual reality, realize that it does relate to me and my community, and try to implement these lessons in my daily life. I don't enshrine any human culture, any particular time-period, or any cultural feature as an ideal. Like anarchism, I have learned much from the world of primitivism, but I also realize where it limits me in my quest towards wildness. I simply and gratefully take what serves me, leave the rest, and move on.

Deep Ecology: I was introduced to deep ecology around the same time I began diving into the world of anarcho-primitivism, as the two ideologies share much in common (albeit through very different narratives and cultures.) Through deep ecology, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge and context of my relationships within the biotic community and I embraced many of the concepts that it introduced me to. I am, and will always be, a deep ecologist.

On the surface, deep ecology simply stands for "interspecies egalitarianism," or "biocentrism," the belief that all forms of life have inherent value. Sounds great. As an intellectual tradition, deep ecologists study relationships between humans and other forms of life on this planet within the context of this belief. Awesome. As I began reading deep ecology texts and corresponding with various biologists and ecologists who identified with deep ecology, I slowly realized that there was more to this ideology than I first realized. Subtle racism and classism were present in many works, as well as an overall ignorance of the realities of social change and Power. After several years of immersing myself in the language and culture of the deep ecologists, I began to realize that although their narrative of ecology may indeed be deep, their narrative of political and social Power is very shallow. [5]

What do I mean by this? Well, many of the individuals who have created the culture and language of deep ecology are trained as ecologists, conservationists, and biologists. They, like the anthropologists who laid the foundations of primitivism, are highly trained prophets of Science/Progress/Civilization. They observe the world around them through heavily domesticated lenses and their arguments for interspecies equality rest on Modernist assumptions of Progress, Androcentrism, and Objectification. Deep ecologists rarely look outside this system for answers to the very real problems that they perceive in the world. How does this work? How do you make an argument for equality within a system of inequality? Well, you have to play the Leftism/Reformism game, in which you are allowed to swap out a few blocks on the bottom row of the pyramid (in this case, highly endangered or important species or habitats) for a few blocks a couple rows up (in this case, less-endangered or less-important species or habitats) and... voila! Progress!

Just don't ask a deep ecologist where the pyramid came from or why we aren't smashing the pyramid, because more often than not they can be found sitting somewhere near the top of it.

This largely explains why the current applications of deep ecology - legal protection of wild species and places - are so limited in resisting civilization and ecocide. While I welcome any tactics which effectively defend wildness against the onslaught of civilization, the fact that the potentially radical claims of deep ecology have been reduced to arguments for legal protection of endangered ecosystems and species is incredibly telling to me and demonstrates a staggering ignorance of systems of Power. Law is simply codified, mystified, and reified Power, and any protections secured under the auspices of Power are always symbolic and temporary respites from destruction. While deep ecologists may gamble with the legal system and make some small (and much publicized) wins, they either don't know or pretend not to know that the House always wins in the end. [6]

I see no clearer illustration of this ignorance than in the example set by Arne Naess, considered by many to be the founding father of Deep Ecology. In 1970, he famously chained himself to a large boulder at Mardola Falls in his home country of Norway, to protest the construction of a dam. The police came, removed Arne and his companions, and the dam was built anyways. There was no monkeywrenching, no sabotage, no violent outrage, no effective resistance to Power. For all of Naess's beautiful essays and moving depictions of his relationships with non-human life, when it came down to it, he settled for symbolic pacifist dissent.[7]

Racist and classist undertones play into the culture of deep ecology as well, as many environmental radicals argue for increased border security (to protect "our" natural resources), increased regulation and protection of nature reserves (to prevent ignorant poor people from fouling up these pristine locations), more funding for "sustainable technology" (as if such a thing existed), and some even go so far as to argue that disease and mass starvation in the Global South is a positive step towards sustainability, as less humans to feed means less environmental destruction. This shocking undercurrent of deep ecology is made less shocking when one realizes that ecologists are not trained in sociology, political science, philosophy, or history. They are trained only in Ecology, they have little awareness of anything else. They are victims of Atomism, one of the philosophical pillars of civilization which (when manifested in academia) strives to isolate fields of scientific inquiry to the extent that scientists lose touch with the rest of the world that is not currently under their microscope.[8] Academics' works and lives are so incredibly specific that they have little time or interest in other fields of study. The implications of philosophy, sociology, political science, anthropology, or any other facets of Science have little relevance to an ecologist, and thus they often fall prey to leftism, offering strategies for the defense of wildness that never question civilization.

The deep ecologists see that (civilized human) overpopulation, pollution, climate change, deforestation, and species extinction are very real problems, but they fail to see that agriculture and civilization are the sources of these problems. The vast majority of deep ecology work presupposes a feudalist agricultural society, and then attempts to mitigate the environmentally destructive aspects of said society with biocentric principles. They accept Modernist assumptions of Power, Progress, linear Historical Time, Atomization, Property, Morality, Androcentrism, Hierarchy, and Dualism. Their critique of Anthropocentrism is limited in that it does not differentiate between civilized and uncivilized ways of being, and therefore all human cultures get lumped together and painted with the same misanthropic paintbrush. While I am no particular fan of my species, my awareness of other human cultures tells me that the problem lies not within humanity, but within civilization.

In reading deep ecology texts, one gets the feeling that these writers have an incredibly romantic, unrealistic, and disconnected view of the world. They have spent countless hours studying environmentalist texts, ecological systems models, and conducting research on highly controlled and specific subjects, but they have yet to break through their barrier of domestication and fully engage in wildness. So much deep ecology work is theoretical, not personal; objective, not subjective. Instead of fully embracing illogical, irrational wildness, they feel the need to measure, quantify, qualify, and present Logical, Rational arguments for protecting abstract notions of "Nature." They are, ultimately, Postmodern ecologists - they sense that the Modernist assumptions and presentations of ecology are destructive and disconnected, but they have yet to break through their barrier of domestication to fully embrace wildness in all its forms.

I am a deep ecologist in the sense that I believe all forms of life are beautiful, sacred, and valuable. I am not a deep ecologist in the sense that I believe that we should create systems of Power to defend idealistic conceptions of "Nature" from poor non-white people. As with anarchism and primitivism, it seems that deep ecology offers many helpful critiques and perspectives in regards to my relationship with wildness, yet ultimately falls short of totally rejecting civilization and domestication; therefore, I take away what I can, and move on.

Ecopsychology: My introduction to ecopsychology was, like primitivism, primarily practical; it began when I entered the Wilderness Therapy industry as a teenager. Amazingly, I spent many years as a wilderness therapy guide before I ever heard of ecopsychology. When I finally discovered a copy of Theodore Roszak's "Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind," a few years ago, I was immediately hooked. Within this book, I read stories of fellow guides and therapists who were describing the same magical experiences that I had been participating in for years. They wrote about inexplicably powerful healings which take place when you place domesticated human in remote wilderness settings. I read every book I could find on the subject, and soon began corresponding with various authors and practitioners in the ecopsychology world (I'm sure you're noticing a theme by now). I have since worked for several wilderness therapy companies over the past decade, and have pretty much decided that it is my life's work. I am, and will always be, an ecopsychologist.

Ecopsychology is important because it is the only field which addresses the internal (Self, subjective) implications of Power and civilization. There was a growing movement of radical therapists and antipsychiatrists in the 1970's and 80's in the US, Canada, and Europe, but the movement has completely disappeared and their impact on radical theory and Psychiatry was negligible. While civilization has been critiqued from many standpoints, ecopsychology stands alone as critiquing the personal impacts of civilization. Ecopsychologists have done an excellent job of illustrating the many ways that we are inextricably tied to the fate of the Other: for every act of hatred and violence we inflict on the Earth, we become disconnected and alienated from reality. Ecopsychology has attracted many healers who intuitively feel that human suffering and loss of meaning is caused by our disconnection from ourselves, from human community, and from the biotic community.

Pretty early on in my foray into ecopsychology, I started noticing the influences of civilization on this potentially radical exploration into the effects of domestication on our species. Like anarchism, primitivism, and deep ecology, the initial offerings of ecopsychology are incredibly inspiring and challenging, yet upon further inquiry into the philosophical assumptions of the field, I discovered that it ultimately falls short of a true critique of civilization and domestication. As with primitivism and deep ecology, ecopsychologists are highly trained priests of Modernism. Psychiatry is the practice of eliminating or attempting to eliminate anti-Progress behavior; it is also understood as applied Cartesian Dualism. It is therefore a function of Power, and ecopsychology can be understood as potentially the most radical manifestation of Psychiatric Power being practiced today. Ecopsychology is a sort of psychiatric postmodernism: it intuitively feels that the Psychiatry born out of Modernism (Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Maslow, Erikson, etc.) is limited, disconnecting, and destructive, yet it doesn't really offer anything better, as its assumptions are built on the same philosophical pillars of civilization.

Ecopsychology is very closely associated with and related to deep ecology; the two fields share much culture, language, context, and figureheads. They also fall for many of the same blunders. As highly trained prophets of Science, ecopsychologists are victims of Atomism [9] just as the deep ecologists are: they are disconnected from anything that lies outside their sphere of study: political and social dynamics, colonialism, environmental destruction, etc. As a field, ecopsychology specifically fails on three main points: its total ignorance of Power, its hearty endorsement of Progress, and its blind acceptance of Dualism.

The statement that ecopsychology is ignorant of Power hardly needs to be explained to those who have had any sort of interaction with it. Ecopsychologists are almost invariably rich white men and women who offer therapeutic camping experiences to those who can afford their hefty fees. People of color and the working-class are conspicuously absent from this world, and little effort is made at including them. Schools and programs built on the principles of ecopsychology offer various rites-of-passage experiences to fellow members of the upper class, in which they (worn-out from their stressful careers of facilitating Power and Progress) participate in culturally-appropriated ceremonies and experiences that will alleviate the symptoms of disconnection just enough to allow them to head back out to civilization to continue their careers of destruction. I have experienced this personally with programs that routinely work with CEO's of large corporations, defense contractors, and various captains of Industry, without ever mentioning or working from the eighth principle of ecopsychology, "there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being." Of course, to actually mention this Self-Other parabola would be to hold these powerful men and women accountable for their destructive actions, which is not really conducive to running a profitable business.

No, clients of ecopsychology are almost never challenged to re-evaluate their personal life choices or careers, and resistance to Power is never mentioned as a therapeutic tool. Ecopsychology has been almost totally commodified and co-opted into a feel-good camping experience for rich white people, replete with mythology, ceremonies, and rituals borrowed from cultures that civilization has destroyed and consumed; all radical critiques of civilization have been neatly swept under the rug and any potential for rewilding the Self has been drowned in a sea of Science and Progress.

Wildness is never confronted on its own terms but is rather presented as a romantic, abstract, tamed force known as "Nature," similar to how caged animals are presented to children in zoos. As David Brower said about California Condors in captivity, "You can't take a California Condor out of the wild and put it in an L.A. zoo and still have a Condor, because the being of the Condor does not end at those black feathers at the tips of its wings. It's the rising thermals over the Coast Range. It's the rocky crag where she lays her egg. It's the carrion she feeds on. The Condor is place and we are place, too. [10]" Likewise, bioregions are re-presented as "nature zoos," and ecopsychology becomes a highly ritualized form of ecotourism to these zoos. "Nature" to ecopsychologists (and deep ecologists) is a simulacra of wildness, it exists as a hyperreal version of reality which we can approach on our terms, it is as far removed from wildness as the "incarcerated gene banks" of the few remaining California Condors.

As far as Cartesian Dualism goes, many books and essays on ecopsychology contain admirable attempts at dissolving the barrier between mind and body that Descartes is famously known for, but I have yet to read a book or work with a therapist that finally does away with this incredibly disconnecting and destructive facet of civilization. I can imagine how hard it must be to see past Dualism when you are an applied Dualist; if an applied Dualist (psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist) ever actually rejected Dualism, they would have to completely redefine their function in society for themselves and for their clients. No, it is much easier (and profitable) to present abstract, new-agey, culturally-appropriated, Descartes-approved concepts of Self that make your clients feel good about themselves and their role in the universe.

Although, there is a recent trend in Psychiatry, known as psychosomatic theory, which plays with the possibility that Descartes was full of shit. There has been some incredible work done in this field, and many influential prophets of Psychiatry are integrating psychosomatic theory into their work. [11] While psychosomatic theory does contribute to ecopsychology, it always stays within the realm of therapy and is rarely pulled into the arena of everyday life. If it did get out, imagine the consequences! To think what horrors would occur if a logging baron was to suddenly inhabit his body as he sentenced millions of Trees to their death, if a mother was encouraged to trust her primal instincts as she considered sending her children off to compulsory schooling, or if a young man followed his bodily impulses and intervened on a police beating. Cartesian Dualism is a foundation of civilization primarily because it is needed to prevent situations such as these, and ecopsychology isn't about to take on the responsibility of challenging it.

As with anarchism, primitivism, and deep ecology, I have learned much about myself and my role in the universe from the world of ecopsychology. Ecopsychology has introduced me to many good friends and mentors, has challenged many of my beliefs, has taught me many techniques for facilitating healing experiences through wildness, and will probably remain an integral part of my life for quite some time. I am deeply indebted to the many therapists who have taken me under their wing and initiated me into the world of ecopsychology. However, I realize that ecopsychology, as a function of Psychiatry, Modernism, and Civilization, is ultimately limited in providing guidance and context for those attempting to un-domesticate themselves and embrace wildness completely. Again, I must gratefully accept the experiences and lessons that ecopsychology has taught me, weigh them against my own immediate reality and communal context, take what serves my journey while leaving what doesn't, and move on.

Wildism: What lies beyond these categories of anarchism, primitivism, deep ecology, and ecopsychology? I'm not sure, but I have some ideas. When I began exploring the philosophical underbelly of civilization, a lot of seeming contradictions, discrepancies, and conflicts surrounding these and other ideologies began to make sense. I realized that any attempt to formulate a philosophy which fully embraces wildness would also have to thoroughly reject civilization in all its subtle and insidious forms. The schools of thought which led me to this precipice suddenly abandoned me: there was no guidebook for what I was attempting to explore. I felt that whatever I was searching for would have to be grounded in a thoroughly subjective, relational experience with wildness and would have to embrace connection on all levels: with the Self, with human community, and with the biotic community.

After much soul-searching, long talks with patient friends, and sorting through hundreds of old Latin and Greek words for a symbol that encapsulated what I was looking for, I finally decided upon "Wildism" as an appropriate term for what I was attempting to articulate. Wildism is simple, it is accessible, and it is (so far) indefinable. It is simple in the fact that everyone can formulate a basic conception of wildness. It is accessible in that it doesn't rely on obscure Latin or Greek roots or require in-depth explanations of what it means. It is indefinable in that it presents a direction, rather than a definition. Wildness is that which escapes the rigid boundaries of symbolic language, it is whatever roams freely outside the fences of domestication, it is everything that has escaped/resisted domination, civilization, modernism, and scientism, it is by definition indefinable. Wildism is a philosophical tool for exploring wildness, thus it exists as the antithesis of Civilization and all its philosophical assumptions: Objectification, Androcentrism, Anthropocentrism, Progress, Atomism, Hierarchy, Atomization, Dualism, Property, Power, and Morality. [12]

Wildism helps me rewild myself by exposing my domestication - the mythology of civilization which I have internalized. Wildism is a tool I use to escape the boundaries of Objectification by restoring relationships and learning to see other forms of life as equally worthy of respect, to reject Dualism by focusing on the unity of the Self and the larger-than-Self, to move past Anthropocentrism to biocentrism, to overthrow Androcentrism by honoring femininity, to refuse Progress by realizing that there is only ever one moment worth consideration - this one, to defy Power by resisting oppression and refusing to oppress others, to ignore Atomism by learning all I can about the world around me, to confront Hierarchy as I treat all forms of life with respect, to forget about Property as currency loses all value within the context of relationships, and to forego Morality for primal body wisdom.

Wildism is a positivist term which fills the vacuum that anarchism, anti-civilization, anti-technology, anti-racism, anti-modernism, etc. has created. Wildism is for something: it is for a relationship with wildness. And what do I mean by wildness? Well, I can't even try to define that for you, only you can, because it is your relationship. Wildism is not an abstract idea nor an objective Truth concept with clearly defined borders and limitations; it is a deeply personal and ever-evolving dance with chaos and mystery. Wildism is a committed relationship to the wildness outside and inside of us, and like any relationship, it is subject to dynamic forces beyond our comprehension or control. It is very hard to fit wildism into our domesticated templates because they were made for abstract, impersonal ideas, not for relationships. Of course, just because I picked a hard-to-define word doesn't mean that the minute I publish this essay, domesticated humans will immediately begin constructing new mythology, Morality, eschatology, culture, and language around this concept. That is, unfortunately, inevitable; domestication is not undone by simply arranging words in a fancy new way that magically breaks the stranglehold of civilization. I fully realize that I am still firmly grasping the pliers in both hands as I write this; my thoughts, words, and experiences are still highly disconnected forms of symbolic expression that take place within the confines of civilization. The wild that can be named is not the eternal Wild.

I have no fantasies of starting any type of "Wildist movement" or inspiring others to begin identifying themselves as Wildists… I don't really care about any of that. If the concepts or terms "anarchist," "primitivist," "deep ecologist," "ecopsychologist," or any other identifying categories hold meaning for you and facilitate your journey, then I encourage you to pursue them and continue finding meaning in them. If not, then I encourage you to let them go and explore what lies beyond those categories. As someone who is actively exploring my own relationship with wildness, I am simply sharing some of my thoughts and experiences that I have had along my journey in the hopes that they might help you on your path away from civilization and into the wild.


[1] "The Idea of Wilderness" by Max Oelschlaeger and ""Traces on the Rhodian Shore" by Clarence Glacken are excellent narratives of the developing philosophical underpinnings of civilization

[2] For more on the myth of Progress, read Paul Feyerabend's "The Tyranny of Science" and John Zerzan's "Time and its Discontents"

[3] "Elements of Resistance: Violence, Nonviolence, and the State" - Jeriah Bowser

[4] Frantz Fanon wrote heavily on this subject.

[5] For a more thorough critique of deep ecology, read "How Deep is Deep Ecology?" by George Bradford (1989) as well as "Deep Ecology and Anarchism: A Polemic" which can be found online at:

[6] For a great example of the temporary and symbolic nature of environmental protection within the legal system, spend an afternoon researching the history of the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) process that the US Forest Service has been using to decimate wilderness areas over the past 50 years. Dave Foreman's 1991 book, "Confessions of an Eco-Warrior" talks extensively about this process.

[7] "Wisdom in the Air: The Norwegian Roots of Deep Ecology" - Peter Red, David Rothenberg (1993)

[8] other terms for Atomism are 'specialization insularity' or 'parochialism'

[9] other terms for Atomism are 'specialization insularity' or 'parochialism'

[10] quoted from Dave Foreman in the "Listening to the Land" anthology, edited by Derrick Jensen (2002)

[11] Most notable is Bessel Van Der Kolk's work on trauma and the body.

[12] It has come to my attention that the term 'Wildism' is being used by the folks over at . Please note that it is not the same thing as what I outlined here.