Wildism & Eco-Extremism; An Intro & A Critique

    Individualists Tending toward the Wild

    The group's origins broadly

    On eco-extremism and anarchy

    There’s Nothing Anarchist about Eco-Fascism

    More non-news about the “Eco-Extremist Mafia”

  An Interview with John Jacobi

  History and Impact of Earth First!

  Dialogue on Wildism and Eco-Extremism

    1 Introduction

    2 Opening Statements

      2.1 John Jacobi

      2.2 MictlanTepetli

    3 Paganism

      3.1 John Jacobi

      3.2 MictlanTepetli

      3.3 John Jacobi

      3.4 MictlanTepetli

      3.5 John Jacobi

      3.6 MictlanTepetli

    4 Indiscriminate Attack

      4.1 John Jacobi

      4.2 MictlanTepetli

      4.3 John Jacobi

      4.4 MictlanTepetli

      4.5 John Jacobi

      4.6 MictlanTepetli

      4.7 John Jacobi

        4.7.1 Suicidal Conflict

        4.7.2 A Major Discrimination

        4.7.3 Our Capacity for Empathy

      4.8 MictlanTepetli

    5 Teochichimecas and the Past

      5.1 John Jacobi

      5.2 MictlanTepetli

    6 Rewilding and Reaction

      6.1 John Jacobi

      6.2 MictlanTepetli

      6.3 John Jacobi

        6.3.1 Organization

        6.3.2 Factionalism

        6.3.3 Illegalism

      6.4 MictlanTepetli

      6.5 John Jacobi

      6.6 MictlanTepetli

      6.7 John Jacobi

    7 Final Statements

      7.1 John Jacobi

      7.2 MictlanTepetli

  Repent to the Primitive





    The Nature/Artifice Distinction









    Human Nature and Will








    The Meaning of Progress




    A Promised Future



















    The Origin of Civility
















    Repent to the Primitive















  The Foundations of Wildist Ethics

    1. Introduction

    2. Consilience in Ethics

      A. The Is/Ought Problem

      B. Explaining Ethics with Biology

      C. The Implications of the Biological Explanation

        1. Moral Relativism

        2. Free Will and Responsibility

        3. Biological Limits to Knowledge

        4. Summary

      D. From Scientific Explanation to Ethical Science

        1. Importance of First Principles

        2. Examples of Ethical Sciences

        3. The Necessity of Ethical Science

    3. The Ethical Principles of Wildism

      A. The Value of Nature

        1. The Meaning of Wild Nature

        2. Values and Valuers

        3. The Autonomy of Nature

        4. How Much Value?

        5. Other Values

      B. The Cosmos as Divinity

      C. The Critique of Progress

        1. Why the Critique is Important

        1) Limits to Reason

        D. Conserving Human Nature

        1) The Meaning of Human Nature

        2) Linking the Two Natures

        3) Humans Need Not Apply

        4) Man and His Relations

        5) The Case of Social Progressivism

        6) The Social Progressivist’s Trick

        8) The Bad Parts of Human Nature

        9) Race, Eugenics, and Social Darwinism

        a) The Science of Human Variation

        b) Conservation and Eugenics

        c) The Anti-Industrial Left

        d) Biodiversity versus Wildness

      E. Anti-Industrial Reaction

      F. Wildlands Conservation

    IV. Summary

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Bibliography

  The Meaning of Human Nature

        I. Scientific Materialist Worldview

        II. The Concept of Nature

        III. The Technical Meaning of Human Nature

        IV. Human Variation

        V. Human Nature Versus the Essence of Being Human

        VI. Human Nature Versus Human Biology

        VII. “Biological,” “Natural,” and “Innate” Do NoT MEAN “UNCHANGEABLE”

        VIII. Response to Marxist and Leftist Criticisms

        IX. Bibliography

  Refuting the Apartheid Alternative


    I. Introduction

    II. The Empirical Problems

    III. The Moral Concerns

      A. The Other Side

      B. Martyrdom

      C. Humans on the Nature Side?

      D. A Note on Collapse

      IV. The Dangers of Half-Earth Rhetoric

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Bibliography

  Review: Green Delusions by Martin Lewis

    I. Introduction

    II. A Book with Few Weaknesses

    I. Rarely Challenges Wildism

    IV. Conclusion

    V. Bibliography

  Freedom Club Issue #1: Who are the Luddites?

      Editor’s Note

      The Tseringma Pilgrimage, 1971: An eco-philosophic ‘anti-expedition’

      No More Monkey Mind

      In Defense of Plants

      Life, a continuation

      Technological Vertigo: A Review of Black Mirror

      Interview with IRL, anti-tech graffiti artist

      Scrublands: What Living Off-the-Grid in Europe Looks Like

  The Wildernist Issue #1: For the Wild

      Submit to The Wildernist

      Editor’s Note

      Chapter 1 . Wildism: A Statement of Principles

        Our Principles

        Our Ideal

        Our Ob jective

        Our Work

        Dangers to Avoid

      Chapter 2 . The Myth of Erk

      Chapter 3 . Interview with Dave Foreman

      4. On the Question of Technological Slavery: A Reply to Lippman and Campbell

      5. Our Primal Future: Some

        Thoughts in a Time of Droughts, Fires and Storms

      6. Leftism: The function of pseudo-critique and pseudo-revolution in techno-industrial society



      Chapter 7 . Tapirs: North America’s Forgotten Megafauna

      Chapter 8 . #OutsideEveryDay

      Chapter 9 . The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon

      Chapter 10 . The Revolutionary Importance of Science: A Response to Alex Gorrion








      Chapter 11. Prehistoric Art, Imagined and Real

        Art and its origins

        Ice Age art forms

        Painting in the dark for thousands of years

        A pocketful of symbols


        Read more

      Chapter 12. The Story Behind Our Name

  The Wildernist Issue #2: First Steps

      About The Wildernist

      The History Behind Our Name

      Our Editorial Position

      Editor’s Note on Issue #2

      Chapter 1 . Wildernism or Wildism?

      Chapter 2 . A World Without Bees

      The Causes

      What’s Next?

      Referenced Works

      Chapter 3 . The History of Bison in Southeastern North America

      Referenced Works

      Chapter 4 . The Skinny on the Endangered Species Act: Why This Law Matters

      The Endangered Species Act’s Critical Importance

      How the Endangered Species Act Works

      Citizen Involvement is Key

      Keeping the Endangered Species Act Strong

      Chapter 5 . A Special Place and How It Was Lost

      Chapter 6 . A World of Lions

      Chapter 7 . The Ecological Effects of Roads

      Direct Effects

      Indirect Effects

      Cumulative Effects

      What Can Be Done

      Referenced Works

      Chapter 8. Interview with Doug Peacock

      Chapter 9 . The Wildernist’s 2015 Reading List

      Movement Texts


      Civilization and Collapse



      Chapter 10 . Refocusing Ecocentrism: De-emphasizing Stability and Defending Wildness


      The Ecology of Stability and Traditional Ecocentrism

      The Ecology of Instability

      Wildness and Ecocentrism

      Objections and Responses

      Restoration, Wolves, and the Wild


      Chapter 11. A Sketch of Wildism in Contrast to Leftism






  Hunter / Gathere Vol. 1 No. 1 (2016)

      Table of Contents


      Our Strategy, 2016

        I. What We’re Sure Of

        II. Our Work

      A. The Role of Conservation Projects

      I. The Big Questions

      IV. Conclusion

      The Foundations of Wildist Ethics

      I. Introduction

      II. Consilience in Ethics

      A. The Is/Ought Problem

      B. Explaining Ethics with Biology

      C. The Implications of the Biological Explanation

      1) Moral Relativism

      2) Free Will and Responsibility

      3) Biological Limits to Knowledge

      4) Summary

      D. From Scientific Explanation to Ethical Science

      1) Importance of First Principles

      2) Examples of Ethical Sciences

      3) The Necessity of Ethical Science

      A. The Value of Nature

      1) The Meaning of Wild Nature

      2) Values and Valuers

      4) The Autonomy of Nature

      5) How Much Value?

      6) Other Values

      B. The Cosmos as Divinity

      C. The Critique of Progress

      1) Why the Critique is Important

      2) Limits to Reason

    D. Conserving Human Nature

      1) The Meaning of Human Nature

      2) Linking the Two Natures

      3) Humans Need Not Apply

      4) Man and His Relations

      5) The Case of Social Progressivism

      6) The Social Progressivist’s Trick

      8) The Bad Parts of Human Nature

      9) Race, Eugenics, and Social Darwinism

      a) The Science of Human Variation

      b) Conservation and Eugenics

      c) The Anti-Industrial Left

      d) Biodiversity versus Wildness

      E. Anti-Industrial Reaction

      F. Wildlands Conservation

      IV. Summary

      V. Conclusion

      The Fable of Managed Earth

      V. Other global management concerns

      In Memory of Doug Tompkins

      Briefly Noted

  Hunter/Gatherer Vol. 1, No. 2 (2016)

      Table of Contents

      Relations and the Moral Circle

      I. Introduction

      II. The Prevailing Paradigm in Environmental Ethics

      I. The Wildist Critique

      IV. The Wildist Alternative

      V. Challenges and Responses

      A. Are Subjective Values Impotent Values?

      B. Why Care for Non-Human Nature?

      V. Conclusion

      VII. Bibliography

      Refuting the Apartheid Alternative

      I. Introduction

      II. The Empirical Problems

      A. The Other Side

      B. Martyrdom

      C. Humans on the Nature Side?

      D. A Note on Collapse

      IV. The Dangers of Half-Earth Rhetoric

      V. Conclusion

      VI. Bibliography

      How Might Ecologists Make the World Safe for Biodiversity Without Getting Fired?

      I. Some Difficult Questions

      II. Thinking and Acting Strategically

      I. Getting Things Done

      Briefly Noted: Letters and Reviews

      Consequentialism, deontology, or virtue ethics? — John Jacobi

  Hunter / Gatherer Vol. 1, No. 3 (2016)

    Table of Contents


    The Question of Revolution

    I. Introduction

    i i Our Journey So Far

    I. The Obligation to Rewild

    IV. The Question of Revolution

    A. What we mean by revolution

    B. Terminology

    v. Feasibility

    A. Collapse May Be Inevitable

    1) Existential and Catastrophic Threats

    2) Past Collapses and Our Current Condition

    B. Industry Could Not Be Rebuilt

    C. If Past Revolutions Are Any Indication...

    D. Expanding the Scope of What Is Possible

    V. Negative Consequences

    A. Nuclear Technology, Disease Centers, etc.

    B. Population

    C. Hospitals and Medicine

    D. Human Nature

    VII. Alleged Discrepancies

    A. Determinism, Free Will, and Radical Politics

    B. The Charge of Progressivism

    C. The Threat of Human Folly

    D. The Charge of Humanism

    E. Duping the Masses?

    V III. A Sketch of the Wild Reaction

    IX. Conclusion

    X. Bibliography

    Federalist Papers.


    I. Introduction

    II. Ecocentrism and Wildism

    I. Progressivism’s Misanthropy

    IV. Ecocentrism’s Misanthropy

    v. Conclusion

    VI. Bibliography

    Ideology and Revisionism

    I. Introduction

    II. From Egoism to Ideology

    A. Clarifications Regarding Egoism

    B. Egoism in Wildist Ethics

    C. Ideology as Coalition

    I. Revisionism

    A. What is Revisionism?

    B. A Survey of Revisionist Ideologies

    C. The Threats of Revisionism and Their Solutions

    IV. Conclusion

    V. Bibliography

    Hunter/Gatherer, 1(2).

    Hunter/Gatherer, 1(2).

    Hunter/Gatherer, 1(1), 6-55.

    Technical Autonomy

    I. Introduction

    [I. The Four Faulty Premises

    A. Rational Blueprints Aren’t Sufficient

    B. Rational Blueprints Often Can’t Be and Aren’t Implemented Properly

    1) Let’s Play a Game

    2) Accidental Progress

    3) Human Folly and Human Limits

    C. Rational Blueprints Do Not Go As Planned

    1) Calendar Reform

    2) Failed Utopias

    3) Biosphere 2

    D. Rational Blueprints Always Have Unintended Consequences

    I. An Alternative Model of Technical Develop

    A. Cultural Materialism

    B. Sociobiology

    C. Group Selection versus Kin Selection

    D. Analogy and Example for Understanding

    IV. The Consequences of Technical Autonomy

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Bibliography

    Briefly Noted: Letters and Reviews

    Who is involved in Hunter/Gatherer? — John Jacobi

    Whither Leftism? — John Jacobi

Wildism & Eco-Extremism; An Intro & A Critique

Individualists Tending toward the Wild

*From the book The Politics of Attack.**

[ITS] has explicitly rejected association with anarchism, and via a subsequent (i.e. second generation) moniker, rejected both the label of “leftist” and “insurrectionary”.

In a rare interview the group provided in 2014, it describes its purpose, stating:

[ITS] deemed it necessary to carry out the direct attack against the Technoindustrial System. We think that the struggle against this is not only a stance of wanting to abandon Civilization, regressing to Nature, or in refuting the system’s values, without also, attacking it.

ITS has received international attention after repeatedly targeting scientists and researchers with lethal force. ITS has stood out from other bombers due to its lengthy, academic-styled communiqués and direct attacks on individuals from outside the typical target set: heads of state and corporations, officials in law enforcement, jailing, etc. ITS is unique in at least two matters: its stated objective to kill, and its specific, tech-related target set. In the 2014 interview, cell members explain:

Our immediate objectives are very clear: injure or kill scientists and researchers (by the means of whatever violent act) who ensure the Technoindustrial System continues its course. As we have declared on various occasions, our concrete objective is not the destruction of the Technoindustrial system, it is the attack with all the necessary resources, lashing out at this system which threatens to close off all paths to the reaching of our Individual Freedom, putting into practice our defensive instinct

… ITS has from the beginning proposed the attack against the system as the objective, striving to make these kinds of ideas spread around the globe through extreme acts, in defense of Wild Nature, as we have done.

According to their own historical account, the group began experimenting in 2011 with “arson attacks on cars and construction machinery, companies and institutions … until we decided to focus on terrorism and not sabotage”. From 2011–2014, ITS deployed at least 13 mail bombs, two mailed threats accompanied by bullets, and assassinated Méndez Salinas, a biotechnologist with the Institute of Bio-Technology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Salinas was shot in the head, and according to ITS, killed by “the most violent cell of ITS in Morelos, being already familiar with the purchase and use of firearms.”

Through their various communiqués and interviews, ITS has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks, many of which were claimed under other monikers and later linked to the ITS network. For example, in August 2014, ITS declared the formation of Wild Reaction (RS):

After a little more than three years of criminal-terrorist activity, the group … [ITS] … begins a new phase in this open war against the Technoindustrial System … we want to explain that during all of 2012 and 2013, various groups of a terrorist and sabotage stripe were uniting themselves with the group ITS, so that now, after a long silence and for purely strategic reasons, we publicly claim [10 attacks from newly affiliated networks] … All of these have now fused with the ITS groups in Morelos, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Coahuila and Veracruz … Due to this union, the extravagant and little-practical pseudonym of ““Individualists Tending toward the Wild’ (ITS) ceases to exist, and from now on the attacks against technology and civilization will be signed with the new name of“Wild Reaction”(RS).

Prior to this announcement, in April 2014 a group calling itself Obsidian Point Circle of Analysis (OPCAn) activated a new clandestine cell (which would later be absorbed into RS) called Obsidian Point Circle of Attack (OPCA). The formation of OPCAn was preceded by three commentaries on ITS and the authors “becoming tired of simply writing.” In its opening declaration OPCA writes:

It has been some time since we started writing about some situations that had arisen in Mexico concerning the terrorist group ITS; we published a total of three analyses, in which we have publicly demonstrated our support of the group ITS, in their actions as much as their position. Until now we have decided to solely be those who comfortably spread and highlighted the group’s communiques and actions, but that is over. The violent advance of the techno-industrial system, the degradation that civilization leaves in its wake and the oblivion they are forcing us toward, ceasing to be natural humans to the point of turning into humanoids: there must be a convincing response.

We abandon words and analyses in order to begin with our war … We only seek confrontation with the system, the sharpening of the conflict against it. From this day we publicly put aside the word “analysis,” in order to become The Obsidian Point Circle of Attack.

Thus, according to its own narrative, ITS inspired public commentary and critique by OPCAn and, in September 2014, when ITS became RS, it was announced that RS included OPCA as well. In the first declaration by RS, the authors explain: “during this year … two more terroristic groups have united with us who have put the development of the Technoindustrial System in their sights … The ‘Obsidian Point Circle of Attack’ … [and] … The ‘Atlatl Group.’” Therefore, a complete history of ITS’s actions includes both attacks claimed under their name, those claimed under the OPCA and RS, as well as smaller groupings merged under the network’s banner. According to a chronology assembled from the networks’ communications, the network has claimed at least 27 distinct actions including 22 IED attacks (mostly mail and package/parcel bombs), three written threats, several arsons of property, one animal release, and one fatal shooting.

In early 2016, the ITS moniker saw its first usage outside of the borders of Mexico. In the second ITS communiqué of 2016, the “Uncivilized Southerners” cell “abandoned a homemade explosive charge” on a bus in Santiago, Chile writing:

The Eco-Extremist tendency spreads … We are accomplices to its ideas and acts, forming part of it. We are giving life to an international project against civilization.

Because we are bullets to the head, mail-bombs, indiscriminate bombings and incinerating fire, we are:

Individualists Tending Toward the Wild – Chile.

A few days later, in the fourth ITS communiqué of 2016, an ITS cell in Argentina claimed responsibility for placing an IED in a Buenos Aires bus station. In the message accompanying the bomb, the attackers wrote: “ITS is in Argentina”. The emergence of new ITS cells appears to be an ongoing trend. Five days after the Argentina communiqué was posted to a Spanish-language insurrectionary hub, the same site featured a communiqué signed by five cells of ITS, three from Mexico, and one each from Argentina and Chile. The communiqué traces the origin and expansion of the ITS and RS monikers and announces “a new phase of the war against all that represents and sustains the advance of civilization and progress”.

In Mexico, ITS’s bombs have targeted civilian, seemingly ‘non-political’ scientists, professors, technical experts, researchers, and technocrats and within a politic most closely described as (Green) anarcho-primitivism. Famed “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski popularized this framework in the 1980s during a 17-year (1978–1995) bombing campaign involving 16 bombs, which killed three people and injured 23. Following the publication of “Industrial Society and its Future” – popularly known as the “Unabomber manifesto” and released five months after his final attack – Kaczynski’s spirit has been carried forth by ITS and a few similar networks.

The group's origins broadly

*From the book The Ultimate Ted Kaczynski Research Document.**

ITS Mexico were originally part of the green & insurrectionary anarchist milieus and likely grew up on earth first monkey-wrenching manuals from the 80s:[1]

The group draws its inspiration from anarcho-primitivism, an "anti-civilization anarchy" from which ITS is largely inspired. “I took the theories of the 'Earth Liberation Front' further, and gave them a different tone,” explains Xale. "I was interested in the issues facing the American continent, in the indigenous cultures that opposed civilization," assures the Mexican member of ITS in the video.

With anarchism, the relationship at the moment is one of rupture, although there is no dishonor in accepting that many eco-extremists and some members of ITS come from anarchism, mostly from insurrectionist and eco-anarchist tendencies. Although at the time there were some ties, today the vast majority of anarchists hate us.

Referring to the groups history, Xale, a member of ITS Mexico wrote this:[1]

This chronology could well be added to that of Individualities Tending to the Wild (2011-2013), or that of the anti civilization cells of the Earth Liberation Front (2008-2012), but we decided to focus on RS, for now.

Searching through the over 300 sabotage actions that occurred in Mexico between 2018 & 2012, and the at least 10 with ELF in the title of the post, there do appear to be a few attacks that fit ITS modus operandi and communiqués which fit their early idiolect:[1]

Early this morning, September 21, our cell placed a bomb made of butane gas at the gates of the headquarters of Nueva Escuela Tecnológica [New School of Technology] in the municipality of Coacalco, Mexico State.

The authorities in that municipality had previously implemented security systems that belong in the worst nightmares of Orwell.

Security cameras, artificial eyes guarding their damned social peace, throughout the major avenues in Coacalco.

In the commercial area, the police presence is evident, state police and the mediocre municipal police pass through the streets and on Lopez Portillo Avenue.

Guarding the centers of domination and domestication that are also protected by surveillance cameras and the idiot guardians of the imposed order.

Facing this situation of high surveillance, it seemed impossible to strike, but rebellious creativity is greater than the highest degree of 'security' that the state implements.

The Coacalco commercial area had been previously visited by eco-anarchist cells who conducted significant strikes right in front of the police, who were flabbergasted by an arson, a butane explosion, graffiti and paint spilled in anthropocentric business.

Our action was censured both by the directors of the Nueva Escuela Tecnológica and the Mexico State authorities. They hid the damage that we caused and concealed the evidence of our presence at night. This is not unusual; it happened after the 'celebrations' of the ephemeral bicentennial celebration which were held in 'total' peace.

The Agencia de Seguridad Estatal [state security agency] as well as detectives from the Mexico City police department are aware of our actions and our presence; they know that we were there and that we detonated our explosive charge as the lackeys on patrol passed by unable to stop us.

We chose to attack the NET because it represents the new era of these centers of domestication called schools, where they learn things that are useless for a free life, but necessary for a life of slavery and alienation. They create beings that depend on technology in order to live in these concrete nests called cities, but more closely resemble large prisons. They train malleable minds to be used for entrepreneurship and to expand civilization over wild nature. We will not permit this.

Once again we say: not with their cameras, nor their police officers, nor with their investigators, nor their prisons, will they be able to stop us; we once again skinned the rotten bastards, godammit!

This action is dedicated to the Chilean anarchist prisoners, captured after the wave of repression in that country on August 14; we send much strength, from mexico we remember them in every direct action.

We did not want to wait until the 24th to show our solidarity.

Support is not only for one day, it is in our everyday actions!

Direct solidarity for the eco prisoners Abraham López and Adrian Magdaleno, for the eco revolutionaries on hunger strike in Switzerland, for the animal liberation prisoner Walter Bond in the U.S., and the vegan warriors imprisoned in Italy!

Keep running Diego, you're fucking awesome!

Earth Liberation Front/Mexico

Upon reading translated Unabomber material they started along a road that began with committing arsons aimed at sabotaging evil companies and ended with them desiring to have the wider effect of terrorizing people through fear of injury or death out of a simple hatred for humanity:

… in 2011 the (newly formed) ITS was testing various modus operandi (from known and attempted arson attacks on cars and construction machinery, companies and institutions in Coahuila, Guanajuato, and Veracruz State of Mexico, until we decided to focus on terrorism and not sabotage).

Here are old members of the FAI / CCF in Mexico acknowledging former collaboration and ideological crossover:[2]

Exactly 5 years and seven months ago we signed a “joint statement” at the request of a comrade for whom we feel great affection and respect. That text was entitled “2nd Joint Statement of the Anarchist Insurrectional and Eco-Anarchist Groups”. …

Back then, we let it be known publicly and energetically that:

“With these ITS partners, we can have theoretical differences and discuss them (always arguing fraternally in a constant attempt to update ideas and by building a unitary criticism attuned to the reality of the anarchist struggle), but we have never disagreed with the methods used, understanding anti-authoritarian violence and propaganda for the facts as they are : valid practices consistent with our ethical principles.”

Although ITS were one of the few clusters with which we did not directly coordinate when undertaking joint actions, we were in solidarity with them, in the same way that some of the comrades that made up our affinity groups obtained monetary resources for them to solve specific difficulties when requested. That has been (and is) the basis of practical co-ordination between the new anarchic insurrectionalism and eco-anarchism.

In their early communiques they would express solidarity with anarchist prisoners:[1]

Total support with the Anti-civilization prisoners in Mexico, with the Chilean comrades and with the furious Italians and Swiss. …

One more time: Direct and total support with the anti-civilization prisoners of Mexico, with those eco-anarchists of Switzerland, to the affinities in Argentina, Spain, Italy, Chile and Russia.

Here is an answer members of ITS gave in a text interview in 2014 I think showing they were part of a leftist mileu, in that they only later rejected leftist mass movement building and so are not simply post-left-&-right:[1]

Individualists tending towards the wild formed at the beginning of 2011, and was motivated by the reasoning acquired during a slow process of getting to know, questioning, and the rejection of all that encompasses leftism and the civilized, and accordingly, employing all the above, we deemed it necessary to carry out the direct attack against the Technoindustrial System. We think that the struggle against this is not only a stance of wanting to abandon Civilization, regressing to Nature, or in refuting the system’s values, without also attacking it.

Finally, ITS also claimed that more ELF and Anarchist groups joined them later when they briefly took on the name Wild Reaction:[1]

First of all, we want to explain that during all of 2012 and 2013, various groups of a terrorist and sabotage stripe were uniting themselves with the group ITS, so that now, after a long silence and for purely strategic reasons, we publicly claim:

1) The “Informal Anti-civilization Group,” which on June 29, 2011, took responsibility for the explosion that severely damaged a Santander bank in the city of Tultitlan, Mexico.

2) “Uncivilized Autonomous,” who on October 16, 2011 set off a bomb inside the ATMs of a Banamex, located between the cities of Tultitlan and Coacalco in Mexico State.

4) “Wild Indomitables,” who on October 16, 2011 left a butane gas bomb that did not detonate in a Santander bank in the Álvaro Obregón district of Mexico City. The act was never claimed until now.

5) “Terrorist Cells for the Direct Attack – Anti-civilization Fraction,” which in 2010 and 2011 left a fake bomb in front of the IFaB (Pharmacological and Biopharmeceutical Research), and detonated an explosive outside the building of the National Ecology Institute (INE), both in the Tlalpan district of Mexico City.

6) “Luddites against the Domestication of Wild Nature,” who during 2009 to 2011 had taken part in various incendiary attacks in some cities in Mexico State and various districts of Mexico City, claimed or unclaimed.

8) “Earth Liberation Front – Bajío”, which on November 16, 2011 set off an explosive charge creating damages within the ATM area of a branch of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in the city of Irapuato in Guanajuato.

All of these have now fused with the ITS groups in Morelos, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Coahuila and Veracruz.

Due to this union, the extravagant and little-practical pseudonym of “Individualists Tending toward the Wild” (ITS) ceases to exist, and from now on the attacks against technology and civilization will be signed with the new name of “Wild Reaction” (RS).

These were groups that other anarchists were relating to as anarchists also. As the joint declaration of the insurrectional anarchist and eco-anarchist groups of Mexico referred to earlier was signed by some of these groups who later merged with ITS or had a very similar ideology:[3]

Luddites against the Domestication of Wild Nature (LDNS)

Earth Liberation Front (FLT)

Free, Dangerous, Savage and Incendiary Individuals for the Black Plague(ILPSIPN)

On eco-extremism and anarchy

We really do not want to stand in firm defense of every soul that sets itself up as an enemy against the state and every form of government (over man, animals and nature). We believe that - and many anarchist and other prisoners agree with this - not everyone can be friends and that it is not possible to develop a relationship with everyone.

More specifically, we want to encourage discussion about direct action groups that reject anarchy as a political goal and as a daily struggle. These are the so-called eco-extremists who relentlessly shout "death to anarchy", rejecting their own origin and formation, an idea that nourished them through a fraternal relationship with the urban guerrilla fighters of today and the past, only to later move on to emphasize certain aspects that have always been part of anarchist milieu and its struggle for the liberation of man, our animal brothers and the earth.

Far from the constant tension that we who want and fight for a life of anarchy want to maintain, a certain trend that is considered eco-extremist throws in the trash the libertarian ideal that manifests itself through the insurgent struggle.

One small group, tied to a certain imaginary of "symbolic" peoples and to musical/alternative and university environments (they reject the university they still attend... and study what they hate so much), hates the human animal and therefore sees the enemy everywhere.

In that "wild fog", caused by their own smugness and messianism, they include the last worker, the victim of this crappy exploitative system, among their enemies. They talk about killing workers, farmers or any other person who, let's be honest, the discussion of our relatives over the years has not considered worthy interlocutors. Although we are accomplices, the enemy is someone else, and that is quite clear to any anarchist, libertarian, punk or nihilist. But for the eco-extremists, it is not so, in an attempt to be avant-garde and even trendy.

That is why we call on individuals and coordinated affinities who are fighting today to continue fighting for the liberation of all living beings and the earth, without losing sight of the political aspect of our actions, and the real enemies and targets.

Seven years since the death of Mauricio Morales, we salute the group "Manada de Choque Anarquico Nihilista" for its sober and insurgent action during the protests of May 1 and April 21, when they once again proved the success of coordination among affinities. In order to be clear and refute the "Maldicion Ecoextremista" page, which tried to present these acts as an act of irresponsible urban guerrillas, in order to appropriate libertarian activity!

We salute the fighters of the Paulino Scarfó Revolutionary Cell (FAI-FRI), who wrote in their statement of responsibility for the attack on the Santander Bank in La Cisterna: “ The attack has its ethics and is not indiscriminate; we have embraced the arson attack and we no longer support the ideas that are trying to spread ."

Pack of Saboteurs Heriberto Salazar (FAI-FRI)

There’s Nothing Anarchist about Eco-Fascism

“When horror knocks at your door, it’s difficult to hide from. All that can be done is to breathe, gather strength, and face it….I shared news of the woman found in University City. From the first moment, I was angered and protested the criminalization of the victim. The next morning I woke up to the horror and pain that she was my relative.”

– Statement from the family of Lesvy Rivera to Mexican society

“[W]e take responsibility for the homicide of another human in University City on May 3rd….Much has emerged about that damned thing leaning lifeless on a payphone… ‘that she suffered from alcoholism, that she wasn’t a student, this and that.’ But what does it matter? She’s just another mass, just another damned human who deserved death.”

– 29th Statement of Individualists Tending Toward the Wild (ITS)

Some things shouldn’t have to be said, but as is too often the case in this disaster of a world, that which should be most obvious often gets subsumed to the exigencies of politics, ideologies, money, emotion, or internet clicks. The purpose of this piece is to condemn the recent acts of eco-extremists in Mexico and those who cheer them on from abroad.

This critique does not aspire to alter the behavior of Individualists Tending Toward the Wild (ITS), Individualities Tending Toward the Wild (ITS), Wild Reaction (RS), Indiscriminate Group Tending Toward the Wild (GITS), Eco-extremist Mafia, or whatever they will change their name to tomorrow. Like any other deluded, sociopathic tyrant, these individuals have declared themselves above reproach, critique, reason, or accountability. They have appointed themselves judge, jury, and executioner; the guardians and enforcers of Truth using a romanticized past to justify their actions. As absolutist authoritarians, they have constructed a theoretical framework that, while ever-shifting and inconsistent, somehow always ends with a justification for why they get to hold a knife to the throats of all of humankind. In short, they think and act like the State.

There was a discussion about ITS on an IGD podcast from last December. For those unfamiliar, ITS and its spawn of affiliated acronyms publicly emerged in 2011 as an anti-civilization grouping that blew things up and tried to kill people they didn’t like, primarily university research scientists. In early statements, they spoke of favorably of anarchism and revolution. Over the course of just a few years and various groupings and splittings, they adopted a firm stance of rejection and reaction. They disavowed anarchism, revolution, leftism, or anything related to the social or human. They proudly adopted the mantle of eco-terrorism and proclaimed their disgust for the likes of John Zerzan or Ted Kaczynski, who they previously praised.

Unsurprisingly, through their increasing isolation and reactivity, ITS has turned into just plain murderers. (Or at least they’d like you to think so.) “The human being deserves extinction” and “We position ourselves against the human being, without caring about the use of civilization to carry out our acts” is now their creed. As such, in the State of Mexico, ITS claims it went out hunting for loggers to kill, but not finding any, they decided to ambush, shoot and murder a couple on a hike on April 30th, because, “We just want it to be clear that no human being will be safe in nature.” They suggest humans should instead stay in the cities, but then claim responsibility for the May 3rd femicide of Lesvy Rivera at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, stating, “Not even in your damned cities will you be safe.” The ITS phenomenon, while beginning in Mexico, has spread throughout much of Latin America, with groups using the ITS name claiming responsibility for attacks – including attempts at the mass murder of ordinary, working-class people – in multiple countries.

Understanding what led to the creation and evolution of groups such as ITS is a topic best addressed in a separate piece. As mentioned above and in the podcast, they find their roots in the insurrectionary and anti-civilization streams of anarchism. Mexico in particular has a vibrant clandestine, direct action insurrectionary movement. Mexico is also where 99 percent of all “crimes” go unpunished, where narcos, police, military and politicians either work hand in hand or kill one another and anyone else nearby in the tens of thousands. They also team up against aboveground social movements – repression being the only language the Mexican state speaks. It is not difficult to understand, in a country being gutted by neoliberalism, where appeals to the state are met with batons and bullets, where anarchists are already blowing things up, and where everyone else with an agenda seems to be killing people and getting away with it, why a group like ITS would emerge.

Yet at the same time in Mexico, aside from a few websites, ITS and its actions have not been praised or embraced by anarchists or anyone else. This likely also contributes to the escalating violence on ITS’s part – no one really pays attention to them except to dismiss or condemn. At least one anarchist group has publicly stated its belief that ITS is a state-run operation, designed to delegitimize the broader radical movement.

It seems more likely that ITS is a genuine group that believes what it says. Whether it has actually done what it says is another matter. Some attacks have certainly occurred, but a curiously large number of ITS attacks fail or go unmentioned anywhere except in their statements. They claim this is due to the police and media conspiring to not call attention to their acts. Yet the typical insurrectionary anarchist direct action is almost always reported with precise information, photos showing the damage caused, and can be verified in corporate media reports. How ITS is so much worse than other direct action groups at carrying out direct actions is an unanswered question. That ITS killed any of the three people they recently claimed to have killed is unlikely. The statement shares no details of the killings and only includes a photo taken from Facebook. Especially with regards to the femicide of Lesvy Rivera at UNAM, ITS is likely seeking to get a free ride on the coattails of a tragedy that has generated considerable action and coverage amongst the anarchists and radicals they hate so much yet whose attention they so desperately seek.

So do we anarchists give it to them? Admittedly, even the existence of this piece is a capitulation to their attention seeking. But worse are those that promote, even implicitly, the actions of ITS. Sites such as Anarchist News, Free Radical Radio, Atassa, and Little Black Cart. The “a retweet does not constitute endorsement” excuse doesn’t fly here. As ITS says, “We’ve been warning you since the beginning.” And now they are claiming to have killed three humans simply because they were human. Will ITS fans continue to distribute the propaganda of a group that by its own admission is not only not anarchist, but proudly terroristic, rejecting of all ethics, morals, or principles of liberation? They solely exist to kill people. It should not have to be explained why such a position does not merit support. Of a less pressing matter is the way in which ITS conceives of “nature” is itself a social and civilizational construct. Their (already constantly shifting) ideological basis for murder falls apart under any real scrutiny.

Some defend the publications and discussions (or trolling, as it were) they engender because while perhaps they don’t agree with killing people, the analysis ITS presents is intellectually stimulating and worthy of consideration. If ITS did kill her, Lesvy Rivera can surely appreciate that her brutal murder was found intellectually stimulating for some. It is the peak of colonial, racist arrogance that those from the safety of their U.S. or European homes feel comfortable debating the finer points of an ideology that amounts to brown people killing other brown people. We eagerly await the publishing on these sites of ISIS or al-Qaida communiques due to their intellectually stimulating critiques of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.

The only support ITS should be receiving from anarchists is encouragement that they practice their dedication to human extinction on themselves. Just as the fascists of ISIS are meeting a true anarchist response, the fascists of ITS should be called to task, rather than coddled.

More non-news about the “Eco-Extremist Mafia”

Our last release [https://325.nostate.net/2018/09/15/who-is- [censored] -a-paralegal-or-an-eco-extremist-mafia-usa] of information about the so-called “Eco-Extremist Mafia” caused a commotion in the Church of ITS Mexico. Without giving them the oxygen they require in their parasitic nature on the international anarchist movement which they need to survive, we release a report and reply to the smears and idiocy of their position.

Within 12 hours of the doxxing of [censored] being released, the so-called ITS “Mafia”, who virtually live on the internet now, were so upset they had to describe the age and dryness of my Vagina! And take responsibility for the “massacre” beating of an anarcho-punk after a Zapatista rally last December! What is there left to say either to or about these misogynist, misanthropic, psychopathic high priests of the ITS death-cult?

Predictable smears from the post-truth ITS, who take responsibility for actions they have not done, imitating a tactic of IS/Daesh, and now, calling us “cops” who apparently emailed the UK police to inform them that the laughable ‘Archie the Robot’ “Archegonas” is responsible for the ‘Misanthropos Cacoguen’ ITS bomb that was indiscriminately left in a busy street in Edinburgh, Scotland where young people hang out and meet each other. Hilarious! And the basis for this? That a mainstream newspaper reported that cops received the communique (which reads more like a psychotic meltdown), from a Riseup.net mail server! It is more likely that the ‘Archegonas’ or another member of the “Eco-Extremist Mafia” did such a stupid act just to cause shit for Riseup, as they hate it so much, and now print lies against us as befits them. After years of shit from this idiot ‘Archegonas’, is this all that he and ITS can achieve? No, their words and texts reveal it all, and we are fucking laughing at the Church of the ITS Mexico and their choir-boys. That is the tactic of their silly smear, now repeated by some delusional idiot in Brazil. If that is the extent of their logic, it is no wonder that they have made the ideological and practical mistakes which have taken them to the abyss of shit, taking responsibility for minor homicides and planting bombs in public places with the sole intention of hurting as many people as possible. Eco-fascist scum.

After almost ten years of threats, smears and attacks, we are fighting back with some of the means we have, and we will continue to collect and publish information about the Eco-Extremists; the same as we do with the fascists. This is a known anti-fascist tactic proven to work, and we are not afraid of any reprisals. This tactic is an open source method to alert true comrades to the location and identity of their enemies: Our comrades who have been repeatedly smeared, threatened and harassed by this cringing little ITS gang. It has nothing to do with the police, we don’t give a fuck about the police, it is for us. Our comrades are using this tactic to great effect in UK, Germany, Spain, Australia, Canada, United States, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and everywhere that there are anarchists of action. Since ITS have always made it clear that they intend to kill us, that they are not anarchists and their actions and their ‘philosophy’ are not anarchic, we owe them nothing, nor do we owe their sheep-like supporters in America or Europe anything. The Church of ITS is nothing more than the murderous and mentally disturbed acting-out of any ordinary psychopath to whom we equally owe no allegiance whatsoever. We are not sure why they think they can demand any silence from us on the grounds of, what? Comradeship (or not even)? Criminalism? Don’t make us laugh, the ‘code of the streets’? ‘Moralism’ from those who don’t believe in anything? As one of our comrades in America wrote to us, “Funny how the nihilists turn into politicians as soon as another side draws a line in the sand and says enough is enough”.

The Church of ITS is an opportunistic authority of those that try to throw enough shit until some of it sticks, the classic tactic of fascists and bosses – “repeat a lie enough times and it becomes true”, propaganda at its best, written like the liars that they are. In the typical way of ITS, they try to use the words of other anarchists against us, in this case the CCF. We cannot and will not speak for our comrades of CCF, but in the quoted section by this minor ITS Brazil loser, CCF are describing their relationship to those they have worked with, not those who are already enemies and targets. Information regarding targets is to be circulated, and ITS are now Eco-fascist targets, having always eschewed any anarchist solidarity and comradeship. Maybe there was a time in the past there was some confusion as to the destination of the Church of ITS Mexico and their choir-boys, but now it is clear and has been for so long. Where are the original comrades of ITS? Where has the intelligent and articulate writing concerning technology and the direction of the techno-industrial-society gone? Disappeared in injuries, in arrests, not made public? Disappeared into hatred, fear and terror? Reduced to the garbage of blogs and social media? The international anarchist space is much more than this, and ITS needs conflict and division to feed their project, which has been given a platform by some of the most irresponsible shit-stirring post-modernist gamers and book-nerds in Europe and USA.

ITS and their sub-groups are simply vile, abusive performers in their own sick circus of hate and homicide. If we have the ability to fuck with them and make things difficult for them, even disrupt or attack them, then we will. Especially their “Eco-Extremist theorists” like [censored] and co. If it is possible for us to arrange for dozens and dozens of comrades to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight IS/Daesh, then we can send a few comrades to Mexico and Brazil. We are not scared, come and try to attack us, we will obliterate your wee dafties ‘Wildfire Cell’ and ‘Archegonas’. It’s not a problem for us, they know that they have never even emailed us to arrange a meeting in all this time. Same goes for the pathetically proud and thin-skinned ‘Maldicion Eco-Extremista’, what a joke. We have been emailing you, why won’t you meet our people in Mexico? Is it because your IP address is in Berkeley, San Francisco? The Church of ITS are nothing but cowards playing games, using the anarchist space for their own entertainment, just fucking scum who will get hurt and die soon.

[censored], ‘Abe Cabrera’. Now he has problems. Both himself and Guillory, his partner ,‘removed’ from the website of their employer, and here we publish his address, as a response to the smears of ITS. This is how your ‘indomitable’ translator and “theorist” [censored] ended up. A coward, and his “comrades” all betrayed him in public and left him for the dogs. That is the “Eco-Extremist Mafia”, the “theorists” who will go “forward”. The deafening silence from the “eco-extremist theorists” is really revealing after all the baiting, smears and threats taking place. And for each new provocation of the Church of ITS we will add the fire to the flames for the Americans and those we find in Europe. That each threat and attack will be answered.

Telephone: [censored]

[censored]’s house is a $250,000 family home, not in the Latin American “Jungle” nor the “Ghetto”, nor the “Favelas”. He’s just another poser and fake like the rest of the “Eco-Extremist Mafia”. As part of our doxxing campaign, let’s look now at the emails we received from [censored] via the Atassa email account as [censored] tried to formulate an exit-scam and mitigate the impact we had on his life. These emails reveal a lot about his character and state of mind, and that of an “Eco-Extremist theorist”…

From: Atassa
Date: Sunday, September 16, 2018, 4:21 am
Subject: You Win

While we only have a vague idea of who told you that paralegal guy is the master mind behind all this, it’s evident that you care about this stuff more than we do. So you win. We’ve disappeared and you will never hear from us again. We wish you well in your projects.

Yes, [censored] wishes us well. What a cowardly piece of shit. He immediately ceased his Atassa project and took down every online evidence that Atassa existed, helped by the pseudo-comrade Aragorn/LBC, who continues to distribute the Atassa book-journal; hell, everything helps sales, right? [censored], who was translating the ITS texts, helping ITS/MaldicionEE write texts, make threats and glorifying in the murders, buckled so quickly. He even sent this next email shortly after, just to beg us a little more to save his miserable life, here it is.

From: Atassa
Date: Sunday, September 16, 2018, 5:12 am
Subject: You Win

Also, in exchange for taking down the supposed doxxing post against Mr. [censored], we can offer a public retraction of the Atassa project which you can publish on your site. You can assess whether that retraction is enough to end this whole business. We are not entirely unsympathetic to your aims and regret any damage that our actions have caused.

A retraction to “regret any damage that our actions have caused”. I had to repeat that, because it is just so beautiful. The Church of ITS Mexico who gave a long pontification about my old ‘anarcho-cop’ Vagina, and who had so much faith in [censored], and in his Catholic vivisectionist wife [https://325.nostate.net/2018/09/16/ [censored] -wife-of-eco-extremist-mafia-is-a-vivisectionist-usa], and this is how he repaid them. Beautiful. [censored] has no idea how much danger he is in, maybe now he’s starting to understand. What did the so-called “comrades” of [censored] have to say about it? Nothing. They dumped him. All of them.

From: Ramon Elani
Date: Wednesday, September 19, 7:10 am
Subject: Re: 7

Thank you for sending this to me. I no longer have dealings with this person or his project.
for the wild

Thanks Ramon, for confirming [censored] was Abe Cabrera, you did the right thing and it’s good to see that kind of solidarity “eco-extremist theorists” show each other.

From: Ramon Elani
Date: Wednesday, September 19, 8:56 am
Subject: Re: Betrayal

yes, i’ve long since regretted my involvement. though i still feel that my essay was misunderstood.
for the wild

Poor Ramon, he’s so misunderstood. As a co-editor of the ‘Black Seed’ garbage journal distributed by Aragorn/LBC, which tries to mix green anarchism and eco-extremism, and insert this toxic poison into the international anarchist ‘movement’, you are not misunderstood. It was clear in the decision to print the text ‘To the World Builders’ and it’s inclusion in the ‘The Anarchist Library’ what the position is you all have taken. Post-modern crap theorising around rape culture and murder, fuck you and die.

Elani is so “misunderstood” that the shit eco-academic-activist philosophy and creative writing project ‘Dark Mountain’, has published his new text, where he takes the opportunity to fully renege; disavowing property destruction, sabotage and attacks. So much for the “indomitable” Eco-Extremist theorists, what cowards.

From: Armenio Lewis
Date: Sunday, September 22, 2018, 1:46 pm
Subject: Atassa

I dont even know how to really word this so im gonna make this simple.
ALL participants and friendlies around the atassa project have reached out to me hoping I can, for lack of a better term, alleviate any animosity over the atassaproject.
Abe went off the deep end. What started as theoretical exploration of violence with no one except abe actually declaring and supporting ITS
Nobody wants beef, I’m just a middle man relaying this.
You can email back, call @ +150********, or completely ignore.
Fuck with abe all you want, he deserves it, but everyone else doesnt.

There it is; there is “ALL the participants and friendlies around the Atassa project”, which we assume includes LBC/Aragorn totally throwing [censored] under the bus just to save themselves any bother. They must seriously underestimate us to write such ridiculous shit – Ah, just a “theoretical exploration of violence”. What a fucking collection of cretins. So much for the claims of the Pope of ITS Mexico about their “theorists”, these people couldn’t theorise themselves out of a paper bag.

“Eco-Extremism” is an opportunistic trend of parasitism, online fakes and sacred beliefs, recycling on facebook, twitter and the “altervista” or “wordpress”. Although they would like you to think that their groups are spreading, instead they are dwindling, with a few people traveling between countries (or staying put in Mexico!) and believing in their sacred misanthropic mission. A mission which is expressed as hatred of women, hatred of anarchy, and ‘humanity’.

What we did find out, was that a few months ago [censored] promoted on his summer reading list on Atassa Facebook, the book “Iron Gates,” which is a fascist written and published book that is set in a concentration camp. Part rape fantasy, part pro-Nazi propaganda. It’s also one of the ‘go-to’ texts promoted by Atomwaffen Divison in the USA, which is like the American version of National Action (Neo-Nazi group in UK). A lot of comrades have pointed to a potential cross over between the Eco-Extremist material and Satanic/Neo-Nazi crap like Atomwaffen who has killed about half a dozen people in the US.

Yeah, so much for all these “theorists” and ITS “cells” that like to philosophise about what is and what is not “fascism”, and how dare the ‘anarcho-cops’ call them fascists.

We specifically warn against this EE tendency because of the potential for cross-overs with the nationalist-autonomous & nationalist-anarchist, neo-nazi and indigenous pagan “white tribe” eco-fascists who target the dredge of the anarchist scene with their irrationalist, green authoritarian and runic occult bullshit.

In the last text-threat from ITS Brazil, where they blame the Hambach Forest defenders for the death of the comrade who fell from the trees, we find the jealousy, the resentment, the bitterness of those who understand nothing about what it is that we are fighting for. In all the texts from ITS these past years we find a gross lack of understanding of what the anarchist ideas are and what anarchist methods are. Instead we just find a perverse and fanatic pathology and a weakness, leading to their ongoing blatant failures and authoritarian outcomes.

The “Eco-Extremist Curse” remains a joke, and for all the lies and smears that come from their mouths, we will target those that come within our reach.

As one of our comrades remarked “keep on threatening me with the evil-eye, come on…”

From my vast, old, soul eating Vagina…


An Interview with John Jacobi

To start the new year, Uncivilized Animals is covering new ground with its first ever interview-style post. The subject of this first interview is John F. Jacobi, founder of UNC Freedom Club and one of the editors of the groups FC Journal. UNC Freedom Club describes itself as “an anti-industrial, ecological student group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill”.

The name Freedom Club may carry a certain connotation for those who identify as green anarchists and other critics of technology. How did you decide on the name for the group?

For those who don’t know, maybe I should note that “Freedom Club (FC)” was the name of the group who later turned out to be Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The intent behind the bombings was to get Kaczynski / FC’s manifesto, “ Industrial Society and Its Future,” published in a major newspaper. He succeeded. And as far as I know, to this day Kaczynski has continued to refer to “FC” as a group.

But the name is not hinting at some kind of new armed struggle. In fact, some people who belong to the group have an overall negative impression of what Kaczynski did, even if we agree with his ideas on technology and industry (and, to the extent he talked about it, wildness).

But the compelling thing about Kaczynski wasn’t his ideas or his political actions, it was his relationship with wildness and life. When I wrote Kaczynski, I got the impression that his interactions with me were, ironically, very mechanical, as though he structured them just right so they would work perfectly as part of the larger revolutionary machine. But there are more relatable aspects to Kaczynski’s character. Take, for example, this excerpt from an interview first published in Green Anarchist:

“This is kind of personal,” he begins by saying, and I ask if he wants me to turn off the tape. He says “no, I can tell you about it. While I was living in the woods I sort of invented some gods for myself” and he laughs. “Not that I believed in these things intellectually, but they were ideas that sort of corresponded with some of the feelings I had. I think the first one I invented was Grandfather Rabbit. You know the snowshoe rabbits were my main source of meat during the winters. I had spent a lot of time learning what they do and following their tracks all around before I could get close enough to shoot them. Sometimes you would track a rabbit around and around and then the tracks disappear. You can’t figure out where that rabbit went and lose the trail. I invented a myth for myself, that this was the Grandfather Rabbit, the grandfather who was responsible for the existence of all other rabbits. He was able to disappear, that is why you couldn’t catch him and why you would never see him… Every time I shot a snowshoe rabbit, I would always say ‘thank you Grandfather Rabbit.’ After a while I acquired an urge to draw snowshoe rabbits. I sort of got involved with them to the extent that they would occupy a great deal of my thought. I actually did have a wooden object that, among other things, I carved a snowshoe rabbit in. I planned to do a better one, just for the snowshoe rabbits, but I never did get it done. There was another one that I sometimes called the Will ‘o the Wisp, or the wings of the morning. That’s when you go out in to the hills in the morning and you just feel drawn to go on and on and on and on, then you are following the wisp. That was another god that I invented for myself.”

An essay that does quite well expounding on this aspect of Kaczynski’s character is “Freedom Club” by Julie Ault. The essay recounts some details from the lives of Kaczynski and Thoreau, pointing out the obvious parallels, and it also follows the life of James Benning, who is attempting to build a cabin based on the one Kaczynski built in Montana. The implicit message here was that all these people belonged to “Freedom Club,” and that was really where the idea to adopt that name for the club came from. It was just a beautiful narrative.

Of course, without the mail bombs, “Industrial Society and Its Future” would likely have never made it into print…or at least it would not have enjoyed the widespread distribution of being included in the Washington Post. Do you think the low-tech lifestyle alone—minus the violence and the political tracts—something to emulate? Basically is “dropping out” or, perhaps more charitably, “living by example” a good idea?

Not quite. Freedom Club was started with three basic ideas that everyone agrees on. The first one says that wildness is worth existing, and should be able to exist in a dignified manner. A healthy and free existence means wildness must pervade our lives. But, and this is the second idea, industrial technology destroys wildness, and will continue doing so unless it is ended or unless it ends itself. And the third idea is simply the logical conclusion of those two points: those on the side of wild nature must do everything they can to end industrial society.

I am not naïve enough to think that dropping out is the best effort we can make to save wildness. But we are still in the process of figuring out what that best effort looks like, or what even is possible, so there are some very specific things that need to be done right now in the area of theory, propaganda, and publications. Freedom Club is going to be doing those things.

Could you briefly trace your own intellectual or political trajectory? Basically, how did you arrive at your current worldview? Where did you start and where exactly are you now?

When I was living with my parents as a child, I read all the time, and since I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, I spent a lot of time in the religion section of the library. By consequence, I ended up reading a lot of books about philosophy and political thought, since those sections were nearby. While I don’t remember reading those things and thinking they affected my worldview in any sort of drastic way, almost all of the texts making that major impact now are texts I at least attempted to read as a child. So I would definitely count that as the starting point of my intellectual growth.

Then there were a few years of espousing things that the adults in my life believed, of course. But the most significant thing that happened next is that in 2011, when Occupy happened, I was thrilled. I was very unhappy with the world around me, and though I couldn’t quite articulate what it was, Occupy seemed like it had potential to make that different. Besides, Occupy protesters couldn’t really articulate what they were unhappy with either. Unfortunately, I could only watch Occupy happen through the Internet. At the time, I was living with my aunt and uncle in a very rural North Carolina town, and no one was willing to drive me anywhere. So I did my best to interact with the movement how I could as a 16-year-old on a computer: I got introduced to some pretty radical thought through the magazine The New Inquiry, which I followed from the very beginning, I wrote and messaged people about the movement, and I considered calling myself an anarchist.

But before I really settled on that label, I wanted to give conventional politics a try. So the next year, I was living with my grandmother, and I asked if I could help out with the Obama campaign. She was against it for some reasons I can’t remember now, but I was adamant, so I eventually got to help out. It sucked. So much deceit and so many Machiavellian power plays. During the campaign I met someone who had worked with a group in Arizona called No More Deaths. She said it consisted of quite a few anarchists, at least when she went down there.

The project was compelling to me for quite a few reasons, and at that point I really wanted to explore the anarchist political label. Also, at that point in my life I wanted nothing less than to be free from school and my family, no matter what this meant. My father wasn’t providing any financial support at the time, and I was almost positive that he wasn’t going to when I left my grandmother’s, so I realized that No More Deaths was my best option. If I didn’t go to No More Deaths, I would be sleeping in a tent anyway, except I’d probably have the cops called on me then.

I actually never ended up going to No More Deaths. Instead I started dating my now ex-boyfriend, who was attending UNC. So, I figured, I would go with him to Chapel Hill where there was a fair amount of anarchist activity, at least as far as the news was concerned. Besides, I already had all the stuff I needed to make it through at least a few months of homelessness. Luckily, the anarchist community here in Chapel Hill helped me out a lot. They showed me where abandoned buildings were, where to get free food, and many of them let me sleep on their couches.

You’ll notice that at this point my story has become more personal than political, and that’s kind of what happened with my thought in general. While before I was concerned very much with abstract ideas, my life rapidly transitioned into one that cared about finding food, making friends, and reading wonderful stories.

And at some point during all this, I read an essay, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” and I loved it. For the first time, there was something that expressed what I had been feeling, and it did so in very rational way. Not that that’s the best kind of argument, but it was certainly appealing to me, since the only radical political arguments that I had heard up to that point were very moralistic and steeped in identity politics. But “Industrial Society and Its Future” was written by the Unabomber, and that made me feel weird. What did it mean that I had the same ideas as a guy who tried to blow people up?

Later, I read the essay “ Why the future doesn’t need us,” which was a personal account of Bill Joy, a well-respected scientist and programmer, experiencing the same dilemma. Again and again I read similar accounts, and this really strengthened my ability to believe these things. Because it really speaks to the power of the Unabomber’s argument that scientists who could have received one of his bombs said publicly that he was right.

Since then I’ve been exploring more of those ideas. I don’t know if I would call myself an anarchist anymore. It’s not really a label that brings up questions I want to talk about. It has also been coming to my attention that the majority of U.S. anarchists outside of the group I regularly interact with have very different politics from me. So Freedom Club is kind of an exploration out of anarchism as a political label. I probably still technically fall within that category in some cases, and older anarchists are still helping me out quite a bit, but overall I’m developing into someone who could more appropriately be called a “luddite,” so for now that’s what I’ll call myself.

So it was Kaczynski’s “relationship with wildness” more than his politics or his ideas that were inspirational and your own politics have shifted over time from abstract to particular…how would you describe your own relationship with wildness?

My relationship with the wild is still developing. I’d say that in the day-to-day I experience wildness in an urban context: abandoned buildings, secret places I found when I was homeless, stuff like that. Places that are untamed but mostly hidden from sight, since they wouldn’t really be allowed to be wild if they weren’t on the margins.

When I can, though, I try to go out in the forests and mountains. They’re my favorite places to be, and really there’s no place wilder than wild nature. You can experience wildness in the city, but it’s a sick kind of wildness, wheezing, barely alive. In wild nature the spirit is thriving and beautiful. It fills everything and it puts you in this state of awe sometimes. It truly defines your time there. I’ve been trying to learn more wilderness skills so I can get out to the forests and mountains more, experience more of the freedom I’m fighting for. I don’t have a car, so I’d have to hitchhike out to these places once I have more time to, but it’s worth it.

What has your experience been promoting ideas critical of civilization, progress, and technology on a college campus? Are some sectors of the campus community seemingly more receptive to such ideas than others?

The experience has been good. One of the goals of the group is to stay small, kind of like a collective, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of non-personal outreach for the ideas on campus. Mostly we’re trying to figure out basic questions like how exactly to define “technology,” or what we mean when we say “wild.”

But I would say that the majority of the people involved have positive feelings toward these ideas. People really want to be free, you know? And, especially in the South, people love nature. Students in particular are either all for the ideas because of those reasons, or they’re immediately put off by them for what seems to be class reasons (working class people are more attracted to these ideas, for the most part).

The people I’ve had the most trouble with come from the community of political ideologues. Anarchists, liberals, and leftists who call themselves activists. They already have an ideology they’re trying to push, so they’re either dismissive of these ideas or they call them flat-out wrong. Which is fine. Many group members have realized that this project has strength not because of the political aspects, but because it really speaks to a fundamental desire for freedom that we all have. The things we are talking about aren’t lofty revolutions, but our every lives.

What is the UNC Freedom Club currently working on?

Well, there are a few different things.

1. Freedom Club’s main project is the FC Journal, so a big goal for the group is getting that journal to as many people as possible. FC Journal is meant to be something akin to the Dark Mountain Project, but with a little more analysis. The goal is to have a quality forum for discussion about the consequences of industry and what we can do about it, but another big goal is to have it be interesting to any random person who would pick it up.

2. Some of the group members are working on an essay “Beyond Anti-Capitalism,” which we’re really excited about. It’s going to do some scaffolding work for basic ideas we have, especially ones concerning technology, the anti-capitalist left, what wildness means after industry — stuff like that. The goal is to get feedback after this essay is published and then put out a more comprehensive book, “Technique.” “Technique” would kind of be like the “Das Kapital” of the anti-industrial position — except not nearly as theoretical, and written by 19 – 22 year olds. Hopefully it will be pretty comprehensive while still being accessible.

Ultimately, we want our collective to have some influence on the direction this kind of anti-industrial, rooted-in-wildness perspective goes, since it’s a pretty popular one worldwide, and, at least in my opinion, it certainly has the potential to be a big deal. Other than that, we have no lofty overarching goals, just a few concrete projects.

And in addition to that, I have seen some posters circulating that have been created by the group. One pointing out the fraud of “green” energy and another critical of body cameras as a way to end violence by the cops. Can we expect to see more stuff like that?

You’ll certainly see more posters. We want the online magazine to exist more than just online, so stuff will regularly be pulled and printed for distribution. One of those real-world things will be posters for every issue, which will go everywhere and be distributed to partner bookstores (we only have three of those, by the way, so if you own a bookstore, contact us!).

But the purely agitprop posters will definitely exist too. They’ll look more like the green energy poster than the body camera poster. I made the body camera poster, and while I think my anarchist friends really liked it, other members of Freedom Club thought the whole thing was way too charged for us, a young group. Before we do stuff like that, we need to better understand what it means to attack policing as a technology—whether in the form of surveillance, law enforcement, or the media—and better express that. Otherwise, our poster will get lost in the mixed bag of half-baked ideas.

But the green energy thing is very intentional. We put the green energy poster out because UNC is kind of bougie, full of people who talk about saving the earth. But we aren’t focused on the environment, per se, we are focused on wildness, and we are explicitly anti-industrial. The poster does well in making that distinction clear, scaring off the middle-class “activists” who are more concerned about the energy crisis than they are dying ecosystems.

More posters like that will focus on Google’s autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, and especially biotechnology. They’re great ways of getting these ideas in front of people who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention, and it expands those ideas’ presence into the real world. In other words, posters are one of the most effective ways of spreading wild values — which is the crux of what Freedom Club wants to do.

Are you aware of any other student group similar to UNC Freedom Club on any other campus?

Nope, but I’d love to see them pop up.

If someone were considering starting such a group on their campus and wanted to contact you, how might they do that?

I can thing of two major things, and they go for any student group.

First, contact people outside of the university. Work hard to build relationships with people who do the thing you’re trying to do. FC-like groups should contact bloggers, speakers, people who are influential and start a dialogue with them. Lots of people are out there willing to help, and as students we have this great opportunity to use the university name in our byline, which really draws attention.

Second, use the damn resources. Most universities are willing to throw away money for the sake of student groups. Groups here get thousands of dollars each semester. Use that to print things, to bring in speakers, or even just to have one crazy, well-attended campus event.

And, just a last thing, be sure to contact FC. We’d be happy to help you out.

To learn more about UNC Freedom Club visit uncfc.org More about the FC Journal can be found at http://thejournal.link/

History and Impact of Earth First!

For wild nature


John Jacobi

December 21, 2019


Many workmen
Built a huge ball of masonry
Upon a mountaintop
Then they went to the valley below,
And turned to behold their work.
“It is grand,” they said;
They loved the thing.
Of a sudden, it moved:
It came upon them swiftly;
It crushed them all to blood.
But some had opportunity to squeal.


The founding of Earth First!
is steeped in myth. In the canonical story, five long-term conservationists and an old yippie drove a rickety Volkswagen into Mexico’s Pinacate Desert. Their names were Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, John Davis, Ron Kezar, Bart Koehler, and Mike Roselle, and they were seething with righteous rage over the Forest Service’s recent RARE II legislation.They were determined to fix it.

In 1967 the Forest Service began inventorying the National Forest System to identify which roadless areas were suitable for wilderness designation, as defined by the recently-passed Wilderness Act. They called this project the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation, or RARE I. Finally, in 1972, the Forest Service concluded the review by noting that 56 million acres of land were suitable for wilderness designation, but it only recommended 12.3 million of them. Fortunately, the Sierra Club sued, and the courts ruled that the evaluation procedure did not comply with the National Environmental Protection Act’s assessment procedures. Thus, the Forest Service abandoned RARE I and began a new project, RARE II, in 1977, under the Carter administration. This time, it found 62 million acres suitable for designation and only recommended 15 million. Howie Wolke explains that this opened “most of the unprotected roadless wildlands under [the U.S. Forest Service’s] jurisdiction, except for a relatively few high altitude enclaves (wilderness on the rocks) … to road building, logging, mining, and other kinds of mischief incompatible with our vision of how things ought to be on the public’s land.” It was a devastating blow to conservationist morale, which had just been boosted 13 years prior by The Wilderness Act, then again in 1973 by the Endangered Species Act.

Worse, conservation organizations weren’t fighting RARE II effectively. The extractive industrial lobby was strong. In response, Rik Scarce writes, “ … the environmentalists reasoned that the only way to best the behemoths was to become one. But this entailed accepting the lowest common denominator, the weakest positions of the bunch, to keep everyone together.” Conservation thus became professionalized, and the grassroots wilderness advocates who had helped spearhead previous environmental legislation weren’t happy about it. Foreman writes that conservationists became “less part of a cause than members of a profession.” Furthermore, public participation in the debate decreased. An article in the Journal of Forestry reads, “Those sought-after folks, those moms and pops who give their disinterested opinions on wilderness, are as mythical as unicorns.” All this was the topic of conversation in the six-man excursion to the Pinacate. Most of the group were intimately involved in the debate. Bart Koehler and Howie Wolke were representatives for the Wyoming Wilderness Society; Foreman a conservation lobbyist and long-time grassroots conservationist; Kezar an employee for the Bureau of Land Management. They believed that a sufficient response to their situation would have to come outside the mainstream. They spoke of a vast ecological reserve system, recommended the idea of “rewilding” — restoring lost tracts of land to wilderness — and they based their ideas on the budding science of conservation biology, spearheaded by eminent scientists like E. O. Wilson. Wolke writes:

Suddenly, Dave blurted out the words Earth First! I liked it and we had a name. By then, our ranting had roused Roselle from his stupor and he, too, was getting excited. Then an idea for a logo came to mind and I said, How about a clenched green fist in a circle with the words Earth First around the perimeter? Before we could say Ayatolla Khomeni, Roselle had drawn the logo and passed it up front where it met our hearty approval (the exclamation was added later). Earth First! was born.


There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not many the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express
yet cannot all conceal


Dave Foreman became the prophet and leader of the new movement, and it showed in the character of early Earth First! As Martha Lee writes, “The roots of Earth First! are closely linked to Dave Foreman’s political history and his experience in the environmental movement.” Early in his youth, Foreman was a conservative: he supported the Vietnam War; for a period of his life strongly opposed communism; campaigned for Barry Goldwater; and was the New Mexico state chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom. But after a brief experience at the Marine Corps Officers’ Candidate School, he abandoned Republican politics, describing himself at the time as “a Jeffersonian running head on into the military state.”

In 1969 he visited the Sierra Club office in Albuquerque and shortly after began campaigning for wilderness. Lee continues:

A poster he had produced for the Gila Primitive Area Reclassification Campaign caught the attention of the Wilderness Society, and he began working for them in January 1973, first as their Southwestern issues consultant and later as their Southwestern representative. In 1976, he was New Mexico state chairman of Conservationists for Carter, and late the next year he moved to Washington as the Wilderness Society’s chief Congressional lobbyist.

After RARE II, Foreman left his job as a lobbyist and was hired again as the Wilderness Society’s Southwestern representative, in part working with regionally-focused groups like the eco-anarchist Black Mesa Defense Fund. During this time he came face-to-face with what came to be known in U.S. environmental history as the “ Sagebrush Rebellion.” Although he had previously worked with ranchers to strengthen support for wilderness, ranchers started sending him death threats,
demanding that public lands go first to the states and then entirely to private owners. “For Foreman,” Lee writes, “the Sagebrush Rebellion was a personal and political betrayal. …[It] provided clear evidence that the people who would be his true political allies were those who, like him, held wilderness to be the fundamental good and derived their morality and actions from that principle.”

Foreman was also heavily indebted to the works of Edward Abbey, a conservative desert ecoanarchist who thoroughly opposed industrial development of the West. Abbey is best-known for two works: Desert Solitaire, a reflection on his time as a ranger in the National Parks of Utah, and The Monkey Wrench Gang, a fictional account of a cantankerous group of rednecks who sabotaged the businesses and machinery destroying the wild lands of the West. The overall story of the latter book was inspired by a group active in the 1970s and known was the “ecoraiders.” The group, composed of teenage high school students, sabotaged billboards, drainpipes, smokestacks, and other industrial equipment after reading Abbey’s Solitaire and a widely distributed manual entitled Ecotage. For example, on April Fool’s day in 1972, the ecoraiders dumped hundreds of non-returnable bottles and cans at the entry of the Kalil Bottling Company office. Later, a 1973 report by the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association claimed that the group had cost them about $180,000 in damages. It was later revealed that the cost was higher, but the report published a lower number to prevent copycats. One member, 17-year-old John Walker, became known nationally as “The Fox,” and in 1973 allowed the New York Times to published a four-page spread of the group members in ski masks. By that time, the damage caused by the ecoraiders had reached about $2 million, and they were arrested by the end of the year.

Although the ecoraiders were the basis of Abbey’s story, the characters within were based on conservationists he personally knew. The infamous Hayduke, for example, was Abbey’s caricature of the conservationist Doug Peacock, known primarily for his work on grizzly bear protection. And the ex-mormon Seldom Seen Smith was based on Utah native and river guide Ken Sleight. This ragtag group came to be intimately involved in the early Earth First! Movement, solidifying the Earth First! stance on “monkeywrenching,” or eco-sabotage: Don’t officially condone it, but don’t
condemn it either. Wolke explains the effect:

Although in the early 80s Outside Magazine labeled us The Real Monkey Wrench Gang, in the beginning there wasn’t much discussion of monkey wrenching, other than our refusal to condemn it so long as it was non-violent toward life. But that was enough for the media to create a lasting association between EF! and ecological sabotage. Dave Foreman’s 1985 publication of Ecodefense, A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching and my own arrest and six month incarceration in 85 and 86 for eco-sabotage did little to allay the impression.

Three weeks after the journey to the Pinacate, the group hiked into New Meixco’s Gila Wilderness — the world’s first officially designated wilderness area — to erect a plaque in honor of the Apache warrior Victorio, who had destroyed a mining camp in defense of the mountains. An early member explained to the media, “We think the Sierra Club and other groups have sold out to the system. We further believe that the enemy is not capitalism, communism, or socialism. It is corporate industrialism whether it is in the United States, the Soviet Union, China, or Mexico.”

Over sixty people attended the first official meeting of the group, held in July of 1980 and known as the “Round River Rendezvous.” Such meetings would become an annual event, where members would strengthen their ties with each other, learn monkey wrenching tactics, and otherwise coordinate their efforts for wilderness preservation.

Later that year, Foreman and a former education coordinator for the Wilderness Society, Susan Morgan, put out the first ever newsletter for the movement, originally entitled Nature More, later known as the Earth First! Newsletter, and finally as the Earth First! Journal. In the first few issues, Foreman and others laid the foundations for the movement. For example, as part of the movement platform, the first issue demanded about 40 wilderness reserves — including wilderness designation for the moon — and the end of nukes, mining, power plants, dams, and any roads on public lands. “Not blind opposition to progress, but wide-eyed opposition to progress!”

Among other things, the strategy was to appear so unreasonable that moderate groups, like the Sierra Club, could make stronger, more uncompromising demands. In the proto-issue of the newsletter (“volume 0, issue 0”), which was distributed only to a small cadre of founding members, Foreman listed the goals of the movement:

• Make existing environmental groups and proposals look more reasonable.
• Keep the environmental movement from straying too far from its ideal; in other words, from becoming too conservative.
• Raise the ecological conscience of the American people.
• Instigate a widespread radical environmental movement in the 1980’s that is not afraid to use civil disobedience, demonstrations, etc. as tactics. Earth First will remain quasi legal. There is great potential here in tying into the infantile anti-nuke movement.

And in a membership brochure, Foreman listed the group’s basic ideological principles:

• Wilderness has a right to exist for its own sake.
• All life forms, from virus to the great whales, have an inherent and equal right to existence.
• Mankind is no greater than any other form of life and has no legitimate claim to dominate Earth.
• Humankind, through overpopulation, anthropocentrism, industrialization, excessive energy consumption/resource extraction, state capitalism, father-figure hierarchies, imperialism, pollution, and natural area destruction, threatens the basic life processes of EARTH
• All human decisions should consider Earth first, humankind second
• The only true test of morality is whether an action, individual, social, or political, benefits Earth
• Humankind will be happier, healthier, more secure, and more comfortable in a society that recognizes humankind’s true biological nature and which is in dynamic harmony with the total biosphere
• Political compromise has no place in the defense of Earth
• Earth is Goddess and the proper object of human worship [later omitted]

Finally, Foreman outlined the organization of the group. Predominantly, its organization was to be loose: “[W]hen you take on the structure of the corporate state, you develop the ideology and the bottom line of the corporate state. So what is the one kind of human organization that’s really worked? The hunter/gatherer tribe, so we tried to model ourselves structurally after that.” But the movement was showing signs of growth, and after the 1980 Round River Rendezvous, it established “two formal governing structures”: the Circle of Darkness and La Manta Mojada.

The Circle of Darkness was to determine Earth First! policies and approve memberships and group chapters. They had to willingly identify with Earth First! and could not be employees of mainstream conservation organizations. La Manta Mojada, on the other hand, was to remain secret, a “group of advisors to the Circle.” It was never again mentioned, although Lee claims that “in interviews …Foreman stated that its existence was short-lived and implied that it was also ineffectual …”


In 1981, seventy-five members of Earth First! stood near the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam. By that time the dam had become a major symbol for the environmental movement. One activist, Mark DuBois, chained himself to a rock as the diverted river water flooded the beautiful Glen Canyon, vowing not to leave until the state agreed to remove the dam. Of course, it wasn’t removed, but the Army Corps of Engineers spent days looking for him, eventually forced to halt the filling of the reservoir for a while. Ken Sleight — Seldom Seen Smith in The Monkey Wrench Gang — said of the damming, “I knew that the water was gonna come up. But when it did, I wasn’t ready for it. When you actually see that water come up, inch by inch, covering all the beautiful things you ever wanted to see… It hit them runes that the Anasazi had built, came up there and tumbled them over, covered over the pictographs and the petroglyphs… .” Edward Abbey had taken the issue on as his personal crusade, channelling the rage Muir felt over Hetch Hetchy. In The Monkey Wrench Gang, the characters’ main goal was, in fact, to eventually blow the dam up.

Appropriately, then, he gave a speech before the seventy-five:

We are gathered here today to celebrate three important occasions: the rising of the full moon, the arrival of the Spring Equinox, and the imminent removal of Glen Canyon Dam.

I do not say that the third of these events will necessarily take place today—although I should warn you that some of my born-again Christian brothers and sisters have been praying, night and day, for one little pree-cision earthquake in this here immediate vicinity, and I do predict that one of these times their prayers will be answered—in fact, even now, I think I perceive an ominous-looking black fracture down the face of yonder cee-ment plug—and this earth will shake, and that dam will fall, crumble, and go. …

… All very well, you say, but we prefer not to wait. We want immediate results.

The “ominous-looking black fracture” Abbey pointed his audience’s attention to earlier in the speech was a three-hundred foot wedge of plastic, tapered at one end, and rolled down the edge of Glen Canyon to create the illusion of a crack. While the crowd had distracted dam security, five silhouettes snuck up the dam with the plastic to unfurl it.

“The FBI interpreted the event as a harbinger of domestic terrorism,” Lee writes — the bureau even dusted the plastic for fingerprints — “and business interests began to express concern to the bureau’s Washington office soon afterwards.”

In these early years, Earth First! was ideologically unified and sported a “rednecks for wilderness” image. “ …it was to counter the tendency for social change and environmental groups to lose focus and drift into general left wing politics,” Wolke explains. So during the 1981 Rendezvous, which was held on the Fourth of July weekend, the three-hundred in attendance opened their meeting with an Independence Day celebration — flags and songs and all. Foreman and Abbey established a connection between wilderness and the American identity. “Wilderness is America. What can be more patriotic than the love of the land?”

The newsletter directly following that year’s Rendezvous discussed real ecotage for the first time explicitly. Foreman noted that reports had blamed Earth First! on the toppled transmission tower belonging to Utah Power and Light. He compared it to the Reichstag Fire of 1933, when ten Nazi agents committed an arson attack on the Berlin Reichstag and blamed the communists. Later, in 1985, Foreman published guidelines for monkeywrenching, writing it was “not revolutionary,” that “it must be strategic, it must be thoughtful, it must be deliberate in order to succeed.”

In October 1981, Foreman, perhaps paradoxically, published an article in The Progressive, outlining the ideology and purpose of Earth First! He wrote that “for a group more committed to Gila monsters and mountain lions than to people, there will not be a total alliance with other social movements,” but he nevertheless invited activists of various causes to participate so long as they agreed to the mantra that the Earth came first. He then began to tour the U.S. with the Earth First! Road Show. The movement continued to grow.


Over the next few years, several major battles positioned Earth First! as the cutting edge of the environmental movement. It helped lead the charge in RARE II suits, it popularized the challenges facing old growth forests and rainforests, and its vision of ecologically vast, connected wilderness later came to define conservation biology. Through all this, it supported itself economically by selling bumper stickers, posters, and Foreman’s 1985 manual Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. It also established the Earth First! Foundation, a tax-deductible organization that later became the Fund for Wild Nature.

By the end of 1981 the newsletter was converted to a newspaper to account for the influx of articles and letters. By 1982 there were about fifteen hundred official members. Foreman, who originally imagined that the Circle was to have “really solid control” to prevent “anybody selling out on us,” instead encouraged diversity in the movement and loosened his vision of the Circle’s reach. And then, in 1984, Earth First! membership was in the thousands. Foreman made management of the organization his full-time job.

At the year’s Rendezvous, Foreman stressed that Earth First!’s responsibility was to fight industry, always keeping in mind a vision of the people of the Pleistocene, who “knew [their] proper place in the world”:

In just a few generations, we and our forebears have taken the most magnificent and diverse of all the continents on Earth — in essence, the Pleistocene, with its great flowering of large animals, those thundering herds of biomass — and we have turned it into freeways and condominiums and Pac-Man and Pop Tarts. And we call that progress. We call that civilization.

In 1985, Earth First!er Mike Jakubal and Ron Huber conducted the first “tree sit” to protect Millennium Grove from deforestation. The tactic is rather self-explanatory: build a platform a few dozen feet up the tree, sit on it, and refuse to move. This prevented loggers from doing anything until they could get the protestors down, which, when it came to Huber, took over a month. It also succeeded in attracting the media, which prevented logging companies and law enforcement from dealing with the protestors too ruggedly.


As the movement grew, splits and fractures formed, even wider than the one that split Glen Canyon in 1981. Wolke explains:

… with growth and publicity, our ability to steer the ship diminished. Unintentionally, we’d created a vehicle for the counter-culture. EF! had become a vehicle for leftist, anarchist, anarchist-leftist, anti-hunting eco-feminists for gay social justice and new age woo-woo conductors of cosmic energy. To say the least, I began to feel out of place. In 1985’s rendezvous in the shimmering aspens of Colorado’s Uncompagre Plateau, I argued with an Oregon activist, to no avail, that it would be inappropriate for his EF! group to advocate legalizing pot. Not our issue, I insisted, exasperated.

A “Foreman faction” developed. One of its most radical adherents, Christopher Manes, explicated a radical primitivist vision in his articles for the Earth First! Journal. For example, in “ Technology and Mortality,” writing under the pseudonym “Miss Ann Thropy,” he insisted that areas with natural human mortality rates should be preserved, that monkeywrenching should be extended to incubators of technical progress, like universities, that monkeywrenching should be extended to all urban
areas, and that Earth First!ers should “spiritually reject” technology. In the same journal issue he proposed, non-pseudonymously this time, “ technology-free zones.”

Meanwhile, at the 1982 Rendezvous, Foreman gave a rousing speech on “the inevitable collapse of the industrial state… Mother nature is coming, and she is pissed!” His articles in the journal became more heavy-handed. For example, in his article “ Whither Earth First!?” Foreman restated what he believed were the goals of the movement, including putting the needs of the Earth before human welfare, accepting that overpopulation is an issue, antipathy to progress and technology, rejecting humanism, and “an unwillingness to set any ethnic, class, or political group of humans on a pedestal and make them immune from questioning.” He wrote:

… if I am out of the mainstream of Earth First! with these views, then please let me know and I will move on. I have no desire to embarrass good activists for Earth if the above points are not considered crucial or are detrimental to what they are trying to do. If Earth First! is no longer what I envision it to be, then I will accept that and wish the new Earth First! well. But I have no energy to continually debate the above points within my tribe and will seek my campfire elsewhere.

On the other side was the “Roselle Faction.” As has been established, Mike Roselle was not as intimately involved in wilderness conservation as his five cohorts in the Pinacate. He was in many ways the opposite of Foreman, steeped in left-wing counterculture and active in the anti-war demonstrations of the 60s. Thus, unlike Foreman, he perceived environmentalism as one of the many nexuses of social justice, along with gay liberation, women’s liberation, class war, etc. He did, however, make environmentalism his main nexus, and in 1986, Roselle became the national campaign coordinator for Greenpeace USA. Although Foreman wrote that he believed this was more a case of “Earth First! gaining Greenpeace” than “Earth First! losing Mike Roselle,” the event, as Lee put it, “emphasized [Roselle’s] distance from the other founders of Earth First!, individuals who were completely disillusioned with the character and tactics of large Washington lobbying groups”:

Greenpeace prescribed change through education, and its goal was to prevent the apocalypse by making industrial civilization more environmentally sensitive. Those tactics and goals were in direct opposition to Foreman’s vision of Earth First!. While in his more reflective moments Foreman admitted that there was a role for such groups (in their own way, they helped preserve some limited wilderness), admitting Greenpeace’s goals and tactics into Earth First! would fundamentally alter the latter movement. Ultimately, it would allow Roselle and other like-minded individuals to come together as a faction, with the tacit support of Earth First!’s leadership.

The more radical side of this faction came from left-wing eco-anarchists, who published a competitor to the Earth First! Journal entitled Live Wild or Die! The journal was organized by Mike Jakubal, who had spearheaded the tree-sitting tactic in 1985. It combined the utter rejection of industrialism that typified the Foreman faction with the social justice reasoning that typified the Roselle faction, and so helped give form to a left-wing primitivist tendency that had previously been developed by the radical left journal Fifth Estate, and that would later come to fruition with the 1999 Seattle Riots.

For historical context, the debate between the Foreman and Roselle factions, what Bron Taylor calls a conflict between the “Wilders” and the “Holies,” was a microcosm of an argument taking place within the larger environmental movement. George Sessions writes:

The schism between the Foreman ecological faction and the Roselle social justice faction that tore Earth First! apart is part of larger anthropocentric/ecocentric conflicts that have existed throughout the history of American environmentalism. During the 1960’s, as Stephen Fox has pointed out, “newer man-centred leaders” arose in the environmental ranks, such as the socialist/biologist Barry Commoner and Ralph Nader, who saw industrial pollution as the essence of the environmental problem, while viewing wildlife and wilderness protection with disdain. By Earthday 1970, the environmental movement had essentially split into an anthropocentric urban pollution wing, led by Commoner, Nader, and Murray Bookchin, and an ecocentric wing concerned primarily with human overpopulation and protection of wilderness and the Earth’s ecological integrity, centred around Brower, Paul Ehrlich, and most professional ecologists …

In other words, environmentalism was in a crucial stage of development at the time, and the greater battle that the Foreman/Roselle conflict typified seemed like it would determine the movement’s final form. The characters involved, then, justifiably took a high-stakes approach, cashing in all their chips and fighting tooth and nail.

And although the Foreman faction later made some significant victories, and may very well win the war, they lost the battle of Earth First! Most observers attribute this to the FBI’s THERMCON operation.

Late in the 1980s, a group calling itself the Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy (EMETIC) began several high profile sabotage operations. For example, in 1986, within the span of thirty minutes, EMETIC sabotaged several 500-kilowat power lines in three different locations, each about 10-30 miles from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station. The station had just finished a decade of construction, and the sabotage delayed its tests for its reactor at Palo Verde’s Unit 2 for a day. Later, in 1987, the group again struck, this time downing pylons that supported the
main chair lift at the Fairfield Snowbowl ski resort. The next year, they severed five power lines leading to the Canyon Uranium Mine, fourteen miles south of the Grand Canyon, causing a blackout.

EMETIC signaled a more serious kind of ecotage group, and Earth First! would later birth several more. But at the time, EMETIC was one of the FBI’s top priorities. So they infiltrated the group with undercover agent Mike Fain, who posed as an enthusiastic saboteur and later motivated members of EMETIC to conduct the monkeywrenching operation that got the group arrested. Unfortunately for him, he also forgot to turn off his wires when he said, “I don’t really look for them to be doing a lot of hurting people… [Foreman] isn’t really the guy we need to pop — I mean
in terms of an actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to send a message. And that’s all we’re really doing… Uh-oh! We don’t need that on tape! Hoo boy!” This later got Foreman a pretty nice plea deal — his case was separated from the greater one, deferred until 1996, and his sentence was reduced to a single misdemeanor with a $250 fine. But the other members were not as lucky. One member got a one-month prison sentence and a $2,000 fine; another got six months and a $5,000 fine; another received a three-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay $19,821 in restitution to Fairfield Snowbowl; and another was sentenced to a restitution of $19,821 to Snowbowl and six years in prison.

This not only shook Foreman; it solidified the schism that had been tearing the group in two for years. Foreman and some of the other founding members left the group, and a member of the Roselle faction, Judi Bari, became the new prophet for Earth First!


While under Bari’s leadership, the schism took a definite form. Earth First! now belonged to the “Holies”; the “Wilders,” on the other hand, went off to form an organization now known as The Wildlands Network. The organizations did not get along. In a review of Foreman’s account of his time with Earth First!, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Bari wrote:

Dave Foreman concludes that we hippie anarchists have steered Earth First! away from its original principles, and it’s time for him to quit. He says we have already accomplished what we set out to do 10 years ago. I certainly disagree with that. Sure, we’ve educated a lot of people, but they’re still butchering the forest, and our country just destroyed Iraq. What I think we’ve been doing is putting the principles of biocentrism into practice in the real world. And the radical implications of the theory, as well as the repression we’ve encountered, have scared Dave Foreman off.

So I’ll return the compliment you gave me last year, Dave. You’re a hero who will be remembered 100 years from now. But the movement has passed you by, and it’s time to step aside. Work elsewhere, where you feel more comfortable. But quit bashing those of us who are still on the front lines.

Deep Ecology, the philosophy the original Earth First!ers operated under, was eventually supplanted by “social ecology,” a theory devised by the anarchist Murray Bookchin. Again, the relationship between the two philosophies was not amicable. Bookchin, for example, repeatedly called the Deep Ecologists “ecofascists,” and regarded them as enemies of a true ecological philosophy, not simply allies who disagreed.

Perhaps Bari’s biggest achievement as an Earth First! leader was her union of labor and environmental issues. Specifically, she allied Earth First! closely with the anarchist group International Workers of the World (known as the “wobblies”), allowing Earth First!ers to mount a two pronged attack in some of their campaigns: from one side, the radical hippies in the forest, from another, the radical socialists inside the heavy equipment vehicles. Because of this union, she strongly discouraged the previously ubiquitous tactic of “tree spiking” — hammering nails into trees to slow deforestation — because they might be unsafe for the deforesters. Over time this resulted in an overall decrease of monkeywrenching activity.

Nevertheless, monkeywrenching remained an important element of Earth First!’s identity, largely because, in May 1990, a vehicle used by Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney (an Earth First! musician) was blown up by a pipe bomb. Bari was severely injured, Cherney injured only in minor ways. For a while the FBI claimed that Bari and Cherney were transporting the bomb for monkeywrenching activities, but they later discovered that this couldn’t have been the case: an analysis revealed that the pipe bomb, its surface wrapped in nails, was equipped with a trigger that would only activate when the car was driven. It was also revealed that an FBI chief had received the following anonymous tip:

Dear Chief Keplinger:

I joined Earth First to be able to report illegal activities of the organization. Now I want to establish a contact to provide information to the authorities.

The leader and main force of Earth First in Ukiah is Judi Bari. She is facing a trespassing charge in connection with the Earth First sabotage of a logging road in the Cahte Peak area. She did jail time in Sonoma County for blocking the federal building to support the Communist government in Nicaragua.

Bari and the Ukiah Earth First are planning vandalism directed at Congressman Doug Bosco to protest offshore oil drilling.

Earth First recently began automatic weapons training.

Bari sells marijuana to finance Earth First activities. She sometimes receives and sends marijuana by U.S. mail. On December 23 she mailed a box of marijuana at the Ukiah post office.

There is no point in pursuing local charges. But the use of the U.S. mail means serious federal charges. If you would like to receive confidential information on short notice to make possible an arrest on federal charges at a U.S. post office next time she mails dope, do the following:

Place an advertisement in the “Notices” section of the classified ad section of the Ukiah Daily Journal. It should be addressed to “Dear A” and give the name and telephone number(s), preferably 24-hour, of a detective who would be called to receive this information.

When a call is made, I will identify myself as “Argus.”

This created quite the frenzy in Earth First! Everywhere people were trying to figure out who this “Argus” was, and blame touched major people in the organization, including Bari’s ex-husband. Bari herself blamed the FBI, arguing that their speedy arrival at the FBI site was simply them “waiting around the corner with their fingers in their ears.” One of Earth First!’s leaders once again involved in a major FBI case, the organization weakened, even though a suit by Bari and Cherney eventually did result in prosecution of two FBI agents in charge of Bari’s case.

Meanwhile, Foreman and those who left with him, notably Reed Noss and John Davis, attempted to normalize some of the original ideas of Earth First!, particularly its ecological reserve system. They began an organization first known as The Wildlands Project, later The Wildlands Network, and by utilizing conservation science they made a strong scientific argument for the reserves. It is outlined in the project’s seminal text, Continental Conservation, edited by Reed Noss and the geneticist Michael Soule. The latter also wrote one of the founding documents of conservation biology, in which he modeled the new science’s “normative postulates” after Deep Ecology. Other ex-Earth First!ers worked closely on the National Forum on Biological Diversity to help popularize the concept of “biodiversity,” now a crucial concept in conservation biology. Still other ex-Earth First! ers helped establish major conservation organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity.

In recent years, Earth First!’s only notable project was a 2012 direct action campaign against the Marcellus Shale fracking site. Other than that, the organized is in disarray. In an Earth First! Rendezvous I attended in 2014, a significant portion of the event was spent addressing one shouting, crying woman’s frustration with dreadlocked white people in attendance. Foreman and co., on the other hand, have permanently changed the world. Conservation biology is now a leading science and the reason we know so much about climate change, ocean acidification, or the ongoing mass extinction. It is popularly accepted that at least some degree of wilderness conservation is desirable, and almost any scientist today accepts “biodiversity” as a legitimate scientific concept.

Family Reunion

While Bari was still leading Earth First!, the organization found itself implicated in another series of bombings by a group that called itself “F.C.” From 1978-1995, F.C. had sent at least 16 package bombs to various targets in technical fields and published communiques urging that radicals make their primary goal anti-industrial revolution. F.C., it was later revealed, was a former professor and probably genius who had gone to live off the grid in Montana: his name was Ted Kaczynski. I have already explained Kaczynski’s astounding story in Dark Mountain‘sTed Kaczynski and Why He Matters.” But I didn’t quite emphasize just how closely related Kaczynski was to Earth First!.

At the time of the F.C. bombings, many Earth First!ers claimed no relation to Kaczynski’s “anarchist terror group.” Indeed, in the aforementioned 2014 rendezvous, many of the older members present still insisted that Kaczynski had absolutely nothing to do with Earth First!. This could not be more wrong. In fact, several pieces of evidence suggest that Earth First! was one of Kaczynski’s central preoccupations.

The widely-available, explicitly-stated facts are these:

• The FBI found a copy of the Earth First! Journal and Live Wild or Die! in Kaczynski’s cabin.
• Kaczynski misspelled the name of one of his targets, the same way the name was spelled when the target was listed in an “Eco-Fucker’s Hit List,” published by Live Wild or Die!.
• Kaczynski’s tracts against “leftism” reflected the schism that split Earth First!
• Some of Kaczynski’s ideas reflected exactly the radical environmentalist ideas made popular in the Earth First! Journal.
• There is some evidence that Kaczynski attended an Earth First! Rendezvous.

These, however, are all circumstantial. The definite, less well-known evidence comes from the F.C. communiques — which includes a letter to Live Wild or Die! and several letters to Earth First!. In the letter to LWOD, F.C. tries to establish secret contact with the editors by teaching them a code and giving them the following instructions:

Place an ad in the classified section of the Los Angeles Times, classification #1660, “Personal messages.” The ad should preferably appear on May 9, 1995, but in any case leave a few days between the time when the Chronicle ad appears and the time when the LA Times ad appears. This ad should begin, “Dear Stargazer, the mystic numbers that control your fate are…” and it should be signed “Numerologist.” In between there will be a sequences of numbers conveying a coded message.

And in his letters to Earth First!, he asks the journal to publish his manifesto, gives recommendations for monkeywrenching strategy, and, under the pseudonym “Fabius Maximus,” gives his opinions on population growth. Even today Earth First! is within Kaczynski’s view. In his most recent book, for example, he notes the possibility of radicals using entryist tactics employed by the Bolsheviks to take control of the Earth First! Journal, which they could then use for revolutionary ends.

Furthermore, many Earth First!ers have expressed tacit support for Kaczynski. LWOD, for example, published two writings by Kaczynski in the seventh issue, and in 2011 the Earth First! Journal published an article entitled “ Re-visiting Uncle Ted & A Few FC Targets,” which reappraised Kaczynski and implied support for some of his actions.

There is no denying it: Earth First! seemed to have found its “crazy uncle.”


The following is heavily based on an article originally written by Leslie James Pickering, former press officer for the Earth Liberation Front.

Then, Earth First! birthed a child.

In 1996, the Oakridge Ranger Station was struck by an arson attack, ironically conducted by Jacob Ferguson, who would later become the FBI’s primary source of information about the perpetrators.Graffiti left at the scene of the arson read, “Earth Liberation Front.” In the following years, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) would grow to become the number one domestic terrorist priority of the United States.

The ELF conducted a far-reaching campaign of destructive acts of ecological sabotage against corporations and government agencies it believed were making a profit at the expense of nature. The group was especially active between 1997 and 2002, propelling itself into the national spotlight through a series of costly and high-profile arson attacks.

For example, on October 1st, 1998, the ELF set seven fires to Vail ski resort in Colorado, resulting in $12 million in damages. In a communiqué, the ELF described its opposition to Vail’s planned expansion. “The 12 miles of roads and 885 acres of clearcuts will ruin the last, best lynx habitat in the state. Putting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated.”

On December 31st, 1999, the ELF turned the anti-genetic engineering movement up a notch by setting fire to offices at Michigan State University conducting research sponsored by Monsanto and USAID working to “force developing nations in Asia, Latin America and Africa to switch from natural crop plants to genetically engineered sweet potatoes, corn, bananas and pineapples.”

On May 21st, 2001 the ELF struck two locations simultaneously. Devastating fires were set at offices conducting genetic engineering research at the University of Washington and Jefferson Poplar in Oregon. At the scene of the Oregon fire, graffiti was left reading, “You Cannot Control what is Wild.”

On January 26th , 2002 the construction site for the University of Minnesota’s Microbial and Plant Genomics Research Center was struck by an arson claimed by the ELF. “We are fed up,” the communiqué read, “with capitalists like Cargill and major universities like the U of M who have long sought to develop and refine technologies which seek to exploit and control nature to the fullest extent under the guise of progress.”

While the ELF rose in prominence, an aboveground faction of radical environmentalists explicitly supportive of them began conducting less radical activities against the same kind of companies the ELF targeted. Because of the influence of the animal rights movement, especially the animal rights terror group known as SHAC, these above-ground activists often borrowed tactics that had previously been confined to right-wing groups, like publishing scientists’ personal contact information or visiting the homes of corporate executives en masse.

Mainstream environmental organizations, however, did not regard the ELF highly, fearing that the group’s actions would delegitimize the entire environmental movement. One Sierra Club spokesman said of the group’s actions: “It’s too bad — every time it happens the environmental movement gets a lot of bad press. …Our only thought about them is hoping that law enforcement brings them justice swiftly.”

For many years, the Earth Liberation Front operated entirely beyond the reach of the law. Eventually, some individuals were charged and convicted of ELF actions, but the bulk of the most significant actions went unsolved until a sweep of arrests were initiated on December 7th , 2005. The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” indicted a number of individuals active in the environmental, anarchist and animal liberation movements and many were convicted largely due to information that they gave on each other.

The cooperation of Jacob Ferguson was the key to the government’s case against the Operation Backfire defendants. Ferguson wore a hidden audio recording device for the FBI while initiating incriminating conversations with his former comrades. By the time of their arrests, the individuals indicted were no-longer functioning together as a unit and a number had personal resentments towards each other and/or had undergone significant political conversions. In 2011, filmmaker Michael Curry made an acclaimed documentary about the case, If a Tree Falls. Curry’s film largely ignores the spectacle of the terrorism and focuses mostly on the failing or broken relationship of a formerly close-knit group of eco-terrorists.

Ferguson’s recordings, and subsequent testimony offered by defendants turned state’s witness, made up the vast majority of the evidence in the government’s case. While some Operation Backfire defendants cooperated for plea deals, a handful of ELF members got somewhere between 4-20 years in prison — sentences that were mostly unprecedented in the history of radical environmentalism. Many of these members, it was revealed, were dedicated Earth First! activists. Some even worked for mainstream organizations like Greenpeace.

One member of the ELF known as “Avalon,” considered by the FBI to be the mastermind of the ELF and the author of texts detailing the construction of powerful incendiary devices, committed suicide in his prison cell rather than face the government’s charges. “Certain human cultures have been waging war against the Earth for millennia,” Rodgers wrote in a suicide note. “I chose to fight on the side of bears, mountain lions, skunks, bats, saguaros, cliff rose and all things wild. I am just
the most recent casualty in that war. But tonight I have made a jail break — I am returning home, to the Earth, to the place of my origins.”

The ELF is no longer a powerful force, and almost all of its members are now out of the legal system, but occasionally a new generation of saboteurs attach the initials to their communiques. Many ELF actions, including a number of very significant actions, remain unsolved and at least some strategic evolutions have apparently taken place to better prevent a repeat of Operation Backfire. It is unclear if the group will ever rise to its former glory, but at the very least it has left a permanent mark on radical environmentalism.

Final Thoughts

In the following decades several other groups sprouted from the radical environmentalism that Earth First! spearheaded. Notably, in 1999 during the World Trade Organization meeting, groups of green anarchists successfully turned the demonstrations into a riot that disrupted economic negotiations and shocked the American public, who before were mostly unfamiliar with that particular brand of protesting.

In the late 2000s three activists — Eric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen — published a book outlining radical political tactics a militant environmentalist group might use. The book advocated a direct and immediate dismantling of industrial technological systems like dams, mines, and the electric grid, something it called “decisive ecological warfare.” The authors later founded an organization with the same name as the book, Deep Green Resistance. Although initially receiving wide support from eco-radicals, the organization, like Earth First!, was eventually beset by issues tangential to environmentalism, trangender politics in particular.

Groups continue to proliferate. Attacks on industrial infrastructure continue to be accompanied by communiques signed by the Earth Liberation Front, and new eco-terror groups like Individualists Tending Toward Savagery have formed. Less radical groups in conservation are progressively uniting themselves under a platform advocating wilderness preservation and restoration, and are beginning to offer bold, previously unthinkable proposals like setting aside half of the earth for protection from industrial development. And a schlew of what Foreman once called “passionate amateurs” are spearheading little known but impressive projects, like the United Green Alliance.

These groups are becoming more connected, setting aside minuscule differences for the sake of the larger goal: protect the land, and rewild what has been lost. Unfortunately, many suffer from funding issues and are often beset by schisms like those suffered by Earth First! and DGR. Unsurprisingly, these kinds of schisms also haunted the activism of the 60s as part of the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO program, which hoped to use dividing lines between activists of various stripes to prevent anything approaching a “united front.” But it appears as though those kinds of tactics are losing their power as the critique of civilization is becoming the standard critique for all kinds of political action, left and right. More and more people are beginning to see wild nature as a path to freedom and meaning, and are beginning to question the dominance of invasive and controlling technologies. And eco-terrorism is still the top domestic terror threat in the United States. Earth First!, or something like it, is due for a revival.

When, however, the now scattered groups begin to join forces — and as I’ve mentioned, this process is underway already — the new movement will have to learn from the problems outlined in this history. It will, for example, have to learn how to deal with divisive issues without devolving into harmful schisms; and when necessary schisms occur, it cannot let them sap the grassroots of its energy. It will have to keep its focus on land preservation and restoration, and avoid tricks that relate words like “wild” to mere acting out, or that transform strategic ecosabotage into an outlet for
hostility and criminality. Most importantly, it will have to be diligent in breeding a new generation capable of keeping on the tradition, something that early Earth First! did well, and the reason why a revival is now a possibility.

Dialogue on Wildism and Eco-Extremism

13 July 2016


1 Introduction

As was explained in the editorial for the sixth issue of Hunter/Gatherer, an interesting tendency is developing in Mexico that has had unsettling implications for me, other wildists, and those who have influenced us, like the indomitistas. Because this dialogue is utterly incomprehensible without background on this tendency and other related tendencies, I strongly recommend readers turn to the editorial first.

Also, one should note that the following discussion is not with an individual who has engaged in actions US citizens would usually regard as illegal. Rather, he is a propagandist who runs a website dedicated to publishing the communiques of the groups in question, as well as explaining the ideas and values that motivate them. Technically, because Mexico does not have free speech laws, this is illegal for him, which explains why he writes that eco-extremism is synonymous with criminality. However, because the US has free speech laws, among other reasons, the following is legally protected. My lawyer has confirmed that this is the case.

Finally, readers should note that after re-reading this dialogue, I did become convinced of one thing MictlanTepetli said: revolution should not be the aim of wildness-centered eco-radicals. You may read my thoughts on the matter in “ Revisiting Revolution.”

2 Opening Statements

2.1 John Jacobi

For three reasons, I have decided to engage in this debate with a sympathizer of Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje and their positions, which they call “eco-extremism.”

First, I hope to gain a better understanding of ITS from someone who is more familiar than I am with the events as they unfold in Mexico. They also obviously have a better understanding because I cannot read ITS’ communiques and Spanish-language texts very easily.

Second, I hope to clarify my own positions in relation to ITS. This is especially important because they and their sympathizers have used much of the same language, ideas, and references as we at The Wildist Institute [now Wild Will]. In fact, one of our former collaborators, Ultimo Reducto, is now known as a major ideological influence on the group, as well as Ted Kaczynski. (Neither UR nor Kaczynski support ITS or The Wildist Institute.) It is important, then, to reveal diverging opinions, especially regarding strategy, through this discussion with MictlanTepetli. Of course, MictlanTepetli can only represent himself and what he thinks or knows ITS to believe, but given obvious legal problems that would come with communicating with an actual member of ITS, this is the best option available. Besides, MictlanTepetli’s opinions do not seem to differ very much from ITS’, according to some associates of mine who speak Spanish.

Third and finally, I hope to critique what I find to be dangerous, unhelpful, or nonsensical positions within the eco-extremist ideology. This is especially important because ITS’ groups continue to grow, and many other non-terrorists have begun advocating the tendency. This is not entirely a problem, since ITS and the eco-extremists’ beliefs are not far off the mark, at least when some of their more intelligent cells communicate them. However, I am skeptical or plainly cannot support five elements of their ideology: (1) their stance on revolution; (2) their stance on indiscriminate violence; (3) their stance on terrorism; (4) and their stance on scientific understanding and/or their “paganism.”

Regarding revolution, the term has been the source of much confusion and it would be better off for individuals to shed the ideas they have associated with the word completely. Very simply, the question is whether conditions are such that (1) an anti-industrial movement can be formed; (2) an anti-industrial movement can significantly aid the collapse of industry. I believe that this is possible and desirable if it is possible. Therefore, I advocate “revolution,” although I tend to characterize it as a “reaction” since it is anti-progressive. I will explain more of the specifics of this position later on.

Regarding their stance on indiscriminate violence, I think it is abhorrent and unstrategic. And regarding their stance on terrorism [which, follow START, I define broadly], I mostly think it unstrategic. There is one exception to each of these: In the case of terrorism, I think that it is wise to take out the power of the word “terrorist,” which the state tries to pin on any rebellious group nowadays. Therefore, when I say I do not advocate terrorism, I mean a very specific thing, which ITS is doing, and which I will explain more later. In principle I do not mind if eco-extremists accept the “terrorist” label as a way to remove its power. Second, it seems that ITS and eco-extremists may mean something particular by “indiscriminate violence.” At least so far as I can tell from my limited understanding, it seems like they are not advocating bombing non-technicians randomly. It seems instead that they are saying once they have decided on a target, they do not care about who gets in the way—they have to execute the attack with singlemindedness, and regard for casualties in that instance would hamper their ability to do that. While I remain ambivalent about such things, it is clear that this is not outright insane, just as it is not insane for military men to execute their attacks with singlemindedness while in a warzone. If this is what eco-extremists mean, then I am mostly concerned with their inadequate means of expressing this. Of course, that is their own problem, but I will clarify the meanings in this debate so that I am not associated with their reckless means of expression.

Regarding their stance on “paganism,” I can only say that I do not quite understand it. It seems like play-acting, and clearly is not the most effective way to go about achieving a political goal.

In contrast to ITS and eco-extremists, I and the wildists have three core elements of our ideology: (1) a scientific materialist worldview, including its nihilist consequences; (2) a critique of progress; (3) the imperative to rewild. The latter comes with some ideas about an anti-industrial reaction. In short, we believe that it is possible to engage in immediate rewilding that simultaneously builds a movement capable of disrupting industry beyond repair, if such a thing becomes possible. We also believe that this is worth engaging in even if industry only collapses in a specific locality, and we do not think that a movement is useless if it fails to disrupt industry globally. I will explain the reasons for this in my discussion with MictlanTepetli about revolution.

Thanks to MictlanTepetli for engaging in this debate; thanks to Chahta-Ima for translating and facilitating communication; and thanks to the readers who suggested that it was important to clarify the differences between wildists and the eco-extremists.

2.2 MictlanTepetli

I have decided to continue this conversation with John Jacobi in order to spread and clarify some points that are unsettling to some concerning Eco-extremism. Jacobi belongs to the self-described, “Wildist” project, which is not very well-known in Spanish-speaking countries (due to most of the texts being in English without Spanish translation.) This is one of the reasons that this conversation should take place.

My first reaction to the opening Wildist text that Jacobi has submitted is the following:

Eco-extremism is to be understood as violent tendency defended by individualists who have left behind the usual hang-ups coming out of “anti-civ,” “primitivist,” or “eco-anarchist” ideologies. This tendency goes against all moral codes of modern society and advocates extreme defense of Wild Nature. We understand “Wild Nature” here to be any environment (endangered or not), but it also encompasses the most primitive roots of being, which are resisting domestication.

It energetically opposes and rejects modernity, human progress, civilization in its totality, scientific advances, etc.

Eco-extremism is a practice more than a theory. It is way more than a ton of paralytic words trapped in a discourse, or the lack of movement that stews in itself due to the immobility of “eco-modernist currents.

Eco-extremists use terrorism to spread their ideas, sabotage to put into practice their critical thoughts against civilization, the technological system, its science, its values, and progress. It utilizes organized and/or coordinated attack to make clear its complete rejection of the civilized mode of life.

The eco-extremist attacks with actions because he has his feet firmly planted on the ground, and he has realized that he still has the warrior spirit of his ancestors running through his veins. His ancestors were savages with their bows and arrows and an ancient interrelationship with the Earth. They caused significant problems to the Mesoamerican and Western civilizations. Both were not welcome in their territories where they roamed as proud nomadic hunter-gatherers.

The individualist who advocates eco-extremism wants and wills to see this civilization burn as the ancient warriors saw in their fierce victories against the invader. That is why their attacks are a continuance of those attacks and are indiscriminate. In their attacks, they don’t distinguish between blacks and whites, men or women, etc. because for the eco-extremist they are all hyper-civilized beings who tend towards progress and in one form or another contribute to the devastation of Wild Nature; to the loss of those roots and characteristics that distinguished us when we developed as just another animal in the forests, deserts, coasts, and/or jungles.

Jacobi has proposed me a conversation where we will address themes such as individualism, “revolution”, indiscriminate violence, terrorism, and paganism. We begin by breaking down these topics:

Individualism: Eco-extremists and those of us who defend this tendency are individualists since we reject the collectivist humanism that mass society defends. We understand that from an objective perspective we are owners and responsible for our own lives and actions. For we do not want other people to manipulate us according to their own will, thus domesticating us.

As individualists we understand that we are social beings, and we don’t eschew unity with other individualists in order to advance our concrete objectives.

All of this is within the parameters of philosophical egoism, defended quite vigorously by the nihilists of the Russian region in the 19thcentury, and retrieved from the dustbin of history by Eco-extremism.

-Revolution: Eco-extremists reject the idea of revolution since this always tends to deform itself and it has always helped to maintain the idea of modern human progress.

The concept has been used for an unending series of causes or political doctrines as an end for its theoretical presuppositions. The “revolution” is a prostitute who sells herself to the highest bidder; it can be used by opposing sides of the same struggle. It is an abused ghost that enters the mouths and pens of intellectuals and militants of whichever struggle. It gives itself over to many misunderstandings and deviations. That’s why the eco-extremists don’t seek it, nor do they strive for it, nor does it hold their interest.

Eco-extremism has rejected the term “revolution” as an end or a means. In our view, we have stopped being utopians and dreaming of a “better tomorrow.”

What eco-extremists make use of are reactions. They attack and write on controversial themes, taking the unpopular and politically incorrect side. This is to get reactions out of people, either rejection on the part of the majority who read them, or sympathy among the few who understand them.

Eco-extremism, more than wanting a quantitative leap, devotes itself to quality. It doesn’t concern itself with pleasing the masses. It doesn’t care to draw the sympathy of revolutionaries. It doesn’t seek to bring about something that doesn’t exist.

The acts and words of eco-extremist groups tend to be direct with many shades of pessimist realism that is dominant in our day.

As for the “anti-industrial movement” I would like to ask Jacobi: What are the ends that are to be sought in the forming of this movement? Are you able to ensure that those ends will work? Why do you people in the United States always talk about a “movement against X” at every opportunity? Is that the strategy you are always going to follow?

-Indiscriminate Violence: When eco-extremist groups defend indiscriminate violence, they are speaking of what Regresión Magazine spoke of some months back in an essay entitled, “Indiscriminate Attacks? What the Fuck’s Wrong with You?!” in which the following is found:

Putting a bomb in a bum’s cardboard box or lighting a street vendor’s cart on fire is not what we are talking about when we mention indiscriminate attacks’. Indiscriminate attacks are when we place a bomb in a specific place, a factory, a university, a particular house, a car, or institution where our human or inanimate target can be found, without regard as to whether an explosive can harm bystanders. Indiscriminate Attack is setting fire to a place of symbolic significance without worrying about whether “innocent people” will get hurt, in order to strike out at Human Progress.

That is basically what we understand by those types of attacks, and it seems that this is a topic that causes quite a bit of controversy and anger in “radical” circles.

For example, many “insurrectionary”, “neo-nihilist,” “eco-,” etc. anarchists get angry when they find that eco-extremist groups don’t care if “innocent bystanders” get killed in an attack. They are disturbed and scared by such attitudes, since they know eco-extremists are willing to do whatever it takes to carry out their attacks.

The double morality of anarchists is very clear here, since they know that anyone with a basic knowledge of the history of anarchism is aware of the many anarchists who have used indiscriminate violence to achieve their objectives. At that time, they targeted kings, the bourgeoisie, and the clergy. We speak here of figures such as Felice Orsini, Ravachol, Émile Henry, Mateo Morral, Paulino Scarfó, Severino Di Giovanni, Mario Buda, etc. as well as nihilist-terrorist organizations such as Narodnaya Volya.

Eco-extremists are just honest in what they do and what they will do. They issue a warning since in some of their attacks some “innocent bystanders” have been hurt.

The rejection of indiscriminate discourse has left some stumped. It causes negative reactions, and draws a line in the sand between those who support eco-extremist groups and those who adamantly reject them.

There are a myriad of examples today of armed groups (anarchists, communists, etc.) carrying out attacks or bombings in banks without the intention of hurting anyone. But in some cases this hasn’t worked and some unintended people were killed or injured in their operations. Of course, they are on the side of “the people,” and they say that they are concerned about “collateral damage”. But when it happens, they either beg for forgiveness or they deny being the authors of the attack. Eco-extremists don’t do that. Eco-extremists are honest and warn that they won’t stop because of anyone or anything in attacking their target. Why carry out half-measures? Why should we appear to be “revolutionaries” with the best intentions if that’s not really what we are? Why should we abide by a double morality? Better to be direct, cut to the chase, and take responsibility for our actions regardless of what happens.

Now more than ever, we live in the era of humanism, “good intentions,” progress, and the rejection of violence. But Islamic terrorism has also taken an important role in our time, one characterized by violence. The public is terrified by the war waged by the “sons of Allah”, which is a response to the war against their lands and beliefs. And even though speaking on this topic would fill up pages, I’ll be brief and state that I think that radical Islamists have every “right” to terrorize decadent Europeans in their comfort zones. On the other hand, I can see that behind this “holy war” there are specific economic interests at play. That which we are experiencing now is a war as in other centuries with religious connotations.

Continuing on this topic, of course this society really rejects terrorism. Eco-extremists understand this situation as a historical condition. That’s why we’ve come to the defense of this term, for it is completely opposed to the humanist values that modern society currently defends.

This is because if we can think back to the ancient wars that our ancestors fought, before and after the invasion of the colonizers, we would realize that Terrorism has always been present, only under other names. The Spanish didn’t call those natives who fiercely opposed them terrorists, they called them “savages”. The Holy Inquisition didn’t call those who spit on their white idols terrorists, they called them “pagans.” The British didn’t call the natives who joined together to expel them from their lands terrorists, they called them, “hostile Indians.” In any case, in the modern era whenever there is violent resistance, armed confrontation, or defensive extremism, it’s called Terrorism. That’s why eco-extremists defend the use of that term.

Here it would be appropriate to say that, if our intention was to create a “movement against civilization,” or “against the technological-industrial system,” we would indeed be concerned that this term would “not be strategic.” But since we don’t aim to have hundreds of followers, to form a civil association, or to work within the legal framework, we don’t give a rat’s ass about being strategic when we defend the term Terrorism, that much is true.

-Paganism: The eco-extremist has solid pagan beliefs in respect to his life and interactions with Wild Nature. He firmly rejects Christianity or any other religion. He revives from the past the deities associated with the Earth, with the plants, animals, the Universe, etc.

The eco-extremist is convinced that living in the modern age where science aims to explain everything, that aspect of vital importance already lacks meaning. Because of this, certain aspects of native beliefs have been lost. Today the great religions or science have positioned themselves over this notable aspect within the human being.

Pagan beliefs do not aim to aspire to position themselves within the category of “political objectives”. This is not a subject that we want to use to attract more followers. It’s more a personal thing.

We want to recover the most important practices that our ancestors had such as the War against the Alien, which is closely associated with the practices of extremist defense, sabotage, terrorism, indiscriminate attacks, etc. Also, we include here the consumption of native plants, curing ourselves with traditional medicine, firmly rejecting allopathic medicine, getting closer to Nature, etc. And within all that we seek to create for ourselves our own cosmological beliefs, for even if we know that we are civilized humans, we cling to our most primitive and wildest roots which we aim to recover in the present.

3 Paganism

3.1 John Jacobi

I considered whether or not wildists could be religious, and I determined that this is possible, but it is possible only in the same way that scientists can be religious. That is, many scientists believe in God, and that does not matter so long as they do not try to justify their scientific work with some “Divine revelation” or something like that.

In fact, deeply religious people (either pagan or Christian or whatever) have good reasons for being against industrial society. Many see value in religion and disdain the secularists’ constant attempts to eradicate it, which is necessary in industrial society (as historical trends suggest). Furthermore, although there are secular reasons for opposing industrial technologies as well, religious opposition is often much more powerful because of its irrational and emotional appeal. For instance, religious opposition to biotechnology is a lot more difficult to counter than secular opposition to biotechnology.

That said, we should be realistic, so I’ll add a few caveats.

First, most religions are progressive and not in line with fundamental wildist values, so Christians, for example, are unlikely to be wildists. Still, clearly even Christianity is compatible with anti-progressivism to some extent, as is clear by the high number of Catholics in the traditionalist conservative movement.

Second, I still think that ITS and others (maybe you, Mictlan?) are just play-acting. Do you actually believe that there are sun deities and water deities, or that there are animal spirits, or whatever? I doubt it. I don’t mind this in a metaphorical sense. In fact, I write in “ The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” section III.B about some of my ideas about religious experience in the context of materialism (and it comes very close to some pagan and/or “pantheist” ideas). But I still can’t help but think that you and other eco-extremists are simply advocating “paganism” in order to fulfill a primitive aesthetic, much like anarchist punks wear patches and get goofy hairstyles in order fulfill an urban radical aesthetic. It’s fine, and in most cases it’s harmless, but it’s useless and in some cases can be harmful, so in general I discourage it.

That brings me to my third point. I personally would prefer that wildists were strict materialists and maintained views somewhere on the spectrum between atheistic and deistic, simply because that signals to me that when it comes to making decisions, we’ll probably be on a similar page. I can’t be sure of that with so-called “pagans.” What if a river spirit tells them to vote a certain way?

In conclusion, I guess “paganism” is not actually contradictory, but I’m skeptical of it, and wouldn’t encourage it. Nevertheless, I would probably work with and, through a vote, approve the membership of religious wildists into my cadre.

3.2 MictlanTepetli

I’ll begin this new point on the theme of paganism by stating the following: I, MictanTepelti, in defending paganism, am doing it from a personal perspective. The individualists who identify with eco-extremism can either worship nature apart from the sense of the great religions or not. When I talk about paganism I’m talking strictly about my personal beliefs. I’m not stating that it’s a mandatory belief among all eco-extremists. I would just like to make that clear.

I agree that religious persons may have good reasons to be against the techno-industrial system, but I think very few religious people really oppose this system and civilization in general. The vast majority of those who claim to follow a religion are hypocrites or idiots, and they are only looking for a higher power for when they have personal problems. Religion from time immemorial has been the impetus for many bloody wars and conflicts. One clear example of this was the Cristero War in Mexico (1926-1929).

I have always believed that human beings are religious by nature, and it’s necessary to believe in something. This inclination has been used by the great religions for exploitation and to brainwash people. Either way, there are a handful of groups that maintain their primordial beliefs intact. Examples of these are the uncontacted natives from different parts of the world, from the Amazon to Africa to Australia, etc.

I think it is odd that you denigrate those of us who defend paganism, saying that we do it to maintain a “primitive aesthetic”. I know it’s hard to accept that in this world of lies and falsehoods, there still exist people who are ready to cast off the most vehement vices of civilization and return to our indigenous roots, no matter what the cost. For example, I come from a family with indigenous roots: my great-grandfather when he was still alive venerated the deer before he went hunting in the mountains. My great-grandmother made great use of natural medicines that came from the Earth to cure various illnesses. She gave these wild medicines growing at various seasons of the year a touch of mysticism. The fact that you attribute my paganism simply to a desire to have a “primitive aesthetic,” like I was one of those punks with a bunch of patches, is something that I find rather insulting. You or no one else knows my personal journey, and you should know that the beliefs that I have rediscovered from history, my family history, deserve respect.

Sure, I’m a civilized person living in the modern, technological, and industrial world. It’s hard for me to separate myself from the teachings that the schools indoctrinated me with when I was young. It’s hard for me to reject the idea that rain (for example) comes from a process within the hydrological cycle. Or that a river is just water, or that fire is a mere grouping of incandescent molecules. Or that the explosives that ITS utilizes are the product of an exothermic reaction. For before I believed in the “Spirits of the Earth” (for lack of a better term) I was also an atheistic materialist who based my beliefs more in the scientific method than animism. But that all changed when I had a very personal experience with a fox, a deer, and a pair of vultures in the semi-desert hills of northern Mexico.

So to reiterate, I am a civilized human being, but I’m over that. I prefer to recover my past as a Teochichimeca and to fight for it with tooth and claw. And even though I am well aware that I am not capable of a complete return to that worldview, it’s in this manner that my opposition to the techno-industrial system and modern civilization are fostered.

In the end, I understand that Wildist materialists like you pay more attention to the physical realm and the spiritual realm doesn’t appeal to you. We’re after all in the Scientific Age where there is an explanation for everything, an age when reason is weighted more than the teachings of our ancestors. Today a book by a “good author” is more valid than the teachings of our elders. We live in an age of severe amnesia in which progressive evolution denigrates and condemns savage behaviors and the beliefs that at one time were essential to our species.

I understand that it’s hard for you to accept, that defending paganism is swimming against the current. But this is about recovering our past in opposition to all that we have been taught since we were children, no matter what the cost.

3.3 John Jacobi

I never said definitively that eco-extremists defend paganism in order to fulfill a “primitive aesthetic.” I said I suspected this, but nothing more. As your response has demonstrated, some of you actually do take it seriously, and I rescind my speculation.

It is irrelevant whether you find my analysis insulting or disrespectful. This is a war, and I do not know you personally. You have made a prescient and touching point about your own beliefs, and I accept that as valid. But I will not hide the fact that I find paganism to be nonsense, personally. At most, I will not be intentionally inflammatory toward you and your beliefs because I do respect your bravery in fighting this war against wild nature, and because I do not think it is wise to burn bridges between two individuals who clearly hold so many threatened values in common.

Once again, I do not understand how you can “reject” physics or other such things. Clearly these things are at least mostly accurate, or else they wouldn’t work as well as they do. And I suspect that if you truly “reject” them, meaning you do not accept them as true at all, you may turn out to be like the indigenous people who believed in “Ghost Shirts.” Consider an excerpt from a letter I responded to when I was editor of The Wildernist:

I’m always reminded of the story of the Ghost Dance, which was a religious movement that some Native Indians adopted in the late 1800s. It stemmed from a prophecy by the messianic spiritual leader Wovoka, who preached that if the “Ghost Dance” was done just right, the spirits of the dead would fight on behalf of the Natives and make the colonists leave. Part of this was a belief that the dancers had “ghost shirts” that would protect them from bullets. I’ve heard a radical environmentalist actually say—actually say—that this was an example of their spiritual superiority, their “oneness with the Earth.” Apparently she hadn’t heard the end of the story, because in 1890 soldiers opened fire on Natives at Wounded Knee, and the ghost shirts did not, in fact, protect the two hundred plus individuals who died that day. The only “oneness with the Earth” they ended up experiencing was the oneness of their corpses with ashes and dust.

The moral of the story isn’t, “Ha! Look at those ignorant Natives.” To the contrary, Wovoka-ish mysticism has played out plenty enough times throughout history for us to know that humans just seem to be prone to these sorts of things. The moral of the story is, however, that radical environmentalist talk of “the inarticulable,” “oneness with Nature” and other such gobbley-gook is very likely or at least prone to becoming yet another example. So far I’ve seen no other tools able to combat this better than science and reason.

I have nothing more substantial to say about this topic. Your beliefs are fine, provided you accept the exceptions I gave in my previous letter. I only bring this up because I want to see eco-radicals everywhere rewild in the most effective way possible. I don’t care if this means “revolution” or whatever, so long as they actually care enough for wild nature to be effective in defending it. This is only a logical outgrowth of valuing wildness anyway.

3.4 MictlanTepetli

I agree that it is not pertinent to this conversation to consider your thoughts as insulting to my pagan beliefs. However, I think that there should be a minimum of respect for what each of us believes and defends in order to have a good faith conversation. I think there should be more tact than what you demonstrated when you started speculating and assuming things, but I’ll count that as water under the bridge and continue…

Your example of Natives who died thinking that the “ghost shirts” would protect them from the bullets of the whites is interesting, though in truth my rejection of modern physics or science is not as absolute as I have let on here. It is rather a partial rejection, for as I wrote in my previous response, “even though I am conscious of not being able to commit to a TOTAL regression, it is in this manner that my opposition to the techno-industrial system and modern civilization is fostered.”

As I was saying, I cannot eliminate completely the scientism that has been taught to me from an early age. But I can reject it in fits and starts, preferring at the same time to recover my roots by being a modern human who cherishes the teachings of my ancestors.

Obviously if a shaman instructed me to risk my life by confronting a bunch of armed men confiding only in the protection of the spirit of my dead ancestors, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t do it. Or maybe I’d find a way to do it in a manner in which I wouldn’t be risking my life in the process.

3.5 John Jacobi

You say that if a shaman told you to do something obviously wrong, you probably wouldn’t follow it. But doesn’t this suggest that you are actually a materialist and that you regard materialism as a better way of resisting the attempts of others who use delusions to hold power over you? I am a spiritual person myself. As a materialist I regard the Cosmos with awe and through reason and unreason alike commune with it, studying the process of creation through evolutionary theory, hiking through stone skeletons of the earth, washing in the river blood of the earth, etc. But ultimately I do not posit the existence of anything other than what is material–that is beautiful enough!–and I do not regard shamans or any sort of master as an infallible source of knowledge. Instead I think empirical investigation, logic, and other scientific ways of knowing the world have shown themselves to be superior ways of knowing the world, whether they are present in primitive cultures or industrial ones. And they are present in primitive cultures.

See Jared Diamond’s “ Zoological classification system of a primitive people“, in which Diamond shows a “nearly one-to-one correspondence between Fore [taxonomy] and species as recognized by European taxonomists.”

See also Louis Liebenberg’s “ The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science“, in which Liebenberg illustrates how scientific reasoning can be traced to the methods hunter/gatherers used to track and hunt animals.

This is, at least, my own belief. You need not reply if you do not want to. I simply wanted to make clear that by accepting scientific materialism I do not disregard spirituality or irrationality. These things are important to me because I love the WHOLE human, not just some parts. But I would much rather receive spiritual fulfillment from what I regard as true beliefs, cruel or not, traditional or not. Again, I write about these things in “ The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” section III.B.

I end with a quote from Edward Abbey:

Belief? What do I believe in? I believe in sun. In rock. In the dogma of the sun and the doctrine of the rock. I believe in blood, fire, woman, rivers, eagles, storm, drums, flutes, banjos, and broom-tailed horses…

3.6 MictlanTepetli

I am glad to know that you don’t place scientific reasoning above spirituality and irrationality. I know of few materialists who do this. Many seem to be programmed like a machine to spit out answers using an artificial rationality imposed on them by modern thought.

You know, today it is very difficult to find real shamans. In Mexico the indigenous peoples who are true “knowledgeable men,” don’t reveal themselves. They zealously hide their teachings, and if they share them, it’s only with a certain people. These are relatively few in number. The majority of “shamans” in Mexico are charlatans, dishonest people who use pseudo-spiritualism to get money, fame, or other material goods. You have to be smart, know your way around things, and observant to sniff out the frauds. Unfortunately, many who are drawn to animist beliefs are easily fooled by these con-artists. That’s how things are on this side, anyway.

I think that the spiritualist and the materialist will always be at odds since both look to reason: one to divine reason, the other to scientific reason. Some materialists ask: How can you believe in a god who you don’t see? The spiritualists respond in similar fashion: How do you believe in the Higgs boson, which you don’t see either?

I think that here it would be better to strike a balance and not disregard one side or the other totally, as I have written previously. I am a modern human being and I can’t think like my ancestors. I can’t believe anymore that water falls from the sky as a “gift from the gods”. I know that the water falls from the sky as a result of the hydrological process, even if I would prefer not to know that and remain with the beliefs of my ancestors. Unfortunately I cannot do that.

Thus trying to strike a balance is the only path left for me…

4 Indiscriminate Attack

4.1 John Jacobi

I would like to give the reasons that wildists are concerned with proper terminology. Oftentimes people dismiss these discussions as mere semantic debates, and sometimes they are, but proper terminology is important in some cases, and I think that it will be a recurring issue in our discussion about eco-extremism. We wildists have three reasons we emphasize proper terminology:

1. Without proper terminology, we cannot accurately communicate our views to the public. Obviously you are concerned with this too, or else you wouldn’t be having this discussion with me; and ITS and the other terrorist cells are also clearly concerned with this, since they frequently release texts and communiques.

1. If we don’t use proper and consistent terminology, we do not only confuse the public; we confuse our own members too. This degrades unity of action, since individuals who think that they can work with other wildists actually believe and want very different things. Clarification, critique, and honesty is an important way to mitigate that problem.

1. When we have proper terminology, we can spend less time clarifying agitating semantic issues and more time on issues that are more important. For instance, I used to use the term “leftist,” but this just confused the public and members, because they thought I was referring to the political left in conventional politics, when I was really referring to two separate tendencies: progressivism (especially humanism) and opportunism. Now that I simply say “progressivism,” “humanism,” or “opportunism,” people understand what I am saying more easily, and members are able to avoid useless debates that plagued us for a long time.

That in mind, I have two main things to say about indiscriminate violence, but I want to address only the quote by Regresion magazine right now. Ignoring the part about innocence, I understand this quote to mean this: when a group of eco-terrorists decide on a target, they will carry out their goal even if some people get in the way. In other words, terrorist cells of eco-extremists are not going to attack schools or random crowds, but once they decide that they are going to attack a certain infrastructural target or a technocrat, they must singlemindedly pursue the target regardless of the consequences at that point.

If that is what eco-extremists understand Regresion to be saying, then I can at least understand the position. In the military, a group of men engaged in active warfare cannot waver. They must make a decision and during an operation carry out the decision. They will of course not shoot civilians just to do so; but if a civilian attempts to stop them, they have to do something or else risk failure. Furthermore, military structure and training is designed specifically so that their men do not feel too badly about engaging in these actions. If they did feel too badly, they would not be able to achieve the goals. You wrote that this is simply the reality of armed conflict, and that is true, and you are right that people ought to be honest about that (which is a separate question of whether they should engage in it).

But the problem here is, again, terminology. If eco-extremists argue that terrorist cells should not be concerned with occasional collateral damage when pursuing a “specific place” or target, then they are not being indiscriminate—they are pursuing a specific target. Furthermore, if ITS is not going to bomb a school or random crowd, and instead focuses on technocrats and industrial infrastructure, then they are discriminating. It seems that ITS and other cells are actually saying that attacks must be executed singlemindedly, and that they should not have to feel intense remorse over casualties that are to be expected. This is at least a respectable position, and does not engage in the “politicking” that some underground cells in previous revolutionaries engage in. They say, for instance, that they care intensely for the harmed. This is rarely true, and they only say it to save face. Do you think that the military man is intensely remorseful for the drone strike he ordered? This is the character of armed conflict. But when you and other eco-extremists say you advocate “Indiscriminate Attack,” it sounds like you are prescribing indiscriminateness, which does little to nothing to defend wild nature.

4.2 MictlanTepetli

I understand quite well what you are talking about concerning terminology. And yes, up to a certain point some eco-extremists have wanted to try to clarify things when we issue a communiqué or analysis so that our position isn’t misunderstood. On the other hand, we have witnessed that, many times, even when we are very clear about our terminology, there are always stupid people who will never understand it. That’s why our texts and communiqués are addressed to a certain sector of the public in particular, mainly, those intelligent readers who are familiar with the themes that we discuss. Sure, the words of eco-extremists have been widely published in conventional venues, but that doesn’t mean that the discussion is meant for the majority of people. Eco-extremism doesn’t aim to change minds. It doesn’t pretend to influence the consciousness of the masses. The communiqués and texts are a shot in the dark; they are for those few who are willing to take them up.

On the other hand, some eco-extremists have found it necessary to clarify certain terms since it was an essential part of our new identity as a tendency. We have never denied that the essay, “Industrial Society and Its Future” has been an important part of our formation into what we are now. For that reason, in the past we used such terms as “leftists,” “power process,” “feelings of inferiority,” “liberty and autonomy,” etc. that in the present we have omitted or changed for other words so that we distinguish ourselves from the “indomitistas” of Kaczynski.

Leaving behind the theme of terminology, I will clarify some questions that have to do with indiscriminate attacks by bringing up some examples:

Some centuries ago, specifically between 1550 and 1600, in the region now known as Mexico, one of the greatest conflicts of natives against European invaders was fought. This was carried out by the warlike hunter-gatherer nomads who dwelled in the region now known as the “Gran Chichimeca.” They put up a ferocious resistance to any effort at domestication and subjugation. These ethnic groups fought neighboring tribes just as much as they fought against the great Mesoamerican civilizations such as those of the Mexica and Tarascos. The recently arrived Western civilization was not an exception in that sense.

Many of the attacks that were carried out by the wild Teochichimecas were against the caravans that were going to or returning from Zacatecas, the place where the Europeans had found silver that they obtained out of the great mines there.

The Teochichimecas ambushed the caravans and killed everyone with extreme violence. So much was this the case that even the mention of these nomadic warriors made the invaders shake with fright. No one was spared in the attack; they killed women, men, slaves, mulattoes, young women, soldiers, even the horses were not spared. This is a good model of what indiscriminate attack means within the eco-extremist tendency.

In this example, the objective that the Teochichimecas had was, without a doubt, to return the blows that the Europeans had inflicted with more force, revenging themselves for the offenses committed against them. The other objective was to expel the Europeans from their lands and return the silver to the Earth. The latter cannot be merely read about in books that discuss the “Chichimeca War” but also a few of the old people on the roads of Zacatecas tell of how, “naked men attacked the wagons that carried the silver and buried it in the hostile surroundings so that the whites would never find it.”

The objective was then to strike out against the invaders, and whoever was near the whites was also attacked with the same fury. In this day and age it is the eco-extremist groups who do likewise. For example, on August 28th, 2011, ITS members entered the National Genome and Biotechnology Laboratory in the municipality of Irapuato, Guanajuato, the security of the world renowned lab of the Center of Advanced Investigations (Cinvestav) having been violated by that group. According to the press, an explosive device made of dynamite was left there which the Mexican army was able to deactivate before it exploded. In its January 28th, 2012 communiqué, ITS wrote that the attack was directed against any investigator or employee who worked in the laboratory. This was an indiscriminate attack without question, since even though the explosive was left in a place that was widely associated with biotechnology, the blast could have harmed not only scientists, but also any janitor, security guard, or any other person not associated with research there. ITS acted like the Teochichimecas; it sought to strike without regard for bystanders.

Another example of indiscriminate attack was when a package-bomb exploded in the hands of the Vice President of the Pro-GMO Alliance (an organization headed by Monsanto Mexico), the cattleman Mari Valdés, who was gravely injured along with his secretary, on November 19th, 2015. The Eco-Extremist Circle of Attack and Sabotage claimed responsibility for this attack. In it, not only did the target Valdés come out wounded, but his defenseless secretary as well, who more than likely has little to do with the large corporations that carry out the genetic modification of plants. This is also considered by eco-extremists to be an example of indiscriminate attack, for, as is evident, one attacks a specific target without regard for collateral damage, which is different from the idea of a “random attack”.

On October 26th, 2015, the “Indiscriminate Group” (GI) abandoned an explosive in the station of the Metro Chilpancingo in Mexico City at rush hour. In their communiqué the eco-extremist group indicated that their target was the transportation system and all that it represented (environmental destruction, the urban commute of the masses, progress, etc.) The bomb was located by the police who removed it from the station and deactivated it, thus frustrating the attack. This is another example of indiscriminate attack, which caused disgust among many people, including those who claim to be against the values of the system. But GI acted without reservation, justifying the attack that sought to strike out against the public mass transit system without consideration of if they killed or wounded “innocents”. Everyone there were members of a society complicit with the destruction of Wild Nature, including human nature.

It is thus the case that, striking out in this manner, the acts of eco-extremist groups subvert the values of the techno-industrial system which teaches humanism, progress, solidarity, philanthropy, etc. Eco-extremists act out in a manner that is totally contrary to the moral rules that allow contemporary civilization to stay afloat. We defend the total rejection of humanism, for we lean towards terrorism against hyper-civilized people ( modern misanthropy). We strike out against progress with Regression. We don’t express solidarity with anyone unless they form part of our circle of accomplices. And we don’t preach pious sentiment, as we encourage individualists to satisfy their darkest instincts, with criminality, indiscriminate attack, and chaos; all of this aimed against the Alien and all that seeks to domesticate us.

“What eco-extremists do is to be sincere in what they do or will do. They issue a warning since in their attacks some bystanders have been affected.”

What I wish to say here is that ITS and eco-extremist groups do not preoccupy themselves with giving warnings when they are preparing an attack. I am saying ITS and the other groups warn that, in the event of indiscriminate attack, the common person should not try to play the hero because they’ll come out hurt. They should ignore the person placing the explosive somewhere or they’ll come out hurt. Modern Mexican society is immersed in an atmosphere of fear or indifference; we wish this to be the case as well when eco-extremists are carrying out their business…

4.3 John Jacobi

You say, “habrá siempre gente necia que nunca las comprenderán.” Amen. Wildists also write as accurately as possible but still do not expect more than an elite to understand, and an even smaller elite to sympathize.

I also agree with nearly everything else you say about eco-extremist attitudes toward terminology.

Regarding “Indiscriminate Attack.” One example was particularly clarifying to me, namely, the example of the Teochichimecas attacking caravans. You are right that this is not the “singleminded attack” that I had described earlier, although it also cannot be called “indiscriminate attack” since even the teochichimecas did not just attack anyone—they attacked specific people, specific caravans, etc. It is somewhere on the spectrum between “singleminded attack” and “indiscriminate attack.” I still do not support and will never support actions that actually are indiscriminate, and I do not and will never support the term “indiscriminate,” because it means, according to dictionaries, “done at random or without careful judgment,” and in reality I only support activism that is calculated to be effective for making the world a wilder place. Nevertheless, that is all I will say about terminology, since I now understand what you mean because of your example.

I have several responses to this, but before I outline my counter-arguments, let me outline what I understand to be the eco-extremists’ justifications:

1. ITS and other terror cells attack in this manner because the teochichimecas did it.

1. ITS and other terror cells attack in this manner because they are not humanists or even progressivists.

1. ITS and other terror cells attack in this manner because of their overall strategy, which is similar to the teochichimecas. You wrote that the strategy was basically to scare Europeans away by being more violent.

1. Finally, eco-extremists apparently believe that “innocence” is a relevant concept and do not believe anyone (or any industrial human?) to be “innocent,” which they say justifies “indiscriminate attack.” Out of all of the arguments, this one contains the most logical fallacies, so I need special confirmation that this is what you and other eco-extremists are arguing, at least as far as you know.

After you confirm that these are the four core arguments for “indiscriminate attack” I will begin responding why wildists believe differently, if you do believe these arguments.

4.4 MictlanTepetli

Continuing with the theme of indiscriminate attack: if we’re going to stick to the dictionary definition in particular, as in the word, “indiscriminate,” you’ll encounter this definition: “That which does not distinguish between particular persons or things, nor establish differences between them,” So I’m sticking with what the dictionary says. But as eco-extremism is a tendency that subverts all, it’s not surprising that you’re confusing “indiscriminate attack” with “random attack.”

I affirm, negate, and clarify the following:

1. ITS and other eco-extremist groups attack not only because of the spirit of the Teochichimecas. The reasons behind their attacks are many, ranging from what we have indicated here, to those that seek to defend Wild Nature in an egoist manner, mere revenge, or seeking to destabilize certain institutions in the present.

1. ITS and other eco-extremists groups attack in this manner because they are neither reformists nor progessivists nor humanists nor politically correct. That is quite certain.

1. ITS and other cells utilize Teochichimeca tactics, but also urban guerilla strategies, experimentation with armed struggle, practice of criminal activities such as armed robbery, psychological terrorism, etc. in order to reach their ends. One of the primary of these is the extreme defense of wild nature through terrorism against scientists, humanists, engineers, clergy, miners, businessmen, etc.

1. Though some may be more culpable than others, ITS and eco-extremist groups assert that all who conform to this society and who contribute to it in one way or another (us included) are guilty for what it does, and no one then is INNOCENT. If you contribute to this society or conform to it, you are not innocent.

4.5 John Jacobi

Regarding the point on “indiscriminate attack,” I remain solidly convinced that “indiscriminate” is not a proper term and does not properly communicate what you are trying to say. I will never condone the terminology, and I stand firm with that position. You write, ” it’s not surprising that you’re confusing ‘indiscriminate attack’ with ‘random attack.'” The problem is that most individuals understand “indiscriminate attack” to mean “random attack,” and because of this it produces all manner of confusion and many distracting debates that could have otherwise been avoided. This is obvious from the backlash that ITS and other terror cells have received (although that is partly due to the filthy humanist philosophy many “radicals” hold); but it is also clear in many of my discussions with people who agree completely with my values and what I suspect to be your own, or at least what you claim as your own.

The problem they and I have is that if people understand “indiscriminate” to mean “random,” then they will not think that you actually care about wild nature, nor do you care about rewilding in the most effective way possible. Instead, they will think that people who advocate “random attack” merely want to kill, or have something wrong with them. Furthermore, even your definition of “indiscriminate” leaves this impression, because eco-terror cells DO discriminate between who they attack and don’t, for surely they would not intentionally harm another eco-radical, surely they would not bomb a place “just because,” surely you would not attack primitive peoples. This problem is exacerbated by the language in communiques by ITS, which sometimes speak as though everyone is a target, when at the very least I think they restrict their attacks to the civilized.

This misunderstanding is a problem precisely because it applies to the indomitable spirits who are also seeking to defend wild nature and perhaps link up with others to make their resistance more powerful. I want to work with those individuals, so I do not want to scare them away by giving them the impression that I really care about violence and attacking rather than wild nature and rewilding. All this applies regardless of what eco-extremists actually mean by “indiscriminate attack.” It is enough that the majority of people understand eco-extremists to mean “random attack,” and this is largely the fault of eco-extremists themselves. I’ll say nothing more about terminology on this point.

4.6 MictlanTepetli

I appreciate your concern that causes you to dwell on how eco-extremists should revise the term so that it is “more understandable to the public.” Nevertheless I will continue to defend this term, as I feel most of the other eco-extremists do and probably will.

In that regard, I would like to make it very clear that:

- Eco-extremism as a tendency breaks with the stereotypes of other radical armed or direct action groups in that eco-extremism is itself a provocation and a subversion of civilized humanist values that govern our present society.

- Eco-extremism gets many reactions, most of them negative. If then we continue to use the term “indiscriminate attack” it is to continue to highlight the provocative tone of our rhetoric, which is our signature.

- The intelligent reader of the texts, communiques, publications, and messages taking responsibility for an attack will note that indiscriminate attack as executed by ITS and other groups is absolutely not a random attack.

- Eco-extremism explains its actions, and even though it is backed up by words, it is a tendency that emphasizes acts over any given terminology.

- Eco-extremism does not aim to be a movement. I am informed by third parties that, even though we’re not interested, many times things that ITS and the other groups do generate lively polemic within the “primitivist”, anarchist, and wildist milieus. But in reality we’re not overly concerned with how others see us. We lose little sleep over whether people understand our reasoning or not. Only the indiscriminate terrorist of eco-extremist inclination will understand the acts and words of another indiscriminate terrorist of eco-extremist inclination. And I’m fine with that. Eco-extremism is showing signs of expansion into other countries by what we’ve seen recently. This is real evidence that we are growing larger.

4.7 John Jacobi

You write that I am concerned with how the public understands the concept of indiscriminate attack. This is true to a limited degree, but my main concern is with how other eco-extremists and eco-radicals understand the concept of indiscriminate attack. You write, for instance, that intelligent readers will understand the meaning of the phrase, but intelligent readers may not be the only ones inspired to act. This is especially true when the language of the communiques is so messy, reckless, and open to misinterpretation.

You point out that it is permitted by our non-humanist moral foundations. As an example you point out the savage character of the Teochichimeca attacks on Christian civilizers and you note the way the Amazonian tribes who have recently been threatened attack all who threaten their way of life. Indeed, your example of the Teochichimecas attacking caravans was such a good one because it illustrated that THAT is how people sometimes behave when they are allowed to live as natural humans and are not bound by humanist philosophies. It is true that if industrial society collapsed, even in only a small region, the humans who live there would slowly regain their wild spirits and would likely regard neighboring bands or tribes instrumentally. They may not attack just to attack, and they may even have a working coalition, but if need be they will enter into war and be brutal. One of the most striking examples of this is the Yanomami people.

I recognize this point as valid.

However, I have some remaining qualms with the concept of indiscriminate attack as the eco-extremists mean it.

4.7.1 Suicidal Conflict

We live in the present, and in the present the primary concern for those who love the wild is (presumably) rewilding in the most effective manner. Even if our values do not allow explicit condemnation of the eco-extremist principle, it also does not explicitly condone it nor does it make it an imperative (as you know). As such, whether to engage in such action is entirely a question of (a) individual character and decisions and (b) strategy. Since (a) is so varied between individuals, I will not speak on it except to say that I am repulsed by some of what you implicitly or explicitly condone by indiscriminate attack. But I can only determine my own behavior, of course. Regarding, (b), I can’t give any specific suggestions because it may create some legal problems for me. It is enough to say that I do not think indiscriminate attack is a very good idea. If your enemy is much stronger than you, than it makes sense to prod him with a stick to wear him out, but if you prod too hard too quickly then the enemy will stamp you out completely. This is always a risk, but “live wild or die” does not mean that I DESIRE to die; death is not my GOAL, and I will not ask for it. Death is just the price I am willing to pay.

4.7.2 A Major Discrimination

There is at least one discrimination that is important: those who fight against civilization and those who do not. Forget what I think about those who do not fight against civilization; I think I have explained enough my general stance on the issue. However, obviously I and other wildists do not support hurting those who have joined us in our war against industry. Reading some communiques, it seems that ITS and other eco-extremists make this distinction as well. For example,

In communique 5 (2016), “We consider as enemies all those who contribute to the systematic process of domestication and alienation: the scientists, the engineers, the investigators, the physicists, the executives, the humanists, and (why not?), affirming the principle of indiscriminate attack, society itself and all that it entails. Why society? Because it tends toward progress, technological and industrial. It contributes to the consolidation and advance of civilization. We can think of all who form part of society as being mere sheep who do what they are told and that’s it, but for us it’s not that simple. People obey because they want to. If they had a choice and, if it were up to them, they would love to live like those accursed millionaires, but they rot in their poverty as the perennially faithful servants of the system that enslaves us as domestic animals.”

In communique 4 (2016), “ITS does not yield before the accepted morality, and knows that you are either with Technology, or you are at war against it. The former will die as well as those on the fence.”

This in mind, indiscriminate attack poses at least two problems. First, how can anyone possibly tell who is and is not fighting, passive, or on the fence in the context of “indiscriminate attack”? If an eco-terrorist sets off a bomb in a graduate computer science class, how do they know that members of that class are not translating communiques or essays, hacking industrial companies’ computers, etc.? Now, I have made no comment about the terrorist tactics themselves, and will not. But assuming that they will be practiced regardless, I recognize the limitations inherent in the tactics. I recognize that there would always be some kind of trade-off. But “indiscriminate attack” drastically increases the chances that eco-radicals would kill one of their own.

I obviously speak from personal context. I am an information science major, and I believe that hackers and cyberpunks can do a lot to aid the current destabilization of industrial society. For instance, jihadists, anarchist terrorists, eco-terrorists, African insurgents, and many others are currently forcing governments to conduct mass surveillance, and this upsets citizens—but only if they know. The cyberpunks, who actually often have eco-radical and anarchist sympathies, are letting the citizens know through leaks, hacks, and journalism, which creates a riotous climate more favorable to eco-radicals. This is why I am myself a cyberpunk and why I am strongly supportive of the movement. This is also why I and others are confused by eco-extremist rhetoric: do eco-extremists mean that anyone who does not fight civilization with bombs, arson, and terrorism risk death? Are there not other ways to rewild?

To be clear, I do not say the above because I am afraid of death. By attending university, a research university no less, and by majoring in information science, I openly acknowledge that I am in THE warzone. Universities are, of course, one of the primary sites of struggle for eco-radicals–I’ve said this over and over, and I know that I am at risk.

However, forget terrorism for a moment, whatever the status of those tactics. Consider the possibility that there are four or five student wildists at each of a few universities. That is more than enough to conduct sophisticated, non-terroristic action that is nonetheless highly effective. For instance, students know the university much better than any outside radical ever could; they are better connected; they have more access; etc. Furthermore, when students revolt, the media is usually favorable to them and the police can’t be as harsh for fear of backlash. In these circumstances, eco-radicals can take advantage of chaos because the strategic advantages are almost entirely given to them, the students. Furthermore, even if this does not result in material demands, it trains the eco-radicals so they can better take advantage of future situations. Through action NOW we prepare for the future later, and we are better equipped to take advantage of any opportunity that may arise. There is actually no other way to properly prepare. And of course material demands will NEVER be achieved without a “tactical spectrum.”

With this tactic some groups could be (1) possibly WAY more effective than isolated terrorists; (2) better guarded against repression so they can continue to act; (3) trained for the future without relying on the future; (4) better able to avoid the risk of hurting or maiming one of their own.

I am not trying to convince you to embark on certain tactics. I am only explaining the wildist approach and some of the reasons indiscriminate attack makes no sense to me as a strategic policy.

Consider also the repercussions of indiscriminateness as practiced by salafi jihadists:

While the downplaying of its elitist, Salafi rhetoric has softened the blow of these recantations to some extent, Al-Qaeda has been put in an untenable position with respect to one issue. Al-Qaeda has been forced to defend itself against charges that its actions lead to the death of countless innocent Muslims. Whether Al-Qaeda uses allegations of apostasy to justify these deaths ideologically; whether it argues pragmatically that the ends justify the means; or whether Al-Qaeda genuinely tries to minimize Muslim fatalities is irrelevant. Declining opinion polls in the Muslim world reflect the indisputable fact that Al-Qaeda has failed to redeem Islam, but has succeeded in killing innocent Muslims in large numbers. Despite its many adaptations, this is Al-Qaeda’s major weakness, and it remains an enduring weakness of the global jihad that the West should continue to expose.

Now, I recognize that you say that you are not trying to recruit people, and for the most part I strongly agree with you. We should not make our values and goals more palatable just for larger numbers. But remember again that I am interested in the most effective attack against industry that we are capable of, assuming that at a minimum this means effective rewilding by individuals and small groups. This means, for instance, that attacking people “on the fence” does not really make any sense. At worst that sort of rhetoric could even weaken the attack against industry by unnecessarily alienating individuals who were once you and I.

Furthermore, lest you forget how provocative the eco-extremist rhetoric has been, note these quotes from the most recent ITS communiques:

From communique 5 (2016), “Nothing, absolutely nothing guarantees that bystanders will not get hurt. In fact, our attacks are designed to cause the greatest amount of harm possible. And if more lives are taken in these attacks than we anticipated beforehand, so much the better. We can say this without hesitation or guilt because we are totally convinced of what we think and the life we have chosen, and we have shown this with concrete actions. Before any obstacle we know how to act. All possible “collateral damage” is not a “calculation error” and it is not “the price of the struggle”. It is a choice: a conscious and desired CHOICE.”

From communique 1 (2016), “It fills us with joy when tornadoes destroy urban areas, as well as when storms flood and endanger defenseless citizens.”

This does nothing to communicate a love for the wild; it does nothing to communicate the importance of radical defense; all it does is make people (including me, a fellow eco-radical!) suspect that some of the eco-extremists in ITS are sociopaths and that they are just opportunistically using eco-defense as a way to justify their violence. By now I realize that this is not the case with many eco-extremists, but the point remains.

4.7.3 Our Capacity for Empathy

Even if we aren’t humanists, we are still capable of feeling empathy. Obviously, this can be rebutted by saying that we are in war, and that is true, and I recognize the necessity of a purist defense of wild nature and all that that entails. But as a person who loves the WHOLE human, I do hope to discourage the distortion of human nature that occurs within all radical movements, a distortion that makes man forget the side of his spirit that is not a warrior, but that is simple and wants simple things. To do this, in my discussions with young wildists I frequently quote a video game I used to play called “Knights of the Old Republic II.” In it, one character says, “The jedi… the Sith… you don’t get it, do you? To the galaxy they’re the same thing: just men and women with too much power, squabbling over religion, while the rest of us burn.” Ultimately I believe in my cause; I believe in Reaction. But this quote makes me look at my commitments critically. I hope it helps you do this too.

In sum: overwhelmingly my biggest issue with indiscriminate attack and much eco-extremist rhetoric is the way it divides fellow eco-radicals who share nearly all of your values and by the way that it fails to remind that there is a difference between a civilized bystander and an eco-radical bystander.

Finally, question: In “Ataques Indiscriminados? Pero que chingados les pasa!” Regresion writes, “As we stated above, anyone can disagree with the indiscriminate eco-extremism that we advocate. For example, the so-called “Paulino Scarfó Revolutionary Cell” has done so in February of this year when it indirectly mentioned the ITS attack in Chile.” Does this mean that some eco-extremists do not necessarily support indiscriminate attack? I don’t know who the Paulino Scarfo Revolutionary Cell is. Either way, I think you can regard me as an eco-radical who questions the validity of “indiscriminate attack” and definitely dislikes the terminology.

4.8 MictlanTepetli

On the second point I would like to state the following:

I would like to reiterate and emphasize here that the contexts in which various struggles in defense of Wild Nature develop are different for each case. That’s the case in Mexico from state to state within the country, and just as much the case in the United States.

When you place special emphasis on the danger of placing bombs knowing that maybe the eco-extremists themselves would come out dead or injured, or other eco-radicals or people who share the same goal of the destabilization of civilization or the techno-industrial system, you are being too much of a catastrophist, as it’s hard for us to take such scenarios seriously. Indeed, I’ll go so far as to say that they are near impossible.

In ITS’s history (taking the oldest eco-extremist group as an example), there has never been the case of an eco-extremist, eco-radical, or similar person who has been wounded or killed in an attack. Even though this would be on the minds of eco-extremist groups who have carried out an attack at some point, I’m sure that if one day this were to happen, they would be upset by it but that wouldn’t stop them. It would be unfortunate, they’d probably be saddened by it as much as if a comrade were imprisoned for his extremist activities. But that’s the price that they are willing to pay.

You propose the example of if a bomb were left in a computer science class, perhaps there would be people present there who would be willing to translate communiqués or essays; or who are hackers. I’ll tell you that this would never be the case in Mexico. That is, the vast majority of people who study that particular course in engineering don’t have a clue about this stuff. Perhaps the people who could get hurt are leftist activists who don’t have a compelling critique of technology and civilization. Mexican leftist activists generally are progressivists and rebellious in their youth, but when they grow up and get jobs they forget about their rebellion. So it wouldn’t be a problem for eco-extremists if an explosion maims or kills these people.

Maybe in the United States computer science classrooms have a good number of eco-radicals or hackers who are working for the destabilization of civilization. If there were any eco-extremists in the United States you would have something to worry about in that regard as universities are a frequent eco-extremist target. But to date I don’t know of any eco-extremists operating in the United States. It’s all a matter of context. If somehow eco-extremists emerged in the United States, either as an individual or in various groups, I would imagine that they would be careful in targeting the universities to not injure people who are likeminded. They would have to be more selective in their attacks and less out in the open.

In the United States lately I’ve seen that “rewilding” has gone viral. There are now many television programs about survivalism or “primitivism”. I understand that more people are radicalized by the day in your country, that many people are drawn to this profound critique of the techno-industrial system and this is becoming a movement. And from that I believe comes your concern that eco-extremists be more careful in their attacks. But in Mexico this isn’t the case, and it doesn’t seem to be the case in South America either.

The times in Mexico when universities have been attacked, eco-extremists groups have chosen their target well, focused on something specific, did their homework, and attacked with calculation. Those who come out hurt are either the intended targets or some university worker, and that’s it. Thus there is no reason here to think that some eco-extremist was either killed or wounded here, let alone anyone who desired the destabilization of civilization.

ITS from 2011 to 2014 attacked nine university campuses, some even were attacked twice. The casualties from those bombings were four persons, with only one fatality. In none of these occasions were activists or anarchists or communists hurt, not to mention any eco-radicals or “passive” eco-extremists. Here I must emphasize that eco-extremism is synonymous with illegality. ALL eco-extremists end up breaking the law or thumbing their nose at authority. Some do this by detonating explosives, others by aligning with common criminality, some by transporting explosives or illegal materials, some by publishing blogs on these events, other by editing the magazines reporting them, still others by translating communiques taking responsibility for them. That is all to say, ALL eco-extremists are part of the same Mafia, all contribute to the criminal enterprise that strikes out against the normal functioning of civilization. That’s why a “passive” eco-extremist can’t exist, since once an individualist calls himself an “eco-extremist,” he becomes an illegalist individualist.

Next I would like to clarify that when I mention that I am working and striving for rewilding I am only speaking of MY OWN rewilding and the rewilding of my group. I would give anything to see the system collapse and for the planet to be free again from all civilized bondage. But I can’t since I am an eco-extremist and for this reason I believe that the future doesn’t exist and all that is left for me is this piece of shit in which I am stranded and I’m well aware that I am not the Earth’s savior. The only thing that I can save is my own life and the way I associate with my affinity group. I am Wild Nature, as well as my group that holds on to idea of not letting our wild instincts die. They took everything away from us, even a place where we can freely dwell. They took away our wild places, our ancestral lands, and buried them under cement. Thus I and my group are the only Wild Nature, and re-wilding is what we aspire towards. Sure, there are eco-extremists who have their own place of Wild Nature that they defend and that is their work. And the truth of the matter is that it would be an error to give one absolute meaning to eco-extremism. As you may know, within eco-extremism there are many current of thought, some more radical than others, although we all unite under the same principles that I mentioned in my first interactions with you.

On this theme we have to keep in mind context. For example, eco-extremists who live a nomadic life generally have places where they can go when the climate changes, that is, they have a place to defend. In that case they are interested in the re-wilding of those places and distancing themselves from civilization. However, they do this through violent and illegal methods, and not through negotiation. Eco-extremists like myself live in disgusting cities: we don’t have such places where we can live freely, one that needs to be defended or re-wilded. We get by how we can and we act according to our abilities but always in illegality. Of course, if the opportunity presents itself and we find a sector of the city destroyed by civil war or similar catastrophe, we would be committed to re-wilding that place, that goes without saying.

Here the same cause unites us: the nomadic eco-extremist groups who defend their territory (without publicly claiming responsibility for it) and those who concern themselves with the rewilding of those places, like us. We eco-extremists of the city carry out criminal activities and we claim responsibility for them, which is our manner of fostering our own rewilding, having always before us Wild Nature.

Continuing on the second point, you mention the indiscriminate attacks of Al Qaeda in which many jihadists have fallen in combat. Let’s keep in mind that, for them, to die in an attack that they carry out or one carried out by those of the same tendency is a blessing in their religion. For if their strategy of indiscriminate attack were weak, the group would have ceased to exist a long time ago. Instead it has positioned itself to be one of the biggest terrorist threats in history. I’m sure that if the Islamic State is defeated, Al Qaeda will still be around, for it has stronger support than the Islamic State, and it is still carrying out indiscriminate attacks.

Eco-extremist rhetoric is clear and, in fact, it is part of a strategy much more profound than that of some “mere sociopaths who use the the radical ecological banner as a cover for their violence,” so some might see it.

The strategy of eco-extremist groups is classified under the so-called “war on nerves” or “psychological terrorism,” where eco-extremists demonstrate that they don’t care about anyone in the attacks that they carry out.

This is a message to the authorities, large corporations, and the other targets of these groups, since the majority of people who read these communiques are the intelligentsia of Mexico, Chile, or Argentina (countries where eco-extremism has an active presence). In this they want to put these corporations on alert in order to create an atmosphere of fear and destabilization in these circles. An example of this was in the first communique of Reacción Salvaje where they included photos of two masked men holding pistols and a machine gun [see “Some Context for Issue Six”. The content of the communique was clear, and the message of many groups joining together into one was ominous, but the photos were the “cherry on top” so to speak. What would those two people be up to showing off their guns like that? The communique was published in August 2014, and in it the group, Reacción Salvaje, warned of possible terrorist attacks. Due to this, intelligence experts augmented police patrols on two specific dates: September 16th and October 2nd.

For September 16th of that year, during the military parade in the center of the Mexican capital, there was a large security operation in place, and even the baby carriages were searched (which made all the whiny human rights activists complain). All of this was due to the threat of RS and other groups involved in organized criminal activity. Even though there wasn’t an attack on the parade, people were very nervous. Psychological terrorism worked in that case.

In October, during the turbulent demonstration that is held every year to commemorate the massacre of students in Tlatelolco in 1968, a rather large police operation was carried out to neutralize any threat that might emerge, though there were a few attempts at violent confrontations with the police. Nothing out of the ordinary took place, however. Nevertheless, the concern among authorities was obvious, as counterinsurgency experts thought that RS and its factions would take advantage of the upheaval to carry out their attacks. They were noticeably very nervous and paranoid in that regard.

Apparently the authorities came to believe that the threats from RS were false, until November 20th came along and a demonstration took place in the Mexican capital condemning the massacre of the students at Ayotzinapa. The tumult began, violence flared up, the police held their fire while rocks were thrown by various groups of protesters: anarchists, communists, and among them, two RS factions that infiltrated the demonstration. The infiltration did not have the aim to demand justice or express solidarity with the people or anything like that. RS wanted to provoke a mortal confrontation with the political order, using the rage of the people for the purpose of destabilization. The emblematic door of the National Palace was the objective. If the demonstrators stormed the National Palace, the police would have fired on them, and the conflict would have resulted in a massacre or civil war. Two RS factions claimed responsibility for this attempt a couple of days afterward. Unfortunately they were not successful in their objective, but destabilization resulted nonetheless.

In the communique signed by “By Blood and Fire Faction” and the “War Dance Faction” of RS, it stated the following:

The disturbances in front of the emblematic National Palace were not an isolated incident. They were the result of the political, economic, and social crisis which the country is in. These actions made the federal government tremble, which has since yesterday whined through the mass media its prostituted message of a “state of tolerance.” It wants to plant in the heads of curious populace the evil of the situation, and by that, exhort it to reject these types of acts.

For us these confrontations in these conditions are useful for heightening the tensions that are derived from the weakening of the political sphere. One of our objectives is to incite violent tensions so that the police open fire on the citizenry, with the citizenry deciding to defend themselves against them, making the conflict more acute. The aim of all this is destabilization. The nefarious members of the security cabinet and the yapping press spread the rumor in September that we were going to attempt an attack on Independence Day (September 16th) or during the October 2nd march. Their mistaken prediction was only a glimpse of the paranoia caused by the publishing of our August 14th communique. This even though everyone knows that in the demonstrations around the disappearance of those aforementioned students, guerilla and anarchist organizations are always present, and they always end in riots and property damage. We state here that RS terrorists also participated, because when the crisis gets bad, it’s always better to try to make it worse…

As we have written previously, RS is not a group that ‘understands’ or ‘respects’ the masses . We don’t participate in their demonstrations to express “solidarity”, nor to demand ‘peace’ or ‘justice’. The RS factions want to work to see this civilization in flames and collapsing due to the problems of its individual members. And it that means we have to infiltrate demonstrations with sticks, explosives, fire, and even guns, let it be clear that we’ll do just that. For the destabilization of the rotten techno-industrial system!

The threat was carried out, the war on the nerves as a strategy worked and psychological terrorism was the result. This is a perhaps a good example of the strategy of eco-extremist rhetoric.

This is also the case with ITS communiques. This group is based on war on the nerves. When they issue these communiques, they want to destabilize and cause worry among those in charge of maintaining the status quo. This in spite of the fact that many reject ITS or understand the meaning of these messages differently.

For many, ITS postures like a group of psychopaths or insane people, though I am sure that this isn’t the case. On very few occasions they have spoken on their reasoning behind the communiques, and few have understood them.

With regard to point 3 we recognize that some eco-extremist groups do not mention the term “indiscriminate attack”, perhaps because they don’t agree with it or simply because they would prefer not to use that term.

5 Teochichimecas and the Past

5.1 John Jacobi

I gather that not every eco-extremist finds the Teochichimecas to be relevant, since I assume at least some of them have nothing to do with those primitive peoples, having other ancestors. So this mostly applies only to the eco-extremist cells who do speak often of the Teochichimecas.

It often sounds as though these eco-extremists are trying to one or more of these things, all of which have problems: (i) MIMIC the past, (ii) RESTORE the past, (iii) JUSTIFY the present with the past. I make the following critique because I think that the eco-extremist argument is strong even without referring to the past in those three ways, and all those three things do is weaken their arguments. Furthermore, of a group that speaks so much about the importance of the present, it does not make a whole lot of sense to try to restore or mimic the past.

Regarding (i), I provide a quote from Gordon McCormick’s “ Terrorist Decision Making” in the Annual Review of Political Science:

It is also evident that terrorist organizations often inherit or adopt a preexisting “script” or theory of victory rather than design a program that is tailored to their specific requirements or operational and strategic objectives. Many terrorists, in this respect, belong to “a tradition of historical action”. The (interpreted) experiences of their predecessors not only demonstrate that action is possible but can also provide terrorists with a set of procedures, tactics, and rules of thumb for carrying out their own campaigns. Historical precedents can be attractive guides. For those who wish to replace an incumbent regime but have no prior experience overthrowing governments, which is typically the case, an historical model can provide an immediate (if prepackaged) recipe for action. The problem this poses for rational decision making is not that such precedents are used as strategic aids, per se, but that they are often adopted uncritically. To the degree this is true, a group’s concept of operations is less a product of a strategic calculus than of a historical legacy, which may or may not be appropriate to the circumstances at hand.

This essay is also useful in explaining the differences between many of the ideas eco-extremists have espoused and some of my own positions. It also explains a phenomenon I suspect some ITS cells are experiencing, where terror cells become progressively more extreme, even unreasonably so, simply because they are so isolated and forced to live in unnatural, paranoid conditions (because if they didn’t the prevailing power would smash them).

Regarding (ii), I offer several quotes supporting my impression:

- You write, “I prefer to recover my past as a Teochichimeca”

- You write, “this is about recovering our past”

- The fifth communique of ITS (2015) writes, “With pagan pride we recover this spirit in the present, as well as all of the wisdom, tenacity, and commitment of those primitive and anonymous lives. We revive them in the present attack against civilization.”

And several others. But I am not seeking to restore the past in any way. I wish to restore _wildness_, and for that the past is only an indicator, because it is often only in the past that the level of wildness I want existed. For instance, we can know a little about natural human behavior by looking at natural humans, but this often requires some knowledge of the past. To give a scientific example, consider the practices of evolutionary psychology and its attempts to discern the ancestral, adapted environment.

Note that I do not invalidate an alternative reading of the above quotes: I understand the personal attempt to restore aspects of your own lineage. But that is personal and has little to do with most others. I’d much rather speak simply of the value of wildness and my quest to rewild.

The final point (iii) is a deduction from some of what eco-extremists have written about the past and my readings on terrorist groups. It seems as though “because the Teochichimecas” did it functions as a logical justification. But it is obviously a non sequitur. I do not discount its profound power as an emotional motivator, an important irrational element to resistance, which cannot be neglected. But, in this case at least, the two do not overlap, and it is not valid to say that what eco-extremists do is okay because the Teochichimecas did it. Because those people lived in a different time, they were less concerned about rewilding and more concerned about protecting their own people from outside attack. The latter may be an element of wildist groups’ resistance, but the purpose, the reason behind our Reaction is because we value wildness and seek to restore it.

5.2 MictlanTepetli

On the Teochichimecas, the majority of Mexican eco-extremist groups base themselves in their ancestors (Guachichiles, Tepehuanes, Irristilas, Raramuris, Zacatecos, etc.), for they are historical references that inspire war and bravery as well as fill us with pride. Similarly, the eco-extremists of South America don’t have Teochichimecas as their cultural reference, but rather the Selknam, Haush, Yamana, and Alakalufs, ancestors who were just as worthy of admiration and just as warlike.

Though I think it is erroneous on your part to say that we want to be just like them by imitating the past (i).

I, MictlanTepelti, am very supportive of an idea of individual and group rewilding that can be carried out in the present, and not just as something to aspire to, or dream about, or desire in a future that we may or may not see. But for this I think we have to have some idea of who our ancestors were, and from this knowledge, begin to have experiences that back up those references. If we wanted to imitate the past, eco-extremism would have never been made public, and I wouldn’t be responding to you from a computer. Instead I would be living naked and defiant in the northern regions of what was formerly known as Mesoamerica.

The eco-extremists and I don’t want to “restore the past” (ii). We merely want to learn all that can be learned from it and take up the things that we can and employ them in the present. It’s clear that we don’t live in those times, and in many cases things of the past are no longer recoverable. But we will try to recover them little by little.

Some weeks ago on the blog, Maldicion Ecoextremista, a news article was published concerning the Ka’apor[Daily Mail link] tribe in the Brazilian Amazon. The tribe was being threatened by legal and illegal loggers who come into their territory and destroy their ecosystems. The war that this tribe has carried out for some time now has been extremist, which means that it escalates by the day. Humanist organizations such as Greenpeace have offered to “help” the Ka’apor by installing video surveillance and motion detectors in the trees around the tribe’s territory to intervene in the conflict and pacify the natives. What happened was precisely the opposite: the Ka’apor being a warlike tribe and monitoring their territory found the loggers and escalated the conflict. Just as in this example, eco-extremist groups use the technologies that they have at hand to detonate bombs, commit arson, and assassinate various targets as a means to carry out their war. If they insisted, as you imply, at “restoring the past” perhaps their weapons would be the bow and arrow, atlatl, and lance instead.

“To justify the present with the past” (iii), doesn’t sound so farfetched, even though I don’t share this view entirely since the main reason for what we do is not “because the Teochichimecas did it.” I reiterate what I have stated previously:

ITS and other eco-extremist groups attack not only because of the spirit of the Teochichimecas. The reasons behind their attacks are many, ranging from what we have indicated here, to those that seek to defend Wild Nature in an egoist manner, mere revenge, or seeking to destabilize certain institutions in the present.

6 Rewilding and Reaction

6.1 John Jacobi

Here is a basic wildist position [ which I have changed my mind about:

I advocate rewilding because I am anti-progressivist and value wild nature. We agree on these points. I think we would also agree that rewilding is a religious act. Rewilding is the wildist jihad: we seek to burn the idols of civilization, the great edifices of Progress and technocratic arrogance.

I also seek to defend and restore wild nature in the most effective way possible. I recognize that many indomitable spirits who would be attracted to wildism would have to remain working as individuals or in very small groups simply because of their anti-social character. But then, if they really care for wild nature, they should seek to rewild in the most effective way possible as individuals or in small groups. In other words, I do not think that every wildist is going to be suited to group work.

However, where possible, group work is helpful because it is a more effective way for individuals to act. For instance, some primitive peoples formed coalitions in order to more effectively combat the civilized. Thus, the big question for wildists is how they can organize themselves in a way that does not betray their values and also enacts the maximum amount of damage.

The maximum amount of damage possible can take many forms. I do believe that wholesale industrial collapse is possible, and I think that it is possible to build a movement capable of doing this if the opportunity arises. Furthermore, I think that “building” a movement with this goal REQUIRES action in the present, rewilding in the present, and does not equate to mere “waiting.” Finally, even if we act with this goal in mind, our present actions can AND SHOULD achieve things themselves. I seek to rewild in the most effective way possible now with an eye toward greater damage should that become possible.

In one critique of the editor of Ediciones Isumatag, a former associate of mine, some eco-extremists argued that the only successful global revolution was the industrial one, and that other revolutions have been confined to restricted regions. However, this critique is not very strong. It is precisely because industrial infrastructure spans the entire globe that a collapse of industrial infrastructure could be global. Furthermore, even if collapse did only happen in a restricted region, that would be good enough! Think about the nature that will have been made wild, the places freed for wild animals everywhere! And if you actually read the history of, for example, the French Revolution, even though it occurred in only one country, it effected many nations, including those across the ocean, and it probably changed the trajectory of world history. For instance, the revolutionary and insurgent Simon Bolivar was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and brought them to many places in South America. I can imagine wildist ideals spreading in a similar internationalist fashion.

Finally, you ask about a “party.” I do mean a political party, but this is a party unlike others; it is a “combat party.” It is not a bureaucracy, and it will be very small. I wish not to speak too much about it just yet, however, because it would be better for me to speak about that particular thing after I have written my essay on it. For now it should be sufficient to say that the party we wildists are forming has a very specific role and I recognize the role of other kinds of organization within the movement. The wildists who work with the party are doing very particular things in order to make our overall Reaction more effective.

Probably “party” is not a very good word, and I’ll admit I do not like it very much. However, it communicates the general character and purpose of the coalition to people who are not very familiar with our politics, and that is useful for various reasons.

6.2 MictlanTepetli

In terms of rewilding, I am in agreement that those who truly respect and love Wild Nature are those who work individually or in small groups on their own initiative. Although one of the problems that Wildists will have to confront perhaps is that of organization, or rather, getting together people who are truly concerned for the Earth and coordinate their acts (whatever they may be). If memory serves, in the United States there is an impressive number of ecologically-inclined groups that simply can’t work together on the whole.

Years ago I had a conversation with a person who was advocating the creation of an “anti-industrial movement” the aim of which was the “collapse of civilization”. My criticism of his views indicated a number of problems that have occurred in historic examples of political movements in general, the primary ones being:

1. Organization (as discussed above).

1. Splits within groups that certainly will occur in the process of organizing, which no doubt hinders the efforts of founders of movements. Indeed, the Wildists were working hand in hand at one point with the Spanish “ indomistas” (Último Reducto, etc.) if I remember correctly, but that collaboration broke apart. Perhaps you can tell me what happened. Was that the first split of the future movement? Don’t you think that’s a little soon to start having divisions of this type, even before the movement even gets off the ground?

1. The threat that an above-ground movement that has the aim of driving the “collapse” of civilization (even if only in one small region, granted) could be a serious one. This isn’t a game played by idealistic kids. This can set off alarms among those who are pledged to defend the structures of civilization at all costs. The great world powers and large industries will not sit idly by knowing that such a movement has come into existence, one which aims to topple everything that they have worked so hard to establish. In that situation, is it a good idea to have an active movement that is above-ground? Or would it be better to go underground? If it’s above-ground, the members of that movement risk being arrested, and that their plans to inflict the greatest amount of destruction possible against the techno-industrial system will have all been for naught. If it’s an underground movement, perhaps there would be opportunities to dodge various consequences that characterize open warfare, such as arrests, torture, disappearances, having to go into hiding, etc. Though work in such a movement might go more slowly in the underground branch? What are your thoughts on that, Jacobi?

I still agree with the idea developed by Reacción Salvaje in their criticism of “ Ediciones Isumatag” that the only revolution that has really been worthy of the name has been the Industrial Revolution, the one that has triumphed until the present day. All of the other revolutions have been regime changes that have either gone either in a “liberal” or “totalitarian” direction. At the end of the day, it’s the same difference.

Though I am also in agreement that a “drastic change” in one region of the planet could have global consequences, I would like to know how this would be brought about. The “indomitista” followers of Kaczynski advocate the same thing, though they have never got into details as to how they would bring it about. Is there a difference between what the Wildists advocate and what the “indomitistas” advocate?

6.3 John Jacobi

First, let me clarify the meanings of rewilding and reaction, which I botched in my earlier email. I believe that we can view conservation as a large circle, rewilding within that, and reaction within that. These terms note the progression of the struggle of indomitable spirits, men and women who cannot live without wild things. At first they sought to conserve what was left, but did not go far enough and were not able to achieve enough. Now we have begun to rewild, but this signals that we must move from a mere conservative attitude to a totally reactionary one. Thus, reaction is the most extreme, purist defense of wild nature possible; it is total, uncompromising rewilding. As I write in the upcoming document for our organization:

…But when any movement hoping to conserve some precious and sacred thing must by necessity turn its eyes toward restoration, it must also note that the time for more radical action may be near. This is the state of our world: we’ve moved beyond simple conservation and, seeing our efforts destroyed by industry and its effects, have begun to engage in the restorationist act of rewilding. But simple defense is not enough, and it is clear that what is needed is a full and wild reaction to the Industrial Revolution.

At the very least, wildists advocate that individuals and cadres rewild in the most effective way possible. If this is all our resistance ever amounts to, so be it. But we at The Wildist Institute believe that more effective action is possible, and I will be outlining and justifying our ideas in the next few issues of Hunter/Gatherer. This means addressing the three questions you outlined, especially the question of organization.

6.3.1 Organization

I will have more to say about this soon, after I have finished my essay, “ Organization.” For now I will remind you that we start with the assumption of individuals and small groups. Everything else is built on top of that and I will spend time thoroughly justifying it. But for now, absolutely the most important thing for coordination between groups is a unified ideology. For wildists, this consists of the three elements I spoke of earlier: (1) belief in the material world and the use of Reason to understand it; (2) criticism of all forms of progressivism; (3) belief in the value of wildness and the associated imperative to rewild. Nearly everything else is extra, perhaps to add local flavor or to communicate idiosyncracies of wildist individuals (like your paganism or my materialist spirituality).

Also important is communications and propaganda. But these present some practical problems because we do not want to be too heavily dependent on the internet. As I said, I will write more on this soon.

6.3.2 Factionalism

In a soon-to-be-published interview with The Fifth Column, a journalist asked me how I think we can prevent factionalism and promote unity. I said this:

Factionalism between who? Environmentalists, anti-civvers, conservationists? I think we can agree that if differences are stark, factionalism can actually be quite helpful. The “big tent” approach might help for temporary goals or reformist movements, but for radical political movements a unified small population is arguably better than a broad but disunified one. So I don’t exactly work against factionalism. I’m fine with breaking off from a larger movement if a handful of us disagree on a few fundamental, unresolvable points.

I do not think factionalism is inherently bad. In fact, the Bolsheviks were highly factionalistic but took down a whole nation. And salafi jihadists are EXTREMELY factionalistic, yet are the dominant terroristic force today.

This is possible because I am not trying to build a movement that consists entirely of wildists. All that is required is a small group of wildists who are able to utilize mass revolt for their ends, trained in mob psychology, trained in networking, trained in infiltration and espionage. There need not be unity between the whole environmentalist movement–that will never happen.

As for my relationship with the indomitistas, I will not get into the specifics. Suffice it to say that I broke apart mostly so that I could act autonomously, because I had some disagreements with UR in particular. Nevertheless, I consider them to be in the same category of eco-radicalism as me, because they espouse the three central tenets of wildism. Unless they exacerbate disunity between us by issuing out a critique or so forth, I have nothing bad to say about them, other than the fact that I disagree with some aspects of their strategy. See below for differences between us.

6.3.3 Illegalism

I am aboveground because what I think is most helpful and necessary to advance wildism can be done aboveground. I am not interested in bombs and terrorism, and I can do what I need to do publicly. However, if at any point the government decides to no longer follow its free speech laws or something like that, I am prepared to continue my work underground; or I am prepared to go to prison; or I am prepared to die. I am serious about the slogan, “live wild or die.” In fact, it is necessary for membership in the aforementioned party that members are prepared to go underground at any moment, if the government decides to make our work illegal (as will happen if we become strong).

I am aware that if ITS ever comes to the US, if the ELF is ever revived, if FC ever returns, if Earth First! is ever restored, if eco-radicals begin to incite the revival preached by John Muir, I will be a target. I am prepared to accept the consequences. This is war, MictlanTepetli. We do what we need to, and you can be sure that I will not easily be caged. Remember:

I am the indomitable spirit who with nature

destroys the idols of man’s hubris…

I am wild nature, which resists domination

and which will prevail in the end

But in the present I am prepared to

live wild or die [from Chiaroscuro’s “ All who fashion idols”]

That said, there are at least some historical examples of split aboveground and belowground factions. PETA funded the ALF for many years. Earth First! functioned as a face for eco-radicalism while both FC and ELF were carrying out their acts of eco-terrorism. Sinn Feinn is an aboveground face for the IRA. The list goes on and on. Consider how you are a semi-aboveground propagandist for eco-extremists who are completely underground.

Moving on to your comments, you say that every revolution has just resulted in a totalitarian or liberal regime change. But even apart from the fact that you are forgetting wholesale collapses, the point is this: even if rewilding across a whole region leaves room for a few totalitarian leaders, they will not have the technical ability to control as much as the previous regime. Look at current examples: Egypt, Syria, Somalia, and so forth all suffered extreme disruption so that now it is (1) very difficult for autocrats to control the region; (2) very difficult to industrialize those regions; (3) very difficult for industrial mega-powers to surveil the region. (I’ll also note that some of these countries now have some of the lowest carbon emissions in the world because of the turmoil war and revolution has wrought to industrial production.) And on top of all that, the instability is enough for salafi jihadists to use the areas as base for even stronger, even more effective attacks to further their jihad. And I’ll note that even with jihadist factionalism, even with all the things going against the jihadists in general, they are a global movement.

Finally, you ask about differences between wildists and indomitistas. I think the differences are these:

1. Wildists are more likely to tolerate the messiness that comes with radical politics. The indomitistas are too pedantic. They do not realize that radical resistance is multifaceted and involves seedy characters, less than ideal circumstances, etc.

1. Wildists are more willing and better equipped at doing what needs to be done. Indomitistas are smothered by their culture of critique and counter-critique. This is not to say anything against critique, but it is not sufficient. We have to actively train wildists to be effective rewilders.

1. Wildists advocate a “ladder method,” where each action builds up to a greater action. As I’ve said before, if our resistance amounts to individual and small group action, then so be it. But I think it can be more than that. I think it can be coordinated to at least a marginally greater degree, and I’m willing to do this. Indomitistas tend to think that we can make a giant step all at once, and it sometimes appears as though they’ll accept nothing less than that great step. But that is simply not how effective revolt works. We start weak and we become strong in the process of rewilding; we do not silently build strength in the background and THEN rewild. Rewilding itself TEACHES and TRAINS and individual.

6.4 MictlanTepetli

In reference to the point on organization, I don’t have much to say. Only that I hope to read your essay soon on this subject in order to clear up some doubts that I still have.

On factionalism, it seems interesting for me to know your position when confronted with this situation. Many people consider splits within groups to be bad, as some once large groups grow smaller and weaker due to splits, while others come out of them having advanced and found better courses of action. Something like the latter happened with ITS: the group joined forces with others to create Reacción Salvaje in 2014. After a year of activity, however, they separated and split into various eco-extremist groups, although ITS went on to become international. RS was thus a learning experience for the new groups that went through the dissolution and split.

On illegality it’s good to know that you are prepared to go into hiding should the conditions require it. Few people would state that they would be obligated to do such a thing, and thus your project gives me great encouragement after clearing some initial doubts. I now consider it a sincere and serious effort for the defense of Wild Nature and rewilding.

Returning to the theme of revolution, if we take the regions of conflict that you mention as examples (Egypt, Syria, Somalia, etc.) I would agree that those regions are very difficult for their respective governments to control. They are places where industrial development has stalled and where the Big Powers really can’t have control over everything. But these regions can only be considered very specific examples, as none of them are inside the United States. I state this because the contexts are quite different, and the main question then becomes for me: Are the Wildists only looking to contribute to the collapse of civilization in one small region of United States? Or are they perhaps looking to focus on another place where there are more possibilities to experiment with rewilding and reversing industrialization?

On this subject as well I also think that it’s clear, for example, that the uprising against the Gaddafi dictatorship (within the Arab Spring) in Libya was considered a revolution, though it changed nothing other than one government for another. Since 2011 that country has been in a crisis, and as you indicate, there are cities that still haven’t been rebuilt. Industry has also stalled completely, but all of this isn’t due solely to the failed revolutions and uprisings, but also to the civil war that has wrecked that country. Other factors at play include the destabilization of the economy, the taking of cities and strategic roads by the Islamic State and the Libyan army, the rampant corruption, capital flight, etc. These are factors that one can’t dismiss as inconsequential as they provide context to the whole situation. This should all be kept in mind when proposing examples for what destabilizing civilization looks like, especially when discussing the collapse of a certain region and its subsequent rewilding.

Also, I am satisfied with your description of the differences between Wildists and “indomitistas”, and thus have nothing more to say on that topic.

6.5 John Jacobi

“Of course, if the opportunity presents itself and we find a sector of the city destroyed by civil war or similar catastrophe, we would be committed to re-wilding that place, that goes without saying.”

Exactly, and as you point out later on in your letter, those opportunities are given by circumstances far outside of the control of eco-radicals. The point is to be prepared for them, and I said before, you prepare through PRESENT action, through acting in accordance with your values now. Who is more prepared to take advantage of a crowd forming: the person who has merely spoken about doing it or the person who has done it before and learned some lessons?

“Are the Wildists only looking to contribute to the collapse of civilization in one small region of United States? Or are they perhaps looking to focus on another place where there are more possibilities to experiment with rewilding and reversing industrialization?”

Wildists at the moment are in various places in the US, Germany, and the UK. There was a person in China, but we lost contact. There are a handful of students who have adopted the label and many more who are paying attention. In all, we are very small and much too weak to contribute to collapse in small regions of the US. As I write in my essay, “Organization,” if we can ever do that, it is an undefinable time in the future.

For now, our goals are these:

1. globalize the wildist ideology (1. materialist worldview, including its egoistic, nihilistic, and spiritual consequences; 2. the critique of progress, including social progressivism; 3. the imperative to rewild)

1. link various groups together so that their actions benefit one another

1. contribute to destabilization and tension in the course of globalizing the ideology

To achieve 1 and 3, we are and will be focusing on places that are “sites of convergence” for many industries. Universities are an example of this. At universities there is much research and there are many important people relating to genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, computing, and other such things. They are, as one writer put it, “the core of the science and technology system” in the US.

Also to achieve 1 and 3, we will be working more directly for wilderness designation.

And while doing the above, we will also be achieving 2, because we are going to be pushing The Rewilding Program. If many groups, moderate and radical and extremist, are citing The Rewilding Program as a demand, then we can at least give the moderates “some bite” and achieve some good things regarding defense of wild nature.

Also, I think that the current Rewilding Program extends into Canada and Mexico, so the whole continent is covered by it. For wildists outside of this continent, they could decide to formulate their own program, which would provide them with a means of uniting themselves, achieving things, and benefiting their eco-radical brethren.

The hope is that by globalizing the ideology, even if governments succeed in weakening us, the ideas will be waiting in many places for other indomitable spirits to take it up. And if we can succeed in foiling the government’s attempts in some places, we can look to doing even more. This is all covered in my essay, so I will wait to hear your thoughts on it before saying anything else.

6.6 MictlanTepetli

The present is all that exists. The future is uncertain and full of unknowns. Eco-extremists grasp that we are epically fucked. There’s nothing left to build, hope is dead, the only thing left to do is confront the decadent present with acts and words that subvert it, and destroy the values and morality that uphold civilization, that’s all.

When we began this conversation, I asked:

Why is it that everyone in the U.S. tries to advocate at every opportunity a movement against [X]? Is that always the plan: “Let’s build a movement”?

I asked this because, at every opportunity, you people up north, that is to say, those who have the Anglo-American mentality, whether reformist or not, always want to build “movements”. It’s as if the drive to “fix everything” runs through your veins and was in your DNA. Even Wild Nature doesn’t seem to escape it.

Since Kaczynski proposed that wrong-headed idea of a future “revolution against the techno-industrial system,” many have followed that idea, with many nuances of course, to the point that many have already drawn out the final stages of that movement of the masses in their heads, one that is sure of itself and unwavering. Both Wildists and “indomitistas” bet on success in an uncertain future, in a movement that has been established firmly in theory but has yet to be proven by the trial by fire of practice. It’s satisfying to put a touch of complexity into the conspiracy that will lead to the collapse of civilization. Sure, I can admit that, but it still seems that it has too much in common with the same old tired and worn strategies.

We eco-extremists have come to understand that we’re not the “saviors of the Earth”. That’s there’s nothing more to understand here: the War is in the here and now, and to follow a strategy only positions us as one group among many in the history of guerilla groups, subversives, rebels, etc. I assure you that we aren’t just another group.

I am certain that I and my people fight for a very unique cause, a War that only a few understand. In this we don’t aspire to “something greater,” nor to anything that can save us from the danger that our hostile attitude to this shitty system brings.

FC said in this essay, “Industrial Society and Its Future”: “A new kind of society cannot be designed on paper. That is, you cannot plan out a new form of society in advance, then set it up and expect it to function as it was designed to do.”

These words also address the idea of a future “anti-industrial movement”. You can’t theoretically plan the collapse of civilization, and then implement it and expect it to go according to plan. In this I am not implying that you in particular would like the plan to go off without a hitch. But I would like to reiterate that the time one devotes to making such a movement could be totally wasted or not, and that the new account is an uncertain question.

As I wrote in my past correspondence, I am pleased to know that there are people out there who are willing to die for Wild Nature. And as I have read these exchanges as a dialogue of equals, I believe you to be sincere about your beliefs. But leaving behind such praises, the eco-extremist doesn’t bet on future movements, nor does he play at being “the Savior of the Earth,” for reasons already given.

And I never said that not having faith in a future is a strategy…

6.7 John Jacobi

First, I suspect that a conversation about the future and the present is needed, given that this seems to be an important, though perhaps minor, point of difference between the two eco-radical tendencies. Like the other topics covered in this exchange, it seems that we begin on a similar philosophical basis: I am a pessimist and a nihilist, for instance. However, what we interpret to be the implications of those ideas seems to differ. Perhaps in the next few months I will issue out an essay on my thoughts regarding this aspect of eco-extremism.

Second, you say that you see a tendency among North Americans to always want to build a “movement” out of a grievance. This may certainly be true, but it is not distinctly North American. As you know, the indomitistas in Spain say the same thing; as do many cypherpunks in Germany, politicals in France, politicals in Russia, and so forth. Instead of being a distinctly North American thing, I suspect that it is a product of humanist collectivism, the tendency for those indoctrinated into its ideology to think that “we are all in this together.”

I think we agree on this point. What I don’t think you realize, reading my last letter, is that I am not a fan of “movements.” I sometimes use the word simply because I know of nothing else to describe what I have in mind, but I do not wish to encourage indiscriminate solidarity like some vile technician. An individual is bound to nothing other than himself and his material condition — from there we can form coalitions, but always these things are secondary and subordinate to the individual’s will. The point of my essay in “Organization” is to express a possible way forward on this basis. The problem is that nothing like that has ever done before, except perhaps the natives who formed coalitions against colonists, but that was a much different time, with very different conditions. So what I have proposed may not work, but as an individual I pursue it as something effective I can do now, especially since the present work that entails, and every probable step of the way, benefits defense of wild nature by protecting wildlands and, if individuals choose to do so, monkeywrenching.

So I do not only measure effectiveness by the immediate material harm I cause to industrial infrastructure, through fire or bombs. I do not dismiss these things in all instances, but in my own heart I find it also acceptable to do what is necessary to preserve the few wildlands we have left, to use those wildlands, and to look at the tens of hundreds of wild creatures who would not still be here without that work. This is my starting point. This is why I speak less of fire or attack and more about wilderness and the other creatures on whom I materially depend in the wild world I love.

And I am perhaps more willing than you and other eco-extremists to look toward the future. I do not find your philosophy to be coherent, actually, and doubt you follow it in the way you have expressed it; we need to consider the future, or else we would have died, evolutionarily weeded out. But what the eco-extremists are doing — and I appreciate it because it is needed — is that they are pointing out that there is a limit to what we can trade off in the present for the future. We cannot just keep saying “maybe one day.” There is a time for more immediate defense and attack, more drastic action, a more purist approach. This is, indeed, the meaning of Reaction. Of course, there is still a trade-off. But I am unwilling to embark on any “ten-year plan” that is not okay with what it is doing every moment it is doing it. There will be no three-year sacrifice of drudgery for some greater future goal — promising that has been a primary tool of the technical system in order to placate conservationists for just long enough until they disappear, burn out, or die.

Instead, wildists propose a course of action that we can be proud of every moment, that we can say, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, we know we have done good. We keep future potentials in mind, sure, but there is no expectation that they will arrive. We only acknowledge the future because if we have to choose between a present course of action that definitely won’t go anywhere and another PRESENT course of action that could go somewhere, we will choose the latter. But we will not sacrifice the present for that potential future. That is my whole point: look at what we can do now, I say, like wildlands conservation, monkeywrenching, and simply enjoying the wild ourselves and pursue these things if your nature wills it. Do not wait for some messiah. There may be no messiah — perhaps even if we achieve what we want!

You can build arcadia,

fortify it with stones and good intentions

but even there, I will be. [from Chiaroscuro’s “Even in Arcadia”

Finally, we will not save nature. That is stupid and hubristic. If anything is saved, it will be because of nature itself. I could of course say this in a more eloquent and philosophical way, but I suspect you will understand and agree.

I am wild nature, powerful and cruel;

your work will never compare to mine. [ibid.]

And with that, I will give my final statement.

7 Final Statements

7.1 John Jacobi

While I cannot condone eco-extremism, neither can I condemn it, and my final thoughts on the tendency are these:

- I strongly disagree with some of the terminology eco-extremists use to communicate their ideas, and, related, I am also ambivalent about some aspects of its character as expressed in the terrorist communiques.

- I respect the fact that MictlanTepelti, at least, helped me understand a few aspects of eco-extremism that I was sure I would find idiotic and dismiss immediately.

- I recognize that eco-extremism is obviously relevant, touching a chord among those already sympathetic to anti-civilization politics, and posing a real challenge to techno-industrial society, as is evidenced by the way its tendency has grown from the first release of the ITS communique.

- I now understand that many moves ITS and other terrorist cells within the eco-extremist tendency have made are not the blunders or unjustified acts I perceived them to be as a native English speaker, a foreigner, and an observer with pre-conceived ideas. Instead, nearly all of these acts have been carefully thought out, which is compelling, even if I continue to disagree with the reasoning underpinning their justification.

- I must admit that eco-extremism is achieving precisely the thing that I have said should be the main concern of the currently weak anti-civilization movement. Namely, eco-extremism is globalizing an anti-civilization ideology, which is again evidenced by the tendency’s growth. I am still unsure as to how aligned with wildist ideas the tendency is, and as such I cannot yet say whether I would mind being associated with it. However, a great aspect of both the eco-extremist and wildist approach is its individualism: each individual and cadre is to rewild in the most effective way they see fit, and they–and they alone–are responsible for their own actions. I cannot control what the eco-extremists do, but so long as they are acting according to the values implicit in rewilding, namely, the veneration of wildness and a disdain for the idols of civilization, rather than perverted motivations like self-aggrandizement and a fetishization of criminality, I can say that I am confident that the wild reaction against industrial society will continue in the right direction — backwards, of course.

- I do not think that the methods the eco-extremists use are applicable to all anti-civilizationists, and I think MictlanTepelti agrees. The conditions of those near the equator are in the coming years going to necessarily call for more violence and, because of instability wrought primarily by climate change, allow for more superficially combative behavior. This is not to say that the eco-extremists are doing the correct thing (and I suspect, personally, that at least some of what they are doing is misguided), but it DOES mean that regardless of what the equatorial struggle looks like, those further north and south MUST engage in tactics suited to their own conditions. As stated already, this is up to the individuals and the cadres to decide and the combat party to coordinate.

Finally, I very much thank MictlanTepelti for both his willingness to speak to me on these matters and his continued fight against industrial society.

7.2 MictlanTepetli

I am going to conclude my part in this conversation, but first I wanted to thank Jacobi for his time and efforts in these ideological and personal exchanges. I also would like to thank Chahta-Ima for his translation efforts, as at the beginning of these conversations there were many misunderstandings due to the absence of an adept translator.

Eco-extremism has taken an important place within the ideological currents that are opposed to and critical of civilization and the techno-industrial system, although not intentionally, sure.

From the beginning, we’ve noted that within these schools of thought there are certain positions that are predominant. From what we can see on this side of the border anyway, important theorists such as John Zerzan, Kevin Tucker, etc. have dismissed eco-extremism or outright ignored it. They and their acolytes cast aspersions on ITS and eco-extremist groups in their publications and on their radio programs whenever their names or actions come up. They can’t take the chance of anything putting into question the “hope for a future primitive” lest their donations go down and they no longer get invited to chic conferences and speaking engagements. Their primitivism is eminently marketable, it appeals to the hipsters, the business start-up mentality, the people who want to re-wild any given product because nature sells. It thus remains progressive, a greening of leftism, but it’s just another fraud, another TV commercial peddling “rebellion against the system,” this time as homesteading and a prolonged camping trip.

Sure, they still mouth platitudes about lighting stuff on fire and destroying things, but they never do anything about it. We know very well the circumstances of the Green Scare from last decade. Regresión wrote about it in its most current issue. But they turn around and condemn eco-extremist action and pretend to tell them how to do things from the safety from their side of the border… And then they have to gall to talk shit and censor or ignore eco-extremist articles and communiques. But never mind that, we suppose. The extreme defense of Wild Nature doesn’t need them to get the message out, least of all to deaf and dumb self-proclaimed anarchists who get frazzled when someone speaks too harshly and not according to their leftist script.

All that smacks of violence, terrorism, etc. is verboten for them. They don’t come right out and just say it, of course, but their actions speak louder than words. I can imagine them stating to the FBI something along the lines of: “We’re not the violent ones, we have hope for a beautiful future. The terrorists are those horrible eco-extremists, don’t look at us.” But eco-extremism is here to stay, regardless of what people think,

Within the predominant positions that one finds in the United States, it seems like you also find some followers of “Industrial Society and Its Future,” the essay by Ted Kaczynski (also known as “Freedom Club”). There seem to be more Spaniards than people in the U.S. who follow this tendency, and they are known as “indomitistas”. We’ve written enough about them, and Reacción Salvaje has polemicized against them in particular in their work, “ Some answers concerning the present and NOT the future.”

Earth First is another predominant tendency but at this point I’ll withhold my criticism…

So within the context of these tendencies, here emerges “Wildism” that claims not to be progressivist but also has the same strategy: “building a movement.” Jacobi, here I would like to point out that we are talking about U.S and not European critics. When I wrote that you North Americans always want to try to fix things by constructing a movement, I include you in that statement. You stated that the Spanish “indomitistas” have the same idea, and to that I respond, Yes, that’s true, but they copied their main ideas from someone in the U.S: Kaczynski.

So if you don’t want to be lumped into the same category as the indomitistas, the followers of Zerzan and the rest of that gang, you should probably reconsider using the term “movement”, just as you have started using “reaction” instead of “revolution,” to use one example.

In regards to the subject of the future, I continue to assert the same thing, and indeed eco-extremism is based on the loss of faith in the future. So I repeat, everything is fucked, and the present leads us to believe that the future is gray and filled with horrors. Eco-extremism doesn’t seek to build a movement, nor does it await a total societal collapse, nor the arrival of a Messiah. It doesn’t propose plans or methods nor do we have a favorite book on which we base all of our actions, and we aren’t checking the statistics contained therein. The eco-extremist strikes according to wherever he finds himself, in the here and now, since he understands that the future doesn’t exist, hope is dead, and the only thing left to do is resist according to our most primitive roots. Our ancestors did likewise, and even though they knew that they would die defending themselves from the foreigner who brought civilization and modernity, they didn’t surrender. Thus, like them, eco-extremists have understood all of this loud and clear and that is how we act.

Our war is politically incorrect, extremist, and at the same time suicidal because it doesn’t pretend to be a war that can be won. We’re not an army, nor do we want to be one. We know that we don’t stand a chance in the face of the Monster of Progress. We know that we will die, but we’ll either go down fighting or in the best case scenario use guile to prolong the war as long as possible.

Eco-extremism expands, few understand it, even fewer carry it out, others plug their ears when we come around, even try ignore us, but they know that we’re there.

I end with two quotes, the first taken from Chahta-Ima’s essay, “ Ishi and the War Against Civilization,” which I recommend, and the second taken from Nechayevshchina Editorial House in its text, “ La mutilazione della parola ‘inocente’”:

Eco-extremism will have no end because it is the savage attack, the “natural disaster”, the desire to let the fire burn and to dance around it.


…the era of good feelings has ended, and of shit being exchanged for gold, and what has begun is the era of individuals who confront the whole of society.

Repent to the Primitive

John Jacobi

2017 John Jacobi

Published by the Wild Will Coalition, N.C.


The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

H. P. Lovecraft


Although the present form of the book only began two years ago, my work really started two years before, in 2013, when, homeless after high school, I involved myself in ecological and antimodern factions of anarchism.

During this time, I ran across an essay, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” and it had a profound effect on me. For the first time a text had expressed what I had been feeling, and it did so in a compelling, fresh way — appealing to me, since the only radical political arguments that I had heard up to that point lacked nuance, were steeped in faulty theory, and seemed to be solving nineteenth century problems rather than assessing problems of the contemporary world. But “Industrial Society and Its Future” was written by Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, infamous for his 19781995 bombing campaign in the name of anti-industrial revolution. I was young and hot-headed enough for this not to bother me as much as it should have, but it still bothered me enough to wonder whether agreeing with the manifesto was a bad sign.

But then I read a WIRED essay “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” a personal account of a wellrespected scientist and programmer, Bill Joy, experiencing the same dilemma. As Joy wrote, he “could easily have been the Unabomber’s next target,” yet he found “some merit” in the man’s arguments. Again and again I read similar accounts, and it strengthened my resolve to admit that the problems Kaczynski was concerned with were real. For example, conservative social theorist James Q. Wilson wrote in the New York Times that the manifesto was “a carefully reasoned, artfully written paper . . . If it is the work of a mad-man, then the writings of many political philosophers — Jean Jacques Rousseau, Tom Paine, Karl Marx — are scarcely more sane.” Eventually, I decided that regardless of the man’s actions his ideas needed to be grappled with, an argument I lay out thoroughly in Dark Mountain’s “Ted Kaczynski and Why He Matters.”

So, I wrote the man. We exchanged a few letters until he broke from me because of some misunderstandings concerning restrictions on prison mail. But by the end I had learned enough of his current activity to carry on exploring the politic. I became moderately involved in Earth First!, a radical environmentalist organization that influenced Kaczynski; I researched the history of the ecology movement and its major figures; and, most importantly, I formed a coalition with some of Kaczynski’s political associates in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico.

The most important figure in the coalition was a Spaniard pseudonymously known as Ultimo Reducto (UR). UR was a lot like Kaczynski in some significant ways, which is eventually why I broke from him too. But he was an indispensable influence on my ideological development. Apart from “Industrial Society and Its Future,” and a few texts from the early history of Earth First!, UR more than anyone or anything else helped me carefully, thoughtfully, and rigorously articulate a wild-centered philosophy.

Kaczynski’s associates, whom rival groups have pointedly called “the Apostles of Kaczynski,” had a twofold mission during the time I worked with them. First, they were, to put it simply, performing an exegesis of Kaczyn-ski’s manifesto. For example, in “Industrial Society and Its Future” he writes:

94. By “freedom” we mean the opportunity to go through the power process, with real goals not the artificial goals of surrogate activities, and without interference, manipulation or supervision from anyone, especially from any large organization. Freedom means being in control (either as an individual or as a member of a small group) of the life-anddeath issues of one’s existence: food, clothing, shelter and defense against whatever threats there may be in one’s environment. Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one’s own life. One does not have freedom if anyone else (especially a large organization) has power over one, no matter how benevolently, tolerantly and permissively that power may be exercised. It is important not to confuse freedom with mere permissiveness . . .

But later, when Professor Skrbina worked with him to publish a collection of his writings, he added a postscript noting that some aspects of his manifesto were outdated or somewhat wrong. He specifically mentions his definition of freedom above:

TXT1 1 • 1 11 11 11111 1 •

Ultimo Reducto has recently called attention to some flaws in my work, [some] serious

in the second and third sentences of paragraph 94 of ISAIF I wrote: [see above]. But obviously people have never had such control to more than a limited extent. They have not, for example, been able to control bad weather, which in certain circumstances can lead to starvation. So what kind and degree of control do people really need? At a minimum they need to be free of “interference, manipulation or supervision . . . from any large organization,” as stated in the first sentence of paragraph 94. But if the second and third sentences meant no more than that, they would be redundant.

So there is a problem here in need of a solution. I’m not going to try to solve it now, however. For the present let it suffice to say that

ISAIF is by no means a final and definitive statement in the field that it covers. Maybe some day I or someone else will be able to offer a clearer and more accurate treatment of the same topics.

To resolve this problem, UR advocated dropping the term “freedom” completely and replacing it with the term “wildness.” Under his framework (not my own), there was capital-N “Nature,” all that is, the same way the physicists would use the word. Some of this Nature is dominated by humans or technics, called “artifice”; other aspects of Nature remain untrammeled by humans or technics, called “wild Nature.” UR argued that this framework was a better one to express the ideology, because “freedom” is too ambiguous: freedom from what, freedom to do what, and freedom for whom?

UR pointed out that Kaczynski already implicitly answered these questions in his manifesto.

183. But an ideology, in order to gain enthusiastic support, must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one; it must be for something as well as against something. The positive ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, wild nature: Those aspects of the functioning of the Earth and its living things that are independent of human management and free of human interference and control. And with wild nature we include human nature, by which we mean those aspects of the functioning of the human individual that are not subject to regulation by organized society but are products of chance, or free will, or God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions).

184. Nature makes a perfect counter-ideal to technology for several reasons. Nature (that which is outside the power of the system) is the opposite of technology (which seeks to expand indefinitely the power of the sys-tem). Most people will agree that nature is beautiful; certainly it has tremendous popular appeal. The radical environmentalists already hold an ideology that exalts nature and opposes technology. It is not necessary for the sake of nature to set up some chimerical utopia or any new kind of social order. Nature takes care of itself: It was a spontaneous creation that existed long before any human society, and for countless centuries many different kinds of human societies coexisted with nature without doing it an excessive amount of damage. Only with the Industrial Revolution did the effect of human society on nature become really devastating. To relieve the pressure on nature it is not necessary to create a special kind of social system, it is only necessary to get rid of industrial society. Granted, this will not solve all problems. Industrial society has already done tremendous damage to nature and it will take a very long time for the scars to heal. Besides, even preindustrial societies can do significant damage to nature. Nevertheless, getting rid of industrial society will accomplish a great deal. It will relieve the worst of the pressure on nature so that the scars can begin to heal. It will remove the capacity of organized society to keep increasing its control over nature (including human nature). Whatever kind of society may exist after the demise of the industrial system, it is certain that most people will live close to nature, because in the absence of advanced technology there is no other way that people can live

And, generally speaking, local autonomy should tend to increase, because lack of advanced technology and rapid communications will limit the capacity of governments or other large organizations to control local communities.


69. It is true that primitive man is powerless against some of the things that threaten him; disease for example But threats to

the modern individual tend to be man-made. They are not the results of chance but are imposed on him by other persons whose decisions he, as an individual, is unable to influence. Consequently he feels frustrated, hu-miliated and angry.

Here is becomes clearer what kind of freedom Kaczynski is talking about: the ability for nature, including man’s nature, to function with relatively little domination from other men or their technical systems. In other words, he advocates wildness.

Point by point, UR et al. combed the same intellectual razor through the entire manifesto, eventually creating a glossary of theoretical terms like “progress,” “progressivism,” “humanism,” “leftism,” and “techno-industrial society.” They also formalized the moral foundations of Kaczynski’s critique by, intentionally or not, drawing on an age-old philosophical distinction between “natural” and “artificial” values. The specifics of the ideas are explained in UR’s untranslated dialogue, entitled Con Amigos Como Estos, with a neo-Luddite group in Spain. Though all this seems pedantic, these distinctions are precisely why UR’s work has been indispensible in helping me communicate a philosophically rigorous account of primitivism.

Kaczynski’s associates’ second task was translating ecoradical texts, especially Kaczynski’s, into other lan-guages. The Portuguese version of Kaczynski’s manifesto finished up just as I had started corresponding with the group, which explains why the man requested a Portuguese-English dictionary from me several months before. But the Spanish version had been finished by UR long ago — and published right around the time that a terror group arose in Mexico: Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS).

At the time I had limited knowledge of the group. I knew only that they were heavily influenced by Ted Kaczynski, differing from him only in that they didn’t espouse revolution, and that they had produced eight communiques, which I had read. This and the timing of their appearance suggested that ITS was a direct, though unintentional, product of Kaczynski and his associates’ propaganda work. UR himself voiced these suspicions in his critique of ITS, written right around their fifth communique, and which marked a drastic change in their discourse, as one can observe by reading the sixth, seventh, and eighth communiques. Later, the suspicions were confirmed when ITS published their fullest critique of Kaczynski’s revolutionary strategy to date, “Algunas respuestas sobre el presente y NO del futuro.” They note that they were indeed influenced by UR and Kaczynski, and that they vigorously disagree with the idea of revolution, preferring instead to act now as terrorists. Only later would they explain the ideological foundations of this view, when they grew from a single terror cell to a terror network.

Kaczynski’s associates, especially UR, are not fans of ITS, and they do not want to be connected to them. Indeed, UR seems to view ITS as a thorn in his side, not a tolerable splinter group. Nevertheless, I noticed that the eco-extremists continued to use language and terms that the associates had been using and that I had made known through my popularizing them on the internet: progressivist, humanist, etc. In fact, many of these terms would appear very soon after their first appearance online, although I didn’t notice this until much later. I also became weary of UR. While brilliant, he is difficult to work with, sometimes naive, unnecessarily incendiary . . . To illustrate, one might note that his critique of ITS — a terror group — began with a note on their grammatical inconsistencies. And in his critiques of my own writings, he would take great, exaggerated issue with phrases like “more or less” because of their ambiguity. It was getting to be a bit much, and I felt I could be more effective as an autonomous actor. So I broke away with a few American associates to pursue my own projects, primarily a journal entitled Hunter/Gatherer. As this project developed a flavor distinct from Kaczynski’s brand of primitivism, we used new language and concepts that, to our surprise, ITS then used as well. It seemed that even after the split with UR, ITS was paying attention to us, which even now puts me in a precarious legal situation.

These events had visible effects on the forms my philosophy took. For instance, immediately after becoming convinced that Kaczynski’s core ideas were right, 17year-old me was recklessly supportive of political vio-lence. I remain firm in my opinion that political violence can be justifiable, but the opinions are tempered now. And during my time with Kaczynski’s political associates, I conceived of the philosophy in a classical revo-lutionary manner, attempting in many ways to emulate Marxists. This resulted in several absurdities apparent in my early writings for Hunter/Gatherer. Finally, while the vast majority of communiques by ITS contain nothing new or, worse, terrible innovations on original primitivist ideas, some of their critiques of Kaczynski and his associates struck me as sound, such as their polemics against revolutionary strategies. Their focus on animist spirituality was especially influential — not because it was right or compelling or even nuanced, but because it reminded me that even if philosophical rigor is necessary to speak and make sense, it is not sufficient to speak and move. While Kaczynski’s associates tried to focus on devising a doctrine, ITS reminded me that a more fruitful path was articulating a mythology.

Along this path, because of my initial experiences with Kaczynski and his writings, I found the doors to a world entirely invisible to me before. I had known that Kaczynski’s ideas were not original. He has admitted as much, writing that he sought only to appraise revolution as a serious option in response to many thinkers’ insights about modernity. But I did not know until university the extent to which the ideas permeated anthropology, literature, biology, philosophy, art. The “Pleistocene paradigm,” or the idea that human nature is essentially Paleolithic, was especially ubiquitous. Crucially, this revelation meant that when I advocated primitivism, I would not be confined to the reasoning, approaches, and ideas in the manifesto. More importantly, it meant that I now had a niche to fill: there was a desperate need for a book that combined primitivist insights from the various sciences and books and pieces of art, one whose author name wouldn’t pose a stumbling block because of murder. So for four years, I studied as many relevant sources as I could, bettering the language I used to express the philosophy and finally writing that book.

The philosophy as I have written it here seems to be, more or less, where I’ve settled. I am not yet entirely sure what the political implications might be, something I outline in a larger, forthcoming text, From Con-servation to Reaction. I am sure, however, of this much: a great clash of wills is raging, and I am on the side of the wild.

The purpose of this book is twofold.

First, I hope to provide what is to my knowledge the first philosophical framework for primitivism. Primitivism is an old philosophy, but its advocates have hitherto failed to articulate a coherent vision in one place, deferring instead to an amalgam of diverse and contradictory texts that leave advocates impotent in more ways than one.

My views, I believe, are especially suited to this purpose, because many extant primitivists continually fight on highly contested terrains that only distract from more core issues. I, on the other hand, often hold the positions that the enemies in these battles take, thereby demonstrating that the philosophy does not necessarily depend as heavily on these issues as some believe. I am a materialist where many primitivists contest materialism as a worldview that reinforces technoscientific dominance — they opt for cosmologies like animism instead. I believe that rates of violence decline as civilizations progress where many primitivists believe this eternally damns the value of the primitive. I believe that the Pleistocene extinction event was at least in part caused by hunter/gatherers, which is rejected for the same reasons as before. I believe that values are subjective, while most, probably because it seems to lend weight to moral arguments, believe that the value of nature exists independently of human beings. And I emphatically do not believe that primitive peoples exemplified egalitarianism, peacefulness to animals, or intentional conservationism the way some primitivists, particularly anarcho-primitivists, believe they do.

Nevertheless, I remain a primitivist, and that is if nothing else useful to a philosophy continually marginalized because, somehow, its advocates keep tacking on evermore-obscure positions.

My second purpose in writing this book is to provide for those unfamiliar a coherent text explaining values that will only play a greater role in world politics as civilization enters its twenty-first century crises. This is as important for any contemporary person to do as it was for the Romans to learn of the barbarians; the colonists to learn of the savages; the states to learn of the anarchists. Artificial intelligence, biotechnology, climate change, antibiotic resistance, mass surveillance, the sixth mass extinction — all are rapidly taking center stage in world politics, and with them the scientists and engineers, whom the general public is coming to realize have an inordinate amount of control over the circumstances of modern life. Likely some form of antitechnology populism will soon replace what was once an anti-government populism; whereas the main objects of disdain were politicians, the new objects of disdain will be scientists and engineers, as well as technology itself.

Already we can see this sentiment in action. In the past few years we have seen TV shows about wilderness and outdoor-living, often with a tinge of anti-technological sentiment, skyrocket in popularity: Mountain Men, Naked and Afraid, Duck Dynasty . . . Books like Wild by Cheryl Strayed or A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson push a similar message of freedom, a search for purpose and meaning, and spiritual renewal in a decadent, materialistic world. Complaints about ubiquitous technology are becoming popular as well. TV shows like Black Mirror convey a fundamental skepticism toward the idea of technical progress, and books like A Short History of Progress, Our Final Hour, and so on, are all questioning, to various degrees, the technologies that dominate the modern world.

And it’s pushing into the political arena. Environmentalist sentiments are popular today, and young people feel the need to address problems like climate change and the sixth mass extinction. But because of the way the problems are being ignored, sometimes by economic necessity, radicalization occurs easily among environ-mentalists. In fact, the FBI lists environmental terrorism, not Islamic terrorism, as the top domestic terrorism threat in the US.

All this is taking place on a stage that is largely being determined and shaped by the problems that define ecological thought. One headline in the New York Times states “Researchers Link Syrian Conflict to a Drought Made Worse by Climate Change.” A headline in the Guardian reads “Global warming could create 150 million ‘climate refugees’ by 2050.” And the WHO has issued increasingly urgent warnings concerning antimicrobial resistance, which could, combined with modern transportation systems and densely populated city living, cause a global pandemic, or at least a formidable one.

Clearly, primitivists are right about a lot, and unless someone offers a good challenge and alternative to their core ideas, the notion of “freedom in wild nature” is only going to continue attracting adherents. Dismissing the philosophy as crazy, marginal, beneath consideration is not going to work for much longer.


I am deeply indebted to the Chapel Hill anarchists, Ted Kaczynski, and Ultimo Reducto for my early ideolog-ical development, no matter how divided we are now. Thanks to the early Earth First!ers, particularly Dave Foreman, John Davis, and Reed Noss, for being inspirations. Thanks to Dr. John Feeney for providing in-valuable guidance and support; to Jonah Howell and Jeremy Grolman for sticking with our political projects even when they seemed destined to fail; finally, to my university friends and mentors, especially those belong-ing to the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, who put up with my constant propagandizing.


Man possesses a will with a drive to flourish. He cannot choose his will, neither is the will a totally blank slate on which nature and man inscribe desires. Rather, the primitive will is a landscape, and like a landscape the highs and lows of the terrain limit how, exactly, it can be modified. One can run a train through the mountain, and this comes with the benefit of more efficient travel; but it also destroys aspects of the mountain’s ecology and degrades aesthetic values. In every similar situation, the task of man is to assess the trade-offs. Few if any cases are totally good or totally bad. The question is whether they are good enough.

Life in civilization demands from man more than his primitive will can give, so he has had to become civilized, tamed — though not quite domesticated. Nomadic hunter/gatherers have successfully entered civilization, but entry is a process of education and cultivation; the beliefs and behaviors of modern humans are not the product of the womb.

According to the progress narrative, the historical development of the civilizing process has been an upwardmoving line. And sophisticated progressivists note that the line is jagged: civilizations collapse, regression occurs, stagnation halts development. Still, the project has more or less continued, and in the process material conditions select for the most efficient methods of moral or behavioral cultivation. As these methods arise, the need for large-scale social transformations dissipates, and what was once a great cultural project is achieved through childhood education. Man before the Middle Ages lacked even the most basic of manners; man after could only conceive of the unmannered as savage.

But the civilizing process does not work perfectly. On the one hand, it has not reached everyone at the same level of efficiency. On the other, some possess particularly indomitable wills, resistant to methods that work well enough to sustain cultural mores, not well enough to fashion the specific individual in the required way. “There are some who can live without wild things,” Aldo Leopold writes, “and there are some who cannot.” The indomitable ones are those who cannot.

They are repeatedly present throughout history. We can see the Wild Will in native resistance to colonization; in the Maroons, slaves who escaped captivity to live in the jungles and the forests; the Sentinelese, who respond violently to any civilized excursion into their land. We can also see it in profoundly civilized peoples. In 1753, in the midst of a “going native” phenomenon among American colonists, Benjamin Franklin noted that white captives freed from Native hands did not wish to stay long:

Tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English . . . in short time they become disgusted with our manner of life . . . and take the first good op-portunity of escaping again into the woods.

It goes on. John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Hanshan, Geronimo, Ishi, William Kidd — again and again the Wild Will possesses individuals and places them in direct conflict with the surrounding civilized world. Something here is ineradicable, and even those who do not agree must contend with it.

This book provides one framework for doing so. I speak as one possessed, so I am prone — rather, jubilate in — polemics. I am no impartial observer. But I have spent several years carefully considering how to make these ideas most intelligible to those starting from radically different premises, and intend now to share the result.

The first three chapters outline the whats ofmy perspective before the shoulds. Possession comes with a calling, but a calling is only intelligible if understandings of reality are similar. A man called to preach against the evils of Satan is a lunatic to he who does not believe in Satan.

In “The Nature/Artifice Distinction” I give the different definitions of nature and, using what is in philosophy called a precising technique, narrow down the definition to eradicate vagueness that is unacceptable when explaining ideas that demand so thorough justification.

In “Human Nature and the Will” I precise the definition of “human nature,” the definition of “will,” and I give my understanding of how morality works.

In “The Meaning of Progress” I, again using a precising technique, define “progress,” explaining its core compo-nents and how any anti-progressive ideology could challenge them. A sufficient challenge, I argue, involves an argument against the future (“A Promised Future”), an argument against the moral unit of progress (“The Origin of Civility”), and an argument against domestication (“Repent to the Primitive”).

In “A Promised Future” I explain all the reasons the civilized project will likely fail, at least in the eyes of most people — this includes some humanists, industrial citizens, third world citizens, wild wills. The future of progress doesn’t look bright for many people at all. Civilization tends toward collapse; future technical developments threaten to transgress humanist and liberal democratic values; and even if civilization doesn’t collapse wholesale, its stronghold will soon be loosened in some regions largely due to problems it is creating for itself.

In “The Origin of Civility” I explain the process by which man is civilized, and the inefficiencies in that process that leave some men untrammeled by it.

Finally, in “Repent to the Primitive” I draw on all the definitions and analyses to express a personal articulation of the Wild Will, its ideals and values and challenges and tragedies. I explain the value of the wild; the significance of the nomadic hunter/gatherer and of wilderness; and the intricacies of the broader worldview, including responses to the strongest or most frequent criticisms.

The Nature/Artifice Distinction


Mill’s On Nature long ago articulated two meanings of “nature.” On the one hand, “nature” could mean everything that exists. If we are materialists we would say it is synonymous with the material world. This definition is popular in the physical sciences, because earlier in scientific history it was useful to distinguish between the domain of religion — the supernatural — with the domain of science — that which is detectable through human reason rather than Divine revelation. For clarity, I refer to this concept as “the Cosmos” or “the material world.”

And I prefer the second definition of “nature”: anything that is not made or controlled by humans or their technical systems. The contrast here is the artificial rather than the supernatural. This definition is most popular in the biological sciences, especially where those sciences overlap with conservation, because human influence has such profound effect on the field of study. Animal behaviors change when they are domesticated; different plants grow, and plants grow differently, next to roads; ecologies transform downstream from a dam.

Mill made an appropriate observation: neither meaning allows us to look to nature for the oughts and shoulds of our moralities. If this is what Rousseau meant when he said we must live “in accordance with Nature,” then he made an error. For if nature is everything, then man can only live in accordance with it. And if nature precludes man, then man can never live in accordance with it.

This does not keep us from asserting that wild nature has value. Though nature cannot be the foundation of our morality, it can be relevant to it. Mill himself noted that nature in the second sense of the term is worth conserving:

Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of Nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation which is capable of producing food for human beings; every flowering waste or nature pasture ploughed up; all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man’s use exterminated as his rivals for food . . .

Following Mill, I make no claim other than this: wild nature, that which is not made or controlled by man or his technical systems, has value, and that value must be appraised.


The nature/artifice distinction is descriptive, not normative. Something is not better because it is natural. Anyone from the most avid logger to the most avid conservationist could accept the nature/artifice distinction and impart different values onto each side. Plato wrote, “I am devoted to learning; landscapes and trees have nothing to teach me — only the people in the city can do that.” Under the nature/artifice distinction, he would root for the artificial.


The distinction is a spectrum as well as a dichotomy, like many wordpairs: good and bad, tall and short, loud and quiet. Because the distinctions are a matter of convention, their pure, abstract forms do not necessarily cor-respond to reality exactly, but this does not mean that they are any less useful in explaining aspects of reality. Tall people still exist even with the ambiguous space between tallness and shortness.


A man may be tall in a room of midgets but short in a room of giants; similarly, a garden may be natural in the city but unnatural or artificial in a wilderness area.


Nature as “that which is not made or controlled by man or his technics” does not mean that man himself is un-natural. It only means that all human behavior results in artifice.

Making a spear may be a natural impulse; the spear itself will always be artificial. Making art may be natural; the art, artificial.

An individual’s desires and behaviors can be artificial in cases where they are manufactured by man or his various technical systems. Elias’ The Civilizing Process explains how Church and education systems instilled in man artificial behaviors called “manners.” Today, advertising companies devise various techniques to feed into consumerism; and media manufactures consent.

Under this distinction, artifice is inherent in the human condition, so short of complete misanthropy, one cannot extol nature and denigrate artifice in all instances. The question is what degree of both is acceptable. More ac-curately, the question is one of wildness.


The quality of wildness determines where something is on the spectrum of naturalness and artificialness. For instance, an animal that has been caged immediately loses some degree of wildness, and as his body and mind change to a form suited to artificial conditions, he becomes progressively less wild. Artificial control tames the creature, even more domesticates it. Conversely, a domesticated animal population that has been freed from artificial influence, if it doesn’t die off, would because of its newfound wildness transition to a feral and eventually entirely wild state. To give another example, consider a dam: a river ecosystem is not made significantly less natural by it at first, but as the ecosystem responds to the edifice, artificial influence becomes more apparent. On the other hand, once we remove the dam, the artificial influence will eventually wash out from the landscape, allowing us to say that it is in a more natural state.

My concern is the value not of nature, per se, but of wildness, with nature and artifice as indicators of its pres-ence or absence. A society with minimal human control over nature would result in bigger wilderness, more primitive technics, and more abundant wildlife. A society with extensive human control over nature would re-sult in little to no wilderness, techno-industrial infrastructure, and an extinction crisis, as it goes today.


A brief response to critics:

The postmodernists say that modern conceptions of nature and wilderness are recent concepts. Even if this were true in all ways claimed, it is unclear why this should have any bearing on whether or not we value nature and wilderness.

Some assert that “nature,” defined negatively, refers to nothing in particular, and may not exist at all. But we have many words that are defined negatively — secular, for instance — and that says nothing about their existence.

Some say that “nature” is an ambiguous concept. But the ambiguity of “nature” is not substantially different from the ambiguity in other moral concepts that we do not question. “Health” and “wellbeing,” for instance, are the goals of most medical practice, but the concepts are inexact. We call a person “loving” even if they hate sometimes. An honest person can carefully consider their words for tact or even tell small lies and still be considered honest.

McKibben’s The End of Nature argues that few if any places on Earth are now free of artificial influence, thanks to powerful technics and global problems like climate change. He states,

If the waves crash up against the beach, eroding dunes and destroying homes, it is not the awesome power of Mother Nature. It is the awesome power of Mother Nature as altered by the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born.

But he overstates his point. Human influence has clearly pervaded some of the darkest corners of the Earth, and it will take some time before that influence washes out, but just as clear are aspects of nature that humans have yet to make artificial. Hettinger points out that at the very least humans cannot be responsible for “the existence of sunlight, the photosynthetic capacity of plants, water, gravity, the chemical bonds between molecules, or, more generally, for the diversity of life on the planet.” He also points out that if naturalness is valuable and is decreasing, then “what remains [is] all the more precious,” not reason to abandon serious moral consideration of it.

And in any case, McKibben’s argument is most powerful if we assume that nature’s end is irrevocable; but it is not. The Chernobyl Wildlife Exclusion Zone has demonstrated that nature may rebound from human influence quite rapidly. Weisman’s The World Without Us gives many examples along these lines, noting how quickly residential areas would turn into forests or city infrastructure would collapse should human activity cease suddenly and completely. There is naturalness in the world yet.


The relevant questions, as Mill wrote, are ones of value. To what extent do we want to conserve nature against artificialization in an age where artificial influence can be so powerful? Do we want to change our genetic makeup with biotechnics? Is wilderness something we can do without? Are climate engineering proposals worth considering? These, the questions of the twenty-first century.

Human Nature and Will


Following the nature/artifice distinction, human nature consists of those parts of the human being that are not influenced by man or his technics. Breathing, walking on two legs, making tools, performing social favors, and so on are all natural human activity. By this definition an organism’s nature is different from its behavior, psy-chology, or biology. Parts of each of these can be artificial, produced by techniques of social control. The same applies to innate tendencies: for example, the positive chemical response domesticated dogs have to humans is innate but artificial.

Some believe that “human nature” means “unchangeable.” But under no meaning of the term is human nature unchangeable. This should be clearest in the case of the nature/artifice distinction, since it explicitly ac-knowledges that natural things can be made artificial.

It is also true for “biological,” such as when humans became lactose tolerant from pastoralism, or when hu-mans are engineered through medicine and biological technologies.


An individual’s nature determines his values. From his perspective, he would say that his values come from his “will,” his subjective experience of his inner nature. Note that will is not the same as spirit. It is nearly synonymous with the human biology, and thus his will can be made artificial just like biology can be made ar-tificial. For example, while Phineas Gage was blasting rock for a railroad, a tamping iron shot through his brain. He survived the accident, but his behavior after was radically different. Dr. John Harlow writes:

The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previ-ously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a wellbalanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage.”

Because Phineas Gage’s biology transformed, his will transformed.


Hume’s is/ought problem holds. One cannot determine what ought to be simply from the way things are. One might say,

Premise: If one leaves the house unlocked while out, thieves will steal from the house.

Conclusion: One should not leave the house unlocked while out.

But there is no logical reason why a person should or should not do anything about the thieves. Morality can never be wholly empirically and rationally derived. Instead, moral attitudes are in large part due to sentiments and feelings. Regarding things we consider wrong, Hume writes, “You never can find [the vice], till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action.”

Morality, then, is a question of human nature. We might say that understanding moral evaluations is a function of a “moral sense,” an innate mechanism that allows us to assess morality in a similar way that our eyes allow us to assess hues. Like eyes, all moral senses have an underlying, universal structure, but where they diverge, where they “see” different things, individuals must either agree to disagree or find some way to resolve their fundamental differences.

I mean “morality” in the broad sense, “the rules that govern behavior.” Morality is not always imposed. If we are committed to our values, then in combination with certain conditions we commit to certain behaviors. It would make no sense for a person who values the wild to log the wilderness; for a person who values human life to indiscriminately murder.


The relativistic implications of the moral sense are not as terrible as might first be assumed. As Kaebnick writes in Humans in Nature, “If we are committed to our commitments, then we need not relinquish them just because somebody else disagrees with us.” Furthermore, this account of values adequately describes and explains the way moral reasoning occurs in the real world, by, for instance, making clear that appeals to the value of something are impotent among those who do not accept that value. In truth, even if moral value existed independently of a valuer, nothing about an independent value would cause it to be enforced outside of normal social methods, like persuasion or force.

It is also quite clear that morality is descriptively relative. That is, whether or not we can abstract an objective moral system from our condition, or discover it through empirical investigation, the world as it stands contains individuals and groups who differ widely in their moral attitudes. Indeed, shared moral rules arise precisely because of differences in interests. The rules are a natural problem-solving technique. This means that they can be expected so solve some problems even if they are between two people or groups with incom-mensurable values, with moral senses that draw fundamentally different oughts from the ises before them. For example, The Wilderness Act has been supported both by groups who note the economic utility of natural resources and those who value wild landscapes intrinsically.

If all this is relativistic, then it is no more so than scientific investigation, since naturalism has similar implica-tions for epistemology as it does for morality. Return to Hume’s contention that moral attitudes are built from a basic moral sense that one either has or does not have; that moral attitudes cannot be derived through means other than this, e.g., through descriptive investigation. In a similar fashion, Hume argued that no one can fully justify their reliance on their senses, nor can they justify certain natural modes of human reasoning like in-duction or belief in causality. Since Hume, philosophers have further demonstrated that even aspects of science more complex than immediate sense experience rely on values, power, and logical leaps. If we accept all these arguments, our philosophical starting point for epistemology must be “radical skepticism,” the idea that ab-solute knowledge is impossible, a position that Hume held. Yet even in spite of this position, Hume did not dis-miss induction or sensory evidence, appealing to common sense by pointing out that we do have no choice but to interact with the world using the tools we have. This he called “mitigated skepticism.” In the end it makes epistemology a question of human nature just as morality is.

Evolutionary theory therefore sheds light on why we tend to speak of morality in terms of “opinion” and de-scriptive investigation in terms of “fact”: the disparity results from a difference in evolutionary restrictions on variability. In other words, some aspects of human nature will be more similar and consistent than others because of similar and consistent selection pressures. Things like sexuality, bodily functioning, basic a pri-ori elements of human reasoning, and sensory experience have a basically universal shape. On the other hand, the distribution of moral attitudes is much more diverse. This is most obvious in the case of psychopathy, which tends to have a “low but stable” prevalence in a given population, a finding predicted by evolutionary game theory. So while the unity of human nature indicates some moral universals, universal norms that aren’t strongly selected will have to be a result of compromise between different values, if compromise is possible. In other words, while communication, understanding, and moral argument are all possible, we can expect many moral differences between humans to remain intractable so long as we do not homogenize the human race biologically.


Our values are innate, but we are not in possession of all our values at birth. A child is not born with fully developed sexual organs and drives, but the form these take at puberty are still innate.


Morality can change with empirical evidence. Consider, for instance, a historical preservationist who argues strongly that a specific document should be preserved because of its historical value. If someone demonstrated that this document did not actually have the historical value the preservationist thought it had, then he would have to abandon his case for that document even if he does not abandon his core normative commitment to preservation.

Or consider an individual whose immediate feeling toward GMOs, now a popular symbol of artificial modifi-cation of nature, is repulsion, because of their artificialness. Suppose he suggests a moral principle (indefensible but hypothetical) that values nature and denigrates artifice in all cases.

From there it is possible to engage in moral reasoning. For instance, a rival attitude might (and does) argue that human beings have been engaging in genetic modification of sorts at least since the Neolithic. This unnaturalness is precisely what allowed for population growth, and the so-called “gene revolution” in agriculture is the only apparent means to sustain it through the twenty-first century. The argument is convincing to a person who values the benefits of agriculture and increased population; but those who do not hold similar values will have to resolve the conflict through other means, such as through force (e.g., protests) or compro-mise (e.g., labeling policies). Alternatively they might be convinced that although they value nature, they also value things like peace, and since the consequences of not using GMOs could mean an increase in future vio-lence (because of resource issues), they may then accept that peace should be prioritized over naturalness.


To say that values come from human nature does not mean that the value is derived from human pleasure. Philosophical discourse usually contrasts pleasure with pain, but one can value pain or tragedy. And to say that the pain produces a sort of pleasure reduces the power of the distinction by obscuring it.

The confusion stems from a terrible habit to translate the Greek “eudaimonia” as “happiness” or “pleasure.” It more appropriately means “flourishing”; etymologically it is derived from “eu” (“good”) and “daimon” (“spirit”).

A will cannot escape its drive for flourishing; it does so until it is extinguished. Thus, flourishing is the object of every individual — human and non-human — with a will.

The ancients believed that the flourishing of the will depends on the human character, or arete, translated as “virtue.” Aristotle, for example, wrote that the will could achieve eudaimonia through “virtuous activity in accordance with reason.” The virtue they had in mind extended beyond moral considerations, including such things as beauty and health. In other words, the linking of arete and eudaimonia establishes a similar framework as the linking of nature and will, and on this I concur with the ancients.

On the role of reason, I diverge on subtle points. The ancients would through reason devise the best way man could achieve eudaimonia, but with his conditions as a given. They did not consider that the new conditions came with trade-offs that reason couldn’t solve, because they denied the impact man’s origins have on his civilized character, believing that man’s nature was much more malleable than it is. Aristotle believed that the mind was fashioned as characters on a “writing-tablet” that starts blank; Locke later echoed the idea with his “blank slate.”

The blank slate theory of human nature allowed ancients, and now allows moderns, to unapologetically advocate conditions drastically different than those of primitive man. For example, cultivating the virtues of beauty, health, and strength helped an athlete achieve eudaimonia as an athlete. Modern philosophy does similarly when it extols peaceful urges and condemns violent ones, an effort to achieve eudaimonia as an industrial man.

But the blank slate theory of human nature is false. Man’s origins have impacted his whole being. Thus, like Kabbalists who study creation, the original expression of God’s Will for the world, to discern how man’s sin de-grades that Will, through the study of our own origins we can discern the degradation of eudaimonia inherent to civilization.

The Meaning of Progress


To paraphrase Bury, the idea of progress is the belief that civilization has improved, is improving, and will improve the human condition. Note the three elements of this idea: first, better days lie ahead; second, what is considered humanity progresses as a single unit; and third, nature must be controlled and manufactured to improve the human condition. These are the three pillars of progress.

Note that standards for judging whether a development is good or bad are not built into the idea of progress. Such a thing would, in fact, be impossible, since progress itself determines the values that will be appropriate. Carr writes, “But I shall be content with the possibility of unlimited progress — or progress subject to no limits that we can or need envisage — towards goals which can be defined only as we advance towards them, and the validity of which can be verified only in a process of attaining them.” Thus, the standards for progress at any given time are usually determined by a civilization’s dominant ideology. Man did not rationally undertake industrialization because it would decrease rates of violence or create vast pockets of wealth, and that these things occurred are employed only as posthoc justifications, ideological arguments determined by physical infrastructure and meant to inspire loyalty to it.

Attacking standards of progress would therefore be an arduous and endless task, since the standards change at every new phase of development. However, it is possible to refute the grand narrative of progress by refuting some or all of the three pillars: one could refute the “will improve” part of the narrative by demonstrating that civilization cannot continue (the argument against the future); one could also demonstrate that the unit of progress, like the nation or humanity, is illegitimate (the argument against civility); or one could deny the imperative to modify nature (the argument against domestication).


We must keep distinct the colloquial meanings of “progress,” which can refer to occurrences as benign as walking from one point to another, and the precised definition of “progress,” which refers to a cultural narrative.


Some, like Dienstag, try to explain the Idea of progress as if its main problematic was that of time and time-consciousness: things “get better over time.” But, while the idea does breed a certain relationship with time, es-pecially the future, it is fundamentally about technical development, the backbone of civilization and the only good measurement of progress. That the improved human condition could be undone by technical regression is a testament to this. It therefore makes no sense to say that anything can be progress depending on what one values: civilizational collapse would emphatically not be progress in the precise sense, since progress is inherently a polemic for the technical development of civilization. It is true that polemicists have sometimes argued that pre-civilized conditions contain a modicum of progress, such as the domestication of fire. However, we can appropriately limit the scope of the idea to civilization since the polemicist really only notes these developments for the way they set the stage for what he truly hopes to defend. As Tsanoff writes, “. . . the march of civilization can fairly be called the march of progress.”

A Promised Future


The first pillar of progress would, knocked down, not bring the entire house down with it. Reasonably one could support the project of civilization even if it were doomed to fail. Still, it is an important pillar to hack at.

The promise of a better tomorrow is what ties most men to civilization, little else. Abandoning these ties may not be a necessity when the promise is abandoned, but men will do so nonetheless.

And, at the least, the reasons for an uncertain future draw attention to the facts and objects of value civiliza-tion now marginalizes in the first place, so the argument against the future is if nothing else an indispensable didactic tool.


Any promises, any exact measurements of progress, are baseless, because beyond the three pillars all progres-sive values are baseless. Recall Carr — “goals which can be defined only as we advance towards them, and the validity of which can be verified only in a process of attaining them.” This is only a more flowery way of declaring that progress transgresses its own values. One moment, it preaches peace, because that is what it offers. Another moment, war. At the onset of the Industrial Revolution workers were promised leisure. In the technoindustrial age, intimate aspects of their daily existence are monetized — from friendships (through social media) to curiosity (through search engines). Because of personal devices the pulse of labor never dies, invading the worker even in his previously private domains. With the change, the ideal is no longer leisure; it is connection.

Because these values are shaped by material conditions and the structures built atop, rapid changes in these conditions amount to equally rapid changes in morality. The very means by which we measure “better” is a shifting goal post, rendering the whole concept of progress in some sense meaningless. Rubin writes in The Eclipse of Man:

It becomes harder and harder for our authors to imagine what will be retained, hence where change will start from. And if the rate of change is accelerating, that simply means we are headed the more rapidly from one un-known to another, while the recognizable old standards for judging whether the changes are progressive are overthrown with our humanity.

Any effort to mitigate the problem by slowing progress will fail. A moratorium on technical fields like biological engineering holds only in a specified region. The research will simply go elsewhere. Even moratoriums sustained mostly through cultural inertia will eventually be broken, as we witnessed when Chinese scientists genetically modified human embryos. States, of course, have little incentive to let other states get ahead. The process is unstoppable, unless the technical base declines or collapses.


Progress will transgress — indeed, is transgressing — current values as it does all others. Consider a foundational premise of the Enlightenment: a government organized such that the people hold the power. At least, the people must hold enough power that they can reform or even revolt against a government that no longer represents the popular will. The philosophes and revolutionaries devised intricate systems toward this end: they pitted sections of government against each other; they ensured a right to bear arms; they instilled in popular consciousness a sense of entitlement that no other populace before had freely. And in the main, the systems worked.

Since then, however, technical development has proceeded at so rapid a pace that the balance of (raw) power is fully weighted on the side of the states. Nearly every great mind of the World War II generation recognized this as one of the nefarious implications of nuclear weaponry. Orwell said the atom bomb would probably “put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘peace that is no peace.”’ Oppen-heimer said of it, “We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world . . . a thing that by all standards of the world we grew up in is an evil thing. And by so doing . . . we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man.” Yet problems of a similar caliber have only proliferated — chemical and biological weapons, automated warfare, information warfare, etc.

Consider the way information technics are now undermining democratic values. Mass surveillance is once again a topic of major public discussion, but we need not get into the specifics of whether mass surveillance has or has not directly thwarted terror attacks; or whether it is or is not effective for other ends. All that matters is that the technical capability for mass surveillance is now here. Any restrictions on the practice, then, are a matter of policy and self-restraint, and nothing more.

The difference between structural limits and policy limits is vast. When a government (for example) is ma-terially or structurally unable to oppress its populace, its populace has true freedom, a guarantee of certain rights, privileges, or abilities. When technical development transcends those limits and the government is limited by policy only, the populace is merely permitted to carry on, and the problem becomes one of human nature and folly. And the consequences of human error in our current — not even future — conditions leave too much room for disaster. Behavioral science and cognitive sciences, for example, can now subtly dominate intensely personal decision making, even inner psychological states. In 2014 a journal article in PNAS revealed that Facebook has allowed researchers to conduct experiments on users’ newsfeeds without their consent. The experiment demonstrated the ability to affect users’ moods by modifying posts on their newsfeeds, moods that would spread through a process called “emotional contagion.” The potential abuses are obvious.


Those less than keen on my sympathies for technical determinism will insist that technics can be used for good, if only humans would use them that way. But if a technology can be used for either good or bad, then when the repercussions of the technology can be as extreme as those of, say, biotechnics or information technics, we are justified in at least asking if the risk is worth it. And given that the development of these technologies is almost certainly inevitable with the continued existence of their industrial base, arguing that their development is not worth it necessarily implicates the arguer in an anti-industrial politic.


Civilization must address threats in at least six major areas before the end of the century. Other threats exist, but most are couched in a long chain of hypotheticals, so I will ignore them. The six are: antibiotic resistance, artificial intelligence, climate change, biotechnology, information technology, and population growth.

The World Health Organization wrote of antibiotic resistance in its 2014 report, “this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance — when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections — is now a major threat to public health.” Combined with densely populated cities and transportation systems, antibiotic resistance means, at the least, constant trouble at the level of the 2014 Ebola crisis. The only apparent ways to address the problem are to devise an alternative to antibiotics (which we do not have at the moment) or to devise public health systems that can mitigate crises when they occur. Both are enormous tasks.

The most pressing problems with artificial intelligence do not have to do with “the singularity” or a Matrix-like robot revolt, but with utter dependence on systems no longer controlled or even understood by humans. This, like antibiotic resistance, is a problem now. One example comes from an article in Aeon, “Is Technology Making the World Indecipherable?”:

Despite the vastness of the sky, airplanes occasionally crash into each other. To avoid these catastrophes, the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) was developed. TCAS alerts pilots to potential hazards, and tells them how to respond by using a series of complicated rules. In fact, this set of rules — developed over decades — is so complex, perhaps only a handful of individuals alive even understand it anymore.

The same thing is happening to society as a whole. In his talk, “How Algorithms Shape Our World,” Kevin Slavin pointed out that 70% of the stock market operates by algorithms that do the trading for brokers, but that no one truly understands (this is called “black box trading”). In fact, the sole duty of some is to examine the automated systems and pick out individual algorithms that run it. As a result, when something like the Flash Crash of 2:45 happens, that is, when 9% of the stock market simply disappears in seconds, no one can give an explanation. A 2013 article from Nature echoed this, the authors explaining that finance functions because of a “machine ecology beyond human response time.”

A side-effect of advances in artificial intelligence, widespread automation, probably will not result in permanent social tension, but it will certainly cause shortterm social tension. One study predicted that 47% percent of the workforce is slated for unemployment due to technical advances. Unemployment during the Great Depression reached only 25%. And while a common argument is that technical innovation has always provided more jobs, this has been true only in the long term. In the short term, rapid economic changes have led to quite a bit of instability, and this second wave of automation is occurring at a rapid enough rate for something comparable to happen. Self-driving cars, for instance, will cause immediate turmoil for one of the world’s largest industries, transportation. Potential solutions to the problem, such as increased immersion in the virtual world, are unappealing and come with all the problems attached to information technology generally.

Many studies have pointed out that climate change is already set to quickly and harshly impact a handful of major cities, among them Charleston, SC, Tampa, FL, New York, NY, and huge regions of New Jersey. These, the studies say, are inevitable casualties. Likewise, the IPCC report on climate change declared that prevention is no longer enough; civilization now needs to grapple with climate change by mitigating inevitable threats. No solution so far, not even complete transition to renewable energy, adequately addresses the threat.

Biotechnology intersects with several risks, but its most tangible negative consequences involve biological war-fare and genetic modification of life. Both have been practiced to some extent since the beginning of civiliza-tion, but the power of current technics, and the possibility of novel life-forms propagating autonomously, magnifies the threat into a global one. Furthermore, genetic modification of humans has special philosophical implications. If we accept that man is entirely, or even mostly, a material, biological creature, then genetic modification will not just affect his appearances; it could also affect his mind. This development runs up against some of the most deeply-held human values, like autonomy, self-determination, and identity. It also holds the same potential for totalitarian abuse that information technologies do.

Information technology is a problem because of its totalitarian potential, like with biotechnology, and because of human dependency, like with artificial intelligence. Information warfare or unpredictable natural occurrences like solar flares could easily knock out large regions’ electronics, leaving them without the basic in-frastructure required to keep the large organizations that underpin civilization running.

And population growth is a problem not only for ecological reasons, but for social reasons as well. Regions set to have the most population growth over the next century are often among the poorest and in terrorist strongholds. And immigration, an inevitable consequence of so large an explosion, has repeatedly caused the same social stresses between left and right, citizens and immigrants.


Civilization would have a hard road ahead if its future held only one of the six major problems. In all likeli-hood, several of them will intersect over the next 50100 years. Martin Rees, in Our Final Hour, writes, correctly, I think, that by the end of the century we will have conquered the hurdles adequately, and in a way that ensures reasonable stability for the far future, or the project of civilization will have failed, and civilization will be in decline. He predicts we have a fifty-fifty shot.

If civilization is to make it, it will have to transition to cleaner energy rapidly; it may have to devise means of reversing damage already done; it will have to decentralize and distribute its technical systems to make them more resilient; and, crucially, it will have to overcome the problem of human nature, which, through problems like general discontentedness, terrorism, and prejudice (especially ethnic), cause relentless inefficiency.


The philosopher W.W. Bartley demonstrates the essential rejoinder of progressivism:

How can our lives and institutions be arranged . . . to optimum examination, in order to counteract and eliminate as much error as possible.

Thus a general program is demanded: a program to develop methods and institutions that will contribute to the creation of such an environment. Such methods may be expected to be generally consistent with, but not restricted to or limited to, science.

Wealth and power disparities, ecological destruction, degrading mental or physical health . . . ? Progress will

fix all that, say the neoliberals, say the Marxists, say the ecomodernists. But there is a problem with this faith: it overestimates human control over technical development. More regulatory systems cannot, therefore, be the only or even main solution to the six major problems.


We don’t have sufficient knowledge to devise blueprints for complex systems. At the time cars or cellphones were invented, no one knew the far-reaching changes they were going to bring to society, and no one could have known. How, then, could any group of people have directed these inventions to ensure that their consequences were “good” ones?

Consider that many technologies and scientific discoveries were invented or discovered by accident, including anesthesia, x-rays, dynamite, electromagnetism, ozone, radioactivity, and penicillin. Many times these acciden-tal inventions or discoveries change the technical landscape profoundly, invalidating any previous blueprint or efforts to implement it. This is unavoidable; no scheme could overcome such a limitation.

Part of the problem is that humans cannot or do not fully understand technical systems. Who really under-stands the dynamics of a corporation or the stock market? Nobody, of course. A CEO, for example, simply can’t take into consideration all the consequences his decisions could have — on his image, on his profit, on his consumers, on his employees. Much of this has to do with the way human behavior is unpredictable. For example, in 2010, when the AP Twitter account was hacked to announce that the White House had been at-tacked and Obama injured, the stock market suffered another flash crash that resulted in a 130-point plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. All this doesn’t keep technical systems from running, but it does mean that any attempt to direct them for “good” has to face possibly insurmountable practical problems.


Blueprints for complex systems often ignore human irrationality. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman discerns two systems in our brains. System 1 is intuitive, fast thinking, and it utilizes various shortcuts in order to come to conclusions. For all its imperfections, System 1 can be surprisingly accurate, especially when making decisions closer to the kinds our Stone Age counterparts would have made. In contrast, System 2 is analytical, slow thinking, the part of the mind that humans use to write or do complicated math. Kahneman argues that the fast, intuitive system is more influential and that individuals often come to or act on its conclusions without the analytical mind ever knowing about it.

The psychologists Kahneman and Tversky once told experimental participants about an imaginary character named Linda. Linda, the story went, was single, smart, and outspoken on the issues of discrimination and social justice. After explaining this, the two psychologists asked if it was more probable for Linda to be a bank teller or for Linda to be a bank teller who was active in the feminist movement. Of course, basic lessons in statistical probability would reveal that the first answer is the correct one. Only a subset of all bank tellers are feminist bank tellers, so adding the extra detail will necessarily decrease the probability. But most participants said the second answer was correct.

Another phenomenon Kahneman reports is called the “availability heuristic,” which means that the easier something comes to mind, the more probable the human mind will judge it to be. For example, Kahneman and Tversky asked participants in one experiment to judge whether words that began with the letter k were more probable, or whether words with k as their third letter were more probable. Because we recall words by their onsets, words beginning with the letter k are easier to recall. Thus, the duo predicted, rightly, that participants would judge words beginning with k as more likely, even though the opposite is true. One could repeat this experiment using almost any letter.

The availability heuristic helps explain why people seem to fear things in a way that is totally incongruent with statistical probabilities. For example, death by falling furniture is much more likely than death by murder, but because it is easier to recall instances of murder, perhaps from the news or even novels, people fear it significantly more. This may explain why individuals in nations with extremely low crime rates but oversatu-rated with news media suffer from undull anxiety about crime, so much so that it can create a whole electorate who actively fear wrongdoing against them by terrorists or gangs or lone murderers or scammers.


The Deepwater Horizon was a normal accident, a system accident. Complex technologies have . . . ways of failing that humans cannot foresee. The probability of similar accidents may now be reduced, but it can be reduced to zero only when declining [energy returns] makes deep-sea production energetically unprofitable. It is fashionable to think that we will be able to produce renewable energies with gentler technologies, with simpler machines that produce less damage to the earth, the atmosphere, and people. We all hope so, but we must approach such technologies with a dose of realism and a longterm perspective.

Drilling Down, Joseph Tainter and Tad Patzek

Blueprints for complex systems do not go as planned. For example, there have been numerous attempts at calendar reform. The Gregorian calendar is notoriously inefficient, especially for industrial economic purposes. Indeed, the inefficiency has resulted in loss of large sums of money and several lives, motivating many to popularize calendars much more suited to their industrial purposes. They have all failed. This includes the Positivist calendar, created by August Comte; the Pax calendar; the International Fixed Calendar; the World Calendar; the French Republican Calendar; the Invariable Calendar; the World Season Calendar, created by Isaac Asimov; and the Tranquility Calendar. Some of these were even proposals in international organizations like the League of Nations but nevertheless failed to be implemented.

Consider Paolo Soleri’s “Arcosanti,” a city he designed from scratch in order to demonstrate the principles of “arcology,” or ecologically-informed architecture, the dogma of modern “green planners.” Arcosanti is an odd, futuristic city that, although capable of supporting around 5,000 humans, has only a population of around 80, mostly dreadlocked alternative-culture types. The Japanese corporation Shimizu tried to implement another arcological project in 2004, but it has similarly failed.

These examples reflect the similar and ubiquitous failure of utopian communities that became common in the U.S. in the 1800s. The Nashoba community, for instance, closed its doors within a year of its debut; and only months after the creation of New Harmony, one of the most famous utopian communities, various groups splintered off from each other and the project failed.

Communism, the most striking planning project of all, was met with equally striking failure. Marvin Harris explains that Soviet communism failed precisely because its ideologically-derived social structure was not suited to infrastructural conditions, including ecology, something communist dogma ignored. Whether or not Soviet communism equals real communism is irrelevant; the point is that the management scheme that was attempted failed.

Human folly exacerbates the problem. In 2014 the Center for Disease Control accidentally sent live anthrax and deadly H5N1 samples to two different labs and a poultry lab, respectively. The same year, scientists at an NIH lab discovered nearly 330 unapproved vials of an array of deadly pathogens, including smallpox, dengue, and spotted fever, in a cold-storage room. Mistakes like these are unacceptable when the minimum require-ments for disaster is so low.

One might, of course, argue that there are at least some cases where humans have knowledge and power enough to control some system. Indeed, humans have already attempted to gain such a level of knowledge and power in creating a now-infamous project known as “Biosphere 2.” And it too failed — twice.

Biosphere 2 was an attempt by some scientists to create a totally controlled ecological system with five biomes. It was a highly popularized project, with implications for biologists, ecologists, and various technicians’ dreams of space colonization, because it offered, or was to supposed to offer, a way for scientists to carefully control ecological variables and learn how, precisely, ecosystems work.

However, Biosphere 2 suffered from frenzied CO2 levels that caused many species to die, including most verte-brates. Pest insects prospered, and some species killed off and dominated other species. The humans inhabiting the system ultimately had to leave.

The second time around failed largely because of disputes between the scientists, compounded by alleged vandalism by some of the more upset individuals. This may seem irrelevant, but it is in fact highly germane, since it reminds us to temper our planning schemes with greater awareness that it is humans coming up with and implementing them.


Rational blueprints always have unintended consequences. Consider that most technical innovations supposed to decrease human work have actually increased it. Cell phones and PCs, by making communication and several other business functions more efficient, did not decrease the workday; instead, the workday began bleeding into the home, often without wage compensation. Similarly, cars, among other things, fostered the isolation of suburbs and exacerbated pollution.


Schemes to implement rational blueprints often fail because they have a faulty understanding of technical de-velopment. Human energy and creativity may drive it, but forces greater than man determine the spectrum of possibilities.

In a version of UNO I often play with my family on holidays, individuals keep a tally of how many points are in their hand after each round has ended. When someone surpasses 500 points, the game ends, and the winner is the person with the least number of points. However, if someone hits 500 exactly, they go back to zero. Sometimes individuals end up with a number of points very close to 500, and they try to keep just the right amount of points in their hand so that when someone else goes out, they will have 500 points exactly, go back to zero, and have a shot at winning again. The problem is that no matter how much skill and reason someone puts into trying to reach 500 exactly, there are still an enormous amount of factors, like the chance distribution of cards, that the person could never control, and that ultimately determine whether he will actually achieve his goal; reason isn’t enough. Cultural evolution works similarly.

Nia et al. provide a real example of this idea as applied to violin acoustics. They analyze 470 instruments across several centuries and note that the change of the shape of the “f-hole” on either side of the violin strings was “gradual — and consistent.” They demonstrate that as each change provided superior sound, the creators replicated them at the expense of inferior designs. This occurred until the changes reached equilibrium with current f-shape. Note that the forces behind this change were not only or even predominantly human intention; instead, markets and physics were stronger determinants.

A final example: in a fascinating excerpt from The Evolution of Everything, Matt Ridley points out some trends in technical development occur with such regularity that humans control is unlikely to be the cause. Instead, Ridley writes, these regularities suggest that technics evolve:

. . . some scientists have begun to notice that cities themselves evolve in predictable ways. There is a spontaneous order in the way they grow and change. The most striking of these regularities is the “scaling” that cities show — how their features change with size. For example, the number of petrol stations increases at a consistently slower rate than the population of the city. There are economies of scale, and this pattern is the same in every part of the world. The same is true of electrical networks. So it does not matter what the policy of the country, or the mayor, is. Cities will converge on the same patterns of growth wherever they are. In this they are very like bodies. A mouse burns more energy, per unit of body weight, than an elephant; a small city burns proportionately more motor fuel than a large one. Like cities, bodies get more efficient in their energy consumption the larger they grow. There is also a consistent 15 per cent saving on infrastructure cost per head for every doubling of a city’s population size.

The opposite is true of economic growth and innovation — the bigger the city, the faster these increase. Doubling the size of a city boosts income, wealth, number of patents, number of universities, number of creative people, all by approximately 15 per cent, regardless of where the city is. The scaling is, in the jargon, “superlinear.” Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute, who discovered this phenomenon, calls cities “super-creative.” They generate a disproportionate share of human innovation; and the bigger they are, the more they generate. The reason for this is clear, at least in outline. Human beings innovate by combining and recombining ideas, and the larger and denser the network, the more innovation occurs. Once again, notice that this is not policy. Indeed, nobody was aware of the supercreative effect of cities until very recently, so no policymaker could aim for it. It’s an evolutionary phenomenon.


Consider a parable. A magician, through a great feat of sorcery, creates a golem that provides everything he needs. The catch? The magician must continually offer the golem his blood. The golem, who wants to survive and carry out its purpose, develops techniques that encourage the magician to keep giving the blood offerings, and eventually they become so efficient that when the golem stops providing, the magician cannot break away, and he lives in sickness and despair the rest of his life.


Humans have two potential futures if civilization succeeds. On the one hand, advanced technics could sig-nificantly lower the value of human labor and creativity, leaving them cheap and disposable material for eco-nomic production. It is probably impossible to predict how this would manifest materially, but in spirit it would probably look similar to the hard capitalism that characterized the early Industrial Revolution.

On the other hand, advanced technics could leave humans with a large amount of leisure time, to be filled with creative activity, entertainment, and drugs. But this sounds little better. At the least, human behavior will still have to be managed, perhaps to an even greater degree since older systems of obligation, like work, would not exist. Alienation from nature will probably still typify civil life. And the condition will be one of permissiveness rather than true autonomy.

Marshall Brain, the founder of HowStuffWorks, wrote a short story about these two futures that later became a cult classic. The story, entitled “Manna,” presents the two futures just given, the two consequences Brain pre-dicts could ensue after achieving the technical ability to build a post-scarcity economy. Interestingly, in his utopia, the main character decides to live more or less primitively by his standards:

But with all of this technology available, I choose to live my life by setting time back 300 years and living a very simple, completely physical lifestyle. I grew my own food and built my own simple house with my own hands. I was able to be a kind grandfather to dozens of children in the village, to make clay pots in the sun and to grow flowers in my garden outside my bedroom window. I was as happy and fulfilled as I ever had been at any time in my entire life — my life was perfect, because it was exactly the way I wanted it to be.

The catch? The same character had a permanent implant in his brain connecting him to a computer-driven global consciousness. In short: surveillance, management, direction. In fact, in a society that can so efficiently modify man, the individual cannot even be sure that his satisfaction is manufactured, or if it is a true flourishing of his own will. Even in so simplistic a story, one that doesn’t properly examine the neurotic symptoms and harm to nature that stem from excessive wealth and boredom, the terribleness of the “good” future is clear.


In Our Final Hour, Rees, apart from outlining the hurdles we must overcome, suggests a safeguard for the project of civilization: advance space travel technologies so, in case of failure, a small group can carry on the project, potentially by colonizing other planets. Elon Musk has put forth essentially the same idea.

The poverty of a view that hopes to continue the very thing that will have destroyed so great a gift as earth is apparent. The idea also stands out as strikingly vile. Who, exactly, will be on that ship?


It seems our civilization is not unique, that civilizations as a whole have a propensity to collapse. Nearly every major work on civilizational collapse has agreed on this point. Joseph Tainter, in The Collapse of Com-plex Societies, argues that civilizations tend to collapse because of declining marginal productivity. Increased management requires energy input, and that energy has to come from somewhere. But the energy required to maintain the management systems may actually end up being a net loss and unsustainable. Farmers are quite productive when they begin on fertile land, but as they expand into harsher soil they struggle to keep productivity levels high. On how this relates to civilizational development overall, Bardi gives the following analogy:

Think of yourself swimming in the sea. Physics says that you should float, but you need to expend some energy to maintain a homeostatic condition in which your head stays above the water. Now, suppose that your feet get entangled with something heavy. Then, physics says that you should sink. Yet, you can expend more energy, swim harder, and still keep your head above the water — again it is homeostasis. But, if nothing changes, at some moment you’ll run out of energy, you get tired and you can’t keep homeostasis any more. At this point, physics takes over and you sink, and you drown.

Tainter demonstrates that this even applies to intellectual, i.e., scientific, progress. He ends his book with a warning that modern society shows all the major signs of a declining civilization.

Jared Diamond, in Collapse, suggests that civilizations collapse primarily because of ecological problems and resource issues. It is a different model than Tainter’s, but Diamond similarly believes that our civilization is in a precarious place. He lists, for example, twelve environmental problems facing the world today, eight of which have historically contributed to civilizational collapse, an additional four of which are entirely new threats.


If industrial civilization collapsed, it probably could not be rebuilt. Civilization would exist again, of course, but industry appears to be a one-shot affair. The astronomist Fred Hoyle, exaggerating slightly, writes:

It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is con-cerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.

But even if Hoyle is incorrect, and through some path unknown to us now a future generation was able to re-build industry, it would take thousands of years. Technology today depends on levels of complexity that must proceed in chronological stages. Solar panels, for example rely on transportation infrastructure, mining, and a regulated division of labor.

Knowledge of how we achieved these things before may help us progress more quickly, but there are also insur-mountable material and economic limits. For example, much of the world’s land is not arable, and some of the land in use today is only productive because of industrial technics developed during the agricultural revolution in the 60s, technics heavily dependent on oil. Without the systems that sustain agriculture in those areas, agricultural civilization cannot exist there. And some resources required for industrial progress, like coal, simply aren’t feasibly accessible anymore. Tainter writes:

. . . major jumps in population, at around A.D. 1300, 1600, and in the late eighteenth century, each led to intensification in agriculture and industry. As the land in the late Middle Ages was increasingly deforested to provide fuel and agricultural space for a growing population, basic heating, cooking, and manufacturing needs could no longer be met by burning wood. A shift to reliance on coal began, gradually and with apparent re-luctance. Coal was definitely a fuel source of secondary desirability, being more costly to obtain and distribute than wood, as well as being dirty and polluting. Coal was more restricted in its spatial distribution than wood, so that a whole new, costly distribution system had to be developed. Mining of coal from the ground was more costly than obtaining a quantity of wood equivalent in heating value, and became even more costly as the most accessible reserves of this fuel were depleted. Mines had to be sunk ever deeper, until groundwater flooding became a serious problem.

Today, most easily accessible coal reserves are completely depleted.

Beyond material limits, most, who are exploited by rather than benefit from industry, would probably not view it as desirable. Though today citizens of first-world nations live physically comfortable lives, their lives are sustained by the more wretched lives of the rest of the world. “Civilization . . . has operated two ways,” Paine writes, “to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.” This may not be a problem forever, especially if civilization achieves something akin to a post-scarcity future, but such a future is unlikely.

Even industrial man, from the same primitive starting point, would not want to go through the phases required to reach the industrial stage of development. Consider the case of two societies in New Zealand, the Maori and the Moriori. Both are now believed to have originated out of the same, ur-Maori society after some individuals who become the Moriori people settled on the Chatham Islands in the 16th century. Largely due to a chief named Nunuku-whenua, the Moriori had a strict tradition of solving inter-tribal conflict peacefully and ad-vocating a variant of passive resistance; war, cannibalism, and killing were completely outlawed. They also re-nounced their parent society’s agricultural mode of subsistence, relying heavily on hunting and gathering, and they controlled their population growth by castrating some male infants, so their impact on the non-human environment around them was minimal. In the meantime, the Maori continued to live agriculturally and de-veloped into a populated, complex, hierarchical, and violent society. Eventually,

an Australian seal-hunting ship visiting the Chathams en route to New Zealand brought news to New Zealand of islands where “there is an abundance of sea and shellfish; the lakes swarm with eels; and it is a land of the karaka berry . . . The inhabitants are very numerous, but they do not understand how to fight, and have no weapons.” That news was enough to induce 900 Maori to sail to the Chathams.


. . . over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. A Moriori survivor recalled, “[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep . . . [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and eaten-men, women, and children indiscriminately.” A Maori conqueror explains,

“We took possession . . . in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed-but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.”

Additionally, something similar to colonization and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade would have to occur once again. In Capitalism and Slavery Eric Williams noted that global chattel slavery enabled the industrial revolution by financing it, extracting resources so they could be accumulated at sites of production, and exporting products through infrastructure that slavery helped sustain. Though a future system would have to function differently because material conditions would be different (e.g., resources have already been assembled in some areas at the expense of others), human nature makes coercion and violence inherent to any similar project of production. It is hard to get a man to willingly change his traditional way of life; even harder when his new life is going into mines.


Increased civilizational complexity in response to existential threats presents a problem: it makes complex societies less attractive for the classes who have to pick up the tab. For instance, when the Roman Empire in-creased the size of its military and bureaucratic structures, it raised taxes on the peasants, who, when they couldn’t pay the taxes, abandoned their lands. In response the Empire debased its currency, deferring its problems to the future, and used money it had already accumulated, the pot slowly diminishing. Of course, it eventually collapsed as a result. For many these facts are enough to motivate a search for new values.

No matter what one’s analysis, this search is for some irrefutably rational. Even if a global collapse is not in our future, localized collapses and general economic turmoil are inevitable. Examples like Syria and Somalia make this clear even in the present.

This underlines a fundamental lesson from the history of civilizational collapse: the fixes to these issues are unlikely to benefit the masses. Indeed, often the same who are worst affected will be taxed, killed, or marginal-ized by solutions. And even among those who do not face an imminent physical threat, there is a large faction discontented with life in industrial society. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Brooks compares this to the discontent colonists felt around the time many of them abandoned their way of life for Native societies, a trend that occurred well into the 18th century. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” he wrote, “if the big change in the coming decades [will be] . . . more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap.”

The Origin of Civility


Hume made a distinction between “natural” and “artificial” values. Natural virtues are those that arise in humans without a high amount of influence from human systems — they do not require indoctrination, education, or any kind of system of production. Such virtues include, according to Hume, compassion, courage, friendship, parental devotion, and so forth.

Artificial virtues, on the other hand, depend on social systems and must be produced through schooling or some other method of acculturation, and they include such things as justice, allegiance to a large social body, chastity and modesty, and the moral rules governing state-based organization, such as respect for sovereignty, property rights, or borders.

Note, however, that Hume is not arguing that artificial virtues are completely contrived. Rather, they must be derived from the natural materials we have to work with. He writes, for example, that “though justice be ar-tificial, the sense of its morality is natural.” Elsewhere he writes that natural virtues are “augmented by a new artifice, and . . . the public instructions of politicians, and the private education of parents, contribute to the giving us a sense of honour and duty in the strict regulation of our actions.” In this sense, artificial virtues are cultivated from human nature much in the same way agricultural products are cultivated from the land.


Although the analogy is illustrative, one important difference separates being civilized from being domesti-cated: the latter is a genetic change. But the domain of culture is largely phenotypic, so it is much more flexible and can be modified without changes to an organism’s genotype. Of course artificial conditions can still impact an organism’s evolution, but cultural evolution has gone at too fast a rate for its impact to go beyond trivial things. Humans are still, on the whole, biologically the same as their hunter/gatherer counterparts.


In The History of European Morals Lecky noted:

The moral unity to be expected in different ages is not a unity of standard, or of acts, but a unity of tendency . . . At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world.

This tendency is a logical consequence of technical development, which expands, and, during expansion, ab-sorbs peoples and their cultures. Since a society with constant inner conflict would operate inefficiently, the material conditions select for social manners that promote unity between the absorbed cultures. This is usually not a pretty process, as is demonstrated by ethnic conflict being one of the main sources of instability for the nation-state system established after WWII.


The tendency for the moral circle to expand with technical development requires a civilizing process, since in natural conditions man usually confines his altruism to 40 or so people. One might assume that altruism is naturally limited to 40 or so people because only 40 or so people were around, but the limitations are to a large extent biological. The reasons for this are complex.

The field of sociobiology was borne out of a central question plaguing the theory of natural selection since Dar-win devised it: why are organisms altruistic? Eventually, evolutionary biologists explained the phenomenon with the concept of inclusive fitness. Natural selection, they argued, does not operate primarily on the species or even the organism, but on the gene, whose one “desire” is to propagate itself. It often does this through the organism. Put colloquially, one might say that the chicken is just the egg’s way of making another egg.

Understanding natural selection this way makes altruism significantly less mysterious. When evolution is understood as competition between organisms, each organism has a strong incentive to kill most others, who constitute a threat to survival. But under the new framework, the genes themselves are waging brutal war, which seemingly paradoxically expresses itself as altruism at the level of the organism.

The key is that some organisms share genes, so they would better ensure these genes’ survival if they cooperate in some contexts. This is the origin of social behaviors. But the evolutionary trick is limited: after a certain degree of separation in relatedness, the organism no longer benefits its genes by acting altruistic. Thus, the altruism selected by this process only evolves if it benefits close or immediately-extended family. For example, if one group does not murder its uncles, and the other does, the mortality of the second group will make its genes less likely to propagate and survive.

Of course, natural selection isn’t a conscious process; it doesn’t design. It just happens. So behaviors that evolve under the selection pressure of inclusive fitness do not have to work perfectly, only well enough. For example, a woman may be more likely to act altruistically toward her child because of biological cues signaling the baby is hers; but the same cues might in unusual circumstances work for a foreign baby. So long as the net gain to fitness is better than no biological cues at all, the cues will remain.

Social behaviors also evolve from reciprocal altruism. This is a phenomenon whereby an organism temporarily reduces its own fitness to benefit another, with the expectation that the favor will be returned. For example, a group of monkeys may develop the behavior of mutual grooming, allowing them to eradicate other-wise hard-to-reach bugs and improving their overall fitness.

But two limits prevent this phenomenon from extending far. First, reciprocal altruism will only arise when cheaters, or those who don’t return the favor, can be detected. This is because, as game theory demonstrates, a group of purely altruistic beings who do not cease being altruistic toward a cheater will be ruined rather quickly, depleted of resources. To avoid this, evolution selects for organisms that withhold resources from or otherwise punish a cheater, either eliminating the problem or incentivizing him to cooperate. Sociobiological experiments confirm that instinctive cheater detection mechanisms do exist in many observed social behaviors.

The cheater-detection requirement imposes a second limitation: organisms will only evolve reciprocally al-truistic behaviors in circumstances where the individual receiving the favor will have ample, repeated op-portunities to return it. Thus, even reciprocal altruism only selects for social behaviors that favor relations.

Once again, although evolutionary theory explains the reasons for certain behaviors, it does not ensure that the behaviors will always express themselves in the “intended” way. Thus, conditions in one environment may produce a behavior that will be detrimental in other environments. And suitable artificial pressure, or partic-ularly unusual environmental pressure, can tweak the behaviors, though usually not change or repress them completely.

Furthermore, we cannot assume that reciprocal altruism will always be the best strategy for a given social behavior. When natural selection favors reciprocal altruism over pure self-interestedness, it is because, as with monkeys, altruism enhances overall fitness. Otherwise self-interested behavior will be selected for.

There is a final limitation to human solidarity: these behaviors stem from physical changes in the organism, and the form these take impose limits. For example, in primates social behavior is directly affected by the size of the neocortex, which the scientist Robin Dunbar found limited human beings to approximately 150 stable, close relationships. After this point, group cohesiveness can only be maintained through more restrictive rules or norms. And in hunting/gathering conditions a number that large was unlikely because it would require a high amount of time devoted to social grooming, time that the society in question couldn’t often afford.


Because human social behavior is limited, we can reasonably predict that moral decisions will be more clearcut in small-group contexts, but more ambiguous or difficult when our Paleolithic morals confront modern con-ditions. The evidence seems to bear this out. For example, humans have a very difficult time making moral de-cisions concerning large groups, a well-known problem in population ethics. Patricia Churchland put it this way: “no one has the slightest idea how to compare the mild headache of five million against the broken legs of two, or the needs of one’s own two children against the needs of a hundred unrelated brain-damaged children in Serbia.”

Consider an experiment by the psychologist Paul Slovic during which he told volunteers about a starving girl, and measured their willingness to donate money. He then told the same story to another group but with the added detail that millions of others were also starving. The second group only gave around half as much money as the first. In fact, Slovic found that even adding just one more person would begin the process of “psychic numbing.”

But in modern conditions, this kind of numbing is morally unacceptable, and decisions must be made that affect large populations. A large group can only maintain its cohesiveness and strength if its members maintain their solidarity, even if the solidarity is only behavioral or institutional (e.g., through charities or NGOs). Artificial modification therefore becomes an absolute necessity for the society.

On the other hand, natural human behavior is clearly prejudiced toward in-groups. To test this idea, social psychologist Henri Tajfel once split experimental participants into groups based on a coin flip and then asked them to appraise a piece of art in a style none had seen before. Tajfel found that, in spite of the group mem-bership’s irrelevance and arbitrary nature, participants “liked the members of their own group better and they rated members of their in-group as more likely to have pleasant personalities.” And the biases affect behavior. In a number of studies, experimenters divide their subjects into arbitrary groups and tell them to allocate ob-jects of value, like money or points, to other subjects, who are identified only by a number and group member-ship. Participants give more than would be expected if they were purely self-interested, but they have an unde-niable tendency to allocate more resources to members of their in-group.

So we must distinguish between mutualism in the natural state of man, which we will call solidarity, with mutualism in the civilized state of man, which we will call civility. Civility must be cultivated from solidarity according to the demands of civilization, and, as civilization gets larger, so does the sphere of moral consideration.


Norbert Elias writes about a historical example of moral cultivation in the first volume of his magnum opus, The Civilizing Process. Elias argues that, instead of simply adopting European social mores, the people of the Middle Ages underwent a long period of education that shaped their behavior through shame, guilt, disgust, and other such feelings.

For instance, Elias reviews several etiquette manuals and points out that commands now reserved for children were being issued, regularly, to adults. People of the Middle Ages had to be told not to defecate on staircases and curtains, not to defecate in front of women, not to touch their privates in public, not to greet someone who is relieving themselves, not to examine their handkerchief after blowing into it, not to use various pieces of public fabric as handkerchiefs, not to use their eating spoon to serve food, not to offer food that they have bitten into, not to stir sauce with their fingers


Beyond direct instruction, European society also developed taboos around sex, defecation, and urination; they passed laws; and they made non-compliance of cosmic importance by employing Christian dogma. In other words, the European “second nature” developed only through multiple, interlocking systems and over a long period of time.

Elias argues that instilling a second nature into Europeans became necessary because right around the same time the patchwork of feudal territories, chiefdoms, and cities were being consolidated into much larger state-based societies. Nowadays, with states and their systems of education already established, a large-scale social transformation is unnecessary, and citizens usually go through the same processes of education in their youth.


Today the dominant ideology of global civilization is humanism, the belief that humans belong to a single moral community in which they each have equal standing.

“Dominant” is measured by power, not numbers. The majority of the world population still holds traditional values, like belief in a strong family, ethnic loyalty, and continuing tradition. Where these have been disrupted by colonialism they assume a particularly modern aroma, but the values are traditional nonetheless. Still, some of the most powerful organizations, and those which have the most ability to shape global civilization, preach humanist values: the United Nations, NGOs, many large religious orders, universities, most transnational corporations . . . Note, however, that these organizations are not stably dominant; their project to add another layer of moral cultivation to civilization is an ongoing one.

Despite its name, humanism has tension with human nature. It is not interested in humans as they are, only humans as they can be fashioned. For example, to humanists, social problems are often caused by humans not being cooperative enough within the social system. Their solution, then, is to change the humans rather than the society.


Radical environmentalist philosophy has traditionally tried to extend rather than reject the humanist project. We will call the philosophy progressive ecocentrism, or the idea that non-humans have equal standing too. It is not quite the same as animal rights ideologies, which hope to extend the moral circle only to a subset of animals, usually those believed to be sentient. Ecocentrism goes even further, including non-sentient animals, nonanimals, whole ecosystems, and even the entire biosphere.

This moral circle approach has some interesting consequences. For example, ecocentrists can feasibly be against industrial society because, on the whole, it causes more suffering than wellbeing. This position is not as easily supported by humanism because, unlike humanism, ecocentrism includes the suffering of nonhumans into its calculations. For the same reason, ecocentrists can often be outwardly misanthropic. It allows for the utilitarian calculation that, since all suffering is equally bad, and since ending humanity would (according to some progressive ecocentrists) decrease overall suffering, the end of humanity is worth it. This is comparable to saying that killing one person is better than killing five.

But these are only potentials, ones that have been taken, but potentials only nonetheless. Ecocentrism usually does not go hand-in-hand with strict antiindustrial politics or misanthropy. In the main, ecocentrists wish to radically transform society such that it decreases its impact on the natural world and includes the standing of non-humans into its social systems. This does not necessarily mean, say, that animals could sue; only that their interests as wild animals are considered, perhaps by establishing wilderness areas. To not do this, to reaffirm only the value of the human, is what ecocentrists call “anthropocentrism.”

The philosophy, however, is inconsistent. Whereas it measures non-human wellbeing by a standard of wildness, it does not do so for human wellbeing. Instead, humans are supposed to reaffirm civility between all human beings, thereby legitimizing the systems and infrastructure that inculcated that civility; and they are supposed to go still further by extending their moral behavior toward non-humans, thereby legitimizing new systems and infrastructure. Man as wild animal himself — unconsidered.


On how altruism evolved from inclusive fitness can be extended beyond relations, Pinker writes:

The cognitive twist is that the recognition of kin among humans depends on environmental cues that other humans can manipulate. Thus people are also altruistic toward their adoptive relatives, and toward a variety of fictive kin such as brothers in arms, fraternities and sororities, occupational and religious brotherhoods, crime families, fatherlands, and mother countries. These faux-

families may be created by metaphors, simulacra of family experiences, myths of common descent or common flesh, and other illusions of kinship. None of this wasteful ritualizing and mythologizing would be necessary if “the group” were an elementary cognitive intuition which triggered instinctive loyalty. Instead that loyalty is instinctively triggered by those with whom we are likely to share genes, and extended to others through various manipulations.

On how reciprocal altruism can be extended beyond relations, Pinker writes:

One cognitive twist on this formula is that humans are language-using creatures who need not discriminate reciprocators from exploiters only by direct personal experience, but can also ask around and find out their reputation for reciprocating with or exploiting others. This in turn creates incentives to establish and exaggerate one’s reputation (a feature of human psychology that has been extensively documented by social psycholo-gists), and to attempt to see through such exaggerations in others. And one way to credibly establish one’s reputation as an altruist in the probing eyes of skeptics is to be an altruist, that is, to commit oneself to altruism (and, indirectly, its potential returns in the long run, at the expense of personal sacrifices in the short run). A third twist is that reciprocity, like nepotism, is driven not by infallible knowledge but by probabilistic cues. This means that people may extend favors to other people with whom they will never in fact interact with again, as long as the situation is representative of ones in which they may interact with them again.


Consider the way commercials about African poverty exploit natural tendencies to extend cooperative behav-ior. It is normal to respond to a desperate child with sadness. And it usually makes sense to aid the desperate, even bureaucratically. But guilt, of the kind the sinful experience, is an unnecessary feeling. Aid has only been made an obligation because large organizations need it to be. Corporations survive off of the social connection, whose trade and consumption are their profit and labor. Governments run more efficiently if they use the powerful incentives of the social instincts to manage behavior. In the same way that farmers cultivate more land for better yields, cultural institutions must build new social connections for cultural cultivation.

They sustain these connections with psychological manipulation. Aid commercials are so effective because young, vulnerable animals, including humans, have (biologically) evolved cute facial features for the exact pur-pose of eliciting tenderness. Organizations in turn (culturally) evolve techniques of social control that most ef-ficiently shape human nature for civil purposes, like those above. As the number of organizations interested in a certain behavior increases, so too do moral precepts that better assure it. And ethicists, uninformed or unenthusiastic about human origins, mistake current moral intuitions for actual insights into human nature, declaring humanism the morality of reason. Resultingly, modern man does not simply hurt when he can’t or doesn’t act on empathy, and sometimes he is not struck with empathy at all — but always he feels guilt.

In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud echoed these ideas. He also noticed the tendency of civilization to expand the sphere of moral consideration as it grows, writing, “Civilization is a process . . . whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind.”

But he throws a wrench into the whole thing. Freud’s central thesis was that human nature contains some bi-ologically innate drives that need to develop without artificial interference but that are contrary to the project of civilization. So, he writes, civilization sublimates or represses them for its own stability, and this leaves the individual in a neurotic, guilty state that can only be avoided with escape from civilized institutions. Freud writes that his intention is:

. . . to represent the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civ-

ilization and to show that the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt.


Civility is instilled or sustained through means other than expanding the moral circle. When cooperative be-haviors cannot be induced through familial metaphor, or otherwise, governments and corporations will use psychological tricks to induce compliance. Many of these are well known and relatively harmless. For example, in some countries citizens are automatically organ donors and have to opt out, increasing the number of organ donors. Other methods are a little more nefarious.

Population management techniques, for example, are an essential part of civilization, both for mass events and heavily populated areas. For example, universities around the 1960s often designed confusing floorplans for new buildings to prevent vandalism among protesters. Metal studs on short cement walls prevent skateboarding. City planners sometimes specify that benches be divided by armrests so people cannot lay on them, or that bench seats tilt forward slightly to encourage people not to stay long. Municipal governments have figured out that only a few design elements, like large windows on buildings near sidewalks, low land-scaping, and gapped fences, will deter crime by creating the illusion of surveillance.

In a similar vein, advertising employs behavioral psychology to determine which jingles will stay in consumers’ heads the longest or which brand images will translate to the most buys. This kind of manipulation is also used in physical spaces. For example, in welldesigned stores, tiles will get smaller where there are products the store especially wants to sell, because it creates the illusion that the shopping buggy is going faster and causes customers to slow down.

Or, consider this insight on gas pump design by Lisa Margonelli:

Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks, “Wow! I’m going to go buy some threecarbon-to-12-carbon molecules to put in my tank and drive happily to work.” No, they think, “Ugh. I have to go buy gas. I’m so an-gry about it. The oil companies are ripping me off. They set the prices, and I don’t even know. I am helpless over this.” And this is what happens to us at the gas pump — and actually, gas pumps are specifically designed to diffuse that anger. You might notice that many gas pumps . . . are designed to look like ATMs. I’ve talked to engineers. That’s specifically to diffuse our anger, because supposedly we feel good about ATMs.

Elsewhere she explains that profits did go up after the redesign.


The structure of modern society is unique in its psychological damage because it employs a multiplicity of interlocking, autonomous systems of control, much more than did pre-modern kingdoms and religious orders.

The problem reveals itself through a simple thought experiment: what aspect of your daily routine doesn’t make somebody money? Very little, probably. And in trade there is an incentive to colonize every aspect of the consumer’s life that will turn a greater profit or increase efficiency. Google wants your attention; the university, your time; work, your labor. More, the story of technoindustrial development since WWII demonstrates a process of constant expansion, constant and total colonization at an awe-inducing speed. Previously private domains, like social relationships, are now directed by technicians at social media companies and the incan-tations of their behavioral sciences. The individual, as a result, is left in an anxious state, pulled in many di-rections and sucked of independence and creativity, or dazed and confused into a stupor until the end of his day, when he find himself drained of any energy to exert for his own will.

Being pulled at all sides by obligations and rules and psychological manipulation has a negative impact. The need for autonomy from these is so crucial that even relieving individuals of a few of the burdens has a positive effect on their wellbeing. For example, when patients are carefully attended to, health declines; but when the patients have the ability to control even small aspects of their life, the effect reverses. Prisons that allow prison-ers to reposition furniture and TVs see fewer revolts and health problems. And individuals in homeless shelters that allow their residents to choose their food and bed are more likely to find an apartment or get a job.


The consequences of rejecting the wild are apparent in non-human animals. The biologist John B. Calhoun documented some of the effects in a study that would later be the inspiration for The Rats of NIMH. The experiment centered around a roomy box containing several mice that Calhoun hoped to bread about 5,000 others from. He provided the critters with nearly everything one would expect them to need to live fulfilling lives, including sufficient food and water, climate control, and comfortable living quarters. However, the population never exceeded 150, much lower than his target; they developed aggressive behaviors; and instead of normal burrowing, they rolled dirt into balls for no apparent reason.

Calhoun repeated the experiment with some modifications several times, but each time he encountered another array of negative consequences. For example, one of the rat populations doubled every two months, growing so rapidly that social conventions, like those around mating, stopped working properly. They also exhibited abnormal aggressive behaviors, even toward their offspring, and they spent most of their time grooming, sleeping, and eating instead of engaging in normal social activity. After only two years, the population col-lapsed, and with it the mouse utopia.

In his paper, Calhoun draws many parallels with human society and muses on potential solutions to the problems. Although he never settles on one exactly, he put the most emphasis on increasing abstract creative space to satisfy innate needs for creation and autonomy — abstract spaces that now exist in the form of information technologies, and that have been taken to their logical conclusion in fictional commentaries like The Matrix.

Zookeepers also repeatedly encounter captive animals with a wide array of behaviors that look uncannily sim-ilar to depression or anxiety in humans, a phenomenon known as “zoochosis.” Animals suffering zoochosis will pace in their cages, self-harm, intentionally puke, or become randomly aggressive. Like with humans, these behaviors can be managed by providing entertainment or by making normal tasks slightly more difficult than they need to be. For example, zookeepers might place food in a toy that the animal has to figure out how to open before he eats. Zoo animals also receive regular doses of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax and Prozac. In fact, it is not often talked about, but most animals behind the zoo glass are on medication of the sort.


Humans display symptoms comparable to caged animals. This should be unsurprising. A gorilla and a rat display unique symptoms to being tamed or domesticated, but the overall impact is fairly similar, and they don’t differ too much from each other. Man is an animal. He is not so separated from the others that he wouldn’t have a comparable response.

For example, individuals living in urban areas have an increased risk of psychosis and urbanity exacerbates symptoms in those already diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. A twin in an urban area is more likely to re-ceive a mental health diagnosis than a twin in a rural area. Drug use is quite common in times of rapid ur-banization, indicating that the process has significant, negative psychological effects. And while in alreadydeveloped cities drug use varies, diagnosed mental disorders increase at a rate faster than would be predicted based on the increased population alone.

Or consider the case of the Oji-Cree. Up until the 1960s, the Oji-Cree people of the Hudson Bay maintained their indigenous way of life even while in contact with modern society. But then the 60s hit, and industrial technics took a stronger hold. With this transition came many of the benefits of civilization: the Oji-Cree now no longer work as hard to build transportation technologies and winter is not as difficult or deadly. But, as one writer explains:

. . . in the main, the Oji-Cree story is not a happy one. Since the arrival of new technologies, the population has suffered a massive increase in morbid obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Social problems are rampant: idleness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide have reached some of the highest levels on earth. Diabetes, in particular, has become so common (affecting forty per cent of the population) that researchers think that many children, after exposure in the womb, are born with an increased predisposition to the disease. Childhood obesity is widespread, and ten-year-olds sometimes appear middle-aged. Recently, the Chief of a small Oji-Cree community estimated that half of his adult population was addicted to OxyContin or other painkillers.

Of course, the symptoms are not confined to the OjiCree. In fact, most are widespread problems in industrial societies, and evolutionary psychologists have come up with a few explanations for them. Diabetes and obesity, for example, are probably common because in evolutionary history, sugar was hard to come by but a necessary nutrient, so humans evolved a special taste for it; but this only causes health problems in sugar-rich modern societies, which also include corporations who exploit the human sweet-tooth for profit.

Conversely, most hunter/gatherers are neither struck by degenerative disorders or diseases to the degree in-dustrial humans are, nor are they struck by many nowprominent mental health issues. One article in The American Journal of Medicine explains, “There is increasing evidence that the . . . mismatch [between our hunter/gatherer biology and civilized conditions] fosters ‘diseases of civilization’ that together cause 75 percent of all deaths in Western nations, but that are rare among persons whose lifeways reflect those of our preagricultural ancestors.”


I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil — to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.

— Thoreau

Man is linked to nature by virtue of their joint material condition. This is not an obvious fact to many, and the fight for acceptance and recognition of it has a long history. Darwin, for instance, in a world gripped by Chris-tianity, initially avoided applying evolution to humans, and it took Thomas Huxley’s bellicose manner for the issue to be brought forward publicly in the man’s famous debate with a bishop (of course). Later, Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature and Darwin’s The Descent of Man further established that human beings are animals and subject to evolutionary processes as much as any other living creature.

When Jane Goodall reported on apes using tools in a time when tool use was considered unique to humans, the anthropologist Louis Leakey said, “Now we must redefine ‘tool,’ redefine ‘man,’ or accept chimpanzees as humans.”

E.O. Wilson, when he suggested that humans are indeed subject to the processes of evolution, had water poured on his head by an upset activist and suffered profound backlash from many academics. This was more than 100 years after Descent of Man. Similarly, Paul Ekman, when presenting his findings that a core set of facial expressions are universal among humans (and so probably biological in origin) found himself interrupted by a prominent anthropologist in the audience, who stood up and demanded that Ekman not be allowed to continue because his views were fascist.

The greatest thing humans have to learn about their condition, then, is not what makes them separate from the rest of the material world, but what tethers them to it.

Caging and taming wild animals is widely considered repulsive. Their captive lives exist along a spectrum. On one end, their physical conditions are worse than in the wild, especially at zoos or circuses. And except in cases of regulation, this will always remain a secondary concern to profit and efficiency. On the other hand, their physical conditions can be comfortable, but they develop neuroses and exhibit signs of boredom, depression, or anxiety; their social behaviors change; their mating patterns differ. It is easy to see how both ends are less than ideal for the animal, and similar to the divide between the third and first worlds among humans.

The supposed benefits of civilization, like longer life expectancy and greater peacefulness, do not distinguish man. Captive non-humans sometimes live longer in captivity, or they are more lethargic, and therefore more peaceful. But how odd it would be to suggest that a lion’s peacefulness dignifies his cage!

Repent to the Primitive


. . . as the weapon became more and more effective, man imposed more and more limitations on himself as the animal’s rival in order to leave it free to practice its wily defenses, in order to avoid making the prey and the hunter excessively unequal, as if passing beyond a certain limit in that relationship might annihilate the essential character of the hunt, transforming it into pure killing and destruction. Hence the confrontation be-tween man and animal has a precise boundary beyond which hunting ceases to be hunting, just at the point where man lets loose his immense technical superiority — that is, rational superiority — over the animal.

Meditations on Hunting, Jose Ortega y Gasset

A world completely dominated by human and technical power: nearly everyone agrees it is undesirable. Do-mestication has limits. But why? The negative approach argues that one limits domestication because of human folly, error, vice; the destructive impulses of technical development; and the limits of human reason and power. The affirmative approach upholds what the world is without human power, the wild world.

Ecomodernists, for example, claim that wilderness is compatible with civilization. A negative approach would attack this idea by pointing out human folly, destruction inherent to technics, and limits to human reason and power.

But, more important, ecomodernists have missed the point. Civilization is not worthy of preservation. The wild will does not ask for wilderness because he wants a few nature reserves that look aesthetically similar to nature in the Pleistocene; he asks for wilderness because he wants the wild.


I wish to appraise the value of the wild. I do not embrace misanthropy, denigrating artifice in all cases. But the world should be much wilder than now, and the justifications for cultivating wildness and destroying what it sustains, especially those few areas where wildness still reigns, strike me as false, repugnant, or forceless.

But to appraise the wild before the masses of men is a quest fraught with limits. The moral terrain is harsh and tenuous. If our values spring forth from the will, I am powerless against a will that cares nothing for what I eulogize. At best, my words can find those already convinced, providing them a new individual’s perspective and approach; or they can give a conscious expression of the unease many individuals feel but cannot articu-late.


A trope in primitivist politics is the notion of return: return to the primitive, return to simplicity, return to the land. But too often the language is botched, ironically, by the idols of progress. “Return” is seen as a nostalgic call for a lost Eden, leaving open the obvious rebuttal that that great garden’s gates are still guarded by an angel wielding a fiery sword.

This is a simple linguistic misunderstanding. “Return” does not, in fact, only have meaning in the context of something lost to history. The something can merely be lost spatially or spiritually, both of which are the case here.

The Hebrew word “teshuvah” provides an analogous case of ambiguity. It, like its English counterpart, can be understood as either “return” or “repent”; but, unlike its English counterpart, the overwhelming connotation rests on the latter meaning. The Jews, then, perform teshuvah when they turn their face from the world’s idols and back toward the light of God, who, though invisible to them, was never lost.

The primitive has never been lost to us, not yet. Though civilized, man is not domesticated. And in this lies the origin of the intractable wild will.


The success of the civilizing process has been uneven. Looking at history, material progress can only be con-ceived as a broad trend picked out of an upward-moving but jagged line. In the present, progress is ongoing: it has not touched everywhere and has not had the same effect on everyone. A clear cause is irregular access to civilizing institutions. For example, the less educated commit more crimes.

It also has to do with differences in personal disposition. The mass of industrial humanity lives on the uneasy border between happiness and anxiety with modernity. But some are utterly discontent, and, if they can identify the source of their unease, they rebel against or refuse to participate in civilization. These are the in-dividuals who cannot live without wild things, and, like Leopold, I write, primarily, for them.

Though the mass is discontent enough to be convinced that civilization ought to be rejected, at least temporar-ily, they lack the will to do anything about it, and an expectation of conversion is a superfluous use of energy. But throughout history there have been individuals with indomitable spirits, with wild wills, who, often independently, reject a mypotic orientation toward the future, reject civility, reject domestication, and live under the edicts of nature rather than the edicts of man.

For instance, in 1785 a group of freed and runaway slaves and white indentured servants settled in a wilderness area now known as Indianapolis. Peter Wilson writes:

They mingled with Pawnee indians and took up a nomadic life modeled on that of local hunter-gatherer tribes. Led by a “king” and “queen,” Ben and Jennie Ishmael . . . , they were known as fine artisans, musicians and dancers, abstainers from alcohol, practitioners of polygamy, non-Christian, and racially integrated By about 1810 they had es

tablished a cycle of travel that took them annually from Indianapolis (where their village gradually became a city slum) through a triangle formed by the hamlets of Morocco and Mecca in Indiana and Mahomet in Illinois . . .

Later “official” white pioneers detested the Ishmaels, and apparently the feeling was mutual. From about 1890 comes this description of an elder: “He is an anarchist of course, and he has the instinctive, envious dislike so characteristic of his people, of anyone in a better condition than himself.” . . .

The observer continues: “He abused the law, the courts; the rich, factories — everything.” The elder stated that “the police should be hanged”; he was ready, he said, to burn the institutions of society. “I am better than any man that wears store clothes.”

Over half a century later, John Muir, a pivotal figure in the wilderness movement, echoed the same ideas. Muir spent much of his time in the wilderness that still existed in the U.S., camping primitively, often without much more than a few blankets and a knapsack. He was a prolific writer, in his essays extolling the value of the wild, rebuking the materialism of American society, and advocating for the creation of a wilderness reserve system. He writes:

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, overcivilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity . . .


Some value wildness because of the physical world that results from wild conditions — nature; some value wildness in itself. In the first case, wildness is instrumentally valuable because it sustains biodiversity, recre-ational areas, or aesthetically pleasing landscapes. In the second case, my own position, wildness is valuable even if it does not provide biodiversity and aesthetically pleasing landscapes. And nature as it happens to be under the wild is valuable because it is where one can commune with wildness.

To say that nature is instrumental in this way does not desacralize it. Though wildness is valuable apart from any particular thing it sustains, it is inextricably bound with other natural values such that they cannot be sep-arated save conceptually.

For example, the physical state of nature under the wild, rather than under man, is relevant, because man cannot mimic wild states exactly. This is obvious, for example, in the case of Biosphere II.


Wildness is valuable, but so are happiness, traditions, and family. The question is always, To what degree? The answer cannot be exact, because wills are different. Some may value so fragile a wildness that they could argue for roads and electricity covering the earth; but this is clearly not what I appraise. An ideal fixes the problem by drawing close those who truly relate to the values in the same way, vice versa. A man who gives Thomas Jefferson as his ideal politician reveals a lot about himself.

The primitivist ideal is dually Paleolithic: wilderness, in the case of non-human nature, and nomadic hunting/gathering for man. Two sides of the same coin.

Note that the ideal is unlike ideals in political philosophies, in that it is not a blueprint to impose. Rather, by the very nature of wildness, it is an ideal that arises as one resists imposed blueprints. The socialist ideal would not be socialist unless the society functioned a specific way. Rewilding, however, is concerned only that whatever functioning evolves does so outside of civilization. In some societies this might mean violence, in others it might mean peace; in some it might mean hierarchy, in others it might mean stark egalitarianism.

I employ the Paleolithic ideals much in the same way that conservationists employ benchmarks, a term in conservation science for turning points in man’s relationship with nature, such as the transition to agriculture, European colonization, the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the first use of nuclear bombs. Though imperfect, not all of these benchmarks are arbitrary. For example, that the transition to agriculture fundamentally transformed human-nature interactions is undeniable.

Note that the concept has two mutually exclusive uses. On the one hand, those who are concerned primarily with biodiversity often use historical benchmarks to determine what is natural. For example, an idea in classical conservation work considered the state of ecosystems prior to European colonization as the natural state that conservationists should attempt to preserve. However, this is an incoherent use of benchmarks for the ethic of wildness. Although influential, the idea of ecosystem stability is not consistently true or applicable. Consequently, restoring levels of wildness does not necessarily restore ecosystems to a “stable state” that can be seen in some previous historical period. We might therefore use benchmarks not as points on a historical timeline, but as rough measures of potential human impact. Rather than simply advocating “nature in the Pleistocene,” it would be more accurate to bookend the benchmark at the beginning and end of hunting/gathering.

Historical states of nature are still relevant. The science of ecosystem stability is consistent enough for historical time periods to function as rough indicators of what ecosystems might look like should some level of wildness be restored. As Angermeier writes, though “ecosystems are too poorly understood to allow precise measurement of all human effects,” they do “have functional and evolutionary limits and natural ranges of variation, which provide a basis for [an] objective assessment . . . ” Nevertheless, these limits have changed through geologic history, and human effects such as climate change and extreme rates of extinction signal that the limits may again be shifting permanently.


The wilderness movement has accumulated a myriad of arguments in favor of physical wilderness preservation. We ought to distinguish which ones are instrumental, meant to convince those who start from other values, and those which stem from the wilderness ethic.

To argue that wilderness protection puts invaluable economic resources on reserve is not actually convincing to the core of the wilderness movement, but it has occasionally been useful to activists seeking to broaden political support. Itis a way of striking a deal with individuals who hold values incommensurable with wildness. The same applies to wilderness as a reserve of scientific biological data, a space for recreational activity, or a source of national pride. Again, the arguments are true, politically useful, and should not be abandoned; but they do not illustrate the wilderness ethic.

Wilderness is valuable because it contains the ecological building blocks necessary for nature to run itself. Wilderness is wildness dignified; thus the losses of wilderness are the losses of wildness to an exemplary degree. In the context of wild nature, nature provides the necessary components for survival. Humans do not need to subordinate themselves to large organizations and technical systems in order to exercise their wills. But when humans modify nature, they must keep up the process of perpetual modification, because the rest of the natural system has not evolved to function in that state. Artificial labor must fill in the gaps. For example, without any human intervention, natural processes deal with animal feces. But a toilet requires entire technical systems of human labor, waste disposal, state management, and so forth. The plumbing is convenient, this is true, but at the cost of great overhead, necessary policing, and further modification of nature. A civilization is the same kind of problem magnified a thousandfold.

Some arguments for wilderness do not exactly overlap with the value of wildness, but the distinction is less ob-vious than, say, the economic resources argument. For example, evidence suggests that wilderness experiences are good for mental health. This is relevant, but only because it is indicative of human animality. Ultimately the source of the wild will is biological. Man would not have it if he did not evolve in conjunction with the rest of the natural world, and if the mismatch between civilized conditions and the primitive will did not reduce his primitive well-being. But health is not what the wild will desires, per se, only a consequence.

Aesthetic arguments for wilderness are just as complex. Aesthetic value does not seem to differ much from moral value. And wildness is a specific kind of moral value: less like the golden rule and more like astonishment, or awe, before God. Hettinger and Throop write, echoing Mill:

People rightfully value the existence of a realm not significantly under human control — the weather, the seasons, the mountains, and the seas. This is one reason why the idea of humans as planetary managers is so objectionable to many. Consider a world in which human beings determine when it rains, when spring comes, how the tides run, and where mountains rise. The surprise and awe we feel at the workings of spontaneous nature would be replaced by appraisal of the decisions of these managers. Our wonder at the mystery of these phenomena would not survive such management. People value being a part of a world not of their own making. Valuing the wild acknowledges that limits to human mastery and domination of the world are imperative.

Humans also need to be able to confront, honor, and celebrate the “other.” In an increasingly secular society, “Nature” takes on the role of the other. Humans need to be able to feel small in comparison with something nonhuman which is of great value. Confronting the other helps humans to cultivate a proper sense of humility. Many people find the other powerfully in parts of nature that do not bend to our will and where the nonhuman carries on in relative autonomy, unfolding on its own.

In other words, wildness is an aesthetic, moral, and spiritual value, but it is first of all spiritual. And aesthetics, too, seems to derive its force from the Divine, or the Sublime, or the Numinous, or whatever one wishes to call it. Burke, for instance, writes:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.


My focus on the hunter/gatherer is based on a tradition in political philosophy that considers the natural state of man before moving on to an analysis of the civilized state of man. This is the tradition of Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Hume, Paine . . . The latter writes explicitly, “To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man.” In other words, the nomadic hunter/gatherer ideal has pedagogical utility because of its stark contrast with civil life, but whereas the previous philosophers used the hunter/gatherer to justify progress, primitivists use the hunter/gatherer to rebuke the idols of civilization.

Note that the focus is not on the ins and outs of the hunter/gatherer way of life, but on the limits the hunting/gathering mode of production imposes on artifice. To be a primitivist, one does not have to believe all that hunter/gatherers believed; to see the world as they saw it; to revive indigenous rituals; to adopt their hairstyles and dress. If one lives like a hunter/gatherer in a zoo, one has not achieved what the ideal signifies to the wild will.

However, just as Paleolithic levels of biodiversity signify what Paleolithic levels of wildness would produce, the ways of life in hunter/gatherer communities indicate what human nature defaults to in wild conditions. Con-sider a fantastical scenario where all industry collapsed overnight. Psychology has demonstrated that animistic thinking probably arose as an evolutionary shortcut for understanding the world: because evolution would not have endowed man with innate knowledge of germ theory, animating the world with spirits gave humans a framework for understanding why, e.g., they shouldn’t touch the person with a ghastly skin disease — and that did the trick well enough to keep them alive to reproductive age. So should industry collapse, humans will not suddenly all become animists, but the belief systems in regions unamenable to agriculture will likely develop animistic elements naturally.

This process is comparable to the way a river ecosystem rebounds after a dam removal. Slowly, because of the removal of the artificial impediment, wild processes take over again. But, crucially, it is impossible to achieve the same thing with the dam still there. Say we want to keep the dam but also possess the scientific knowledge and technical power to make the ecosystem exist in the same physical state as the rebounded, postdam ecosystem. What we have achieved amounts only to aesthetics because the end result lacks the crucial quality of wildness, which was presumably the core concern in the first place.

Thus, forcing an animistic worldview onto a modern human feels much like forcing a river ecosystem into a wild-like state artificially but without any actual rewilding. To rewild, the artificial impediments must be re-moved, and we must wait. There are, unfortunately, no shortcuts. Echoing this sentiment, Paul Kingsnorth, a co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, points out that extinct species are gone forever; that lost wilderness will not be renewed in time for this generation; that most modern humans have been permanently deprived of many aspects of natural human interaction. We should continue to conserve and rewild, he says, but given the magnitude of our losses, we might need to do it in sackcloth and with ashes on our faces.

One might wonder how useful a nomadic hunter/gatherer ideal is if modern man can’t usually fulfill it. But the ideal is not something to be fulfilled. Its purpose beyond the pedagogical is solely to bring together those who relate to the value of wildness in the same way, that is, to communicate the breadth of their grievances.


Do you really want to live in premodern conditions? the progressive humanists ask, perhaps pointing out a handful of problems besetting premodern and third world societies. It is the question, but the utter presumptuousness makes it particularly enraging. Inexorably, the humanist follows by demanding a chain of justifications while he, couched in the privilege of the dominant ideology, does not examine the weaknesses of his own assumptions.

So let us begin with the question for the humanist. Why do humanists believe that every human should have equal moral standing? Related, what about a human grants him that standing?

Singer writes in The Expanding Circle that reason provides us with the ability to expand the moral privilege we usually grant to our natural social groups outward, toward humanity or the nation or, maybe, the biosphere. But what is it about reason that demonstrates that we should expand the circle outward? Singer writes:

A dog may growl at one stranger and wag her tail at another without having to justify the apparent discrimination; but a human being cannot so easily get away with different ethical judgments in apparently identical situations. If someone tells us that she may take the nuts another member of the tribe has gathered, but no one may take her nuts, she can be asked why the two cases are different. To answer, she must give a reason. Not just any reason, either. In a dispute between members of a cohesive group of reasoning beings, the demand for a reason is a demand for a justification that can be accepted by the group as a whole. Thus the reason offered must be disinterested, at least to the extent of being equally acceptable to all.

Singer justifies this approach with Hume, who wrote that a man making moral judgements must:

depart from his private and particular situation and must choose a point of view common to him with others; he must move some universal principle of the human frame and touch a string to which all mankind have an accord and symphony.

But Hume was not arguing that this is how ethical judgements can be assured as good, only that it is how they must be made if they are to hold sway. In other words, even if a moral principle is popularly held, it may be a bad moral principle, and, in any case, it may not be held by all. The sciences of human social behavior demonstrate that the urge to expand the moral circle doesn’t come naturally. Instead the obligation is produced and reinforced by technical progress. The humanist could certainly say that he is nevertheless committed to expanding the circle, knowing full well that the commitment has been manufactured into him. But this essentially leaves man with a choice of gods: wild nature, or the idols of progress?


One might be disposed to dismiss the humanist critique by pointing out that various ills besetting most pre-modern societies are absent, or in fundamentally different form, in nomadic hunter/gatherer societies. But, as is often the case in primitivism, this confuses the ideal for a blueprint. In the process of rewilding we will not immediately adopt the condition of the nomadic hunter/gatherer, just as a dam removal does not immediately restore the naturalness of a river. So if primitivists are serious about rewilding, they must be able to contend with the results at each step in the process.


Here I cannot respond to every premodern ill the humanist takes great issue with — higher rates of violence, low life expectancy at birth, fewer medical technologies, etc. They are notable criticisms, but each requires special attention, and all are secondary to the core of the primitivist philosophy. But some general considerations apply to each.

For one thing, primitivism is not a solution to all of man’s ills. Unchained from civilization, individuals will still draw blood against thorns, will still fight and kill, will still feel the shadow of existential dread. But consider a madman who finds a hammer and cannot control his irresistible urge to bash and smash and trash everything he sees. It compounds his madness and consumes him. What man of grace would not gently pry the hammer from the lunatic’s hands, even if it does not cure his fundamental madness?

Secondly, for each problem, we must ask whether the consequences are worth the benefits. Humanists point to evidence that citizens in industrial nations often have a much lower chance of being victims of a crime. But by itself this does little to advance the conversation we should be having. Imagine a nation in which it is practically impossible to commit any significant crime. What would this require? Is it a world we want to live in? Can’t we ask the same question about our current situation?

Finally, many of the problems humanists have with premodern life are sideshows, and as a critique against primitivism they cannot stand alone. For could I not name many ills associated with civilization’s domination of nature, most of them several orders more impactful than any problems humans could have merely among themselves? I cannot help but note the ills of climate change, rapidly increasing population growth, the threats of genetic engineering, the impacts of roads, the massively increased rates of extinction, and the fundamental unrest of all human beings, and then I cannot help but challenge any individual to come up with an

approach to these problems that does not in some ways have unsettling implications. Clearly, this is impossible, and in a reasoned assessment of what we can do from where we stand, we would do well to admit that we are, unfortunately, in a time where the best we can hope for is the least damage done — and this is no fault of the primitivists.


It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society

— Krishnamurti

As with the religious prologues of humanism — Christianity, Islam, Confucianism — humanist guilt has the unfortunate side-effect of producing excruciatingly pious people. The pious of Judaism were the Pharisees and Sadducees; but the Pharisees and Sadducees of today include society’s most highly socialized elements — professors, students, scientists, corporate elites, executives of international bodies — in short, the technician class.

A study on the concept of “microaggressions” on college campuses illustrates their piety well. It found that a number of new structural conditions defining the university are producing a “victimhood culture” that relies heavily on moral language, victimhood identity, and garnering massive peer support for real or perceived offenses. These conditions include pervasive and easily-accessible authority figures; fewer options for autonomous problem-solving, like dueling; reliance on large peer groups for support because of alienation from traditional social groups like the family; and settings where equality is nearly the norm, highly valued, and therefore extremely taboo to violate. The end result is a crop of individuals who defer to authorities and moral support from masses rather than those who address their problems autonomously. This is often called being “well-adjusted,” but it is no different than taming a horse.

Consider the way many university students and professors react to minor offenses to equality with overrighteous vigor. For example, in 2015 Yale professor Erika Christakis responded to a mass email asking stu-dents not to wear culturally appropriative costumes. She wrote:

I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.

Controversy ignited. Students held mass protests, and in a video recording of Erika Christakis’ husband talking to one of the crowds, some students can be seen crying and screaming at the professor because he could not remember their names, and because he would not apologize for his views. When he offered to agree to disagree, the students pressed him still further to comply to their extreme version of humanist morality.

Piety is an important means of enforcing and sustaining civility. Consider Ellul’s insights, as communicated by Daniel Bois:

One of the ironies of propaganda to work is that its population must be educated

So the more educated you become, the less aware you are that you are a victim of propaganda and the more you are ready to spread your ideology to others who will in turn reinforce you and be reinforced by you in a hor-izontal process. Leaders aren’t telling you what to think (directly), you are being told by your peers what to think and you pass along this information to others to inform them what to think. Then when this ideology has reached a substantial portion of the population, you demand the leaders to comply and they reluctantly do so (which was their intention 30 to 40 years previously, but they won’t tell you this). This is the essence of what Ellul says . . .

Ironically, some of the most pious profess to be against capitalism, industry, or progress. This is especially true after WWII, when the Nazis and the Bomb demonstrated that moral and technical progress are not inextricably linked. Vietnam, the 60s, and the Cold War only exacerbated the ensuing disillusionment. Many on the far left found difficulty with the historical account of progress, since they cannot easily say that the world they live in is good when it was built by and, in some respects, continues to be sustained by the blood and labor of Africans, natives, non-human life, and the third world. For all these reasons, a particular kind of humanist, the regressive humanist, professes to be against society — and often he appears to be.

Note that piety can harm society even if its overall effect is beneficial. The vandalism and missed class that re-sulted from the Yale controversy, for example, was both economically and socially inefficient.

But this is not always the case: sometimes riots can force a society to pay immediate attention to problems that it would have otherwise ignored to its detriment. In this way the usually negative side-effects of piety instigate a social self-correction process. For example, the riots in Ferguson, Missouri were clearly a result of inefficient material conditions in the area. Much of America still operates because of the vestiges of racial hierarchies, left over from Jim Crow and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. But unlike those times, racial hierarchies are no longer required for economic production; wages and integration, economically possible because of technical advances, are a more efficient route.

The Ferguson rioters were not necessarily asking for economic and technical development; they were simply acting on their discontent. In fact, in many cases average people don’t care much for corporate or govern-mental solutions to their problems, preferring instead to be left alone to work it out for themselves. But the riots, as they do, drew in all sorts of activists with various causes and pious ideologies to quell revolt with ac-commodations like economic development or a “national conversation.”

Regressive humanists will insist that corporate and governmental accommodations are breadcrumbs, nothing more; that corporations and governments actually have no interest in achieving the moral ideals of equality and justice. But this view operates on a confused analysis of social progress, which is evolutionary. Of course civilized institutions are not going to eradicate racial bias where it still sustains them. And of course civilized institutions are not going to exert more energy quelling the revolt than they need to; if this means half-baked solutions that nevertheless stop the property damage and violence, they will go with half-baked solutions. But the effect overall is a gradual movement toward humanist social values (as with, e.g., the labor movements at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution). By acting in a way they consciously perceive as rebellious, the pious actually advance society.

All this is to point out that there is an intrinsic problem with regressive humanist ideologies: one cannot effec-tively resist a society based on that society’s own values. The pious will and do find that their projects to abolish aspects of the industrial system in the name of a less racist, less patriarchal, more cooperative, more egalitarian society will always be set back when industrial societies, retaining their allegedly inadequate institutions, accede to the demands. In other words, humanist piety will never be able to motivate a true rejection of progress because at base, it is unwittingly an embrace of it.


Aristotle believed that for man to flourish, he must engage in the polis, or political community — one that he equated with the Greek city-state. Following the same logic, I argue that for man to flourish, he must have a fellowship.

The center of the nomadic hunter/gatherer’s fellowship is the band, which functions very much like a friend group, but with higher stakes. For example, bands have a more pronounced emphasis on shared tradition, sta-tus within the group, rules about food distribution, regulation of conflict between members, etc. They usually consist of a high number of blood relations, but this need not be the case, and some evidence suggests that rel-atives were actually scattered throughout neighboring bands. Like friend groups, decisions are made anarchi-cally, natural leaders taking their place but regulated by gossip, force, social norms. Leaders also have a fun-damental inability to dominate other fellows, who do not depend on them for survival the way modern man depends on the state for survival.

With the onset of civilization, fellowships began to break down, their members yoked to artificial communities, even more extensively in recent centuries. Ellul explains:

. . . a systematic campaign was waged against all natural groups, under the guise of a defense of the rights of the individual; for example, the guilds, the communes, and federalism were attacked, this last by the Girondists There was to be no liberty

of groups, only that of the individual. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family Revolutionary laws governing

divorce, inheritance, and paternal authority were disastrous for the family unit, to the benefit of the individual. And these effects were permanent, in spite of temporary setbacks. Society was already atomized and would be atomized more and more. The individual remained the sole sociological unit, but, far from assuring him freedom, this fact provoked the worst kind of slavery.

The atomization we have been discussing conferred on society the greatest possible plasticity — a decisive condition for technique. The breakup of social groups engendered the enormous displacement of people at the beginning of the nineteenth century and resulted in the concentration of population demanded by modern technique. To uproot men from their surroundings, from the rural districts and from family and friends, in order to crowd them into cities still too small for them; to squeeze thousands into unfit lodgings and unhealthy places of work; to create a whole new environment within the framework of a new human condition (it is too often overlooked that the proletariat is the creation of the industrial machine) — all this was possible only when the individual was completely isolated. It was conceivable only when he literally had no environment, no family, and was not part of a group able to resist economic pressure; when he had almost no way of life left.

Such is the influence of social plasticity. Without it, no technical evolution is possible. For the individual in an atomized society, only the state was left: the state was the highest authority and it became omnipotent as well.

Today, movements toward multiculturalism achieve the same thing that Ellul described, but to serve the needs of globalized civilization: removing the individual from fellowships, yoking him to artificial community.

Thus, industrial man lacks a fellowship or possesses only a degraded one. Outside of traditional communities, the strongest extant fellowships are those whose conditions, usually ones of tragedy, put men outside the bounds of civility: gangs, junky houses, bands of outlaws, crews of pirates.

For example, the homeless are often forced to live outside the bounds of the state because of drug use or family problems or criminal records. But the social networks that arise have some interesting qualities. When I was homeless, the norm was that if two people did not get along, we did not invite them both to the hobo fire. If someone wronged someone else, we solved it through social pressure, exile, or physical violence, though the latter was regulated (for example, harm that required extensive medical attention was usually not allowed). We regulated individual social statuses through gossip, much in the same way Boehm found hunter/gatherers do:

. . . Boehm found that all of these societies had sanctions to deal with deviants, free riders, and bullies . . . The sanctioning process begins with gossip as an exchange of evaluative information about who is doing their fair share and who isn’t, who can be trusted and who cannot, who is a good and reliable member of the group and who is a slacker, cheater, liar, or worse. Gossip permits the group to form a consensus about the deviant that can lead to a collective decision about what to do about him.

We also shared food, cigarettes, and information about the area. Some of the homeless were disabled. One woman, for example, was in a wheelchair. On days when she could not, her best friends would push the wheelchair for her. They often spent days like this, sharing what they had with each other when together.

There wasn’t a widespread feeling of unity with the human race, except when individuals were heavily inte-grated into Christian communities. The fellowship was the primary moral community, and it was prioritized over strangers. Furthermore, the most disruptive elements of our lives were, by far, institutional ones: the police, the homeless shelters, the businesses. Thus, even when fellows wronged each other, they agreed to solve the problems outside of these institutional bounds; snitching was strictly prohibited.

Imagine what these sorts of social behaviors would amount to if they were not operating within the tragic conditions of drug use, mental problems, or criminal records; or without the constant disruptions from gov-ernment and business. Something rather desirable might arise. The question, for the primitivist, is to what extent this is possible, and to what extent he can achieve it in his own life.


Those who say that nature dominates man just as much as civilization dominates man have missed the point, succeeding in little more than setting themselves up for nihilism, for how can an individual resist domination on all fronts, by everything? The point is that there is a difference between the domination of nature and the domination of civilization. The tragedy of a natural disaster is different from the tragedy of a bomb; an animal who dies neurotic, flabby, and dependent in a zoo lacks a certain dignity possessed by an animal who dies at the hands of a predator.

In After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre recognizes a difference between “man-as-he-happens-to-be” and “man-ashe-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos.” “Telos” here is a concept borrowed from the ancient philosophers, meaning “end” or “purpose.” MacIntyre believed that the role of ethics is to move man from the first, untutored condition to the second. This is the meaning of a good life.

Convinced enough of contemporary materialism, the idea of a telos does not sit well with me. Man’s nature is not necessarily his purpose. Of course, in some senses telos is compatible with modern biology. A lion who walks on two legs contradicts, in some fundamental ways, his nature, his “purpose,” so to speak. But if this intuition is all that telos can capture, then we must dispose of it because, in most other respects, it inhibits understanding. For example, biologist Ernst Mayr points out that evolutionary adaptedness “is an a posteriori result rather than an a priori goal-seeking.” That is, evolution, understood through a materialist lens, does not imbue its products with some purpose the way a watch is imbued with purpose.

But even absent the concept of telos, MacIntyre says something useful. We are creatures imbued with a nature and will, with an ineradicable urge to flourish. But in our movement toward “man-as-he-could-be,” we have an option of tutors: wild nature, or civilization?

Contrast a week in Disneyland with a week in the wilderness. In the wilderness man is subordinate to nature — the weather, wild animals, the soil — a condition that forces him to build up from the bare facts of existence. His quest for food, shelter, and solidarity is not easy, but it imbues his life with purpose and keeps superfluous sources of stress at bay. He makes, hunts, and collects what he needs, sometimes a little more for band-members who will one day return the favor. Death is not something he can ignore, and though painful he and his society cope with ritual and collective myth-making. Struggle teaches him to be confident in his abilities to exist in the world, lowering his tolerance for subjugation by other men.

In Disneyland the object is pleasure and entertainment. The individual wakes up and, his fundamental needs fulfilled, experiences that distinctly modern feeling of boredom: What do I do today? he asks. Purposelessness abounds. His experience is a baptism in wealth extracted from people and places left dry. His pleasure results from a willing suspension of disbelief: if the illusion of spontaneity is shattered, his memories are left shattered as well. His joy is managed. Smells and sounds evoke place and time that isn’t there. Shops are air-conditioned below room temperature to sell sweatshirts. Pavement is dark to attract heat and deter crowds. And if there is a death — corporate panic. This is no collective ritual; the frenetic pacing is solely about loss of profit. On the other hand, if any part of the park malfunctions, still, timid crowds wait like sheep to be told what to do. It is the height of civility.

The fundamental question is this: Which life do you will?

The Foundations of Wildist Ethics

John Jacobi, The Wildist Institute

Abstract—Wildism is an ethical philosophy that stresses the importance of wildness in conserving and restoring nature. It could be considered part of the deep ecology movement, but was largely borne out of the perceived need for something more focused and well-suited to wildlands advocacy and other wildness-centered conservation work, especially in this age of revisionist conservation ideologies like the one of the Anthropocene boosters. This piece examines the foundational ideas of the resulting philosophy. The first part examines the epistemological and metaphysical principles undergirding wildism, while the second part outlines the ethical principles and ideas. Apart from the section on ethical discourse, the main ideas are as follows: (1) the Cosmos is a proper object of worship, as men such as Einstein and Carl Sagan have also asserted, and conservation work in this context can properly be conceived of as a sacred duty; (2) the dominant mythologies of progress are false, which includes social progressivism; (3) the conservation imperative must be extended to human nature; (4) industry is almost certainly incompatible with wild nature, leaving the collapse of industry as the only viable solution to our moral problems; (5) wildlands conservation is a foremost duty for wildists. In conclusion, the threats posed by revisionism are restated, as well as some necessary work for elaboration beyond this piece’s foundational ideas.

1. Introduction

WILDISM is an ethical philosophy that asserts that wildness matters enough to make civilized agriculture and industry morally condemnable. The ethical system could be considered a subset of the broader deep ecology tradition, and while I usually refer to it this way, I and the others involved in its creation have made no effort to live up to even the dearest tenets of the foremost deep ecology philosophers.

Indeed, wildism was borne out of frustration with the various weaknesses of the deep ecology philosophy. Predominant among these is the vagueness and amorphous nature of the philosophy as espoused by Naess, compounded by the conflicting and often selfcontradictory versions later outlined by Sessions and especially Devall. As one critique put it, “deep ecology...is well on the way to becoming all things to all interested parties” (Sylvan, 1985). Admittedly, the only reason I cannot say that wildism is explicitly not a part of deep ecology is because of how broad Naess made it. Still, while I am suspicious of Naess’ methodological vagueness and the implications it has for truth and honesty, his broad-based approach also provided some clear advantages. For example, because of deep ecology, there exists a definitive base for any radical ecological movement, which has definite strategic benefits.

Even so, a more specific and rigorous system is necessary at this time. Not only are ecological problems worsening and expected to continue to do so, the traditional conservationist focus on wildness is being attacked on all sides by various revisionist ideologies, from proponents of “sustainable development” to the Anthropocene boosters to the environmental justice faction that now defines the climate change movement. All of these, however, challenge the focus on wildness based on the same two ideas: that humans are benefitted by civilization even if non-human nature is not, and that reason, technology, and scientific planning can solve the problems caused by our current industrial civilization.

Thus, the time is now for the basic philosophy of the wilderness movement to be articulated with clarity and applied or extended to take on these two challenges. The first task—clarity—requires that the philosophy distinguish itself from deep ecology generally. The second is addressed throughout this text in the following manner.

Section II, “Consilience in Ethics,” covers the metaphysical and epistemological foundations of wildism. I write about the scientific materialism on which wildism depends, argue for an ethical science, and explain how two such ethical sciences already exist, namely, medicine and conservation. Each of these roughly parallels its ideological counterpart, humanism and wildism, respectively. Although this section will likely be boring or difficult for those not inclined to philosophize, I urge readers to pay attention to the outlined concepts, since I refer back to several of the ideas throughout the text.

Section III is the meat of the essay, covering all of wildism’s core ethical principles. Subsections B (“Cosmos as Divinity”), E (“Anti-Industrial Reaction”), and F (“Wildlands Conservation”) are rather short, the first two because they are still undeveloped and the last because most of the ethical work for it has already been done elsewhere. The idea of “Cosmos as Divinity” is likely to stay undeveloped for several years, but subsection E addresses what is currently the primary work of The Wildist Institute, as will be explained.

Subsection A covers the meaning of nature and various questions concerning its value, especially the sig-nificance of wildness in relation to it.

Subsection C outlines the heart and soul of wildism: the critique of progress. I define the myth of progress as the idea that human beings can artificially modify nature through reason or some pre-established blueprint to bring about a fundamental improvement in the world, especially the human condition. Most environmentalists have now recognized that this applies to non-human nature, but the prevailing refutation of progress is rather shallow, not taking into account that the critique must be more than an assertion that progress is not living up to some given set of values. Rather, much of the wildist critique of progress consists of empirical questions regarding limits to reason and the ability of humans to design a society. Note that because environmentalists tend to forget that the critique of progress applies to human nature as well, I focus especially on outlining why ideologies like left-wing social progressivism are in error.

Subsection D, “Conserving Human Nature,” deals with the most controversial subject matter, and as such it is the most extensive section. Nevertheless, its argument to extend the conservation imperative to human nature is of central importance to this century’s environmental battles, and with the critique of progress is one of the most important ideas of wildism.

Finally, I conclude the piece with a summary of wildism in plain language, some words on where the ideology needs to be developed, possible weaknesses with the presented ideas, and various issues to which they ought to be applied. In particular, I note the need for scientific work concerning the empirical questions raised about human nature and cultural evolution, as well as the issues raised by restorationist practices in conservation strategy of recent years.

In short, what follows is an attempt at detailing the ethical ideas that, sometimes unconsciously, drive the present wilderness movement or large portions of it. In the long run, we at The Wildist Institute hope these ideas will be utilized by individuals who wish to preserve the conscience of conservation, especially in this age of relentless revisionism, so that we might together pose a real challenge to the ongoing destruction of our wild earth.

2. Consilience in Ethics

“Consilience” is agreement between various fields of knowledge, such as between biology and physics. Commitment to the project of consilience, or the linking together of various fields of knowledge, also means being unsettled when two fields are in fundamental conflict with each other. The logic at play here rests on a belief that the universe is basically orderly and unified and that our knowledge of it must reflect this reality to the extent possible. Consilience is, in other words, a logical consequence of scientific materialism (henceforth simply “science”), a paradigm that is accepted well enough that I will not defend it here. We will instead take science as our starting point and the unity of it as our project.

A word on some of the problems with consilience. Even though scientific materialism would suggest that pure consilience is theoretically possible, the same paradigm denies the possibility that it is practically achievable, at least without modifying human nature substantially. Human biologies evolved not to ascertain truths about the world but to propagate genes, something that just so happens to be helped along by knowing a few things. But there are undoubtedly limits, not only to the amount of what we can know, but also to the amount of achievable unity between two areas of knowledge. It may be, for example, that the division between physics and biology is more a result of how our brains are structured than anything else.

Thus, I do not necessarily insist on any pure form of the theory. For now, it is enough to say that the project is almost certainly helpful when it comes to its three main battles: the divide between mind and brain, the divide between culture and biology, and the divide between ethics and science. It is the latter that I will focus on here.

A. The Is/Ought Problem

It is common to say that science and ethics have little or nothing to do with each other. “Facts,” the thesis goes, “can tell us nothing about values.” Almost invariably the name “Hume” follows, and with it comes that old and brilliant philosopher’s argument that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.” But even if we accepted the “is/ought” critique, it would not be enough to stop the project of an ethical science. If it was, all of science would be in trouble, not just ethical science.

Take, for example, Hume’s other problem, the problem of induction. All of science and knowledge is at some point dependent on a piece of inductive logic like this one:

1. My knee hurts every time it hits the table.

2. I will hit my knee on the table tomorrow.

3. My knee will hurt tomorrow.

All other things being equal, we would intuit that this is true. But between 2 and 3 there is a sort of logical jump, called an “inductive inference,” that is made inexplicably or that is made on the basis of an unstated premise that the world yesterday is like the world today and the world tomorrow will be just the same (“the principle of the uniformity of nature”). This is problem because the premise cannot be demonstrated except through induction.

In fact, Hume is famous for saying that we can know absolutely nothing for sure, and this position has come to be known as “radical skepticism.” It is irrefutable. But people do not live out their day-to-day lives as radical skeptics—such a thing would nigh be impossible—and this critique, even if true and interesting, does not keep a scientist from doing his scientific work, nor should it. Although the divide between facts and values is a separate problem and may or may not be true, it has no greater ability to press the brakes on an ethical science than the problem of induction has to press the brakes on science itself.

B. Explaining Ethics with Biology

One aspect of consilience that is almost certainly true is the assertion that biology and related fields can explain ethics, at least better than religion and philosophy has. The basic argument rests again on simple logical consequences of reductionist materialism. If humans are fully material creatures then they are subject to the laws of evolution, and if there are no such thing as emergent phenomena inexplicable by lowerlevel phenomena, then moral precepts have to originate in material processes that are either biological or fully constrained by biology. To argue otherwise, one would have to challenge the fairly well-established premises, for example, by claiming that humans have a supernatural component.

The explanation is more than just a deduction, however. It also fits all of the epistemic values of science: it strives for accuracy, it is consistent with other disciplines, its implications expand beyond and are testable in scenarios other than one it hopes to explain, it is simpler than the alternatives, and it provides the basis for further investigation and research. That the materialist paradigm is still capable of producing such robust theories is a testament to its power and relevance.

Explaining the universal cultural presence of an incest taboo is one example of the theory’s robustness. Haidt (2001) once ran an experiment in which he told his subjects about imaginary siblings named Julie and Mark. In the story, the imaginary characters decide to go on a vacation and decide to have sex with each other. Julie is on the pill, and Mark uses a condom. The brother and sister enjoy having sex but decide not to do it again, and they also agree not to tell anyone about it. After telling this story, Haidt asked the experimental subjects whether they thought what Mark and Julie did was okay. Most said it was not, but cited reasons like “the children could be deformed” or “they might have damaged their relationship,” despite the fact that the story already addressed these concerns. After some questioning, many of the subjects simply said, “I don’t really know why, it’s just wrong.”

There’s also the “Westermarck hypothesis,” which states that children raised together will probably not be sexually attracted to each other, even if they are unrelated. This was confirmed in a study of the Israeli kib-butzim, wherein it was revealed that out of 2,769 marriages in second-generation kibbutzim, none were between two members of the same peer group, and no heterosexual activity between two members of the same peer group was discovered either (Shepher, 1971).

Finally, there’s evidence gathered by the evolutionary psychologists. One of the most interesting is a study (Lieberman, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2003) in which participants ranked 19 social taboos in order from most to least offensive. Various kinds of incest ranked 5-10, below child molestation, rape, and spousal murder, but above assault with a weapon, robbing a bank, and various minor crimes.

Data such as these suggest that at least some of our moral precepts are shaped directly by biology. Other examples support the conclusion, like evolutionary explanations for altruism (Lieberman, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2007; Fehr & Fischbache, 2003). In fact, there is so much support for a biological basis of morality that I do not think it imprudent to say that the idea can properly assume the status of “fact.” The implications of this are far-reaching.

C. The Implications of the Biological Explanation

1. Moral Relativism

One obvious implication of the biological explanation of morality is that it invalidates any “transcendentalist” conception that argues for an origin of morality outside of human biology. This includes religious insistence on the supernatural, but it also includes Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative or those social scientists who would insist that cultural phenomena are only explainable in terms of other cultural phenomena.

In some ways, this is much less unsettling than affected parties would have it be. Some from the JudeoChristian tradition, for example, find the idea that there is no soul to be a terrifying prospect, because, among other things, then there is no source for objective morals. But this is only terrifying to such a high degree when one believes one is losing something; and if the materialist explanation for morality is true, then the religious are not losing objective morality, they are only losing the mystified belief that they had it. Good thing too! Moral absolutism is almost always accompanied by blood and slaves. It seems a much better thing for man to be aware of his inadequate knowledge and to grapple with this inadequacy.

Wilson (1998) describes scientific fields as operating on different “levels.” Mathematics and physics are at the bottom, molecular biology on top of them, evolutionary biology further up, and cultural anthropology further up still. The fields on the higher levels may not speak the language of those further down, but consilience usually entails that they operate on a stage set by the lower levels. If followed, this model would significantly decrease fragmentation in scientific endeavors. For example, an ethical science would be very high level, and striving for consilience would automatically knock off most ethical systems in existence today, like those that argue for a supernatural realm or a blank slate conception of human nature.

But it cannot reduce fragmentation completely. The project of consilience relies on at least a modest account of material realism (Sokal & Bricmont, 2004; Boyd R. , 2002) and it is on the basis of this account of ontological unity that epistemic unity rings true. But by the same account we have to realize that our knowledge of the “out there” is not the same as the “out there,” and this limits the extent to which consilience can be achieved.

This is true even when it comes to the lowest levels of scientific inquiry. Individuals with neurological disorders would, of course, not have a disorder if we all suffered from the same condition. Their knowledge of reality would simply be the standard understanding. Note that I don’t mean disorders like synesthesia. I refer more to the modules in our minds that establish the obviousness of some statement like “A can never be ~A.” Of course this does not keep us from achieving something very close to unity in low level sciences, because, for clear evolutionary reasons, humans have standard hardware and software for dealing with the relevant questions of those disciplines.

The same cannot be said for moral values. I am unlikely to find a person who will deny the existence of a chair in front of me (except for maybe among postmodernists, who do indeed seem to have a different set of software from the rest of us). But humans are astoundingly diverse in their dispositions, characters, and moral judgements, and not all of that is because of ignorance or deception.

Consider psychopaths. They are an astoundingly persistent part of human social life, and make up a large proportion of living individuals (Babiak & Hare, 2006). They also have rather different moral compasses than most other humans, and there is no changing this without changing the person’s biology. As one study put it, game theory predicts that human populations evolve to a “stable equilibrium with a fixed proportion of individuals habitually behaving antisocially, and with suitable payoffs the proportion of antisocial individuals corresponds to the known prevalence of [the disorder]” (Colman & Wilson, 1997).

Related is the idea of “moral ecology,” or the idea that stable human populations will tend towards some degree of moral diversity, which, among other things, allows for more robust responses to the environment (Dean, 2012). If the idea of moral ecology proves true, then incommensurability of ethical first principles is built-in to the very “design” of human evolution.

Thus, while I am unlikely to find an individual who denies the existence of a chair in front of me, the evidence just given indicates that the obviousness of that chair’s existence will parallel the obviousness of individual moral beliefs only to some groups of humans. As a result, the discipline of ethical science is likely to have several competing fields, say, a humanist ethical science and a wildist ethical science; and overcoming this is, at least for now, a logical impossibility, because the logical playing field begins differently for everyone. (Some, like Harris S., 2012, argue that a universal morality is possible because of our reasoning abilities. I address this later.)

2. Free Will and Responsibility

There is also some unrest over the implications materialist theory has for the concept of free will. But this, too, is unfounded. The idea, for example, that free will means freedom from any influence whatsoever is incoherent. Even if human decisions had a spiritual source, the source would presumably still be subject to similar kinds of cause and effect relationships between things in the spiritual realm. So the question is not whether human decisions are free from the influence of anything but whether they are free from the influence of some specific class of things. To many of the religious, this specific class of things consists of the material world. They would either have it that human decision-making is an entirely non-material process or that it is at least partially so. But the supernatural does not exist, so we can dispose of this idea.

After we reject the supernatural, the real debate about free will is primarily concerned with what conditions qualify as “free.” Some jump the gun and insist that free will simply doesn’t exist. These individuals are right to argue that what they call “free will” doesn’t exist. For example, one study found that the brain makes a decision several seconds before its human being is consciously aware that he has made it (Soon, Brass, Heinz, & Haynes, 2008). Thus, any notion of free will must accommodate aspects of our material reality such as this.

Others espouse a spectrum of positions known as “compatibilism,” and they claim that “freedom” does not have to be metaphysical. For example, we could say that a person has free will when he is not coerced by another human being, or, sometimes, even external but rare factors like temporary, induced mania. Ultimately the argument is a semantic one, so we would do well to avoid debates framed with the question, “Does free will exist?” It is enough to say that the thing being described by the compatibilists is philosophically significant, whatever one wishes to call it.

In some ways this might seem like cheating, but the compatibilist notion (or at least this version of it) fits the primary function of free will fairly well, that function being a way to determine whether or not a person should be punished (or rewarded). That is, a person should be punished if he acts in a negative way that he can be expected to act in again. Or, the reverse, a person should not be punished if he acts in a negative way that he cannot be expected to act in again, and this is possible in cases listed by the compatibilist notion, namely, coercion by another person or through some temporary non-human force. Once these forces are no longer exerting their power, the individual might not ever think about engaging in the same behavior again.

Of course, this does not always determine whether or not the individual should be punished or killed or jailed. If a man walks into a public area and reveals that he has a bomb that he will detonate, the police are surely justified in shooting the man first, no matter who or what coerced him to do so. Furthermore, even in cases where a person acts from some irregular coercive force, it may be necessary to punish him for the sake of social stability, to deter others from engaging in the same behavior.

These exceptions indicate that perhaps compatibilists, although not incorrect, provide a framework that is not quite as illuminating as alternatives could be. Consider again the fact that the brain makes decisions before we are consciously aware of them. According to the notion above, we have free will because the brain is ours, so decisions that the brain makes are ours. But does this apply to our microbes? It seems that the most illuminating position may yet be disposing of the free will idea entirely. Nevertheless, wildist discourse at the moment uses a compatibilist notion of freedom, useful especially in the context of the great “unlinking,” a notion that should become clearer further on.

Why, then, must we feel motivated to do anything? One major reason is that we don’t really have a choice but to feel motivated, else we would find ourselves falling into depression with its severest symptoms. This happened to me when I was younger and discovered that my Christian God did not exist. Another reason is evidence indicating that when people discard of the concept of free will, they begin acting in odd and potentially negative ways (Shariff & Vohs, 2014). This indicates an interesting dynamic that Daleiden (1998, p. 78) calls the Responsibility Paradox: “Although humans are totally determined by biological and environmental conditioning and, hence, are not truly responsible for their behavior, society must treat persons as morally responsible to ensure that the consequences of those person’s actions provide the necessary motivation to generate prosocial behavior.”

I would word it differently than Daleiden, but he is essentially correct. Not only are we effects of causes, we are causes of other effects; thus, in the context of a unit like a social group, norms created by its members can provide an incentive that feeds back to help determine the same member’s behavior, as well as the behavior of future generations. A major difference between wildists and humanists, however, is what counts as a legitimate reference group. Humanists and others in industrial society would advocate large-scale solidarity, to the point of encompassing all humans or even some animals. Wildists, instead, stress the importance of relations, something explained in section III.D.4, “Man and His Relations.”

Still, to create social norms is also a determined action, and this returns us to the same problem of determinism that has nagged philosophers for years. I have some hypotheses for how to deal with this problem, related to the brief section, “Cosmos as Divinity.” For now, however, this important but tangential topic must be set aside for a later time. What has been covered is enough for the purposes of this text.

3. Biological Limits to Knowledge

I mentioned earlier that pure consilience is likely impossible, at least so long as we are constrained by our biologies, because our ability to know things about the world exists only for that ability’s value to evolutionary fitness, or because it is a byproduct of some other ability that has fitness value. For example, there is absolutely no direct evolutionary reason why humans should be able to understand subatomic particles, so clearly we have that ability only because the same structures that allow humans to understand those particles happened to grant some evolutionary advantage in the ancestral Pleistocene environment. In other words, we know that what we can know has definite limits, and this includes our moral knowledge. For sure, we can “transcend” these limits with reasoning to some degree. But reason has limits as well.

Some examples are simple, such as the fact that we aren’t privy to some sensory information that other an-imals are privy to. Migratory birds, for example, sense the Earth’s magnetic field (this is how they know where to migrate) and sometimes even have a type of synesthesia that allows them to see it (Beason, 2005). And at least some sharks have the ability to sense electric fields (Kalmijn, 1971). Humans, of course, do not have these abilities.

But the problems get more difficult. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman illustrated a series of such problems in his excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. One example he gives recalls an experiment in which he and the psychologist Amos Tversky told participants about an imaginary character named Linda. Linda, the story went, was single, smart, and outspoken on the issues of discrimination and social justice. After explaining this, the two psychologists asked if it was more probable for Linda to be a bank teller or for Linda to be a bank teller who was active in the feminist movement. Of course, basic lessons in statistical probability would reveal that the first answer is the correct one. Only a subset of all bank tellers are feminist bank tellers, so adding the extra detail will necessarily decrease the probability. But most participants said the second answer was correct.

Another phenomenon Kahneman reports is called the “availability heuristic,” which means that the easier something comes to mind, the more probable the human mind will judge it to be. For example, Kahneman and Tversky (1973) asked participants in one experiment to judge whether words that began with the letter k were more probable, or whether words with k as their third letter were more probable. Because we recall words by their onsets, words beginning with the letter k are easier to recall. Thus, the duo predicted, rightly, that participants would judge words beginning with k as more likely, even though the opposite is true. One could repeat this experiment using almost any letter.

The availability heuristic helps explain why people seem to fear things in a way that is totally incongruent with statistical probabilities. For example, death by falling furniture is much more likely than death by murder, but because it is easier to recall instances of murder, perhaps from the news or even novels, people fear it significantly more. This may explain why individuals in nations with extremely low crime rates but oversaturated with news media suffer from undull anxiety about crime.

The heuristic also has implications for moral reasoning. In his book, Kahneman describes two kinds of systems in the human brain. System 1 is intuitive, fast thinking, and it utilizes various shortcuts in order to come to conclusions. For all its imperfections, System 1 can be surprisingly accurate, especially when making decisions closer to the kinds our Stone Age counterparts would have made. In contrast, System 2 is analytical, slow thinking, the part of the mind that humans use to write or do complicated math.

Kahneman argues that the fast, intuitive system is more influential and that individuals often act on its conclusions without the analytical mind ever even knowing about it. But just imagine what this means for humans making split-second moral decisions with big consequences, like dropping a bomb or initiating a drone strike. Or even just imagine what this means for humans who run large and ostensibly benign systems that might also require split-second decision-making, like nuclear facilities.

Finally, there are the most unsettling biological limitations of all, which also happen to be the ones that brush up against the topic of morality most directly. One of the most striking of these is our inability to reason about moral obligations to large populations. For example, Slovic (2007) once conducted an experiment in which he told volunteers about a starving girl, measured their willingness to donate, and then told the same story to another group but with the added detail that millions of others were also starving. The second group gave around half as much money as the first. In fact, Slovic found that even adding just one more person would begin the process of “psychic numbing.”

Slovic’s finding that humans have a hard time reasoning about large numbers of people is in some ways unsurprising. In fact, it is a hallmark problem of population ethics. Churchland (2011, p. 178) put it this way: “no one has the slightest idea how to compare the mild headache of five million against the broken legs of two, or the needs of one’s own two children against the needs of a hundred unrelated brain-damaged children in Serbia.”

The evolutionary explanation for this is that humans have never had to deal with such large numbers of people, so conditions didn’t encourage the evolution of mental mechanisms that would allow us to do so intuitively. It may be that we can use Kahneman’s analytical System 2 to conquer the problem, but it may also be that our analytical mind isn’t equipped to deal with it at all. Whichever happens to be correct, the problem stands as one of the more important ones of our age.

4. Summary

The biological explanation for morality (and the mind) is compelling and likely true, but it comes with far-reaching consequences for our understanding of how capable humans are at moral reasoning. Coupled with moral relativism, also an implication of the biological explanation, these consequences are unsettling. It seems that humans are fated to doing the best they can without any real guarantee that they are right, or even a guarantee that they will eventually know they are right, and all the while their best has to rub up against very real, sometimes insurmountable limitations and imperfections of the mind. Acknowledging and grappling with this reality is a necessary part of the program of any twenty-first century ethics—especially one that hopes to address such consequential problems as climate change, genetic engineering, and the sixth mass extinction.

D. From Scientific Explanation to Ethical Science

1. Importance of First Principles

Consilience in ethics means more than just explaining ethics scientifically. It is also possible to devise an ethics that is itself a science. Earlier I mentioned that Hume’s “is/ought” problem has as much power as the problem of induction to stop such an endeavor, which is to say, it has no power at all. But of course, someone who really didn’t like the idea of an ethical science could always bring up one of the other myriad of issues that the project poses. Unlucky for him, none really get more powerful.

Consider, for example, the criticism that an ethical science would betray the scientific spirit of not assuming anything, simply going out into the world to discover and then explain. While this is a popular criti-cism, it’s not substantive, because that’s not how science works at all. Any short introduction to the philosophy of science will include concepts like “the problem of induction,” “underdetermination,” and “paradigms,” and near the end of the survey of the problems, the big reveal will be that all of science relies on first principles.

Imre Lakatos (1978) offered the metaphor of a core surrounded by a protective belt. The core consists of theories that are absolutely essential to what he called a scientific research program (which is basically the same as the more common “paradigm”). A change in the core would mean the end of the research program, or at least its transformation into something rather different. But around the core is a “protective belt” of theories that can be changed, and may be changed without any real reference to evidence if it means preserving the core. Of course, if that happens too much, then the research program stops producing new explanations and successful predictions, which Lakatos calls a “degenerate” state. At that point the program is susceptible to being replaced by a new and better one with a different core.

Some scientists have adopted Lakatos’ theory rather explicitly. The anthropologist Marvin Harris (2001, pp. 3-76) begins his research program of cultural materialism with assumptions about epistemology, a “universal structure of society,” and the idea that a culture’s material productive factors have the strongest influence on its character. In other words, it is expected that a person who ascribes to cultural materialism will assume these things when looking at a set of evidence. Consider also the way this plays or played out in evolutionary theory, Newtonian physics, and even mathematics (which calls its first principles “axioms”).

An ethical science, then, will have to jump over expected logical hurdles and decide on first principles, and in this way it will be no different from non-ethical science. From what I can tell, this includes mostly questions of value—what to value, how much value, what to do in the case of competing values—but also includes whether to evaluate behavior based on consequentialism, deontology, or virtue ethics. Again, these problems are not much different from problems in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science.

2. Examples of Ethical Sciences

A field of ethical science that has decided on its first principles would probably look something like medical science. In fact, if we are to define “morality” as “the rules that govern behavior,” then medicine, a field founded on the scientifically unprovable value of “health,” could easily be called an ethical science. Practitioners often take up the questions outlined above by debating them at conferences and in journals, and the answers produce obligations for those who value health in themselves and others. The reason, perhaps, that all this is not considered ethics is that concern for health is, for good evolutionary reason, mostly universal. (Although “health” is ambiguous enough for this not to be true for all of medicine, particularly when its normative postulates are broadened by humanists.)

Another example would be conservation science, a discipline that is often compared to medicine but is

much more explicitly identified as ethical in its concern. This is seen clearly in Michael Soule’s seminal article, “What is conservation biology?” One section heading is even entitled “normative postulates,” which Soule introduces with an interesting paragraph:

The normative postulates are value statements that make up the basis of an ethic of appropriate attitudes toward other forms of life—an ecosophy... They provide standards by which our actions can be measured. They are shared, I believe, by most conservationists and many biologists, although ideological purity is not my reason for proposing them.

Soule goes on to outline the normative postulates as seeing value in biodiversity, ecological complexity, and evolution. As he does, one can detect the obvious influence of deep ecology.

This indicates that conservation biology is the field of ethical science relevant to wildists, much in the way medicine would be a relevant field for humanists, with their concern for “human well-being.” In both cases, the primary task would be bringing to light the values that undergird the work of significant populations of practitioners in the fields. In the case of medicine, the humanist would point out that health is simply a subset of the larger ethical concern for “human well-being,” at least to many or most of the practitioners. (See, for example, Cohen, 1950, and “humanistic medicine.”) In the case of conservation, the wildist would point out that biodiversity is, at least to many or most conservationists, a subset of the larger ethical concern for wildness.

One can see a battle between the two ethical sciences playing out most clearly on the topic of biotechnology. Medical science holds some of the strongest arguments for biotechnology because it presents itself as the most promising solution to anti-biotic resistance, various until-now incurable diseases, and other problems that have to do with health and human well-being. It is on the basis of these that biotechnology will be argued for. One biologist said to me, while discussing my views on the topic, “Not to try to eradicate [pain and sickness] is, in my mind, unconscionable.” And a medical practitioner, after a similar con-

John Jacobi: The Foundations of Wildist Ethics versation, brought up the success of industrial technologies at “quelling death by infection all over the globe.” Both of these echo the statement by Professor Julian Savulescu, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, who stated that genetically engineering human babies was a “moral obligation” (Alleyne, 2012).

These perspectives of course have logical difficulties, but are generally on solid ground given their central value, namely, the well-being of humans (and sometimes the broader “sentient beings”). The conser-vationist perspective, however, which sees value first in the autonomy of nature and thus the smallness of man, will necessarily clash with biotechnology and even industrial medicine. To a serious conservationist willing to state his views frankly, this includes cases where these technologies benefit or ostensibly benefit humans. For if one of the central theses of the conservationist project is that man is not unique in the way the humanist claims, then the conservation imperative applies to human nature just as well as non-human nature. This is indeed one of the implicit ideas underlying much conservation work, and something that this systematization of wildist thought makes explicit.

3. The Necessity of Ethical Science

Because the first principles of the ethical sciences are incommensurable, to a much greater degree than Kuhn (1962) would have even lower-level sciences be, the coming century’s battles cannot only be about ideas; they instead must entail practical efforts as well, and therefore will have great consequences. This alone is reason enough to support the development of an ethical science, for a developed field, if truly scientific, would provide mechanisms to stave off those who would obscure and mystify moral truths for the sake of power, something that is especially important to guard against when the negative repercussions could be so great.

Furthermore, many of the great ethical issues facing us do not come intuitively and cannot allow so wide a margin of error as would be permissible under circumstances with lesser consequence. This indeed is the whole reason that the institutions of science have succeeded so thoroughly. Whereas our primitive counterparts possessed the capability to reason and did so frequently (Liebenberg, 1999), newer material conditions that required more precision of thought and had more extensive impacts in case of miscalculation needed technical methods to offset human biases and error. Thus, in light of, say, Slovic’s (2007) findings on human moral reasoning, an ethical science that hopes to address such questions as overpopulation must regard as indispensable a culture that places value on critique, counter-critique, and truth. This would thankfully allow much of the trial and error process that reveals moral truths to occur in the cognitive realm, so that those actions that are taken in the real world do not unnecessarily become painful and guilty memories.

3. The Ethical Principles of Wildism

A. The Value of Nature

The primary assertion of wildism is that nature has non-instrumental, non-derivative value, sometimes called “intrinsic” value (O'Neil, 1992). This belief in the non-instrumental value of nature compels wildists to be fundamentally concerned with increasing and respecting nature’s autonomy, which, put differently, is at its core a contention about human control and domination, an assertion that humans simply shouldn’t have as much control as they do. At the least, this applies to human control in the context of intensive agriculture and later, something I explain more fully below.[4]

1. The Meaning of Wild Nature

The word “nature” is an ambiguous one, but here I use it to mean “the world not made or controlled by humans or their technical systems.” This is in contrast to “artificial,” which is just the opposite. Note that the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” is descriptive, akin to the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Both are a part of the material world, so saying that something is made by humans and is therefore not natural does not mean this thing is somehow less subject to physical laws and processes. It is not, that is, the old doctrine of human separateness.

The confusion in this regard stems from another meaning of “nature” that equates it with “the material world.” This usage is still popular in the lower-level sciences like physics, and this is primarily because of the convenience of the term in contrasting science’s domain with that which is called “supernatural.” This meaning of “nature” is the one scientists (and some conservationists) use when they state that “humans are a part of nature,” usually to make clear that humans are a product of evolution like every other living thing. It is also the meaning used by the obscurantists who would counter conservationist critique with the statement “Everything is natural.”

Of course, it is true that “Everything is natural,” given that “natural” means “the material world.” But this is not the kind of nature that the conservationist is concerned with. The current mass extinction is a material process just as much as the past mass extinctions were. The point is that this one is artificial, humancaused, and because of this it is morally relevant in a way that no other mass extinction has been. The same applies to climate change, deforestation, and most other issues associated with conservation or environmentalism.

Thus, to quell the confusion, I will separate the meanings by using a terminology that should already be clear: “the material world” refers to all that exists, and “nature” refers to the part of the material world that is not made or controlled by humans or human technics (see Figure 1). This is common in environmental ethics and conservation (Hunter, 1996; Vining, Merrick, & Price, 2008; Schroeder, 2005; Angermeier, 2000; Hettinger, 2002).

It is important to note that situating humans within the material world is an indispensable part of the con-servationist critique. Being concerned with the value of the world not made or controlled by humans seems to occur only once belief in the supernatural and the doctrine of human separateness dies (White L. , 1967), which might explain why nature has become a primary source of spiritual experiences for secular nations (Taylor, 2004). But this insight is the extent of many people’s environmentalism. These people are concerned mostly with teaching the importance of the scientific view that the fate of humans is tied to the fate of ecosystems, and thus their primary concern is ensuring that environmental degradation does not impact “human well-being.” Most of the time when this insight exists by itself, the result is “bright green” environmentalism, or what Naess (1973) called “shallow” environmentalism. It is a quite different brand of environmentalism than what I will outline here.

As for the “wild” in “wild nature”: it is synonymous with “autonomy” in the phrase “autonomy of nature.” When I say nature is “autonomous,” I mean, following Katz (Heyd, 2013, pp. 77-85), that it is not dominated by humans or human technics. There is no need to complicate this definition by debating whether “autonomy” entails some sort of self-propulsion or dynamic movement. Such discussions are bound to be overly heady and unhelpful. The important point is that the lack of human domination is what we strive for. Thus, rocks, for example, can be autonomous. To demonstrate the relevance of this conception of “autonomy,” Katz notes the debate over whether rock climbers should be able to use metal bolts for climbing, and whether or not they should be allowed to leave the bolts for other climbers (p. 83). Given our stated concerns, we should clearly lean towards “no,” especially considering the ongoing and rapid loss of the few remaining wildlands.

Note that wildness is an aspect of naturalness. Fully natural objects are also fully wild. The wildist concern, then, is in some sense increasing the naturalness of the world, but this does not communicate the values pre-cisely enough. Those who are in fact concerned primarily with preserving biodiversity may just as well demand an increase in what they call naturalness (Ridder, 2007). A more precise discourse speaks of concern for nature’s autonomy, or the wildness of nature. To illustrate, caging a wild animal would not immediately decrease the animal’s naturalness except insofar as it decreases its wildness. Yet it is precisely this decrease in wildness that permits and begins any drastic decrease in naturalness, such as, in the case of an animal, the process of domestication. Similarly, the release of human control is the first step toward increasing the naturalness of the world, such as with domesticated animals that have gone feral or a river ecosystem that is freed from the control of a dam upstream.

Finally, naturalness (of which, to repeat, wildness is a part) should be conceptualized as an end on a spectrum with artifice rather than being dichotomous with it (see Figure 1). Thus, one might speak of a wilderness area as having a high degree of wildness but a city as having a low degree of wildness. In between, one might place an abandoned building. Although this involves some level of ambiguity, those involved in conservation science have found ingenious and reliable methods for measuring naturalness or, conversely, human influence (Anderson, 1991; Machado, 2004; Theobald, 2010). Those who look on such measurements with skepticism must keep in mind that a similar use of science is important for clarifying many kinds of ethical systems. For example, the humanist who places value on sentient beings will have to expand his scope of moral consideration to at least some animals as scientific inquiry reveals more about the ability of these animals to suffer or flourish. In a similar way, reasoned assessment of empirical evidence can aid us in discerning at least general degrees of naturalness and artificiality in an ecosystem or organism, with the extremities of the spectrum being the most obvious. And while uncertainties are an indication that we should tread lightly in applying our values, uncertainty alone does not invalidate an ethical system.

2. Values and Valuers

To say that nature has non-instrumental, non-derivative value is not to say that the value exists independently of a valuer. Some ethical philosophers (e.g., Holmes Rolston) have certainly argued this, but is not a necessary component of the kind of intrinsic value that is relevant here. It is enough to say that “nature has intrinsic value when it is valued (verb transitive) for its own sake, as an end itself” (Callicott, 1995).

Combined with moral relativism, this concept of intrinsic value might lead some to believe that we are impotent to act, but all it really does is make clear that appeals to nature’s intrinsic value are impotent among those who do not accept it. This allows those of us who do accept it to more appropriately direct our efforts to practical work. In truth, this applies even if moral value existed independently of a valuer, since there is nothing about an independent value that would enforce it to be respected.

The non-objectivity of nature’s value also does not preclude radical action. For instance, many people have died in the name of national self-determination or democratic freedom, but no one ever requires that these individuals demonstrate the objective existence of the value of liberty in order to justify their struggle. 3) Increasing Value

Value can also increase. Some, known as the “Anthropocene boosters,” argue that because naturalness has been so diminished, we humans should simply accept our place as Earth’s gardeners. But it makes much more sense to argue, as I and others do, that as naturalness becomes rarer, its value should increase (Wuerthner, Crist, & Butler, 2014, pp. 174-179; Noss, 1995).

Among the individuals at The Wildist Institute, there is a popular phrase: “Live wild or die.” It is true that so radical a statement may not be appropriate at all times or in all places. Indeed, maybe in other times and other places a fight to the death would be too costly a price in the face of only slight and temporary violations of wildness. But the assault on nature has been too long and too thorough for this to be the case any longer. In the face of widespread human and technical domination, the mantra “Live wild or die!” is the only response capable of reclaiming our and nature’s autonomy—especially if the Anthropocene boosters are correct.

3. The Autonomy of Nature

To value nature non-instrumentally includes all the things that the term “nature” entails, such as biodiversity or ecological integrity. However, to value nature non-instrumentally also necessarily produces an obligation to respect nature’s autonomy, much in the same way that non-instrumentally valuing a human being entails respecting his autonomy. For one discussion of this idea, see Heyd (2013).

Thus, the autonomy of nature, or “wildness,” functions as a core value that anchors other aspects of nat-uralness. To offer an example, conservationists often speak of or biodiversity, but as Hettinger & Throop (1999) point out, biodiversity is only valued within the context of wildness. Otherwise, conservationists would have no issue with artificial attempts to force greater biodiversity, such as through introduced species, as one Anthropocene booster suggested (Thomas, 2013). But many conservationists clearly do take issue with those approaches.

Finally, as Fox (1993) explains, valuing nature noninstrumentally does not mean that its autonomy is “in-violable.” “Even in the human case,” Fox writes,

we readily accept that it is justifiable to harm— even kill—another person if, for example, we are acting in self-defence. Thus, the question of whether it is wrong to harm or interfere with entities that are intrinsically valuable actually turns on the question of whether we have sufficient justification for our actions.

The actual work of determining what qualifies as “sufficient justification” is the domain of conservation science, and will not always yield to easy answers.

To make a final point, related to the one above, respecting nature’s autonomy does not mean demanding that nature be “untouched” by man. Howard Zahniser got it right in The Wilderness Act when he wrote of the need for places “untrammeled by man,” using an old, uncommon word that means “not deprived of freedom of action or expression; not restricted or hampered.” The problem, then, is not with human influence; it is with human domination (see Hettinger, 2002).

4. How Much Value?

In moving from the question of whether there is value in nature and onto the question of how much value, “benchmarks,” a concept from conservation science, help wildists further specify their ethical claims. Common benchmarks include the transition to agriculture and civilization, European colonization, the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the first use of nuclear bombs. Though imperfect, not all of these benchmarks are arbitrary. For example, that the transition to agriculture fundamentally transformed human-nature interactions is undeniable.

Still, the concept has two mutually exclusive uses. On the one hand, those who are concerned primarily with biodiversity often use historical benchmarks to determine what is natural. For example, an idea in classical conservation work considered the state of ecosystems prior to European colonization as the natural state that conservationists should attempt to preserve (Angermeier, 2000). However, this is an incoherent use of benchmarks for the ethic of wildness. Although influential, the idea of ecosystem stability is not consistently true or applicable (Hettinger & Throop, 1999). Consequently, restoring levels of wildness does not necessarily restore ecosystems to a “stable state” that can be seen in some previous historical period (Landres, Brunson, Merigliano, Sydoriak, & Morton, 2000; Sydoriak, Allen, & Jacobs, 2000).

We might therefore use benchmarks not as points on a historical timeline, but as rough measures of potential human impact. For example, instead of proposing the Pleistocene as a benchmark, a more accurate benchmark of influence would be the nomadic huntergatherer mode of production. Of course, nomadic hunter-gatherer societies can vary widely in their influence, but since societies cannot extend beyond the influence permitted by their infrastructural determinants without transforming those determinants, modes of production enforce a more or less consistent limit on human control.

This is not to say that historical time periods aren’t useful. To the contrary, the science of ecosystem stability is consistent enough for historical time periods to function as rough indicators of what ecosystems might look like should some level of wildness be restored. As Angermeier (2000) writes, though “ecosystems are too poorly understood to allow precise measurement of all human effects,” they do “have functional and evolutionary limits and natural ranges of variation, which provide a basis for [an] objective assessment...” Nevertheless, these limits have changed through geologic history, and human effects such as climate change and extreme rates of extinction signal that the limits may again be shifting permanently (Zalasiewicz, et al., 2008).

Most conservationists argue against industrial practices and many other environmentalists do as well. This is easily justified, since technologies as basic to industry as roads (Noss, 2015; Trombulak & Frissell, 2000) and dams (Ligon, Dietrich, & Trush, 1995) have devastating effects on wild nature, some of them the main causes of the worst environmental problems of the day. In fact, even the Anthropocene boosters argue for keeping industrial technology on the grounds that innovation or better practices could reduce industry’s impact. (Kareiva, Marvier, & Lalasz, 2012).

Conservationists are also commonly against civilized agricultural practices. By this I mean agriculture that sustains cities, very often through imports, largescale habitat destruction, and human enslavement, and, in the industrial age, through technical intensification that is especially harmful to wildlife and over a greater area (McLaughlin & Mineau, 1995; Lemly, Kingsford, & Thompson, 2000). With rural agriculture, however, it is hard to find as heated opposition. No doubt some of this has to do with relevance—current agricultural practices are almost always intensified with industrial technology—but in some cases wildness-centered conservationists explicitly state that rural agriculture could be morally permissible (Heyd, 2013, pp. 86-98, 99-118).

Following these views, the core idea of wildism can be stated thusly: wild nature matters such that production at least at the level of industry and civilized agriculture is morally unjustifiable. This “level of value” could be a result of a convergence between wildism and some other ethical philosophy, or it could solely stem from the amount of value nature has, regardless of other values. However, as the domination of wild nature becomes ever more severe, even caring for it a little should be sufficient justification for the benchmarks, because, as stated above, value can increase.

To give an intentionally drastic example: Imagine that industrial degradation of nature carries on so that by the second half of the century there is only one true wilderness area left on earth, about the size of Yosemite. Clearly, among those who value wild nature, this area would be very valuable and even extreme efforts to protect it would be justified. But if we also imagine that the continued existence of industry would inevitably result in the destruction of this wilderness area, any protection would necessarily entail the end of industry. Since in this imagined scenario industrial production has spanned the entire globe, the end of industry would practically mean more than just that. Instead, for many if not most areas, a lack of industry would allow at most extremely small-scale cultivation on the part of its human inhabitants. Thus, valuing nature and nature’s autonomy would in this scenario require a benchmark of production before civilized agriculture.

Still, it is not important that all wildists agree that the benchmark is justifiable on the grounds of nature’s value alone; the important part is simply that they agree. This is mostly for practical reasons. A person can say he values nature but then insist that it matters only so much that further industrial destruction is un-justifiable. But clearly this would not be what even most environmentalists believe. Thus, while there can be more or less radical elements within the bounds set by the given benchmarks, they are narrow enough to entail a politically discrete population of conservationists and not so broad as to be meaningless.

Note that the foregoing is only about wildist moral values, not their practical application. Just as someone might argue that all murder is wrong while also recognizing his inability to prevent all murder, a wildist, along with most other environmentalists, can recognize that civilized agriculture and industry are morally unjustifiable while simultaneously recognizing practical limits.

5. Other Values

Clearly, wildism is concerned with wildness. However, the central assertion is that nature has intrinsic value because naturalness includes more than wildness, and subsidiary values like biodiversity, ecological integrity, and so forth matter as well. These values interact in complex ways, and discerning the ways in which they do is the practical work of conservation science, especially since interactions are bound to be contextual. Thus, Hettinger and Throop (1999) put it best when they wrote:

...we are not suggesting that wildness is always an overriding value or that highly wild ecosystems are always more valuable than less wild places. /For example, to protect biodiversity, we might put out a fluke lightening-lit fire in order to protect the biodiversity of an island packed with endemic plants. Moreover, a some-what wilder, but much less biodiverse landscape (e.g., Antarctica) is not necessarily of greater intrinsic value than a somewhat less wild, but much more biodiverse landscape (e.g., the Amazon rain forest). A full theory of wildness value would include some priority principles indicating when wildness value will trump other goods. We cannot provide such thorough guidance here, though we do suggest that as the planet becomes more humanized, wildness value will increasingly trump other values.

The problem they mention in the latter half of the quote is essentially the problem of restoration. For example, we might be able to argue that preserving a biodiverse ecosystem through active management is necessary for a time, as Noss (1995) has argued, but the perpetual question is always how long such active management is appropriate. How far ahead must a “later time” be for the compromise to cease being acceptable? This is no easy question, and remains a pressing one.

There is also the question of how biodiversity in particular interacts with wildness. This debate is longstanding (Noss, 1996; Hettinger & Throop, 1999;

Ridder, 2007), but the first principle of wildism is clear regarding this point. Although there are ambiguities in restoration practice, both conservation and restoration should be done with the end goal of restoring nature’s autonomy. Thus, efforts to conserve biodiversity for economic, technical, and scientific use should always be subordinate to the ultimate goal of respecting nature’s autonomy and discarded when these goals are incompatible. This is an immutable point because it is a moral one. Its importance should become clearer in section III.D.9.

B. The Cosmos as Divinity

Once the supernatural is abolished with the razor of scientific thinking, one necessarily realizes that the rest of the material world has been neglected in the name of fantasies, and that we must begin to discern our moral obligations toward it. Thus, we find after the death of God another infinite, omnipotent “Creator,” the Cosmos, and in our efforts to discover the moral boundaries between our work and Its, the artificial and the natural, we might find a certain usefulness in traditionally religious concepts, like ritual, sacredness, and the Sublime.

Note that even the New Atheists, who have applied the razor of science to the superfluous power-hungry aspects of religion, have found such concepts to be implacable. Dawkins (2005) writes, “My objection to su-pernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world. They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer.” And Hitchens: “If we could find a way of enforcing the distinction between the numinous and the superstitious, we would be doing something culturally quite important” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, & Harris, 2012).

A general vision for the “distinction between the numinous and the superstitious” has been outlined already. Wilson (1998), for example, insists in Consilience that “Material reality discovered by science al-ready possesses more content and grandeur than all religious cosmologies combined,” and he argues that evolution may be the best creation myth we’ll ever have. Neil deGrasse Tyson has hinted at similar concepts through his TV show, Cosmos, just as Carl Sagan (2011) did before him:

A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

Similar views have been espoused by Einstein, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, and Spinoza.

Now we must fill this general idea in with specifics, something wildism is well-suited for. Thus, future work will place great emphasis on these concepts, with guiding principles, outlined theological arguments, and so forth. The idea remains mostly undeveloped, but here are three things that are certain.

First, there must be an overriding respect for truth. There is a difference between what is inarticulable as a matter of human limits and what is inarticulable as a matter of obscurity, the latter always a function of power. Indeed, something need not be inarticulable to be Sublime at all; “respect for truth” necessarily entails an understanding that intellectually reducing our experiences to material interactions does not mean a reduction in the quality of our experiences, and very often leads to their enrichment. Still, respect for truth does not mean making values impotent. Part of the careful work to be done is to distinguish between the two kinds of revisionism, as has been done in science, where values of objectivity, parsimony, and so forth may not be revised, but where the actual discoveries of work done under those values ought to be revised when appropriate.

Second, we must recognize the various social, psychological, and ecological roles of religion and ritual. Those who insist on faith in this age do not need more facts; they need alternatives that respect truth but do not degrade what people often refer to as the “non-scientific” aspects of religion. Not once have I found these aspects to actually be non-scientific. There is a scientific explanation for the fervor a young me felt while speaking in tongues and dancing at the altar of my childhood Church of the Pentecost. But clearly to explain such an experience in terms of chemicals and neurons would be unnecessary in most instances, even inappropriate. Similarly with the breaking of bread that occurred after service.

Wildist concepts of sacredness also have a clear ecological role to play. To understand this, consider Harris’ (1974) study of the taboo against eating cows in India. He explains that the practice’s function is economic and ecological: there are strong temptations to kill cows during times of famine, but to do so would have ruinous effects on the well-being of the ecosystem and would end a consistent source of milk, fuel, and labor. It would be a completely disastrous decision. Thus, material conditions select for the idea of the sacred cow, and, as he notes, different Indian ecologies lead to variations in the taboo. One cannot help but notice the parallel appropriateness of wildist concepts of sacredness in an age of even more disastrous decisions than cow-killing.

The social aspect of religion may also aid in disseminating wildist values, especially those that rely on complex concepts or that require careful exposition. For instance, sermons, stories, and poetry may help convey the awe due to the Cosmos and nature, the redeeming pessimism inherent in the wildist critique of progress, cognizance of human folly, and the like.

Finally, we might look to the psychological appeal of other religions and tease out what, precisely, is appealing. For instance, although I was raised a Christian, I spent much of my childhood and youth studying Jewish writings and tradition, and have found the Old Testament, the Pentateuch in particular, and its associated Jewish commentaries, a perpetual source of wisdom even to this day. Something about the myths of Abraham, Noah, Ruth, and David has caused them to be imprinted onto my mind forever.

There is a lot to learn from the Jewish tradition, which has many parallels to the conservationist one. For example, a Jewish friend was the first to explain the concept of the “tactical spectrum” to me, noting the gradation from Orthodox to Reform Judaism, and suggesting that is could be applied to conservation (only later did I learn that David Brower had already done this). Further, the Jewish tradition has, built in, the idea of a chosen people who will preserve the world’s spiritual standing before God. Compare this to the idea of the “conscience of conservation.”

I was always especially stricken by the concept of tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” In recent years, left-wing Jewish groups have utilized this concept to push a narrative of progress, but the man who taught me of tikkun eviscerated these “hubristic interpretations.” Rather, he stressed that tikkun came from the Aleinu prayer, where the Jewish people collectively pray for God to “remove all idols from the Earth, and to completely cut off all false gods; to repair the world.” As I learned it, these idols include man’s unending faith in himself. As Maimonides (1904), who wrote much about humility before God, put it, “man’s intellect indubitably has a limit at which it stops.” Compare this version of tikkun to “rewilding,” a concept that has similarly been coopted by those with progressivist biases.

Catholicism is another potential source of inspiration, especially because of their success at conveying notions of sacredness. What if we develop just as effective ways to convey the notion of nature’s sacredness, or the idea of wilderness as a temple? Perhaps this idea has nasty side-effects that do not properly convey wildist values, but at least the point and direction of our efforts are clear.

There is a lot to learn from the negative aspects of religion as well. For instance, religions incessantly appeal to authority, an unavoidable fact so long as they rely on supernatural doctrines. The Jewish and Catholic religions are particularly nasty in this regard. Here, wildism has a leg up, since its object of adoration is the Cosmos, and its way of knowing science, which all can practice. Furthermore, even though there is psychological appeal in referring back to ancient thinkers, wildism suffers no loss here, since what is more ancient than nature?

Although the proper object of focus in a wildist religious practice should, of course, be nature, there must also be a literary component. By “literary,” I mean the broad meaning of the term and include oral tradition, perhaps even especially so. Stories have driven human understanding since at least the late Paleolithic, and religious liturgy and texts have important functions, contributing to a sense of unity and communion, among other things.

There is a final thing to stress about this idea of a religion of the Cosmos. Although the religion should not depend on the revelations of prophets or supernatural deities, it is clear that in the real world, not all men

are equally equipped to establish its foundations. Rather, the initial work should be carefully outlined and articulated by a group of learned individuals intimately familiar with and committed to wildist values, and mechanisms should be established for individuals of a similar caliber to preserve its focus and direction. If the initial crop can manage to incite a spiritual revival of the kind Muir himself wished to muster (Stoll, 1993), such a group would become absolutely necessary. Historical examples of similar revivals support this, such as the Apostle Paul’s constant vigilance in sending guidance to his churches through letters (White L. M., 2005, pp. 143-216), and Marx and Engels’ arguments with Bakunin about the need for learned guidance in their revolutionary movement (e.g., Engels, 1978; Woods, 2010).

C. The Critique of Progress

The “myth of progress” is the idea that artificial modification of nature can fundamentally improve the world, particularly the human condition. In particular, it addresses the faith that artificial blueprints can improve the human condition, often with the explanation that there was not enough tinkering in the case of failure. The environmentalist critique of progress states that this is a delusion. Concerted attempts at artificial improvement of nature have always or nearly always resulted in unintended consequences with runaway ef-fects that progressivists never fail to argue can be fixed with more progress. Yet the unintended (and in many cases intended) consequences keep coming, because the systems that humans are trying to improve are too complex to be fully understood by them. Thinking that these limitations can be transcended without even more unintended consequences is what is meant by “human hubris” (Ehrenfeld, 1981), and the critique applies equally well to agriculture, civilization, social progress, and to the ongoing efforts of “new conservationists” to convince everyone that nature now needs us to make it through the Anthropocene.

1. Why the Critique is Important

The critique of progress is the core of environmentalism’s challenge to dominant values, but the power of the critique is obscured by two things. The first is the influx of “watermelon environmentalists,” or those who profess to be “greens,” but who actually harbor “red,” social justice convictions. Sometimes this truly

John Jacobi: The Foundations of Wildist Ethics is a concerted effort by socialist and communist cadres to exploit the contemporary popularity of environmentalism. Mostly, though, this is just a result of the predictable unwillingness of people to accept and profess values that are such substantial challenges to the dominant ones; or, more often perhaps, the predictable inability of many individuals to fully comprehend the clash.

The second, more harmful reason is the unwillingness of even its avid defenders to take it seriously when it clashes with the most precious of modern values. Even the wildness-centered conservationists who profess to challenge this great mythology of progress have at times, especially recently, fallen prey to the progressive narrative’s power. This is demonstrated, for example, in an otherwise excellent volume entitled Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth. The book is a collection of responses to the revisionist ideology of the Anthropocene boosters, who hope to make earth into a garden in the name of humanitarianism (Kareiva, Marvier, & Lalasz, 2012). However, in the book one can observe some authors claiming that the fight for wild nature is just one in a long line of progressive causes, like the fight against racism, sexism, and colonialism; that fighting for wilderness can be humanitarian; and that caring for nature is caring for “human well-being,” a term borrowed from humanism and that only makes sense in a conservationist context with severe revision. The result is clear: the new conservationists are winning, and they’re pulling even the old guard further to their side of the spectrum. It is almost as if the latter are saying, “See, we’re progressive,” “See, we aren’t misanthropes.”

This is why the ethical philosophy of wildism is so important. In an age where the wildness-centered ethic is suffering such frequent and relentless attacks, saying frankly and clearly what we are is a necessary step. We should not be disguising our rhetoric; we should be stripping it bare, more explicit than ever. It will inspire backlash, we will be called misanthropes, and we will be unpopular. But that is what it will take to preserve the conservationist critique, which is precisely the role of wildism: to be the conscience of conservation and the keeper of its core message. So do not be surprised if the following sections greatly offend the

modern moral sense. That is, indeed, exactly the thing that should be offended.

1) Limits to Reason

The core reason progress doesn’t work is because humans simply don’t know what they’re doing. But let’s be clear what this doesn’t mean. For one, it doesn’t mean that human beings are unable to use reason to get out of tough situations. Clearly that is untrue.

Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that humans can’t transcend some biological limitations with technology. For example, we might refer back to the list of animal senses that humans don’t have, given in section II.C.3, like the ability of some birds to see electromagnetic fields. There is reason to believe that with a little technical innovation, humans might be able to very directly experience the same thing—that is, even more directly than seeing the fields through a screen. This is because brains in most living creatures have similar components, and seem to be very good at picking up patterns from inputs that get instant “yes, good” and “no, bad” feedback, allowing the brain to discern rules and turn the input into perception. For example, in one experiment, researchers put participants in a chair that poked images into the participants’ backs. When they sat blind individuals into the chair, the individuals eventually gave very accurate reports of what they were “seeing” (Bach-Y-Rita, Collins, Saunders, White, & Scadden, 1969). Somehow the brain had accommodated the new input.

So the point isn’t that humans can’t do anything cool with their reasoning abilities, or that everything that presents itself as an insurmountable problem now is actually an insurmountable problem. But there are hard limits to reason. One famous example is Godel’s incompleteness theorems, which prove that any practically relevant logical system has to rely on axioms that are unprovable by the same system, and that, by extension, these systems cannot demonstrate their own consistency. See also Chaitin (2006). Another example is chaos theory, which studies phenomena that are so highly sensitive to initial conditions that humans can’t hope to practically predict their behavior. Even though problems with chaos are strictly speaking practical problems, they are in many cases insurmountable practical problems.

But let us return again to the hard limits in moral reasoning mentioned in section II. To review, we established that much of morality is primarily biological, like incest taboos; that moral first principles are in-commensurable; and that humans have almost nothing to work with when it comes to many modern moral problems, like those concerning large populations of people.

The problem, generally stated, is that humans evolved in hunter-gatherer conditions, and their intuitive systems, what Kahneman calls “System 1,” are well-suited to those conditions. But when you throw what are essentially Stone Age creatures into modern life, things get a little thorny, and we have to depend much more on our slow, System 2, analytic systems. You might compare this to a DSLR camera, with automatic settings well suited to certain conditions that the manufacturer could foresee, but also equipped with a manual mode for unforeseen conditions.

Some moral philosophers like Peter Singer (1981; 2000) and Joshua Greene (2013) argue that we can dis-tinguish between those moral precepts that are purely biological or intuitive and those that are the result of moral reasoning, and that with this knowledge we can decide how to properly modify human nature to improve the human condition. That is, we can make moral progress. Singer in particular speaks of these ideas in the context of biotechnology and genetic engineering. But there are real problems with this idea.

The most obvious is defining “better.” Both Singer and Greene, as well as many other moral thinkers, argue that this is actually a non-issue. Of course humans would all want to improve their “well-being.” Clearly, wildists think that wildness is more important than well-being, however, so the universality of well-being as a first principle is not at all obvious. But here we need not get into an argument about first principles, lest our critique of progress be merely a restating of the wildist ideology. We can simply assume that these utilitarian humanists are correct, because even then there is serious doubt as to whether human beings can achieve the goal.

A major and insurmountable hurdle is the fact that humans “improving” human biology is a self-referential exercise. Thus, no human can fully understand the implications of this “improvement” until the change has already been made, making it an open question as to whether or not it is actually an improvement. For example, consider a human brain that is modified with computing technologies to be more intelligent than any previous being could ever have hoped to be. No one knows what all the implications of this would be, but we do know that the end result would essentially be a human who is to us what we now are to dogs or monkeys, as far as intelligence goes. Indeed, the founder of information science, Claude Shannon, said, “I can visualize a time in the future when we will be to robots as dogs are to humans.. .[and] I’m rooting for the machines” (Liversidge, 1987). This is an example of a hard limit on reason’s ability to ensure that moral “progress” is actually a good thing.

A similar kind of problem applies to the development of societies, which are very important to human well-being. We cannot ever hope to rationally control the development of a society because if, for example, we come up with a technical system that can predict all the consequences for a society at a given level of complexity, predicting the consequences of that technical system would necessarily require an even more complex society.

Practical problems are even more insurmountable than these hard limits. I’ve already mentioned chaos theory, for example, and it applies to many aspects of social systems and the human body. But there are also limitations in how reason can be applied in the context of a society, because cultural development is an evo-lutionary process that takes place above the level of human intention. Thus, while human intention provides the “motor” for much of the evolutionary process (although not all of it), selection pressures that include more than and are more powerful than human intention decide the outcome of a particular cultural meme. The same applies for technical development.

Consider this analogy. In a version of UNO I often play with my family on holidays, individuals keep a tally of how many points are in their hand after each round has ended. When someone surpasses 500 points, the game ends, and the winner is the person with the least number of points. However, if someone hits 500 exactly, they go back to zero. Sometimes individuals end up with a number of points very close to 500, and they begin to think they can manage to keep just the right amount of points in their hand so that when someone else goes out, they will have 500 points exactly, go back to zero, and have a shot at winning again. The problem is that no matter how much skill and reason someone puts into trying to reach 500 exactly, there are still an enormous amount of factors that the person could never control, and that ultimately determine whether he will actually achieve his goal. Reason isn’t enough. Cultural evolution works similarly. See Nia et al. (2015) for an example of this idea as applied to violin acoustics.

Just as in biological evolution, this all occurs without a rational creator, and is in some part due to chance happenings. The x-ray and penicillin, for example, were discovered by accident, and we still use the Gregorian calendar mostly because it happened to be invented in the right place at the right time by the right people, not because it is it the most rational or economic choice, or because it contributes most to human well-being, all of which are arguably or demonstrably false (99% Invisible, 2015). Ideas expounding on this idea of cultural evolution are now widespread (Basalla, 1988; Boyd & Richerson, 1988; Cziko, 1997; Ridley, 2015), but there is unfortunately no comprehensive synthesis just yet. Nevertheless, it is clear that human intention and attempts at control do not have the final say in how a society turns out, and in many cases are very weak contributing factors.

Here’s another practical limitation: Many people have pointed out, like I have, that humans are Stone Age creatures in a modern world, and that this calls for greater use of our evolutionarily-endowed ability to reason. And even though this whole section is an exercise in defining a more modest place for reason, no one can deny that reason has done remarkably well. The problem is that in a modern world, even one mistake can be absolutely devastating. We are creating a world where we have to think very, very hard to make the right decision sometimes, but circumstances are not quite as accommodating as might be required for a good enough track record. Decisions made in war, for example, must be swift and ideally the most moral decisions possible, but such devastating and complex modern weaponry means both an increased chance of error and greater consequences as a result of those er-

rors. One fix to this would be machine decision-making, of course, but that will be addressed more fully later on.

One might respond to all this by arguing that the bar for understanding has been set too high, and that humans do not need to know so much about a system to have a reasonable expectation that it will be improved with modification. In some cases this is true, especially when it comes to systems with which humans should have evolutionarily-endowed mechanisms to properly navigate, like small groups. But it is clear that at least some of the problems we are facing do indeed require an extremely high level of understanding.

For example, I’ve already mentioned Singer’s suggestion that we modify our human nature with genetic engineering when this becomes feasible, and other thinkers have done the same. Richard Dawkins has said we should be “deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism—something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world” (Singer, 2000, p. 63).

But, in addition to the above-stated problems, we’ve been wrong about morality before. Slavery is the most glaring example. And once we’ve engineered enough people to defend the moral blindspot that is the modern-day equivalent of slavery, the damage will have already been done, and there may then be no way to reverse it. I’m oversimplifying, but recall the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics insisting that we have a moral duty to engineer “ethically better” babies. It just takes one wrong decision.

We might also consider the problem of artificial intelligence, mentioned briefly above. If we engineer a computer to know as much as a human, then it will almost instantaneously become smarter than a human. The moment we reach singularity will be the moment we move beyond it. But if these superintelligent computing beings are or become malicious (again, oversimplifying), there isn’t much we would be able to do about it. Proposing that we simply turn them off would be like proposing the monkeys turn us off because we keep destroying their habitats.

And in any case, even without such a high bar for understanding, real-world examples show that human John Jacobi: The Foundations of Wildist Ethics reason is nonetheless inadequate for dealing with modern problems, both because of hard and practical limits. A pressing contemporary example is the change being wrought by self-driving cars. In an article entitled “Why aren’t urban planners ready for driverless cars?” one planner was quoted as saying, “We don’t know what the hell to do about it. It’s like pondering the imponderable.”

So far I have only addressed human nature and culture, but when it comes to ecology and non-human nature, human reason has failed tremendously and we still keep making the same hubristic decisions. For example, climate is one of the stock examples of a chaotic system, but in response to climate change some scientists are seriously contemplating geo-engineering. That is, they hope to use technology to artificially offset some of the damage that has been done already so that certain regions of the world may be more fit for the “well-being of conscious creatures.” Some scientists are even actively lobbying in support of geo-engineering, despite us knowing almost nothing about it and its potential effects.

Finally, a major limitation of human reason is that it is done by humans, who are not wholly rational creatures, and who will sometimes make unreasonable decisions even when reasonable decisions are possible. This is a simple critique, but perhaps one of the most powerful and devastating of them.

The conclusion of all this is that human attempts at rational control are extremely limited in their effectiveness, even when it comes to non-wildist moralities. All the unintended and negative consequences listed in the next section should demonstrate this point even more thoroughly, and seeing the whole critique in the context of wildist ethics should be enough to deliver a final blow to the myth of progress. But if that’s not enough, there is more, which will be explained more fully after exploring the consequences of human folly. 3) Unintended and Negative Consequences

If it is true that there are notable limits to human reason, it should also be true that history is full of unintended and negative consequences as a result of “progress.” Indeed, this is the case.

A favorite example of conservationists is the car, which introduced far-reaching social changes and has, as has been mentioned, wreaked havoc on nature.

Some aspects of the technical evolution of cars were a result of human reason. But far more than human rea-son has decided on the outcome that we are now living with, including infrastructural selection pressures, economics, and so forth. Thus, while human reason is a necessary component of cars existing, it is far from the whole story, and not the most powerful force deciding the direction of the car’s technical evolution.

Diamond (1997) applies this same kind of argument to the transition from foraging to agriculture, arguing for the importance of ecological and demographic pressures in explaining the transition, rather than human reason and intelligence. In an article dramatically entitled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” he further eviscerates the idea that the transition is in any way a result of calculated reason, and shows that it is not at all a clear improvement over hunter-gatherer ways of life. He points out that individuals living in agricultural societies were on average more malnourished, more susceptible to disease, and more socially stratified compared to their hunter-gatherer counterparts. He specifically calls out the progressivist notion that “we’re better off... than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes.”

Less common than the example of cars and agriculture are the ill effects of industrial medicine. Of course no one would deny that industrial medicine has achieved amazing things. But one cannot separate the good parts of medical technics from the bad parts, not even with further technical innovation, and the bad parts of industrial medicine are turning out to be very bad. One example is anti-microbial resistance. An-other are the high number of sicknesses that are caused by the very technical infrastructure that permits indus-trial medicine to exist. One can of course always posit that more technical innovation, efficiency, and training will correct the problem, and hypothetically this is true. But the principles of technical and cultural evolution, combined with the other weaknesses of human reason listed above, and in the context of the not-sogreat historical track record, all break that argument down thoroughly. Of course innovation, efficiency, and education can change the problem and even in ways most people would agree are better, but reason alone is only a minor influence in the overall development of industrial medicine, meaning for the most part, if we want the good of medical technics, we have to also take the bad.

By now it should be clear that the wildist critique of progress isn’t just that “the process of progress isn’t living up to wildist values,” and in fact the critique is of all kinds of progress. Nevertheless, the process of progress doesn’t line up with wildist values in an important way: progressivism calls for a technical solution to the negative consequences of previous technical solutions, which always results in more negative consequences. Of course, the negative consequences often come with positive ones as well, but it is important to note the negative consequences because constant technical solutionism results in an inexorable degradation of wildness.

This is really quite obvious once you think about it. In the context of wild nature, nature provides the necessary components for survival. But when humans modify nature, they must keep up the process of perpetual modification, because the rest of the natural system has not evolved to function in that state. That is, humans must use their energy and labor to “fill in the gaps.” For example, without any human intervention, natural processes will deal with animal feces. But a toilet requires entire technical systems of human labor, waste disposal, state management, and so forth. The plumbing is convenient, this is true, but at the cost of great overhead, necessary policing, and further modification of nature.

A civilization is the same kind of problem magnified a thousandfold. But in the context of a world with finite resources and energy, there is an inevitable end to a process like this, which requires progressively greater resource use and energy expenditure. This was pointed out by Joseph Tainter (1990), who observed that civilizations eventually reach a “point of diminishing returns” and begin a process of collapse. This has happened with almost every civilization, only a few having lasted to form the modern one, and there is no reason to think that the same thing will not occur again. In fact, Tainter posits that industrial civilization has already reached the point of diminishing returns.

To illustrate in a more intuitive way what this means, consider the following: My father recently said that he didn’t think New Orleans should have been redeveloped after Hurricane Katrina. He found it beyond reason that someone would build a city below sea level—”Why did we even do that in the first place?”— and then gave this piece of wisdom: “Besides, if you think about it, the levees are bound to break again.” I couldn’t help but say it: “Dad, that’s a perfect metaphor for what I’ve been saying about civilization.” 4) The Human Condition

But let’s return to the topic of progress assuming that the utilitarian humanists are right that “well-being” is the highest moral value. If it is true that humans cannot expect their blueprints to turn out as planned, nor can they expect the blueprints to always be adequate, nor can they expect humans to even pursue implementing the blueprints (no matter how rational), then it seems remarkable that modern societies so thoroughly exemplify left humanist moral values. Despite claims to the contrary, violence is decreasing and has been for a long time (Pinker, 2011); women, gays, and other minorities are, so far as we can tell from the available data, doing much better than they were just several decades ago (ibid.); digital technologies are uniting humans across the globe and possibly expanding the circle of moral consideration (Singer, 1981); and so on.

The reasons for this are not, however, because the left humanists have somehow succeeded at transcending the limits of reason and pushing the world in a more enlightened direction. Rather, industrial civilized conditions select for left humanist morality. In other words, left humanism is an argument for civilized conditions after the fact. This is the same idea espoused by Marx when he wrote, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” (Marx, 1904, p. 11).

This takes us to perhaps the most devastating strike against the left humanist narrative of progress, which I’ve singled out several times because of its dominance: leftist progressivism is dominant because it is helpful for the functioning of industrial civilization, not because it improves the human condition.

At one point this was less clear. The doctrine of the blank slate, or the idea that human nature was a blank tablet waiting for environment and conditioning to fill in the white space, gave people the illusion that with just the right environmental changes, the human condition could be improved. If this doctrine was true, the idea of constant tinkering and technical solutionism would sound a lot saner. But the new sciences of human nature have shown the blank slate doctrine to be false (Pinker, 2011), which has lead people like Steven Pinker, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, and others to advocate modification of human nature itself (they call it “improvement”). In other words, it turns out that left humanism is not about humans at all.

D. Conserving Human Nature
1) The Meaning of Human Nature

“Human nature” is the part of human beings that is not controlled or made by them or their technical systems; that is, it is the part of humans that is the product of non-artificial evolution and is biologically innate. Like all of nature, human nature can possess a high degree of autonomy (wildness) or a low degree. The autonomy of human nature is what we call “freedom.”

There are extremely prevalent misunderstandings attached to the contemporary scientific notion of human nature. Most of these have been adequately addressed by Wilson (1978), Cosmides and Tooby (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1995), Pinker (2002), and others, but I’ll briefly address one major problem here: the “nature versus nurture” argument.

The argument is a stale outgrowth of what Cosmides and Tooby (see above) refer to as the “Standard Social Science Model,” which entails a belief that culture is autonomous from material processes and that cultural phenomena can be best known in terms of other cultural phenomena, like power. Once we ditch this model for materialist reductionism, argued for most aptly by Wilson (1998), we are left with the conclusion that human behavior is shaped by a combination of innate biological drives and environmental factors. The result is still a deterministic outlook, but it is not only biologically deterministic.

Nevertheless, when we recognize that biology determines certain aspects of human behavior, we also have to recognize that biology limits the range of possible human behavior and modes of social organiza-tion, insofar as the biological limits cannot be transcended with technics. Wilson (1978) explains this by asking his readers to imagine that a range of behaviors A-Z is present in all of nature. Zebras, he writes, may be biologically endowed with the capacity for D-Z, but unless under extreme environmental pressure usually express the letters between D-M. This would be “zebra nature.” Human nature functions the same way.

2) Linking the Two Natures

Man is linked to nature by virtue of their joint material condition. This is not an obvious fact to many, and the fight for acceptance and recognition of it has a long history. Darwin, for instance, in a world gripped by Christianity, initially avoided applying evolution to humans, and it took Thomas Huxley’s bellicose manner for the issue to be brought forward publicly in the man’s famous debate with a bishop (of course). Later, Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (see Figure 1 for differing uses of “nature”) and Darwin’s The Descent of Man further established that human beings are animals and subject to evolutionary processes as much as any other living creature.

Much of the continuing effort to link man and nature continued in the field of anthropology with the work of individuals such as Ernst Haeckel, Eugene Dubois, and Franz Weidenreich. Primatologists have also been influential. When Jane Goodall reported on apes using tools in a time when tool use was considered unique to humans, the anthropologist Louis Leakey said, “Now we must redefine ‘tool,’ redefine ‘man,’ or accept chimpanzees as humans” (Goodall, 1998).

In other words, the scientific evidence suggests that the biggest thing humans have to learn about their condition is not what makes them separate from the rest of the material world, but what tethers them to it. Of course, this is easy to say, but history shows us that the endeavor is littered with many battles, some terrifying.

E.O. Wilson, when he suggested that humans are indeed subject to the processes of evolution, had water poured on his head by an upset activist and suffered profound backlash from many academics (Alcock, 2003). This was more than 100 years after Descent of Man. Similarly, Paul Ekman, when presenting his findings that a core set of facial expressions are universal among humans (and so probably biological in origin) found himself interrupted by a prominent anthropologist in the audience, who stood up and demanded that Ekman not be allowed to continue because his views were fascist (Ekman, 1987). And then, of course, there is the rising popularity of creationism in the US—something formidable enough that Bill Nye thought it appropriate to debate a prominent figure in the movement, the founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

With all this trouble, it is no wonder that conservationists have not stressed applying conservation to human nature. But now more than ever there is a need to extend the conservation imperative, and this is a major aspect of wildism. The logical chain develops easily once we recognize the truths fought for by Darwin and Huxley and Wilson.

For example, if non-human animals display all sorts of negative symptoms when they are caged and do-mesticated, would not the same apply to caged and domesticated humans? Would humans not be better off wild? Quite a bit of evidence suggests that this is the case (Wu, 2014; Diamond, 1999; Sahlins, 1972; Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978).

In extending the conservation imperative, there is the threat of making conservation all about humans, given the dominant tendency to forget about the bears, elephants, insects, turtles, and other non-human entities that are suffering as a result of civilized man’s actions. Indeed, even if man could not be saved, the intrinsic worth of non-human nature is reason enough to challenge ongoing industrial devastation.

Nevertheless, the conservation imperative must be extended. Although it is true that the intrinsic worth of non-human nature is reason enough to challenge industry, the fate of human nature is linked to the fate of non-human nature. Industry requires that man modify his humanness just as much as it requires the modification of non-human nature. Furthermore, conservation flirts with failure by not challenging the narratives that legitimize the modification of human nature, like social progressivism, because they are the primary jus-tification for civilization’s existence. Most recognize by now that civilization has been a net negative for the animals and plants. But even in the case where people believe that we can continue to “improve” the human condition without adversely affecting non-human nature, the very pursuit of human “improvement” is what justifies civilization’s development.

But in extending the conservation, wildists do not insist that human nature is “good.” As with nature generally, it includes beautiful and ugly, comforting and terrifying, attractive and heinous components alike. Thus, the logic is not that we should conserve nature because it is good, but because “progress,” or human attempts to improve it, is a lie. Indeed, someone could easily be a wildist and maintain an ambivalence toward both natures. In this way, the wildist understanding of nature and our duties toward it is as complex as the Jewish idea of Yahweh, a simultaneously wrathful and graceful God, whose grandeur inspires fear as much as wonder, as anyone who has read the Pentateuch is keenly aware.

The rest of this section will further explain the threat to human nature, but will speak little about what conserving it will or ought to look like. Some examples include resisting propaganda and surveillance technologies and especially biotechnology, but I leave it an open question as to what is strategically the best focus, as well as what shape this resistance might take. This is primarily because we must take extra care not betray a key assertion of our ethic, namely, that all of nature matters, not just humans. So far, wildlands con-servation offers the best balance of these considerations, so at least for now, we should remain focused on it (see section III.F).

3) Humans Need Not Apply

I’ve mentioned already that modern man must use his analytic mind (System 2) more and his intuitive mind (System 1) less. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. Indeed, wildism is an exercise in analytical thinking since reason, morality, and science truly are some of the best tools we have to deal with the conditions created by our newly evolved capacity for cultural evolution “unlinked” from biology. The problem with the progressivists is that they are arguing for a world where the analytic mind is favored at the permanent expense of the intuitive mind. It is not mistake that Greene (2013), who argues that we can improve our moral sense, demonstrated his claims with brain-damaged individuals.

Sometimes this is clear in the case of specific technologies or technical systems. One example comes from an article in Aeon, “Is Technology Making the World Indecipherable?” (Arbeson):

Despite the vastness of the sky, airplanes occasionally crash into each other. To avoid these catastrophes, the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) was developed.

TCAS alerts pilots to potential hazards, and tells them how to respond by using a series of complicated rules. In fact, this set of rules — developed over decades — is so complex, perhaps only a handful of individuals alive even understand it anymore.

But the larger point is that this is becoming true of society as a whole. For example, developer Kevin Slavin (2011) has pointed out that 70% of the stock market operates by algorithms that do the trading for brokers, but that no one truly understands (this is called “black box trading”). In fact, some people’s sole duty is to examine the automated systems and pick out individual algorithms that run it. As a result, when something like the Flash Crash of 2:45 happens, that is, when 9% of the stock market simply disappears in seconds, no one can give an explanation. A 2013 article from Nature echoed this, the authors explaining that finance functions because of a “machine ecology beyond human response time” (Johnson, et al., 2013).

This “machine ecology” is driven largely by artificial intelligence, the merger of biological and computing systems, and things like “evolutionary programming” (where programs “evolve” instead of being created directly—see Arbeson), and in the economic realm this new wave of automation is likely to have far-reaching repercussions. To be clear, these repercussions will not be apocalypse, as some doomers might have it, but they will probably underpin more unrest than other economic crises, such as the Great Depression or the first wave of automation at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

To illustrate: one study recently predicted that 47% percent of the workforce is slated for unemployment due to technical advances (Frey & Osborne, 2013). Unemployment during the Great Depression reached only 25%. And while a common argument is that technical innovation has always provided more jobs, this has been true only in the long term. In the short term, rapid economic changes have led to quite a bit of instability, and this second wave of automation is occurring at a rapid enough rate for something comparable to happen (CGPGrey, 2014; Thompson, 2015). Selfdriving cars, for instance, will cause immediate turmoil for one of the world’s largest industries, transportation. And already some innovations spurred on by computing technologies, like Uber, have incited riots by Taxi drivers (Clifford, 2015), echoing the Luddite revolts early in the Industrial Revolution.

Three possible outcomes for human nature, or a combination of them, could result from this second wave. The first two assume human nature will not be significantly modified, which will either lead to human irrelevance or human leisure. That is, if we imagine something similar to the techno-utopian’s “postscarcity” economy, either all humans or a large amount of them will become useless and a drag for the technical system, leading to their extermination or exploitation (since their labor will be cheaper); or humans will benefit fully from post-scarcity and not have to worry about much but their chosen “self-actualizing” endeavors. The reality is likely to be a combination of both, as it is now and has been since the advent of civilization, where some people in more materially developed nations live leisurely lives and those in underdeveloped nations are exploited and regarded as expendable, if only implicitly.

Still, the major threat according to most humanitarians, scientists, and others from the technician class, is a widening gap between the rich and poor (Brian, 2014; Gates, 2015; Agger, et al., 1964). Steven Hawking (2015), for example, wrote:

If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Note, then, that the economic changes in late industrial society are the selection pressures for social progressivist ideologies, as was argued previously. For instance, if inequality is poised to be a great economic destabilizer, the social system will require efforts to mitigate inequality if it is to survive. Thus, the major institutions and figures of industrial society, from international organizations to college campuses to trans-national organizations, espouse this ideology of social progress.

One other possible future for human nature is worth mentioning, and is likely to combine with the other two. Instead of remaining “mere” biological creatures, it may soon become economically important to more extensively modify our own natures, such as through genetic engineering, so that we will merge with the already-existing “machine ecology.” Thus, human biologies will become cultivated much in the way land is cultivated for economic productivity. And although these changes may begin as optional, so did cell phones and cars.

Already there are some emerging narratives to prepare the way for these new technical and economic conditions. The philosophical underpinnings are a thoroughly postmodern attempt to break apart and weaken the concept of “human nature” (Haraway, 1991), much in the same way postmodernists have attempted to attack the concept of wilderness primarily on the basis of social justice concerns. On a higher, less philosophical level, the new narratives are becoming united by a vision has been described as “transhumanism,” espoused by men as prominent as Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil.

A final note: without dismissing the severity of the current predicament, it is important to recognize that even as many aspects of human naturalness are severely threatened in this late industrial age, the auton-omy of human nature has long been violated, and civilization depends on this violation. Pinker (2011, pp. 31-58), for example, refers to the advent of the state as “the pacification process,” and Elias (Elias, 1982) writes of “the civilizing process,” which describes the creation of the European “second nature,” or internalized norms imposed by the new social conditions. Furthermore, every major civilization has been built on the backs of slaves, and industry, a much more intensive mode of production than agriculture, was only made possible with an equally more intensive kind of slavery, namely, the Atlantic Slave Trade (Williams, 1944).

More examples abound: the whole history of colonialism, nearly any instance of civilized peoples coming into contact with primitive ones, and the popular revolts that chronically afflicted feudal societies all illustrate the same story of human domination and resistance to that domination. (Wildist historians would do well to provide an account of these histories to the public.) But it would be a mistake to name the enemies here as “the colonists,” “the Westerners,” “the whites” or “the landlords.” Instead, these actions are impossible or near-impossible to separate from the overall development of civilization (i.e., progress), and they can only properly be understood in the context of the larger wildist and conservationist critique. Further on, this concept will be differentiated from the idea of “social progress.”

4) Man and His Relations

Of course, human nature is not just about individuals; it also has a social component. There is some con-troversy as to the evolutionary mechanisms behind human social behavior (i.e., whether group selection theory or kin selection theory is correct), but it is generally agreed that the natural social domain of human beings is rather small. In fact, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar (1992) took steps to discover those limits, and he found that, generally, humans only have the capacity to sustain about 150 or so relations (usually much lower), after which stable and cohesive groups require more restrictive rules and regulations or some other kind of artificial intervention. This is predictable, given our evolutionary history as nomadic huntergatherers whose social domain was restricted to bands of 40-100 humans.

This is in stark contrast with the modern condition, where we are encouraged to care about all of humanity, and even animals, equally. Such behavior is of course necessary in an age of increasing interconnectedness, where favoring our relations could diminish productivity and economic stability. Thus, industrial society continues to exist not only because of its modification and degradation of human nature, but because it requires an individual’s loyalty to his relations be kept at a non-threatening level or be broken down completely. For example, nepotism is the scourge of many areas attempting to industrialize, and in-group loyalty with “no snitching” codes often get in the way of effective law enforcement. Consider again the limitations to human moral reasoning discovered by Paul Slovic (section II.C.3).

This does not necessarily mean that we should resist modification of human nature by doubling down on in-group loyalty, especially since many modern people lack an in-group. To the contrary, just as we may use reason while preaching against a world where reason dominates against all else, we will undoubtedly have to cooperate at larger-than-natural scales in order to most effectively achieve our political goals. Sometimes attacking a problem directly is simply not the most effective way of dealing with it.

5) The Case of Social Progressivism

With all this technical and economic change has also come a set of justifying narratives that I’ve referred to collectively as “social progressivism.” The dominant narrative of social progressivism today is the left humanist one (as opposed to, for instance, colonial progress narratives).

Its first major wave after the Industrial Revolution came in the form of various reform movements and in-dividual thinkers like the utopian socialists, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and John Mills, and Karl Marx. Its second major wave is known as the Progressive Era, which included muckrakers, anti-corruption activists, and proponents of “scientific management.” Finally, its contemporary incarnation is preached most forcefully by the activists who are involved in what Pinker (2011) calls “the rights revolutions.” Note, once again, that all of these are attempts to “correct” the ills caused by the Industrial Revolution or to use new technologies for social innovation, and they were not and are not the driving force of technical change.

I’ve singled out social progressivism instead of colonial progressivism or scientific progressivism because it is not widely challenged, even though the critique of progress applies as much to it as all the other narratives. This is primarily because left progressivism is the dominant ideology of late industrial societies. Thus, in an effort to have broad appeal, or simply by virtue of the fact that left progressivist values are normalized by institutions like the UN, mass media organizations, or college campuses, conservationists attempt to frame their work in the context of social progress. But wildness-centered conservation often contradicts the goals of these activists and are emphatically not a part of their grand history.

Many examples are simple. For instance, a vast majority of anti-racist activists wish to eliminate not just power differences among blacks and whites or national citizens and immigrants (etc.), but also prejudice in general. But prejudice against out-group members, including people with different skin-colors, is part of human nature, to the point that even wholly artificial and inane categories can incite in-group/out-group mentalities (Kubota, Banaji, & Phelps, 2012; Gottfriend & Katz, 1997; Reynolds, Falger, & Vine, 1987; McEvoy, 1995/2013; Pinker, 2011, pp. 320-343, esp. 331, 336, 338, 343). This prejudicial human nature is a major reason racist power differences arose in modern conditions, with their extremely radical changes in demography (McEvoy, 1995/2013) and new technical environments, like cities. Other infrastructural factors, like geography, help explain why Europeans specifically came to dominate the globe.

As another example, a significant population of feminists and queer theorists say that gender is a “social construct” and that it is “fluid,” so that a single individual may move back and forth on the “gender spectrum” throughout their life. This is a delusion (Halpbern, 2013; Pinker, 2002, pp. 337-351). Gender and sex, and there is no meaningful difference between the two, are rooted in complex biological organs, mechanisms, and hormones, and they are in no way simply “social constructs” or much of a choice. Furthermore, there are clear and measurable differences between men and women, which could explain or partially explain differences in employment, the pay gap, and other gender issues (ibid.).

These untrue social progressivist ideas arose in order to justify pursuit of equality, as did the blank slate doctrine generally (Pinker, 2002, pp. 16-17, 141-158). But they are comparable to the spiritual and religious narratives that played ecological functions for some primitive humans: they work, but are untrue, and very often scientific explanations work even better (see, for example, the work of Marvin Harris). Thus, some thinkers are calling for a scientific left that recognizes human nature and is not afraid to cultivate it in pursuit of left humanist aims. I’ve already mentioned the a few of the most visible advocates of this idea, like Peter Singer (2000; 1981) or Noam Chomsky (Chomsky & Foucault, 2006, pp. 38-39).

I must restate that being in opposition to this effort and advocating the conservation of human nature is not the same as espousing prejudice (for instance) as a good thing. The wildist argument is not that nature is good, but that the belief that we can mold it to our preestablished blueprint is delusional, will have major negative repercussions, and will come at great cost to wildness. As will be more extensively argued later, progress itself has caused many of the problems the left progressivists are now trying to fix, but any attempts to challenge a society on the basis of its own values are doomed to fail, because even the society will agree that violation of those values is bad, and will give the inevitable response: “Let’s fix it.”

Wildists also do not exactly argue that because something is “natural,” there is nothing we can do about it. This is an emotionally complex issue, but not particularly difficult to understand intellectually. For instance, Dave Foreman was widely criticized by social ecologists and other leftists for his comment that the US should not give aid to Ethiopia. I will not deny that the form of the statement was tasteless and insensitive, but I stand behind Foreman’s opinion and the reasoning behind it, especially after he better articulated it, some time later, in a written debate with the leader of the social ecology movement, Murray Bookchin (Bookchin & Foreman, 1999).

Essentially, Foreman argued that a huge part of the problem in Ethiopia was rooted in demographic pressure, that is, too many people and too few resources, and ecosystem restraints, like climate change. This is true (Brown, Gardner, & Halweil, 1998; Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2009). Furthermore, even if the social ecologists are correct that with enough technical infrastructure managed the right way, resources from other parts of the Earth can be redistributed for the well-being of Ethiopians (the progress narrative), they fail to note that this technical infrastructure will consist of roads, fuel extraction, and so on, betraying the “ecology” part of their name.

But the rest of the argument is better communicated by way of analogy. I once had a friend who suffered from mental illness, the kind where not taking his medication was itself a part of the mental illness, and he consistently attempted suicide over the time period that I knew him. At first I tried to fix the problem, pressuring him to take his medication, and so on. But not only was it exhausting, it was impossibly exhausting, especially because he frequently managed to get out of taking his medication anyway, and because the medication didn’t always work as intended. Even though it was not wrong or unnatural for me to worry about him, I eventually had to accept that there were forces more powerful than me that would decide his fate. It turned out that the fate was death by suicide. Of course, understanding all this intellectually does not do anything about my hurt, but at least as I have figured out how to manage that hurt, I’ve done it in the context of moral wisdom.

This roughly parallels many social issues like the problem of poverty in Ethiopia. Of course, the problem isn’t that Ethiopians have a mental illness, nor are the sexual practices of individual Ethiopians even close to the whole story. But there are many forces outside of human control deciding on the country’s fate, and further human attempts to tinker “just enough” to improve well-being, ignoring these more powerful forces, are, as all attempts to implement social blueprints, going to go differently than planned and at great cost, often to human well-being itself.

In addition, there are much clearer and less sensitive issues with the left progressive notion of “poverty.” In many cases it is a code word for “not industrialized,” the goal, of course, being to develop the nations, which is clearly opposite of conservationist values. In other cases, it is referring to actual poverty, which is largely a result of industry itself. As mentioned earlier, Diamond (1999) notes that the advent of agriculture brought social stratification that lead to decreased health and well-being for nearly everyone but the elites. Industry has not fundamentally changed this state of affairs. While the Industrial Revolution did indeed bring materially better conditions for individuals in first-world nations, the majority of humans in the third-world, and those living in extreme poverty, would have been better off as hunter-gatherers.

With all this in mind, it is hard to conclude that wildness-centered conservation is the next step in the ladder of progress. Social progressivism seeks not to increase the wildness of the world but to manufacture social relations that are conducive to the functioning of industrial society, even by actively modifying human nature and its associated social behavior.

6) The Social Progressivist’s Trick

Interestingly, the grievances associated with social progressivism are not all illegitimate; but in recognizing them, the progressivists play a trick (see Kaczynski, 2010, pp. 190-205 for more on this trick). That is, some issues associated with left progressivism are repugnant even on wildist grounds, such as slavery and colonialism. However, in order to properly understand the wildist perspective, we must distinguish between human domination of humans and human domination of nature.

Human domination of humans is sometimes an aspect of nature (e.g., Somit & Peterson, 2001). Some associated with left-wing radical environmentalism insist otherwise, like green anarchists, anarcho-primitivists, or social ecologists. Consequently, they preach a noble savage narrative and see “domination” of humans and nature as one and the same. However, even apart from relying on an incoherent use of “domination,” this idea contradicts our entire understanding of evolutionary theory and associated concepts, like game theory, and it is a rather odd perspective in the first place, as is evidenced by any actual time in nature or, according to some, time spent with hunter-gatherers (Chagnon, 2013; Chagnon, 1997; Diamond, 2012; Everett, 2009, p. 89; Holmberg, 1950). It is no mistake that a synonym for wildness is savagery.

But our distinction between human-human and human-nature domination complicates the simple definitions of “naturalness” and “wildness” given earlier. Earlier I wrote that “naturalness” means “not controlled or made by humans or their technical systems,” and I wrote that “wildness” or the “autonomy of nature” is that “not controlled” part. Also recall Figure 1, the spectrum of naturalness in the context of the material Cosmos. Finally, recall that “control” or “domination” of nature is not synonymous with “influence” (Hettinger, 2002), and often being on more equal footing with nature contextualizes the boundary between the two, just as a husband and wife might influence each other more profoundly than two strangers without their influence crossing over into the territory of domination. As Fox (1993) puts it, to say something has intrinsic value is not to say it is “inviolable,” even if relentless and far-reaching violation might make moral defense more sensitive to such a threat.

That bit about influence versus domination is important. The root of our problems lies in our evolved capacity to outpace biological evolution with cultural evolution, something that probably happened in the late Paleolithic era. This is not necessarily a bad thing. At least, that’s not the claim of wildists, even if it is arguable that the ability has made our species non-viable—often the argument of misanthropists but suggested even by men like Chomsky (1998). Rather, this ability has created the phenomenon mentioned earlier, where humans must “fill in the gaps” that aren’t naturally filled when our cultural innovations mismatch with the biological landscape. This was exacerbated with our transition to agriculture at the beginning of the Neolithic, when Wilson suggests cultural and biological evolution truly became “unlinked” (Lumsden & Wilson, 2005), and it was made even worse with the Industrial Revolution.

The conservationist asserts that the results of this unlinking, like species extinctions or alienation from nature, are troubling. Luckily, we find that the same evolved capacity for complex, creative reasoning and morality, which allow us environmentalists to identify a moral problem in the first place, could contribute to a positive response. In order to speak about these issues efficiently, wildist ethical discourse establishes a split between “naturalness” and “artificialness” and speaks of artificial domination of nature, a mostly adequate linguistic convention. But since human domination over other humans is sometimes a result of natural conditions, such as male hierarchies, it cannot be called domination of nature, just as it would be absurd to say that the domination of alpha wolves over others in the pack is wolf domination of “wolf nature.”

Nevertheless, when these conditions become sufficiently “mismatched” from our hunter-gatherer conditions, they start to require artificial restrictions and development to “fill in the gaps,” resulting in a loss of wildness and consequences for us humans. We are not particularly happy when we are perpetually subject to artificial management. But the key is that the tension is between artificial domination and our biologies, our human natures, rather than being between two groups of humans. This is the state of things because cultural evolution has outpaced our natures as much as it has outpaced nature as a whole. As evolutionary psychologists Cosmides and Tooby (1997) put it, “our modern skulls house a stone age mind,” a cause of many modern problems, and also the reason we find ourselves unable to properly deal with the massively-scaled crises of late industry like climate change.

This is the key to understanding much human unrest over the course of civilization. Humans were not made to be slaves, so humans put in the trying conditions of slavery will revolt. Humans did not evolve to be happy with toil under the direction of another, so of course there was popular unrest under feudalism. Humans evolved to toil with purpose and autonomy, so of course there is widespread disdain for modern work and its purposelessness.

Of course, not all of these problems can be fully explained by a mismatch between human nature and civ-ilization, and usually noting the mismatch alone does not adequately deal with the nuance of the problems. For example, black revolt in the US is more effectively spoken of in a “higher-level” language, such as by noting the heavy-handedness of police forces. There is usually no need to speak of these things in terms of “mismatch,” just like there is usually no need to explain World War II in terms of biology and, to an even lesser extent, chemical reactions. Still, the higher-level language suited to these issues must operate in the context of ecology, so claims like “prejudice and xenophobia are purely a result of hierarchical social structures,” which contradict the base ecological understanding, would not be viable. Imagine a history of WWII that contradicted basic ideas in physics.

Furthermore, the base ecological understanding of human nature and nature generally sheds light on historical events that would otherwise be obscured by the progressives. Consider again the conditions of black people in the US. Much, though not all, of the contemporary conditions are residual effects of slavery. And although all major civilizations have been built on slavery, it is clear that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was slavery of a much higher magnitude and rather different quality than any previous form. It was precisely this new intensity that permitted and some say spurred on the Industrial Revolution, since it was the mechanism by which the resources and capital necessary for industry were accumulated, and since the capital it generated financed much of the revolution itself (Williams, 1944).

The trade required use of black bodies for labor and economic production, and its justifying narrative was that blacks were as savage as the nature they were pulled from, and just as nature was there to have productivity squeezed from it, so too were those people whose faces were veiled in black. Though there are many instances of this narrative, consider the ProSlavery Argument, a pamphlet published in 1853, which contended that “slavery has elevated the Negro from savagery. The black man’s finer traits of fidelity and docility were encouraged in his servile position.”

Of course, human nature being what it is, a rather vast infrastructure had to be developed to “fill in the gaps” and keep these individuals productive, such as slave-catching forces. Furthermore, contrary to popular narratives, this infrastructure wasn’t always the extremely brutal and bloody narrative modern individuals learn of and wonder, “How could that have lasted so long?” Rather, it was a mix of the brutal and bloody, the pleasant (for incentives), and the mundane (Fogel & Engerman, 1974)—that is, it is just what one would expect from an infrastructure designed to extract resources and capital from human bodies with a human nature. These economic conditions merged with human nature’s propensity for in-group/out-group divisions, and the results were white supremacist ideologies and racial progress narratives.

This association between blacks and savagery has carried on into contemporary times. For example, a major component of the Central Park Five case, where five black boys were falsely convicted of gang rape, was hysteria over “wilding,” a term that referred to rowdy boys roaming city-streets to terrorize residents (Mock, 2014; see Figure 2). See also the examples given in section III.D.9, “Race, Eugenics, and Social Darwinism.” This kind of rhetoric isn’t entirely surprising, since it truly was not that long ago since slavery ended in the US. The primary way these residual effects show, however, is not through overt prejudice or ideology; to the contrary, most of the ideological and institutional centers of industrialized nations preach a left progressive narrative. Nevertheless,

many structural biases against blacks still exist, and many, though not all, black communities, which remain largely separate from white ones, still do not have adequate institutional forces to fully ingrate them into industrial societies.

DuBois argued repeatedly in his writings that slavery and other aspects of European domination kept blacks from developing their own contributions to global civilization, and that a great moral failure of Emancipation was its aftermath: “I insist it was the duty of some one to see that these workingmen were not left alone and unguided, without capital, without land, without skill, without economic organization, without even the bald protection of law, order, and decency” (DuBois, 1909). And although he saw the appeal in believing that harmony between whites and blacks could happen quickly, he argued that first the black race would have to develop its own capacities, “its particular message, its particular ideal, which shall help to guide the world nearer and nearer that perfection of human life for which we all long...” (DuBois, 1897) With these politics in mind, he started the NAACP, along with many other projects, and has truly had an unsung but profound influence on black politics. However, DuBois was a humanist, and strove for the ideal of universal solidarity. As such, he never challenged the idea that the black person had to be improved, and instead strove for this kind of progress.

Much data supports his conclusions about the failure of Reconstruction. For example, Pinker (2011) notes that homicide is much higher among blacks than whites and higher among southerners than northerners, suggesting that a huge reason is these populations’ “culture of honor.” This is an indisputable fact among those who study homicide. However, Pinker is a humanist as well, so implicit in his overall argument is that effort should be made to improve these communities, since honor cultures are dangerous for the development of industrial civilization, and lead to more violence. These things are both true, of course.

To be clear, this is not an argument that these higher rates of violence are rooted in biological racial differences. Human nature is astoundingly unified, and rates of violence are much higher in some white populations as well, although usually not by virtue of their being white, mostly because their history did not include anything akin to the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The problem, then, is that not all black people have been sufficiently integrated into industrial civilization, and because of these lack of institutions and overall integration, the “second nature” (which is cultural, not biological) that Elias argued had been developed in Europeans has not fully reached all black populations. The “second nature” that African slaves did have was of a foreign, non-European kind, and at the time existed only in the context of the agricultural civilizations that many Africans came from. Then, rather than being sufficiently socialized according to European standards, slavery stunted the “development” of further generations, as did the inadequate response after Emancipation. The latter is also why the South in general still has a “culture of honor.”

Thus, poorer blacks are revolting today in places like Ferguson, Missouri. They, like most in industrial society, experience an underlying unease with modernity, and they experience all the same psychological problems it causes in human beings living in it. But unlike many other humans in these conditions, they are not “plugged in” quite well enough for the media, schools, and so forth to quell their revolt. And again, this is not racial in a biological sense. Black people who have gone through the socialization process, like university students, revolt in a manner one would expect from the highly educated and privileged, because, again, all humans are united by a common human nature, and only because of history have a large portion of blacks been excluded from industry.

Of course, from these conditions there are two options forward. On the one hand, the left’s demands will “develop” poor blacks by giving them avenues into industrial society, such as through a toothless and artificial “black culture,” with any elements dangerous to industry removed. On the other hand, those who wish not to be subject to socialization and development might revolt against industry and its ideology. Similar kinds of explanations apply to the industrial underclass, the third world, natives, and others who have not been sufficiently integrated into industry.

The role of left humanist movements is to coopt the unrest of the many excluded classes and declare it an expression of dominant humanist values. This is the progressivist’s trick. An important characteristic of the oversocialized element that does this is an almost neurotic empathy for victims or perceived victims, which helps justify solidarity beyond relations and which functions as a sort of “detection and response system” for identifying non-integrated populations (see, e.g., Singer, 2000, p. 9). But for a wildist to give historical explanations is not or should not be an exercise in this neuroticism; rather, it is and should be an expression of intellectual nuance, or the ability to note that some more than others have been integrated into industrial society. To recognize this is intellectually honest, strategic, and to the benefit of those of the excluded who value wildness and seek freedom rather than a pathway for “development.”

A related note of caution: many have noted the prevalence of “cause-junkies” among the left. In truth, this is a tendency present in many mass movements, a side-effect of industrial alienation. In all of these mass movements, however, the cause-junkies are directed by an ideological force. In the case of, for example, the Islamic State, this force consists of religious theologians. In the case of the left humanist movements in in-dustrial nations, this consists of an oversocialized population from the technician class, university professors being an especially notable example. Hoffer (2011) writes extensively of this phenomenon of the alienated masses and their ideological directors. Many of these alienated individuals are head-strong and young, and they are helpful only if their unrest can be directed to a single cause. Otherwise, they are loose cannons and ought to be avoided, especially because their lack of discernment dilutes movements. Keniston’s (1974;

1968) work on the New Left demonstrates this problem well. Also see Lee’s (1995) account of the schism in Earth First! after it was overrun with left-wing activists.

So even if the conditions of blacks, natives, and others are partially or largely explicable in terms of domination over nature, by bringing this up we cannot succumb to the temptation to forget about our core concern, namely, nature’s wildness. This temptation is especially strong in a society that values indiscriminate empathy for victims or perceived victims (Ultimo Reducto, 2009). That is, when the goal is integration into industry and development of these populations, it makes sense to have separate political causes, because each can progress more or less separately. But industry’s scale has made it such that no person can be free until its stronghold has been weakened and, ideally, terminated. The role of the above is exclusively to challenge the left humanists’ assertion that they are on the side of the oppressed. As we have seen, they are only trying to “develop” the excluded into properly functioning elements of civilization, glossing over the sources of their unrest by “plugging them in” to universities, the media, and the larger culture, but not freeing them from the fundamental source of that unrest, namely, the technical domination of their nature. 7) Does Artifice Have Value?

The primary concern of wildists is the autonomy of nature. Thus, the value of artifice is of secondary im-portance. Nevertheless, while wildism by itself does not fully answer the question of the value of artifice, it does place clear limits on said value.

Recall that the primary issue is that cultural evolution has outpaced biological evolution. The focus, then, is on reappraising the value of the non-artificial in order to potentially end our immoral domination of nature, which has meant the extinction of thousands of species, the loss of most of the world’s wildlands, climate change, and many other grave consequences. Still, discourse that divides “artificial” and “natural,” with an emphasis on shifting back toward “naturalness,” is most relevant in big-picture social contexts. When it comes to personal or extremely small-scale contexts, the distinction becomes, perhaps, less morally relevant, especially because a large part of the issue with the dominance of artifice is its scale and perpetuity.

Furthermore, specific cultural artifacts clearly have some kind of value, if only aesthetic. Music and art that could only be produced by complex civilizations are the most obvious examples. Certain kinds of access to knowledge, such as through library systems, are particularly strong arguments for me. Some friends have noted the aesthetic beauty of city skylines. But always the question is whether these things are worth their price. Certainly slavery produced some things of some kind of value, such as the pyramids or various aspects of Roman civilization. This does not, however, justify slavery.

Ultimately, this question easily turns into the same endless argumentation that we avoided earlier, when it was established that the onset of civilization was a significant benchmark in relation to the question, “How much wildness?” That was decided because discussions such as this could become similar to problem of when cells become a person in the abortion debate. Thankfully, at least our problem is simplified by several orders because, unlike the development of the zygote into a baby, the benchmarks from primitive humans to now are rather clear expressions of changed human-nature relationships. So to avoid endless debate, wildists simply state that wildness has value such that civilized agriculture and industry are morally condemnable (along with their intermediate productive stages). Thus, to make things simple, we might say that artifice never matters so much as to excuse the damage done after that cut-off point of civilized agriculture.

All that said, my deepest desire is to see the conversation on the value of artifice abandoned. Given that the whole machinery of industrial society expends perpetual effort on reaffirming the value of human endeavors, the small number of wildists, with their limited influence, would do well to spend their energy reaffirming the value of nature regardless of what this means to human artifice. Although such an attitude may not be appropriate at all times and in all places, it certainly is in this age of crisis. No doubt, the sheer depth and breadth of the power pushing the opposite

view of progress will ensure that some valuation of artifice will survive no matter how much of a purist position wildists take in defense of nature. For more on this line of reasoning, see Hunter (1996), and for related but potentially more fruitful questions, see Hettinger (2002; 2012).

8) The Bad Parts of Human Nature

What about the bad (or “bad”) parts of human nature? Isn’t it true that, just as you can’t have the good parts of technology without the bad, you can’t have the good parts of human nature without the bad either? Indeed, this is true.

Earlier I mentioned that evolutionary game theory predicts that a consistent portion of the human population will be psychopathic. One might wonder how this is worth conserving. Remember, however, that wildists do not claim that nature is good, only that progress is a myth. In fact, it would be absurd to call many aspects of nature “good,” but a big-picture perspective clearly does establish that nature has value.

To leave the case of human nature for a moment, consider the mosquito. Many individuals, seriously and as a joke, insist that the mosquito should be eradicated. Quammen (1981), however, challenges the wisdom of this view, noting that the insects “make tropical rainforests, for humans, virtually uninhabitable.” If you’re not sure why this could be a good thing, perhaps you don’t know that rainforests hold nearly half of Earth’s terrestrial species, yet are in deep trouble because of industry and agriculture. Writing in 1981, Quammen explains:

The current rate of loss amounts to eight acres of rainforest gone poof since you began reading this sentence; within a generation, at that pace, the Amazon will look like New Jersey.

Conservation groups are raising a clamor, a few of the equatorial governments are adopting plans for marginal preservation. But no one and no thing has done more to delay the catastrophe, over the past 10,000 years, than the mosquito.

Essentially, the problem is that when humans clear the vegetation, mosquitoes come down from the canopy and attack, bringing disease with them. The rainforests, writes Quammen, “are elaborately boobytrapped against disruption.” He then notes that native forest peoples eventually became immune to some diseases and developed hunting-and-gatherering technics that minimized any run-ins they might have otherwise had with the canopy-dwelling insects. But colonists, out of place technically and biologically, were still vulnerable, and in West Africa, rainforests came to be known as “the white man’s grave.” Thus, while humanity has colonized most places on Earth, rainforests remained, until recently, relatively untrammeled.

Yet progress marches on, and in recent years, Oxitec, a biotech company, has genetically engineered mosquitoes with an “assassin gene” that eventually kills off mosquito populations. Already they’ve run successful tests in Brazilian cities and are set to be released in the Florida Keys. Brazil has also considered releasing populations of GM mosquitoes in preparation for the 2016 Olympics (Kitamura & Khan, 2014). As this kind of technology develops, it’s not difficult to see a future where mosquitoes truly have been eradicated.

Note that this is all being done in the name of “fighting disease,” and remember the earlier mention of medical science as a humanist ethical science. But even fighting disease is an example where the “bad” parts of nature might actually end up having some bigpicture value. For although our efforts to eradicate disease have been fairly successful, they and the technical infrastructure they are built on have most likely traded small, inconsequential outbreaks for one or more extremely large ones (Quammen, 2012; Garrett, 1995; World Health Organization, 2014). Not to mention disease’s role in checking population growth. In other words, even though one can hardly call malaria or smallpox “good,” it might not be wise to call eradicating them “good” either. See Ehrenfeld (1981, p. 209) on this point.

The same logic should be applied to human nature, so long as it is understood that humans are, as Darwin, Wilson, and others have established, apes, albeit apes with pants. As stated earlier, if the problem is “unlinked” cultural evolution, and if this applies to our Stone Age biologies as much as it does to non-human nature, and if it is clear that cages and domestication leave animals worse off, and if there is evidence that the same applies to humans, then what, other than the old story of human exceptionalism, is keeping us from coming to the obvious conclusion?

Nevertheless, this is likely a necessary but not sufficient argument for conserving human nature with its “bad” parts, because some elements so thoroughly offend modern sensibilities. If we are serious about equating human nature with non-human nature in the significant sense that we do, we ought to face up to these negative elements, which include the following: violence, and I meant violence (e.g., Chagnon, 1997; Pinker, 2011; Daly & Wilson, 1988), cannibalism (Roach, 2003; Stoneking, 2003; Sugg, 2013; but see Routley, 1982), various non-PC sexual dynamics (Buss & Schmitt, 2011; Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1995, pp. 249-326), natural propensities toward criminal behavior (Rice, 2013; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985), psychopathy, rape (Thornhill & Palmer, 2001), prejudice and xenophobia (Reynolds, Falger, & Vine, 1987), infanticide (Daly & Wilson, 1988, pp. 37-89), and probably some others I’m neglecting to mention.

I’ll address a few here. Consider again psychopathy and anti-social personality disorder. For now let’s ignore some of the potential reasons to be suspicious of the role of “personality disorders” in medical science (see Bradshaw, 2006). I wish only to stress that the implications are rather clear for individuals who wish to challenge dominant values, including and especially those normative postulates that drive medical science—which isn’t to say the empirical findings are incorrect, since they are often irrefutable.

But, at least right now, progressives cannot argue that industry better guards against psychopathy. Psychopathy may, in fact, be rather well-suited to it. According to one industrial psychologist and an expert on the illness, upwards of 1 in 25 business leaders could be psychopathic (Babiak & Hare, 2006). Similar kinds of arguments apply to crime. Often the behavior that is called criminal is that which is not conducive to the technical system, which isn’t to say that it is excusable or good, but that other kinds of crimes committed by the upper class are ignored, especially difficult to detect, or especially difficult to prosecute (Sutherland, 1983).

Also consider the various arguments stating that violence declines as civilizations develop. Pinker’s (2011) is the most famous, but much of his book simply consolidated the work of others, like Daly and Wilson (1988), Mueller (1990), Keeley (1997), and the Human Security Report Project (2013). The empirical argument is convincing, but the normative argument should at least be questioned. By no means can I argue that the magnitude of violence present throughout human history and prehistory is desirable, but I do question the value of eradicating violence completely. Even the present levels are of questionable benefit, especially in universities, which are the keepers of society’s dominant values, but also home to professors and students pathologically averse to violence, calling even “microagressions” a form of it and truly perceiving them that way (Campbell & Manning, 2014). Lorenz (1963) writes that the result of this pathology is a society in which there is “no legitimate outlet for aggressive behavior” (p. 244) arguing that “innocuous outlets” must be constructed. But do we truly desire such a constructed environment meant to develop, direct, and hone our desires? At what point does this become unacceptable? And where, in any of these options, can we find freedom?

Furthermore, Pinker often notes side-effects of the very technologies and institutions that are the probable cause of various declines in violence. A pertinent example is digital communications technology, the likely source of the new wave of “rights revolutions,” as he calls them, but also a primary reason no person intuitively believes they are living in less violent times. Basically, the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra that runs the media means we humans are constantly inundated with news of violence. This combines with our mind’s “availability heuristic,” mentioned earlier (section II.C.3), and we become convinced, unconsciously or not, that because we can easily recall instances of violence, there must be a lot of it. Islamist terrorists are effectively exploiting this tactic now, and the result is constant anxiety, despite the trend toward peacefulness. Of course, there are possible solutions, but I can’t think of any that sound appealing. Is the media going to become regulated so that just the right amount of good news enters our brains to improve our “well-being”? Huxleys and Orwells of the world, take note.

All that said, there is one item on the list that is truly unsettling: rape. And there’s good reason for the feeling. Rape could be what in evolution is called a “reproductive strategy.” This theory is not conclusive, but it is a fairly well-supported one (Thornhill & Palmer, 2001; McKibbin, Shackelford, Goetz, & Starratt, 2008; Shields & Shields, 1983; Thornhill & Thornhill, 1983). Once again, recall that “natural” does not mean “good.” It also does not mean “inevitable.” In fact, where rape is present, so is retaliation against it, and societies universally have norms or laws against rape (Shields & Shields, 1983; Palmer, 1989). The only exception is the rape of wives, which until recently was not prosecuted even in industrial nations (McKibbin, Shackelford, Goetz, & Starratt, 2008). It seems that, since rape would be most likely in circumstances where the potential price is not too great for the male, such as in times of war, and since both Paleolithic women and their families would have been effected by the outcome of a rape, certain psychological propensities, like revenge, and possibly social norms, evolved in order to combat it, decreasing the possible reproductive advantages for males (see the above sources).

Still, it is possible that rape declines with industrial and economic development. Pinker offers some weak data that is unconvincing on its own, but in the context of declining violence in almost every other area, it is worth considering. In contrast to Pinker, activists contend that levels of rape are profound and that current infrastructure is woefully inadequate, which would indicate that reducing the stronghold of industry would not make much of a difference, since even primitive methods of dealing with rape would be a step up. Probably, though, Pinker is more correct, and there are some indicators of this. For example, consider Zentner and Mintura’s (2012) paper, entitled “Stepping Out of the Caveman’s Shadow,” in which they noted that the more developed a country is, the more divergent its men and women’s mate preferences are from those predicted by evolutionary psychologists. Instead, men and women become more similar in their mate preferences.

In other words, the likely status of women in a less developed economic world will probably be at least as powerful an argument against decreasing industry’s stronghold as eradicating disease is. I can’t pretend that this isn’t an issue, and it is a point that ought to be addressed more fully in the future.

I’ll leave the other elements on the list for now. I wish only to point out that in nearly all of these cases, the bad (or “bad”) parts of human nature are sideshows, and as a critique against wildism they cannot stand alone. For could I not name many ills associated with industry’s domination of nature, most of them several orders more impactful than any problems humans could have merely among themselves? I cannot help but note the ills of climate change, rapidly increasing population growth, the threats of genetic engineering, the impacts of roads, the massively increased rates of extinction, and the fundamental unrest of all human beings, and then I cannot help but challenge any individual to come up with an approach to these problems that does not in some ways have unsettling implications. Clearly, this is impossible, and in a reasoned assessment of what we can do from where we stand, we would do well to admit that we are, unfortunately, in a time where the best we can hope for is the least damage done—and this is no fault of the wildists.

9) Race, Eugenics, and Social Darwinism

This talk of “conserving human nature” should be a red flag for readers familiar with conservation history, since within the “resourcist” faction of the conservation movement, similar ideas equated to or were closely tied to “race conservation.” Before I review the history, however, let’s establish what the science is concerning race and biological human variation.

a) The Science of Human Variation

There is biological variation within the human species, including at the population level (see, e.g., the Human Genome Diversity Project). The most obvious examples of this are skin color, eyes, lips, and so forth, the differences in all of which are mostly due to climactic adaptations. But many people do not know that genetic data alone can reveal a person’s geographical origin, “often to within a few hundred kilometres” (Novembre, et al., 2008), and the probable racial category the person identifies with. One can also usually determine the latter from bones alone (Brace & Gill, 2000). Furthermore, some populations genetically tied to a geographical area are more prone to diseases than other human populations, such as Tay-Sachs disease in Ashkenazi Jews, sickle-cell anemia in African Americans, and cystic fibrosis in Caucasians.

Whether variation such as this amounts to racial differences is a matter of controversy, although the debate is bogged down by semantics. Suffice it to say that there are good and scientific arguments for the usefulness of race in biology, even if the counter-arguments are also reasonable (Risch, Burchard, Ziv, & Tang, 2002; Witherspoon, et al., 2007; Edwards A. , 2003; Brace & Gill, 2000; Hellenthal, et al., 2014; Wade, 2015, but see below; and several others).

Note “usefulness” rather than validity. Although “race” at one point was a taxonomic level lower than “subspecies,” now the two are considered equivalent. However, “subspecies” is an amorphous concept, and in animals the definition is usually something like, “a population within a species that occupies a distinct ge-ographical region and shares one or more distinct features.” For example, Yellow-rumped Warblers, with yellow throats, and Myrtle Warblers, with white throats, were once considered distinct species because of differences in appearance. However, when it was discovered that the two “species” mated, they instead became considered two subspecies. Genetics and evolutionary theory have since complicated these schemes, but the concept of subspecies, in general and in relation to humans, still conveys useful information in conservation, forensics, medicine, evolutionary history, and so on. In recent years, a genetic concept of race has gained legitimacy especially in the medical field, where the humanistic concern of eradicating diseases is slowly winning out over other ethical issues (e.g., Risch, Burchard, Ziv, & Tang, 2002).

This should shed some light on research dynamics in the era of “scientific racism.” Consider, for example, the recent case of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance. Wade’s book argues that race exists biologically (the first part) and then that race was an important component of major events in history, such as the dominance of the Western world or the transition to industry (the second part). Several reviews noted that the science of the first part of Wade’s book was largely correct. After that, however, Wade begins arguing for racist ideas that are almost entirely speculative and that go way beyond the facts.

Here’s the thing, though: Wade repeatedly said that his ideas were speculative, and normally in science, this kind of hypothesizing is quite acceptable, a necessary step that is then countered with experiments and more data, and then revised. Strictly speaking, Wade’s ideas aren’t necessarily wrong. However, we can’t forget that Wade operates in the context of a nasty history, and his arguments could have social implications that would be hard to undo if that step after the hypothesis phase—experimentation and data collection—refutes his initial ideas. So goes the argument of people against Wade’s book, and I am fairly sure I support some soft version of it. Wade, a science journalist and popularizer, was being irresponsible. Furthermore, it is undeniable that some, though not all, of Wade’s “hypotheses” were influenced by racist notions, unconscious or not, rather than being reasonable extrapolations from available data.

Even though there were a great many preposterous tracts of pseudo-science, many of the ideas that come from the era of “scientific racism” were like Wade’s, and in that light it’s hardly difficult to understand how that era occurred. As the theory of evolution gradually started being applied to the human animal, it mixed with prevailing values and produced rather horrendous results, especially where scientists’ ideas spread into the area of policy and politics, where they were not bound as tightly to data. But the problem is not the science; the problem is the prevailing values.

b) Conservation and Eugenics

No one embodies the nasty aspect of conservation history more than Madison Grant. One of the most in-fluential figures of the conservation movement, Grant was also a major proponent of eugenics. In fact, he is well-known among those on the racist far right as the author of a book entitled The Passing of the Great Race, in which he argued for the conservation of the “Nordic race” responsible for civilization. Hitler sent him a letter of admiration for it, calling it “my bible.”

Gifford Pinchot is perhaps more unsettling simply because he was even more connected to power than Grant. Pinchot was the founder of the “resourcist” faction of the conservation movement and a great friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He and the president were leaders of the Progressive Era, and Pinchot often attended international events as a representative of the US. One

such event was the Paris International Exposition of 1889, which included a “negro village” as an exhibit. This was quite common with world fairs, meant to encourage and put on display the new world that technical innovation had created, such as communities united by national symbols instead of symbols of small communities. In fact, “human zoos,” as they were called, were especially popular from the 1870s up until World War II. Keeping with this rich tradition, at one point, Grant had the director of the Bronx Zoo (which he had founded) put the Congolese Pygmy Ota Benga on display with the chimpanzees, labelling him “The Missing Link” (see Figure 3).

Wohlforth (2010) and Rydell (1987) explain all this and more, and I encourage readers to investigate their works for greater detail. Suffice it to say, there is a reason Darwinism has a bad name.

c) The Anti-Industrial Left

Darwinism, however, was not to blame. Rather, the conservation ethic espoused by Grant, Pinchot, and Roosevelt was an intrinsic part of Progressive Era policies, with their great faith in human reason and technical development. No document better expresses this than a report put out by the National Conservation Commission entitled “National Vitality, Its Waste and Conservation.” It covers all the basic causes of the pro-gressive movement, from improved worker conditions to restaurant inspections. It also advocates eugenics and a national program for “race hygiene.” In other words, eugenics was an element of the progressive left that now decries it. In fact, many of today’s familyplanning organizations, like Planned Parenthood, were started as eugenics projects.

To really rub this point in, consider that the names who have supported eugenics over the years include Theodore Roosevelt, Hellen Keller, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Herbert Hoover, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Francis Crick, Margaret Sanger, and Alexander Graham Bell, among many, many others.

This is not because the science suddenly made everyone terrible, or because the science was wrong. To the contrary, the science of eugenics is basically correct. But its correctness is precisely the issue, as it enabled the prevailing values of progress and faith in human artifice to be enacted with devastating precision.

But technical progress moved too fast, and there was a backlash from the left itself. It had been forming for several years, but by the 60s it burst onto the scene in full force as the “New Left,” primarily a result of disillusionment after two world wars, catalyzed by the Vietnam war, and reinforced by the anxiety of the Cold War. The “New Left” saw itself in opposition to the “Old Left,” and in reaction to what they saw as class reductionism, they stressed gender and race issues, emphasized non-hierarchical organization, and focused on “lived experience” rather than scientific analysis.

Their revolt, rather than being against dominant values, became instead a revolt against science, reason, and technology, which they saw as the root of the evils that were just reviewed, as well as new issues like the massive weaponry utilized in World War II. Out of this revolt against science and reason were borne cultural phenomena like Woodstock, postmodernism, and a resurgence of non-classical forms of anarchism, spe-cifically with a focus on the “primitive” and a new myth of noble savagery that presumes humans originally lived in left-wing paradises that became despoiled by institutions. Thus, left-wing movements became hypersensitive to institutional failures and developed the highly responsive “detection and response” element mentioned earlier. The left became a reaction to itself.

As a result, today we have individuals who espouse left humanist values but who profess to be against progress and “leftism” (the Old Left). Rand (1971) called these individuals part of the “anti-industrial left.” These are the same individuals who exhaust everyday folk with their perpetual allegations of racism and sexism, and who no doubt will see this entire text as antiwoman, a polemic for race realism, a tirade against uncivilized blacks, and driven by a desire to see starving, savage Ethiopians die cruel deaths.

These individuals may fall into three categories. First, they may be the oversocialized, who have internalized dominant values so thoroughly that they rebel as a psychological release, but only in terms of the values they cannot let go of. Second, they may be the alienated, a large portion of normal individuals who are simply uneasy with modernity and need an outlet that the oversocialized provide for them. Third and finally, they may be individuals with an ethic similar to or the same as wildism, perhaps also alienated, shocked and angered by the history of technical domination, but driven to the left because it seems the only option. But it is not the only option.

d) Biodiversity versus Wildness

In fact, Pinchot’s conservation has nothing to do with wildism. Always in the movement there have been two ethics, completely at odds with each other, one accenting the conservation of nature for efficient resource use, the other conservation of nature for its own sake. At the time of Pinchot, the latter was expressed by John Muir, who worked diligently to establish Yosemite, founded the Sierra Club, and saw himself as a sort of John the Baptist who was to submerge into the wilderness those who wanted renewal. Although at one point Roosevelt established a pact with Muir to set up the national parks system, at the end of Roosevelt’s presidency Muir was betrayed. A dam, which Pinchot campaigned for, was set to violate the autonomy of the waters of Hetch Hetchy Valley, and despite Muir’s pleading to Roosevelt, Pinchot’s views won. The plans for the dam were signed into law, and Muir died a year later.

But while Muir is an inspirational figure, more important is the idea he preached and represented: wild-ness. As he put it, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” (1901). Contrast this with Grant (1909), who argued that man now has “complete mastery of the globe... On this generation then rests the responsibility of saying what forms of life shall be preserved, in what localities, and on what terms.”

Thus, when we speak of human zoos and eugenics and feel that gut-wrenching disgust, we have a perfect illustration of the ongoing moral crisis that wildist conservation is concerned with. We are repulsed by eugenics, the management of human nature, because it is a violation of due autonomy. This same disgust is warranted for any proposal that will have biodiversity at the expense of wildness, that speaks of management without respect for nature’s autonomy.

The New Left, then, has made a grave mistake. In choosing to eschew humanity’s best method of under-standing the world so far, they have made themselves impotent as an anti-industrial force, and, worse, by re-volting in the name of their society’s own values, they’ve become a vital self-correcting force for that same society. Yet, they may be fading away. Slowly, the left is transforming into a pro-progressive force again, a change spearheaded by thinkers like Singer and Pinker. Along with this change comes with an emphasis on harnessing human nature with advances in biotechnology, which Wilson (1978) has damningly envisioned as a “democratically contrived eugenics.” One can clearly see efforts to conserve the biodiversity of human nature, perhaps after a first attempt at genetic engineering goes wrong and leaves us rather homogenous. (In fact, Wilson asserts that we ought to preserve the biodiversity of human nature until we have greater knowledge for his eugenicist vision.)

That said, these thinkers—Singer, Pinker, Wilson, and the others—do not deserve the charges of racism and sexism that activists have thrown at them. And Wilson in particular has contributed much to conservation, sometimes inconsistently jumping between a resource-use ethic and something akin to a deep ecology ethic. But even so, the man and the others are playing with fire that might quite literally consume the whole world.

Interestingly, Wilson’s combined contribution of sociobiology with his ideas on genetic engineering echo the character of B.F. Skinner, who in the 1970s contributed his theory of behaviorism and later wrote, in a book aptly entitled Beyond Freedom and Dignity, “A scientific view of man offers exciting possibilities. We have not yet seen what man can make of man.”

Skinner’s theories are now either discredited or humbled more than he would have liked, but Wilson’s will likely persist. Biology truly is the science of the 21st century, and now is unavoidably an age of biopol-itics. Thus, rather than rejecting science, we must recognize the capabilities of this great way of knowing and challenge the values that justify its technical nastiness. This is a much stronger and more lasting approach than that of the anti-industrial left, and it has the advantage of being true in its ideas. Ultimately, however, the conflict will only be resolved in the hard, material world, with a change in technical and economic conditions that will either mean a permanent reduction in the extent of man’s violation of wildness, or, hopefully not, but perhaps, a permanent end to human nature.

E. Anti-Industrial Reaction

With these foundations set, there is that most pressing question, “What is to be done?” It cannot yet be fully answered, but figuring out the answer is a primary purpose behind The Wildist Institute. Among them, one of the most viable is the idea that it is a moral obligation to disrupt industry beyond repair, to the extent possible. This would essentially be an antiindustrial reaction to the Industrial Revolution.

Although many upon hearing this idea find the most pressing question to be whether or not such a goal is possible, this is one of the least important considerations. Civilizations are rather fragile things, and focused groups can, in the right circumstances, be rather powerful ones. Furthermore, like they always do, the levees will eventually break. The histories of various revolutions and collapses support these points.

Another common response to the proposal is questioning whether collapse is the only way out of our ecological troubles. Indeed, upon initial consideration it makes sense to consider other hypotheses, and one new hypothesis, that late industrial technology can decrease human impact, is worth at least considering for the sake of thoroughness, even if it is probably untrue, and would entail forsaking the conservation of human nature. Investigating this idea’s veracity and viability is one short-term task of the institute.

However, collapse is almost undoubtedly a necessary aspect of ecological conservation and restoration. Consider, for example, the environmentalist assertion that we must decrease consumption and production. Historically, this has happened no other way than collapse (or depopulation, such as with the Black Plague). Or consider the idea that we must decrease carbon emissions. What civilized solution has worked? Many eminent scientists have noted how woefully inadequate the solutions so far have been (Milman, 2015; Edwards L. , 2010; McKibben, 2012), and according to one study, one of the only places that has decreased carbon emissions at an adequate speed, Syria, has done so because of large-scale infrastructural turmoil and associated demographic changes (Lelieveld, Beirle, Hormann, Stenchikov, & Wagner, 2015). Another study points to the decline in emissions during the 2008 financial crisis, but then a rapid increase that “more than offset.. .the decrease” as economies started to recover and developing economies grew (Peters, et al., 2012).

Since collapse is almost certainly our way out, those at the institute will be spending more time exploring things like whether there is a difference between waiting for collapse and aiding it, or whether rapid and aided collapse would do more damage to nature than unaided collapse, or whether it is even wise to engage in a revolutionary-like politics in the first place, especially given the wildist awareness of human folly. There are numerous other considerations, but it is sufficient to say that, given the consequences of such an idea in practice, real and effortful thought must be put into it.

Nevertheless, more modest but still radical anti-industrial action is undoubtedly necessary and a moral obligation. Given the above ethic, something akin to the early years of Earth First! would be beneficial at this historical juncture. In particular, and at the least, ongoing efforts to expand and connect wildlands ought to be made reasonable with a radical non-institutional force. This would of course involve defense of existing wildlands, but perhaps the most effective efforts would include taking advantage of industrial or natural disasters that rapidly undevelop areas where wildlife corridors would otherwise never be built. The fight for now would primarily be against redevelopment.

Such an effort would also establish an audience of people most receptive to the idea of an anti-industrial reaction, should one become obviously necessary over the course of our investigation. Otherwise, the effort would at least help jump-start the slow, ongoing transition to more proactive conservation work, which is strongly supported even by moderates.

F. Wildlands Conservation

The literature on wildlands conservation is vast, and most of what this synthesis would add to the discussion is strategic rather than ethical, discussions best suited for a later time. However, I do wish to make an ethical point about the so-called “wilderness debate.”

The “wilderness debate” is a political fiction, and its name is a woefully inadequate descriptor of what has really occurred over the past few years. Given the value of nature, the importance of wildness, and the critique of progress, the necessity of wildlands conservation with an eye toward wilderness is uncontroversial. No one but the densest of individuals could fail to see how it unites all the threads of ethical concern noted here. Therefore, rather than a being a debate, it is much more an attack, albeit a skillfully maneuvered one. It deserves the charge of revisionism as much as Kareiva’s recent polemics for the Anthropocene.

Other than that, the imperative of wildlands conservation is straightforward. As Abbey put it, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” This is the true resolution of the wilderness debate.

IV. Summary

Let us briefly review the core ideas of wildism.

Sometime during his evolution, probably around the Late Paleolithic, man evolved the capability for creative, symbolic, reasoned thought. Thus, when the Neolithic arrived with agriculture and civilization, cultural evolution became “unlinked” from biological evolution and began to outpace it. Because of this, human and technical (i.e., artificial) objects or modifications of nature were not mostly supported by interacting natural systems, as before, and even began to destroy surrounding natural systems. For example, unlike making a spear, which requires little and only temporary input of artificial energy, animal husbandry is out of pace with nature to such a degree that it requires a great and perpetual amount of artificial energy input to “fill in the gaps” that nature can no longer fill.

As a result of this unlinking, there have been many consequences of great moral concern: anthropogenic climate change, increased rates of extinction, overpopulation, etc. And the Industrial Revolution, which un-leashed cultural evolution to a profoundly greater degree than the agricultural one, worsened the problem with its roads, dams, carbon emissions, pollution, and intensified agricultural practices. Furthermore, just as cultural evolution has outpaced non-human nature, it has also outpaced human nature, the primary cause of our modern ills and a contributing factor for why we are unable to solve them. It seems that the only way to escape or delay this, short of the collapse of civilization, is to modify nature so that it can keep up. Those in support of this imperative, either in non-human or human nature, or both, advocate enacting it through new technologies such as genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and the like. However, apart from being most likely impossible, this results in a profound loss of what wildists value most: wildness.

It could be that the unlinking has made humans a non-viable species, meaning we will at some point die out, hopefully without taking too much of nature with us. However, the same capacity for creative moral and reasoned thinking could lead to positive responses to our problems. With this possibility in mind, we at The Wildist Institute have sketched a moral discourse and set of moral axioms to be applied to conservation science.

Central to this discourse is a divide between the artificial and the natural, that which is made or controlled by humans and their technical systems, and that which is not. Both are placed on either ends of a spectrum, and our normative obligation is to move the world closer to naturalness. We note that wildness, or the relinquishment of human control and the decrease of artificial energy input, is a defining and necessary step toward increasing naturalness. This is why collapses of civilizations have historically been beneficial to nature; it is why a freed population of domestic animals becomes feral and then wild; and it is why a river ecosystem begins to be restored with the removal of a dam.

The best known way to measure artificial control on a social level is through modes of production, which function as mostly clear benchmarks for transitions in the artifice-nature dynamic. We argue that as a moral matter, and not necessarily as a practical matter, social systems at the civilized agricultural and industrial modes of production are morally condemnable.

In order to properly convey the moral importance of these ideas, wildists note the usefulness of borrowing traditionally religious concepts like sacredness, ritual, and the Sublime, and intend to take up the call for a religion of the Cosmos advocated or suggested by men such as E.O. Wilson, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Einstein, and others. This will perhaps increase the effectiveness and preciseness of our moral discourse.

Many solutions have been posed for these moral quandaries, but wildism discerns between viable and non-viable solutions with its critique of progress. Mythologies of progress are civilized narratives united by a belief that human reason and ingenuity can improve the world, particularly the human condition, by artificially modifying nature. While wildists of course question the normative assumptions of progressivism, noting that technical solutionism justifies decreases in wildness, the most important challenge they make is to the “blueprint mentality.”

The “blueprint mentality” is wrong on several grounds. It is wrong in that it assumes that (1) rational blueprints will be sufficient to solve the problem; (2) they will be enacted properly or at all; (3) that, when enacted, they will go as planned; (4) that, when they go as planned, they will not have unintended consequences. Chaos theory, various logical and mathematical limitations, and various practical problems suggest that 1 is mistaken and an insurmountable problem. Humans will simply never know enough to subject nature or their societies to rational human control. Furthermore, since it is humans enacting them, we can expect even good blueprints to be ignored, enacted improperly, or to suffer from various other problems that stem from the reality that man is not primarily a rational creature.

3 suggests that even if human do everything right on their part to enact the blueprint, this is rarely any guarantee that it will go as planned. The primary evidence in this regard is the concept of cultural evolution, a theory that states, among other things, that while man provides a “motor” for much, though not all, of technical evolution, the selection for various technical “memes” occurs on a level higher than human intention. Selection factors that prove more relevant and powerful than human intention include geography, demography, technology itself, economic factors, and so forth. To further illustrate this point, consider an UNO game where players count the points in their hand at the end of each round and add it to their point total. This game ends once one player surpasses 500 points, and the player with the least amount of points at that time wins the game. However, if a player has exactly 500 points, his point total returns to zero. Given this set of rules, players who have point totals very close to 500 may try to play the game so that their hand ends with just the right point value to return them to zero. But because of so many other factors—chance distribution of cards, decisions by others players, etc.—no amount of reason will ever be sufficient for the player to achieve his goal. Cultural evolution works similarly.

Finally, even if a blueprint goes as planned, which, given above, would be due to more than just human reason, and even if it considers all the knowledge that humans could have reasonably been expected to know while devising it, the blueprint is still bound to have unintended side-effects that, in the context of the narrative of progress, are always responded to with more technical solutions, which themselves have unintended side-effects. This results in a major loss of wildness, and some evidence suggests that, short of mythological technologies like cold fusion, this will always lead civilizations to collapse. Eventually, artificial energy input will simply not be sufficient to withstand changing natural circumstances, or it will not be enough to encompass all the problems that require ever-more energy input, bringing a civilization to the “point of diminishing returns” where it begins the process of collapse. This has occurred with every previous civilization and there is no reason to think it will not happen again with industrial civilization.

The critique of progress puts major limitations on what human beings can do in response to the current predicament. Large-scale technical solutions that propose new green energies, new industrial or post-industrial infrastructure, and other such ideas cannot be a viable solution for those who value wildness, and are unlikely to be a solution even for humanists who wish to mitigate environmental degradation for the sake of “human well-being.”

Wildists also question the idea that humanists are concerned with human well-being. They note that humanism, rather than propelling technical progress, is produced by and justifies technical and economic con-ditions. Thus, the “human” of concern to humanists includes only those aspects of human nature that are con-ducive to the functioning of industrial civilization. This is why the emerging “scientific left” (or the “Darwinian left”) advocates modifying human nature through genetic engineering, in order to make it accord with left humanist values.

Furthermore, this means that when left humanist movements profess to be on the side of populations excluded from industry, such a narrative, regardless of what individual members of the movement believe, functions only to justify “developing” and civilizing that excluded class, which often for historical reasons has been kept from the fruits of industry (although usually not agriculture). Historical examples include various victims of colonialism, the slaves and descendants of slaves of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the third world, and the industrial underclass or the “rabble.”

When bringing this up, wildists note that it is only to delegitimize the claims of left humanism, and insist that several reactions to this critique ought to be guarded against. Notably, a core element of the character of left humanist movements is a hypersensitivity toward victimhood or perceived victimhood, which functions as a sort of “recognition and response” system to identify excluded classes, and which helps justify solidarity beyond “relations,” a term for an individual’s natural social group. Furthermore, because industrial society diminishes individual and small-group power, many individuals see psychological appeal in mass movements, and some of them become “causejunkies” dedicated primarily to the thrill of causes rather than to the causes themselves, and especially undiscerning in the contradictions between various movements and ideologies. Thus, wildists insist that these individuals be guarded against, lest the critique of left humanism itself turn into a means by which left humanists can coopt wildism. The best way to avoid this is to maintain focus on a single, root cause of all the problems, which, wildists point out, is the tension between nature and industry.

Thus, it is clear that a major component of wildism ought to be wildlands conservation, which rather elegantly unites all the ethical threads mentioned into a single framework. Not only does it directly protect that which wildists are most concerned about, much of it can be successful within the context of industry, which means that even if the most radical implications of wildism fail to be enacted, positive work will come out of wildist efforts. Examples include the work of The Wildlands Project, which has come up with a system of megalinkages and reserves that, if properly enacted, could mitigate the extinction crisis, depending on how soon industry stops pounding away at wild nature, perhaps through collapse.

In fact, because of our critique of progress, and because of the myriad of evidence indicating the positive effects economic downturn has on nature, wildlands advocacy is likely only the subsidiary political desire to a much larger, defining one, namely, the collapse of industry. The primary work of The Wildist Institute is investigating the veracity of this idea. Are there alternatives to collapse, as the Anthropocene boosters suggest? What about nuclear weapons? Is there a morally significant difference between collapse happening and helping it along? All these questions and more will be the subject of intense scrutiny, and will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications.

V. Conclusion

The ideas outlined here are a result of only two years of study and discussions, so they are necessarily foundational rather than comprehensive. In fact, even a whole lifetime may not be able to produce a suffi-ciently comprehensive review. However, for a set of ideas that boasts such consequential conclusions, some elaboration beyond foundations is necessary, with priorities so as to get to the most important questions first. With this in mind, a small group of wildists have established what is soon to be a nonprofit, The Wildist Institute. As it stands, we see research priorities in the following manner.

The overwhelmingly dominant concern of existing wildists is addressing the issues briefly covered in section III.E, “Anti-Industrial Reaction.” Should it become obvious that aiding collapse is in some significant way a moral obligation, as I and a small group of wildists believe is probable, the focus of wildism would on the one hand become clearer, but on the other hand become more dangerous. Furthermore, the question itself is a burden when its repercussions are so great, and one of the main points of this piece, that human folly defines history more than human achievement, should add a certain flavor of skepticism and restraint to the ruminations. In this light, I personally recommend the American revolutionaries as a group for inspiration, given their open contemplation of human nature and its limitations, as well as the general wisdom with which men like Jefferson, Paine, and Adams approached their obligations.

The next major concern is solidifying and simplifying our critique of progress. It appears that this is almost entirely an empirical question, well suited to academic and scientific work, and should focus on synthesizing the knowledge of the sociobiologists with the cultural ecologists. Provisionally we at the institute refer to this synthesis as “biocultural materialism.”

After that, the task becomes largely strategic, finding ways to insert wildist philosophy into academia, pamphleteering and doing journalistic work to convey the ideas to the general public, and dealing with major strategic concerns, such as the tension between the human and non-human in relation to industry, or the re-lationship between the possible anti-industrial reaction and wildlands conservation.

Finally, of course, is the result. The possible outcomes in the battle between nature and industry are astoundingly divergent, a great, epic story waiting to unfold. It is impossible to predict how it will go in more than a general way, but at least one thing is clear: the attacks from revisionists will only continue to increase. As I’ve written, for those concerned with nature’s autonomy, the collapse of industry is almost certainly the only way out of our current predicament. Almost. But that “almost” is a big threat, especially when technology is moving so fast that the technician class can hardly convince the rest of us of the necessary change in values, leaving people like the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics putting out statements like, “people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children” through genetic engineering—something that sounds like lunacy to large portions of the world.

Combined with the inevitably small and potentially large economic turmoil of the coming years, which could amplify the power of a focused group to enact change, the industrial elite has great reason to fear a popularly appealing and true ideology that poses a threat to the basis of their power and values. And revisionism is their most effective tool. Nothing destroys a movement more thoroughly than a band of individuals who pose as members and begin to divert the focus away from the original values.

Thus, I return again to the role of wildists in this time: to incite that revival so passionately preached by Muir, and to maintain the resulting fervor as the conscience of the conservation movement. This is how we guard the chances for a hopeful and wild future.

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The Meaning of Human Nature

John Jacobi, The Wildist Institute

Human nature” is an ambiguous term to begin with, but when applied to politics it justifiably raises eyebrows, the historically-learned immediately recalling wildly divergent, and often heinous, uses of the idea. By itself, it is about as clarifying as “freedom.” So here I will join the term with a technical outlook specific to wildism, along with a few distinctions that should help readers grasp our theoretical literature and purge from their mind any mixed associations with less rigorous or, worse, more repugnant meanings.

I. Scientific Materialist Worldview

At the risk of becoming tedious to our regular readers, i must again emphasize that wildism begins with a scientific materialist worldview, since so often i carry on these discussions for some time before discovering that the core barrier between me and my opposite is a difference in our metaphysical and epistemological assumptions. For instance, it is difficult to have a clarifying discussion about human nature when you are unaware that the other person believes firmly in a supernatural spirit.

So before proceeding let’s be clear that humans are fully material creatures, without any supernatural component whatsoever. This includes mind and consciousness, both of which spring forth from the brain. Furthermore, humans are products of evolution by natural selection, primates descended from a common ancestor with all other primates, and animals descended from an even more common ancestor with all other animals. Human culture, like animal culture, is built from a biological and material base and does not come “from above” as some autonomous, non-material force. in the same vein, human behavior stems from material realities, a combination of biological and environmental factors. Note that although it is feasible that human culture is built from a combination of complex instincts—anyone familiar with non-human animal behavior knows how complex instincts can really be—data seems to support more nuanced theories, such as gene-culture coevolution, which help explain the apparent disparity between cultural and biological evolution in the human species.

With all this established, we can dispose of any accounts of human nature that rely on the existence of a supernatural realm, including frameworks that require “culture” to be a non-material thing autonomous from biology. This of course challenges Marxist, christian, and some feminist ideologies, among others.

II. The Concept of Nature

And again i will remind the reader of the wildist meaning of “nature” generally. Recall from “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics” (pp. 15-17) that “nature” is meant in contrast to “artifice,” both of which are descriptive categories of things that exist in the entire material realm, called “the Cosmos.”

Broadly, “artifice” is “that which is made or controlled by humans or their technical systems” and “nature” is just the opposite, not made or controlled. This distinction is important in environmental ethics and conservation, as well as in other fields where the impact of humans and their civilizations is a primary concern. if anyone questions the validity of the division, let him observe the stark difference between a domesticated animal and a wild one, or a farmed landscape and the wilderness, or a dammed river and a free one.

Finally, remember always to distinguish between the two dominant notions of “nature.” The first equates it, as wildists do, with “the non-artificial.” But common in the physical sciences and sometimes in everyday speech, “Nature” is equivalent with “the Cosmos,” meant to be a contrast to the supernatural rather than the artificial.

III. The Technical Meaning of Human Nature

The meaning of “human nature” follows intuitively from the meaning of “nature”: it is the part of human beings that is not made or controlled by them. Furthermore, the “naturalness” of human beings is a spectrum as it is in nature generally, and the degree of naturalness of a human trait, quality, or behavior depends on how strongly sustained it is by artificial energy input or how fully a product it is of that input. Essentially, a measurement of naturalness is a converse measurement of domestication, wildness being the quality of primary concern.

IV. Human Variation

“Human nature” in this sense applies to the entire species, so the focus is on human universals rather than variation. As such, the concept of “human nature” is not relevant to the quality of naturalness as it pertains to aspects unique to individuals or human populations. Currently it is not even wholly within our ability to scientifically discern individual or population-level natures, although this is quickly changing.

V. Human Nature Versus the Essence of Being Human

Talk of human nature is not quite the same as talk of human “essence.” The latter tends to have an air of immutability about it, that is, once you’ve violated the “essence” you can no longer be considered human. However, this concept of “essence” isn’t really viable in the context of scientific materialism. We would be better off sticking to our technical concept of the spectrum from natural to artificial and to the biological concept of the species Homo sapiens. Of course, as the transhuman vision of cyborgs and microchipped brains becomes more of a reality, it might be useful to distinguish where on the spectrum from natural to artificial a human can no longer be called a human. However, that should be recognized as a separate measurement, and one not nearly as important in the wildist framework as the quality of naturalness is.

VI. Human Nature Versus Human Biology

“Human nature” is also not equivalent to “human biology.” Of course, any study of human nature is going to be rooted in biological concepts, since we are biological creatures. But a human being’s biology can be artificial, and large portions of the current species now have biologies that are at least partially artificial (or at least more artificial than natural). A classic example is lactose tolerance, which developed in human populations that relied on animal husbandry and faced evolutionary pressures, leaving those who had lactose tolerance alive and reproducing and decreasing the population of lactose intolerant individuals. This is not of special ethical note, but technically it is the product of artificial rather than natural pressures.

Furthermore, many aspects of human nature, particularly the behavioral part, can be explained in terms that are not strictly biological (although of course these findings shouldn’t contradict biological understandings). And these parts, like the more concretely biological parts, can be artificial as well.

VII. “Biological,” “Natural,” and “Innate” Do NoT MEAN “UNCHANGEABLE”

some people believe that “human nature” means “unchangeable.” However, neither the wildist technical sense of the term, nor any of the concepts confused with it, are unchangeable. This should be clearest in the case of wildist technical terminology, since it explicitly acknowledges that natural things can be made artificial. However, it is also true for “biological,” as was noted in the case of lactose intolerance in humans, and this is only becoming more true with biotechnics. “Innate” behavior (versus “learned” behavior) is also changeable, usually only through biological modification, but in some cases through severe conditioning as well. Also remember that both “biological” and “innate” behaviors can reside anywhere on the spectrum from natural to artificial. For instance, one can observe innate but artificial behaviors in domesticated animals, like dogs.

VIII. Response to Marxist and Leftist Criticisms

Marxist and leftist critics argue that Darwinian accounts of human nature justify the oppression of the ruling class. For example, the wage gap is in the eyes of many leftists a product of patriarchal oppression, but some evidence seems to support the idea that the wage gap is a product of several factors that have little to do with oppression, such as natural gender differences in job preference.

However, arguing that this is the case is not the same as arguing that you should feel a specific way about it. if Marxists wish to live in a world without a wage gap, the wage gap need not be a product of oppression. They can simply argue for mitigation of our biological behaviors in cases where they can’t be outright changed, and as technologies become more advanced they can, of course, change them outright.

Nevertheless, i think Marxists are right to say that ascribing the quality of “naturalness” has political power. Although wildists speak of the quality in a somewhat technical and exact sense, the actual normative ideas behind wildism are widespread. People tend to value naturalness in many aspects of their daily life, and they are skeptical when they hear that their behavior, beliefs, or biologies are being artificially modified. Even the Marxist concern with oppression is a politic that favors nature over artificial institutions that deprive humans of their expressions of that nature, although clearly the empirical evidence simply has not supported the Marxists’ specific account. But to this I say that if people are concerned with naturalness, they are best off with a proper understanding of it, and this is granted not through dogma, but through scientific investigation. If this yields unfavorable consequences, then so be it. When facts are subordinated for the sake of ethical values, you only end up being more ignorant and less ethical, and that’s clearly not desirable.

IX. Bibliography

Alcock, J. (2003). The Triumph of Sociobiology. Oxford University Press.

Chomsky, N. (1998, August). On human nature: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Kate Soper. Red Pepper.

Chomsky, N., & Foucault, M. (2006). The Chomsky - Foucault Debate: On Human Nature. The New Press.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, i. (2007). Human Ethology. Aldine Transaction.

Jacobi, J. (2016). The foundations of wildist ethics. Hunter/Gatherer, 1(1), 6-55.

Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Penguin Books.

Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Harvard University Press.

Wilson, E. O. (1978). On Human Nature. Harvard University Press.

Refuting the Apartheid Alternative

John Jacobi, The Wildist Institute


Recently a proposed alternative to the traditional conservationist approach has popped onto the scene. It calls itself “eco-modernism,” and rather than advocating decreased economic growth, it calls for the acceleration of technical and economic innovation, saying that this will leave more land for wildlife. The eco-modernists have also borrowed concepts like “rewilding” from the wildness-centered conservationists, which has led to charges of revisionism. This paper argues against the civilization/nature apartheid scheme that the eco-modernists advocate, and it outlines the moral differences between their humanist approach and the wildist approach to conservation.

I. Introduction

Wildism seems to require the collapse of industry: we wildists state, very plainly, that we care for the autonomy of nature such that the civilized agricultural mode of production and later are morally unjustifiable. How, then, could we even entertain the notion that there is an alternative to collapse?

The answer is simple: if the overall process of technical evolution begins to decrease civilization’s footprint, especially in regards to the amount of physical land it requires, then this will result in an increase of wildness and nature’s restoration. Such a thing has not yet happened except through collapse, but that does not necessarily make it impossible. our question, then, is whether technical development is decreasing human impact or looks like it will be doing this in the near future. Note that because of the wildist critique of progress (Jacobi, 2016, pp. 22-27), we have no illusion that any group of humans, no matter how organized, can steer overall technical development. our concern is mainly one of analysis and prediction.

Some evidence suggests that civilization’s impact may indeed decrease in the coming years, thanks to digital technology, new energy sources, ecological necessity, and other such factors. Armed with this evidence, some have proposed various alternatives that all fall under the banner of “half-earth proposals.” These proposals are unique in that they are appealing both to progressivist environmentalists, like the socalled eco-modernists, while also maintaining appeal among wildness-centered conservationists. The idea is that humans can continue with civilization in some parts of the earth so long as non-human nature is able to flourish in wild conditions.

Here I will outline an apartheid proposal that is as attractive as possible to wildists and then explain why no such proposal would ever be sufficient as an end goal, for both moral and empirical reasons. That said, I argue that the logic of apartheid does not necessarily carry over to “half-earth” proposals, arguing that the later could be a positive development. With some caveats, then, I conclude that conservationists should engage in active work under these campaigns.

II. The Empirical Problems

The most important advocates of human/nature apartheid tend to be associated with The Breakthrough institute, a think tank dedicated to “modernizing environmentalism.” indeed, the landmark document in support of the idea was a report put out by the institute and entitled Nature Unbound: Decoupling for Conservation. other important texts include Green Delusions by Martin Lewis, in which the idea of “decoupling” was first proposed, and most of the work of Jesse Ausubel, who is by far the most convincing and datadriven advocate of apartheid.

The empirical evidence in support of the eco-modernist program is strong, and in many instances it is modest in precisely the appropriate places. indeed, many aspects of eco-modernism are refreshing to those environmentalists who find themselves surrounded on all sides by the irrationalism and lack of pragmatism pervading the movement. This is no doubt why it has gained such strength in such short time, especially when this is combined with their beautiful marketing.

The eco-modernists’ primary assertion is that industrial production can be “de-coupled” from land use and other environmental problems. This is not a new argument. The story of progressivism is the story of elites calling for more, more, more innovation. Where these newcomers catch attention, however, is their substantial evidence that this process has already taken place and could continue to. in fact, many industries began to decouple just as environmentalism became a dominant force in industrial societies, around the 1970s. This is a large part of the reason why the prophecies of doomers like Ehrlich never really materialized.

One of the most striking examples of decoupling is corn production, which has “quintupled...while using the same or even less land.” A similar thing has occurred with potatoes and chicken (ibid.). One can also see many commodities plateauing and even dropping rapidly in recent years (see Figure 2), a trend that has been observed in plastics, paper, timber, lead, aluminum, copper, chromium, iron ore, and many more. Ausubel argues that several other commodities, like nickel, electricity, and cobalt, could also be peaking as well.

The beautiful thing about most of these commodities is that their decrease means more land for wildlife, whether or not they are being offset by other environmental trouble-makers, like digital technologies. Of course, where the new pressure is going (when it isn’t simply dissipating) is an important concern, and indeed it is one of the problems with the extent to which eco-modernists take their decoupling claims, but more, bigger, and more connected wildlands are good developments. This is not least because, as The Wildlands Network and others have shown (Foreman, 2004), it mitigates and protects against ongoing environmental problems, keeps basic ecological building blocks intact even if industrial civilization does begin to collapse, and allows these building blocks to restore themselves and remain resilient against permanent problems like climate change.

But the eco-modernists are not arguing anything like this. Instead, they argue that because of the decoupling phenomenon, humans should, instead of slowing down industrial and economic development, kick it into high gear. Moreover, instead of viewing the possibility of an Anthropocene as a great moral warning, humans should embrace it, baptizing themselves fully into the role of planetary managers.

But the empirical evidence does not support this narrative. For one thing, the trends are not all good, and though the eco-modernists are open about this, their response is essentially a faith-based one, compelling only to those who are so strongly attached to the civilizing project that they are willing to take great ecological risks to save it. Notable bad trends include the fact that industrial production has not decoupled from the oceans,—one of the eco-modernists’ major areas of concern—and greenhouse gas emissions are not at all on the decrease—something they don’t mention much at all, but, ironically, one of the main reasons the oceans are doing so poorly.

In fact, economic trends around emissions are a particularly powerful blow to the eco-modernist vision. Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 emissions have almost only ever decreased in cases of economic decline and collapse, e.g., the Great Depression, the recession after the 1980 oil shock, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the recent 2008 recession (Caradonna, et al., 2015; Schneider, Martinez-Alier, & Kallis, 2011; Peters, et al., 2012). In the 2008-2009 case, emissions rebounded so drastically with economic rebound that they “more than offset.the decrease” that had been achieved (Peters, et al., 2012).

Furthermore, the extinction crisis continues to worsen. Scientists estimate that we’ve increased the extinction rate by at least 1,000 times since the Industrial Revolution, and it is now accepted that we are going through the sixth mass extinction event in geological history, the previous ones having been caused by asteroids or volcanoes or other natural phenomena, but this one being caused by industrial civilization (Kolbert, 2014). I have not witnessed any eco-modernists address the extinction crisis.

Even apart from specific problems and lines of evidence, the eco-modernists have not quite shown how the trend of decoupling applies or can apply to the industrial economy as a whole. For sure, the trends are observable for specific materials, but they can just as easily be offset by problems elsewhere, and problems like the ones just noted indicate that that is exactly what is happening. Because economics is complex, this failure is understandable, and only a confluence of data after some study would be able to make a convincing case. And this may just happen. However, the data available now are not looking good for the ecomodernists. Civilizations have a history of overreaching and then collapsing due to precisely the kinds of ecological troubles the industrial one is now facing, and some experts have argued that collapse of industry is very near inevitable (Motesharrel, Rivas, & Kalnay, 2014; Tainter, 1990; Wright, 2004).

In Nature Unbound, I only found one brief mention of one of the problems related to a whole-economy view, but it took up less than half a page and made clear the stark difference between eco-modernist and wildist goals. The section mentions the phenomenon known as “rebound,” where improved efficiency re-sults in more consumption rather than less. But, the piece goes on to say, “had our.. .technologies not improved dramatically over centuries, the human population would probably be significantly smaller and poorer.” As if our current population levels are desirable! Their counter-argument to the rebound objection is also insufficient, as they note only that material goods eventually reach a point of demand saturation. Unfortunately, they do not address whether the demands for other, newer goods create a good trade-off.

There’s much more evidence to offer, but this is sufficient for now, especially since the moral case against apartheid is much more relevant. In regards to the empirical evidence, we can conclude that while it doesn’t quite support the eco-modernist narrative, it does strongly support the main soft claim: that insofar as it an observable and somewhat predictable economic trend, the phenomenon of “decoupling” is another strong tool in the hands of the conservationists. There is no reason to not take advantage of the phenomenon in the same way that conservationists have used wilderness areas, ecological and evolutionary science, and other tools to preserve nature and nature’s wildness.

III. The Moral Concerns

A. The Other Side

The real problem with the apartheid proposal is moral. Wildness-centered conservation, which in the conventional account began with Muir, began with a skeptical look toward civilization, a willingness to dispose of it in pursuit of nature. The eco-modernists begin from a radically different point: they love nature, fine, but their primary focus is saving civilization, which they believe can coexist with nature. This of course means that they believe it can coexist with only some of nature, since the apartheid proposal explicitly legitimizes a non-natural side, a side for civilization.

one could say, then, that the eco-modernists “do not go far enough.” But this is not quite accurate. The problem isn’t that the eco-modernists aren’t radical enough, but that they want something fundamentally different. This is clear when we pay closer attention to the civilization side of apartheid, see how disgusting it is, and realize that they are arguing for it.

Crist (2015) has written a poignant critique on the topic of nature on the civilization side. She points out that the eco-modernists advocate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFos), intensified agriculture, “aquaculture,” and other similar technical solutions to intensive production. But, she writes,

Industrial agriculture occupies extensive territories, after stripping them of their native life and engineering them for the production of grains, protein, oils, and fiber, most of which do not even directly serve as human food but as raw materials for industrial processing. An even larger portion of the globe allotted to livestock grazing is also roundly dominated, displacing wild animals, plants, and natural ecologies. In CAFOs farm animals are dispossessed of their natural life cycles, and treated as little more than easily subjugated objects to be rapidly turned over into commodities. Meanwhile, the vast majority of so-called fisheries are fished to capacity or overfished, nine out of ten big fish are gone, and massive habitat destruction of continental shelves and increasingly of sea mounts are the legacy of industrial fishing. On all fronts, industrial food production is a ruthless, machine-mediated subjugation of land and seas as well as of wild and domestic beings.

In other words, the civilization side of the apartheid scheme will leave humanity “still very much coupled” with nature—except, Crist writes, “ ‘coupled’ is hardly the right word—comprehensively dominated is a more accurate depiction.”

one might argue that this is mere tugging on the heartstrings. With a pragmatic approach, the math is simple: more intensive production here means vastly freer circumstances elsewhere. That doesn’t mean the “here” is pretty, but it’s the most promising approach we’ve got.

Indeed, the eco-modernists argue just this. Lewis, one of the originators of the decoupling idea in its eco-modernist incarnation, calls his approach “radical pragmatism.” The language of pragmatism and compromise also pervades the writings and reports of The Breakthrough Institute.

However, the ethical claims on which this equation is based are faulty. Admittedly, Crist herself remains susceptible to the eco-modernist response, and she is not alone among us wildness-centered conservationists. A common ethical scheme in our ranks speaks of the “rights” of nature or some similar concept. It speaks as though nature should be the next beneficiary of an expanded humanist philosophy, a continuation of what has occurred throughout the history of civilization in its move from band to tribe, tribe to race, race to nation, nation to humanity.

This is also the common ethical lens through which the public sees environmentalism. Animal rights ideologies are rapidly becoming more common, and oftentimes conservation projects find it easiest to mobilize people when they can put specific animals or ecosystems before the public. When nature or elements of nature are branded as victims of humanity’s technical ambitions, it is easy to invoke the dominant values of sympathy, equality, and solidarity to incite political action.

But, as I argue more extensively in “Relations and the Moral Circle,” this ethical lens is foggy and broken to begin with, and it is completely shattered under a scientific materialist approach. When we acknowledge the core materialist assertion—that matter is all that exists, and that our ethical values are therefore rooted in our biologies and evolved—one can only speak of one’s own wants and values and, in the context of collective action, an agreed upon spectrum that unifies a politically discrete population. After this, which values become dominant is a question of power and chance in the short term and fate and chance in the long term.

With this in mind, the eco-modernists can and do still say that the belief in the goodness of technical progress is their starting point. But then we see why wildism can have nothing to do with eco-modernism, since its central claim is that progress is a flawed mythology—including its applications to human nature. In other words, it is a delusion to think that nature, including human nature, can be improved by civilization.

A more thorough treatment of these claims can be found in “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” particularly pages 22-44. The critique consists of two parts, each invalidating the two remaining components of the progressive mythology: the first attacks the idea that humans can rationally implement their blueprints onto a society in a successful manner, that is, the idea that humans control the direction of progress; and the second attacks the idea that the process of progress is good, regardless of whether or not humans have directed it.

Although eco-modernist texts do not always make clear that they accept the first element of the critique, many times they do, and Ausubel in particular makes it clear that he holds views similar to wildists in this regard. This is why Ausubel’s primary emphasis is on predicting continued decoupling trends rather than on implementing an abstract blueprint of how the economy should run. However, eco-modernists, including Ausubel, still believe the fundamental point that progress has been good, including and especially for human beings.

This is the core difference between them and wildists. As I point out in “Foundations,” civilization is simply not desirable, and the process of domestication—which has been and is happening to humans just as much as the animals we breed—is a repugnant process, especially at industrial scales. One clear and well-understood implication of civilization, for example, is increased complexity, which leads to more regimentation and more power to large organizations at the expense of small groups. I write,

In the context of wild nature, nature provides the necessary components for survival. But when humans modify nature, they must keep up the process of perpetual modification, because the rest of the natural system has not evolved to function in that state. That is, humans must use their energy and labor to “fill in the gaps.” For example, without any human intervention, natural processes will deal with animal feces. But a toilet requires entire technical systems of human labor, waste disposal, state management, and so forth. The plumbing is convenient, this is true, but at the cost of great overhead, necessary policing, and further modification of nature. A civilization is the same kind of problem magnified a thousandfold.

A final point to note on some of the empirical problems of eco-modernism: its “modernization for all” rhetoric is almost certainly false, and I’m quite sure that the men who espouse it are aware of this. Ausubel in particular strikes me as an exceedingly reasonable man, which ultimately means that the eco-modernist rhetoric probably only points toward an ideal rather than an actual, exactly achievable vision.

More realistically, the eco-modernist vision will leave still many excluded pockets, whether that be due to inertia from bureaucracy, politics, technical ability, negative reactions from those being modernized, or, a problem no one has addressed yet, where resources actually are, that is, geographical restrictions. There is a problem with the vision of “modernization for all” when coltan, for instance, which is vital for digital technologies, mostly exists in a few places in Africa and Australia. Of course, we might move from coltan to some other good, but the bottom line is that almost any resource will only be available in particular geographies. The geopolitical factors this entails brings quite a bit of inertia to deal with, and the problem is only magnified when we consider multiple similar problems for the complex network of goods necessary for something like modernization to even be possible.

Of course, this means that the vision of island civilizations might actually be more insidious than it sounds when packaged with nice words. That’s not to say that it isn’t worth pursuing—in fact, I sincerely doubt that any response to the great problems we are facing will be without some distasteful elements—but there are serious threats associated with it, which I will discuss further in section IV, “The Dangers of HalfEarth Rhetoric.”

B. Martyrdom

The first argument against apartheid, then, is that the civilization side is illegitimate in relation to both human and non-human nature, and wildists don’t want to live in it. Two responses to this, in favor of apartheid, are possible. The first says that even if civilization is not good for humans, it is the most promising moral option available, and humans who do not wish to live under civilized circumstances should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of non-human nature. The second says that any humans who do not want to live in the civilization side are free to move to the nature side.

E.O. Wilson and to a lesser extent Dave Foreman have arguments similar to the first. Wilson said in one interview that he supports the half-earth proposal because it will decrease damage to the biosphere until humans decide to “settle down” (Worrall, 2014). I am unsure, but I believe that Wilson was being intentionally vague and is aware that settling down could likely mean collapse, or, as some technophiles have argued, space travel, or any other number of options, some of which are clearly undesirable. Foreman (2015) is more open about the possibility of collapse when he says that “the system is going to come down, one way or another way, on its own. My task is keeping all the building blocks of future evolution that we can.” The nature half, of course, would consist of these building blocks.

This leads us to a necessary point of clarification. The eco-modernist apartheid proposal is actually an outgrowth of a much older half-earth proposal that came from the wildness-centered conservationists. After leaving the radical conservationist group Earth First! in the late 1980s, some of the original founders created an organization that is now called The Wildlands Network. This new organization was built around a proposal that expanded the original Earth First! reserve system into a comprehensive and scientifically based proposal, later called “continental-scale conservation” and “rewilding.”

The conservation biologists who outlined this proposal introduced many new and exciting concepts, and one of the most important of these is connectivity—the fact that wild areas are better when linked. As a result, they devised a system of wildlife corridors and, in North America, four major megalinkages spanning the whole continent, which would leave about half of the land for wildlife and will be extremely important for animals who need to migrate due to climate change. They also counter the rather devastating effects of roads.

The most recent political formulation of this idea has been taken on by the WILD Foundation’s Harvey Locke, who is spearheading what is called the Nature Needs Half campaign, and Wilson has also come out in support of the idea with his book Half-Earth.

The wildness-centered origins of the half-earth proposal is part of the reason the revisionism of the eco-modernists is so appalling. They have taken the ideas of half-earth, rewilding, and “the positive agenda,” as well as many of the other concepts from wildness-centered conservation, and then they’ve wrapped them all up in a polemic for industry and civilization. Note that the tangible proposal itself has not entirely changed, save the new talk of economic acceleration; the revision instead takes place in the narrative, in what it legitimates.

Still, the narrative does subtly and not so subtly transform the long-term implications of the proposal. Under the eco-modernist narrative the half-earth idea literally becomes apartheid. As many have pointed out, they strongly encourage the modernization of non-modernized people and look with disdain on the environmental damage (and alleged environmental damage) of those who are not “decoupled.” In many cases this translates to a “don’t touch it” mentality, a revulsion at actually interacting with nature in any natural way. This is more than clear in works like Nature Unbound. Contrast this with the rhetoric around Nature Needs Half, where Locke (2014) writes repeatedly that the earth needs “at least half” (his emphasis) and has sparse things to say about the other side.

So if we move away from the apartheid proposal and onto the more legitimate (in wildist eyes) halfearth proposal, what is the problem with the idea that humans should be willing to sacrifice their wildness and freedom for the sake of the wildness of so much more non-human nature? The answer is, simply, that wildists do not wish to be martyrs for something as abstract as “all of nature” any more than we would be martyrs for “all of humanity.” This is a direct outgrowth of our challenge to humanist ideology.

The explanation here will seem a little like hairsplitting, but it is vital. When we go with the prevailing paradigm in environmental ethics, we are told that we should extend our unrelenting altruism from humans to all of nature, and we should therefore be willing to fight to the death for nature’s own sake. This only makes sense if we assume that nature’s value is something legitimate outside of our own existence, something we must align ourselves with. But wildists acknowledge that “nature has intrinsic value when it is valued (verb transitive) intrinsically” (Callicott, 1995). In other words, there is no objective value in nature. We fight for it because we want it, not because something external to us demands it to be so (sometimes the implicit meaning behind the shoulds and woulds of moral imperatives). See “Relations and the Moral Circle” for more on this point.

This does not mean, of course, that we cannot sacrifice our lives for the sake of something else. But an abstraction like “all of nature,” while useful for intellectual parsing and theoretical discussions, is not that thing. Rather, wildists chant “live wild or die!” because we have analyzed the situation and have found that freedom and the freedom of our relations is impossible under the current conditions. Our willingness to risk death is the most assured way to regain it. Our slogan is therefore said in the same spirit as Patrick Henry’s passionate words: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (See also “Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” p. 17.)

To be clearer, this split in ethical foundations is not between the wildness-centered conservationists and the eco-modernists. It is instead a division within environmental ethics. However, it is a necessary division to point out because the eco-modernists are more in line with the prevailing paradigm, which is part of the reason their ideas have so much strength. When, for instance, Crist refutes the eco-modernist position on the assumption that humanist altruism should be expanded (rather than challenged) she leaves open the possibility of the martyrdom rebuttal. And in truth she may not even be totally averse to such a rebuttal, if she means what she says and is not simply unaware of some of the implications of her rhetoric.

The full reasoning behind the wildist view and why we still fight for non-human nature with it can again be found in “Relations in the Moral Circle.” Here I will simply conclude that martyrdom is not a strong response to the moral critique of apartheid.

C. Humans on the Nature Side?

The second response to the moral critique is, as stated above, the age-old argument, “if you don’t like it, leave.” A weak counter-argument would bring up the eco-modernist aversion to non-industrial forms of human-nature interaction. If adopted widely, and especially if adopted as policy, this could make it impossible for some and hard for most to leave the civilization side of the divide (see also section IV, “The Dangers of Half-Earth Rhetoric”). Recall that eco-modernists are repelled by natural human-nature interaction and are much more in favor of a “don’t-touch-it” attitude. Indeed, the main value of wilderness espoused by various eco-modernist tracts is a spiritual or aesthetic one. We’d also be wise to heed the words of a very conservative, bearded homeless gentlemen I became friends with back when I too was homeless: he told me that although he believed immigration was a problem, he didn’t support increased border security, because “walls don’t just keep people out; they also do real good at keeping people in.”

The stronger argument points out that it is actually not a solution to wildist grievances. Is escape actually an option? The reach of industry’s impacts is global, and escape is among the most impotent responses available. And given the global nature of those impacts, “escape” is far from an accurate word. A man who has left the city for the forest has reclaimed his life in only the most insignificant of ways. He may feel better, and as far as psychological health is the argument this is a somewhat reasonable justification. But on the whole he has merely fogged up his view of the world that still determines the trajectory of his life, so he is able to more easily delude himself into thinking he has freedom.

Meanwhile, the technicians continue to do their work, the emissions continue to increase, the possibility of runaway technologies remains, nuclear, biotech, and nanotech are still developed, and the escape artist remains fundamentally powerless. Interestingly, the infamous Kaczynski (2010) put it best when he said, “One does not have freedom if anyone else (especially a large organization) has power over one, no matter how benevolently, tolerantly and permissively that power may be exercised. It is important not to confuse freedom with mere permissiveness.”

Which brings us to the final point against the escape argument: it assumes that civilization will always remain benign toward the other half. The whole history of civilization up to this point is not a great record, and the economic predictions of the eco-modernists are not nearly empirically sound enough to convince us otherwise.

D. A Note on Collapse

It seems, then, that collapse is still the only option worth pursuing, since the eco-modernists’ only remaining argument with vague persuasive power is that accelerated decoupling will result in less physical environmental damage than collapse would. But this is hardly a claim worth paying attention to.

For one thing, the evidence that collapse is good for nature in the long-term is far-reaching, so much so that it will be a topic for another essay. But consider as an example the case of nuclear power, often invoked as a reason why collapse couldn’t happen without devastating repercussions. While this seems intuitive, the evidence of astounding wildlife rebound in the Chernobyl exclusion zone suggests a more haunting possibility: nuclear meltdown does less harm to nature than civilization.

Furthermore, the eco-modernists argue that decoupling happens only after production of a given material reaches “peak impact,” which by their account was only reached by most commodities between 19401970. If we are to accelerate the modernization of all remaining non-modernized peoples, this would amount to an immense amount of devastation until the future vision of complete decoupling can be achieved. Unless the eco-modernists can dream up an alternative pathway to modernization, something that would betray the aversion to abstract blueprints that makes their argument so strong in the first place, they are left having to accept the fact that their plan is likely to do more physical damage to the earth than collapse, not less. And in any case, the desire to come up with an alternative pathway to modernization would only underscore their commitment to saving civilization rather than achieving a future where nature, including human nature, can be wild.

IV. The Dangers of Half-Earth Rhetoric

As has been established, the eco-modernist apartheid proposal differs from the conservationist halfearth proposal in some important respects. However, the half-earth rhetoric is clearly only a few steps from the eco-modernist perversion, and this is just one of the many threats associated with it. So while I am tentatively supportive of the Nature Needs Half campaign and would like to see it achieve its goals, before undertaking any actions in support of it we should fully understand the risks and especially the potential perversions that the campaign could produce.

To do this, we need to understand some of the economic and technical determinants that have brought environmentalist rhetoric to the forefront of many civilized conversations. Indeed, even though wildism and, in general, wildness-centered conservation are challenges to the dominant superstructure of industrial civilization, mainstream environmentalism is clearly and in contrast a part of it. This has been true at least since the 60s and 70s and became especially clear with the establishment of Earth Day.

Arne Naess pointed this out in the document that set off the Deep Ecology movement when he noted that some environmentalism has a shallow approach, some of it a deep approach. The former agrees on many of the facts: civilization will collapse if the ecological context of economics is ignored, it would be a great loss to have animals and nature gone from our lives, etc. But their normative claims are far from the same. Mainstream environmentalism, or shallow environmentalism, recognizes the very true fact that climate change, mass extinctions, and other such things influence the world, even the world of humans, because humans are, in fact, still limited by nature, even if they don’t always recognize it. Mainstreamers also note that things like pollution and other environmental problems could hurt the humanist ideal of human wellbeing, or even the whole progressive project of civilization. But they do not actually question progressivism and its various incarnations.

Eco-modernism is, to date, the purest form of this progressivist environmentalism, and just as mainstream environmentalism popped up at just around the time that ecological problems were becoming dire and impossible to ignore, so too is eco-modernism arising at an uncannily appropriate time, given the current ma-terial demands of civilization. The major threat is that half-earth rhetoric will take on some form similar to the eco-modernist version to be a new legitimizing narrative for these new conditions. The major threat, that is, is conservation as our new government.

Let’s paint the picture of a likely future, ideological visions of either the wildists or eco-modernists aside. The scale of the current impacts of climate change, combined with politicians’ unwillingness and inability to deal with it, combined with the speedy pace that any sufficient response would need but will not perfectly achieve, all combine to make it clear that at least some places, probably even a few major cities, will become casualties within the next fifty to one hundred years. Some places are going to lose, regardless. To be clear, this is not fearmongering, and it doesn’t translate directly to the collapse of civilization. It’s simply a reality and the conditions with which the civilizations of the future will have to cope. The US’ Pentagon, for instance, lists climate change as a national security threat (Scarborough, 2016), and we know that rising sea levels will affect cities as major as Boston and Miami. One study found that over 400 American cities have already passed their lock-in date—meaning that the focus should be mitigating damage, since preventing it is out of the question (Strauss, Kulp, & Levermann, 2015).

Recall the eco-modernist vision of “island cities” connected by highly efficient transport systems and with vast expanses of wilderness everywhere else. The above evidence indicates why such a vision might be a serious contender for the dominant narrative of the new conditions. To be clear, the vision isn’t going to actualize itself as a smooth transition where everyone is modernized and voluntarily migrates to wherever the islands are. Instead, we can expect the use of force in many cases, and, more likely, no human intervention at all as the wilderness spreads from natural disasters. Just a look at New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina indicates what this might look like. (The example is especially appropriate because, despite the actual horrors, life for most has gone on as normal— what could be called apocalypse certainly doesn’t feel like it, and won’t, especially to the decadents in the Capitol.)

More than just the eco-modernists have suggested this vision. The market has moved emphatically in that direction as well. For instance, Google is working on self-driving cars, which are by now clearly going to catch on, and soon, and on the whole allow for much more efficient travel and use of resources. Musk is working on a hyperloop—perfect for connecting island cities, and devised to do just that—Tesla motors, SolarCity, and recently OpenAI. These places will not reach the whole world, but make the vision of efficiently run islands connected by high modes of transport very feasible.

And the non-wildness-centered side of conservation has a dark history standing very much in line with these kinds of visions, although perhaps more relevant are the modern instances. In recent years, ecological problems and the rhetoric of crisis has increasingly been used to justify global cooperation and the institution of global management schemes. This does not necessarily mean a government, especially since markets do so very well at making cooperation look nice, but a government is within the realm of possibility, especially given the low number of political actors total (fewer than 200 independent states) and the even lower number this island vision implies.

Consider, for instance, the ideas of the Club of Rome, which is well-known for producing the environmentalist tract Limits to Growth:

In Nature organic growth proceeds according to a Master Plan, a Blueprint. Such a ‘master plan’ is missing from the process of growth and development of the world system. Now is the time to draw up a master plan for sustainable growth and world development based on our global allocation of all resources and a new global economic system.

Or consider the suggestion of Ronald Wright, the author of A Short History of Progress, that we institute a global government in order to have “managed capitalism.” The basis for this argument, and the subject of his book, is the current intensity of environmental degradation and the increasing disparity between the rich and poor, which he points out were two common factors in the majority of collapses in history.

Wright’s argument is naive, particularly because he doesn’t pay attention to the increased energy input that any management system requires—this is part of the reason the eco-modernist vision of letting nature do a lot of the work for us is so convincing—but the fundamental drive toward global unity is there, and the primary rhetoric is of an environmentalist and “collapsist” nature.

Even E.O. Wilson, who wildness-centered conservationists have come to view as an ally (and in whom even wildists find inspiration), is at best a fickle advocate of our ethic and a mixed blessing. He should by no means be shunned for his mistakes, both because he offers a loudspeaker for the ideas and because he clearly cares about wild nature dearly. But he has always toed the line between a wildness-centered ethic and a management one, and taken together what he really advocates is a sort of chimera. One could walk away from his recent book on the half-earth proposal as either an eco-modernist or a wildist, and that’s even taking into consideration his rebuttal of the Anthropocener argument.

The threat, then, for any radical conservationists is that they may unwittingly become the vanguard for the new apartheid schemes. One can imagine an unholy union between those who have no regard for civilization and those who hope to save it when the latter acknowledges, at least in an implied sense, that civilization won’t make it unless some wildernesses are created, unless some civilized places go under. One can imagine, in other words, a tactical spectrum where the radical factions make eco-modernist proposals look good rather than being beneficial to the wildness-centered, anti-industrial conservationists.

A striking example came to me when I was working with a young conservationist on a wilderness magazine. At some point he told me that he imagined a program of “voluntary land abandonment” in order to institute the land requirements for the half-earth idea. But of course that is unrealistic. What is realistic? Well, forced land abandonment, which is precisely the kind of thing that happens or is considered acceptable when people are swept up in revolutionary fervor, if history is any indication. Of course, the apartheid moderates would not be able to propose such a thing, and in fact would have to stick to the rhetoric of willingness and non-violence. But they could certainly be benefitted by a more radical faction.

Even more threatening is if this fervor is directed toward only the parts of the program that are beneficial for the creation of civilized islands. A true anti-industrial effort, that is, a radical faction on the wildnesscentered tactical spectrum, would need to devote a good bit of its energy to making sure those islands aren’t possible. This is because if the eco-modernist version is instituted, the human half legitimized, and the islands made efficient, it could mean a very long time until industry falls again. The eco-modernist vision in its realistic version is quite powerful because it simplifies the machinery of civilization. Instead of added complexity from artificial energy input, civilization is made to instead harness energy from systems that already exist, through the creation of wild spaces, through biotechnology, etc. (Indeed, one of the great arguments in favor of wild spaces is their benefit to biotechnics—see E.O. Wilson’s “Encyclopedia of Life” project, for instance, and his 2016 Aeon essay.) Last time this happened without corresponding damage to infrastructure was the Bubonic plague, and it actually helped keep civilization going, jump-started markets and trade, and increased the quality of life for many of the surviving. In other words, simplification without collapse would just increase the lifespan of civilization.

Of course, perhaps even with a radical eco-modernist faction the civilized islands will not be made efficient enough to survive. But the pro-civilization environmentalists have a solution for this too: space travel. Indeed, Martin Rees in his book Our Final Hour, after giving an overview of the great threats to civilization we are currently facing, pointed out that it may be the only way to keep up the progressive project. And Elon

Musk, who was mentioned earlier, has another project called SpaceX, which he has explicitly said is to function as a backup plan if his other projects—for sustainable energy and efficient travel—don’t have the impact he hopes they will.

Let this sink in. A common argument against the wildist proposal is that collapse could have negative repercussions for vast swaths of humanity. But the technician alternative of space travel is arguably worse. How many people do you think they’ll be able to fit on those ships, and what will those on earth be left with? Talk about a civilized island.

V. Conclusion

The de-coupling trend identified by the eco-modernists is real in at least a limited way, and it offers another tool for conservationists hoping to preserve and restore wildlands, including wildist conservationists. However, the prevailing narrative of the eco-modernist cadres, including and especially those at The Breakthrough Institute, is appalling, unsupported by the evidence, and points toward a future that no wildist wants. It is also a shameless attempt at revisionism, a perversion of concepts that originated from wildnesscentered conservationists who first espoused a halfearth proposal.

Luckily, the wildness-centered conservationists are behind some of the largest organizations espousing the half-earth proposal, including The Wildands Network and the groups behind the Nature Needs Half campaign. Wildists have a clear role to play in benefitting these campaigns, but should take care to avoid revisionist perversions that could transform half-earth from a radical proposal to protect at least half of the earth’s wildlands to a literal, institutional apartheid policy separating humans from wild nature.

The best way to do this is to focus on the moral rather than empirical problems with the apartheid proposal. While empirical problems should be discussed and we should be open to changing our arguments in light of new data, graphs, facts, and numbers rarely fare well in the main channels of communication available to us, like the mass media or internet articles. Probably three arguments are worth focusing on with special forcefulness.

First, wildists, in public debates or in articles, should focus on the morally appalling things that will have to occur on “the human side” of the eco-modernist proposal. Refer, for instance, to the problems with CAFos and aquaculture brought up by Crist. Although the argument is more complex than just this point, it has enough emotional power that it will be a major blow to eco-modernists, especially in live debate.

Second, wildists should point out the conflict between the “modernization for all” dictum and the wants of the people who would be effected by this. While it is true that all of wildists would be good examples for logical argument, more effective figureheads would be non-industrial peoples, preferably wildists themselves, who say that they do not want to be modernized. However, if any wildists use this tactic, they should be careful not to argue that all nonmodernized peoples do not wish to be modernized, or even that most do. This is simply not true, especially amongst agricultural communities. However, on TV or in non-text-based media, the emotional force of a non-industrial wildist saying that he wishes not to be modernized and has a right to fight against it will make it difficult for eco-modernists to respond, especially since the attention of the audience of industrial hu-mans watching will be brought to the inherently forceful nature of industrialization that they too often do not have to pay attention to.

Finally, wildists should focus heavily on the problem of “herding” populations into the fully modern, civilized islands that the eco-modernists envision. Here the eco-modernists will have to say that they do not advocate violence and that the entire process must be voluntary. However, the data makes it clear that this is wrong, and in this case wildists must be armed with that data and ready to use it. Remember, though, that in non-text-based media the audience will usually just hear “this person sounds like they know what they are talking about, because they are using numbers.” This means that, although we should under no circum-stances use false data, especially when accurate data is sufficient, the actual content matters less than the structure of the argument. Do not spit out so many numbers that the audience stops listening.

Finally, we should occasionally return to this question of apartheid and investigate whether economic trends have changed. If they have, we may recalibrate our argument. But the moral argument will of course remain, and with that we can say confidently that wildists will never support apartheid.

VI. Bibliography

Ausubel, J. (13, Jan 2013). Nature is rebounding: Landand ocean-sparing through concentrating human activities [talk].

Ausubel, J. (2015). The return of nature: How technology liberates the environment. Breakthrough Journal(5).

Blomqvist, L., Nordhaus, T., & Shellenberger, M. (2015). Nature Unbound: Decoupling for Conservation. Oakland: The Breakthrough Institute.

Callicott, B. (1995). Intrinsic value in nature: A metaethical analysis. The Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy(3).

Caradonna, J., Borowy, I., Green, T., Victor, P., Cohen, M., Gow, A., . . . Vergragt, P. (2015). A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique.


Crist, E. (2015). The reaches of freedom: A response to An Ecomodernist Manifesto. Environmental Humanities, 7(16), 245-254.

Foreman, D. (2004). Rewilding North America: A vision for conservation in the 21st century. Island Press.

Foreman, D. (2015, March 20). Interview with Dave Foreman. (D. Skrbina, Interviewer) The Wildernist. Retrieved from

http://www.thewildernist.org/2015/03/intervie w-dave-foreman/

Jacobi, J. (2016). Relations and the moral circle. Hunter/Gatherer, 1(2).

Jacobi, J. (2016). The foundations of wildist ethics. Hunter/Gatherer, 1(1), 6-55.

Kaczynski, T. J. (2010). Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore John Kaczynski, a.k.a "The Unabomber". (D. Skrbina, Ed.) Feral House.

Kolbert, E. (2014). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Henry Holt & Company.

Lewis, M. (1992). Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lewis, M. (2014). The education of an ecomodernist: From eco-romanticism to radical pragmatism. Breakthrough Journal(4).

Lewis, M. (2015). Rewilding pragmatism: Or, what an African Safari can teach America. Breakthrough Journal(5).

Locke, H. (2014). Nature needs half: A necessary and hopeful new agenda for protected areas in North America and around the world. George Wright Forum, 31(3), 359-371.

Motesharrel, S., Rivas, J., & Kalnay, E. (2014). Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies. Ecological Economics, 101, 90-102.

Nordhaus, T., Shellenberger, M., & Mukuno, J. (2015). Ecomodernism and the Anthropocene: Humanity as a force for good. Breakthrough Journal(5).

Peters, G., Marland, G., Quere, C., Boden, T., Canadell, J., & Raupach, M. (2012). Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Nature Climate Change, 2, 2-4.

Scarborough, R. (2016). Pentagon orders commanders to prioritize climate change in all military actions. Washington Times.

Schneider, F., Martinez-Alier, J., & Kallis, G. (2011). Sustainable degrowth. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 15(5), 654-656.

Strauss, B., Kulp, S., & Levermann, A. (2015). Carbon choices determine US cities committed to futures below sea level. Proceedings of the National Academic of the Sciences, 112(44), 13508-13513.

Tainter, J. (1990). The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, E. O. (2016). Half-earth. Aeon.

Wilson, E. O. (2016). Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life. W.W. Norton.

Worrall, S. (2014, November 01). Book talk: E. O. Wilson's bold vision for saving the world. National Geographic.

Wright, R. (2004). A Short History of Progress. House of Anansi.

Review: Green Delusions by Martin Lewis

John Jacobi, The Wildist Institute

Abstract—Martin Lewis’ Green Delusions is a critique of various forms of radical environmentalism. This review explores how these critiques relate to the wildist ideology.

I. Introduction

Martin Lewis is a former believer in radical environmentalism who published Green Delusions to refute these ideologies once he came to the realization that, according to him, the very things he once opposed actually offer the best way to institute environmentalist values. Worse, he claims, the more radical of radical environmentalisms would actually betray these values.

While some reviews have said that Lewis constructs a straw man, my own experience has confirmed that the grassroots of the environmental movement consists of individuals thoroughly confused about technology, primitive life, and the impotence of irrationalism as a basis for politics. Certainly some ecoradicals, thankfully the most influential, have more robust and scientifically-informed views, but they are by no means the majority, and in practice “radical environmentalism” often obscures facts for the sake of its ideology, rather than its ideology building from facts.

All that said, Lewis does only attack the low-hanging fruit, not really interacting with the more sophisticated non-marxist environmentalisms in a fair way. This review outlines those pitfalls in relation to wildism, explaining that, with the exception of some elements of his “decoupling” thesis, nearly all elements of his critique are irrelevant to the ideology.

II. A Book with Few Weaknesses

Although Lewis occasionally appears daft or overly polemical, Delusions is mostly a strong text, one that i wholeheartedly recommend to any eco-radical. in fact, if a radical cannot weather the storm Lewis sends his way, he ought to seriously reconsider the basis of his radicalism.

This is especially true regarding the scientific evidence presented in each chapter. Lewis points out, and he is unfortunately correct, that many, if not most, ecoradicals base their politics on unfounded, dubious, or flat-out wrong assumptions. Perhaps the strongest examples of this are those outlined in chapter two, “Primal Purity and Balance,” in which Lewis critiques both the noble savage idea and the idea that ecosystems have a “natural balance” (this, while true in some respects, is not true to the degree that many eco-radicals would need it to be to support their conclusions; see Hettinger & Throop, 1999).

Lewis also makes several powerful arguments against irrationalism. Writing with the correct assumption that most environmentalists are from the left, he writes, “Irrationalism may be inherently radical, but it can just as easily be harnessed to the radical right, as examples of the philosopher Heidegger and of the deconstructionist savant Paul de Man—onetime nazis both—so clearly show” (p. 161). Related is his critique of the environmentalist obsession with Eastern religions. on this point hse quotes an interesting passage by van Wolferen (1990, p. 241):

Actually, the historical function of Japanese Zen, which thrived among the warrior class, was to lower the resistance of the individual against the blind obedience expected of him, as can be gathered from the common Zen imagery of ‘destroying’ or ‘extinguishing’ the mind. Indeed, all of the Asian creeds so eagerly embraced by ecoradicals have been associated with notoriously anti-liberal political regimes.

Later chapters in the book critique anti-technology stances, predictably arguing for technical progress primarily on the basis of medical values, and anti-capitalist stances, arguing that capitalism is better for third world countries than collapse would be, again on the basis of humanist values. For a wildist, his arguments in favor of capitalism will likely be somewhat boring, his most interesting claim instead being that the collapse of technical and economic infrastructure would betray environmentalist values.

As a part of his proposed alternative, he notes an important point regarding the “limits to growth” hypothesis (p. 185):

Limits do exist for specific resources, but in the most important cases they are so remote as to be virtually meaningless. Using the same logic one could declare all human endeavors futile, seeing that the sun will eventually go supernova and consume everything. More importantly, environmentalists must come to understand that economic growth increasingly entails not the ever mounting consumption of energy and raw materials, but rather ever increasing value added-which as often as not is accomplished through miniaturization, partial dematerialization, and the breakdown of the very distinction between goods and services.

Lewis is probably correct. Although it is possible that miniaturization will combine with expansion to create a hyper-technical landscape, current environmental problems are more likely to ensure that economic practices will go through a rapid change in the future, resulting in less growth in exchange for more value added, and resulting, ideally, in more efficient and stable distribution of resources. Several from the technician class have predicted as much.

Some weaknesses of the book do stand out. In particular, although Lewis clearly understands radical en-vironmentalism, having belonged to the movement once himself, he sometimes makes arguments that he should know would be unconvincing to a radical. For example, in a chapter that is otherwise quite good, he supports his argument that urbanism is better for the environment by writing that “public transport, which is almost always less polluting than travel by private automobile, is feasible only in and between cities.” As if the travel practices of primitive man, or even transportation in agricultural societies, even approached the damage done by industrial public transport! He also says that he “can only shudder” at Aldo Leopold feeling “unspeakable delight” while hunting (p. 96), which is a classic case of the pathological aversion to violence present in many modern oversocialized individuals.

Finally, Lewis shows a clear and probably undue bias for eco-marxism, calling it the “most sophisticated of eco-radical ideologies.” But he ignores two important facts. First, non-marxist radical environmentalism is much newer than marxism, so it necessarily possesses a smaller theoretical body of knowledge. Second, some circles, who Lewis only ever addresses fleetingly or indirectly, have actually developed rather strong and reasoned foundations for their radicalism. This is the same circle that produced the field of conservation biology, The Wildlands Network, the concept of rewilding, and the now-defunct publication, Wild Earth.

I. Rarely Challenges Wildism

Unfortunately, Lewis’ strongest arguments, his scientific ones, are so strong precisely because most ecoradicals favor irrationalism and utopianism as the basis for their resistance. However, since wildism is built within the context of scientific materialism, most of the critiques do not apply to it.

For instance, Lewis argues that radical environmentalism is built on four faulty assumptions: (1) that primitive peoples lived or live harmoniously with nature; (2) that small-scale political structures are more socially and ecologically benign; (3) that technical progress is inherently bad for the environment; (4) that capitalism is inherently bad for the environment. He further argues that eco-radicalism’s main energy is derived from the belief “that continued economic growth is absolutely impossible, given the limits of a finite planet.”

However, almost none of this applies to wildism. in addition to its scientific materialism, wildism is mostly immune from these critiques because it is a non-humanist ideology, so does not hold dear the values of large-scale solidarity, equality, non-violence, and so forth. Rather, in lieu of social progressivism, wildists argue for the conservation imperative to be extended to human nature, which is known to come with bad (or “bad”) aspects as well as good ones, just as in nature generally. For this reason, nomadic hunter/gatherer life is a useful model not because primitive peoples live (or lived) “harmoniously” with non-human nature, but because they represent, in a rough way, the natural state of man. scientific findings based on this insight have been revealed by sociobiology and its cousins.

Furthermore, although primitive peoples do not always live in an ecologically benign manner, they are several orders less damaging to the environment than industry. Oftentimes critiques of the noble savage mythology fail to note this, instead relying on the shock value that comes with the direct character of primitive man’s ecological damage. Thus, the point is not that primitive peoples necessarily live morally good lives, but that they at least live less bad ones, and this is ensured not by some naive faith in human self-restraint, but by the hard, material limits of primitive technics.

On the question of technical progress, wildists do not insist that specific instances of technical progress are inherently bad for the environment, which is significant because the rebutting evidence Lewis offers often consists only of this. Wildists also note that technical progress could, hypothetically, be good for some aspects of naturalness, such as biodiversity. However, the core contention of wildism is that conservation should always aim to restore nature’s autonomy, or its wildness, and so far technical progress as a whole has necessarily amounted to a loss of this autonomy.

Thus, wildism demonstrates a reasoned way to come to eco-radical conclusions. The argument goes something like this: nature has intrinsic value, and the wildness of nature is of the utmost importance, even such that civilization at least until now has been morally unjustifiable. Since civilization arguably can’t and almost assuredly won’t be reformed into something sufficiently benign, the most moral way forward is probably to dispense of industry completely. Nearly none of what Lewis says is a great challenge to this, given the starting value of wildness.

The critiques most relevant to wildism are closely related to the half-earth idea, which poses, so far as we at the institute can tell, the only viable challenge to the idea that collapse is the way out of our ecological problems. This idea will be addressed on its own in a later piece. It is enough to say here that the strongest critiques relevant to wildism do not challenge the core value of wildness, but demand that wildists eco-radicals consider what other values have to be present for them to favor collapse over the alternatives. Lewis’ particular alternative (he calls it “Promethean environmentalism”) is inadequate, but evidence he offers strengthens the relevance of the central dilemma: if further development can mostly decouple humans from non-human nature, which is possible in some significant ways, would wildness-centered eco-radicals be willing to sacrifice the wildness of human nature in exchange for the wildness of non-human nature, or must they have both?

For instance, Lewis points out that densely packed urban industrial environments more efficiently use land and resources than rural environments, leaving more land for wildlife. Although this could be akin to the argument that public transport is desirable because it is better than cars, I find this argument to be somewhat more sensible, because collapse will not happen in all places at once, which means a potentially long period of ruralization in some areas before the period of technical regression ends. This could mean a lot of damage to wildlife. Furthermore, Lewis offers some evidence that nonor minimally-industrial back-tothe-land living could be more harmful than cities. This is mostly anecdotal, however, and also relies on emotional capital in the same way critiques of noble savagism do, so more data is needed to support the point.

Lewis’ argument is made stronger, of course, by the possibility of an even more radical decoupling for which industrial cities lay the foundation. That is, new digital technologies, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and so forth could decrease the ecological footprint of each human being by several orders, potentially to a level smaller than even primitive man. This may make the population decrease that has historically come with industrialization sufficient to make the late industrial mode of production less harmful to non-human nature than primitive modes of production. In the context of transhumanist ideas, like uploading human consciousness to the internet, this idea starts to look like the best of both worlds: progressivists get to continue technical progress for humans, while at the same time non-human nature will continue to be restored.

I and a few others at the institute believe that there are serious problems with this idea, reflecting many of the points brought up by McCarthy (1993), but we have outlined neither our moral rebuttal nor our empirical doubts. Because of this, Lewis currently has the upper hand, and the “decoupling” aspect of his critique is a profoundly important consideration for wildists.

IV. Conclusion

Lewis’ critique of radical environmentalism is unfortunately stronger than it should be, because among the grassroots activists that form the majority of the movement, irrationalism reigns supreme, as do humanist values. This is especially true in regards to radical environmentalist accounts of small-scale societies and noble savage mythologies. However, because wildists are not bound to humanist values and insist on a scientific analysis, Lewis’ critique is mostly impotent for us. Nevertheless, to the extent that it is feasible, his “decoupling” thesis offers an attractive potential alternative to collapse, and a pressing concern for wildists should be outlining the moral and empirical criticisms of this alternative, if they exist.

V. Bibliography

Hettinger, N., & Throop, B. (1999). Refocusing

ecocentrism: De-emphasizing stability and

defending wildness. Environmental Ethics, 21(1), 3-21.

Lewis, M. (1992). Green Delusions: An

Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

McCarthy, J. P. (1993). Reviewed work: Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism by Martin W. Lewis. Economic Geography, 69(4), 425-428.

van Wolferen, K. (1990). The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation. Vintage Books.

Freedom Club Issue #1: Who are the Luddites?

Winter 2015

Published by Freedom Club 2015 www.uncfc.org


PDF Edition c Freedom Club, 2015

Typesetting by John Jacobi Editing by Atticus Grey

Editor’s Note

We, the editorial team for FC Journal, started this whole project without any obvious direction to go. We had no editorial position, no theory—nothing, really, except for our intuition, common sense, and sweat.

But we didn’t need an editorial position to see that there are some real problems with the modern age. We all feel the spiritual destitution, the underlying anxiety that characterizes the city, the melancholy of our dayto-day lives. We all see the headlines threatening one of many disasters industrial technology is creating for us: climate change, anti-biotic resistance, species extinction

But when we go out into the wilderness, everything changes. That underlying anxiety disappears and our lives are reinvigorated with purpose. Our blood rushes every day with some surprising problem to solve. And Nature, with Her great trembling mountains and her rolling thunder, reminds us of our insignificance, and we can’t help but feel awe. In the wilderness, we have freedom.

But where do we go from there? How do we respond to this industrial age? This issue explores the group of responses that has generally been dismissed as absurd. Even the name for these responses is supposed to be an epithet: luddism. Named after the 18th century mill workers who smashed machinery in revolt against the Industrial Revolution, contemporary luddites are also refuseniks, rejecting the industrial age and venerating, in some way or another, the wild spirit it orders and destroys.

Contained herein are all the rejects and rejectors of industrial society, from Europeans living off the grid to a graffiti artist coloring in the colorless walls of cities. We looked at each of these stories with fascination and, seeing their enormous diversity, we felt free to also reject industry and beat out a path away from it. So we’ll adopt an editorial position soon enough. But for now, enjoy with us the beautiful and tragic lives of the luddites.

The Tseringma Pilgrimage, 1971: An eco-philosophic ‘anti-expedition’

Nils Faarlund

The following essay will soon be published in Canada in a book, edited by Aage Jensen and Bill Henderson, commemorating the Norwegian ecophilosopher Sigmund Kvaloey Setreng.

The idea behind an eco-philosophic ‘anti-expedition’ to Tseringma came up in the spring of 1969, when professor of philosophy Arne Naess and his assistant Sigmund Setreng camped at Nagarkot, not far from Kathmandu. They were relaxing after a car drive from Oslo, Norway, to Varanasi, India, to attend a conference on Gandhian non-violence.

From the vantage point of the former hill station, the Himalayan giants from Annapurna to Chomo Langma—also known in the Western hemisphere as Mont Everest—appear as a breathtaking panorama. Equipped with his experience in high altitude mountaineering since leading the Norwegian expedition to Tirich Mir in 1950, Arne’s attention was soon drawn towards the grand Gauri Shankar. This impressive mountain was once recognized as the highest mountain in the world, probably because it dominates the view from the vicinity of the capital. Although it has lost this status, it holds a prominent position in Hindu as well as Buddhist culture as the abode of worshiped deities.

To the Sherpas, who live in small villages at the foot of the snow-covered holy mountains of Himalaya, Gauri Shankar is the most sacred mountain. In their language it is known as Tseringma. While studying the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy behind the Sherpa’s admirable way of life, Arne and Sigmund had become acquainted with the renowned friendliness the Sherpas had towards fellow humans and Wild Nature.1 Before leaving Nagarkot, they concluded without hesitation that they had to return to Nepal as soon as possible to get in touch with the remarkable Sherpas and enjoy the marvellous rock and ice on a mountain of such symbolic importance, as well as study a culture unparalleled in its relationship with Wild Nature.[1]

Sigmund and I were college mates with a mutual fancy for jazz and mountaineering. Thus he turned up to enthusiastically share experiences from his Asian odyssey soon after returning home. It was music to my ears when he expressed his desire to revisit the Sherpas and the sacred summits of Tseringma. Since I had left my position as a research officer in biochemistry and microbiology in 1967 and become a full time professional in mountaineering, I was ready to leave at short notice! But severe threats towards our beloved mountain landscape at home urged Sigmund and me to give priority to a campaign to defend Mardoela, the fourth highest free falling waterfall in the world. Meanwhile, having said goodbye to his position as a philosophy professor at the University of Oslo, Arne followed an invitation to work and lecture at the University of Berkeley.

When all three of us left for Kathmandu in early September, our preparation, mental and physical, had been extensive. Sigmund had been the leading activist behind the non-violent action to defend Mardoela against damming, according to the philosophy of Gandhi and the developing ‘ecophilosophy’— a way of arguing for the inherent value of Wild Nature. The rudimentary beginning of this new field of thought was established under the Arctic Tower of Stetind in 1966 by Arne and me, drawing on an early introduction to ecology during a stay at a German technical university. Arne contributed to what we chose to call the Tseringma Pilgrimage with his thorough study of Buddhist philosophy and Sherpa culture. He also obtained support from a German research foundation in Nepal for the organization of our trek and the permission to visit a restricted area. My contribution was, among others, to care for the complete equipment, including the construction of special gear for high altitude camping and mountaineering, which was not in stock at shops those days. I had also been an active partner in the further development of ecophilosophy and the concept of an ‘anti-expedition.’

To practice the concept of an ‘anti-expedition’ was our chosen way of raising a protest against the pressure on Wild Nature and the Sherpa culture caused by the heavy, army-inspired expeditions that had been intruding on pristine regions in the Himalayas since the 1920s. Hundreds of ill-equipped porters, along with luxury kitchen services for the sahibs, dependent on taking firewood from exposed tree line areas, made a damaging effect. The social impact of such invasions also disrupted the cultural patterns of small Sherpa villages and at times more or less depleted the rations, which with much effort had to be harvested in steep and sometimes faraway places. The most serious consequences were—and still are—the impact on religious life, the loss of workforce due to the men in the villages taking part in expeditions, and sometimes the loss of indispensable family support in mountain accidents.

As mountaineers we were deeply critical of the Alpine Club’s gentlemen method of mountaineering—essentially, attacks on the mountains many worshipped as sacred. Our eight-day trek to a village at the foot of Tseringma had only eight porters—all of them from Rolwaling and equipped in their traditional way. Two trusted expedition helpers, Pasang and Lachpa, came with us to be our rope mates—not high altitude porters! They were our cooks, too, when we were all together in the same camp and could enjoy true, vegetarian Sherpa meals. We had, of course, brought the food from our travels in Kathmandu valley, and from home we brought fish and geitost.[3]

We carefully avoided any safari equipment. We had consequently selected lightweight mountaineering gear for our small camps and for alpine style climbing. To be able to follow Arne’s old concept of climbing for the joy of discovering and not for ‘attacking’ the summits, I ran a course in alpine climbing on rocks near the village for Pasang and Lachpa, so that they could be qualified rope mates, handling at that time nature-friendly and state of the art equipment. We brought pitons for icy conditions, but not to be used for fixing ropes. As it was our firm intention to demonstrate a new approach to mountaineering in the Himalayas, any sort of technical aids were incomprehensible.

In agreement with the Lama of Beding, Yelung Pasang, we set the limit for our climbs to an altitude of around 6,000 meters. Sigmund became our liaison with the Lama, who demonstrated his faith in him by inviting Sig-mund to study and sleep in the monastery next to the cell of Yelung Pasang himself. Thus Sigmund, with the help of Pasang (the rope mate) as an interpreter, had frequent dialogues with an exceptional representative of Tibetan Buddhism.

Sigmund gave priority to making acquaintance with Sherpa families to take part in their everyday lives. He also followed the celebrations of Buddhist rituals, whereas Arne and I spent most of our time in close contact with Tseringma. When all three of us met every now and then in Sigmund’s study to elaborate on our versions of ecophilosophy,[4] Arne and I were pleased to learn about Sigmund’s research into living Sherpa culture.

After Arne had spent a couple of weeks in physical and mental dialogue with Tseringma, he unfortunately fell ill and thus he could not follow us on a 6 day trek over the Tesi Lapcha Pass to the home village of Pasang and Lachpa in the Khumbu valley. We decided to make the best out of the new situation and use Arne as a ‘post runner’—a method of communication in Himalayan expeditions before electronic equipment took over—to deliver a petition for a ban on summit climbs on Tseringma and other holy Himalayan mountains. Sigmund, in his role as a liaison, arranged for an open village consultation in front of the monastery. Following introductory remarks by the Lama, the villagers unanimously signed the petition, addressed to the King of Nepal, with whom Arne and his brother Erling had an earlier rendezvous.

After Arne left, Sigmund and I remained to continue working on patterns of thought for a nature-friendly future in a “literally breathtaking camp” in the lap of Tseringma, as Sigmund put it. But after unforgettable days and starry nights, winter was approaching and the time came to move on. Our trek over the Tesi Lapsha Pass to Thame added new dimensions to our pilgrimage. The trek was in itself grandiose. The most lasting impression we got from Pasang and Lachpa’s village was the impact made by the construction of the hotel Mount Everest View and the impending impact of an airfield to be established in the best potato fields of the village.

Back home we were deeply moved by the once in a life time experience, eager to work it out and share it with our countrymen, as well as mountaineers and people looking for new ideas for a greening world. Sigmund’s one-hour TV documentary was a vivid presentation of our pilgrimage and a powerful introduction to ecophilsophy and ecopolitics, which was strongly influenced by our encounter with the remarkable Sherpa culture. We used the film as well as my photographs for our lectures and seminars. Sigmund returned to Sherpa country over and over again, expanding his ecophilosophical and ecopolitical work in a jazz-inspired improvisation in the spirit of the Norwegian folktale hero Askeladden.[5] He consistently followed Gandhi’s lead, seeking conflict to expose and settle by non-violence unacceptable situations. Thus he ceaselessly challenged the ideology of industrial economic growth in a manifold of ways till at last heart disease slowed him down.

Arne’s encounter with Sherpa life during our 1971 pilgrimage, and the opportunity to study Sherpa traditions and Sherpa/Tibetan Buddhism in medias res, influenced markedly his version of ecophilosophy. His enduring efforts for this new field resulted in an international discourse with participants from all continents. A talk he gave in Bucharest in 1972 at the Third World Future Research Conference, where he argued for ‘deep ecology,’ is considered to be the first international presentation of ecophilosphy.

Sigmund and I did not share Arne’s belief in changing the culture of modernity by means of philosophical arguments alone. Having already worked for six years with Wild Nature in the Norwegian and Alpine tradition, all the time moving towards a change of social values, I brought back learning practices in the home of culture[6]—Wild Nature—with a lasting effect. This has been the backbone of the learning processes I have been conwaying[7] to professionals of most branches in modern society, as well as for individuals in search of deep acquaintance with Wild Nature, to enable a nature-friendly career or simply for the joy of the encounter.

The Tseringma Pilgrimage of 1971, along with the Mardoela non-violent action, did make a difference in the greening of Norway in the 1970s, changing patterns of thought, political practice, learning processes, and social organization. Then the oil-era happened and a blossoming ‘spring’ changed into an early ‘autumn.’ But the seeds are slumbering and the grassroots show signs of a paradigm shift. A change for a nature-friendly future is forthcoming as soon as the signs of spring we create are so abundant that they coalesce in a varl0sning.8

There is no way to nature-friendliness—nature-friendliness is the way!

No More Monkey Mind

Jake Yarwood

Jake Yarwood is a freelance photographer based in Perth, Australia. The following is a project statement for his photo essay, “No More Monkey Mind.” To see more photos from the project, visit jakeyarwood.com.

A life that matters, this is something we all strive for.

Does it occur to you as it does to me that many of the things that truly matter in life are hidden away from us? It is only with true clarity that these facets of reality unveil themselves.

Once you begin to see the true nature of this modern existence for what it is, a bitter taste begins to form in your mouth.

Nearly all aspects of civilisation leave us in a perpetual and seemingly inescapable stranglehold, whilst power structures aptly ensure we cling onto notions of democracy’ and freedom’. We are pawns of contemporary society; we are cogs in the Machine. For every new innovation’ the techno-industrial complex brings about, we are fed yet another new need’, and we devour these new needs relentlessly and without question.

Civilisation is fundamentally a failure, it is dysfunctional to its core, yet civilised downfalls are vastly unspoken of. Look at us now, passive like never before, witnesses and servants to cultural genocide, all of us guilty perpetrators of ecocide.

We have become so far removed from the things that actually matter. It seems unimaginable that in truth the majority of human history suggests we once held a harmonious place in the natural world. But now, alas, the divine

entity that represents greed and violence, suffering and exploitation, our god; almighty Progress, says we can inconsequentially do as we please. Progress has actually proved itself to be the death of our divinity.

We live in times where the glorification of superficiality and materialism take prevalence over all, where the prioritization and absolute proliferation of the mundane comes before that of preserving richness and diversity of all kinds.

We have to reclaim ourselves, reclaim spirituality, reclaim community, reclaim culture and art, reclaim our kinship for flora and fauna alike. Only once we start on this path will we know what it means to truly be. As the influx of societal, psychological and ecological crises persists, we must instil in ourselves irrefutable respect for the web of life.

This series of photographs is an ongoing attempt in seeking out and recognising all the qualities in life that make a mindful and universally meaningful existence attainable.

For oneness, for the wild.

In Defense of Plants

Matt Candeias

In Defense of Plants is a blog and podcast dedicated to the botanical world, hoping to foster a sense of awe for earth’s photosynthetic wonders. Check out indefenseofplants.com for more.

Towards the end of my undergraduate career I took a job restoring abandoned quarries throughout western New York. The goal was to take possibly the most destructive form of land use and attempt to coax something resembling a habitat out of it.

My favorite project took place in an old sand pit way out in the country. Spending time there was rewarding enough, as the surrounding wilderness was already beginning to reclaim what humans had taken from it. We were attempting to reintroduce an endangered butterfly to part of its former range, and to do so, we needed to establish a robust population of its host plant. The butterfly in question is the Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) and its host plant the blue lupine (Lupinus perennis). Karner blue caterpillars feed on nothing else.

Following the end of the Pleistocene, L. perennis took advantage of the welldrained soils left in the wake of the retreating glacial ice sheets and spread from coastal New England all the way to Minnesota. It specializes on nutrient poor, sandy soils. In fact, these plants were once thought to be bad for the land, robbing it of life and vitality. As such, they were maligned. The generic name “Lupinus” has its roots in another Latin word and was given to these plants because early botanists associated them with another creature that haunted their nightmares and left the land impoverished—the wolf (Canis

lupis). As with the misappropriated hatred towards the wolf, the idea that Lupine was bad for the land was far from true. Being a legume, it is able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, thus bringing life to barren soils. But, as is human nature, facts never seem to trump emotions, and L. perennis has seen a 90

This story affected me deeply. The more I dug into the literature, the more I realized how important plants are. I haven’t looked back since. That initial interest has grown into a full-blown obsession with the botanical king-dom.

Early on, if someone had told me that I would end up devoting my life to studying plants, I probably would have laughed at them and walked away. Growing up I thought plants were utterly boring, a sentiment probably shared by more people than I can count. I was an animal person. Needless to say, much has changed over the last decade.

I try my best to communicate my love of the plant kingdom, but all too often it falls of deaf ears. Any time I present to a group I inevitably hear the same responses: “What medicinal properties does it have?” or “Are the flowers pretty?” Most people only seem to care about plants when there is some sort of anthropocentric use for them. This, my friends, is a travesty. Plants are everything. They are the reason our planet is not a closed system. They are the reason I am here writing this and you are there reading it. Plants are what paved the way for terrestrial life way back in the Devonian.

You see, plants have this amazing ability to absorb energy from our sun

and turn it into food, a fact that with the exception of deep sea thermal vents, every organism on this planet relies on in one form or another. They have been at it for a long time too. The botanical world is full of survivors. Far from being boring and nonreactive, plants are living, breathing organisms capable of some amazing biological feats, which include chemical warfare that the UN would seriously frown upon. They have been at this whole survival game for much longer than any of our ancestors have. Each species has its own story, its own ecology, and its own way of interacting with the world around it. Plants aren’t here for us. We are here because of them. Everything is. We define entire ecosystems by the types of plants that grow there. We simply cannot understand the living world without first considering the flora that shaped it.

Despite all of their importance, plants still receive considerably less attention than animals. Shoot a bald eagle and you risk being put in jail. At the same time, some careless herbalist can clear an entire forest of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) or American ginseng (Panax quinquifolius) without anyone batting an eye. Poachers are taking to what little old growth forests remain and robbing them of orchid species already threatened with extinction and all so that some careless hobbyist can have a rare plant in their collection. We are heading into an uncertain future wrought with climate change and habitat destruction. At the base of it all is the plant kingdom. Until we begin appreciating our botanical neighbors for all they are worth, I fear things are not going to get any better.

Life, a continuation

Iris Graaf

It started as a seed doesn’t everything? it burrowed under my skin taking me over the roots fill every one of my veins and arteries stealing my blood now I have flowers in my mouth tree rings in my brain branches exploding from my chest what am I holding in my hands? my eyes hold leaves

I can’t find myself anymore buried in the earth Does this belong to me? Or am I nature’s possession?

Technological Vertigo: A Review of Black Mirror


Ziqian is a primitivist and Daoist who regularly blogs at ’wilderness before the dawn.’ Read more at sixpersimmons.blogspot.com.

The British science fiction television series Black Mirror draws from a tradition defined by genre paragons like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, shows that attempt to articulate and explore what Freud termed the uncanny’—that which is at once familiar and yet strange, a paradox that defines the modern condition. However, whereas past tales of the uncanny resort to invoking extraterrestrial forces or elements of the supernatural, Black Mirror represents an important realization: when you’ve got advanced technology, the notion of the supernatural becomes redundant. Through three seasons of blisteringly clever hour-long episodes, series creator and main writer Charlie Brooker delivers a trenchant satire of modern technology. While each episode tells a different and unrelated story with a different cast, the theme of the technological uncanny looms large throughout. The technology depicted in the series, much like the technology of our own world, estranges people from their own reality, generating uncanny situations like reliving the same day again and again or encountering the doppelganger of a deceased loved one. Sharp, original, often harrowing, and unexpectedly haunting, Black Mirror excels at revealing the implacable foreignness that dwells at the heart of even our most pedestrian technological contrivances.

In contrast to what one might expect from typical science fiction, each episode of Black Mirror portrays hypothetical technology that, far from being a revelation, is largely just a modest extrapolation of our own current epidemic of smart phones, social networking services, and wearable gadgets into the very near future. It’s science fiction, but only just barely. A service that generates the textual and vocal likeness of a deceased loved one based on his internet activity during life (S2:E1 “Be Right Back”) is science fiction only in the technical details. The ability of technology to produce a reasonably accurate psychological profile of a person with decades’ worth of hourly status updates, tweets, and Google searches is already upon us. A machine that induces memory loss (S2:E2 “White Bear”), a surgically-implanted and neurologically-wired device that records everything you see and hear via your eyes and ears (S1:E3 “The Entire History of You”), a society that operates as a social network incarnate (S1:E2 “Fifteen Million Merits”)—the hypothetical scenarios featured in each episode directly reference tech that either already exists or else would probably not be surprising to see in a few years’ time, and this helps to make some of the episodes seem remarkably realistic and believable.

The narratives are facilitated by able and affecting performances from a high profile roster of British and American actors, including Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Rory Kinnear (The Imitation Game), Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger), Rafe Spall (Life of Pi), Jessica Brown Findley (Downton Abbey), and Jon Hamm (Mad Men). However, some of the finest moments on the show come from actors that may be less familiar to American audiences, including Jodie Whittaker as Ffion, who struggles to convince her husband that not all truth can be found in the apparent objectivity of a recorded past, and Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, a young man trapped in a screen-based society that interacts chiefly through social network avatars and crass advertisements. As each episode consists of mostly different casts, it’s not possible here to do full justice to each and every superlative performance, so suffice it to say that the performances throughout the series are consistently convincing, robust, and deliberate in a way that makes the characters and stories feel thoroughly real even in the midst of the most absurd or fantastical scenarios, which speaks to the competence of the episodes’ directors as much as to the talent of the actors. The series’ cinematography and visual effects succeed in framing and accentuating the performances and help color each scene with an additional layer of emotional resonance—the bleary morning following a sleepless night of obsessing over a video clip, the garish glow of a cartoon celebrity advertisement lighting up a urine-soaked underpass, the creeping claustrophobia of a snowed-in house—resulting in an atmosphere of near pitch-perfect malaise. Each story often instills a sense of ethical or even existential disquiet that will linger for hours, days, or, if one isn’t too distracted, even weeks. This was the case for this reviewer, who found it difficult to watch several episodes in a row, needing a day or two in between viewings to digest and recover. A sort of cognitive vertigo takes hold as the mind struggles to reconcile the many moral conundrums left open at the end of each episode. The tech that defines the lives of the characters in these episodes, much like the tech that surrounds us in the real world, mitigates even the most intimate aspects of life—sex, death, memory—and, in facilitating their experiences, reduces their humanity to spectacle and entertainment. It is impossible not to feel this degradation as a palpable weight on the soul after each viewing.

As such, the series is decidedly bleak, offering virtually no suggestions for solving the problems it raises, and this might count as its chief deficiency. Perhaps it has no answers, or perhaps it is implying that there can be no answer to the problem of technology, only resignation. Thus we watch as characters resign themselves to their defeat and humiliation, endure perpetual torment or even acquiesce and convert. Black Mirror doesn’t seem interested in asking how we got to where we are or where we seem to be headed, and so doesn’t seem to quite count as cautionary tale or allegory. Rather, the show seems content to simply reflect back at us the true bleakness of the technological world that entraps us without speculating on what we could or should do, a wake-up call as opposed to a battle plan. Part of what makes Black Mirror an exceptional series is its insistence on approaching the subject matter unequivocally, without the apologism that is typical even of dystopian science fiction that may level some half-hearted critique at technology. Thus it avoids the usual pitfalls that cause lesser sci-fi tales to end up undermining their own themes when they inevitably try to salvage technology, rehabilitated or otherwise somehow pardoned, from where it really belongs—oblivion. Black Mirror combines compelling narrative, incisive wit, and cerebral cinematography to articulate technology’s inherent duplicity in a laudable and sorely needed effort to reawaken us to the progress that encroaches upon all facets of our lives. In this, the series hopefully represents the beginning of a shift in industrial society’s attitude toward technology as embodied in our fiction—a move away from the glorification and worship of machines that characterizes the majority of science fiction and a much needed step toward a skepticism and apprehension of the techno-industrial enterprise. Black Mirror provides us a reflection more faithful than most, unadulterated by your typical propaganda and contrived happy endings, so that we might manage to pull out the wiring in our brains for a moment and take a clear look at ourselves for the first time in a long time.

Interview with IRL, anti-tech graffiti artist


I’d been seeing anti-tech graffiti around my town for the better part of a decade. Over the course of months it would appear in bursts, then slowly fade as the authorities cleaned it. Some places, images, or slogans only seemed to appear once, while others were clearly contested territories where cleaning and painting happened regularly. For years I wondered who the vigilantes that made my walks and bike rides so much more exciting could be. In a funny synchronicity, I finally met “IRL” through a mutual friend the same week another friend of mine started an anti-technology journal. We wandered for an hour all over town, behind warehouses, down train tracks, and beneath bridges discussing this very particular subset of graffiti. Some edits have been made for clarity. — Renzo

Renzo: So, you’re an anti-technology graffiti writer. What’s that mean?

IRL: I’m a graffiti writer who believes that technological society is the greatest threat to human freedom and that’s reflected in my art or vandalism or whatever you wanna call it.

Renzo: What kind of graffiti do you do?

IRL: I play with everything I can. Tagging, scrawling, stenciling, stickers, billboard defacement, wheatpaste posters. It really depends on the image or message and the surface or neighborhood.

Renzo: Why graffiti and not flyering or literature or a webpage?

IRL: Well first off I’m a graffiti writer, not an author or web designer or whatever. But also I think there’s an information glut these days and you need to be aggressive to break through the clutter and get people’s attention. Companies use billboards and outdoor advertising because it works. They’re constantly trying to figure out how to put their messaging on every flat surface. So am I.

Renzo: Why are you “IRL?”

IRL: Ok, so I guess it’s not just that outdoor advertising is effective, it’s also outdoors. When you find graffiti you find it in the real world; a person’s hands put it there and you can touch it with your own. My graffiti is a reward to those who leave the house and implores them to do it again. My best stuff you’ll find while traveling on foot. The photos for this article are the first I’ve submitted for online display, although I’m aware of photos of my work being posted by other people and becoming popular. When I found out that there was a cyber world abbreviation for the real world I lived in, it felt so gross I just couldn’t let it go.

I also have a weird fantasy that once the government/corporations have nearly every aspect of people’s lives tracked in real timethrough smart phones, social media, bank accounts, gps, and so onthat they will then have a list of people who don’t appear in most or any of these places (that’s not the fantasy, that’s a prediction from the CEO of Google[8]), those people will derisively be called “Irls.” Although, probably they’ll just be called potential terrorists and painted as anti-social.

Renzo: Can you talk a little more about graffiti being in the real world and maybe about how it relates to wildness?

IRL: I think the ways I interact with the city are fundamentally different from the ways that a lot of people do. I climb, I explorenot just for places to shop or work, but for places to paint, hide, watch from I am hunted by police and similarly I observe them to achieve what I want. When something changes like a parking garage, housing development, or store front, I think about how it changes this process. I’d like to think it’s a less domesticated way of interacting with my world.

Also, a lot of graffiti happens in abandoned spaces, which, because nature is aggressive, quickly become wild spaces. I wind up hanging out and exploring rotting houses, crumbling factories, tunnel systems, empty warehouses, underneath bridges, old foundations in the forest, shut-down medical facilities And these are the same places that kudzu, poison ivy, and virginia creeper crawl over and crack. Lamb’s quarter and mullein push up through the floors. Raccoons, rats, opossums, and all sorts of birds build their nests. Homeless humans as well.

Renzo: Why not find these things in wilderness spaces? Why stay in the city if what you want is the wild?

IRL: Well, I’m also a product of my environment. I had to accept a few years ago that I actually get more excited by ruins than wilderness. I grew up in a place with no redeeming value, where the few undeveloped spaces were paved in my early and mid-teen years. My perception of wilderness seems to be, correctly or not, a place that industry hasn’t destroyed yet. It gives me no hope. But a place that is regenerating from industry gives me hope for the future. That’s not a thing I was excited to realize about myself, but it is what it is. I feel more comfortable in fight than flight.

Renzo: Let’s talk a bit about some particular projects. Tell me about “Facebook is Boring.”

IRL: That was impulsive. I was walking and there was a long blank wall that needed something and I had just had a conversation with a friend about all the pressure to get a Facebook and all the reasons I hadn’t. I wrote “Facebook is fucking boring.” It seemed like the meanest thing one could say in 2013. Everybody knows that shit destroys your privacy, reduces your friendships to shallow gestures and makes people narcissists, and nobody cares. But the accusation that it simply fails to entertain That’s harsh. A friend of mine who uses social media showed me a couple days later that it was going around on facebook, instagram, etc. It felt good, like somebody had finally said it. So, I wrote it a dozen more times in our town and then in cities all over the US. One of my favorite things about graffiti is it can break silent consensus like that. I dropped the “Fucking” cuz you shouldn’t curse in public; it’s rude.

Renzo: So you’re not on Facebook?

IRL: No online profiles. I do have an email address. But I’m only represented


Renzo: “Industry is a death culture?”

IRL: That was a sticker campaign. Using the method where you write on the sticky side of a sticker and then put it on the inside of something transparent. I put them in every free newspaper box in my town (about 70) where the headline appears on the newspaper so that no matter what pointless headline is on the actual paper it just says “Industry is a death culture.” Industry makes living things into dead things, redwoods into timber, animals into packaged meat, fields into parking lots and so on. During occupy I met somebody who, later when we had become good friends and I mentioned the stickers, said “I’d been having a rough time and had left town, coming back and seeing those was one of the first things I saw that made me think there were people here that could make this place livable for me.” That’s pretty much the best case scenario for my workmessages to people secretly thinking things they think nobody else believes.

Renzo: Stencils?

IRL: I have one with the FBI sketch of the Unabomber that says “Ted was right.” That is pretty prominent around town, and a “Food Riot” stencil that uses the logo from the southeastern grocery store chain “Food Lion” with the lion masked up in black bloc. It’s by far the most common stencil in town, I also made like 75 Food Riot tote bags and gave them away at local events anonymously. I see random people carrying them around town and it makes me smile. The cops in this town have a hard-on for graffiti writers and I like to think seeing the bags around town is frustrating for them, but I don’t really know.

Renzo: Other stuff ?

IRL: I try out random anti-tech slogans like “Blow up the internet” or “Desert the digital utopia” and I like defacing billboards for green tech and other false solutions.

Renzo: Do you address other subjects in your graffiti?

IRL: Yeah.

Renzo: Like?

IRL: Let’s not connect too many dots in case the local law reads it, but yeah.

Renzo: Do you have any future plans?

IRL: Yeah, I’m working on a series of Stencil Facebook logo modifications like “[F]BIbook” and “[F]ucking Creepy.” I wanna do some really big roller paint billboard style stuff along the highways against video games and virtual reality. Those are like the heroin of my generation. Well, that and heroin.

Scrublands: What Living Off-the-Grid in Europe Looks Like

Antoine Bruy

The following is a project statement for photogapher Antoine Bruy’s photo essay, Scrublands, which has been featured in Slate, WIRED, and The New Yorker. See more of Bruy’s work at antoinebruy.com.

From 2010 to 2013, I hitchhiked throughout Europe with the aim of meeting men and women who had made the radical choice to live away from cities, willing to abandon a lifestyle based on efficiency and consumption.

Without any fixed route, driven by encounters and chance, this trip eventually became for me a kind of quest similar to the ones these families embarked on. Eight of these experiments are shown here, and display various fates that should not only be seen at a political level, but more importantly as daily and immediate experiences.

The heterogeneity of places and situations shows us the beautiful paradox of pursuing utopia through permanent empirical attempts and sometimes errors. Unstable structures, recovered materials, or multiple applications of agricultural theories allow us to see the variety of potential trajectories—all of which aim for more economic or social autonomy. In their worlds, time has fallen from its tight linearity to a slow and deliberate pace. No more ticking clocks, just the ballet of days and nights, seasons and lunar cycles. No more clock ticking but the ballet of days and nights, seasons and lunar

The Wildernist Issue #1: For the Wild

July 2015

Cover art: Erk the Weasel, by Paige Carter All articles from www.thewildernist.org

Submit to The Wildernist

The Wildernist would love to receive your submissions! We accept writing, photography, video, audio, and almost any other format by new and established authors alike. While our official editorial position is the end of industry (no more dams, no more mines, no more roads) because of the havoc it is wreaking on our wild earth, we consider every article that hopes to spread the message that wild nature matters and is worth fighting for.

If you have a piece you would like to submit to The Wildernist, or if you have any questions, email us atthewildernist@gmail.com and we’ll respond as soon as we can.

Editor’s Note

This issue is the product of rapid growth. During these past six months, The Wildernist ’s team has met many great people, added three, and received so many submissions that we’re putting this issue out a month early! We really hope you enjoy it.

The main subject of this issue is the ideology of Wildism. Our opening piece, “A Statement of Principles,” is the product of diligent work by several Spanish Wildists who wanted to outline the fundamentals of the ideology, including a love for wild nature and a rejection of industrial progress and humanism. Another Spanish Wildist, E=m.c2, explores the need for struggle and purpose in “The Myth of Erk.” And other authors outline the dangers of leftism, the importance of Ted Kaczynski, and the need for science in a revolutionary struggle against industry. It’s an issue packed with thinking material, for sure.

Interspersed among all this are articles that remind us what we’re fighting for. Highschool senior James Lee describes to us the plight of the tapir, which once roamed North America, and hints at a solution that takes Pleistocene rewilding seriously. Dave Foreman goes more into Pleistocene rewilding and his experience with Earth First! in an interview between him, Professor David Skrbina, and some friends in Spain. And the Glen Canyon Institute lets us know that the draining of Lake Foul — er, Powell — might now be a “politically realistic” option, giving us hope that the removal of the wretched Glen Canyon Dam itself might one day occur.

There’s lots more in this issue, and we encourage you all to take a look, think about the material, and send us feedback so that the next issue can be even better than this one.


Chapter 1 . Wildism: A Statement of Principles

This statement of principles was originally released at Wildism.org and translated from the Spanish version at Naturaleza Indomita. For a more in-depth explanation of these ideas, see “Industrial Society and Its Future” from the book Technological Slavery.

The individuals who signed this declaration want to place on record for the future the principles that drive us to actively lay the groundwork for the establishment of a truly strong and effective movement against the technoindustrial system.

Our Principles

The principles that guide our activity are:

1. Autonomy of the Wild. We understand “the Wild” (also “wild Nature”) to be everything that is not artificial and whose operation is autonomous. The Wild is the part of Nature that is untamed, that is not subject to the control and management of human beings (or of the technological systems built by them), even if human beings can be part of it. Therefore, we also consider as part of the Wild, human nature itself, i.e., the part of the mind and of human behavior that is innate and the biological consequence of evolution by natural selection. The autonomy of the wild part of human beings is what we call “freedom.” Our position is that the autonomy of the Wild is the most important value to which all other values are subordinate. We consider bad (worthy of our rejection) everything that violates the autonomy of wild Nature. In consequence, this value is the fundamental principle from which we derive the rest of our ideology and which inspires our objectives and activities.

2. Rejection of techno-industrial society and of civilization. Our fundamental principle being respect toward wild Nature, we consider bad all social systems that inevitably work against the above-mentioned autonomy. We consider that, at least, all forms of civilized society (i.e., with cities) are unavoidably contrary to this principle and therefore bad. And, out of all the forms of civilized society, we consider technoindustrial society (the social system whose technology is based on the combustion engine and electric power) especially harmful for the autonomy of the Wild, due to the fact that the enormous development of its technologies affects many aspects of the functioning of wild Nature that before this society remained untamed, in addition to interfering to a greater degree with those aspects of the Wild whose dynamics were subjected to a lesser extent in other previous forms of society.

Our Ideal

We also believe that a positive social ideal is necessary and useful to inspire our fight. The majority of people prefer to fight for a positive ideal in order to combat only a few negative facts. Our ideal is the nomadic hunter/gatherer way of life, since it is the form of human society that is least harmful to wild Nature and that best suits our nature.

Our Ob jective

However, we do not believe that the conscious and planned implementation of a model social ideal can be achieved without the model being perverted and/or having serious and unforeseen negative consequences, and this would be especially true in the case of the nomadic hunter/gatherer way of life.

Therefore, although we consider desirable the disappearance of all forms of civilized society and even all forms of society apart from the nomadic hunter/gatherer way of life, we do not see any practical way by which this can be achieved.

However, these outlined principles suggest a clear goal: the complete destruction of the techno-industrial system. If the techno-industrial form of society is the form of society that most threatens the autonomy of the Wild, then this society must be eliminated. Therefore, a movement that is based on the above principles must have as its fundamental objective the end of techno-industrial society.

Unlike the end of civilization or of any other form of pre-industrial society different from the nomadic hunter/gatherer one, we believe that the objective of the definitive disappearance of techno-industrial society can be achieved if in the future there are certain material conditions (a great crisis, that is to say, a severe weakening of the techno-industrial system). In fact, we believe that it is likely that these material conditions will happen by themselves.

Our Work

The work of the movement must be:

1. The development and diffusion of an ideology based on the identified principles and goals.

2. The gathering and organizing of all appropriate individuals (see point 5) so that the movement can be strengthened and it can prepare to try to bring the techno-industrial system down permanently when it is in crisis.

3. The facilitation and arrival of the crisis of the techno-industrial system, to the extent possible.

Dangers to Avoid

So that the movement turns out to be truly effective and stays loyal to its principles and purpose, it is crucial to keep in mind that all social systems generate an ideology (a more of less coherent set of ideas and values) that justifies and promotes their maintenance and material development. On the other hand, it is also necessary to take into account that techno-industrial society cannot be effectively combated based on the values and ends of the same social system, which is to be destroyed. To this end, it is very important to reject progressivism, humanism and leftism. Here is a brief explanation of each of them:

1. Of the various ideas that form the fundamentals of the ideology of industrial society, progress (the idea that the development of society is unquestionably good) is one of the most important. Progress implies the assumption that any shift to greater social complexity and size is a fundamental improvement for human beings, society and even the world. Progress means that the gradual development of human societies towards ever-increasing destruction and subjugation of wild Nature is a good thing. This is just the opposite of how we interpret this process. Progressivism is the attitude of assuming and defending progress.

2. Humanism is a set of ideas that exalts “the human,” considering it superior and alien to Nature. Humanism distorts or even despises the notion of human nature (besides wild Nature in general), generating a distorted image of our species that considers “human” (i.e., worthy of respect, good) only those traits, actions, and products of human beings that, not coincidentally, are fundamentally suitable to the requirements of civilized life. Humanism considers “non-human” (bad and despicable) traits, actions and products of human beings that do not comply with the requirements of civilized life. Humanism is, therefore, contrary to any ideology that takes the Wild as its fundamental value.

3. Leftism is a current, derived from humanism, that adjusts humanism to the demands of modern industrial society. The basic features of leftism are the defense of equality, of solidarity beyond the natural group of friends or family, and an ideally harmonious society (without conflict, without problems). Leftism is, if anything, the most dangerous of the three trends identified here, since, in addition to justifying the techno-industrial system by defending its fundamental ideas and values, it serves as the system’s self-defense mechanism due to its pseudorebellious character. The rebel image of leftist struggles attracts many people unsatisfied with techno-industrial society, channeling their discontent to offer them a way to vent it in a manner innocuous to or even useful to the techno-industrial system. And, vice versa, the people aligned with leftism often feel attracted to currents and movements that seem rebellious to them, absorbing, invading and ruining the movements by replacing, modifying or perverting principles and goals to fit their leftist beliefs.

It is for this reason that a movement against techno-industrial society that wants to be truly effective must pay special attention to maintaining a distance from all forms of leftism, expressing clearly and unequivocally its disdain for them, and keeping away from other leftists and similar undesirable people (the impractical, the inefficient, the irrational, the unbalanced, etc.).

The rejection of all forms of progressivism, humanism and leftism, the attack on the values of the techno-industrial system and the dissemination of our ideas are requirements to ensure that the activity of our movement is truly effective, but it is important to always remember that these things are not the goal of our activity. The goal is, and must always be, to put an end to the techno-industrial system, which is neither only nor mainly an ideological system, but fundamentally a material one. It is not a question of substituting the ideology of the system with ours, but of ending its physical existence.

Chapter 2 . The Myth of Erk

The story goes that in the beginning, when the Great Force that gave form to the world caused the first animals to arise, one of them, called Erk, after observing the things that were happening around him, turned in anguish to the Great Force and put these questions to her: “Why does everything have to be so hard, so difficult, so painful. . . ? Why must some suffer and die so that others may live? Why must we struggle against one another? Why is it necessary to expend so much effort in order to get what we need to stay alive? Why didn’t you make a simpler, an easier world in which everything would be more accessible, comfortable, and agreeable? What is the sense of so much suffering, so much discomfort, so much death?”

The Great Force knew the answer, but she also knew that Erk would understand it only through direct experience. Therefore, after listening to Erk’s complaints and even though the Great Force knew that she had made no mistake in designing the world, she changed it so that Erk and his companions should discover the sense of things for themselves.

At first the Great Force thought that a few little changes would be enough to make them recognize the truth. So she softened the conditions of life for living things: She moderated the climate so that it would be more kindly to life, made access to food easier for the animals, prevented the deaths of the youngest individuals, reduced the number of accidents, diseases, and catastrophes as well as the suffering the victims had to endure. But Erk and his companions, after a brief period of euphoria, began again to complain that in this new version of the world there was still pain, that death still existed, that it was still a hostile world, a place that was too hard and too difficult for life.

Upon seeing this the Great Force decided to take drastic action in order to open the eyes of Erk and his companions. From that moment, everything was easy, comfortable, simple, and agreeable. No one suffered or died, or had to make any effort to procure the necessities of life. What was needed was obtained instantly and without effort. Nor was it necessary to be alert, since there were no dangers from which to protect oneself and no harm to fear. There were no conflicts, no aggression, and no confrontations of any kind among the animals or between them and their surroundings. The world was at peace. It seemed marvelous.

But after the initial rejoicing, a new and very disagreeable sensation began to arise, a symptom of a great problem where there were no problems, a profound malaise in the midst of that well-being: Boredom. Due to the lack of motivation, of initiative, of goals, of incentives, of challenges, of activities. . . because of the prevailing indolence in those idyllic conditions the animals were bored. Since they didn’t need to make an effort for anything, worry about anything. . . they had nothing to do, nothing that was worth the trouble, nothing to motivate them, nothing that would push them to get up out of their lethargy and act. All the same, they were still animals and therefore felt within themselves an imperious need to act. And for this reason it happened that after a little while the animals grew so bored and so nauseated with this state of inactivity that, just in order to be able to do something and find an outlet for their instinctive need of action, they began to develop absurd behaviors that had nothing to do with those they had developed in the beginning before Erk had spoken to the Great Force. Because they had everything they needed, they began to desire other things that they did not need, just in order to be able to act and to exert themselves in getting those things. Thus they began to build, to destroy, to dig, to eat, to copulate, to run, to attack one another. . . compulsively and frenetically, and as a result many found their capacity for action seriously impaired, they suffered grave injuries, and they profoundly altered their habitat; but they did not stop acting that way, because they simply preferred to suffer all those consequences rather than endure the boredom of having nothing to do; at least these negative effects provided them with stimulation and sensations that kept their bodies and minds in working order and served in turn as a spur to act again under the pretext of palliating the same effects.

Upon seeing all of that, Erk finally understood. He turned to the Great Force again and said to her: “I have come to understand what was the sense of the world just as you created it in the beginning. I have come to understand that it should be that way and not the way that seemed to me more pleasant, because that is really the best way it can be. I have come to understand that when I saw no sense in the world it was because of my own weakness and ignorance, and because I didn’t look at it in the right way or thinking properly. I allowed myself to be carried away by a mirage, and I disowned by real nature and the world to which I really belong. Now I know it, now I am stronger and I will never again fall into that error. Thank you, I have learned the lesson, but now please return the world to what is was originally.”

Seeing that she had now achieved her objective, the Great Force made everything return to what it had been in the beginning.

So it was that Erk came to understand what was his place in the world and in life, as well as the sense of the world and of life. Since then we wild animals, generation after generation, have kept the memory of those events alive so that, like Erk, we will remember what is our place and what is our function, and so that we will not fall into the same error.

And even so, in spite of everything, many human beings have completely forgotten the story of Erk and live blinded by the same error, trying to create Paradise and immersing themselves and the world ever deeper in Hell.

“El Mito de Erk,” Copyright 2004 by E=m.c2. “The Myth of Erk” (English transl.), Copyright 2005 by Theodore John Kaczynski.

Chapter 3 . Interview with Dave Foreman

Dave Foreman is a leading figure in the conservation movement and the founder of both The Wildlands Network, a project at the forefront of continental- scale conservation, and Earth First!, a radical environmentalist group known in the 80s for its no-compromise approach to the defense of wild Nature.[9]

The following is a transcript of questions posed to Dave Foreman by David Skrbina, contributor to the book Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, and Naturaleza Indomita, a Wildist group in Spain. Skrbina conducted the interview over telephone.

Skrbina: In regard to values, unlike in the USA, Australia, or Scandinavia in which there is a widely accepted, say, “wilderness culture,” in countries like Spain they face the problem that the concept of valuable “wild Nature” practically doesn’t exist. They have been living many centuries in a highly complex civilization, and large wilderness areas haven’t existed for such a long time, that most people seem to be unable of understanding— and thus of defending—the importance of wilderness, and of the reality and natural laws that maintain it. In fact, practically all Spanish environmentalist groups are more interested in achieving social justice than in protecting wilderness. What do you think are the reasons for this huge difference between, for example, Spain and the USA? And, more important, do you conceive any way of overcoming this problem?

Foreman: Ok, well, that is a very good question, a very deep question. It has a lot of layers to it. The key is that they need to start talking about wilderness and development. You know, one of the things that we’ve really failed on is natural history. People getting outside and bird watching, and identifying plants, and that sort of thing. That is an absolute key to building a wilderness movement. That is where I think they can start. That would be a good thing to do; make an inventory like in my book, The Big Outside (1998). Where are the wilderness areas in Spain; where are the mostly wild places? Make a list of that-map it. Who owns them? What can we do with them? How wild are they? What wildlife do they have? Is there any mature or uncut woods—old growth forest? Find that stuff.

My friends in the eastern United States started looking for old growth forest remnants, and the more they looked, the more they found. My closest collaborator, John Davis, and his mother, Mary Davis really started this and wrote a book about old growth in the east [Eastern Old-Growth Forests, 1996]. And she was in touch with all kinds of people, and they identified a couple of million acres, by bits and pieces, including one 50,000 acre chunk in the Adirondacks. Some of these trees are 700 years old; they were somehow just missed being cut down. To me that is fascinating. So you know, what is there in Spain? [A] national wildlife park in Southern Spain, I guess, it has a lot of waterfowl, and I think it also has got a main refuge for the Iberian lynx, but what else is there? What is in the Pyrenees? The Pyrenees were the last refuge for the Neanderthal!

Skrbina: You have shown public tolerance and even sympathy for some theories and struggles related with “social justice,” like feminism, for example. But don’t you think that many environmentalist organizations have eventually become ruined and perverted because of, among other reasons, the influence of “social justice” currents? We would like to know what you think today about this. Do you still think that leftist or humanistic—i.e., “social justice”—struggles are compatible with the defense of wild Nature?

Foreman: I think you exaggerate my sympathetic ideas. And in the book I’m finishing now, Take Back Conservation (2012), one of the things I criticize is how conservation in the US has been taken over by ‘progressives’ of the left of the Democratic party, something called the ‘environmentalist stereotype’-which is your liberal democrats, your vegetarians, your anti-guns and hunting, and so on. They link all these other things to conservation, but they don’t need to be linked. I also look at political correctness as one of the worst things tied to the environmentalist stereotype, and I’ve argued that what we need to do is try to not be beholden to the Democrats. Of course the Republicans are virtually crazy today. But there are people, if we could reach them, that talk about some traditional conservative values, such as piety, posterity, prudence, responsibility—all those kinds of things that won’t make us sound like leftists.

Skrbina: Also, related to population: As long as local populations can go on surpassing the carrying capacity of their environment using modern technology and the global trade system—which also depends on modern technology—could human population be reduced without large organizations controlling people, and without complex medical technology—and all the impact on wild ecosystems that they both imply?

Foreman: Well, I think that in the 1970s, in the US, we sort of did that [i.e. had that discussion on population], but then we got thrown off by the increase in immigration. You know, a lot of people of my generation decided not to have kids. I sat down and I came up with 100 people I knew, very easily, just off the top of my head, people of my generation who did not have children. In many cases it was a very conscious decision. And one of the things we need to do, and there are some folks in New England that are working on this and have a website, is to make the case for the quality of life you can have as a childless couple. I’ve got nephews and nieces, I don’t have any kids. But, I take my nephews and nieces out on the wild rivers and stuff like that. So there are a lot of ways you can do it.

Right now, I think society and technology push women in both the developed and the third worlds into generally having more children than they want. And we look at a place like Japan where the population is decreasing because the young women have been freed from a lesser place in society and they have decided there is something they want that is more important than having a bunch of babies.

Skrbina: So, the point is, in principal, you can do it without a large bureaucracy in place to control people.

Foreman: And besides, I think it is going to happen anyway whether we do it or not. You know, you get 7 billion large mammals who are, just about everyone of us, is in touch with every other one, within 48 hours, with modern air travel. We are setting ourselves up for a very deadly pandemic. And I think it is inevitable that that will happen. I don’t know when, I don’t know what. But, that is just the way ecology works. We are a big, fat, sitting duck for a predator; and that predator is going to be very, very tiny.

Skrbina: Right—we have these debates about which catastrophe is going to strike first: pandemic, global climate change, collapse of food supplies, water problems. . .

Foreman: I think in many ways they will come as one. But who knows. One thing that I would tell the folks from Spain about wilderness is that they need to come up with a word like ‘wilderness,’ and to do that they need to know the etymology of the word ‘wilderness’ in old English-in that it means ‘self-willed land’; the home of self-willed animals. How do you say that in Spanish? Don’t say ‘wilderness,’ say ‘self-willed land’ in Spanish.

Skrbina: As far as we know, you advocate ‘ Pleistocene Rewilding.’ It’s obvious that ‘Pleistocene Rewilding’ is proposed on the basis of the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis, but isn’t it reckless to propose such an ecologically impactful thing only on the basis of a hypothesis which isn’t proven?. . .

Foreman: The last issue of Science just had a really solid piece, with the Pleistocene extinction in Australia that was entirely human-caused.[10] And that we are finding here in the US and Canada, with some studies of pond pollen and that kind of thing, is that the vegetation change came after people had gotten here and after the mega-herbivores were killed off. And so it is actually beginning to look like vegetation changes were caused by the loss of the mega-herbivores, and not that the vegetation changes caused the loss of the mega-herbivores. The opposite way.

But, from another standpoint, we can look at when Spanish horses escaped [in the US, just a few of them, and within something like 50 years, there were 2 million horses on the Great Plains running wild. And there were still 60 million bison, 40 million pronghorn sheep, 10 million elk out there. Now that says that the ecological niche was still there for those horses.

And there’s other research that has been done on some plants like Osage apple, and others from Central America, and avocados, and on how large herbivores are the ones who spread their seeds around and planted them in a nice big pile of shit as potting soil. And with the demise of the megaherbivores, suddenly the range of these kinds of plants have shrunk. Actually the only wild animal that spreads avocados around in Central America now is the Jaguar. Horses and cattle have been doing it too now; but nonetheless, just from the impacts on vegetation we can see what the loss of the megaherbivores has done.

And so there are those who say, well, let’s have an experiment with a few elephants—help deal with the invasion of mesquite into desert grasslands. Or a few camels. You know, let’s just do a nice, on-the-ground experiment. See what the impact of bringing some substitute mega-herbivores in would be.

There’s a place in northeastern New Mexico that has the largest herd of Przelwalski horses in the world-over 300 of them. And I’ve been up to see them. And on the high step, with Rocky Mountains driving up behind, they look just like the horses in cave paintings in Europe, and it is just phenomenal. Another friend of mine has been running bison on a restored cattle ranch, and is discovering the ecological impact of bison and how different they are from cattle. Today the cattle have just about cleaned out all of the native cactus, and they have opened up a juniper woodland. They actually even go into a larger streams and horn-up the beginning of the erosion of the head wall and smooth it out. All this incredible stuff that the bison do to make things better, whereas cattle do everything to make it worse.

With all of this research, it would be really nice to take it another step further. Let’s get all the animals here and watch what happens. Because when I was in South Africa, which looks so much like the American southwest,

I saw 24 ungulate species, out of 42. How many do we have here? Seven! Because they’re all eating at different places in the ecosystem. And there is actually more room that way for more species. If we did that kind of experiment, we’d have more biomass on the ground, with more species, than with just a few. Until we do the experiments, we just don’t know.

Skrbina: So to complete the question: Even letting alone this aspect, and taking for granted that Pleistocene overkill hypothesis refers to a well-proven fact, isn’t it still too hazardous? Civilized solutions to problems—especially in the case of modern solutions—usually are worse than the problems themselves, that is, instead of really solving the problems, they usually create new and bigger problems, or worsen some other old ones.

Foreman: I generally agree with that. You must do it in certain spots, as a controlled experiment. The media reported that we just wanted to turn lions loose—no. You find a million acres in Texas where a guy wants to experiment, and you have some really top ecologists checking it out, and measuring, and seeing how things go. You need some predators to move everybody around. What we learned with wolves in Yellowstone is that it wasn’t wolves eating elk, but moving them around. Instead of the elk being fat and lazy and laying around in the river bottoms, and browsing away all the willows, they had to hide in the lodge pole pine. And it allowed the willows to come back on the streams. There is wonderful research done on this by some guys in Oregon State University.

Skrbina: Many people who advocate conservation and/or rewilding usually do it because they love wild Nature, wildlife, wilderness, wildlands, wild things, and wildness. And usually, conservation implies and needs managing of at least some parts and aspects of ecosystems which are being protected. Isn’t there an intrinsic contradiction between “wildness” and “wilderness protection management”? If one needs to manage an ecosystem to make or maintain it as “wild,” is it really wild then?

Foreman: That’s right. The next book I’m writing will go into that. It’s the divide between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, and following Pinchot, I call it ‘resourcism.’ Basically it is the ability to manage resources for the maximum value to man without degrading them. Whereas the idea of nature conservation is to protect wild things. And so there’s a fundamental difference between the two “conservations.”[11]

Grassroots groups are trying to protect wildness, whereas the US Forest Service and other agencies that manage wilderness areas are doing it to impose human will. To me the fundamental question is, “Who’s will”? Do we let the will of the land go, or do we impose human will?

But actually these questions are very good, and I could use them in my new books. Very thoughtful stuff. The questions are much different than what I was expecting-much deeper.

Skrbina: In this context, some other names come up—people like Derrick Jensen. What are your thoughts on him?

Foreman: I haven’t read any of Jensen’s stuff for a long time. He got really pissed at me over the breakup of Earth First! [See note 1] Maybe he thought I treated Mike Roselle rudely, I don’t know. I know he has really carved out a position as a critic of technology and modernism.

Skrbina: You know, I saw him speak in person not long ago—he was in Michigan. It was a bit disappointing: kind of rambling, incoherent talk, lots of jokes, and not much serious talk. But he did bring up the important question of revolution versus reform. And his answer was that he supports both! Now to me, this seems like a contradiction—one is trying to fix the system, and the other is trying to tear it down. What are your thoughts?

Foreman: My fear is that revolutionaries nearly always become that which they revolt against. It doesn’t turn out that good. I have a low opinion of human beings. I don’t think they are capable of revolution. I think the most successful revolution that was really limited in scope was the American revolution, but even it has been fairly subverted by corporations and that type of thing.

Skrbina: Ok, but the technological system is different. You’re not trying to take power, you simply want to bring it crashing down. And then whoever survives will continue again as hunter-gatherers.

Foreman: The thing I see is that nobody “revolted” against the Soviet system, but it collapsed because of its own internal contradictions. In many ways, the Soviet and western systems are based on industrialism and exploitation, and so it is just that the Soviets were more inefficient and incompetent, so they crashed first.

Skrbina: Is it fair to say you would support industrial collapse? Would you see that as a possible outcome?

Foreman: I think industrial collapse is going to happen. In the long term it is a positive thing. And then since it is inevitable, it is probably better for it to happen sooner rather than later.

Skrbina: So shouldn’t you take some proactive action, to help it happen sooner rather than later?

Foreman: If you try to do that, might you not mess things up? I just don’t trust us to be able to adequately do it. My misanthropy—my atheistic Calvinism—prevents me from thinking that any group of people, no matter how well meaning, how intelligent, how ethical, are capable of solving these overwhelming institutional problems of mass civilization.

Skrbina: So you’re saying that the task is simply beyond our ability, and therefore we should not focus on it because we have no practical possibility of being an effective contributor to that—is that basically it? Instead we should focus on. . . what?

Foreman: My point is the system is going to come down, one way or another way, on its own. My task is keeping all the building blocks of future evolution that we can. I think evolution is the very heart and essence of wild things and of wildness.

4. On the Question of Technological Slavery: A Reply to Lippman and Campbell

In October 2013 The American Reader published a piece by Thomas Campbell and Michael Lipkin on the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. David Skrbina, a philosopher professor who wrote the introduction to Kaczynski’s book Technological Slavery, was asked to write a reply, but it was never published. Below is Skrbina’s response.

The editorial team of The Wildernist finds this piece worthwhile because, whatever one might think of Kaczynski’s actions, his ideas have been validated time and time again. And we agree. Kaczynski was right about industrial technology and its consequences on wild Nature (both in and around us). It’s about time we paid attention.

Let’s do a quick study in comparative morality. Late in the evening on October 4, 2013, an American military helicopter flew over the countryside near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In one village, according to reports by CNN and other sources, five people were sitting outside “enjoying some relief from the heat.” The helicopter flew overhead and fired on them, killing all five[http://dunyanews.tv/index.php/en/World/195121-NATO-airstrike-kills-five-Afghans-including-three-][instantly]]. A NATO spokesman called the attack “a coordinated precision strike,” and added that initial reports indicated “no civilian casualties.” Local officials said all five were civilians, three of whom were children. “We are still assessing the situation,” said American Lt Col. Will Griffin.

In an instant, some anonymous, highly-skilled American soldier, a professional killer, using one of the most technologically-advanced machines on the planet, caused more death than Ted Kaczynski did in 17 years of his so-called terror campaign.

Clearly we do not yet know all the circumstances, and likely we never will. But what does it say about our collective sense of ethics when the murder of five people in Afghanistan elicits little or no response, but the killing of three men—the last nearly 20 years ago—calls for continual expressions of condemnation and outrage? Why is it acceptable when an institution does the killing, but not an individual? The pilot pulled the trigger, but most likely the decision to kill was authorized by a single, anonymous, unelected, self-styled defender of the American homeland. But a man like Kaczynski— another anonymous, unelected, self-styled defender, who rationally perceives a grave threat to himself, to nature, and to all humanity—must be portrayed as a psychotic murderer.

If nothing else, ethics demands consistency. Life is precious. Most would say: All killing is wrong, but it may, under extreme circumstances, be justified. The killing of five Afghans is pointless, arbitrary, and utterly indefen-sible; there is absolutely nothing to be gained by their deaths. Kaczynski’s actions, deplorable though they may have been, led directly to the release of his infamous Manifesto, and to forcing the problem of technology into the public eye. In the end, we are appalled by Kaczynski—because he won.

It has now been two decades since Kaczynski forced the publication of “Industrial Society and Its Future.” He was apprehended six months later, ultimately convicted of the Unabomber crimes and sentenced to life in prison. I know something about the man, having exchanged over 100 letters with[http://www.wildism.org/lib/item/b31dd381/][him since 2003]]. Extended excerpts of these letters appear in his 2010 book, Technological Slavery; I wrote the introduction. One might have hoped that, by now, Kaczynski’s story would get a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. Evidently this is not the case.

Among recent commentators are two young Web journalists, Thomas Campbell and Michael Lipkin. In their essay on Kaczynski, they begin by trotting out many of the usual banalities: he is a paranoid schizophrenic, a man who “fears technological oppression,” someone “who wants nothing to do with society,” has sexual insecurities and problems with social awkwardness.

True or not, such things are of interest only to those obsessed with this man’s personal life. Apparently Campbell and Lipkin are inclined to such an obsession.

But we need to think about this situation rationally. Kaczynski is in prison for life; he personally presents no threat. Yet his ideas remain efficacious. They threaten to undermine the power structure of our technological order. And since the system’s defenders are unable to defeat the ideas, they choose to attack the man who wrote them.

For my part, I couldn’t care less about his personal life. There are far too many important issues in the world to waste time worrying about such mundane matters. One of those issues—the chief issue—is the problem of modern technology. And this deserves our full attention.

But this does not trouble our reporters. Indeed, they spend little time even describing the problem, let alone addressing it. It is consistent, I suppose, with their generally poor academic treatment of the subject matter. Granted, they are writing for a literary periodical, and this fact justifies a foregoing of the usual details of academic writing. Even so, the writers should strive to maintain a high standard of intellectual integrity. On many counts, unfortunately, they fall short.

Some problems are perhaps minor. For example, Ellul’s book, The Technological Society, was written originally in 1954, and only translated in 1964. But what is the point of describing Rousseau—one of the most brilliant writers, philosophers, and social critics in history—as a “hater of civilization” and a “paranoid letter writer”? Rousseau was in fact the first critic of the technological society, and his first major work, “A Discourse on the Arts and

Sciences” (1750), provides an insightful critique. To state otherwise is an obvious ad hominem attack, one designed to slander the man himself rather than address the substance of his work. But this is consistent with the related assault on Kaczynski. What, for example, justifies the claim that “torturous motivated his attacks?

On what basis can the authors

claim that “technological optimism” has grown since the mid-1990s? Is there any research that backs this up? I am unaware of any. Certainly technology itself has “grown,” but this has no bearing on public optimism. In fact, a Forrester Research[http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20050802005446/en/Forrester-Research-State-Consumer-Technology-Adoption-Survey][survey of 2005]] showed that a majority of North Americans (51%) qualify as “technological pessimists.” If this figure was even higher in the 1990s, then I suppose, by some contorted and misleading logic, that one could claim a “growth in optimism.” But this is unlikely, and in any case unsupported by data. And we are furthermore confronted by such phenomena as “Facebook depression” and Internet addiction, nifty little technology side effects that were unknown in previous decades. All this suggests the opposite of their claim.

Other problems appear. In stating that “Kaczynski disagreed with Ellul about the effectiveness of violent means,” the authors ignore the fact that Ellul justified violence in

several situations, including those accompanied by various forms of idealism. They ignore that Ellul himself supported violence during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. And they overlook his statement, in the Foreword to Technological Society , that one route to avoiding technological determinism is “if an increasing number of people become fully aware” of the threat, and decide to “assert their freedom by upsetting the course of [technological] evolution”—a veiled reference to a violent mass uprising.

Or again: Kaczynski’s Manifesto, they imply, is merely “a repetition of points already made by Ellul and Lewis Mumford.” On what basis do they make this claim? Have they read Ellul’s three books—Technological Society, Technological System (1980), and Technological Bluff (1990)—and his many articles on technology? Have they read Mumford’s Technics and Civiliza-tion (1934) and his two-volume opus, The Myth of the Machine (1967-70)? Certainly there is overlap, as there would be in any such analysis. But Kaczynski’s treatment of the issues is vastly different, and, obviously, much more up-to-date.

Most inexcusably, the writers nowhere mention the title of Kaczynski’s collected writings: Technological Slavery (Feral House, 2010). Even now I find this hard to believe; surely it was a gross oversight, a typographical error of first magnitude. This book—which by all rights should have garnered substantial media coverage when it came out, the first published by the most famous American “terrorist” of the 20th century, a work that includes the only fully correct version of the infamous Manifesto, a book that has five previously unpublished essays along with detailed responses to my letters challenging his ideas—merits no citation and only passing, indirect reference. Are the writers so afraid of the name? “Technological Slavery”—is it like some medieval incantation, certain to hex all those who utter the very words? Or does it indicate something else: the well-known media tendency to “talk about something by not talking about it,” of circling around and obfuscating reality precisely in order to bury it. “See, we’re willing to talk about the Unabomber”; “See, we aren’t afraid of controversial topics.”

In fact there is a story behind its publication. Beginning in 2006, we spent two years looking for an American publisher, to no avail. Eventually we found a small Swiss firm, Xenia, that agreed to produce simultaneous English and French editions. The English version, titled Road to Revolution, was released in 2008.1 It contains much of the same content as Technological Slavery. But production was limited, and there was no distribution in the United States. (Those who own a copy—count yourself fortunate!) Shortly after it came out, Feral House agreed to work in conjunction with Xenia to publish a revised edition with a new title and new cover artwork. Of the [12] infamous “bomb” photo, incidentally, we received explicit approval from the FBI to use it. And for what it’s worth, neither Kaczynski nor I make any money from the proceeds.

The central question, above all, is the problem of technology—not technology per se, but rather specific manifestations and applications of it. For centuries, philosophers and social critics have recognized that it poses severe problems, threatens to disrupt social order, and carries with it morally corrosive qualities that cannot be effaced. Rousseau was the first to offer a detailed critique, but other notables soon followed, including Thomas Carlyle (“Signs of the Times”) and Henry Thoreau (Walden). By the 1860s, the technological society had developed to such an extent that a young British essayist and critic, Samuel Butler, issued the first call for revolution. In his short piece “Darwin among the machines,” he foresaw an evolutionary takeover in the making. “Day by day, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them,” he wrote. His solution was to attack now, while we still had the upper hand: “Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species.” So much for the gentile Brits.

Butler closes his essay with one of the finest, most prescient sentences in the history of technology criticism. He writes:

If it be urged that this [revolution] is impossible under the present condition of human affairs. . . this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy, and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.

Should Campbell and Lipkin wish to sharpen both their writing and critical thinking skills, they ought to read more Butler.

Butler was the first but not the only major critic to call for radical action against technology. In their own ways, Ellul, Herbert Marcuse, Ivan Illich, and even Mumford argued for as much. Kaczynski was only the latest in a line of radical, rational thinkers. Whether they were right or not remains to be seen; the signs are not good.

Clearly there is much to be said, and I can only give here the barest outline of the case against technology. Kaczynski’s core argument is based on four simple points:

1. Humans evolved under primitive, low-tech conditions. This constitutes our natural state of existence.

2. Modern society is radically different than this, and imposes unprecedented stress upon us.

3. The situation is bad now, and will get much worse. We will either be humiliated into conforming to technology’s demands, or be crushed by the system.

4. There is no way to reform the system to avoid the negative outcomes.

His conclusion, then, is straightforward and rational: bring the system to an end, as soon as possible. Granted, the odds of success are slim, but the longer we wait the lower they become and the worse the outcome will be—for both humanity and nature. We have essentially two choices: big, but survivable, pain now, or catastrophic pain later.

The fact that we live under increasingly abnormal conditions is starting to sink in to the popular mindset. Jonathan Crary’s recent book, 24/7, is a case in point. He demonstrates the striking contrast between a technology-driven society that never rests, and the basic biological need to sleep. We humans need time to relax, unwind, and decompress, but the system does not, and it applies both subtle and overt pressure to stay continuously engaged. In the clash between human needs and those of the system, the system wins. This is only one small example; humanity makes continuous, repeated compromises with technology, and we always come out on the short end. Hence the progressive decline in our physical and mental well-being.

Again, this is but a hint at the larger picture that Kaczynski paints for us. A full reading of Technological Slavery is necessary to get the complete view, and we can expect further elaboration from him in the future.

I trust that this gives a definitive close to my reply—unlike the ending of Campbell’s and Lipkin’s essay, which is oddly inconclusive. They are rightly struck by “just how total technology’s grip on our world has become in the seventeen years since Kaczynski’s arrest.” But they draw no inferences from this fact. Instead we get trite references to Kaczynski’s “crossing over into the principality of evil,” and a denial of the claim that we all harbor a bit of technology skepticism—in fact, “the opposite is true,” they state, without explanation.

Yes, we do need cooperation and imagination to get out of this bind, and yes, technology does drive such things into short supply. To put a sharp point on it: Technology acts like a mental AIDS; it destroys the very sort of thinking that we need to overcome it. The seriousness of this situation cannot be overestimated.

5. Our Primal Future: Some

Thoughts in a Time of Droughts, Fires and Storms

The great nature writer Henry Beston spoke of elemental things, of wind, fire, water, earth. He did so longingly and in the utopian tradition of nature writing, as one who, having chosen a simpler life in nature, sought greater contact with the elements.

Lately, I have been thinking of elemental things too, but with a decidedly dystopian, not utopian, slant. Summer marks the coming of fire season in the American West and hurricane season on the Atlantic Coast where I live. Over the last few years we have seen our share of flooded streets and subway steps turned waterfalls, as well as millions of western acres set aflame, mountain homes providing the kindling. In both cases the word “Rebuild!” is trumpeted and there is talk of resilience and hope. This is the meaning they find in disaster, but some of us hear a different message.

Perhaps it may be time to come to grips with what I’ll call our elemental, or primal, future. When I was growing up in the 1960s the future was clear, staring up from the pages of our textbooks: flying cars and phones where we saw each other’s faces. It was a Jetsons future, a clean, antiseptic, sleek future. No trees or bugs mucked up this vision, let alone flooding cities or whole states on fire. Everyone, for one thing, had electricity.

A different future is here. The world is warming. The waters are rising. The storms are worsening. The fields are withering. These are not political statements, though typing them even I, living in these strange times, can’t help but feel they are. But no, they aren’t. Climate and weather have no interest in rhetoric, and are in no way influenced by it. These are simply the facts. Elemental facts. And they remain facts no matter what your political affiliation.

Anyone who has lived through weeks without power in the wake of hurricanes knows about elemental facts, as does anyone who has seen the black charred husk that once was their home on a Colorado hillside. The question is: what do we do in the wake of these disasters? What is the lesson, if there is one? We hear that we should re-build, get stronger, have hope, be patriotic. That is one take. And sure, we will rebuild after the fires, after the floods, since we are, after all, human, stubbornly resilient, and that is what we do. But maybe we can possibly re-think along with our re-building. This re-thinking must start with an acceptance of what we can’t control. That we accept accident and nature’s randomness as a part of our lives. This does not mean that we have to be passive, that we should all become Zen monks and put away our tools and plans. It means introducing humility into our grand visions.

Let me get specific. I was in rural bar in Utah this summer, and a young fracker, a real gung-ho boomer, was going on about what a great thing it was to fracture the earth in search of fuels, and how many jobs it was bringing to the town we were in (no matter that he was from another state), and how anyone who didn’t agree with him didn’t live in “the real world.” He scoffed at the notion that the chemicals used to flush the petroleum, or the petroleum itself, might contaminate the water table. His argument was simple and to him foolproof: the water and the petroleum were both underground, sure, but they were on entirely different levels below the earth, not even close to each other.

Later, in the same bar, I talked to a geologist. He was there to inspect the fracking sites and his take was decidedly less upbeat.

“I won’t even get into any of the back-and-forth arguments,” he said. “But the next time you talk to your young friend just ask him one question: What if there’s an earthquake?”

And there it is. Elemental things. Nature. Accident. The real real world: the world of fire and water, shaking earth and wild wind, beyond the control of homo sapiens.

I do not believe that I could ever convince that young man, high on testosterone and oil money, that we should approach the world with some humility, with an awareness that accidents are a part of how the world works.

Perhaps it would be easier today, with his booming city turning to bust. But shouldn’t those leading our country, and making decisions that turn out to affect our climate and weather (ah ha, maybe rhetoric can affect climate), have a slightly more sophisticated philosophy than that of an amped-up twenty-something fracker?

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t give human beings much of a chance of re-thinking in any large way. But these are not normal circumstances, or normal times. In fact the world seems to be insisting that we alter our view of it.

It may seem Pollyanna-ish to some to believe that hurricanes or fires or droughts can really change our thinking. But the fact is that there are plenty of historical precedents of elemental things coming to the table and reminding everyone, politicians included, just which world is the real one. To take just one concrete example, consider the year 1886. A brutal blizzard-filled winter almost wiped out the cattle industry in the American West, followed by three years of drought so severe that even congressmen in Washington took notice. This led to the Desert Land Act and Timber Culture Act, and set off a basic rethinking of the way we were using and settling land in the West. So it can happen: natural disaster can directly lead to changed laws.

“But the fact is that there are plenty of historical precedents of elemental things coming to the table and reminding everyone, politicians included, just which world is the real one.”

This is my hope in the wake of the current drought, of the floods and fires: that the world will force us to see what we are doing to it. That perhaps, at last, we will acknowledge the primal future that we have found ourselves in, a future where we can only control so much. And finally I hope for this: that when we mention “the real world” we know of which world we speak.

Though it is a personal, not political, point, I have found that spending time in the places where these disasters have struck is another way to understand their primal realities, in a way you can’t from reading an editorial. Whenever I visit, I try to get out on the land, to explore the places, to compare them with other places I have been, to feel them not think them. And when I do I remember the lines of Henry Beston’s The Outermost House:

The world to-day is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling from the earth, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.

Some might argue that the world today is sick from elemental things. But at the risk of seeming insensitive to the victims of disasters, I will stick with Beston’s assertion. At times it may seem that the elements are conspiring against us, and there is nothing good about lives lost and homes destroyed. But they do make us face facts. We need to acknowledge the elemental nature of the earth we live on. Either that, or not be too surprised when our illusionary and virtual worlds are torn apart.

David Gessner is the author of 9 books, including the newly-released All[http://www.amazon.com/All-The-Wild-That-Remains/dp/0393089991][the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American]][http://www.amazon.com/All-The-Wild-That-Remains/dp/0393089991][West]]. He is also the founder of the literary magazine, Ecotone.

6. Leftism: The function of pseudo-critique and pseudo-revolution in techno-industrial society[13]

This essay was originally published in English on Wildism.org. Written by a Wildist in Spain, it explains how leftist movements and individuals have posed a threat to revolutionary movements in the past, and why they should be avoided by those who wish to truly see an end to industrial society. Links to the essay should follow the original English-language version.


Ultimo Reducto regards as “leftism” any current or social tendency that is based on the following values: equality, indiscriminate solidarity, compassion toward alleged groups of alleged victims (with these or other names as “social justice,” “cooperation,” “brotherhood,” “universal love,” “peace,” etc.).[14]

In general, the concept of leftism includes almost any ostensibly critical current that in reality doesn’t try to combat modern society, but to “improve it.”[15] Leftism, usually, does not try to end techno-industrial society, but only tries to make it meet the above values. That is, (more) “justice,” (more) “equality,” (more) “solidarity,” etc. However, there are also radical leftisms that say they try to combat the system (normally adding the adjective “capitalistic” and/or “patriarchal”), always doing so on the basis of those values.

Leftism includes, in general, that which is usually understood as the left, but not only this. The concept of “the left” is usually almost synonymous with socialism (in almost all its versions -including libertarian or anarchist ones-), but there are also non-socialist “leftisms” (for example, all the currents and humanitarian initiatives derived exclusively from philosophical liberalism or from Christian philanthropy -certain foundations, certain charitable organizations, some missions, etc.-). In fact, at least some of the fundamental values and ideals of the greater part of what is today called “the right” are basically the same as those of what is called “the left.”

Leftism, in particular, includes all the struggles and initiatives, governmental or otherwise, for the equality and the rights of alleged groups of the so-called “oppressed” (“anti-patriarchalism” in general and feminism in par-ticular, gay “liberation,” anti-racism, solidarity with immigrants, helping the poor, initiatives for the social integration of the marginalized and excluded, defense of the working-class, of the unemployed, of the disabled, of the animals, etc.), in favor of development (“sustainable,” they tend to add), of justice, of peace, of “freedoms” and “rights” and of democracy in general (struggles for the redistribution of wealth, currents favorable to the “normalization” of drugs or “sexual liberation,” anti-militarism, pacifism, social “ecology” -that current of so-called environmentalists who focus primarily on purely social matters, prioritizing them over real ecological problemsand environmentalism -those currents whose real function is to maintain an envi-ronment habitable enough so the human population can continue successfully fulfilling the demands of techno-industrial society-, anti-capitalism, etc.). It includes, then, all the practices of those things described as “social movements,” “anti-establishment,” “adversarial,” “counter-cultural,” etc. as well as the vast majority of NGOs, and any initiative, official or not, based on promoting equality, (indiscriminate) solidarity and the defense of alleged victims and helpless people (which today includes a good part of the activities of governments and institutions).

It is usually believed that “progressivism” and “leftism” are synonymous, and certainly this is usually the case, but not always. If the idea of progress[16] that progressivism defends is based on the increase of equality, solidarity (beyond the natural social reference group constituted by close friends or relatives) and defense of supposed victims and helpless people, which is usually precisely the notion of progress in almost all of contemporary progressivism, then this progressivism is leftism. But not all progressivism has this humanitarian idea of progress: nineteenth-century colonialism, for example, used for the justification of its atrocities another, less “delicate” idea of progress, not compatible with leftist progressivism.

On the other hand, although leftism is usually openly progressivist, there are also minority leftist currents ostensibly contrary to progress, i.e., ostensibly not progressives.[17]

Nowadays, and for at least a decade,[18] the dominant ideology in technoindustrial society is leftist. Institutions and the mass media are based on the fundamental leftist values of equality, (indiscriminate) solidarity and victimism, and they transmit and put into practice these values, supporting and encouraging proposals that were formerly defended exclusively by minority sectors (the left wing of a few years ago). It is enough to observe institutional propaganda, the news, mass forms of entertainment and art, etc., to notice it. As a result, the general population has more or less assumed the leftist values of this propaganda.

Nevertheless, many people are sure that these leftist values are, not only a minority view, but also contrary to those of modern society, which they consider unsupportive or a promoter of inequality. This belief is itself a fundamental part of leftism, justifying and promoting it.


All who really want to aspire to effectively combat the techno-industrial system should reject leftism, because:

1. Equality and solidarity with individuals and groups who are not close friends or family, and helping alleged victims and helpless people, is essential to avoid conflicts, tensions and anti-social behaviors contrary to the efficient functioning of the social machinery. These values are necessary for the maintenance of the cohesion of techno-industrial society and to avoid its disintegration and disorganization. By assuming them as their own and promoting them, leftists help the system.

2. Leftism is based, therefore, on values that are essential for technoindustrial society. As a result, what leftism questions is not the system itself, but only the instances during which, according to leftists, the system does not sufficiently live up to its values and therefore pursue the ends they imply. So, the effect of leftism is not the end of the system, but the “perfection of it,” so that it will run more efficiently. Consequently, leftism is inevitably reformist and never really revolutionary. When leftism does not recognize itself as reformist and presents itself as “revolutionary,” it is pseudo-revolutionary (which is common in the more radical forms of leftism).

3. Leftism is a mechanism of alarm, auto-repair, auto-maintenance, and auto-catalysis for the functioning and development of the techno-industrial system. With its pseudo-critique, leftism acts as an alarm mechanism that points out the weak points, the contradictions, the limits, the failures, etc., of the system. And with its proposals favors its repair and readjustment, promoting “improvements” or, at least, palliatives, actions that serve to reduce the social, psychological and ecological tensions that can hinder the maintenance, functioning and development of techno-industrial society. Leftism lubricates the social machinery instead of destroying it.

4. With its proposals, activism, groups, environments, aesthetic, paraphernalia, ideology, etc., seemingly critical, combative, rebellious and radical, it offers artificial substitutes, innocuous to techno-industrial society, for certain tendencies and natural human psychological needs incompatible with the maintenance and development of the system (for example, it replaces the natural human sociability that demands, in order to be fully satisfied, that groups social groups are small-scale -groups in which all members are able to meet and interact directly with each other-, with the feeling of belonging to large organizations and/or to leftist environments and subgroups). It also redirects and makes harmless for the system certain impulses and reactions which, if expressed spontaneously, may be harmful or even destructive for the structure and functioning of techno-industrial society (for example, leftist activism serves to relieve the hostility caused by chronic frustration generated by the techno-industrial way of life, so that it will not really and seriously damage the functioning and structure of the system). Thus, leftism, with its proposals, offers to individuals a false illusion that embracing it will lead to acting naturally and freely within techno-industrial society, and with its practices it offers them the impression, no less false, of being rebels. It functions, therefore, also as a psychological escape valve for the system.

5. Moreover, because of its role as a psychological escape valve and its appearance, often, of being pseudo-critical and pseudo-revolutionary, leftism acts as a trap that attracts truly critical and potentially revolutionary people and groups, incapacitating them and transforming them into leftists in turn. Leftist environments and currents make use of politically-correct oversocialization (taboos and dogmas) to imprison within its leftist ideological and psychological frames the natural, original, and potentially revolutionary ideas, values, motivations, ends, etc., of many of those that contact them. This way, those who independently come to feel unhappy with what techno-industrial society is doing with the non-artificial world and with human nature, in their attempt to contact others with similar concerns, often approach leftist currents, environments, and groups, since these appear to be critical. Many become unconsciously and psychologically trapped by these en-vironments, having established affinities and social-emotional ties with them, negating the people’s capacity for response and criticism, and, just so, to a greater or lesser extent, tacitly or explicitly, and willingly or reluctantly, having them abandon and sideline their own values and original attitudes and adopt leftist values, dogmas, taboos, discourses, theories, and (sub)culture. And it also works in the opposite sense: when there are struggles, environments, currents, theories or initiatives critical of techno-industrial society, foreign to or little related to leftism in principle, many leftists (especially the more pseudo-radical type) usually feel attracted to them, invade the critical environments and struggles, originally outside of leftism, and/or adopt their discourses as their own, distorting them to ensure that they conform to the theories and basic values of leftists, resulting in the conversion to leftism of these struggles or initiatives that were originally not leftist initiatives, and thus their deactivation as potentially revolutionary struggles. Leftism, therefore, also acts as a self-defense mechanism to cancel out rebellious, dysfunctional and potentially dangerous to the system impulses, initiatives and attitudes, and to utilize them (by way of psychological and ideological “jujitsu”) in favor of industrial society, integrating them into leftist environments and currents.

6. Leftism is a result of alienation, of psychological weakness and illness, often caused by the conditions of life inherent to techno-industrial society. Modern technology denies individuals the possibility of developing and satisfying fully and autonomously their natural behavioral tendencies, abilities, and needs, i.e., their liberty, inhibiting and perverting the expression of their nature. It totally deprives them of the ability to exercise control over the conditions that affect their own lives and it violates their dignity by turning them into beings that are helpless and completely dependent on the system. It forces them to live in unnatural conditions for which they are not biologically prepared (noise, high population density, fast pace of life, rapid change in the environment, hyper-artificial environments, etc.). It regulates and restricts their natural behavior in many respects. All of this creates psychological distress in many individuals (low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority, boredom, frustration, depression, anxiety, anger, emptiness, etc.). And that discomfort is expressed in the form of victimism, hedonism, hostility, etc. These feelings and attitudes are common in techno-industrial society and give rise to various unnatural behaviors. Leftism is one of these behaviors. Their core values are inspired by feelings of inferiority, and many of its theories, discourses and activities are motivated by a lack of self-confidence, hostility, and boredom. And since leftism in reality favors the development of techno-industrial society, it acts as a feedback mechanism for alienation and, with it, for itself.[19]

7. Leftist values are contrary to reality, to reason, to truth and to Nature (human or otherwise). In many cases this is the effect of the alienation inherent in techno-industrial society in general, and in leftism in particular, and at the same time acts as a feedback mechanism for them. The majority of leftist theories are logically, empirically and philosophically absurd. And basic leftist theory and values, as well as some others that tend to be associated with leftism, are, at best, perversions of natural and correct values (for example, indiscriminate solidarity is a collectivist adulteration of natural solidarity between friends and family), and, at worst, mere nonsense (relativism, for example). Leftism necessitates, therefore, that facts be distorted to fit its theories and its values.

8. Leftism is a threat to the autonomy of wild Nature, including true human freedom. By placing equality, indiscriminate solidarity or the defense of victims above all other values, it neglects, or even despises the autonomy of the non-artificial -because, in fact, it is incompatible with these basic leftist values.

Conclusion: [This point is especially aimed at all those who would like to do something to try to really end the techno-industrial system but, because they feel a genuine and justified rejection of leftism, they prove to correctly be very suspicious of the majority of currents ostensibly critical of the current techno-industrial society].

How must one act with respect to leftism?

Criticize it, revealing what it really is: a deception, a trap, a mechanism to perpetuate and grow more easily and efficiently the system itself, a poor substitute for real rebellion and the crazy result of unnatural conditions inherent to modern life.

But without said criticism becoming a goal in itself. It must only be a means, a practical requirement, essential nowadays, to try to achieve a much more important goal: to eliminate the techno-industrial system and to put an end to the subjugation of wild Nature -internal and external to human beingsthat this inevitably entails.

Avoid falling into the trap. Try to maintain a strict separation from leftism, its influences, its environments, its values, theories and speech. And, vice versa, keep leftism away from us; try so that our values, theories and speeches are not absorbed, perverted or disabled by leftism.[20]

Do not be ashamed to have values and ideas that are not leftist. Do not allow the oversocializing[21] reactions, the dogmas and the taboos of the politically correct leftists influence us. This in turn will help keep leftist away from our theories, speech, and environments, of our struggle, avoiding their harmful influence.

Create and spread an ideology truly critical, non-leftist, truly revolutionary and contrary to the techno-industrial system, to civilization, and to all forms of social systems that unavoidably undermine the autonomy of the functioning of non-artificial systems.

Chapter 7 . Tapirs: North America’s Forgotten Megafauna

When one thinks of North America’s big, wild animals, one most likely thinks of the large animals of the American Wild West, such as bison and pronghorn, and the large predators such as cougars (Puma concolor), grizzly bears, and wolves. However, this thought process often leaves out the megafauna not ingrained into our culture. Jaguars are a prime example. While today they are often thought to be an exclusively tropical and subtropical animal restricted to dense rainforests, they are also a temperate species that in historical times inhabited much of the southern United States and southern South America, ranging as far north as Pennsylvania during the Pleistocene.1 However, as humans have caused the range of jaguars to decrease, most people have forgotten that they are a native species, despite the fact that they are an integral and necessary component of nature.

A taxon that faces a similar issue is the tapir (Tapirus). While it may have a body resembling a pig and a snout resembling an elephant’s trunk, tapirs are members of the mammalian order Perissodactyla, and are most closely related to rhinoceroses and equines.[22] referred to as living fossils, tapirs are the most basal of living perissodactylids, having changed very little from their Eocene predecessors over fifty million years ago. Modern tapirs appeared in North America during the Oligocene,[24] and would later spread to Eurasia via the Bering land bridge, and to South America during the Great American Interchange[25] three million years ago.[27] Seven species of tapir inhabited North America during the Pleistocene, alongside a much more diverse variety of megafauna than are present today, including multiple species of proboscideans (elephants and their kin), giant ground sloths, saber toothed cats, and many more. At the end of the Pleistocene, however, most of these species disappeared. Some species, such as lions, horses, dholes (Cuon alpinus), and saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) survived on other landmasses, while others, such as the mastodons or the glyptodons, became completely extinct. The cause for this large loss of megafauna has been debated, with some scientists claiming that a rapidly changing climate made it impossible for many species to survive. Other scientists support what is known as the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis, which suggests that newly arrived humans overhunted megafauna lacking adaptations against human hunting methods.[28] Support for the overkill hypothesis is seen with similar patterns in Australia and other isolated landmasses, including Madagascar and New Zealand, where megafaunal diversity collapsed shortly after the arrival of human. All species of North American tapirs became extinct during this extinction event except one, the Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii).

Weighing up to 400 kilograms, the Baird’s tapir is the largest extant native animal in Central and South America, and the fourth largest animal in North America. The national animal of Belize, Baird’s tapirs are found primarily in the tropical rainforests of Central America, northern South America, and southern Mexico.[29] Tapirs are one of the few remaining large frugivores (fruit specializing herbivores) left in the Americas[30] and for this reason are considered keystone species, dispersing seeds for a wide variety of plants and consequently allowing the species that depend on those plants to flourish.[31] It is very likely that the ranges of many plant species shrank in response to the loss of tapirs in North America. Despite being such large animals, tapirs are solitary, elusive creatures that are rarely seen, even by the people who share their habitat. Despite this, tapirs have suffered from humans hunting for their prized meat and from rampant habitat loss as a

Baird’s tapirs are classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and among the North American megafauna, they are arguably the most threatened. There are only an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 individuals left in the wild.[32] A significant population of approximately 1,500 animals is believed to be living in Mexico, comprising the last population of tapirs in North America. The part of Mexico where they inhabit is part of the Neotropical ecozone that also comprises most of Central and South America. Northern Mexico and the rest of North America is part of the Nearctic ecozone, where many of the extinct American tapirs once inhabited. If Pleistocene rewilding were to ever take place in North America,11 the extant tropical Baird’s tapir would likely prove a dismal candidate for resuming the ecological role of its extinct relatives, as a result of being poorly adapted to temperate climates. Instead, the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) would be better suited for this function as it is a temperate species.[34]

The plight of North American tapirs is representative of a larger issue of a shifting baseline in relation to wildlife, and what is considered to be natural or normal in a modern setting. Animals like bison, elk, sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears are all geologically (and evolutionary) recent arrivals to North

America, while animals like tapirs, horses, pronghorn antelope,[35] llamas and camels are the original North American megafauna, along with several taxa that are now extinct (such as the gomphotheres, relatives to the elephant family). And yet, in a mere 10,000 years compared to millions of years of evolution on this continent, the feral horses now extant in North America are now believed by many people to be exotic, despite evidence supporting that some of the extinct equines of late-Pleistocene North America are synonymous with the Eurasian horse.[36],[37] That isn’t to say that species that are fairly recent in the fossil record are not native, but it does point out a certain stubbornness in people that believe that nature can only exist in the way that people remember it. For if a species can be persecuted or wiped out by humans, nature will bear the scars of its loss, but to humans, it is simply forgotten.

James Lee is a graduating high school senior. In the fall he will be attending SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and majoring in wildlife science.

Chapter 8 . #OutsideEveryDay

Visit thewildernist.org/2015/05/outside-every-day/ to see more photography by Adrienne Adams.

I first saw the hashtag on a friend’s Instagram feed. “Outside Every Day” became a mantra, a reminder, a nudge. A daily walk. Unlike other daily goals I might have made—#writeeveryday, #exerciseeveryday, and the like—this one requires only that I be physically present. My walk might be fast and distracted, where I stick a problem in my head and work on it. Other days I find myself looking at everything, empty-minded.

Taking notice and being aware, without an agenda, can be challenge. Moving helps to stay the impulse to overthink, overprocess. Every day is different, but after a few months the walks blend into a stream of days, of seasons, of budding, blooming, falling.

My walk is the same every day. The same mile, the same direction. Within this constant palette emerge shapes, colors, movement. These images usually come out of nowhere, literally stopping me in my tracks. They are composed already and waiting for me to notice them.

Outside, every day.

Photographs were taken with an iPod Touch 5G. See more by following Adrienne on Instagram at @adrienneadams.

Chapter 9 . The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon

The following essay is by Henrik Burns of the Glen Canyon Institute. In it Henrik outlines how climate change, drought, and rising population levels (and therefore rising water demand) are converging to drain Lake Powell, which was filled by Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s. The Glen Canyon Institute is taking advantage of this opportunity to redirect the water flow into Lake Mead instead. While The Wildernist editorial board insists on no dams—period—there’s a lot to learn from Burn’s essay, such as the consequences dams have on wildlife and the beautiful and surprisingly fast pace of restoration when they’re gone. And it’s important to note, of course, that the Insitute’s proposal was once called “politically unrealistic” too.

Before passing away in 2000, visionary conservationist David Brower conceded that the greatest regret of his life was allowing the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. Serving as the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director, he was credited for halting the construction of the Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument—a first for any environmental group. But the win came at a great price. In negotiations with the Bureau of Reclamation, Brower and the Sierra Club agreed not to oppose a dam slated for Glen Canyon in exchange for Echo Park’s protection. Due to its remote location on the Utah-Arizona border, few environmentalists had ever visited Glen Canyon. They didn’t know what would be lost when engineers from the Bureau set their sights on Glen Canyon during the dam-building heyday of the 1950s and 60s.

Glen Canyon has been described as “an eden in the desert” and “the lost Grand Canyon.” Early explorers like John Wesley Powell considered Glen Canyon to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire Colorado River system—even more spectacular than the Grand Canyon. To flood it today would not only be politically unfeasible, it would be illegal. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and The Endangered Species Act of 1973 compel all federal agencies to assess impacts of projects on species threatened with extinction, and perform thorough environmental reviews with public oversight. Had these laws existed before Glen Canyon Dam was commissioned in 1956, it would have never seen the light of day. The Glen Canyon-Grand Canyon region hosts a unique desert ecosystem, with a riparian corridor along the river that supports four now-endangered fish species.

Construction of the dam flooded 183 miles of the main canyon and hundreds more of little-known, but spectacular side canyons. The reservoir destroyed vibrant wildlife streamside and river terrace habitats. Before the dam, Glen Canyon was the biological heart of the Colorado River—home to 143 species of plants, 193 species of birds, and 34 species of mammals. Flooding inundated the fragile habitat, displacing wildlife and wreaking havoc on the entire ecosystem.

Not only did the dam destroy wildlife habitats in Glen Canyon, it’s put a stranglehold on the ecosystem downstream in the Grand Canyon. The Colorado is one of the most sediment-rich rivers in the world. As it cuts through a diverse range of geologic formations on its way through the Upper Colorado Basin, it collects nutrient-rich sediment that’s crucial to sustaining healthy fish populations. Once this sediment reaches Lake Powell, it sinks to the bottom of the reservoir, never to reach the Grand Canyon. This has devastated the Grand Canyon riparian corridor, as critical habitats are robbed of beach-building sediments and the nutrients they carry.

Compounding the effects of a nutrient-starved river, the water flowing through the penstocks near the bottom of the dam is unnaturally cold. At a frigid 40 degrees Fahrenheit, water entering the Grand Canyon puts several species of indigenous fish at risk. The pikeminnow (formerly the Colorado squawfish), the bonytail chub, the humpback chub, and the razorback sucker all thrive at 60-78 degrees Fahrenheit, or what used to be the normal river temperature through the Grand Canyon. Because the warm, silty water in which these fish species evolved no longer flows through the Grand Canyon, they are now endangered.

In 1994 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Colorado River in the Glen Canyon-Grand Canyon area as critical habitat for the survival of species like the humpback chub. In response to pressure from environmentalists, and under the power of the Endangered Species Act and the Grand Canyon Protection Act, the Bureau of Reclamation was forced to modify its water releases from Glen Canyon Dam to mitigate the negative impact on endangered species in the Grand Canyon. The modified flows prevent drastic daily fluctuations, and call for seasonal “high flow releases” to stir up sediment from tributaries in the canyon. While the reformed flows produce some relief in the form of nutrient-bearing and beach-forming sediment in the Grand Canyon, the relief is only temporary. When hydropower-maximizing flows resume, the cold, clear jets of water quickly cut through the wildlifenourishing sediment beaches in the Grand Canyon.

While little can be done to restore the fragile ecosystem in the Grand Canyon with the dam blocking the river’s natural flow, the situation for the canyons upstream of the dam is actually a happier story. As a persistent water shortage has overcome the U.S. Southwest and lowered reservoir levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, a spectacular metamorphosis is taking place in Glen Canyon. Believed to have been lost to Lake Powell forever, many side canyons have been resurrected back to life. Once under 30 or 50 feet of sediment, canyons like Fiftymile Creek, Lewellen Gulch, and Willow Gulch have emerged from the waters of Lake Powell, and have been restored back to their natural state.

Glen Canyon Institute recently visited one of Glen’s many side canyons with an author working on Patagonia’s DamNation book to document restored sections of the river. We camped out at Coyote Gulch and hiked down the Escalante River—one of the Colorado River’s tributaries that drains into Glen Canyon. Our hike began in a stretch of side-canyon that had previously been under water only several years ago. Marks of the reservoir could hardly be seen. The riverbed was clear and rocky, willows, cottonwoods, and grasses had reclaimed the streamside, and birdsong could be heard as we ventured further down the canyon.

Visit thewildernist.org/2015/05/death-rebirth-glen-canyon/ to see more photography by Nick Woolley.

For anyone who has visited restored sections of Glen Canyon, it’s clear that an unprecedented transformation is taking place. Canyons that had once been under 50 feet of water are now fully restored back to life, native flora and fauna have taken back their former habitats, and the sounds of trickling water from springs in the walls can be heard again. With numerous studies on Colorado River flows emerging every year, it’s becoming clear that neither Lakes Powell nor Mead will ever fill again. In addition, a study published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association shows that prioritizing water storage in downstream Mead could save upwards of 300,000 acre-feet of water now lost to seepage in Powell—the same amount of water Nevada pulls from the river every year. Regardless of the mistakes society made in the past, it’s time to free the Colorado River through Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon. It’s time to Fill Lake Mead First.

Henrik grew up in Salt Lake City and is a proud supporter of Utah wilderness. He enjoys running, hiking, and backpacking in the Wasatch Mountains and Salt Lake Valley.

Photos and photo captions by Nick Woolley, founder of Backcountry Post and webmaster of Glen Canyon Rising.

Chapter 10 . The Revolutionary Importance of Science: A Response to Alex Gorrion

Note: This essay was written by one of our magazine editors, John Jacobi.


The Anvil recently published an article by Alex Gorrion that critiques “science.” While I am usually inclined to dismiss these critiques, most of all because the authors rarely ever display familiarity with the history and philosophy of science (Gorrion is no exception), I have been engaged in a number of month-long discussions with people who I respect and who say the article has synthesized many of their problems, even if naively. It is for this reason that I am responding to Gorrion’s article in particular.

The first issue at hand is what we mean by “science.” The word is sufficiently broad to be meaningless or close to meaningless as a topic of discussion. And the difficulty is compounded by the fact that the word “science” refers in different contexts to radically different things, which often means critiques will target more than one of the meanings and not make any clear distinction between them. Gorrion’s article suffers from a lack of a working definition of science and so predictably falls into this trap.

One can, however, discern at least three targets in his piece. The first is scientific thought: the epistemology of science, the notion of objectivity, etc. The second target is the technocratic organization of modern communities of scientists. And the third is the notion of scientific progress.

Gorrion’s primary problem with scientific thought is its idea of “objectivity.” (As with “science,” Gorrion fails to distinguish between several different meanings of “objectivity.”) He has a special problem with the idea that scientific knowledge is an accurate representation of objective reality. Knowledge, he says, does not exist without a knower, which means the knower is intimately involved in constructing knowledge. He also points out the many problems in certain scientific practices that make any claims to “objectivity” laughable. Medical studies are a prime example of this. Later on, Gorrion singles out scientific materialism in particular, saying first that the dichotomy between the material and ideal is arbitrary (but unfortunately not explaining why) and then pointing out its failure to produce “ultimate explanations of consciousness, life, or creation.” Gorrion says that science pretends to be “an absolute system of knowledge,” and in this overextends itself; that science claims “that a zebra in a zoo is the same thing as a zebra in its herd in the Serengeti”; that science fears death; and that notions of progress and anthropocentrism are intrinsic parts of scientific thought.

Mixed in with all this, Gorrion simultaneously critiques the structures of academia and scientific communities. He says that even theories that are validated by the scientific method (which he rightly differentiates from scientific thought as a whole) are “marginalized, or obscured by the acting priests of Science,” citing as examples Gaia theory, Kropotkin’s ideas on evolution, and Recluse’s ideas on geography. Although earlier in the article Gorrion weakly argues against science based on the media’s use of the word, he later presents a stronger argument that modern scientific thought is so large and complex that flattened and distilled versions of it are necessary for the expert, skilled only in a small portion of of the whole scientific body of thought, to operate. In other words, these distilled, flattened, “pop” representations of science, including those presented by the media, are inherent aspects of scientific knowledge.

Lastly, Gorrion makes a strong critique of the notion of scientific “progress.” Viewing the acquisition of knowledge as inherently good, something that “should never be forsworn” is, he says, intimately tied up with the continued destruction of the wild world. He reminds us that modern scientific progress relies on industrial development that tears up forests for laboratories, ab-

stract mathematics that are used mostly for bombs and warfare, and so on. Gorrion also points out that the unilinear development of scientific thought, even apart from value judgements, is a dubious idea. Many scientific discoveries were made centuries before their place in the conventional narrative.

I largely agree with the article’s critiques of technocratic structures and scientific progress, and I even recognize many of the limitations of the scientific worldview. But a misunderstanding of contemporary scientific thought coupled with a failure to differentiate between various meanings of the word “science,” compels Gorrion to throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Gorrion might be surprised to learn that a good deal of scientists and philosophers of science strongly agree with many of his critiques of scientific thought. In fact, all the limitations he writes about have been pointed out with much more convincing argumentation by widely recognized philosophers of science. Gorrion not only fails to say anything new, he presents weaker arguments for what has already been said, largely by the “believers in Science” who he targets in his critique.

For example, in 1748 philosopher David Hume published An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, in which he proposed two ideas relevant to this discussion. The first was the idea of radical skepticism. Hume be-lieved that all human knowledge originated from sense-experience, a position known as “empiricism” and a cornerstone of the scientific method. However, he pointed out that even though our knowledge stems from sense-experience, there is no rational reason to trust our senses. In other words, while we can draw conclusions from the knowledge gained from our senses, all that knowledge would be invalid if it could somehow be proved that our sense-experience is a faulty basis for our reasoning (think The Matrix). Furthermore, there is “the problem of induction.” Reasoning from sense-experience relies on induction, which is reasoning that starts from small premises and moves to larger generalizations. For example:

1. Some black balls from the urn have been observed.

2. All observed black balls have tasted like licorice.

3. Therefore, all black balls in the urn taste like licorice.

Hume argued that we use inductive reasoning every day. It is, for example, how we conclude that we won’t be able to jump up and stay in the air tomorrow any more than we could yesterday. It is also how scientists have derived laws of nature. However, induction relies on an unjustified assumption that the world tomorrow will be like the world yesterday, called the principle of the uniformity of nature; or it relies on a sort of “jump” to a conclusion, called an inductive inference. Still, Hume supported the use of induction. Although his skeptical argument cannot be refuted, even professed skeptics have to use induction and sense-experience in their day-to-day lives.

Karl Popper later challenged some of Hume’s ideas on the problem of induction. For Popper, there is no such thing as an inductive inference, and science does not rely on it—the idea that science does is an illusion. The actual process is one of trial and error where the basic units of analysis are not facts but theories. That is, we propose a conjecture to explain many different facts and then test the facts against the conjecture in order to falsify it. Since Popper agrees that inductive reasoning is faulty, he states that no number of failed attempts to falsify a theory will allow us to conclude that the theory is true; scientific knowledge can only be falsified, not confirmed. Popper believed that a theory was unscientific when it was unfalsifiable or when it required ad hoc additions in order to protect it from falsifying evidence.

However, other philosophers challenged the idea that science did not rely on ad hoc modifications of theories. In the philosophy of science, the DuhemQuine thesis states that it is impossible to test a theory in isolation, be-cause each test requires several background assumptions, sometimes known as “auxiliary hypotheses.” This means that evidence that falsifies a given theory won’t necessarily falsify it if one or more of the auxiliary hypotheses change. For example, if we suddenly observed a particle moving faster than the speed of light, we would not necessarily be justified in believing that relativity is then false. Rather, we would (in an ad hoc manner) check the conditions of the experiment, see if all the wires and machines were working correctly, and so on. In other words, we can never be sure that the exact theory we are testing is responsible for the empirical discrepancy or if the many auxiliary hypotheses are responsible. This means that no theory can be falsified. The unit of analysis is larger than that.

One proposed unit of analysis was suggested by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn described two periods of science: the normal period and the revolutionary period. In normal periods, scientific achievements are made against a background of basic assumptions, theories, laws, instrumentation, etc. The findings of scientists during this time are promoted because they provide solutions to various “puzzles” produced by the basic assumptions, and oftentimes challenges to the basic assumptions are ignored or dealt with through ad hoc modifications. As these anomalies accumulate and the paradigm is weakened, new paradigms might become dominant and provide the basis for a renewed period of normal sci-ence. This suggests, for example, that scientists might have been justified in initially rejecting Galileo’s theory of heliocentrism, since one empirical discrepancy (or even a handful) has never been enough to discredit a theory or whole group of theories.

There are many other issues in the philosophy of science that are relevant to this conversation. However, it would probably be fruitless to go over the history of the philosophy of science in this essay, and I am not interested in restating all the problems anyway. Still, the above examples illustrate some central points that refute or complexify Gorrion’s analysis. For example, even though each of the above-mentioned issues present profound problems to scientific reasoning, every one of the thinkers who articulated the problems continued to espouse the scientific worldview. Furthermore, the endeavor of science is nowadays recognized by a substantial number of scientists as much more complex than Gorrion suggests. For instance, he criticizes “Science” for not accepting “Gaia theory, the Kropotkian view of evolution, [and] the Reclusion theorizations in geography,” even though the ideas have been “validated by the empirical method.” Apart from the fact that at least two of those examples have very real issues in the matters of empirical evidence and theoretical ambiguity,[38] the concepts of paradigms and underdetermination help explain why the theories have not been widely accepted in the scientific community. These concepts also directly refute Gorrion’s statement that “believers in Science will generally assert that Science itself is nothing more than empiricism.”


By now it should be clear that Gorrion fails to critique scientific thinking as a whole. Instead, he only critiques, at worst, various stereotypes about science and, at best, some ideas within science. Either way, his critique is insufficient for his wildly audacious conclusion that we should dispose of science wholesale.

But Gorrion was correct in saying that science is not only the empirical method. What more is there, then? One philosopher, Imre Lakatos, proposed a characterization of science that blended the ideas of Kuhn and Popper. Lakatos agreed with Kuhn that no single predictive discrepancy has ever justified disposing of a theory. Rather than theories being units of analysis, whole sets of theories which formed “research programs” (similar to Kuhn’s “paradigms”) are the basic unit of analysis in science. Research programs have a “hard core” of theoretical assumptions that, if changed, would require the dismissal of the entire program. Conceptually, we might imagine that around the hard core is a “protective belt” of less important theories—auxiliary hypotheses. These might be altered or disposed of, and they may even be ad hoc. The way to analyze two research programs is to compare their predictive power and their explanatory power. If a research program gains explanatory power from the addition of ad hoc hypotheses, it is what Lakatos calls “progressive.” However, if the protective belt grows without increasing the research program’s predictive and explanatory power, the program is “degenerative,” and susceptible to disposal for another program.

There is one other caveat: even if a research program is “degenerative,” we are not justified in disposing it without a better program (one with more explanatory power) to replace it. Otherwise, disposing of the degenerative research program leaves us with a weakened ability to demystify the world around us.

One example of a research program is Marvin Harris’ cultural materialism. In his book, Cultural Materialism: The Quest for a Science of Culture (which provides a very good overview of the main problems in the philosophy of science, much better than one I have given), Harris outlines some of the “first principles” of the cultural materialist research program, including positivism, materialism, and an epistemological distinction between the observer and observed. Under the cultural materialist program (Harris calls it a “research strategy”), all societies have three components: the infrastructure, which includes technological, geographic, demographic, and some economic factors; the structure, which includes the division of labor, organizations, and the state; and the superstructure, which includes religion, science, superstitions, and so on. There is also a notion of “infrastructural determinism,” which states that the infrastructure probabilistically shapes the structure, which shapes the superstructure. Under Lakatos’ and Harris’ logic, one is justified in looking at a society and assuming, before getting any empirical evidence, that the infrastructure is the primary reason the society is the way it is. And this sort of willful recognition of “theory-ladenness,” or the idea that theory affects evidence, has not hampered the predictive and explanatory power of cultural materialism at all. On the contrary, it is one of the anthropological theories that has done the best to explain, for example, the transition from hunter-gatherer life to agricultural life.

Such an approach includes far more than the empirical method, and there is no name for it other than “science.” I am not convinced that we can dispose of it.

For one thing, even if this approach has some real problems, the alternatives are even worse. Mysticism, religion, and various forms of obscurantism have been the primary tools of the powerful seeking to justify their power. Science—logic, reason, empirical evidence—has been the tool that has cut off the legs of those beasts. Science is what allows us to demystify power relations and the world around us so that we can properly respond. Otherwise, we are left making decisions that do not, for example, acknowledge evolutionary processes, economic trends, sociological tendencies, and human nature. This is as absurd as making decisions without acknowledging the laws of gravity. Worse, we are left not believing in the laws of gravity because a monarch or tradition or “divine revelation” has told us so.

Some have argued that science only justifies the prevailing order. Gorrion, for example, might cite the medical industry’s tendency to influence “scientific” studies in order to boost their profits. But the problem here is a lack of science, not too much of it. Furthermore, scientific findings on ecological devastation and climate change have presented a profound challenge to the prevailing industrial order. It is the religionists and their obscurantism who are promoting the greatness of industry and glossing over its negative consequences with climate change denial.

In the face of growing ecological devastation, I am not ready to dispose of science for some unclear or worse alternative. What is needed now is a group of people who are dedicated to cutting through bullshit with the strongest tools they have and responding appropriately. Falling into mysticism or relativism, as some “radicals” have proposed, might feel good, but it makes our analysis impotent—a dangerous thing when the situation we are facing is so dire.


Gorrion was right to be critical of technocratic structures and of scientific progress, but, as with most of his other points, his argument could have been much stronger, which I hope to illustrate.

First, though, a point of clarification. Previously I mentioned the tendency of critiques of science to mix up the multiple meanings of the word and, as a result, to end up disposing of one meaning in the name of arguments against another. Gorrion does this. He rightly criticizes the structures of academic and scientific communities but, in calling it “science,” counts his argument as strengthening his justification for rejecting scientific thinking. Probably a more careful writer could use the term “science” to refer to both things while retaining a nuanced differentiation. But given the complexity of the issue, the need to communicate it in simple terms to many people, and its vital importance for a revolutionary ecological analysis, I prefer the phrase “technocratic structures,” which calls attention to the real problem: the industrial-technological base and economics. For is it really scientific thought that necessitates the vastness of contemporary scientific practice— scientific thought that could be practiced equally well by any pre-industrial community? Probably not.

In fact, several thinkers believe that even hunter-gatherers practiced scientific thought. The best account of this hypothesis in English has been presented by Louis Liebenberg in his book The Origin of Science. Liebenberg began his exploration with the question, “How did the human mind evolve the ability to do scientific reasoning if scientific reasoning was not required for hunter-gather[er] survival?” He ultimately posited that the evolutionary origin of scientific thought could have stemmed from the hunter-gatherer practice of tracking animals. See “Tracking Science: The Origin of Scientific[http://cybertrackerblog.org/2014/06/11/tracking-science-the-origin-of-scientific-thinking-in-our-paleolithic-ancestors/][Thinking in Our Paleolithic Ancestors”]] by Louis Liebenberg and “El rastreo[http://www.investigacionyciencia.es/revistas/mente-y-cerebro/numero/7/el-rastreo-de-huellas-4411][de huellas”]] by Rolf Degen.

In other words, a much more likely culprit for the problems Gorrion writes about—and many he didn’t—is the industrial-technological and economic infrastructure that expands everything, including scientific exploration, into a mass that our Stone Age world doesn’t quite jive with.

Some examples. Gorrion notes that the scientific body of knowledge is so vast that no one individual could understand a tenth of it. This, by consequence, necessitates both the need for experts and, in fields the experts do not specialize in, a flattened, “pop” form of science. All of this is not an inevitable consequence of thinking scientifically. Rather, if our society is larger and more complex, by necessity we will have to know more things in order to operate its various components; we will have to know more specific and technical things, since small errors have huge repercussions when magnified; and we will have to universalize the knowledge in some way so that there can be communication across different groups of people. In To Our Friends, The Invisible Committee explains this issue well:

. . . [Man] continues relating in the same disastrous manner to the disaster produced by his own disastrous relationship with the world. He calculates the rate at which the ice pack is disappearing. He measures the extermination of non-human forms of life. As to climate change, he doesn’t talk about it based on his sensible experience—a bird that doesn’t return in the same period of the year, an insect whose sounds aren’t heard anymore, a plant that no longer flowers at the same time as some other one. He talks about it scientifically, with numbers and averages. He thinks he’s saying something when he establishes that the temperature will rise so many degrees and the precipitation will decrease by so many inches or millimeters. He even speaks of “biodiversity.” He observes the rarification of life on earth from space. (To Our Friends, Invisible Committee, chapter 1.)

I have not read To Our Friends —this quote was given to me by a colleague— so I don’t know where the committee took their argument. But regardless, it stood out to me as a perfect example of what I am trying to communicate here. The “sensible experience” mentioned in the quote—such as “an insect whose sounds aren’t heard anymore”—are all perfectly valid as scientific evidence. Indeed, it was that kind of evidence that Darwin used to devise his elegant theory of evolution. But the problems of the modern world to which scientific thought must be applied require more precise and massive knowledge. For example, applying scientific reasoning to contemporary economic systems—for conventional or revolutionary purposes—requires the use of higher order mathematics and abstract numerical evidence. The sounds of grasshoppers aren’t going to be helpful for that at all.

Granted, a good deal of the “required” knowledge is required by industry, not individuals or small groups. The preciseness of the IPCC report on climate change was not only to accent the gravity of the situation; many of the precise calculations were intended for industrial organizations, economic structures, and governments to have tools to deal with this complex problem and the effects it might have on them and their interests. But again, what does this have to do with rejecting scientific thought? The culprit here is economics and technology.

Some scientists and left-wing critics have expressed support for this view. Specifically, they say that capitalist economics have structured research funding and grants in such a way that severely undermines the integrity of scientific findings.[39] The medical industry is a particularly egregious example.[40] Given that the leftist Gorrion is such a strong enemy of capitalism, it is rather unfortunate that he gave up a nuanced argument against the intrusion of capitalism on scientific exploration for the flat, hollow one that denounces science wholesale.

While I appreciate Gorrion’s argument about pop science being an intrinsic part of contemporary scientific knowledge, he overstates his point. It is true that no one person can know even a tenth of contemporary science. But, firstly, this is not a problem to a certain extent, or it is at least an unavoidable one. In most societies there exists a body of knowledge that no one person can properly understand in full. Secondly, technologies very often offset this weakness. Granted, the critiques of technocratic structures apply here. However, the presence of these technologies and structures do enable scientists to overcome the pitfalls of specialization. Computers, libraries, and so on store large amounts of knowledge and allow for coordination at a massive scale. And obviously one expert deficient in a field can always defer to another expert. The point here is not that this is a desirable state of things, but that Gorrion needs to at least tone down his claim that scientists are unjustified in being miffed about “pop science,” or that it is a problem that scientists only know a small part of what there is to know.

We would also do well here to examine how absurd Gorrion’s actual critique is. His exact words are:

Just as Cartesian dualism remains embedded in Enlightenment rationalism, the Cartesian geometry of flat planes and right angles remains integral to the scientific worldview, even though it has been invalidated by the principle of relativity (whereas the determinism of classical science up to and including general relativity has been contradicted by the uncertainty of quantum mechanics).

If space itself is not a neutral, static phenomenon, something as stable and happy as a square or a triangle can be nothing but an illusion or a convenient lie. (This is a part of Science’s mythical simplification, elements of the worldview that it cannot actually defend, but that it nonetheless perpetuates, through mechanisms that will be dishonestly chalked up to “pop science” if ever called to account.)

This is absurd. No scientist would call Newtonian notions of space and time “pop science.” They might clarify in reference to certain problems or if the discussion called for it, but for the most part Newtonian conceptions are an extremely accurate approximation of how the world actually works. Calling them a “convenient lie” is like saying “the earth is a sphere” is a lie because it has mountains—although, judging from the above quote, Gorrion might commit himself to that claim as well.


I’ve up until now responded to Gorrion’s article by giving him the benefit of the doubt. I’ve glossed over some of his more absurd claims, I’ve mostly ignored asking for evidence where it was sorely lacking, and I’ve carefully avoided the charge of “postmodern relativism,” which even the postmodern relativists have learned to reject. However, there are good reasons to believe that Gorrion deserves no such treatment. Let’s investigate a few.

First, Gorrion espouses the Gaia hypothesis as being a valid scientific hypothesis that has been rejected by the conspiratorial “priests of Science” as heresy. In reality, Gaia hypothesis is really, really bad science. It proposes a complete redefinition of the concept of “life” and, at best, functions as a teleological metaphor for things the theory of evolution already explains well and better. As a result Gaia is generally only accepted by woo woo hippies— but it seems like Gorrion has no problem with this. Several things indicate he is firmly in the woo woo camp. For example, he states:

In our own lifetimes, acupuncture has gone from a treatment that was ignored or ridiculed in the West, to one that has been confirmed as effective by scientific studies. This reaction belies the hypocrisy and also the implicit racism of empiricist mythology, as acupuncture is based on thousands of years of observation and testing, only it wasn’t bearded white men who were in charge, so it clearly doesn’t count. And despite its proven effectiveness, acupuncture is still belittled or dismissed, providing more evidence of the cultural supremacy (an important component of any religion) implicit in Science.

Given we’re taking Gorrion seriously here, I must demand to see these “scientific studies” that support acupuncture as a valid form of treatment, especially since the vast majority of studies conclude that acupuncture is a placebo.[41] But probably we shouldn’t take Gorrion seriously. For one thing, he says that there is “implicit racism” in the “empiricist mythology,” even though he stated earlier that he does not reject empiricism, only science. Furthermore, isn’t it incoherent to argue for acupuncture because it is scientifically valid when your larger argument is a polemic against science?

Perhaps the most egregious example of eyeroll inducing woo woo is Gorrion’s invocation of “quantum mechanics”—a favorite of New Agers everywhere.[42] Honestly, they must find it irresistible. Somehow it proves every mystical assertion ever made and disproves the modern science that discovered it. Well—maybe science discovered it. According to Gorrion, Buddhists invented quantum mechanics “well over a thousand years” before modern science. I just wonder where they got the lasers for the double-slit experiment.


I haven’t responded to everything in Gorrion’s critique for practical reasons, but I will explain why I didn’t address three of them here.

First, I haven’t acknowledged Gorrion’s idea that modern scientific and academic structures stem from Christianity. This is because I don’t have enough historical knowledge to challenge or verify this claim and, more to the point, because he uses the comparison mostly rhetorically. Unless Gorrion is relying on the fallacy of origins (X is bad because it came from bad thing Y), his comparison only grants strength to his argument insofar as it reveals negative impacts of technocratic structure that would otherwise be unclear without a more vulgar manifestation.

Secondly, I didn’t address Gorrion’s problems with objectivity. This is partially because section II covers much of the territory, but also because Gorrion clearly does not have a coherent definition of the term, and it would take another full essay to complexify and respond to his analysis. Generally, he has two ideas of what objectivity means: a value that scientists strive for and a metaphysical assertion about reality (i.e., that there is an objective reality). The former is properly explored—and to an extent argued for—in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s section on “Scientific Objectivity.” The latter is investigated by Alan Sokal in his “Defense of a Modest Scientific[http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/bielefeld_final_rev.pdf][Realism]].” (I also recommend reading Sokal’s other writings, including the[http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/weinberg.html][hoax]] paper he sent to a cultural studies journal in response to the rise of relativism in academia.)

Finally, I have not addressed Gorrion’s criticisms of the myth of progress. This is because I mostly agree with Gorrion and because the topic is important enough to deserve something more dignified than a few paragraphs within a response essay.


I have spent this whole essay defending scientific thought and pointing out the absurdity of many aspects of Gorrion’s critique. But Gorrion’s views are not particularly far off from the anti-science populism that is likely to become more common in the future. Scientists and engineers are going to become discernibly more influential on the world around us. Already there are hundreds of scientists on Wall Street and many working behind the scenes at Facebook and Google. Just as the twentieth century’s populism targeted politicians, so the twenty-first century’s populism will target scientists and technologies, and science along with them. Despite this, clearly the revolutionary should not dispose of scientific thought. After all, his role is to demystify a situation and find the proper target. What better tool for this than science?

Chapter 11. Prehistoric Art, Imagined and Real

For those of us who work on prehistoric symbolic expressions, writing about Ice Age art is often an exercise in taming popular imagination. Archaeologists are well aware how much interest the topic generates, but also how much misinformation floats around it (Venus figurines were not the most common or popular form of art 20,000 years ago). This essay offers a simple roadmap, so as to provide a brief guide to anthropological attempts to understand the diverse and impressively long-lasting forms of symbolic expression generally labeled as “prehistoric art.” Here I will direct attention to three central issues that archaeologists discuss: 1) the emergence of artistic expression; 2) the geographic locations of materials; and 3) the various material forms of expression. I hope to leave the reader with a sense of awe, curiosity, and continuing questions, but questions rooted in factual information that we currently have.

Art and its origins

Art is a form of cultural communication. It is a type of language that helps people express ideas, mull over pressing issues and social values—to think through what matters to them the most. It is also a way to express sentiment: humor, anger, frustration, or express desire, sadness and longing. However, in order to communicate, we have to understand the vocabulary. No artists, whether current or one who lived ten thousand years ago, spend their days in isolation. Hence the vocabulary used to express ideas can only have an effect in a community that shares values, grasps the ideas, and is familiar with the ways of being. Words, thoughts and symbols are learned in interactions with others. One has to try them out and figure out when and how they convey a meaning, when they fall flat, generating either no response, or misunderstanding. Therefore one of the central issues in our conversations about the emergence of art has to involve social context. When we wish to talk about “the origins of art,” we have to ask, “When did people feel the need to communicate with others in symbolically enduring, material ways?” Be it painting, carving, or music, the importance of social, collective life is essential. Our earliest ancestors may have had the “capacity” to make all kinds of objects but what we imagine as art would only emerge alongside the need to say something socially meaningful and enduring in a shared material form.

One of the ongoing but also contentious scholarly debates about prehistoric art is the timing of the emergence of symbolic abilities. At the risk of oversimplification, we can divide this argument between those who suggest that artistic abilities developed gradually, over a long period of time (100,000 years or more), and those who argue for a “revolution,” a sudden change that occurred around 40-50,000 years ago. The central issue in this conversation is whether “art” is unique to our immediate species, Homo sapiens sapiens, or whether we shared this capacity with our close cousins, particularly the Neanderthals, who overlapped in time with early modern humans. If art developed gradually and slowly, then we need to entertain the possibility that it is not completely the domain of modern humans—that we might not be[http://www.thewildernist.org/2015/04/gessner-primal-future/][so special]] after all.

Beyond species level chronology we have questions about the geography of human creativity. For the past few decades the issue of authorship dominated the debate about the “origins of art.” Who were the first artists? The conversation became more complicated last year (2014) with the publication of the discovery of painted Maros Pangkep caves in Sulawesi, Indonesia with dates ranging between 17,000 to 40,000 years ago. The dating of hand stencils (39,900) or the whimsical looking, flying or dancing pig-deer (35,400) suggests that humans have been communicating through images for quite some time. Moreover these Sulwasi cave paintings give credence to those who argue that we need to look beyond Europe and the Mediterranean for origins of symbolic behavior, taking account of the rest of the world. Art may not only have emerged earlier than we thought, but also in many places independently, whether or not at the same time, or as a lasting tradition.

Even the apparently simple geographic question of “where did art first appear?” grows complex when combining evidence and definitions. If we continue to insist that “art” emerged full blown as a sudden revolution, it would likely place such birth in Europe and the Mediterranean, outside Africa or Asia. Yet if we accept a more gradualist perspective, then the recent finds of perforated beads, abalone shell with traces of paint, and engraved pieces of ochre at Blombos cave in South Africa—at the very tip of that continent and about as far away from Europe as one can get—push not only the boundary of time but also of geographic location. Dated to about 77,000 years ago, the portable ornaments and the large shell, which might have served as a painter’s palette for mixing colors, suggest that by the time modern humans migrated out of Africa and settled other regions of the world, they had welldeveloped symbolic capacities and, more importantly, used those abilities with enthusiasm. Where did some of those migrants go, and when did they start to express their thoughts, joys and fears in material symbols? These remain big questions for archaeologists in the 21st century. The Sulawesi caves fall into the range of European Paleolithic art—the Spanish cave El[http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/castillo-cave-paintings.htm][Castillo being currently the oldest at about 40,800 years]]. Yet these images are located in a very different direction from Europe, if heading out of Africa. Assuming that these ancestral people did not run to get to Indonesia as quickly as possible to paint the walls of Maros Pangkep, we are facing the exciting possibility of finding other older examples of prehistoric art in many other places in Asia. As a consequence, it looks increasingly likely that we have to rethink the idea of the “birth of art” being a singular event, located in one region

Ice Age art forms

Whether or not one is inclined to accept the possibility of greater antiquity and geographic distribution of symbolic expressions, the fact remains that around 45,000 years ago the amount and diversity of symbolic expressions appears to have dramatically increased. Were there many more people who had something to say to their companions? Did social life get more complex and some topics needed to be engraved, painted, made durable or made exclusive in hidden corners of caves? Was it an expression of commonality and shared values, or was it an expression of difference and standing apart from neighbors? Either way, this sudden upsurge of symbolic activity leads archaeologists to focus on the rich and sophisticated materials from the past forty thousand years, thus far mainly found in Central and Western Europe. Archaeological materials generally labeled as “prehistoric art” divides into two basic categories: portable objects and “parietal” art painted or carved on rock walls. This division enables us to talk about not only the objects themselves but also who might have made them and who might have had access to them once they were completed.

The most obvious characteristic of a cave or rock shelter wall is its immobility. Cave walls are locations that had to be visited; they were permanent markers on a landscape. Furthermore most of the sites we know are hidden landmarks. Whether one wishes to see the caves in France or Spain, or rock shelters in Italy or Portugal, the prehistoric paintings are not easily accessible or immediately visible. Rather, the images on cave walls only appear after at least a twenty minutes walk inside, through corridors and internal caverns that would have been light only with torches or small oil lamps. These contextual facts raise their own questions about production and reception for archaeologists. Were the drawings completed in one “sitting,” or through repeated visits? Were the results visible only in bits and pieces, images flickering, or did a large gathering with many torches allow a general viewing? The remote and relatively inaccessible location also meant that those who made the paintings could have kept it a secret, choosing a few select visitors who would come along for the experience. These are all possible scenarios, but we do know that since none of the images were removable, only stories about them could have travelled.

Portable carved objects present the perfect counterexample to cave wall paintings. Their central characteristic is that they are much smaller and literally portable, as most would easily slip into pouches or pockets, or attach to clothing. Nevertheless, despite these general features we do not know if they were personal or communal property, shared across either a small or large group. When taken together, fixed and portable art suggest differ-ent senses of authorship, audience, viewers, and possible practices associated with each. Having to walk into a dark space, through corridors and enclosed spaces, carrying paint, brushes and tools was most likely a different experience than carving a figurine or making a musical instrument, an activity that could have taken place anywhere, with a product would fit into the palm of a hand.

We have little to go on when trying to picture the first artists. There is little archaeological evidence for a claim that the art was made predominantly by either men or by women. Some of the hand stencils in painted caves are the size of a child’s hand, so we know that children were present. However, the skill and stylistic consistency displayed in most cave paintings or carvings suggests that a long learning period or an apprenticeship would likely have had to take place before one would have achieved the desired outcome. The images of horses or rhinos show not only a skilled painter but also a person greatly familiar with minute details of animal behavior—the flicker of a tail, the lowering of a head, or the movement of legs when galloping. Many portable objects were carved out of hard materials like ivory or stone, and their manufacture would require physical strength and hours of dedicated detailed work. Thus it seems probable that not all these artifacts resulted from child’s play, or indeed, from any one group or activity.

Painting in the dark for thousands of years

We should never forget that cave paintings and carvings were made over the span of many thousands of years. That fact alone makes it harder to explain them with a single story, no matter how convincing or enticing. In the 1990s David Lewis-Williams, a South African rock art specialist, suggested “shamanic rituals” as the explanation for painted rock shelters in South Africa and later also painted caves in Europe. While this hypothesis generated a lot of discussion and may have some validity in some locations, the ultimate disagreement rested on the question whether “an explanation” can capture thousands of years of creativity. Each one of the objects deserves our full attention and educated guesses based on facts gathered through a range of scientific methods. Even the most famous and majestic painted caves display considerable variation. While the spectacular Lascaux cave in France remains the best-known site with prehistoric art, a few other fascinating locations illustrate the diversity and richness of these prehistoric sites. El Castillo, a cave in the Cantabria region of northern Spain, is currently the very oldest known painted cave with a distinct sequence of large red dots and hand stencils painted some 40,800 years ago. Chauvet cave (the subject of Werner Herzog’s 2010 film Cave of Forgotten Dreams) lies in the Ardche region of Southwestern France, and dates to approximately 32,000 years ago. It is a cavern full of horses, bison, and bear, most exquisitely depicted in charcoal. Currently these are the two oldest examples of cave art that we know. Hundreds of miles apart, they are distinct and unique in a number of ways. They differ in stylistic terms, the dots and hands in El Castillo contrasting with the animals in Chauvet cave, and each featuring colors made out of different pigments of red and black. Yet should this really surprise us, given that well over 8,000 years separate the two? By way of comparison going back the same amount of time from our present would put us in the Neolithic, well before the ancient civilizations we see as leading to our own. Even if the rate of cultural change may have accelerated, it is hard for anthropologists to imagine hundreds of generations living in timeless uniformity.

over 11 different species represented (nine ap-

pear in Lascaux and 14 in Chauvet cave). We also know that visits to the

Another find that demands attention is the recently discovered Cosquer cave on the Mediterranean coast of France, not far from the modern French city of Marseille. Since the coast shifted quite dramatically since the Ice Age with rising sea levels, the cave is now only accessible to divers. Yet we know that throughout prehistory it occupied prime waterfront, as marine animals are uniquely represented among the paintings, including a now extinct form of penguin known as the Great Auk. Cosquer cave also features rare adult hand stencils with missing fingers, carvings as well as paintings decorating the walls and a large animal vocabulary with cave stretched over a long period of time, with paintings added for well over five thousand years. At the same time the site illustrates how much we have literally lost to the tides of time: due to the rising seawater the majority of the paintings in Cosquer cave have likely been destroyed by natural erosion. For a more accessible cave experience, I would direct any interested traveller to Niaux in the French Pyrenees, just south of the medieval town of Foix. Located high up above the valley with a spectacular view from the cave entrance, Niaux offers ample evidence of the range and complexity of ancient symbols. The walls at the entrance are decorated with hundreds of black and red geometric symbols, lines, dots, and dashes all placed in a pattern that remains an enigma to us. Deep inside one finds bison, ibex, horses with thick manes, as well as a rare image of a fish. Niaux is one of the more recent decorated caves, dated to some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. Shortly afterward, for unknown reasons, the great Ice Age art wave ended.

The research to date and decipher cave paintings continues. We have made major strides in understanding the chemical composition of the paint used in the different caves, and this chemical analysis of the pigment has enabled us to date some of paintings. We consequently have a much better sense of the long duration of this particular genre of symbolic activity, which lasted some 30,000 years. We likewise recognize its complexity, as each cave had unique “recipes” to make the colors, with hematite, iron ores and charcoal as the starting base. We also have a better sense of the geographic distribution of the caves, which all appear to concentrate in southwestern Europe. Archaeologists continue to puzzle over why caves, present throughout Europe, were painted only in certain regions and remained blank in others. Do they represent a cultural region? Or might they be the legacy of series of successive, overlapping or competing traditions? Spectacular and shrouded in mystery, such caves should compel archaeologists to think about more than our own modern notions of “art galleries” or “temples.” At the same time, they also remind us of our own limits when it comes to understanding people who lived in the deep past.

A pocketful of symbols

Like decorated caves, the portable objects we have inherited from prehistory display remarkable variety and endurance over thousands of years. However, unlike the geographically restricted cave paintings, carved, perforated or otherwise shaped objects appear to have been widespread in the deep past, as they have been found all across Europe and in Africa and Asia as well. They are older than the painted caves, dating to at least 70,000 years ago, and relatively more abundant. A few female figurines, labeled with the unfortunate moniker “Venus figurines,” have dominated popular imagination, particularly those found at Willendorf in Austria (24,000 years old), Doln Vstonice in the Czech Republic (27,000 years), Hohle Fels in Germany (40,000 years), Lespugue (24,000 years) or Brassempouy (22,000 years) in France or Kostenki in Russia (24,000 years). However, they only represent a small fraction of the much larger array of portable prehistoric art.

The carved items suggest that prehistoric symbolic communication was sophisticated and complex for thousands of years, while displaying distinct and changing aesthetic conventions. Early on, we find drilled animal teeth and seashells in large quantities, either connected to form necklaces or bracelets, or attached to clothing and headdresses. Tooth size and type of animal appear to be carefully selected and matched; these were not random remnants of someone’s dinner, recycled or repurposed. Ivory (valued by many cultures to this day) was another popular material, used for buttons, small plaques and figurines. Strikingly, seashells also appear with great frequency, often at inland sites, far from any coast. Was this a memory of the visit to the shore hundreds of miles away, or the result of exchange with a traveler telling tales about those distant places? We find fossil shells incorporated into decorative ensembles, and even replicas of seashells were made out of bone. The longing for an ocean view may have deeper roots than we can fathom. Or perhaps some feature of the material itself beguiled ancient peoples; beyond their visual appeal seashells and bone ornaments are all smooth and warm to touch, especially when rubbed. Archaeologists are increasingly paying attention to other human senses besides vision when thinking about the experience of prehistoric art. The acoustics of caves, the sounds some objects make when suspended, the touch of materials, and the smells associated with certain locales are finding their way into scholarly discussion, enlarging the scope of our collective imagination.

Carved figurines, displaying a clear representational aesthetic, appear in greater quantities after 40,000 years ago. The German sites of Vogelherd[http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/ivory-carvings-swabian-jura.htm][and Geisenklosterle]] offer some of the best-known early examples of this early symbolic expressions, with exquisitely shaped and perfectly proportioned, horse, mammoth, rhino or lion figurines, none more than two inches tall. The “Lwenmensch” (a lion person) figurine from another German site, Hohlenstein Stadel, has fascinated scholars since the 1930s. After decades of painstaking work to piece together its many fragments, the item has been reassembled into a 30 cm tall half human, half lion, standing figurine carved out of ivory. This figurine would have taken months to make, and required notable skills and strength, as demonstrated by the carving of a replica. The meaning of the human animal hybrid remains speculative, but many argue it reflects some form of animist belief in a human animal connected world. In any case a tie to animal forms is appropriate when considering the wider array of prehistoric symbolic expression. Fascinated as we may be by depictions of the human form, animals and geometric designs dominate the overall collection.


A tiny soapstone replica of a human animal hybrid sits in a seashell on my desk. I may never know what this object meant to the person who made it. Yet every day when I look at the warm reddish brown figurine, less than two inches high, it reminds me the degree of skill and imagination that already existed some 20 or 30, 000 years ago. Like its more famous cousins, the painted caves and the female figurines, it both invites interpretation and ultimately resists it. These ancient artifacts still humble us, suggesting that despite all the expanding array of modern technology, all the advances of science, some things may forever lie just beyond our grasp. Yet they also push the boundaries of our imagination, offering glimpses of different ways of being in the distant past. This elusive legacy, perhaps, is the most enduring legacy of prehistoric art.

Read more

For readers interested in more detailed studies of the mentioned sites or archeological materials I recommend:

Bahn, Paul G. 2010. Prehistoric Rock Art: Polemics and Progress. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bahn, Paul G., and Jean Vertut 1997. Journey through the Ice Age. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bradley, Richard 2009. Image and Audience: Rethinking Prehistoric Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clottes, Jean and J. David Lewis-Williams 1998. The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves. New York: Abrams.

Conkey, Margaret W., Olga Soffer, Debora Stratman, and Nina Jablonski (eds.) 1997. Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol. San Francisco, Calif. Berkeley: California Academy of Sciences. Distributed by University of California Press.

Lewis-Williams, David J. 2002. A Cosmos in Stone: Interpreting Religion and Society Through Rock Art. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Nowell, April 2006. From a Paleolithic Art to Pleistocene Visual Cultures, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 13 (4): 239-249

Tomkov, Silvia 2013. Wayward Shamans: The Prehistory of an Idea. Berkeley: University of California Press.

White, Randall 2003. Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Chapter 12. The Story Behind Our Name

In 1968 John Hendee and some others set out to evaluate the attitudes and values toward wilderness held by people who used national parks and forests. To do this, they devised a questionnaire that they administered to some users of wilderness areas in Washington and Oregon, and they placed the users somewhere on a scale from “wilderness purists” to “urban or conveience oriented” users. They named it the “Wildernist-Urbanist scale,” and thus the name “wildernist” was born.

Since t