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”

  --- Essays ---

    History and Impact of Earth First!

    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

    Placing Our Bets

    The Luddite Method

      Our goals and beliefs

      What we know for sure

      A general plan





      The Future

    The Technology Problem

      The industrial system is counter to freedom and wildness

      Wildness can only be restored with a switch to non-industrial ways of life

      Ending the industrial way of life is conceivable


    Why I Am Leaving Anarchism

    We Fight for Life

    The Persistent Hope

    Review: Green Delusions by Martin Lewis

      I. Introduction

      II. A Book with Few Weaknesses

      I. Rarely Challenges Wildism

      IV. Conclusion

      V. Bibliography

  --- Discussions ---

    An Interview with John Jacobi

  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

  --- Journals ---

  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

      Climate Change

      Habitat Loss

      Stress from Commercial Beekeeping


      Lack of Genetic Diversity

      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 / Gatherer Vol. 1 No. 1 (2016)

    Table of Contents

    Introducing Hunter/Gatherer

      Our Strategy, 2016

      I. What We’re Sure Of

      II. Our Work

        A. Wildist Ethics

        B. Scientific Analysis

        C. Conservation Strategy

        D. The Role of the Ideology

        E. The Role of the Publication

      A. The Role of Conservation Projects

      I. The Big Questions

      IV. Conclusion

    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

        D. From Scientific Explanation to Ethical Science

      3. The Ethical Principles of Wildism

        A. The Value of Nature

        B. The Cosmos as Divinity

        C. The Critique of Progress

        E. Anti-Industrial Reaction

        F. Wildlands Conservation

      IV. Summary

      V. Conclusion

      VI. Bibliography

    The Fable of Managed Earth

      I. Sustainable energy production

      I. Geoengineering to control climate change

      IV.</strong> Accident prediction, control, and repair

      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

      III. 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

      II. 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

    Technical Autonomy

      I. Introduction

      II. 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 Development

      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

  --- Books ---

  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















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…


--- Essays ---

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.

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.

Placing Our Bets

Author: John Jacobi

Date: 22 September 2014

Source: Jacobi's Github & The Anarchist Library

A revolt against technology is inevitable; the task before us[1] is turning that revolt into revolution. How we will go about doing this is not yet known, and it will not be a sure path no matter what we choose to do. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that the vehicle for change in modern society will continue to be the mass movement.

There are many things that make up a revolution, but most of them are inevitable. Revolts, terrorism, contrarian art, and so on are all elements of a revolution that will happen without any conscious force. The decisive factor in every revolution, however, is the mass movement. And while a mass rebellionmay happen without any guiding hand, a mass movement must be a conscious endeavor. There must be a dedicated and stable force that connects each rebellion, that sustains its fervor, and that makes it grow.

Other frameworks toward revolution have been offered before. Some anarchists of the 1800s proposed terrorism or “propaganda by the deed.” In their visions, a dramatic act of class violence would awake the masses from their ignorant slumber and induce them with a fervor that would power the revolution. Quite obviously, their framework failed. Furthermore, the anti-tech terrorists[2] of today have demonstrated clearly that terrorism is a tactic of those who havegiven up hope. Consider this quote froma communiqueby Reaccion Salvaje:

_we do not want to form an “anti-technological movement” that encourages the “total overthrow of the system,” we do not see it as viable, we do not want victory, we do not pretend to win or lose, this is an individual fight against the mega-machine; we don’t care about getting something positive from this...

How clear a line of demarcation from the luddite position!

Then there are some who proposed (and some still propose) an armed struggle against the powers-that- be. This is an ignorant suggestion when any armed struggle in present times would clearly be stamped out from a number of factors. No group will be successful in an armed struggle against the United States, for example, with all its advanced technology and overwhelming military power. Such a group would only achieve long prison sentences for the actors. And what work do they suppose they can do in prison?

Not only would an armed group be unable to succeed, it would be unable to sustain its success. An armed revolution would do nothing to legitimize the values of wild living. Therefore, a successful armed struggle would lead only to the overthrow of the armed group or a reversion to the same circumstances as those that compelled them to overthrow it.

Then there are those who support a nonviolent revolution. It is true that in some areas a nonviolent revolution similar to the historical ones could take place. But the historical ones have always been supplemented by violent counterparts.[3] Furthermore, nonviolent revolutions almost always occur in nations transitioning to industrial-capitalistic democracies. In other words, these “revolutions” are not a break from the general trend of history; they are a continuance of it. Because of this, non-violent movements often have considerable institutional backing, from states to NGOs and other organizations. And one cannot deny that a state’s power is based on violence.

That is not to say that luddites should discard nonviolence completely. It remains effective and desirable in many cases. But,as Arundhati Roy says:

If you’re an adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Nonviolence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.

The luddites are not terrorists, pacifists, or insurgents. We are revolutionaries, and the path to revolution is one that begins with a group that has placed its bets on a mass movement. How we might sustain a revolution is a question for another essay—or a book, more likely—but one present and clear task can be discerned now: those who wish to protect their freedom must find each other and organize around common values and a common project. Only from there can we move forward.

The Luddite Method

Author: John Jacobi

Date: 12 Sept. 2014

Source: Jacobi's Github & The Anarchist Library

Our goals and beliefs

We believe that wild nature is something to be revered and respected. Because we believe life under wild nature is the freest and most dignified way of life, we believe all of the ecosphere should be wild, or at least have a choice to be. However, since the Industrial Revolution, a technological way of life has made great strides in destroying our ability to live wildly. The industrial system disrespects and domesticates all of nature, from humans to animals to the earth, and even the parts it has not physically touched are affected by the global problems it is creating — problems that the technocratic elite behind it all are attempting to fix with more technology. This system has become so great that it threatens to destroy wild nature and replace the ecosphere with a life created completely from a lab. Because of the nature of this system, nothing will be able to opt out.

Therefore, luddites’ goal is to end the industrial system.

What we know for sure

We know that the industrial system will be going through turbulent times in the coming decades. It has created a number of ticking time-bombs for itself, from climate change to invasive species. Within the next couple of decades, the industrial system will begin to feel their effects. Because the industrial system is only 200 years old, it hasn’t yet worked out all of its problems (if it ever can), so even if it is eventually able to handle the disasters, it will have a lot of trouble at first. Furthermore, the industrial system is inherently fragile compared to Mother Nature, who has caused cascading blackouts by rubbing a few tree branches on power lines. Historically, the more complex and sophisticated a civilization is, the more fragile it becomes. The only thing that might save the industrial system from this historical trend is its unprecedented ability to dominate nature.

We know that anti-technology backlash is inevitable. At the very least people will respond loudly to problems technology has caused, even if they don’t view technology as the problem. For example, when automation becomes the norm in highly industrialized countries, large portions of the work force will become unemployed. This will be a huge weakness for the industrial system, since people have an inherent need to achieve concrete goals autonomously, and the industrial system relies on work to artificially satisfy this need. Furthermore, the entertainment and propaganda industries have not quite become sophisticated enough to deal with such a high unemployment rate. When such a large amount of people become suddenly unemployed, they are likely to lash out in ways powerful enough to cause instability.

However, it is also likely that some people will attack technology directly. Technology is already the primary controlling force in our lives: automated systems run the stock market, algorithms are highly influential forces in deciding Google search results or Netflix recommendations, and sophisticated policing and surveillance techniques keep people from threatening the system without them even knowing it. However, more people are going to realize how much technology influences their lives as they begin to interact with its artificial products on an everyday basis. Consider, for example, how widespread the anti-Facebook sentiment is, or how easily people can attack a company like Google. Before this point in history, technology wasn’t even a cultural topic for discussion. Now it is one of the most common.

Some of these attacks will likely be violent. Anti-techno-logy terror groups have already sprung up all over Europe and South America, and the FBI considers ecoterrorism to be its number one domestic terrorism threat. Many defense experts also predict that anti-technology terrorism is the most likely future terroristic threat.

But historically the vehicle for revolutionary change in modern times has been the mass movement. Revolutions are the result of many things, from insurrections to rebellions to terrorism. However, insurrections alone do not cause a social revolution, as demonstrated by the recent tumult in Greece and Arab nations in the past few years. These three things are merely indicators that the time is ripe for a mass movement. Recognizing that the collapse of the industrial system will not come about except by inevitable collapse or a mass movement tells us a few other things we know for sure.

First, we know that historically, mass movements result from both the work of a dedicated minority and from events outside that minority’s control. For example, the Russian Revolution would never have happened without both the Bolsheviks and the effects of World War I. However, we also know that mass movements cannot be sustained without the dedicated minority, even if the events outside of the minority’s control happen anyway. Dedicated minorities are important to mass movements because large groups of people are inherently volatile, so their activity comes and goes in rigor and combativeness. The dedicated minority provides stability between the active phases.

Second, the dedicated minority, because of its stable presence, is able to win ideological dominance, which will direct people’s energies to work against the industrial system consistently. Ideology is paramount to the effort of revolutionaries because ideology motivates people, provides moral justifications for revolutionary action, and clearly delineates a good and bad side in revolutionary conflict.

Third, we know that near the end of revolutions, moderates are usually the first to take power. This happened for the French, Russian, and American Revolutions. However, in most cases, moderates were unable to hold power because the instability of the conditions under which they took it delegitimized them quickly, or because the revolutionaries successfully delegitimized the moderates themselves. Most of the time revolutionaries take power directly from moderates, not the elite.

We know that the industrial system is a global system, and therefore its collapse must be global. This probably means that luddites will have to be dispersed geographically. It does not, however, mean that they need to be in all parts of the world. Luddites need only to be in parts of the world where the industrial system is most vulnerable.

Lastly, we know for sure that the left is a threat to the luddites. Previous anti-technological efforts like Earth First! show how leftists swarm where there is any mass movement, and consequently they destroy the movement’s integrity and focus by loading it with issues important to various leftist groups. Furthermore, the left’s critique would only accept anti-technological critiques as one among many, which means any anti-technology movement would be subsumed by the left, not helped by it. For example, ecological critiques of green anarchists in South America have been accepted by insurrectionary anarchists in the area, but as a result, green anarchists only become insurrectionary anarchists, not the other way around. The left is able to do this partly because most of its factions are old and well-established, and they have a lot more institutional support than new movements would have. Related to the oldness of leftist movements is the oldness of leftist leaders. Many of these leaders have lost a genuine hope in revolution, and they have accepted less radical ends while keeping their old rhetoric. Anyone who has studied revolutionary efforts knows that revolutions are not started by the old and disillusioned activist, but by the naive and young.

A general plan


Luddites should operate as a group of autonomous collectives organized around core values and in contact with each other. Groups have to be autonomous because: sophisticated policing and surveillance methods would easily destroy traditional organizations; the industrial system is global and must be fought globally; and traditional structures are too slow for any contemporary movement.

However, a looser structure may mean some groups have weaker confidence in the luddite values of wildness, dignity, and freedom. This can be countered in two ways. First, groups that are geographically close should regularly meet up and share stories, tactics, and beer. This will function to enforce the general feeling of camaraderie among collectives, and it will reinforce the core values in groups that are new or ideologically weaker. Second, each geographical area should have one or two main collectives who manage the area’s newspaper. The newspaper should be a consistent source of news for various collectives, and it should reinforce core luddite values.

Collectives’ structure should be similar in that there should be one or two people (or more, depending on the size of the collective) who run the local propaganda effort, whether that is a website, a podcast, a newspaper, or something else. These people should be some of the most focused and dedicated of luddites.

Like ideology is the way to maintain unity among collectives, friendship should maintain unity among collective members. Members of a collective should know each other well and, if they cannot be friends, they should at least be able to get along in a healthy manner. Relational unity is both strategically and ideologically sound. Ideologically, it makes sense that luddites organize themselves in a very human, non-mechanistic way. Strategically, relational unity effectively combats efforts of governments and rival organizations to stir up trouble within the collective. It is very difficult for an infiltrator to be effective if collective members expect to meet his family or visit his home.


From the perspective of a collective, a luddite revolution is likely to go something like this:

1. One or two individuals begin a luddite collective in their area. They recruit highly dedicated people who believe in the sacredness of wild nature and the abhorrence of the technological system, and they begin working on unifying propaganda projects like puppet shows, podcasts, blogs, newspapers, or something else. During this period individuals grow increasingly attached to the collective community and beliefs.

2. At some point the collective has enough members to begin organizing in its area. They stress certain pressure points in their area and start organizing people around specific issues that will benefit the overall goal of ending the industrial system. For example, if the luddite collective was near a university well-known for its innovations in biotechnology, the luddite collective would want to instigate conflict between students and the biologists or just increase anti-biotech sentiment in general.

3. Perhaps a member of the collective moves to another area and starts another luddite group there. Eventually a few luddite groups form in general geographical proximity, and members from all of the collectives coordinate an annual meet-up. At this meetup, luddites decide on which collective is most fit to run their main newspaper. They also update each other on their progress and celebrate.

4. 1, 2, and 3 repeat. From this point on we can only guess in a very general way what will happen. It is likely that once luddites become recognized in the popular consciousness, their characters and tactics will change tremendously. As groups become more rooted in their communities, they will be able to organize more combative actions.

5. Some disaster destabilizes the industrial system. At this point luddites will hopefully have gained enough social power to act accordingly and in a coordinated manner. A revolutionary time period begins.

6. The luddites suffer wins and losses, and eventually a moderate group gains power. Luddites begin efforts to delegitimize the moderates, and, when they are successful, they finalize their revolution against the industrial system.

7. Luddite collectives will likely be involved in community building after the industrial system’s collapse. Given that the circumstances after collapse will be unknown, not much can be said about this.


Because luddism’s ideology is incredibly simple, luddites have a wide range of options in the area of tactics and maneuver. The range is so wide, in fact, that it would be impossible to list them all here. Instead, the following is a list of categories of tactics, as well as suggested reading for a more in-depth analysis of each.

Internal tactics

Luddites can and will normalize a numer of practices that enable the group to last. For example, in the outline above luddite groups used propaganda projects in order to maintain unity and active membership. Similarly, relational unity as a tactic builds stronger bonds between individuals and inhibits moles and infiltrators.

The Bolsheviks employed a number of internal tactics, and business literature often includes a lot of information about similar topics.

  • The Organizational Weapon by Philip Selznick

  • What is to be Done? by Vladimir Lenin

Networking and organizational tactics

Luddite collectives are not going to build power with numbers or guns. Their power and their revolution is going to be social. This means they will have to master the art of networking, influence, and storytelling.

  • The Advent of Netwar and Swarming and the Future of Conflict by Arquila and Ronfeldt

  • Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

  • Community Organizing by Speer and Hughey

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Combative tactics

In some cases luddites might want to engage in legal combative tactics or civil disobedience. Luddites hoping to learn more about these sorts of tactics should read about the history of Earth First!, the tactics unions used in the streets during the labor movement, and current protest tactics like the black bloc.

  • Ecodefense by Dave Foreman

  • Hit Where It Hurts by Ted Kacznyski


Revolutionaries must choose targets well, industries that the system can’t compromise on. Older industries like the electric power industry or the telecommunications industry may be industries where the system is weakest infrastructurally, and the system surely can’t back down in those areas, but newer technologies like biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence are industries where the system is the weakest socially. Many people are highly suspicious of those three industries, which is an advantage for luddites.

Below are a list of potential target industries for revolutionaries:

  • Biotechnology

  • Nanotechnology

  • Computer industry (software development, metal mining, etc.)

  • Electric power industry

  • Energy industry (fracking, nuclear, green energy, etc.)

  • Artificial intelligence and robotics

  • Entertainment and propaganda industry (gaming, TV, social networks, etc.)

  • Communications (especially sattelite technologies)

  • Financial industry (banking, stock trading, etc.)

The Future

Luddites must not wait for the answer to every question before they begin their work. The technology problem is an urgent one, and collectives are going to end up making mistakes anyway. Early Earth First! had it right when they said they would let their actions set the finer points of their philosophy.

Luddites must also constantly ask themselves how their current projects contribute to the overall goal of ending the industrial system. Any projects that do not lead to that goal should be dropped.

Lastly, luddites must not try to control what circumstances after collapse will be. It would be impossible to do so. Uncertainty is an intrinsic part of any revolutionary effort, and that is ultimately a strength for the luddites, who can fill that uncertainty with hope for a certain future.

The Technology Problem

Author: John Jacobi

Date: 31 August 2014

Source: Github & The Anarchist Library

The biggest problems of the twenty-first century are and will be technological problems. Consider the problems we have already faced in the past decade: anti-biotic resistance, quickly spreading diseases due to transportation systems, mass surveillance, climate change, mass extinctions, invasive species, and so on. It is clear that the problems will continue as scientists, governments, and corporations push for even more invasive and destabilizing technologies like nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and advanced artificial intelligence. Some scientists are even considering utterly insane ideas like geo-engineering.

Clearly, a global discussion about these technologies is looming. As the ecological destruction caused by industrial ways of life becomes too catastrophic to ignore, the technocrats will witness a harsh backlash. Those who are placed firmly on the side of wild nature in this struggle will have to organize now if they are to be major voices in this impending conversation. Indeed, they have a duty to do so.

The industrial system is counter to freedom and wildness

Wildness is the spirit of the wilderness and, indeed, of the entire ecosphere. Wild nature, like technology, is a system; but unlike technology, it arose spontaneously, and, unlike technology, it created us. It is to be respected, even regarded as sacred, if any living being wants to live within it and survive. Unfortunately, the industrial way of life is built on values that disrespect wild nature.

Consider the way technology has destroyed certain aspects of the wilderness in such a way that some areas can now only exist because of technological infrastructure. This is humiliating to the entire ecosystem of that area. Furthermore, because of the complexity of wild nature, a problem in one area often means a problem in many. When, for example, Europeans moved across America and over-hunted the beaver population, they heavily affected the cycles by which wild nature purified its streams and rivers for drinking. Industrial technology has exacerbated this problem with such severity that many humans, once free and dignified creatures of the wild, are largely dependent on industrial water-purifying systems.

The industrial way of life is incompatible with wild nature because, although entirely dependent on wild nature for its existence, it views nature as a resource to be exploited, and it ultimately wants to be autonomous from wild nature. At the moment, nature is a super-system of the industrial system; that is, the industrial system would not exist without oil, human labor, and so forth. Increasingly, however, technological progress is enabling a completely synthetic way of life to be possible. Even now we can envision how this would look: Nanobots swarm through the city periodically to repair its infrastructure, food is printed, and human bodies are either completely gone or rendered irrelevant by intelligence technologies that can embody our consciousness.

But let’s return to the present, since the present circumstances are bad enough.

Contrary to what contemporary environmentalists claim, we humans are not separate from nature, and we are not a cancer to the earth. We are a part of the system of wild nature, an integral part, and since it is the system we were adapted to for thousands of years, we still desire many things that are insufficiently provided for by the industrial system. For example, we have the biological and evolutionary need to seek out our own food. This is part of a larger desire to attain goals and power autonomously. In industrial society, however, we are dependent on large technological systems of food distribution to eat. We merely have to go to the supermarket and get food without any struggle at all.

But we are still left with the desire to attain goals autonomously. As a result, the techno-elite of our society construct artificial conflicts and even create artificial desires through advertising propaganda. If the industrial system didn’t account for our unfulfilled desires, we would break it apart from psychological frustration. But are we not psychologically frustrated even with the artificial desires? At least some of us are, which indicates that the technological solution to a technological problem has, as it always does, created just another technological problem. It is likely that our increased social and psychological problems are a result of our life in an industrial world that is radically different from the world we were made to exist in. What an utterly humiliating existence.

Wildness can only be restored with a switch to non-industrial ways of life

Few doubt that the industrial way of life as it exists today is counter to wild nature. (It is not necessarily counter to domesticated nature.) But, some people may assert, the industrial way of life can be changed so that it can be compatible with wild nature. This is an incorrect assertion because it ignores the fact that technology is not a tool like a hammer or a piece of charcoal. Technology is a system with its own values, chief among them being efficiency and artificiality.

Wild nature is neither artificial nor efficient, so, assuming it would remain a technological system if it did so, the industrial system would have to drop both of those values if it was to become compatible with wild nature. However, because technological systems are, like wild nature, incredibly complex, consisting of many interdependent parts, a change in values at the current level of advancement would necessitate the complete collapse of the system.

A related argument is that some parts of technology are really good, like industrial medicine. But one could argue that industrial medicine isn’t really all that great. It does cure some forms of cancer and provide the infrastructure to find more cures, but the number one cause of cancer is the industrial system of which it is a part. Furthermore, industrial medicine is also dependent on a number of other industries that are commonly accepted as being the “bad” parts of technology. For example, the pharmaceutical industry relies on the propaganda industry to advertise its medicines. However, I cannot argue with integrity that I do not like many aspects of industrial medicine. It is something I would be reluctant to give up.

But you cannot separate the good parts of technology from the bad. As stated earlier, it is a system that is so complex that you either take all of its central aspects or you take none. The question for contemporary generations, then, is whether the bad parts of technology outweigh the good or the other way around. I argue the former. Some of the benefits of industrial medicine is nothing compared to the list of problems at the beginning of this piece. One could argue that climate change alone is enough to abandon industrial society. It has the potential to decimate our home and freedom, and as a living creature placed firmly on the side of wild nature, I have a duty to protect both of those things.

If one decides that things are bad enough to work against the day, the logical next question would be, “When did things become bad enough to necessitate radical change?” Some people along a similar line of thought trace the problem back to agricultural technology, some even earlier than that. I am unwilling to claim, however, that the bad parts of non-industrial agricultural technology outweigh the good. I only assert that technology from shortly before the Industrial Revolution offers more bad than good.

A precise way of explaining this is differentiating between small-scale and organization-dependent technology. Small-scale technology is any technology that can be created and maintained by small communities. Organization-dependent technology is technology that requires large-scale organization, specialization, and division of labor. Until about two centuries before the Industrial Revolution, most technology was small-scale technology; but technology produced since the Industrial Revolution has mostly been organization-dependent. Since I am not against specific products of technology, per se, and I am more worried about the effects of the overall system, the problem as I see it is organization-dependent technology.

Computers are an example of organization-dependent technology. More than just a simple artifact, a computer is a system in your lap or on your desk, a product of a vast network of techniques, all of them destructive of wildness. For example, at the cost of freedom, a large system of labor must exist so that people who normally wouldn’t blow up the earth for metal ores will. There must necessarily be police and certain forms of governance to enforce this system of labor, again at the cost of freedom. Then the earth itself must be blown up, logged, mined, and moved around far beyond what is prudent. An enormous system of ecological destruction must exist for Internet server farms and the energy industry. And lastly, there must be a propaganda industry in place so that people will willingly accept—praise, even—their technological prison.

Ending the industrial way of life is conceivable

A collapse of the current industrial system is desirable, but I also believe that it is conceivable. Here I will outline some consequences of a collapse, as well as general strategies to get from here to there.

First it must be stated that a collapse does not necessarily have to be violent, although it would definitely be sudden (in the historical sense). “Collapse” sounds very dramatic, but in the best-case scenario there would be a major shift in attitudes toward technology and nature, life sciences (albeit in a different form from today) would replace physics as the defining science of our culture, and the world would, through the non-use of mass transportation and communication technologies, break into smaller groups again. This would mean that only industrial society itself would collapse, and while large organizations would break along with it, small communities would potentially last past the end. However, that sort of thing is unlikely to happen. It is more likely that the collapse of industrial society will entail some nasty situations.

Regardless, technology will keep going down its current path unless a group of dedicated people placed firmly on the side of wild nature decides to take action. Therefore, the current task of anyone who wants to protect their wildness and freedom is to form or join a group with the same values. This group will have to develop more fully their ideas about technology, nature, wildness, and so forth.

From there, the group, which will not be more than a minority at any point until near or after the collapse of the industrial system, must develop strategies to gain social power and encourage conflicts that destabilize society. These conflicts must involve technology, nature, and the elite and the technocrats. They must also encourage the destabilization of industrial society rather than the reformation of it. Gender issues, for example, would only lead to reform, or else they would inspire technological solutions, such as using technology to eradicate the issue of gender, as some feminists have suggested recently.

Eventually the problems industrial society is causing for itself will hurt it tremendously, causing a period of high instability. If nothing else, climate change will do this. During this period, the dedicated minority in line with the values of wildness would have to push industrial society over the edge.


I see three potential futures:

  1. Industrial society collapses because of climate change, nuclear disaster, or so on, without the help of a dedicated minority. The lack of a dedicated minority suggests that the collapse will almost certainly be violent and terrible for a majority of people—it would at least be worse than if some people were consciously doing it with the interests of humans and the ecosphere in mind.

  2. Industrial society collapses because a dedicated minority works to push it over the edge when it is weak from some sort of disaster.

  3. Industrial society develops techniques to create completely synthetic environments that can operate autonomously of wild nature. Wild nature, inefficient and unneeded, is destroyed. Natural systems, including the human body, are either completely synthesized through nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, or genetic engineering (or a combination of all of them), or else they are heavily augmented by the same technologies. Maximum efficiency is achieved, so no component of the industrial system operates autonomously of it.

The conscious collapse described in #2 would not be all peaches and cream. Awful things would likely happen. But the question is not, for example, “Why should the dedicated minority decide who lives or dies by taking away industrial medicine?” Rather, the question is, “Why should the industrial system be allowed to go on when it will either take away our life or take away our freedom?”

Why I Am Leaving Anarchism

Author: John Jacobi

Date: 31 August 2014

Source: Jacobi's Github & The Anarchist Library

I have decided to leave anarchism, not as my technical political orientation, but as my claimed one. Regardless of my technical place within the anarchist tradition, the word, especially among North American, insurrectionary, and synthesist anarchists, invokes a set of predisposed attitudes and questions that I am not interested in.

My biggest problem with anarchism is its historical baggage, which disallows anyone within it to make a clean break and establish a totally new movement. This would not be a problem if a totally new movement were not called for, of course, but I believe that it is. Furthermore, movements with long traditions tend to acquire older and more experienced individuals, which, in the history of revolutions, have usually done more against revolutionary efforts than for them. That is not to say that nothing can be learned from the older and more experienced, only that the proclivity of the young to run into a wall of sharp daggers is often what enables revolution.

This historical baggage brings with it preconceived notions of an ideology within the minds of potential recruits or sympathizers. Students at my university, for example, often scoff at the very idea of anarchy. This was not a particular problem for me until very recently, but as someone who believes a completely new effort ought to be made, I would like to start with as little baggage as possible, or at least baggage I’d be proud of and want to talk about.

Apart from the historical baggage, anarchism in its present form is a problem. I rarely ever hear a good analysis of industrial society come from the mouth of an anarchist, and if I begin a conversation on the topic, “capitalism” is eventually mentioned, as though it were the root of the problems I attribute to industrialization. But I firmly believe that communism is just as bad as capitalism, and that, should communism or mutualism or some other economic system become more efficient than capitalism, technological society will adopt it in capitalism’s place. In fact, technological society tends toward socialism, and most technocratic elites include the idea of “post-scarcity” in their utopian visions. Therefore, the problem is not capitalism, but the industrial system itself.

To less focused anarchists, capitalism is only one of many problems, the others including things such as homophobia, patriarchy, racism, and so on. These issues are, like capitalism, issues that aren’t issues that have to do with technological society. (Racism and slavery have some to do with technological society, but not within a victimization framework.) This indicates that most anarchists are not, in fact, against technological society. Indeed, this seems to be the case. Most anarchists seem to be against “domination,” which, while it does manifest itself in the context of technological society, encapsulates a far broader program that is both unfeasible and, at times, ridiculous. For example, eradicating racism is unfeasible except in the context of a technological society; and eradicating gender or the family is ridiculous.

Anarchists also position themselves against hierarchy, a position I never regarded too seriously, except when I was an angsty high-school freshman. Of course I am against “big hierarchy” since I am against the dependence of wild life on the industrial system, but hierarchy in families or tribal relationships are fine for the most part.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, since this is the crux of my politics, anarchists outside of the green anarchist tradition almost never talk about wild nature, and when they do it is usually only in reference to animal rights, which is, like the issue of prison abolition and police brutality, framing a technological issue within a victimization paradigm (anarchists would call it a liberation paradigm, but these are two sides of the same coin).

I want to focus on wild nature as something that should be free, something all life should be a part of. Wild nature is something to be regarded as sacred and, should industrial society fall, wild nature will again be the defining force of human life and organization. Therefore, it can without question be given as an alternative to industrial society—but anarchists don’t like to talk about alternatives. Irrationally afraid of prescription, they deny the very simple and undeniable reality that nature’s influence is going to be the alternative to technology’s influence, whether they want it or not. I agree with the anarchists that we cannot go beyond this point; I wouldn’t be able to prescribe ways of life for every small society that would exist after the technological society. But just as technological society is a general paradigm under which there is much variation, wild nature is only a general answer to the question, “What is the alternative?”

These differences are important. If an anarchist is against capitalism or “domination,” then they are ultimately fighting for a different future than I am. Why on earth would I work with them? Of course, there is always some level of overlap and occasionally there are times when working together can be beneficial (for example, an anti-capitalist anarchist group could work with an anti-industrial group on some action against a biotechnology company), but as far as formal organization goes, it makes no sense for a person concerned mostly or only with gender issues to get involved with a group explicitly organized around anti-industrial ideals.

In an effort to distinguish myself from anarchism, I have adopted the label “luddite.” That word has a history I am proud of or at least want to talk about, it asks questions about industry and technology rather than hierarchy and domination, and it induces a curious rather than dismissive response from those not familiar with its politics. All this is not to say that I don’t technically belong to the anarchist tradition. Insofar as anarchism means the breaking down of society into smaller groups, I am an anarchist. But because of its social connotations, I’m going to let that label go.

We Fight for Life

Author: John Jacobi

Date: 08 October 2014

Source: Jacobi's Github & The Anarchist Library

Non-industrial ways of life cannot support 7 billion people, that much is certain. But, given that there are currently 7 billion people on the planet, there seems to be a gaping hole in the Luddite argument that ending the industrial-technological system is the choice those who love wild nature ought to take. And if there is not a gaping hole, critics say, then Luddism must be misanthropic. No doubt, there have been some Luddites who were misanthropic, and proud of it.[1] But I have no interest in praising those who so easily advocate for the death of so many. What are we fighting for if not for life?

With some history and a bit of inductive logic it becomes clear the general direction humans are headed for should technological progress continue unabated. So far, industrial technology[2] has only augmented and modified humans and wild nature; it has not operated for nature or for humans. This is because a technological system has to regulate humans and nature in order to function. [3] You can’t have cars without laws governing cars and roads, without a coercive system of labor to get people to work in factories, or without a cultural climate that forces youngsters to study all day to become engineers. As the system gets more complex, this trend will only get worse. Rather than medicating human beings maladapted to life in a city, the industrial system will instead technologically augment human beings maladapted to life in space-or even just a highly technological city. The extremist vanguard of this future, the transhumanists, openly admit that this is the direction they want the human race to go.[4] But as many science fiction authors have pointed out—and how odd that their futures are actually plausible now!—this could turn out to be a disaster. [5]

If industrial society does not collapse, either through some sort of disaster or some sort of revolution, humans will find themselves in one of the possible technological futures. And even if the future is a shiny transhumanist one, it will not be one filled with life. Transhumanism advocates for the destruction of life. Granted, there are no easy answers regarding the hard limits of what constitutes a human, but maybe that is not the right point of inquiry. It is clear that, human or not, there is something fundamentally unsettling about the idea of a person with an artificial brain. And beyond the philosophical questions of humanness, there is concrete reality: history has made it clear that while sometimes technological progress brings what it promises, it always brings unintended consequences as well. For example, if the technological system continues unabated, it will eventually make the human body incapable of defending itself from disease. This will either be through the weakening of the human immune system, the creation of superbugs or runaway laboratory viruses, or both. [6] If this happens, then at a certain point the human race will be dependent on machines just to survive. What kind of life is that? What kind of position does this put us in? No, the transhumanists do not fight for life, they fight for the machines. This was most clearly expressed by the founder of information science, Claude Shannon, when he said, “I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I’m rooting for the machines.”[7]

With all this in mind, we can positively say that our most rational and ethical choice is certainly not continuing down the road of technological progress.

Much more likely than any of our possible futures is the collapse of the industrial system. Again, we can look to history for confirmation: every advanced civilization that has existed has disintegrated relatively soon after. Granted, this is not a very strong argument that our civilization will collapse, especially since civilization is a relatively new invention, but it becomes strong once we understand why these civilizations have fallen.

Joseph Tainter explained some of the factors that go into collapse: [8] for one, when a complex society confronts a problem, it tends to pile on more bureaucracy and more complexity. For example, to fix the problem of the industrial pollution of waterways, technological society built a complex filtration and plumbing infrastructure. To fix the problem of waste in industrial cities, technological society introduced waste disposal departments. This trend eventually leads to diminishing returns on investments in social complexity, which is to say the energy required to run a civilization becomes impossible to acquire.

Modern technological society has already passed the point of diminishing returns. Jason Godesky offers a great synthesis of information supporting this in his collection of essays, “Thirty Theses.”[9] The most astonishing bit explains how industrial agriculture is far, far past the point of diminishing returns because of monoculture, peak oil, and the destruction of arable land. More basically, the energy industry itself is past the point of diminishing returns, largely because it requires massive machines and infrastructure requiring oil and coal in order to get oil and coal. Eventually, one (or more) of the areas will face crisis and put all of modern civilization at risk of collapse. [10]

Of course, a temporary extension on the lifetime of civilizations can be achieved through innovation, which is why industrial society has come to favor capitalism as its economic model. It is also why energy companies are moving toward so-called “green energy.” Should green energy become cheap enough to produce, it will lengthen the lifetime of civilization by at least a bit. This is why the left environmentalists are so dangerous: they are fighting for innovation that could possibly lead us to the undignifying technological futures described above (that is, if the technocrats find some more efficient energy source during the extra time green energy gives civilization). Worse, still, and this is the takeaway point, they could increase the strength of the technological system (by extending the amount of time it has to perfect its control mechanisms) so that when collapse happens, industrial society takes down the entire complex biosphere with it. Of course, until the very end these same environmentalists will proclaim that they are fighting for life because “billions of people would die if we end industrial society.” Never mind that everyone might die if we don’t.

Now, as I wrote the sentence above, I initially put “millions” instead of “billions.” It made my heart ache to change that single letter because I can’t even conceive of what this would look like. Now, there should be no mischaracterization: an end to industrial society probably wouldn’t be abrupt, and consequently neither would the population drop (after the initial drop). But these people are living beings and members of our own species. They might even be my family—or me. To be sure, we Luddites do not throw out the term “revolution” lightly.

At this point we should consider an underlying ethical question: if collapse is most likely and would cause a population drop anyway, then why would we work for that collapse, effectively assuming responsibility for it?

There are a few responses to this. For one, it is a reach to say that a revolutionary movement would be assuming responsibility for the deaths of all those people by initiating collapse when the technocrats are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place. [11] Secondly, the other side will be fighting for their technological future regardless of the consequences, and regardless of what the Luddites choose to do—and we’ve seen the possible outcomes if they are successful. If for no other reason, a revolutionary movement should at least exist to combat those psychopaths. Lastly, if a collapse will lead to the deaths of many people and continued technological progress will only lead to more people and more dependence on the system, then the only way to choose life is to choose collapse. The sooner the collapse, the less people die, the more likely it is that humans can live freely again.

All this is not to say that our sole concern should be to preserve as many lives as possible. The number of people living is irrelevant if they are living unsatisfactory, distressing lives. Furthermore, there are more important things than life, as any parents would attest to. But an unaided collapse would certainly be worse than if some people were consciously pushing for it with the interests of humans and the ecosphere in mind.

All things considered, it is clear that the best choice for us to make at this point—for our freedom and the survival of the ecosphere—is to instigate and solidify collapse. It is by making this choice that Luddites can truly say that they fight for life.

The Persistent Hope

Author: John Jacobi

Date: 04 Sept 2014

Source: Jacobi's Github & The Anarchist Library

Since the advent of the technological way of life our world has lost its magic, its freedom, and much of its beauty. The coming decade looks like it will be a decade of disasters. But despite the negativity that threatens to engulf us, if we look closely we can see a glimmer of hope for a better future—and it’s not the false hope of the techno-optimists.

Google has recently begun efforts to build an enormous trans-Pacific cable system to connect the US to Asia at faster speeds. Obviously there are many problems inherent in this project, particularly the impacts it has on the ecosphere. But sharks aren’t having any of that. Google is having to put a protective guard around the cables because the sharks keep biting them, which could potentially cause widespread internet outages. The sharks have actually been at this for a while—at least since 1985, when shark teeth were discovered embedded in an experimental cable near the Canary Islands.

This is a clear example of nature biting back. Obviously the sharks aren’t conscious agents of revenge for an all-powerful Mother Earth. But they are part of a complex and interdependent ecosystem, which will invariably cause problems for technologies that disrespect and disregard it. All around us we can see examples of this.

Squirrels have similarly caused problems with power-lines, for example. In 2013 New York Times author Jon Mooalem reported that over a four-month timespan, squirrel attacks on power lines made the news at least 50 times. Even more impressive, the Nasdaq has been shut down by squirrels twice: once in 1987 for 82 minutes and once again in 1994. In fact, much of power infrastructure seems to be particularly vulnerable to natural attacks. The primary cause of most power failures is weather, but the 2003 Northeast blackout was caused by power-lines brushing against a few Ohio tree branches. All of these cases is indicative of the way industrial society regards nature: it doesn’t. As a result, natural processes end up causing a lot of problems for industrial infrastructure.

Of course, the response of the technocrats isn’t to step back and let the wild processes take their course. Rather, the technocrats intend to march us forward evermore, protecting underwater cables with mesh and kevlar and moving power-lines underground. We can see the same trend in scientific communities studying climate change. Scientists and policy-makers have shifted away from discussions about stopping climate change and are instead pushing for reinforced infrastructure to avoid some aspects of climate disaster.

Those who stand with wild nature should not lose hope in this increasingly synthetic age when such inspiring examples of nature fighting back exist. All around us we can see the squirrels and the sharks and the trees and the clouds acting with persistent hope that their wildness will win. It is true that technology may prevail in destroying wild nature completely. It may prevail in creating a completely synthetic world. But Mother Earth is strong and fierce, and she will not easily be defeated.

This is especially true if we humans decide to join the fight on behalf of wild nature. Of course not all humans can or will when they are trapped in a technological prison. But those placed firmly on the side of wild nature have a duty to fight with the sharks and the squirrels. Our advantage as a species is our consciousness, and it may be our consciousness that will determine whether nature lives or dies in the struggle against industrial society. If a conscious minority of wild humans does not work against industrial society, then industrial society will either prevail or else its collapse may be so late that it brings down the entire biosphere with it. But we must keep our hope, because there is a chance that if we do join wild nature in her fight, we might be able to protect our home, our freedom, and, most of all, our wildness.

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.

--- Discussions ---

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/

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.

--- Journals ---

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 then several studies have used the Wildernist-Urbanist scale, but in the 90s the word acquired a negative connotation. In 1996 James H. Patric and Raymond L. Harbin issued a report for The Heartland Insitute, a freemarket think tank. Their report argues against a faction in environmentalism that they say only costs the taxpayers money in the name of a dogmatic, quasi-religious belief in the ill-defined concept of “wilderness.” Patric and Harbin call the members of this faction — you guessed it — “wildernists,” and they cite organizations and people such as John Muir, Dave Foreman, and Earth First! as the advocates of this “wilderness purism.”

This usage has held up among free-market ideologues for more than a decade at least. In 2010 Ron Arnold published his book Ecology Wars, in which he argues against the same “wildernism” as Patric and Harbin. Like those two, Arnold is against continued wilderness designation, arguing that this would stunt the economy. Instead, he advocates “wise use” of resources for economic purposes that supposedly still respect the environment — but only so that it can keep producing natural resources.

This magazine is by and for the “wilderness purists” detested by the free-market ideologues and polemicists for industry. We agree with Arnold, Patric, Harbin and others that the great tragedy of our situation is precisely that the health of our biosphere is inherently at odds with the health of our economy, and now we have to make a choice. We argue that the choice is clear: while the fruits of economic and technological growth certainly in-crease our comfort and our knowledge of the world, and while they are even sometimes inspiring, none of this matters if our earth is being destroyed. For this reason, we have decided to place the earth first, even at the expense of industry and the economy. We are, proudly, the wildernists.

The Wildernist

Freedom in wild Nature.

The Wildernist Issue #2: First Steps

The Wildernist is a is conservation magazine dedicated to spreading the value of the wild in and around us. Cover art by Paige Carter.

About The Wildernist

The History 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 then several studies have used the Wildernist-Urbanist scale, but in the 90s the word acquired a negative connotation. In 1996 James H. Patric and Raymond L. Harbin issued a report for The Heartland Insitute, a free-market think tank. Their report argues against a faction in environmentalism that they say only costs the taxpayers money in the name of a dogmatic, quasireligious belief in the ill-defined concept of “wilderness.” Patric and Harbin call the members of this faction—you guessed it—“wildernists,” and they cite organizations and people such as John Muir, Dave Foreman, and Earth First! as the advocates of this “wilderness purism.”

This usage has held up among free-market ideologues for more than a decade at least. In 2010 Ron Arnold published his book Ecology Wars, in which he argues against the same “wildernism” as Patric and Harbin. Like those two, Arnold is against continued wilderness designation, arguing that this would stunt the economy. Instead, he advocates “wise use” of resources for economic purposes that supposedly still respect the environment—but only so that it can keep producing natural resources.

This magazine is by and for the “wilderness purists” detested by the free-market ideologues and polemicists for industry—and even the social justice advocates who argue for “sustainable development.” We agree with Arnold, Patric, Harbin and others that the great tragedy of our situation is precisely that the health of our biosphere is inherently at odds with the health of our economy, and now we have to make a choice. We argue that the choice is clear: while the fruits of economic and technological growth certainly increase our comfort and our knowledge of the world, and while they are even sometimes inspiring, none of this matters if our earth is being destroyed. For this reason, we have decided to place the earth first, even at the expense of industry and the economy. We are, proudly, the wildernists.

Our Editorial Position

This magazine is for anyone who loves and fights for wilderness. Real wilderness, too—no roads, no mines, no dams, but a huge, wild landscape of desert, tundra, jungles or forests full of wolves or eagles or elephants. It’s for those who take the wild as it is, death, struggle and all.

But, like all magazines, we have an agenda to push. We think it’s time people— especially conservationists—get honest about the compatibility of industry and wilderness. And the simple reality is that they aren’t compatible.

That fact is a hard one to cope with, but The Wildernist’s editorial team has decided to dedicate a good deal of their time figuring out the consequences of it. Many of our thoughts on the matter will be published regularly on our editorial blog, Hunter/Gatherer.

You don’t have to accept our editorial position to read, enjoy, or even contribute to the magazine. But we do strongly encourage you lovers of the wild to engage with our musings, push back where you think we’re wrong, and maybe help us do something about this industry thing.

Editor’s Note on Issue #2

This is an issue full of clarifications. For a long time now, the environmentalist movement has hosted a faction known to some as “wilderness purists” or “wildernists.” Whereas other environmentalists accented clean urban areas, biodiversity, or ecological integrity, the ethic of the wilderness purists has been bound by the value of wildness. Individuals in the wildernist current have been some of the most important defenders of the natural world, and we survey a few of them here. Doug Peacock, the inspiration for Edward Abbey’s Hayduke! in The Monkey Wrench Gang, tells us what he’s been up to since his spiritual renewal in the wilderness and the founding of Round River Conservation Studies. Dr. Reed Noss, the former editor of the scientific journal Conservation Biology and a former editor of Wild Earth, explains the ecological effects of roads, writing “the bottom line is that no new roads should be built, and most existing roads. . . should be closed and obliterated.” And don’t forget the interview with Dave Foreman in our last issue.

But even as the wilderness ethic achieves great things for our Earth, industry continues to tear it apart at an alarming rate. Jamie Pang from the Center of[http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/][Biological Diversity]] writes that even though the ESA has been 99% effective, we remain in the midst of a suffering from industrial practices—and that humans seem to be creating the conditions for our own demise because of it. So if we had the opportunity to cut at the root of the problem—industry—shouldn’t we?

This is the idea behind Wildism, an ideology introduced in Issue #1. Inspired by the ethic of the wilderness purists, the editors of this magazine have joined up with other groups so that we can outline a coherent value system that truly puts the wild first. One of our editors, John Jacobi, outlines our first step toward this end in “A Sketch of Wildism in Contrast to Leftism,” and he clarifies the difference between Wildism and wildernism in a reply to a letter from a reader in Colorado. Finally, the whole editorial team worked out a 2015 reading list for those who want to join the conversation, but don’t know where to start.

If you like this issue of The Wildernist, let us know! We love feedback and are looking forward to many more reader responses in the future.

For the wild,

The Wildernist Editorial Team

Chapter 1 . Wildernism or Wildism?

(Letter to the Editor)

Dear Editor,

Hi, I just learned about your magazine, but I’m a little confused. You named your magazine The Wildernist, but you’re a part of the wildism [sic.] network? Are the two things the same?

—Joyce from Colorado

Hi, Joyce.

The name of the magazine, as we explain on our about page, is a reference to a general tendency amongst wilderness-lovers. The tendency is sometimes called “wilderness purism,” and it is simply a no-compromise stance on what wilderness is—no roads, no techno-gadgets, no strong and invasive influence of culture. This idea has existed for a while, but our readers are most familiar with the attitude as it is expressed in the modern conservationist movement by the likes of Dave Foreman, David Brower, and others. This magazine is for that faction of the conservationist movement and any peripheral audiences that might be interested. It’s important to remember, though, that saying someone is a “wildernist” is not like saying they are a “communist.” There is no developed ideology called “Wildernism”; the wildernists are just conservationists who take the wilderness seriously. Again, “wilderness purists.”

“Wildism,” on the other hand, is a developing ideology, and it’s the official editorial position of the magazine, as outlined in our editorial blog, Hunter/Gatherer. For our first issue, we published a Statement of Principles written by some friends in Spain, and we formed a network of groups who have accepted the principles and are willing to act on them. The basic idea behind Wildism is

that wild Nature ought to be valued and those things that work against it ought to be discarded. In particular, industry has caused a lot of trouble: once the Industrial Revolution began, population, species extinctions, and carbon emissions have skyrocketed; depression and suicide rates are much higher in cities than in rural areas; and there is, generally, a widespread feeling of purposelessness in the world, a purposelessness that is again a lot more present in the city. Wildists, in other words, recognize our love of wild Nature is incompatible with the continued intrusions of industrial society, and we would like to see industrial society go.

You don’t have to agree with the editorial position to submit to, read, enjoy or even work (as staff) for The Wildernist. The magazine is for and by “wilderness purists,” and no matter what, we see a lot of value in conservation stemming from that ethic. But is conservation enough? If we had the opportunity to cut at the root of the problem—industry —shouldn’t we? We think so, and Hunter/Gatherer, our editorial blog, exists precisely for those of us purists who are willing and able to openly advocate this. For everyone else not quite ready to advocate a world without industry and a movement to make that happen, we have published and will continue to publish articles on wilderness protection campaigns, environmental legislation, and so on. We all agree that that work is important and shouldn’t be forsworn. Besides, as I said to my co-editor when we were discussing the potential and very serious consequences of our Wildist ideas: “If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the wild matters. At the very least we should spread the value of it.”

—John F. Jacobi

Chapter 2 . A World Without Bees

For nearly a decade, the declining health of bee colonies has been a growing concern for entomologists and conservationists around the world. Beginning in 2006, beekeepers started to report unusually heavy losses in their honey bee populations. Since then, the rate of bee deaths has shown little sign of improvement, with average winter losses in the U.S. at 28.7 percent.

The magnitude of the current trend is still difficult to determine. Since winter losses are normal and because colony deaths vary widely from year to year, it is difficult to say how rapidly bees are dying or even whether imminent extinction is inevitable at the current rate. In the U.S., however, the rate of winter and yearly losses has remained significantly higher than normal for the past eight years, and some sources estimate that as many as one-third of honey bee colonies in the U.S. have already been wiped out. Therefore, it would be difficult to argue that there is not some cause for alarm.

Bees are important primarily because of their role as pollinators. They are responsible for pollinating one-sixth of flowering plants in the world, and approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States. We have bees to thank for an estimated one-third of food and beverages. And, most importantly, many of the plants that they help to pollinate are critical links in the food chain of present-day society, making up a large portion of livestock feed. Certainly with an exponentially increasing population of more than seven billion humans, humanity as we know it would struggle to survive in a world without bees.

Through their role as pollinators, they also contribute to ecosystem stability by maintaining genetic variation in the plant community. Cross-pollination is the only way to constantly mix genes for a plant, creating genetically varied offspring. Not only does this contribute to biodiversity, it also helps plants evolve and adapt to environmental changes. The more genetic diversity in a species, the greater the chance of some offspring surviving any new environmental conditions they may face.

The Causes

Quite a few factors play into bee deaths. A particularly severe problem that has worsened in the last decade is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honey bee hives. CCD results in a colony in which most of the adult bees either die or abandon their hive, usually leaving behind a live queen and immature bees. It is not the only cause of losses, but it is certainly one of the major contributing factors of the increased rate of commercial losses beginning in 2006. Because of CCD, the number of honey bee hives in the U.S. is at its lowest point in 50 years.

Climate Change

Some scientists speculate that climate change may also contribute to losses. Honey bees, like many pollinators, hibernate during the winter. The rise in global temperatures over the past two centuries can alter the time frame during which some species of flowering plants bloom. This can be problematic if the flowers that provide food for bees have already bloomed by the time they wake from hibernation.

Similarly, when flowers bloom before bees come out of hibernation, it is much more difficult for them to reproduce because the bees are not helping them to cross-pollinate. And with earlier blooming often comes earlier declining of flowers, which hurts those species that need a supply of pollen and nectar throughout the year.

Habitat Loss

In recent years, flower rich meadows and wildflower populations have been destroyed to make way for commercial farmland or development projects, causing the bees to suffer tremendous losses because they no longer have the food to sustain their populations.

Destruction of grasslands due to farming, urban development, and changes in climate is a growing trend across the globe. The U.K. has lost an estimated 97 percent of its flower rich grasslands in the last 70 years, largely to make way for farmland. It is no surprise that a number of bumblebee species in the U.K. have gone extinct in the past few decades.

The current drought in California has also contributed to habitat loss, since less rain means fewer flowers. California’s almond orchards and other cash crops rely heavily on bees for cross-pollination. With the drought, these bees may only have access to these almond plants because many of these farms do not provide a variety of plants for them pollinate. The pollen and nectar from almond plants is not as nutritious as that of other plants, and relying on these crops alone is not healthy for the bees.

Stress from Commercial Beekeeping

There are several ways in which certain commercial beekeeping practices are thought to cause CCD. Continuing with the almond example, there is a high demand for bees to pollinate California’s almond crop in the late winter. This is before bees normally repopulate, so this kind of stress on smaller populations of bees that are already struggling to make it through the winter can be problematic.

The agri-industry’s drive to maximize profits has also hurt bees by focusing on money-making crops like corn and soybeans, which are not as healthy for bees as plants that they are drawn to in nature, such as alfalfa and clover fields. Bees need high-quality pollen in the fall to produce offspring that can survive through winter, and without access to pollen and flowers that are healthy for bees, winter losses will inevitably be higher.

Another problem is when beekeepers lease their colonies for pollination. Many of the crops that bees are leased out to pollinate, almonds included, cause nutritional stress for them. The transportation and new environments also cause stress on the colonies.

And finally, the chemicals that beekeepers use to treat for pests and parasites in bee colonies can sometimes negatively affect the bees. Some of these chemicals, such as fluvalinate, which targets varroa mites in honey bee colonies, can accumulate in comb wax and harms worker bees over time.


Pesticides are a major cause of colony loss. One study found 35 different pesticides as well as high levels of fungicides in the pollen collected by bees in five U.S. states. Some of these samples contained lethal levels of these chemicals. Another study found that certain fungicides made bees up to three times more susceptible to infection by the parasite Nosema ceranae, which may also contribute to CCD.

One potentially lethal class of pesticides is known as neonicotinoids. These were first registered for use in the mid-1990s, and are now used on farm crops, ornamental landscape plants and trees. Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals, meaning that they are absorbed by plants and transferred through the vascular system, making the plants themselves toxic to insects.

Neonicotinoids are long-lasting, both in the plants themselves and in the soil. Even when neonicotinoids are applied outside of a plant’s bloom period, the harmful effects will remain present in the pollen and nectar of the plant for long periods of time.

Neonicotinoids are known to poison entire colonies, not just individual bees. Bees not only feed on the contaminated nectar, but they bring pollen full of neonicotinoids back to the hive. These pesticides affect the central nervous system of the bees. At their lethal dosage, neonicotinoids are thought to block nerve endings, causing paralysis and eventual starvation.

Lack of Genetic Diversity

Like the plants they pollinate, bees rely on genetic variation in order to adapt to environmental changes. Honey bee colonies contain large numbers of related bees that live in high densities and exchange food by mouth—all perfect conditions for the development and spread of disease. They do have behavioral and immune system defenses against disease, but those are only effective if there is a high level of genetic variation within colonies. If all worker bees are the same, they may be more vulnerable to certain pathogens because they all lack the immune system and behavioral responses capable of fighting those pathogens.

There are several causes behind the lack of genetic variation in bees. Because the varroa mite has wiped out many of the feral bees, some scientists suggest that it is even more likely that bees will mate with close relatives in the colony. Additionally, the falling population of bees means that there are fewer drones overall for queens to mate with. Finally, the frequent transport of bees to new locations may play a role, as those bees do not have a chance to adapt to local pathogens and conditions in their new environments.

What’s Next?

So what would happen if bees went extinct? The most obvious answer is that there would be a lot less food in terms of variety and quantity. Since an estimated one-third of all food eaten by humans is dependent on bee pollination, an ever-growing human population of more than seven billion would certainly struggle to survive. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts would be scarce, and humans would have to find a new source of livestock feed in order to keep up our addiction to meat and dairy products.

Not only would flowering plants be at risk, but ecosystems dependent on bees for maintaining biodiversity would suffer, making some organisms more susceptible to disease and, eventually, extinction.

It does not look as though honey bees will be going completely extinct in the near future, but with the current rate of colony death, we may soon see a devastating impact on the genetic diversity and sustainability of ecosystems on a global scale.

Stephanie Zimmerman is a former beekeeper and general bee enthusiast.

Referenced Works

Bessin, Ric. “Varroa Mites Infesting Honey Bee Colonies.” Varroa Mites in Honey Bee Colonies. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

Bradbear, Nicola. “The Value of Bees for Crop Pollination.” Bees and Their Role in Forest Livelihoods. Food and Agriculture Organization, 2009. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Casey, Michael. “40 Percent of U.S. Bee Colonies Died in past Year.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 13 May 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.

Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrs Garca, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer. “Accelerated Modern Humaninduced Species Losses: Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction.” Science Advances 1.5 (2015): n. pag. Science Advances. Programa De Apoyo a Proyectos De Investigacin E Innovacin Tecnolgica from UNAM, 19 June 2015. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Chivian, E. and A. Bernstein (eds.) 2008. Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity. Center for Health and the Global Environment. Oxford University Press, New York.

“Climate Change.” Bee Informed. N.p., 05 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

Entine, Jon. “Bee Deaths and Neonics: Inside Story of Colony Collapse Disorder, Harvard’s Chensheng Lu’s Crusade | Genetic Literacy Pro ject.” Genetic Literacy Project, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Epstein, David Et Al. “Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health National Honey Bee Health Stakeholder Conference Steering Committee.” USDA and EPA Release New Report on Honey Bee Health. United States Department of Agriculture, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

Froelich, Amanda. “37 Million Bees Dropped Dead After Farms In Ontario, Canada Sprayed Neonictinoids On Their GMO Crops.” Earth. We Are One. N.p., 23 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

“Grasslands Threats, Wetlands Threats - National Geographic.” National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

Hagopian, Joachim. “Death and Extinction of the Bees.” Global Research. Centre for Research on Globalization, 20 May 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.

Hopwood, Jennifer Et Al. “Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees? A Review of Research into the Effects of Neonicotinoid Insecticides on Bees, with Recommendations for Action.” (2012): n. pag. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

Kaplan, Kim. “Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder.” ARS : Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, 26 Aug. 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

Moate, Maddie. “What Would Happen If Bees Went Extinct?” BBC. BBC Future, 4 May 2014. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Moisset, Beatriz, and Stephen Buchmann. “Basics.” (2005): n. pag. Bee Basics An Introduction to Our Native Bees. USDA Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership, Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.

Oldroyd, Benjamin P. “What’s Killing American Honey Bees?” PLoS Biology5.6 (2007): e168. PMC. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Petrosino, Joseph. “Ascosphaera Apis.” Ascosphaera Apis. Human Genome Sequencing Center, n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

“Pollination by Honey Bees.” Chapter 8. Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science, n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

“Pollination.” Michigan State University Native Plants and Ecosystem Services. Michigan State University, 30 July 2015. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Sass, Jennifer. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Why We Need Bees: Nature’s Tiny Workers Put Food on Our Tables. Natural Resources Defense Council, Mar. 2011. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Steinhauer, Nathalie Et Al. “Colony Loss 2014-2015: Preliminary Results.” Bee Informed Partnership. N.p., 13 May 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.

VanEngelsdorp, Dennis Et Al. “Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study.” PLOS ONE:. University of Georgia, 3 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.

“Vanishing Bees.” Colony Collapse Disorder. Natural Resources Defense Council, 9 July 2015. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

Woody, Todd. “Scientists Discover What’s Killing the Bees and It’s Worse than You Thought.” Quartz. N.p., 24 July 2013. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.

Chapter 3 . The History of Bison in Southeastern North America

When most people think of bison, they imagine great herds of “buffalo” roaming the wide open prairies of western states. Many don’t realize bison ranged as far east as the Atlantic coast until 1800. The fossil record shows bison were a common species in southeastern North America since about 240,000 years ago. (Bison fossils were found at two sites in Florida thought to be 1.9 million years old, but the age of these specimens is in doubt, because they can’t be radiometrically dated, and there are no known American bison fossils dating between 1.9 million BP[0] and 240,000 BP.) The oldest known American bison fossil, aside from the doubtful Florida specimens, is an ankle bone found at the Ten Mile Hill Beds in South Carolina, dating to '240,000 BP. This is remarkable because bison originated in Asia and crossed the Bering Land Bridge to reach North America, yet left no known fossil evidence in the rest of North America older than this South Carolina specimen. However, bison fossils consistently show up in the American fossil record shortly after this date. The presence of bison marks the beginning of the Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age, named for the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. The Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age lasted from '240,000 BP to '11,000 BP.

The earliest species of bison to occupy southeastern North America was the longhorned bison (Bison latifrons). This enormous species weighed as much as 3,000 pounds, and the span of its horns could be more than 6 feet long. Long-horned bison evolved into their great size to deter predators such as saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), giant lions (Panthera atrox), and dire wolves (Canis dirus). It likely favored an open woodland habitat, common in the region then. A complete skull with intact horns was found at Clark Quarry near Brunswick, Georgia in 2006. This specimen dates to 24,000 BP. (A previous date on this specimen of 14,000 BP is considered in error.) Shortly after 24,000 BP, Bison latifrons evolved into Bison antiquus.

B. antiquus was a smaller species than B. latifrons but still considerably larger than modern bison (B. bison). B. antiquus weighed up to 2500 pounds and had horns intermediate in size between B. latifrons and modern bison. It evolved during the Last Glacial Maximum[1] when the ice sheets expanded to their greatest extent. So much of earth’s atmospheric moisture was locked in glacial ice that the climate became arid. B. antiquus was better adapted to living in arid climates than B. latifrons. They probably could endure longer time periods without water, and they migrated longer distances to find suitable pasture.

Genetic studies show that B. antiquus was much more genetically diverse than modern bison. All modern bison evolved from just a single population of B. antiquus that lived on the Great Plains. Man overhunted all other lineages of B. antiquus into extinction, including those that lived in southeastern North America, shaping the evolution of the surviving population of bison about 11,000 years ago. This surviving population of bison grew to a smaller size, reaching sexual maturity at an earlier age than B. antiquus. By reaching sexual maturity at an earlier age, modern bison increased their reproductive rate and were better able to withstand human hunting pressure. B. antiquus already had a tendency to migrate, but this migratory instinct was enhanced in modern bison. The newer species was more likely to travel far away from hunting humans[2]

Following the extinction of B. antiquus about 11,000 years ago, there is no certain fossil evidence of bison in southeastern North America until 1600 AD. However, bison were able to recolonize southeastern North America during the late 1500’s because infectious diseases brought by Europeans decimated Indian populations. Much of Indian farmland reverted to wilderness.

Bison populations expanded east where they found favorable habitat on abandoned Indian fields, and natural grassy environments. The surviving Indians continued setting fire to the woods every year, a management practice that improved habitat for wildlife by creating open woodlands with grassy understories. Bison could feed upon grass year round along with bountiful crops of acorns produced by widely spaced oaks in the fall. Mature oak and pine trees are fire resistant, but fire destroys the saplings and brush—a process of “thermal pruning.” Extensive canebrakes that stretched for miles occurred on most river and creek bottomlands in the piedmont region. Bamboo cane was another source of fodder for expanding bison populations.

Grasslands in the south were not dependent upon man-made fires. Studies show lightning strikes in the south are frequent enough to spark wildfires that can maintain grassy environments. Lightning-induced fires created the longleaf pine savannahs that formerly predominated on the coastal plain for millions of years. This was ideal habitat for bison and other grazers as were serpentine barrens— areas of soil with high concentrations of heavy metals that allow grass to outcompete trees. Other types of natural grasslands in the south that supported bison included alkaline cedar glades, Kentucky bluegrass savanna/woodland, Louisiana coastal prairies, and The Black Belt Prairies in Alabama and Mississippi.

By 1600 bison had recolonized the south as far east as St. Simon’s Island, Georgia where bison bones were found in an Indian mound located in Chatham County. Bison bones dating to 1700 were found in Clay County, Florida at the former site of a Spanish settlement known as Fort Pupo. General Oglethorpe, who founded the state of Georgia, went hunting for bison in 1733. Edward Kingo saw 100 bison on one acre of ground near Abbeville, Georgia about this same time period. Buffalo licks consisting of minerals or clays attracted huge herds of bison. The Great Buffalo Lick in east central Georgia was covered in white clay-colored dung, and great pits were licked from the soil by large herds of bison. Bison congregated around Big Bone Lick and Blue Licks in Kentucky for the mineral salts.

European settlers over-hunted bison to extirpation in the south during the 18th century. William Bartram, a famous naturalist, never saw a live bison when he traveled through the region in 1775 and 1776, though he did see the skulls of bison mixed with bones of deer, elk, and humans on a serpentine barren hill top.[3] James Couper shot the last known bison in Georgia circa 1800, near the Turtle River, a coastal waterway. This was also the last bison known from the Atlantic Coast. The last bison in Pennsylvania was shot in 1801. The last Louisiana bison was killed in 1803. Bison were extirpated from Kentucky in 1820, from Tennessee in 1823, and from West Virginia in 1825. Bison trails (or traces) remained visible for decades after their disappearance from the region. The bison herds caused these trails to have a sunken denuded structure, and settlers used these hard-packed eroded trails as roads. Many became state highways.

The extirpation of bison in the south caused a profound loss of ecological diversity. Bison maintained open areas by trampling, grazing, and eating acorns, thus reducing tree germination. Ground squirrels, prairie chickens, bobwhite quail, upland sandpipers, meadowlarks, and burrowing owls are just a few of the animals that benefitted from the presence of bison. Bison increased the fertility of the soil and enhanced seed dispersal by consuming plants and defecating all over the landscape. Their dusty wallows served as refuges for toads and countless species of insects. Once common species of plants became rare: short’s goldenrod (Solidago shortii) and running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum) depended upon heavy grazing and trampling to reduce competition. Now both of these species are nearly extinct.

Today, there are only two populations of wild bison in the south: Payne’s Prairie in Florida and Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. Both are fenced-in and heavily managed. It’s impractical to reintroduce bison on a large scale.[multiblock footnote omitted] Any reintroduction would be limited to small-scale, heavilymanaged preserves. Bison roam great distances, and there just isn’t enough wild space left to support traveling herds of bison. Moreover, the habitat they require is simply gone. Open mature woodlands with grassy understories de-pendent upon frequent fires no longer exist in the piedmont. People suppress fires. There are no Kentucky bluegrass savannah/woodlands left, though remnants are used as fenced-in horse pastures. Canebrakes are almost completely gone due to flood control and agriculture. Longleaf pine savannahs have been reduced by 97%. Instead, southern landscapes are now covered by suburban development, intensive agriculture, and young dense forests unsuitable for wild bison.

Bison could potentially be reintroduced in two areas. Roan Mountain Bald in North Carolina is a grassy high-elevation mountain top. Scientists hypothesize frigid weather during the Ice Age killed trees there, and herds of megafauna later maintained the grassy environment. Europeans introduced livestock that took the ecological role of megafauna, but since farmers abandoned the Bald, trees and bushes have been taking over. Right now the park service uses goats rather than bison to maintain the open grassy space. Another potential reintroduction site is the Greenwood Plantation in south Georgia, which quail hunters saved from development, although bison would likely need to be fenced-in there to prevent roaming. It’s sad to realize we can no longer enjoy seeing free-roaming herds of bison in the south, where they do belong, because people have so drastically altered the environment.

Referenced Works

Belue, Ted. The Long Hunt: Death of the Buffalo East of the Mississippi. Stackpole Books 1996.

Juras, Philip. The Southern Frontier: Landscapes Inspired by Bartram’s Travels. Telfair Books 2011.

McDonald, Jerry. North American Bison: Their Classification and Evolution. University of California Press 1981.

Noss, Reed. Forgotten Grasslands of the South. Island Press 2013.

Sanders, Albert. Additions to the Pleistocene Mammal Faunas of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. American Philosophical Society 2002.

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

Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.

It is a many faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.

— President Richard Nixon upon signing the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act’s Critical Importance

From the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle to the black rhinoceros, the number of species threatened with extinction has dramatically increased. We are experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago—except instead of a giant asteroid, this time the cause of mass species extinctions is us. Although species have always gone extinct, scientists now estimate that they are disappearing at a rate a thousand times greater than occurred for millions of years prior to the expansion of human civilization.[4] Our growing human footprint, climate change and the spread of non-native species are all contributing to the loss of wildlife.

We should be concerned about species extinctions because our own health and survival are intricately linked to the natural biodiversity of the planet. Simply put, the more biodiversity there is, the more benefits humans derive. Species are the building blocks of the ecosystems that purify our air and water, moderate the climate and provide a myriad of other services that have nourished our society for eons. As such, there is a practical, moral, and even selfish reason for Americans to preserve species biodiversity. Fortunately, we have one of the strongest laws of any nation for doing just that: the Endangered Species Act.

Recognizing the inherent value in preserving species, the Endangered Species Act was borne out of cries for stronger wildlife protections amongst lawmakers and the public at large.[5] Originally penned as the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, this precursor to the law we have today gave native wildlife only limited protections. It, for example, did not provide any protections for species’ habitat. Inspired by the decline of the bald eagle and an oil spill off his coastal home in Santa Barbara, CA, President Richard Nixon called on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that provided stronger protections for species. Passed on December 28, 1973 with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, the Endangered Species Act that we know today included protections for species’ habitat for the first time, and allowed for protections of plants in addition to animals. The result was a law that prioritizes saving imperiled wildlife threatened with extinction ab ove economic interests and development.[6] Congress made clear that endangered species should be afforded the “highest of priorities” at “whatever the cost,” because the cost of losing a species to extinction is incalculable.[7]

The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly successful at saving and recovering species particularly given that the population of the U.S. has grown from 212 million people in 1973 to 319 million people today with concurrent loss of wildlife habitat. The Act has been hundreds of species on the road to recovery.

One example of the Act’s success is the black-footed ferret. Once thought extinct by scientists, a single remaining population was discovered in Wyoming in 1981.[8] The species was then listed under the Act, bred in captivity, and reintroduced into the wild. Today there are over 1,400 black-footed ferrets at eighteen different sites.[9] Humpback whales are yet another example. Once critically endangered due to commercial whaling, they were listed as endangered in 1970 with only 1,200 remaining.[10] As of 2013, their population reached over


After more than 40 years, the Endangered Species Act is still the best and possibly the last chance Americans have of securing a future for diverse native wildlife and the natural environments that they depend on. The Act does not just rescue species from the brink of extinction, but rather holds the very fabric of our relationship with nature together. It is imperative that future generations, and in particular young Americans, understand the importance of this law and continue to care about endangered species.

How the Endangered Species Act Works

The Endangered Species Act is implemented by two federal agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) within the Department of Interior is responsible for protecting terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) within the Department of Commerce is responsible for protecting marine species. The two agencies currently oversee protection of 2,244 threatened or endangered species, including 1,618 species found within the U.S.[12]

The Act’s central purpose is to recover species to the point where protections of the Act are no longer necessary[13]. For species to receive protection and begin to recover, they must first be listed as threatened or endangered. The Act defines an endangered species as one that is at risk of extinction and a threatened species as one that is at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. A key difference in the Endangered Species Act compared to precursor laws is that species need not be endangered everywhere to receive protection, but rather in any “significant portion” of their range. Species are considered endangered when they are at risk from any of five factors:

1. the present or threatened destruction, modification or curtailment of habitat or range,

2. overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes,

3. disease or predation,

4. inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms, or

5. other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.[11]

A cornerstone of the Act is that it requires decisions about whether to list species as threatened or endangered to be based solely on the “best commercial and scientific data available.”[15] Other factors, such as economic or political ones, may not be considered.

The Endangered Species Act provides strong protections for listed threatened and endangered species, including a prohibition on all persons from harming, harassing, or killing a species or its habitat[16]. In the Pacific Northwest for instance, courts have barred private companies from logging to protect the Northern Spotted Owl[17]. The Act does provide an exception to this prohibition. If a landowner develops a “habitat conservation plan,” they can be granted a permit to “take” endangered species provided the plan minimizes and mitigates any take that is expected to occur. In recent years, landowners across the country have developed such plans, and although not always perfect, this has resulted in tens of thousands of acres being set aside for species.

Concurrent with listing of species, the Act requires identification and protection of critical habitat, which is defined as areas essential to the conservation of species. Critical habitat provides the only means to protect places where species have been eliminated but that are important to their recovery. This is important because many if not most endangered species have been driven from all but tiny fractions of their historic ranges. It also alerts land owners and managers to the fact that they have important habitat for endangered species. Accordingly, at least one study has found that species with critical habitat are more than twice as likely to improve as those without critical habitat.

The Act also prohibits federal agencies from jeopardizing the continued existence of species or modifying their critical habitat in actions that they fund, permit, or carry out.[18] In addition to covering federal pro jects like large dams, these prohibitions often extend to developments on private lands because developments that modify waters of the United States must obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Federal agencies ensure they are not jeopardizing species or destroying their habitat by consulting with FWS and NMFS. The consultation process results in a tremendous amount of conservation for species resulting in both federal agencies and large developers setting aside land or otherwise putting resources into mitigating the impacts of their actions on endangered species.

Finally, the Endangered Species Act requires development of a recovery plan and also allows individual states to receive federal grants to to carry out recovery actions. Species recovery plans are typically developed by expert scientists from Universities and state and federal agencies, and provide a roadmap for recovery, including describing the species’ habitat needs, identifying actions needed to recover species, and setting recovery goals.

Citizen Involvement is Key

One of the most ingenious provisions of the Act is that it allows citizens to directly enforce its provisions. The Act’s underlying policy of welcoming citizen involvement is truly it’s backbone. For instance, any interested citizen including a scientist, watchdog group, or college student may petition the Secretary of Interior to list or delist a species under the Act. Thanks to this provision, hundreds of plants and animals have gained protections by way of petitions submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and others.

The Act’s citizen suit provision also allows citizens, including watchdog groups, to file a lawsuit against a federal agency in Federal court for its failure to fulfill one of the Act’s mandates[19]. For example, one may litigate against the government when it fails to abide by statutory deadlines or ignores the best available science in deciding not to list a species. Because a majority of lawsuits have sought to place a species on the endangered species list and designate critical habitat for those already on the list, citizen enforcement has been one of the major factors aiding in the recovery of species.[20]

Keeping the Endangered Species Act Strong

Thanks to the comprehensive protections the Endangered Species Act provides to imperiled species and the opportunities it provides for concerned citizens to get involved in its enforcement and implementation, the Act has been nothing short of a tremendous success. It is no wonder why a recent poll indicated that 90 percent of American voters overwhelmingly support the ESA[21]. Unfortunately, political interference and industry interests have increased, seeking to weaken the Act in the name of their own economic profits.

It is now imperative for young Americans, including college students, to continue the enthusiasm and support for this critical law. College-aged conservationists can employ the Act in various ways. Those who are scientifically-inclined may undergo a literature review on a species they desire to see protected and submit their own listing petition. Additionally, one may simply read the federal register for proposed listings, delistings, or draft recovery plans to submit public comments in support of the conservation of a species, or submit an “op-ed” to a local or national newspaper highlighting a particular species. Alternatively, those who thrive on human interaction will be pleased to discover that calling one’s Congressional representative or meeting with the office in their capacity as a constituent to express their support for the Act goes a surprisingly long way.

Ultimately, wildlife is inextricably tied to our nation’s heritage and human spirit. By helping to preserve the Endangered Species Act, we also preserve ourselves.

Jamie Pang is a staff member of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Chapter 5 . A Special Place and How It Was Lost

I know a place that I have kept a secret for a dozen years. I think of this place as Bonsai Pond, though it has no official name and appears on the wilderness map only as an elevation (nearly 7000 feet) and a blue circle at the center of brown circles. These are topographic lines, close together, suggesting steepness. In fact, Bonsai Pond sits atop a pillar of rock, and the only way to get there (short of helicopter) is to scale it. In this way, Bonsai Pond is sort of an island in the sky, isolated by difficulty of access. And the pond at the center of this “island,” small though it is, has an island of its own. It was this island that so beguilingly suggested the name Bonsai Pond, for growing on the island are dwarfed and contorted whitebark pine trees, shaped by the elements to look like a bonsai garden.

The top of the basalt pillar that is home to this pond may encompass as much as a couple acres of rock and soil and green growing things—shrubs and wildflowers, but also some good-sized mountain hemlocks, which happen to cluster around the one flat, open area that suggests itself as a natural campsite. And then there is the view. As it happens, this rocky pillar among mountains provides an unimpeded vista of three spectacular peaks. And they are close enough to contemplate in great craggy detail. It is partly because of its proximity to these major mountaintops that I first experienced this spot as a power place. And I couldn’t but wonder if the Indians hadn’t used this particular upthrust of basalt as an especially powerful vision quest site.

When I think about it, it was for just some such purpose that I was saving Bonsai Pond for myself, which is why I never sought to use it as an ordinary campsite, and why I never mentioned it to anyone else. A time would come when I would need to reestablish my connection to the cosmos, or to my own deeper self, and when I felt that need for connection or special knowledge, this would be the place I would come for it. Here I could take the large view of nature, the mountain peaks and meadows and vast stretches of rolling forest, then refocus and see these same shaping powers as expressed in the pleasing miniature landscape of the bonsai garden on the island at the center of this powerfully placed pond.

It is rare to find such a contrast in perspectives available at a single site, rarer still for those perspectives to embrace such complementary natural beauty. I know this with a fair degree of certainty because I have explored this spectacular wilderness, camping and hiking week after week for seventeen summers, as a wilderness ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. I can think of a dozen places that share the essential qualities of Bonsai Pond, all very beautiful places, all excellent (even inspiring) places to camp, but all, one way or another, lacking that special something that makes Bonsai Pond truly unique.

Last summer, for some reason, I thought a lot about Bonsai Pond. It was time, I figured, to pay the place a visit. Not to camp there, not to seek a vision, or connection, or wholeness, but just to renew my sense of the place. When I got there the place had been utterly changed for me—not by some natural disaster, not even by the devastation that careless campers can sometimes leave behind. What had ruined it was the addition of an alien technology.

Of the four foreign “apparatuses,” I could positively identify only one, a wooden box maybe two feet by three. What was inside the box I could not guess. The other three things were made mostly of metal. One was a silvery half globe, flat on the bottom, mounted on a tripod. On another tripod with staff was mounted a small metallic box, possibly a camera. And on a much taller staff was attached something that looked to be from outer space: a series of iridescent blue panels, on the order of Venetian blinds, which may have been a sensing device, or antenna, or possibly a solar panel to power the other gadgets. Whatever it was, it glittered and had something like little stars winking brightly out of its metallic blue whatchamacallits.

I might not know the individual functions of all this paraphernalia, but, once past the shock of first seeing it, I thought I knew its purpose. All the mountains around Bonsai Pond had once been active volcanoes, and the prominent peak to the southwest had been noted recently, thanks to satellite imagery, to be bulging slightly on the western flank of its upper base. No doubt all the equipment had been marshaled up there to monitor any changes to the bulge, which was growing at the rate of an inch per year.

I knew perfectly well what the arguments would be for “keeping an eye on the bulge.” In the case of a blowout volcanic event, people living near any of the creeks and rivers that drain the area, as I myself do, could be caught in a major debris flow and not survive the event. That would be a worstcase scenario, but the memory of the Mount St. Helen’s eruption, then more than two decades past, still lurked in the Northwest mind. We knew that an “inactive” volcano was not necessarily a “dead” one, and a very slightly active volcano might be building up to something bigger. To monitor Mother Nature with doo-dads might well provide important scientific information, and might also save lives.

I can see this point of view, but it is one that leaves out matters of some importance. Naturally, I am not happy about the particular place that was chosen to construct this monument to advanced technology. Little as I know about the technical parameters, it seems highly unlikely to me that this monitoring station could not have been effectively sited somewhere else. And so I have to question the judgment, the sensitivity, and indeed the wilderness ethic of those whose decision it was to put this gaudy hardware precisely here.

The actions of the Forest Service are guided by protocols, rules, guidelines, and laws, many of which were probably violated in the course of installing this monitoring station. Let us consider the most important of these, the Wilderness Act itself.

Does this monitoring station—according to the letter as well as the spirit of the law—belong in designated wilderness? Two key sentences from the Wilderness Act itself should give us a pretty good idea. “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” This sentence, written, critiqued, rethought, and carefully rewritten by Howard Zahnhizer, is considered by many to be the heart and essence of what legally designated wilderness means. And at the core of this sentence is an archaic and not well understood word: untrammeled. In Old French usage, dating back to the eleventh century, a trammel was a kind of net used to catch fish or birds. Modern dictionary equivalents for the word untrammeled include: “unimpeded,” “unrestrained,” “unencumbered,” “unlimited,” “unconfined.” By using the word untrammeled, Zahnhizer gave to the Wilderness Act its overarching concept of wilderness in its essence.

In the sentence that follows this key word and concept, Zahnhizer offers the wilderness manager more detailed, specific direction:

An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land without permanent improvements or human habitation which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a rugged, primitive, and unconfined type of outdoor recreation; (3) is of sufficient size to make practicable its preserva-tion and use in an unimpaired condition, and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, archeological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

By this legal definition of federally managed wilderness lands, the high-tech gewgaws I encountered at Bonsai Pond clearly do not belong there. I knew that to be true the moment I saw them, feeling, as I did, their presence as a wrench in my gut—laws, regulation, and policy aside. Yes, there can be little doubt that this four-part monitoring station is against the law, as written. But laws can be circumvented, regulations bent, policy suspended or waived. Which, I am sure, is how this monitoring station got here in the first place.

A decision was made and was signed off on at the various levels of Forest Service bureaucracy: District level, Forest level, even, perhaps, at the Regional level. Administrators all along the line have said it was okay to break the law in this very special case. It is futile, therefore, to argue against this affront to wilderness on purely legalistic grounds. The law is clear. Wilderness is to be “managed so as to preserve its natural conditions. . . with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.” But the law can be got around, has been got around. Instead of looking at legalities, then, and trying to split the hairs of definition, it might be more profitable to look at what is behind the law, what it is in the human spirit or the human condition that prompted the writing of such a law in the first place.

Over the years, in my job as Wilderness Ranger, I have been called upon to talk to a number of wilderness groups about what wilderness means. I have never said exactly the same thing twice, but I notice that certain elements recur, including a three-part historical perspective. Usually I begin with the year 1964, when the Wilderness Act became law, and note how there was something in the culture then which made possible the setting aside of hundreds of square miles of land, protecting it as designated wilderness. Part of that something was the certainty that soon there would be no wildlands left.

From here I like to shift the historical perspective back to the time of Lewis and Clark and describe what the Wild West looked like then, with its diverse intact ecosystems, its pristine free-flowing rivers—the whole vast landscape vital and teeming with wildlife.

Then I shift the perspective again, going back not just forty years, or two hundred, but to the time before agriculture and settled communities, to when we were hunters and gatherers, living in small nomadic bands, living in nature every day of our lives. This was the natural condition of the human being, all human beings, for tens of thousands of years. Living in nature’s landscapes, in tune with nature’s rhythms, open to (but also vulnerable to) nature’s very substantial powers. This was the human condition, the human life-way, for a good deal longer than the urban, high-tech, alienated way we live now. It is in our genes, our collective unconscious, in the very marrow and sinew of our bodies. That is why so many of us feel the call to connect with raw, wild nature, because, in the process, we connect to our truer, deeper selves. The wilderness experience can re-create for us the condition man was born to, can reawaken dormant senses and responses, and give us the profound sensation of being more fully alive.

It was for just such a heightened experience that I was saving Bonsai Pond. With the changes made to the rim-rock landscape overlooking this Zen-like setting, something critical changed in my own inner landscape. I could never feel at ease here, never open up to my deeper sensitivities under the gaze of this alien presence. And even if I could ignore the high-tech clutter, there would always be the threat from the sky. I could not but wonder if this was to be the day of the helicopter, the day when a crew was ferried in to check on the station and steal, utterly, the spirit of this place.

The betrayal of that special place was for me a great personal loss; but, in its implications, it was much more. Wilderness has standing in the collective American mind, something like what Wallace Stegner has called “the geography of hope.” The loss of a place like Bonsai Pond goes beyond the diminishment of physical wilderness; it diminishes, and does damage to, the idea of wilderness. While the planet has lost one more special place, the human psyche has lost even more: a last best place of refuge. In this process, a diminished interior landscape is the legacy for us all.

Gary Gripp was a wilderness ranger in Oregon’s High Cascades for 17 years, giving him many winters off to read and think and write. He blogs now at www.wildearthman.com.

Chapter 6 . A World of Lions

Lions (Panthera leo) are arguably the most iconic species alive today. A staple among African megafauna, lions are loved around the world for their grace and prowess, often featured as a symbol of power and leadership in many human cultures, and are prominent in countless stories and works of art. As apex predators and keystone species, they are also crucial in maintaining populations of large herbivores such as zebras, buffalo, and different antelope species.[1] However, a major misconception today is that lions are an exclusively African species. While lions originally evolved in Africa and are most common on that continent today, they once inhabited every continent except for Australia and Antarctica as recently as 11,000 BC, making them the most widespread terrestrial mammal at the time[23]. And while lions may no longer inhabit these regions, they still endure within the human cultures that they inspired, and are missed in the ecosystems they left behind.

The genus Panthera originated in Asia during the late Pliocene epoch, which resulted in the divergence of the big cats, with the ancestors of tigers and snow leopards remaining in Asia while the ancestors of leopards, jaguars, and lions migrated west towards Europe and Africa.[24] In Africa, lions and leopards began to take their current forms. While leopards were similar to other cats in their morphology and behavior, lions were unique not only for their larger size, but also for their social behavior, a rare phenomenon among wild cats. Their lifestyle of living in groups enabled them to take on larger prey, live in larger territories, and raise their young with higher survival rates, allowing them to dominate most environments that they encountere[25] (lions are usually absent from tropical rainforests, making the expression “king of the jungle” a bit of a misnomer.[26] These cats eventually made their way out of Africa and entered Europe and Asia, where they evolved into larger forms (possibly in response to colder climates), and where they preyed upon a new assortment of species, including reindeer, horses, and aurochs (the wild predecessor to most domestic cattle breeds). Lions were not the only large predators to thrive in prehistoric Europe. In addition to contemporary carnivores such as wolves, brown bears, and lynx and wolverines, other large carnivores also prowled the ancient European landscapes, including cave hyenas (an extinct subspecies of the extant African spotted hyena), leopards, as well as extinct taxa such as Homotherium and the Eurasian cave bear (Ursus spelaeus). As the glacial cycles of the Pleistocene progressed, these species became a part of the mammoth steppe, a massive grassland ecosystem that stretched from Britain, across Eurasia and Beringia[27] , all the way into the Yukon. This massive biome, which has since been replaced by boreal forests and tundra, supported large populations of big herbivores, including woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, bison, musk ox, Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus), and many other species both living and extinct.

During glacial maximums when sea levels were low, lions traversed their way into North America, where they evolved into their largest form, the American lion (Panthera leo atrox). Weighing up to 351 kilograms, 2.5 meters in length (not including the tail), and up to 1.2 meters tall at the shoulder, the American lion was one of the largest felines to ever exist, and was approximately the same size as Smilodon populator, the contemporary South American saber tooth cat.[28] While people view lions as a tropical species today, it is evident that in prehistoric times they, like brown rats or ospreys, had a cosmopolitan distribution, meaning that they were present in almost all of the earth’s terrestrial environments, and were not restricted to any one ecosystem or biome. However, another African species, us modern humans, were quick to eliminate lions in much of their territory. It’s unlikely that humans directly preyed upon lions (other than for possible ceremonial reasons, as the Massai people of east Africa used to do,[29] but modern humans, with their newly developed hunting technologies, were able to decimate populations of many large herbivores, especially in the Americas where most megaherbivores became extinct following the arrival of humans. Without suitable prey populations to sustain them, lions soon became extinct in the Americas, northern Europe, and Siberia.[30] However, in regions where species had already adapted to other hominids, such as the neanderthals or homo erectus, and where local species of megafauna had gone extinct more gradually, humans reflected their view of lions in their art. Eurasian cave lions (Panthera leo spelaea) are depicted on the walls of Chauvet[http://www.thewildernist.org/2015/06/prehistoric-art-imagined-and-real/][cave in southern France,]] in a scene where some researchers believe they are hunting[31]. Another example of the adoration that humans held for lions is seen in the lion man of the Hohlenstein stadel, a sculpture carved from mammoth ivory from approximately 40,000 years ago, depicting a lion-human hybrid, and is the oldest known animal carving in the world.[11]

Despite their disappearances from the Americas and much of Eurasia during the Pleistocene epoch, lions were still widespread inside and outside of Africa during much of the Holocene and in historical times. Lions were still present in Spain during the early Holocene, and were present in in Ukraine as recently as 3,000 BC. Lions were especially common in Greece for thousands of years, and became a cultural icon in antiquity, featured prominently in the folklore and mythology in the region. However, as a result of a growing human population and increasingly complex society, lions were persecuted both for sport and for the protection of livestock. Lions disappeared from Europe by 100 ad, and with them a once-integral part of European nature[33]. Over the following centuries, lions disappeared from more and more areas. Lions were no longer present in the Caucasus until the 10th century, and had vanished from turkey and Syria by the mid-19th century. The last lions of North Africa disappeared by the 1940s, and lions had been eradicated from Iran by the 1940s.[34] In India, where lions were once widespread, heavy hunting pressure following British colonization led to the depletion of lions around the country until just a single population remained in the Gir national forest. This population represents the last population of wild lions outside of Africa, although their numbers are on the increase[35]. The species hasn’t fared well in Africa either. Lions are now critically endangered in west Africa[38] , and remain at risk and in decline in much of eastern Africa where they are persecuted for their attacks on livestock, either through direct killings, or through the poisoning of animal carcasses that they feed on, which also damages populations of many other carnivorous animals.[36] They are also overhunted by wealthy foreigners and poached for traditional medicines in certain African and Asian markets.

Possibly as few as 20,000 lions are left in the wild, down from the estimated 450,000 individuals in the 1940s.[37] However, lions as a species are still listed as vulnerable by the international union for the conservation of nature (IUCN), and there is reason to be optimistic for the future of lions. Conservation successes[http://www.thewildernist.org/2015/07/interview-with-doug-peacock/][in southern African countries]] like Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa have allowed lion populations to increase[39] , and as more people begin to realize the ecological and cultural importance of the animals, some societies have begun to change their ways to accommodate them, such as the recent decision to reintroduce lions to Rwanda[40] , or the changes made by the Massai people of Kenya and Tanzania, who once hunted lions as a way to prove masculinity, but now have devoted much of their time to protecting lions[41].

While it is undoubtedly important to conserve lions in their current ranges, is it right for us humans to only allow them to inhabit a fraction of the range that they lived in during the Pleistocene? Those who advocate for Pleistocene rewilding believe that species such as lions should be reintroduced to their prehistoric ranges, not only as a conservation strategy for that species, but also to help restore ecological processes that went missing after that species disappeared. A compelling case for restoring lions in North America would be to control populations of feral horses. Horses, which were reintroduced approximately 500 years ago after being extinct in North America for thousands of years, are known to aid grass seed dispersal and to increase the diversity of native grass species, but when their populations are too robust, they can cause soil compaction, which can lead to erosion[42]. Lions, which naturally prey upon equids such as zebras and wild asses in Africa, would play an important role in regulating the populations of horses and other large ungulates[43]. However, given public attitudes toward the reintroductions of large native predators, such as wolves or grizzly bears, it is unlikely that this will happen in the near future.

Despite the dismal outlook in North America, the situation in Europe may be more suitable. Despite being a smaller continent with a larger population than North America, the natural setting in Europe has rebounded in recent years due to a mass migration of people from rural areas to urban areas, allowing many species to reclaim their prior territories. Populations of moose, red deer, and other large ungulates have expanded. Multiple organizations have reintroduced wild horses, European bison, and wild cattle to national parks and wild areas throughout Europe, and strict protections for carnivorous animals have allowed animals such as brown bears, wolves, and lynx and wolverines to reclaim their old territories[44]. In some areas, species that have not inhabited Europe since prehistoric times have been reintroduced, including fallow deer, musk oxen, and water buffalo, and are now considered part of the natural setting. As it stands, there are even tentative (albeit controversial) plans to restore lions to the Far North of Siberia[45]. Given that lions disappeared from Europe much later than some other taxa currently being restored, and that many of its old prey species are extant in Europe, there is a compelling argument for its return.

While there are potential ecological benefits to restoring lions outside of their current and historical ranges, there is also a feeling of wonder that comes with the prospect of doing so. Lions, with all of their grandeur, are an irreplaceable part of nature, and embody the spirit of wilderness itself. So while us humans may have forgotten about them, we still very much live in a world of lions.

James Lee is conservation biology major at SUNY ESF and staff member for The Wildernist.

Chapter 7 . The Ecological Effects of Roads

Editor’s note: This essay by Dr. Reed Noss was originally written in the 90s. As such, some information is outdated, but much of it is still accurate, and the general principles still stand. Just a few months ago, a study reported that 70% of the world’s forests are within a kilometer of a road edge—the place where roads cause some of their worst destruction. Roads are, in other words, just another example of some of the great consequences of industry. Are they worth it?

destroy both the rainforest and the indigenous cultures. Public land-managing agencies build thousands of miles of roads each year to support their resource extraction activities, at a net cost to the taxpayer. The US Forest Service alone plans to build or reconstruct almost 600,000 miles of roads in the next 50 years. Most public agencies disregard the ecological impacts of roads and attempt to justify timber roads as benefiting recreation and wildlife management. Even when a land manager recognizes the desirability of closing roads, he or she usually contends that such closures would be unacceptable to the public.

This article will review some ecological effects of roads, with emphasis on impacts to wildlife (broadly defined). My concern is with all roads, from primitive logging roads to four-lane highways. Although the effects of different types of roads vary, virtually all are bad, and the net effect of all roads is nothing short of catastrophic. The technical literature that pertains to this topic is vast, and an entire book would be needed to summarize it adequately. Consider this only an introduction, or an “executive summary” of a massive tragedy.

Direct effects, such as flattened fauna, are easy to see. In contrast, many indirect effects of roads are cumulative and involve changes in community structure and ecological processes that are not well understood. Yet, these long-term effects signal a deterioration in ecosystems that far surpasses in importance the visual and olfactory insult to us of a bloated deer by the roadside.

Direct Effects


The above statement notwithstanding, roadkill can have a significant impact on wildlife populations. The Humane Society of the US and the Urban Wildlife Research Center have arrived at a conservative figure of one million animals killed each day on highways in the United States. When I-75 was completed through a major deer wintering area in northern Michigan, deer road mortality increased by 500%. In Pennsylvania, 26,180 deer and 90 bears were killed by vehicles in 1985. These statistics do not account for animals that crawl off the road to die after being hit. Also, roadkill statistics are invariably biased toward mammals, against reptiles, amphibians, and probably birds, and do not include invertebrates at all (who wants to count the insects smashed on windshields and grills?).

Vehicles on high-speed highways pose the greatest threat to wildlife. Unpaved roads, particularly when “unimproved,” are less dangerous. Roadkill usually increases with volume of traffic. In one Texas study, however, mortality was greatest on roads with intermediate volumes, presumably because higher-volume roads had wider rights-of-way that allowed better visibility for animals and drivers alike. Increases in traffic volume do result in more collisions on any given road, and in our profligate society more people means more cars on virtually every road.

Florida is a rapidly-developing state with more than 1000 new human residents each day and over 50 million tourists annually. Primary and interstate highway mileage has increased by 4.6 miles per day for the last 50 years. Hence it is no surprise that roadkills are the leading known cause of death for all large mammals except white-tailed deer. Roadkills of Florida black bear, a subspecies listed as threatened by the state, have been rising sharply in recent years, from 2-3 per year in the 1970s to 44 in 1989. Many of the bears are killed on roads through public lands, in particular the Ocala National Forest. Seventeen Florida panthers, one of the most endangered subspecies of mammals in the world, are known to have been killed on roads since 1972. Since 1981, 65% of documented Florida panther deaths have been roadkills, and the population of only about 20 individuals is unlikely to be able to sustain this pressure. An average of 41 Key Deer, a species listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were killed on roads yearly from 1980 through 1986, and 57 were killed in 1987. Roadkill is also the leading cause of mortality for the American crocodile, also an endangered species, in south Florida. The Florida scrub jay, a threatened species, has been found to suffer considerable mortality from collision with vehicles, and researchers have concluded that these birds cannot maintain stable populations along roads with considerable high-speed traffic.

Snakes are particularly vulnerable to roadkill, as the warm asphalt attracts them; yet their carcasses are seldom tallied. Herpetologists have noted dramatic declines of snakes in Paynes Prairie State Preserve near Gainesville, Florida, which is crossed by two four-lane highways. This preserve was once legendary for its diversity and density of snakes, but no more. Similarly, a study of south Florida herpetofauna by Wilson and Porras attributed declines in many snakes to the increasing road traffic in that region.

Roadkill is a classic death-trap phenomenon. Animals are attracted to roads for a variety of reasons, often to their demise. Snakes and other ectotherms go there to bask, some birds use roadside gravel to aid their digestion of seeds, mammals go to eat de-icing salts, deer and other browsing herbivores are attracted to the dense vegetation of roadside edge, rodents proliferate in the artificial grasslands of road verges, and many large mammals find roads to be efficient travelways. Songbirds come to dust bathe on dirt roads, where they are vul-nerable to vehicles as well as predators. Vultures, crows, coyotes, raccoons, and other scavengers seek out roadkills, often to become roadkills themselves.

Road Aversion and Other Behavioral Modifications

Not all animals are attracted to roads. Some have learned that roads bring unpleasant things, such as people with guns. Species that show road aversion exhibit decreasing densities toward roads. Various studies report that turkey, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, mountain lions, grizzly bears, and black bears avoid roads. When these animals are disturbed by vehicles, they waste valuable energy in flight. Other studies show conflicting results, which usually can be explained by differences in road use. Certain bird species also have been found to avoid roads, or the forest edges associated with roads. in the Netherlands, researchers found some bird species to be displaced up to 2000 meters from busy highways.

The American elk is one of the best-studies species with respect to road aversion. Elk avoidance of roads is clearly a learned response (they do not avoid natural edges), and is related to traffic volume and hunting pressure. In western Montana, Jack Lyon found that elk avoid areas within 1/4-1/2 mile of roads, depending on traffic, road quality, and the density of cover near the road. According to work by Jack Thomas in Oregon, a road density of one mile per square mile of land results in a 25% reduction in habitat use by elk; two miles of road per square mile can cut elk habitat use by half. As road density increases to six miles of road per square mile, elk and mule deer habitat use falls to zero. Elk in some areas have learned that roads are dangerous only in the hunting season, and do not show road aversion in other seasons. Other studies suggest that elk avoid open roads, but not closed roads. Where hunting pressure is high, however, even closed roads may be avoided because so many hunters walk them.

Grizzly bears also may be displaced by roads. In British Columbia, grizzlies were found to avoid areas within 1/2 mile of roads. A study in the Cabinet Mountains of northwestern Montana determined that the mean distance of grizzly radiotelemetry signals from open roads (2467 m) was significantly greater than the mean distance from closed roads (740 m). Other studies have found that grizzlies avoid areas near roads, especially by day, even when preferred habitat and forage are located there. This is particularly alarming, because in Yellowstone National Park, which has the second largest grizzly population in the lower 48, roads and developments are situated in the most productive grizzly bear habitat. Natural movements of grizzly bears may also be deflected by roads, as Chuck Jonkel has documented in Montana. In other cases, however, grizzlies may use roads as travelways, particularly when they find off-road travel difficult due to dense brush or logging slash. Grizzlies have also learned to exploit the hastened growth of forage plants near roads in spring. Similarly, the abundance of soft mast such as pokeberry and blackberry along road edges attracts Appalachian black bears in summer. Any advantages associated with roads for either bear species are outweighed by the increase in sometimes fatal (usually for the bear, unfortunately) encounters with humans.

Wild animals can become habituated to roads. Thirty years ago, for example, bears in Yellowstone, the Great Smokies, and other parks often sat along the roadsides and picnic areas waiting for handouts from tourists. When parks disallowed handouts and relocated habituated bears, the attraction subsided. In any area where animals are exposed to frequent human activity, habituation can

be expected. This is not necessarily a desirable response, however. Although animals that are acclimated to roads and vehicles do not waste energy reserves in flight response, some of them become aggressive toward people. Aggressive behavior of habituated animals has been noted in bears, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bison, and other species. Conflicts occur most often when humans approach animals closely in order to feed or photograph them. A few years ago in the Smoky Mountains, a bear reportedly chomped on a baby’s face when a parent held it close for a kissing photo—the baby’s cheek had been smeared with honey. Such encounters usually result in relocation or killing of the “problem” animals, though the real problem is human stupidity. Studies of grizzly bears in Montana and British Columbia have found that bears habituated to human activity, especially moving vehicles, are more vulnerable to legal and illegal shooting.

Fragmentation and Isolation of Populations

Some species of animals simply refuse to cross barriers as wide as a road. For these species, a road effectively cuts the population in half. A network of roads fragments the population further. The remaining, small populations are then vulnerable to all the problems associated with rarity: genetic deterioration from inbreeding and random drift in gene frequencies, environmental catastrophes, fluctuations in habitat conditions, and demographic stochasticity (i.e., chance variation in age and sex ratios). Thus, roads contribute to what many conservation biologists consider the major threat to biological diversity: habitat fragmentation. Such fragmentation may be especially ominous in the face of rapid climate change. If organisms are prevented from migrating to track shifting climatic conditions, and cannot adapt quickly enough because of limited genetic variation, then extinction is inevitable.

Related Articles Our Primal Future: Some Thoughts in a Time of Droughts, Fires and Storms, David Gessner A Special Place and How It was Lost, Gary Gripp Interview with Doug Peacock, John Jacobi and Doug Peacock Interview with Dave Foreman, David Skrbina et al. In one of the first studies on habitat isolation by roads, D.J. Oxley and co-workers in southeastern Ontario and Quebec found that small forest mammals such as the eastern chipmunk, gray squirrel, and white-footed mouse rarely ventured onto road surfaces when the distance between forest margins(road clearance) exceeded 20 meters. The authors suggested that divided highways with a clearance of 90 meters or more may be as effective barriers to the dispersal of small mammals as water bodies twice as wide. Earlier work in Africa had shown that tortoises, and young ostrich, warthogs, and African elephants, had difficulty crossing roads with steep embankments. In Germany, Mader found that several species of woodland carabid beetles and two species of forest-dwelling mice rarely or never crossed two-lane roads. Even a small, unpaved forest road closed to public traffic constituted a barrier. All of these animals were physically capable of crossing roads, but appeared to be psychologically constrained from venturing into such openings. In Ontario, Merriam and co-workers found that narrow gravel roads were “quantitative barriers” to white-footed mice in forest fragments; many fewer mice crossed roads than moved an equal distance in the forest alongside roads.

In forests, a road clearance constitutes an obviously contrasting habitat. One might expect that the barrier effect of roads would be less severe in more open habitats, where the contrast between the road and adjoining habitat is less. Yet, a study by Garland and Bradley of the effects of a four-lane highway on rodents in the Mojave Desert found that rodents almost never crossed the road. Of eight species captured, marked, and recaptured, only an adult male antelope ground squirrel crossed the entire highway. No roadkills were observed, suggesting that few rodents ever ventured onto the highway.

Animals far more mobile than rodents and beetles may hesitate to cross roads. In the southern Appalachians, Brody and Pelton found that radio-collared black bears almost never crossed an interstate highway. In general, the frequency at which bears crossed roads varied inversely with traffic volume. Bears appeared to react to increasing road densities by shifting their home ranges to areas of lower road density. The power of flight may not override the barrier effect of roads for some bird species. Many tropical forest birds are known to be averse to crossing water gaps no wider than a highway. Further research is needed to determine if these species react to road clearings as they do to water gaps.

Thus, populations of many animal species divided by a heavily traveled road may be just as isolated from one another as if they were separated by many miles of barren urban or agricultural land. Larry Harris and Peter Gallagher, writing in a recent Defenders of Wildlife publication on habitat corridors (“Preserving Communities & Corridors” available from Defenders, 1244 19th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036; $10 each), put the road fragmentation problem into proper perspective: “Consider this triple jeopardy: At the same time that development reduces the total amount of habitat, squeezing remaining wildlife into smaller and more isolated patches, the high-speed traffic of larger and wider highways eliminates more and more of the remaining populations.” To the extend that various plant species depend on road-averse animals for dispersal, roads frag-ment plant populations as well.


Pollution from roads begins with construction. An immediate impact is noise from construction equipment, and noise remains a problem along highways with heavy traffic. Animals respond to noise pollution by altering activity patterns, and with an increase in heart rate and production of stress hormones. Sometimes animals become habituated to increased noise levels, and apparently resume normal activity. But birds and other wildlife that communicate by auditory signals may be at a disadvantage near roads. Highway noise can also disrupt territory establishment and defense. A study by Andrew Barrass found that toads and treefrogs showed abnormal reproductive behavior in response to highway noise.

Vehicles emit a variety of pollutants, including heavy metals, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, all of which may have serious cumulative effects. Combustion of gasoline containing tetraethyl lead, and wear of tires containing lead oxide, result in lead contamination of roadsides. Although unleaded gasoline now accounts for more than half of all gasoline used in the US, lead persists in soils and the food web for long periods. In Kansas, lead levels in roadside soils and vegetation in the early 1980s were two to three times greater than from near roads with similar traffic volumes in 1973 and 1974, when the use of unleaded gasoline was 42% lower.

Many studies have documented increasing levels of lead in plants with proximity to roads, and with increases in traffic volume. Plant roots take up lead from the soil, and leaves take it from contaminated air or from particulate matter on the leaf surface. This lead moves up the food chain, with sometimes severe toxic effects on animals, including reproductive impairment, renal abnormalities, and increased mortality rates. Food chain effects can switch between aquatic and terrestrial pathways. Lead concentrations in tadpoles living near highways can be high enough to cause physiological and reproductive impairment in birds and mammals that prey on tadpoles.

Less is known about the effects of other heavy metals, such as zinc, cadmium, and nickel. Motor oil and tires contain zinc and cadmium: motor oil and gasoline contain nickel. These metals, like lead, have been found to increase with proximity to roads, and with increasing traffic volume and decreasing soil depth. Earthworms have been found to accumulate all these metals, in concentrations high enough to kill earthworm-eating animals. These roadside contaminants can be carried far from roads by wind and water. Lead contamination has been noted up to 100 miles from the nearest metropolitan area.

The maintenance of roads and roadsides also introduces a variety of pollutants into roadside ecosystems. Americans like their roads free of ice and dust, and their roadsides free of weeds. The effects of herbicides on wildlife and ecosystems have been poorly studied, but anyone who has witnessed the destruction of wildflowers and other plants along roadsides (even through parks) for the sake of tidiness has cause to complain.

Highway de-icing programs are notorious sources of saline pollution. In the early 1970s, it was estimated that 9-10 million tons of sodium chloride, 11 million tons of abrasives, and 30,000 tons of calcium chloride were used in the US each year for highway de-icing. As noted above, many animals are attracted to this salt and end up as roadkills or at least get a dose of the salt’s toxic additives, including cyanide compounds. Drainage of salt-laden water from roads into aquatic ecosystems may stimulate growth of blue-green algae; the chloride concentration of major water bodies near urban areas has been found to increase by as much as 500%. Furthermore, sodium and calcium ion exchange with mercury releases toxic mercury into these systems. The cyanide ions from rust-inhibiting additives are extremely toxic to fish.

In many rural areas, waste oil from crankcases is sprayed onto unpaved roads for dust control. A 1974 study estimated that some 100 million gallons of waste oil are sprayed on dirt roads in the US each year. Only about 19% of this oil remains in the top inch of a road surface. Much of it reaches water bodies, where it coats the surface, limiting oxygen exchange and sunlight penetration and having toxic effects on aquatic organisms.

Impacts on Terrestrial Habitats

The impacts of roads on terrestrial ecosystems include direct habitat loss; facilitated invasion of weeds, pests, and pathogens, many of which are exotic (alien); and a variety of edge effects. Roads themselves essentially preempt wildlife habitat. A 1976 report by the Council on Environmental Quality estimated that one mile of interstate highway consumes up to 48 acres of habitat. Logging roads result in the clearing of about 50 acres for each square mile of commercial forest (i.e., 10 acres are deforested for every mile of road, and each square mile of forest averages 5 miles of road). Road construction also kills animals and plants directly, and may limit long-term site productivity of roadsides by exposing low nutrient subsoils, reducing soil water holding capacity, and compacting surface materials. It also makes slopes more vulnerable to landslides and erosion, which in turn remove additional terrestrial wildlife habitat and degrade aquatic habitats.

Some species thrive on roadsides, but most of these are weedy species. In the Great Basin, rabbitbrush is usually more abundant and vigorous along hardsurfaced roads than anywhere else, because it takes advantage of the runoff water channeled to the shoulders. Although certainly attractive, the common rabbitbrush species are in no danger of decline, as they invade disturbed areas such as abandoned farmsteads and fence rows, and are considered an indicator of overgrazing. In the Mo jave Desert, creosote bush is another abundant species that opportunistically exploits the increased moisture levels along roadsides.

Many of the weedy plants that dominate and disperse along roadsides are exotics. In some cases, these species spread from roadsides into adjacent native communities. In much of the west, spotted knapweed has become a serious agricultural pest. This Eurasian weed invades native communities from roadsides, as does the noxious tansy ragwort. In Florida, a state plagued by exotic plants, one of the biggest offenders is Brazilian pepper. This tall, fast-growing shrub readily colonizes roadside habitats. When soil in adjacent native habitats is disturbed by off-road vehicles, Brazilian pepper invades. Invasion by Brazilian pepper and other roadside exotics is becoming a serious problem in the Atlantic coastal scrubs of south Florida, communities endemic to Florida and containing many rare species. Another invasive exotic, Melaleuca, is expanding from roadsides and dominating south Florida wetlands. In southwest Oregon and northwest California, an apparently introduced root-rot fungus is spreading from logging roads and eliminating populations of the endemic Port Orford cedar.

Opportunistic animal species also may benefit from roads. Grassland rodents, for example, sometimes extend their ranges by dispersing along highway verges. In 1941, L.M. Huey documented a range extension of pocket gophers along a new road in the arid Southwest. Meadow voles have been found to colonize new areas by dispersing along the grassy rights-of-way (ROWs) of interstate highways. Roads also facilitate dispersal of prairie dogs. In 1983, Adams and Geis reported that more species of rodents may be found in highway ROWs than in adjacent habitats, though several species avoid ROW habitat. Birds associated with grassland or edge habitat, such as the European starling, brewer’s and red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbird, indigo bunting, white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, and killdeer, all have been found to increase in abundance near roads. Cliff and barn swallows, starlings, house sparrows, and rock doves (the latter three are exotic species in North America) often nest and roost in highway bridges. Many species of birds and mammals feed on roadkill carrion.

Some people claim that increases in grassland, edge, and other opportunistic species near roads constitute a benefit of roads. But increased density near roads may not be favorable for the animals involved, if the road exposes them to higher mortality from heavy metal poisoning or collision with vehicles. In this sense, a road can be an “ecological trap” and a “mortality sink” for animal populations. Furthermore, the species that may benefit from roads are primarily those that tolerate or even thrive on human disturbance of natural landscapes, and therefore do not need attention from conservationists (except occasional control). Many of these weedy species are exotic, and have detrimental effects on native species.

Edge effects, once considered favorable for wildlife because many game species (e.g., white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, northern bobwhite) are edge-adapted, are now seen as one of the most harmful consequences of habitat fragmentation. Especially when it cuts through an intact forest, a road introduces a long swath of edge habitat. Forest edge is not a line, but rather a zone of influence that varies in width depending on what is measured. Changes in microclimate, increased blowdowns, and other impacts on vegetation may extend 2-3 tree-heights into a closed-canopy forest. Shade-intolerant plants, many of them exotic weeds, colonize the edge and gradually invade openings in the forest interior. Dan Janzen found weedy plant species invading treefall gaps in a Costa Rican forest up to 5 kilometers from the forest edge. Changes in vegetation structure and composition from edge effects can be more persistent than effects of clearcutting, from which at least some forest types will eventually recover, if left alone.

The brown-headed cowbird, originally abundant in the Great Plains but now throughout most of North America because of forest fragmentation, is known to penetrate forests at least 200 meters from edge. The cowbird is a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species and can significantly reduce the reproductive success of its hosts. Forest birds, most of which did not evolve with the cowbird and are now well adapted to its parasitism, may show serious declines in areas where cowbirds have become common. In addition, many opportunistic nest predators, such as jays, crows, raccoons, and opossums, are common in roadside environments (partially because of supplemental food in the form of carrion) and often concentrate their predatory activities near edges. Increases in nest predation from these opportunities can extend up to 600 meters from an edge, as shown by David Wilcove using artificial nest experiments.

A narrow logging road with no maintained verge would not be expected to generate substantial edge effects, particularly if surrounded by a tall forest canopy. In this sense, the road would not differ much from a hiking trail (even trails create some edge effects, however, such as invasion of weedy plants caused by pant-legs dispersal). As forest roads are “improved,” road clearance increases and allows more penetration of sunlight and wind. Edge species are then attracted to these openings. Two-lane roads with maintained rights-of-way and all interstate highways are lined by edge habitat. A forest criss-crossed by improved roads may be largely edge habitat, and its value for conservation of native flora and fauna diminished accordingly.

Impacts on Hydrology and Aquatic Habitats

Road construction alters the hydrology of watersheds through changes in water quantity and quality, stream channel morphology, and ground water levels. Paved roads increase the amount of impervious surface in a watershed, resulting in substantial increases in peak runoff and storm discharges. That usually means flooding downstream. Reduced evapotranspiration within road rightsof-way may also result in increased runoff and streamflows. However, increases in streamflows in forested watersheds are not usually significant unless 15% or more of the forest cover is removed by road construction and associated activities such as logging.

When a road bed is raised above the surrounding land surface, as is normally the case, it will act as a dam and alter surface sheet flow patterns, restricting the amount of water reaching downstream areas. Mike Duever and co-workers found this to be a significant problem in the Big Cypress-Everglades ecosystem of south Florida. Ditches dug for road drainage often drain adjacent wetlands as well. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1962, estimated that 99,292 acres of wetlands in western Minnesota had been drained as a result of highway construction. This drainage occurred at a rate of 2.33, 2.62, and 4.10 acres of wetland per mile of road for state and federal, county, and township highways, respectively.

Roads concentrate surface water flows, which in turn increases erosion. Megahan and Kidd, in 1972, found that erosion from logging roads in Idaho was 220 times greater than erosion from undisturbed sites. Logging roads used by more than 16 trucks per day may produce 130 times more sediment than do roads used only by passenger cars. Incision of a slope by roadcuts in mountainous areas may intercept subsurface flow zones, converting subsurface flow to surface flow and increasing streamflow rates. Water tables are almost always lowered in the vicinity of a road.

Where a road crosses a stream, engineers usually divert, channelize, or otherwise alter the stream channel. Culverts and bridges alter flow patterns and can restrict passage of fish. Channelization removes natural diverse substrate materials, increases sediment loads, creates a shifting bed load inimical to bottomdwelling organisms, simplifies current patterns, lowers the stream channel and drains adjacent wetlands, reduces the stability of banks, and exacerbates downstream flooding.

The impacts of roads on fish and fisheries have long concerned biologists. Increased erosion of terrestrial surfaces almost inevitably results in increased sedimentation of streams and other water bodies. Even the best designed roads produce sediment, and unpaved roads continue to produce sediment for as long as they remain unvegetated. A divided highway requiring exposure of 10 to 35 acres per mile during construction produces as much as 3000 tons of sediment per mile. In a study of the Scott Run Basin in Virginia, Guy and Ferguson found that highway construction contributed 85% of the sediment within the basin. The yield was 10 times that normally expected from cultivated land, 200 times that from grasslands, and 2000 times that from forest land. Studies in northwestern California show that 40% of total sediment is derived from roads and 60% from logged areas. Much of the sedimentation associated with roads occurs during mass movements (i.e., landslides) rather than chronic surface erosion. Roads dramatically increase the frequency of landslides and debris flows. Studies in Oregon have found that roads trigger up to 130 times more debris torrents than intact forest.

Increased sediment loads in streams have been implicated in fish declines in many areas. A 1959 study on a Montana stream, reported by Leedy in 1975, found a 94% reduction in numbers and weight in large game fish due to sedimentation from roads. Salmonids are especially vulnerable to sedimentation because they lay their eggs in gravel and small rubble with water flow sufficient to maintain oxygen supply. Fine sediments may cement spawning gravels, impeding the construction of redds. Increases in fine sediments also reduce the availability of oxygen to eggs and increase embryo mortality. Stowell and coworkers reported that deposition of 25% fine sediments in spawning rubble or gravel reduces fry emergence by 50%. Sedimentation also has negative effects on the invertebrate food supply of many fish. Furthermore, destruction of riparian vegetation by road construction results in higher water temperatures, which reduces dissolved oxygen concentrations and increases fish oxygen demands ( a “double whammy”). If the fishing public was adequately informed of the negative effects of roads on fisheries, perhaps all but the laziest would demand that most roads on public lands be closed and revegetated!

Indirect Effects


The most insidious of all effects of roads is the access they provide to humans and their tools of destruction. Let’s face it, the vast ma jority of humans do not know how to behave in natural environments. Fearful of experiencing nature on its own terms, they bring along their chainsaws, ATVs, guns, dogs and ghettoblasters. They harass virtually every creature they meet, and leave their mark on every place they visit. The more inaccessible we can keep our remaining wild areas to these cretins, the safer and healthier these areas will be. Those humans who respect the land are willing to walk long distances. If this is an “elitist” attitude, so be it; the health of the land demands restrictions on human access and behavior.

Many animal species decline with increasing road density precisely because roads bring humans with guns. For many large mammals, road aversion is not related to any intrinsic qualities of the road, but rather to their learned association of roads with danger. In other cases, mammals may continue to use roads because they provide convenient travelways or food supply, but are unable to maintain populations where road densities are high because of the mortality they suffer from legal or illegal hunting, or roadkill.

An historical study by Richard Thiel in northern Wisconsin, supplemented by modern radio-telemetry, showed that road density was the best predictor of gray wolf habitat suitability. As road density increased in the study area, the wolf population declined. Wolves failed to survive when road densities exceeded .93 mile per square mile (.58 km per square km). Similar studies in Michigan and Ontario by Jensen and co-workers, and in Minnesota by Mech and co-workers, found a virtually identical threshold level for the occurrence of wolves. Roads themselves do not deter wolves. In fact, wolves often use roads for easy travel or to prey on the edge-adapted white-tailed deer. But roads provide access to people who shoot, trap, or otherwise harass wolves. David Mech found that over half of all known wolf mortality was caused by humans, despite the “protection” of the Endangered Species Act.

Many other large mammal species have been found to decline with increasing road access. The Florida panther once ranged throughout the Southeast, from South Carolina through southern Tennessee into Arkansas, Louisiana and extreme eastern Texas. It is now restricted to south Florida, an area of poor deer and panther habitat, but the last large roadless area available in its range. Problems associated with roads—roadkill, development, and illegal shooting— are now driving it to extinction. A population viability analysis has determined an 85% probability of extinction in 25 years, and a mean time to extinction of 20 years. Proposed management interventions still yield 75% to 99% probabilities of extinction within 100 years.

Recently, Seminole Chief James Billie shot a panther with a shotgun from his pickup truck in the Big Cypress Swamp, ate it, and claimed this murder was a native religious ritual. Billie eventually won his case, not on religious grounds, but because taxonomists could not prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the skull found in Billie’s possession was that of a Florida panther, Felis concolor subspecies coryi (the various subspecies of cougar differ little from one another in morphology).

Biologists agree that the only hope for the panther is reestablishment of populations elsewhere within its historic range. But is there anywhere with low enough road density to be safe? The best opportunity seems to be the 1.2 million acres in and around Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia and Osceola National Forest in north Florida, recently connected by purchase of Pinhook Swamp and its transfer to the Forest Service. Experimenters testing the feasibility of panther reintroduction in this area released five neutered and radio-collared Texas cougars, a subspecies closely related to F.c. coryi, into this habitat. Within a month, one cat died of unknown causes. Two more cats were killed by hunts soon thereafter. The final two cats discovered livestock (a goat pasture and an exotic game reserve), and were removed from the wild. This setback in the panther reintroduction program demonstrates that even one of the wildest areas in the southeast is still far too human-accessible for panthers to survive. Except for the wettest part of the Okefenokee Swamp, the poorest panther habitat, the area is riddled with roads and swarming with gun-toting “Crackers” and their hounds.

Other large mammals that suffer from road access include cougars (western version of F.c.) and grizzly bears. A radio-telemetry study in Arizona and Utah, by Van Dyke and co-workers, found that cougars avoided roads (especially paved and improved dirt roads) whenever possible, and established home ranges in areas with the lowest road densities. In southeastern British Columbia, McLellan and Mace found that a disproportionate amount of grizzly bear mortality occurred near roads. Of 11 known deaths, 7 bears were definitely shot and another 3 were probably shot from roads. Dood and co-workers found that 32% of all hunting mortality and 48% of all non-hunting mortality of grizzlies in Montana occurred within one mile of a road. Knick and Kasworm recently found that illegal shooting was the primary cause of death for grizzlies in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems, and concluded that the ability of regions to maintain viable populations of grizzly bears is related to road density and human access.

Road access imperils black bears, too. In the Southern Appalachians, Mike Pelton has estimated that bears cannot maintain viable populations when road density exceeds .8 miles of road per square mile. Later studies found that the situation is more complicated, and is related to traffic volume and other road use factors. The primary effect of roads on bears in the southern Appalachians is to expose them to increased hunting. Hunting with the aid of trained hounds is the major source of mortality for bears in this region, including within national parks and other sanctuaries, and is encouraged by the trade in bear gall bladders to the Oriental market.

The problem of road access and overhunting is often attributed to inadequacies of human ethics and law enforcement, rather than to any effect of the road themselves. But as Richard Thiel pointed out, in discussing the gray wolf in northern Wisconsin, “Ultimately, the survival of wolves will depend on a change in human attitudes. Until then road densities are important in determining whether an area can sustain a viable population of wolves.” We may have to wait a long time before attitudes toward nature improve, but roads can be closed today.

Other consequences of road access include overcollecting of rare plants (e.g., cacti, orchids, and ginseng) and animals (e.g., snakes for the pet trade), the removal of snags near roadsides by firewood cutters, and increased frequency of fire ignitions. Removal of snags eliminates habitat for the many cavity-nesting and roosting birds and mammals. In the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and Washington, for example, 39 bird and 23 mammal species use snags for nesting or shelter. Woodpeckers are among the cavity-nesting birds known to be critically important in dampening forest insect outbreak. Thus, snag removal along roadsides is an anthropogenic edge effect that may have far-reaching effects on entire ecosystems.

Humans are suspected to cause at least 90% of wildfires in the US, over half of which begin along roads. In 1941, Shaw and co-workers reported 78% of all anthropogenic fires occurred with 265 feet of a road. In New Jersey, the origins of 75% of all forest fires were traced to roadsides.

Although fire is a natural process with beneficial effects on many ecosystems, natural fires and anthropogenic fires differ in many ways. One important difference is frequency; anthropogenic fires may occur more frequently than the natural fire return interval for a given ecosystem type. Another important difference is seasonality. In Florida, for example, most anthropogenic fires occur in winter, whereas natural lightning fires occur in late spring and summer. Research in longleaf pine-wiregrass communities, which under natural conditions experience low-intensity ground fires at 2 to 5 year intervals, has determined that summer fires promote higher herbaceous plant diversity and flowering. Winter fires caused by humans tend to promote monotonous, shrub-dominated (e.g., saw palmetto) communities. It is a curious contradiction that the US Forest Service often justifies high road densities as necessary to provide fire control, when in fact most fires begin along roads.

Of the disturbances promoted by road access, perhaps the most devastating is development. Highways introduce pressures for commercial development of nearby land. Highway interchanges inevitably become nodes of ugly commercialism. Arterial streets encourage commercial strip development, and new rural and suburban roads bring in commercial, industrial, and residential development. Internationally funded road-building in third world countries introduces hordes of immigrants, who quickly cut and burn the native forest. In Brazilian Amazonia, Philip Fearnside reported that road development funded by the World Bank facilitates the entry of settlers whose land claims (established by clearing the forest) justify building more roads. Thus, roads and deforestation interact in a positive feedback relationship. Roads bring settlement and development which in turn call for more roads.

Cumulative Effects

So far, this article has discussed effects of roads mostly in isolation from one another. Indeed, almost all research on road problems has looked at one factor at a time, be it lead pollution, roadkill, edge effects, or access. In real ecosystems, however, these factors interact in complex ways, with long-term effects at several levels of biological organization.

To illustrate the complexity of possible impacts, consider this scenario: A network of roads is built into prime gray wolf habitat in northern hardwoods forest. Hunters flock into the area, depressing the wolf population. Some wolves are killed by vehicles. Eventually, the wolf becomes extinct in this region. In the absence of wolf predation, and with the abundance of brushy roadside edge habitat, the white-tailed deer population explodes. Fires started by humans along roadsides create even more deer habitat. Hunters and vehicles take some deer, but they cannot keep up. The burgeoning deer population overbrowses the forest, eliminating regeneration of favored eastern hemlock, arbor vitae, Canada yew, and a number of rare herbaceous plants. As a result, the floristic composition and vegetation structure of the forest gradually change. With reduced understory density due to heavy browsing, many warblers and other forest songbirds undergo serious declines. With wolves gone, opportunistic medium-sized mammals (“mesopredators”) such as opossums and raccoons increase in abun-dance and feed on the eggs and nestlings of songbirds, many of which nest on or near the ground, further depressing their numbers. Brown-headed cowbirds parasitize these beleaguered songbirds within 200 meters or so of road edges. Cutting of snags for firewood along the roadsides decimates cavity-nesting bird populations. Populations of insect pests now cycle with greater amplitude, resulting in massive defoliation. The roads also bring in developers, who create new residential complexes, and still more roads. Roadside pollutants from in-creased traffic levels poison the food chain. The original forest ecosystem has been irretrievably destroyed.

This scenario is fictitious, but every part of it has been documented somewhere.

Because many of the animal species most sensitive to roads are large predators, we can expect a cascade of secondary extinctions when these species are eliminated or greatly reduced. Recent research confirms that top predators are often “keystone species,” upon which the diversity of a large part of the community depends. When top predators are eliminated, such as through roadkill or because of increased access to hunters, opportunistic mesopredators increase in abundance, leading to declines of many songbirds and ground-dwelling reptiles and amphibians. In the tropics, predator removal can lead to an increased abundance of mammals that eat large-seeded plants, which in turn may result in changes in plant community composition and diversity (see John Terborgh’s article, “The Big Things that Run the World,” reprinted in Earth First!, 889).

Other keystone species may be similarly vulnerable to roads. The gopher tortoise of the southeastern US, for example, digs burrows up to 30 feet long and 15 feet deep. By a recent count, 362 species of commensal invertebrates and vertebrates have been found in its burrows, and many of them can live nowhere else. Yet, the slow-moving gopher tortoise is extremely vulnerable to roadkill on the busy highways of this high growth region. Roads also provide access to developers and poachers, the tortoise’s biggest enemies. But the effects of roads on gopher tortoises can be more subtle. Good gopher tortoise habitat is longleaf pine-wiregrass, which requires frequent summer fires to maintain its open structure. Although, as discussed above, many fires are ignited along roadsides, the net effect of roads on this habitat has been to stop the spread of fires that once covered areas the size of several counties. Those roadside fires that do ignite are mostly winter burns, which are less effective in controlling shrub invasion. As shrubs, oaks, and other hardwoods overtake this ecosystem, they shade out the herbaceous plants upon which the herbivorous gopher tortoise depends.

The net, cumulative effect of roads is to diminish the native diversity of ecosystems everywhere. Habitats in many different places around the world are invaded by virtually the same set of cosmopolitan weeds. Regions gradually are homogenized—they lose their “character.” Every place of similar climate begins to look the same, and most ecosystems are incomplete and missing the apex of the food chain. The end result is an impoverishment of global biodiversity.

What Can Be Done


The traditional response of public agencies to road-wildlife conflicts, in those rare instances when they do respond, is “mitigation,” i.e., build the road but design it so as to minimize its impacts. For example, barren roadsides can be planted and stabilized by wire netting in order to reduce erosion, landslides, and sedimentation of streams. Stream culverts can be designed to minimize disruption of flow and bed morphology. New roads can be located, and existing roads relocated, outside of critical wildlife habitats (such as moist meadows, shrub fields, riparian zones, and other grizzly bear feeding areas). Speed bumps and warning signs can be installed to slow down motorists and reduce roadkill. Reflective mirrors along roadsides and hood-mounted ultrasonic whistles are devices intended to warn animals of approaching death-machines, but are still of unproven benefit.

Road rights-of-way can be managed to maximize their potential as native wildlife habitat and dispersal corridors. If wide swaths of old-growth longleaf pines are maintained along highway ROWs in the Southeast, for example, they may serve to connect isolated red-cockaded woodpecker populations. Such corridors were recommended by a committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union. Some evidence suggests that red-cockaded woodpeckers may indeed disperse along such corridors, but not across long expanses of unsuitable habitat. The management of “roadside verges” for fauna and flora has a long history in Britain, as reviewed by J.M. Way in 1977.

Undoubtedly, mitigation measures, if implemented intelligently, can reduce the harmful effects of roads on wildlife. A 1982 report by Leedy and Adams, for the US Department of Transportation and Fish and Wildlife Service, summarizes a variety of design and construction options to mitigate the effects of roads. For reducing roadkills, a combination of fencing and underpasses has proven effective in many instances. Tunnels under roads were used as early as 1958 in the United Kingdom to reduce roadkill of badgers, and have been used in several countries to reduce roadkill of amphibians (many frogs, toads, and salamanders migrate to their breeding ponds on wet spring nights). Toad tunnels were constructed as early as 1969 in Switzerland, and have been built throughout much of the United Kingdom, West Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries under the auspices of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society and Herpetofauna Consultants International. A private firm, ACO Polymer Products Limited, even specializes in the design and production of amphibian tunnel and fencing systems (see Defenders 10-89).

In Colorado, underpasses and deer-proof fencing were constructed on I-70, to channel movement of mule deer along a major migratory route, and have proved fairly successful. D.F. Reed and co-workers, however, found that many individual deer were reluctant to use a narrow underpass (3 meters wide and high, and 30 meters long), and recommended that underpasses be significantly wider. Biologists in various western states are experimenting with one-way gates that keep most deer off the highway but allow deer that get into the highway ROW to escape. In southeastern Australia, Mansergh and Scotts constructed a funnelshaped rocky corridor and two tunnels of .9 X 1.2 meters each beneath a road that bisected the breeding area of the rare mountain pygmy-possum (the only marsupial hibernator known). The design proved very successful in restoring natural movement and breeding behavior of the pygmy-possums. One of the more controversial applications of the underpass strategy has been in south Florida, for the sake of the Florida panther. As noted above, roadkill is the leading known cause of death for this subspecies. Thus, when an extension of I-75 through the Everglades-Big Cypress Swamp was proposed, conservationists reacted with alarm. When assured by highway and wildlife officials that the new interstate would include fences and underpasses for panthers, making it much less dangerous than the infamous panther-smashing Alligator Alley which it would replace, many conservationists (including the Florida Audubon Society and the Sierra Club) came out in support of the new road.

How effective will these underpasses be in allowing for movement of panthers and other wildlife? Eighty-four bridges are being constructed on the 49 miles of new I-75 in Collier county, 46 of them designed solely for wildlife movement. Each of these “wildlife crossings” consists of three 40-foot spans, for a total length of 120 feet with 8 feet of vertical clearance. Much of the 120 feet will be under water, however, at least in the wet season. There is no guarantee that these crossings will be functional for panthers and other large mammals. Even Thomas Barry, the project manager for the Florida Department of Transportation, admits that the ideal solution would have been to build a viaduct (elevated highway) across the entire stretch, but that this solution was deemed too expensive. As advocated by Florida Earth First!, the “ideal solution” would be to close Alligator Alley and all other roads in the Everglades-Big Cypress bioregion, and to allow no new roads. The desirability of this solution became more evident when we learned that the new I-75 will include recreational access sites for ORVs, as recommended by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

The Preferred Alternative

In evaluating various mitigation options for road-wildlife problems, it must be remembered that each is a compromise, addresses only a subset of the multiple ecological impacts of roads, and is far less satisfactory than outright road closure and obliteration. The serious conservationist recognizes that mitigation options should be applied only to roads already constructed, and which will be difficult to close in the near future (i.e., major highways). In such cases, construction of viaducts over important wildlife movement corridors (as documented by roadkills) and other critical natural areas should be vigorously pursued. Amphibian tunnels and other smaller underpasses also should be constructed where needed. But the bottom line is that no new roads should be built, and most existing roads—especially on public lands—should be closed and obliterated. This is the preferred alternative!

A priority system for determining which roads should be closed first is necessary to guide conservation actions toward the most deserving targets. The Grizzly Bear Compendium (Lefranc et. al. 1987, pp. 145-46) specifies which kinds of roads should be closed on public lands to protect grizzlies: Access roads should be closed after harvesting and re-stocking, temporary roads and landings should be obliterated, collector roads and loop roads should be closed in most instances, local roads should be closed within one season after use, and seismic trails and roads should be closed after operations have ceased. Bear biologist Chuck Jonkel has long recommended an aggressive road closure program on public lands. Public education on the rationale for closures, and strong law enforcement, must accompany road closure programs if they are to be effective. The Grizzly Bear Compendium recommends that road use restrictions, such as seasonal closures of roads in areas used only seasonally by bears, be placed on roads that cannot be permanently closed.

In a series of publications, I have recommended that large core areas of public lands be managed as roadless “wilderness recovery areas” (a concept attributable to Dave Foreman). Buffer zones surrounding these core areas would have limited access for recreation and other “multiple-use” activities consistent with preservation of the core preserves. Buffer zones also would insulate the core areas from the intensive uses of the humanized landscape. These large preserve complexes would be connected by broad corridors of natural habitat to form a regional network.

As Keith Hammer has documented, however, road closures that appear on paper may not function as such on the ground. Keith found that 38% of the putative road closures on the Flathead National Forest in Montana would not bar passenger vehicles. The road miles behind the ineffective barriers represented 44% of the roads reported by the Forest Service as being closed to all motorized vehicles year-round. Gates, earthen berms, and other structures are not usually effective in restricting road use. This is especially true in more open-structured habitats, such as longleaf pine and ponderosa pine forests, where motorists can easily drive around barriers. It may be that the only effective road closures are those where the road is “ripped” and revegetated.

The Forest Service and other public agencies will claim that road closures, revegetation, and other restorative measures are too expensive to be implemented on a broad scale. But much of the approximately $400 million of taxpayers’ money squandered annually by the Forest Service on below-cost timber sales goes to road-building. Road maintenance is also expensive. Virtually all of this money could be channeled into road closures and associated habitat restoration. This work would be labor-intensive, and providing income to the many laid off loggers, timber sale planners, and road engineers—for noble jobs, rather than jobs of destruction! Likewise, the huge budgets of federal, state, and county highway departments could be directed to road closures and revegetation, as well as viaducts and underpasses to minimize roadkill on roads kept open.

We cannot expect our public agencies to shift to a more enlightened roads policy without a fight. A lot of people make a lot of money designing and building roads, and exploiting the resources to which roads lead. Nor can we expect the slothful, ignorant populace to give up what they see as the benefits of roads (fast transportation, easy access to recreational areas, scenery without a sweat, etc.) for the sake of bears and toads. Education of the public, the politicians, and our fellow environmentalists about the multiple and far-reaching impacts of roads is critical. As Aldo Leopold noted, “recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.” The greatest near-term need is direct action in defense of existing roadless areas, and to close roads where they are causing the most problems for native biodiversity.

Referenced Works

Adams, L.W. and A.D. Geis. 1983. Effects of roads on small mammals. J. Appl. Ecol. 20:403-415.

Barrass, A.N. 1985. The effects of highway traffic noise on the phonotactic and associated reproductive behavior of selected anurans. Vanderbilt Univ. Nashville, TN.

Brody, A.J. and M.P. Pelton. 1989. Effects of roads on black bear movements in western North Carolina. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 17:5-10.

Council on Environmental Quality. 1974. The Fifth Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality. US GPO. Washington, DC.

Dood, A.R., R.D. Brannon, and R.D. Mace. 1986. Final programmatic environmental impact statement: The grizzly bear in northwestern MT. MT Dept. Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Helena, MT.

Duever, M.J., J.E. Carlson, J.F. Meeder, L.C. Duever, L.H. Gunderson, L.A. Riopelle, T.R. Alexander, R.F. Myers, and D.P.Spangler. 1979. Resource inventory and analysis of the Big Cypress National Preserve. V.1, Natural Resources. V.2, Land Use. Final Report to the U.S. Dept. of Interior. National Park Service.

Fearnside, P.M. 1987. Deforestation and international economic development projects in Brazilian Amazonia. Conserv. Biol. 1:214-221.

Garland, T., and W.G. Bradley. 1984. Effects of a highway on Mojave Desert rodent populations. Am. Midl. Nat. 111:47-56.

Graham, D.L. and S.M. Kalman, 1974. Lead in forage grass from a suburban area in northern California. Environ. Pollut. 7:209-215.

Hammer, K.J. 1986. An on-site study of the effectiveness of the U.S. Forest Service road closure program in Management Situation One Grizzly Bear Habitat, Swan Lake Ranger District, Flathead National Forest, Montana.Unpublished report. Swan View Coalition, Kalispell, MT and Resources, Ltd. Polebridge, MT.

Harris, L.D., and P.B. Gallagher. 1989. New initiatives for wildlife conservation: The need for movement corridors. In G. Mackintosh, ed. Preserving communities and corridors. Defenders of Wildlife. Washington, DC.

Huey, L.M. 1941. Mammalian invasion via the highway. J. Mammal. 22:383-385.

Jensen, W.F., T.K. Fuller and W.L. Robinson. 1986. Wolf (Canis lupis) distribution on the OntarioMichigan border near Sault Ste. Marie. Can. Field-Nat. 100:363-366.

Jonkel, Chuck. 1982. Five year summary report. Border Grizzly Project, Special Rep. No. 60. Univ. of MT. Missoula, MT.

Jonkel, Chuck, T. Bumgarner, and L. C. Lee. 1981. Grizzly bears and the North fork of the Flathead River flood plain. Border Grizzly Project, Spec. Rep. No. 54, Univ. of MT. Missoula, MT.

Knick, S.T. and W. Kasworm. 1989. Shooting mortality in small populations of grizzly bears. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 17:11-15.

Leedy, D.L. (ed). 1975. Highway Wildlife Relationships. V.1, A Stateof-the-Art Report. Rep. No. FHWARD-76-4, Nat.Tech. Info. Serv., Springfield, VA.

Leedy, D.L. and L.W. Adams. 1982. Wildlife considerations in planning and managing highway corridors.

U.S. Dept. Trans.and U.S. Fish and Wildl. Svc., Washington, DC.

Lefranc, T.A., M.B. Moss, K.A. Patnode, and W.C. Sugg. eds. 1987. Grizzly Bear Compendium. Produced by the National Federation for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Washington, DC.

Lyon, L. Jack. 1983. Road density models describing habitat effectiveness for elk. Journal of Forestry 81:592-595.

Lyon, L. Jack and Chester E. Jensen. 1980. Management implications of elk and deer use of clear-cuts in Montana. J. Wildl.Manage. 44(2):1980 352-361.

Mader, H.J. 1984. Animal habitat isolation by roads and agricultural fields. Biol. Conserv. 29:81-96.

Mansergh, I.M. and D.J. Scotts. 1989. Habitat continuity and social organization of the mountain pygmy possum. J. Wildl.Manage. 53:701707.

Mech, L.D. 1973. Wolf numbers in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota. USDA Forest Service. Res. Pap. NC-97.

Mech, L.D. 1977. Productivity, mortality, and population trend of wolves in NE Minnesota. J. Mammal. 58:559-574.

Mech, L.D., S.H. Fritts, G.L. Radde, and W.J. Paul. 1988. Wolf distribution and road density in Minnesota. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 16:85-87.

Megahan, W.F., and W.J. Kidd. 1972. Effects of logging and logging roads on erosion and sediment deposition from steep terrain. J. Forestry 70(3):136-141.

Oxley, D.J., M.B. Fenton, and G.R. Carmody. 1974. The effects of roads on populations of small mammals. J. Appl. Ecol.11:51-59.

Pelton, M.P. 1985. Black Bears in the southern Appalachians: Some general perspectives. In: A Critique of the Cherokee National Forest Plan. The Wilderness Society, Washington, DC.

Pelton, M.P. 1985. Habitat needs of black bears in the East. In: Wilderness and Natural Areas in the Eastern United States: A Management Challenge. S.F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX.

Price, P.W., B.J. Ratchke, and D. Gentry. 1974. Lead in terrestrial arthropods: Evidence of biological concentration. Environ. Entomol. 3:370-372.

Quarles, H.D. III, R.B. Hanawalt, and W.E. Odum. 1974. Lead in small mammals, plants, and soil at varying distances from a highway. J. Appl. Ecol. 11:937-949.

Reed, D.F. 1981. Mule deer behavior at a highway underpass exit. J. Wildl. Manage. 45:542-543.

Reed, D.F., T.M. Po jar and T.N. Woodard. 1974. Use of one-way gates by mule-deer. J. Wildl. Manage. 38:9-15.

Reed, D.F. and T.N. Woodard. 1981. Effectiveness of highway lighting in reducing deer-vehicle accidents. J. Wildl. Manage.45:721-726.

Reed, D.F., T.N. Woodard, and T.M. Pojar. 1975. Behavioral response of mule deer to a highway underpass. J. Wildl.Manage. 39:361-367.

Shaw, S.B., C.A. Abell, R.L. Deering, and P.D. Itchson. 1941. A planning basis for adequate fire control on the southern California National Forests. Fire Control Notes. 5:1-59.

Stowell, R., A. Espinosa, T.C. Bjornn, W.S. Platts, D.C. Burns, and J.S. Irving. 1983. Guide for predicting salmonid response to sediment yields in Idaho Batholith watersheds. USDA Forest Service., Northern and In-termountain Regions.

Thiel, R.P. 1978. The status of the timber wolf in Wisconsin, 1975. Trans. Wis. Acad. Sci. Arts Lett. 66:186-194.

Thiel, R.P. 1985. Relationship between road densities and wolf habitat suitability in Wisconsin. Am. Midl. Nat. 113:404-07.

Thomas, Jack Ward, Hugh Black, Jr., Richard J. Scherzinger, and Richard J. Pedersen. 1979. Deer and elk. In: Jack Ward Thomas, ed. Wildlife Habitats in Managed Forests: the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington. USDA Forest Service. Agricultural Handbook No. 553. Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. Portland, OR. p104127.

USDI Fish and Wildlife Service. 1962. The value of wetlands to modern society. Project Marine. Intl. Union Conserv.Nature Nat. Res. Publ. Ser. pp 57-63.

Van Dyke, F.G., R.H. Brocke, H.G. Shaw, B.A. Ackerman, T.H. Hemker, and F.G. Lindzey. 1986. Reactions of mountain lions to logging and human activity. J. Wildl. Manage. 50:95-102.

Van Dyke, F.G., R.H. Brocke, and H.G. Shaw. 1986. Use of road track counts as indices of mountain lion presence. J. Wildl.Manage. 50:95-102.

Wilcove, D.S. 1988. National Forests: Policies for the Future. Vol. 2. Protecting Biological Diversity. The

Wilderness Society, Washington, DC. Wilson, L.D. and L. Porras. 1983. The ecological impact of man on the South Florida Herpetofauna. Univ. KS. Specl. Publ. No. 9. Lawrence, KS.

Chapter 8. Interview with Doug Peacock

Like many others who care about the wilderness, I find a lot of inspiration from Ed Abbey and the gang of folks he worked with. One of those folks is Doug Peacock—the man who has such a passionate, go-get-em attitude toward wilderness that he’s actually the inspiration for Ed Abbey’s character George Hayduke in The Monkeywrench Gang.

I recently got a chance to talk to Peacock about his pro jects and his thoughts on conservation, climate change, industry and many other issues. He brought up several topics that by the end of the discussion I really wished we had had more time to explore. (For example, does wilderness really mean “no people”? And what are the benefits and drawbacks of working with natives to build big wilderness areas?) But, also by the end of the discussion, I left inspired by Peacock’s strong affirmation, repeated several times: “Wilderness,” he says, “is still our best bet.” I don’t, of course, agree with Peacock about everything, but goddamn do I agree with him on that.

—John Jacobi

So the reason why I contacted you was because of your story about[http://www.dougpeacock.net/peacocks-war-documentary.html][the grizzly bears,]] and as far as I understand, whenever you got back from Vietnam, the grizzly bears kind of renewed you spiritually and provided a sort of therapy. Could you explain the story?

Well it’s a long story and I wrote a whole book to tell it. The short version is when I came back from war, like many other veterans, I was really out of sorts. I couldn’t talk to anybody. Even the closest friends and family, I just was no good around people. And one place I’ve always been comfortable in my life since I was a little boy is in wild places and the wilderness. And so when I got back from Vietnam, I bought a jeep and I disappeared into the American West and into wild places. I camped out for a couple years. I scarcely had a conversation during those times. One late spring I waited for the snows to melt and then headed up to the Wind River Range to camp and explore and, after a malaria attack, which hit me on the east side of the Winds where the weather sucks, I eventually ended up in Yellowstone park.

Anyway, I wasn’t looking for grizzly bears. But in Yellowstone the bears were there, they were all around me, and within days they begin to dominate my attention. By the time the snow came, grizzlies had become the center of my psychic universe. And I kept coming back. I’d migrate down to the great desert wilderness of the southwest and then, in spring, the bears would come out of hibernation again, and I’d head north to the Northern Rockies.

To summarize the decade, as I wrote in Grizzly Years, “These bears saved my life.” And I think that was literally true. And in Vietnam, and other wars, there’s a notion of payback. It’s grunt language; it means when you receive a gift you find a way to pay it back, sooner or later. And in my case these bears had given me exactly what I needed, which was a way to get out of myself, a real enforced humility. When you’re living with great big grizzly bears, selfindulgence is literally impossible, and that’s a good thing.

So, I was hanging out with grizzlies both in Yellowstone and Glacier ecosystems, and I noticed that the grizzlies in Yellowstone were having a really hard time. The park service had just abruptly closed the garbage dumps, at which virtually all Yellowstone grizzlies fed, and as many as 270 grizzly bears were killed in the Yellowstone ecosystem in a five year period from 68 to 73. All that time, hidden back in the lodgepole, like the war-wounded animal that I was, I was there to watch it.

The grizzlies were having trouble and I went to war fighting for their welfare. I still am. It’s the least I could do. So today I’m fighting the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzlies by the federal government, by the Fish and Wildlife Service. And that’s one of the most important things that I’m doing right now. That effort by the feds to remove ESA protection from those grizzlies has been going on for over twenty years now. The bears certainly helped me out of a jam and this is what I had to do for them.

I really like that story. You know, my dad was in the military and he was deployed to Iraq a few times, along with some other places, Afghanistan and some other places. And my family, especially his mom, my grandmother, is worried that, even if he doesn’t say it, he’s been profoundly affected by the war. And I was wondering if you thought there was any potential for those soldiers to have a similar experience as you did with the wilderness and grizzlies.

Yes. The last two years I’ve spent about half my time working with vet groups, and in the current Sierra magazine there’s an article about part of that endeavor.

I’m also getting Afghani vets to go over to Namibia and work with the local guards who are trying to protect rhinos from poachers. The black rhinos are being pushed into extinction. We’ll probably lose that battle, but we’re going to fight it. And all this started with meeting up with a bunch of vets at an event that was organized by Round River Conservation Studies and the Sierra Club, which has a veteran’s outreach program. We met up down in southern Utah. The Lakota and Navajo provided healing ceremonies and sweat lodges; the veterans—and they are both men and women—most of them have some kind of disability, and perhaps not physical. Physically, they’re tough, can climb the most challenging peak you ever saw, but we’re all wounded. They’re wounded warriors and in fact, that’s what war does to everyone. And it’s not just soldiers. It’s the families of the soldiers and most of all it’s the civilians that live in those countries.

But that whole formula of going back into the wilderness to heal your wounds, it works. It’s amazing. Hemingway in his Nick Adams stories. . . after the war, Nick fishes his way towards the swamps of the Big Two Hearted River to save his sanity—it’s the same story. The wilderness is a great place to go to do your healing. And there are a lot of groups that do this. There’s a bunch of them that take veterans, according to their abilities, and they go backpacking, camp out and stuff like that. And, particularly down in Utah, the vets I met wanted to go beyond fly fishing. They don’t want to just to go in to climb and fly fish and then hope the wounds are healed. They actually want to help to save that same wilderness that was so great to them, a place for them to sort out what was happening to them. So we do a lot of conservation. The Namibia rhino poaching project is a good example.

I didn’t know the Sierra Club had a veteran’s program.

Yeah, and I’ll tell you what, this veteran’s outreach is one of the best thing they ever did. I mean I’ve really got some faith in the Sierra Club again. A guy that started it, a guy named Stacey, he’s about seven feet tall and he goes at about one hundred and twenty mph all the time, up and down mountains. He and a veteran named Joshua ran that program. I met them and their buddies and they’re some of the most talented warriors I’ve ever met. Over in Namibia the locals need help with the massive poaching problem, and the vets are going to go over and assess the situation, assist the native guards as best they can and find out what’s really needed. Like I said, I think it’s probably a battle we will lose. I don’t think we can stop the poaching, but we’re going to try, and it’s better to try and fail than to sit back and have done nothing.

That is true. The Wildernist works as part of a network of groups called The Wildist Network and we talk a lot about a no-compromise approach for wilderness and against industry. And we are often faced with the criticism that we might lose, but there’s kind of a—almost a moral imperative to do something even if there’s only a small probability of winning.

You bet your ass. That’s all you can do and it’s battle to the death now. The beast of our time is global warming and that affects all species everywhere. And everything that survives must change radically. Humans have never seen this kind of change, a demand for a rate of evolution of which we are not capable. Some authorities think the earth has never seen such climate change before, because we are dumping more carbon into the atmosphere than the time of the Great Dying about 250 million years ago, when nearly all earthly life was driven to extinction. But the most important thing I think any conservation group can do is save wilderness. Save the habitat. Because everything is going to have to move, species have to move North, move up the mountain. It’s at least the 6th great extinction and survivors need wild habitats.

And we should expect Homo sapiens, ourselves, to hit a bottleneck, because global warming is already baking agriculture out of Africa, along with all the attendant problems of displacement of people, wars and atrocities. And the droughts, sea-rise and warming will happen to Asia too. Billions starving to death: The Chinese will try to go to Siberia, where food still grows, competition and conflict will breed war and maybe they’ll nuke it out with the Russians. Meanwhile, and probably soon, one of the gigantic Antarctic ice sheets—the Ross, the Larsens, and or the Western ice sheets—will fall into the ocean, that’s 12, 15 feet of sea rise in a week, and then you’ve got a billion people in Bangladesh looking for a place to live. So, we should look at this from a standpoint of also saving ourselves, and we’re not going to succeed in saving many of our own kind by doing what we’ve been doing, and the notion of endless progress, economic or otherwise, in a world of finite resources is utter madness. Ed Abbey pointed out that particular insanity back in 1968 in Desert Solitaire. We’re killing ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. I bring the issue of climate change to any battle I take on now, in a way that thinks about saving and fighting for wilderness. I think wilderness is still the most important thing.

You asked about Earth First! and other groups. The most important thing Earth First! did was identify wilderness as the prime issue. Preserving, saving, defending wilderness was its most important mission. And it’s still true today, though our old vision has been shaded and sometimes eclipsed by global warming. Talking about putting elephants on the Great Plains, when it looks like we’re not going to have any elephants left in Africa, seems like a misplaced, idle conversation. We might note that the Vietnamese and Chinese megabucks with their appetite for ivory, horn and bush-meat, have likely doomed rhinos and elephants, on top of the very real threats of African climate change.

What about The Wildlands Network,@@@Yellowstone to Yukon, and these other organizations that are working hard to build big, connected wilderness? You think the organizations could be more effective?

I’m concerned with the modern conservation movement, especially the big ones that you’re talking about. Twenty-five years ago I cofounded Round River[http://www.roundriver.info/][Conservation Studies]]. Round River works with Native people around the world to create homelands that are wilderness, total wilderness, no roads, no mines, no logging. And, working together, they’re up to 25 million acres, with eight million more in progress: About 6 million up on the north slope of the Yukon working with the Invialuit to expand Ivvaik National Park eastward and about two million more down in southern Utah where the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni could end up with a National Monument. Now this is the kind of work that I am really proud of having been a part of.

And my criticism of the older movement is simply that it appears to have gotten a bit esoteric; let’s not just have another meeting to talk about the Anthropocene, for Christ’s sake! Talk is cheap, and all of this has gotten a little too academic. A guy I love is Michael Soul, so I’m not separate from this at all. And Michael knows how I feel. It’s just that I think we’ve had enough talk, enough meetings, and it’s great to talk about “Does wilderness exist?” but you’ll never create a large area like Yellowstone to Yukon if you can’t first hook up Yellowstone to northern Montana ecosystems. Yellowstone is an ecological island, it’s stranded, it’s mired out there in the middle of no place with no connectivity or linkages to the Bitterroot, the Bob or the Crazy Mountains. And it’s time to really do something about linkages. Those chunks of wilderness need to be connected, and we have the biology and the engineering to get under and over freeways. That’s important stuff, fighting that hideous Mexican border wall that’s such a barrier to all wildlife, for example. We need these linkages.

I am sympathetic to what you’re saying, but you also brought up climate change a while earlier and it seems like wilderness will cease to be a thing that even exists if climate change continues to get worse and worse.

It’s definitely going to get worse and worse, but I think you’re wrong. If your definition of wilderness has something to do with a lack of human beings, we’re going to end up with a lot of wilderness and not very many human beings. Homo sapiens are going to go through a population bottleneck, the timetable is arguable, but I tend to prefer to think in decades, not centuries. People like Guy McPherson or James Lovelock think we’re going to lose probably 90% of the population—that the bottleneck is going to get at least that narrow. A study of combat units in World War II found that when combat units suffered 75% plus casualties, there was a collective, paralytic psychosis that descended upon the survivors. And we might think about that in terms of our species. We are not in charge anymore. We are not in control of our own fates. We would love to save the earth, the wilderness and animals, but that’s counterbalanced by the madness of endless growth and economic progress, and it’s clear we are not going to cut down on greenhouse gases in time to curtail global warming, and there’s going to be catastrophic consequences. We are not exempt. Humans are not exempt, and all our clever technology—geoengineering or bioengineering— will not bail us out at this point. We’ve brought it upon ourselves. We may end up with a planet—who knows what it’ll look like—with not many people on it. And I don’t know what you want to call that, but that’ll be some kind of wilderness.

This question of greenhouse gasses and climate change and wilderness has led me and some others to the conclusion that one of the only ways that, uh, one of the best ways that wilderness can continue surviving and thriving is for industry itself to end. With the very high likelihood of industry becoming unstable in years to come—in decades to come—there’s some potential for an organized movement to make a dent or aid that end to industry. What are your thoughts on this?

Well I think it’s late in the game, mostly. If we can shut down industry tomorrow, we should do everything we can towards that end. But it’s really late in the game, and what we’ve already put out there is already too much, and we’re going to hit a tipping point, you know, it’s going to be four or five degrees Fahrenheit and then you’ll really see consequences. Also, if you shut down that industry abruptly, the sulfate particles from coal, which reflect sunlight and artificially cool the planet, will fall out. James Hanson believed this would rapidly warm the earth another 2.5 degrees F. I know this is bummer information and it makes me wish it were otherwise.

One of the reasons working in the Yukon is important is that it’s a great window on global warming. Things are happening fast up there; we may see the disappearance of arctic summer sea ice for the first time in human history this year, polar bears fleeing southward, eating snow geese, competing and breeding with grizzly bears who are moving north. That’s another feedback loop, and there are many of them. The disappearing sea ice means less solar radiation is reflected, which melts the permafrost, releasing methane (a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short run), melting more sea ice, etc. Maybe the best good news from the Yukon Beaufort coast is that the Inuit may prohibit the construction of the hundreds of seaports and oil station industry has planned for the fragile arctic.

But I think that what you’re proposing to do is the right thing to do. The sooner we can slow things down, the more species have a chance to survive— still a bad show. Human beings, with all their resources, will probably find a way to survive, at least a pocket of them. The evil is that we will drag down most all of our large mammals with us, along with countless other species, millions and millions other species. The sixth greatest extinction, as some call it. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The potential is just terrifying.

One of the editors of this magazine, Atticus Grey, she loves large creatures like gorillas and elephants. And I’m sure that she would be sad like I am to hear that you think most of them will die off, regardless.

I love them too. Watching gorillas or elephants or grizzlies is an ecology of thinking. These large mammals are at great risk even if you exclude climate change—here I am ranting about it—because of simple human greed. They are killed by humans for the ivory, for aphrodisiacs and for art items, trinkets. The rhinos are really going fast. I don’t think anybody can stop that. I’ve been helping to raise money to send veterans over there for the last three or four months and now the vets are on their way. Round River has student programs in Namibia and Botswana. The game counts in places like Botswana and Namibia are down about 80%. And where are the animals going? Well, they’re being killed off for bush meat to feed Chinese gold mine workers. That is atrocious and unforgivable. It’s going to take all the work, every one of us, to set it straight or at least try to give them a chance.

I know that you’re the inspiration for Edward Abbey’s Hayduke. When you were talking with Ed Abbey in these early days, maybe even before the monkeywrench gang, did you two know at the time that things would get this bad or could get this bad, and did you have any hopes on stopping it? And what do you think Abbey would say now, if he saw the situation?

I’m kind of glad he’s dead [for his sake], because he’d be rolling over in his grave, that’s for damn sure. Abbey and I had a cranky friendship—he could be a cantankerous son of a bitch and I was a complete asshole at times—but the reason that friendship survived was our mutual belief in wilderness and the need to defend it. Ed and I did see an apocalypse coming[46]. And, at that time, we really weren’t talking about greenhouse gases and shit like that. We were just looking at our own culture and its rapacious drive to domesticate the earth, a premise that still lives on today. Progress is insanity. It’s impossible on a finite earth. Ed compared it to the ideology of the cancer cell.

So, Abbey’s still quite relevant. There really isn’t a need for another Ed to come along and fill his big, toothy, lecherous boots, because, quite frankly, his books still hold up really well.

Yeah, I agree. I just gave a presentation not too long ago to some other really young people who were involved in a clean water action organization, and they were all familiar with Abbey. They loved him, too.

Besides it being a hoot to read, the message of The Monkey Wrench Gang is do what you can. People ask me, “What can I do?” and I usually say “Start in your own backyard.” Start small, and in the old days if you needed to literally or figuratively monkeywrench a bulldozer, you did it, but also have this larger vision. We always knew that we were going to lose a lot of battles and the ones that we did win are going to be transient. That doesn’t matter. It’s still worth doing, it’s the only thing we can do. It’s a fight to save the earth, but also a fight to save ourselves. And wilderness is still our best bet.

I agree, and on that note of what we can do, starting in your backyard is easier for some people in the US, especially because here there’s a concept of wilderness. But a lot of cultures, like Spain, where a lot of my friends are, don’t even have a concept of wilderness. Do you have any ideas on how that idea can be brought internationally and fought for?

I think we need not to be so pedantic and academic and strict about what we consider wilderness. It’s whatever in undisturbed nature that can stir the innate wild in men and women. Wildness lives in all of us; wilderness is whatever it takes to wake it up. And some people can get it watching birds and squirrels in their backyard, and other people are like me, they need endless hunks of tundra with big bears and jaguars, tigers, polar bears.

I went out to Rockford, Illinois to give a talk. They have a 369 acre —not very big by Western standards—nature preserve along a river, called Severson Dells. Man, does that magical place transform not just the character of that country, but it’s an inspiration to countless people who go there, canoe, walk around and connect with nature. That kind of experience can be had in Europe where civilization has been marching along with whatever Pleistocene remnants, even if the areas are not very big, and animals like wolves and brown bears that live there are few, people draw inspiration from their survival. That’s a source of hope.

There’s one last topic I’d like to talk a little bit about and it’s, we’ve already mentioned it, it’s Earth First!. Could you tell me a little bit about what you did with Earth First!, if anything.

I didn’t do anything significant with Earth First!. Other than give talks at a Rendezvous or EF! fundraisers, I did little. Ed Abbey, our small children and myself would go over to the Earth First! mailing-parties and put the stickers on the newsletters and little things like that. EF! was the direct descendant of the MWG [The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey], but I was a decade or two older than the boys who started Earth First![47] When the FBI busted Dave[http://www.thewildernist.org/2015/03/interview-dave-foreman/]Foreman and the Prescott folk, they also showed up at my place in Tucson. However, I was lost in Wyoming and once they believed Gerry Spence would be my lawyer, the FBI never bothered me again about that. But I was of no importance to them.

Do you think that there’s any organization that exists now that broadens a dialogue in the way that Earth First! did? And if not do you think that the environmentalist and conservation movements would benefit from one?

You can’t be too radical these days about the importance and value of wild things, because they’re so under threat, because things are changing so fast. I think there really is a great need for action, for working outside the corrupt system and I don’t see anybody really doing it. Round River has saved a lot of big wilderness. That means working with native peoples because if you look at the globe for a blank spot on the map, you usually find traditional people live there.

That’s a good track record, more so because Round River doesn’t blow its horn loudly. Since EF!, [evolutionary] biology, big funders, abstract modeling and academic squabbling—arguably—have influenced the conservation movement, both positively and negatively. There remains a real need for broadening that dialogue, just like you put it. A flaw, I believe, is that people are left with the impression that big, powerful, rich organizations are going to go out there and save the world for us instead of asking, “What can you do?” This is sidetracking people when it should be empowering them. There is a sniff of privilege and elitism. We need someone to tell us that we need everyone to fight for the fate of the world. I think Earth First! tried to do this. Beware of the corporate lawyer, inside approach; paper monkeywrenching is not going to affect real change. The system is now the enemy and all that’s a sideshow, like genetic engineering to resurrect extinct species is a sideshow to the real battle of combating global warming. Am I saying: Go out and make yourself a spear and sharpen it over the fire? Possibly. I think activists need to know the wild, get out into it as much as feasible. Much of our job is still to go out and save a bear or a prairie dog or a bird or a goddamn forest.

I know you can’t see me, but I was smiling there for a large portion of that. It reminds me of, uh. . . well I don’t know, it’s just very inspiring. I think the ideas of megalinkages and wildlife corridors— the ideas of rewilding—are very useful and basically correct. But this whole strategy of getting millionaire[48] to do it, while helpful, just can’t be the whole strategy.

Alright, one last thing. We talked a little about Earth First!, and we’ve talked a little bit about global warming, and all of these other things. Earth First! fell apart at one point because of a division between kind of the social justice, left-wing faction and then. . .

Ah yes, a very public squabble, as I recall. But even today, we could achieve social justice on earth and not have a planet to practice it on. So what comes first? When it comes down to social needs versus ecological reserves, I’m going to bet on the planet every time. Like Ed Abbey once said, “I’d sooner kill a man than a rattlesnake.” And it’s going to happen with or without us. Nobody’s going to make it if we don’t save mother earth and the few wild landscape remnants that our whole species evolved on. We didn’t evolve on farms or in cities: We evolved in habitats—savanna, tundra, forests, grasslands and mountains— whose remnants today are called wilderness. And that is our homeland, not well-run refugee camps or any other artifact of culture.

As Abbey so often queried, “What to do? What to do?” Live your life, however hurried or brief, but live it well.

Doug Peacock is a long-time conservationist and the author of several books, including Grizzly Years and the new In Shadow of the Sabertooth. Learn more about him at www.dougpeacock.net.

Chapter 9 . The Wildernist’s 2015 Reading List

A common request among those who are interested in The Wildernist and Wildism is a list of reading materials that covers the basics of our thought and the theory, strategy, and history that informs it. The following is the 2015 version of the list. If you have any suggestions regarding additional texts, feel free to email the editorial team atthewildernist@gmail.com.

Movement Texts

Wildism is a new movement, and some of the texts are still in languages other than English. However, all movement texts in English are available in The[http://www.wildism.org/lib/][Wildist Library]] at Wildism.org. Pay particular attention to the following:

“Industrial Society and Its Future” and Technological Slavery by Ted Kaczynski. One of the most important texts of the movement, “ISAIF,” outlines the threat industrial technology presents to freedom and wild nature. More texts by the author can be found in his book, Technological Slavery. See the “history” section below for more information about Ted Kaczynski.

“Leftism: The function of pseudo-critique and pseudo-revolution[http://www.wildism.org/lib/item/903453d1/][in techno-industrial society”]] by Ultimo Reducto. Wildist Ultimo Reducto outlines the meaning of leftism and the threat it presents to a revolutionary movement against industry.

“The Truth about Primitive Life” by Ted Kaczynski. A criti-cism of the anarcho-primitivist movement and its tendency to romanticize hunter/gatherer life. Given that Wildism is sometimes mixed up with anarcho-primitivism, this article is extremely important to read for people new to our thought.

“The Revolutionary Importance of Science” by John Jacobi. In a response to “green” anarchist Alex Gorrion, John Jacobi outlines the reasons science is the best tool we have to gain actionable and correct knowledge about the world.


The two histories especially relevant to Wildists are the history of early Earth First! and the history of Ted Kacznski. As the pieces by Lee, Wolke and Foreman show, contemporary Earth First! is almost nothing like it was originally, so those new to Wildism should be careful to distinguish between the two periods.

Earth First!: Environmental Apocalypse by Martha Lee. Criticized by some for her central thesis (that Earth First! was originally a millenarian movement), the text nevertheless holds up as one of the most well-sourced accounts of the early history of Earth First! Documents Lee used can be found at The Talon Conspiracy and the Environment & So-@@@ciety website.

Confessions of an Eco-Warrior by Dave Foreman.

“Earth First!: A Founder’s Story” by Howie Wolke.

History of Ted Kaczynski. The editorial team knows of no good text about Kaczynski and his campaign against industry from 1978 to 1995. However, we do encourage those looking into the history of Ted Kaczynski to include the following texts in their reading:

“On the Question of Technological Slavery: A Reply to[http://www.thewildernist.org/2015/03/skrbina-question-technological-slavery-campbell-lipkin/][Campbell and Lipkin”]] by David Skrbina. A philosophy of technology professor at the University of Michigan defends Kaczynski’s ideas as presented in the manifesto, and questions the origins of the dominant dismissive response Kaczynski received.

“Why the future doesn’t need us” by Bill Joy. The founder of Sun Microsystems, who could easily have received one of the Unabomber’s packages, says quite clearly that Kaczynski was right.

Truth vs. Lies by Ted Kaczynski; “Note on Road to Rev-@@@olution by Ted Kaczynski; and “Note about the existence[http://www.wildism.org/blog/2015/03/note-about-false-kaczynski-texts/][of texts falsely attributed to Ted Kaczynski”]] by Ultimo Reducto. Many distortions, misunderstandings, and outright lies have circulated around almost all aspects of Kaczynski’s story. These texts should set the record straight. Truth vs. Lies can be requested from the University of Michigan Special Collections Library (The Labadie[http://www.lib.umich.edu/labadie-collection][Collection).]]

Communiques of Freedom Club. These are the letters sent by Kaczynski when he operated as Freedom Club during his campaign against industry from 1978 to 1995. Some old, inaccurate, or incomplete versions of this text exist on The Anarchist Library or the blog El Tlatol, so, for the sake of accuracy, links should only point to the Wildism.org version.

Civilization and Collapse

The Col lapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. A good companion text to this book is an essay, also by Diamond, entitled “The Worst Mistake[http://www.wildism.org/lib/item/8fd4684b/][in the History of the Human Race.]]”

Col lapse by Jared Diamond.

30 Theses by Jason Godesky. This text was written by an anarchoprimitivist, contains some factual errors, and encourages values (such as “diversity”) that are not encouraged by or are opposite to the values encouraged by Wildists. However, some sections, especially #29, summarize ideas on civilization in a way that has not been done elsewhere. So for the 2015 reading list, we do recommend people look over Godesky’s arguments.


Cultural Materialism by Marvin Harris. Harris combines the ideas of Marx, Darwin, and Malthus, among others, to devise a theory about “the universal structure of society.” Indispensable for an understanding of culture and how it works. The Wildernist team would only like to note that Harris was almost certainly wrong about the effects of human biology and human nature on culture (see the texts below).

The Adapted Mind by Cosmides and Tooby. Known as “the bible of evolutionary psychology,” Cosmides and Tooby outline the theoretical foundations of and various case-studies using a psychology that works with, rather than against, recent findings in the biological sciences.

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. Pinker uses ideas from evolutionary psychology to eloquently argue for a human nature and its affects on our society. Keep in mind that Pinker is a humanist who argues for

values that are contrary to the Wildist concern for autonomy, nature, and wilderness.

Consilience by E. O. Wilson. Evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson outlines the idea of “consilience”: that science can be a unified enterprise, with findings from various fields, including the social sciences, informing and learning from various other fields.


The Organizational Weapon by Philip Selznick. An analyst from the RAND Corporation delves deep into the psychology and tactics of the Bolsheviks. In reading this book, Wildists should be careful to separate relevant from irrelevant tactics based on other movement texts, since the Bolsheviks were neither a model group of revolutionaries nor a model group of human beings.

Rewilding North America by Dave Foreman. Foreman, Michael Soule, Reed Noss and others are at the forefront of the conservation movement with their ideas on rewilding, wildlife corridors, and wildlife restoration areas. Their science-based conservation strategy has made real, tangible demands that The Wildernist’s editorial team believes should be considered as a potential basis for our no-compromise efforts against industry.

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

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted

until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free.................................................... These wild things, I admit, had

little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not[49].

— Aldo Leopold


At the beginning of the century, the howl of wolves still haunted Yellowstone National Park. But wolves were considered “varmints” and were poisoned, trapped, and shot as part of an official government policy of predator extermination that succeeded in eradicating wolves from Yellowstone by 1940. Today, most environmentalists believe that the extermination of the wolf was wrong and that its recent restoration was right.

Several widely held rationales for these judgements are rooted in ecocentric ethics. An ecocentric ethic treats natural systems as intrinsically valuable and/ or morally considerable. This ethic is holistic in that it bases moral concern primarily on features of natural systems rather than on the individuals in them. Traditionally, ecocentric ethics has relied heavily on “holistic” ecological theory to provide its empirical foundation. It has evaluated human impacts on the environment primarily in terms of their effect on the integrity, stability, and balance of ecosystems.

Many have argued, for example, that without wolves the Yellowstone ecosystem was incomplete. Wolves were in Yellowstone long before modern settlement of the area, and they are integral to the identity of that ecosystem. Holmes Rolston, III says that Yellowstone is the “largest, nearest intact ecosystem in the temperate zone of earth”[50] and suggests that the wolf was one of the few missing components. Wolf biologist David Mech supports wolf reintroduction by arguing that “one of the mandates of the national parks is to preserve complete natural systems. Somehow Yellowstone was shorted. For more than sixty years it has preserved an incomplete system.”[51] On this view, returning the wolf helps restore Yellowstone’s integrity by making it whole again.

Many also support returning the wolves in order to restore the balance and stability of the Yellowstone ecosystem.[52] Wolf predation helps to control ungulate populations. Absent a major predator with which they coevolved, the elk population in Yellowstone increased dramatically. Vast herds of elk confined year round in this hunting sanctuary have eaten so much of the aspen and willow that these species are not regenerating. The decline in aspens and willows led to the decline of the beaver, a keystone species in maintaining riparian areas and park hydrology. On these grounds, Alston Chase, among others, argues that the balance of the Yellowstone ecosystem was upset by the restriction of the range of the ungulate population, by fire suppression, and by human eradication of wolves and other predators. Restoring the wolf is perceived to be an important step in allowing the Yellowstone equilibrium to return.

The idea that integrity and stability fundamentally characterize natural systems is far from uncontroversial. According to numerous ecologists, disturbance, disequilibria, and chaotic dynamics characterize many natural systems at a variety of scales[53]. Ecosystems are frequently interpreted by these ecologists as historically contingent, transient associations, rather than as persisting, integrated communities. Although many ecologists continue to find stable dimensions of some ecosystems, the presence of instability is trouble for traditional ecocentric ethics. It is risky to advocate preserving the integrity of natural systems when such integrity may not exist, and it is questionable to criticize humans for causing instability in what may already be unstable natural systems.

In this article, we assess the implications of instability models in ecological theory for ecocentric ethics. We use the elimination and restoration of wolves in Yellowstone to illustrate troubles for traditional ecocentric ethics caused by ecological models emphasizing instability in natural systems. We identify several other problems for a stability-integrity based ecocentrism as well. We show how an ecocentric ethic can avoid these difficulties by emphasizing the value of wildness in natural systems and we defend wildness value from a rising tide of criticisms. We do not attempt a full-fledged justification of ecocentrism; in particular, we do not defend ecocentrism against individualistic or anthropocentric environmental ethics.

The Ecology of Stability and Traditional Ecocentrism

The ecological theories on which traditional ecocentric ethics are based, theories we call collectively the “ecology of stability,” were developed by Frederic Clements and Eugene Odum, among others. They tended to view natural systems as integrated, stable wholes that are either at, or moving toward, mature equilibrium states. The terms equilibrium, balance, stability, and integrity often go unexplained in traditional ecocentric ethics. Kristin Shrader-Frechette and Earl McCoy have identified over twenty different uses of stability and equilibrium in ecology[54]. Central among these are the following uses.

A system is in equilibrium if the various forces acting on it are sufficiently balanced that the system is constant and orderly with respect to those features under consideration; thus balance and equilibrium are closely related. A balance or equilibrium can be either static or dynamic: equilibrium is displayed both by a constancy in tree species in a mature forest ecosystem and by a regular oscillation in a predator-prey system. A system is stable (1) if it is relatively constant over time, (2) if it resists alteration (i.e., it is not fragile), (3) if upon being disturbed it has a strong tendency to return to its pre-disturbance state (i.e., it is resilient), or (4) if it moves toward some end point (“matures”), despite differences in starting points (“tra jectory stability”).[55] Whether a system is in equilibrium and/or stable depends on the features under consideration and the scale at which the system is described. Vernal pools that exist for perhaps a dozen weeks each year and then dry up are ephemeral on a time scale of months but constant if the scale is years.

Integrity is also used in a variety of senses. The general idea is that the elements of the ecosystem are blended into a unified whole. This idea is commonly associated with the view that ecosystems come in fixed packages of species whose coordinated functioning creates a unified community. A system which has integrity is characterized by a high degree of integration of its parts. Complex patterns of interdependency weave the parts into a well-integrated unit.

In the ecology of stability, natural systems do undergo some changes, such as fluctuations in the populations of predators and prey, but usually such changes are regular and predictable (as in the cycling of predator and prey according to the Lotka-Volterra equations). Disturbances are considered atypical, and when they occur, ecosystems resist upset. When a natural system is disturbed, it typically returns to its pre-disturbance state or trajectory. Successional ecosystems will move through a predictable series of stages to their mature climax states. In these end states, biotic and abiotic elements of the ecosystems are in balance and the system has “as large and diverse an organic structure” as is possible given available energy and environmental limitations.[56] According to this paradigm, the loss of a species, such as the wolf, upsets the balance and often results in a decline in ecosystem stability, for species diversity in an ecosystem is thought to be proportional to its stability. Thus, ecosystem integrity, stability, and diversity are seen to be closely interrelated phenomena.

This conception of natural systems provides a powerful and seemingly objective basis for determining when ecosystems have been damaged or their value diminished[57]. Integrity, stability, and balance are properties that have widespread and powerful normative appeal. In an ecocentric ethic that emphasizes these properties, our duties to natural systems seem to arise from the nature of ecosystems themselves, rather than from human preferences concerning natural systems. An ecosystem missing a top predator is not simply one that environmentalists do not like; it is a damaged ecosystem. Ignoring this damage betrays ecological ignorance. Ecological science thus appears to underwrite environmental ethics and environmentalist policies. Further, because nature tends towards these states absent human intervention, the ethic based on this normative ecological paradigm warrants preserving ecosystems intact, limiting human impacts, and restoring nature after human degradation.

Advocates of ecocentric ethics frequently appeal to the basic notions of the ecology of stability. Aldo Leopold’s often quoted summary maxim—“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community; it is wrong when it tends otherwise”—relies on these ideas[58].

Many, such as J. Baird Callicott, have taken Leopold’s views as the basis for their environmental ethic[59]. In articulating his ecocentrism, Holmes Rolston puts considerable evaluative weight on the integrity and stability of biotic communities: “A biotic community is a dynamic web of interacting parts in which lives are supported and defended, where there is integrity (integration of the members) and health (niches and resources for the flourishing of species), stability and historical development (dependable regeneration, resilience, and evolution) ”[102][60] Although Rolston’s ecocentrism relies on a number of values

that systemically make nature valuable (such as diversity, complexity, creativity, and a tendency to produce increasingly valuable “ecological achievements”), ecosystem integrity and stability are central among them[61].

The Ecology of Instability

An ethic based on the integrity, stability, and balance of natural systems ill accords with some trends in ecology.[62] The more radical proponents of what we call the “ecology of instability” argue that disturbance is the norm for many ecosystems and that natural systems typically do not tend toward mature, stable, integrated states[63]. On a broad scale, climatic changes show little pattern, and they ensure that over the long term, natural systems remain in flux. On a smaller scale, fires, storms, droughts, shifts in the chemical compositions of soils, chance invasions of new species, and a wealth of other factor continually alter the structures of natural systems in ways that do not create repeating patterns of return to the same equilibrium states[64].

Many empirical studies show that populations fluctuate irregularly[65]. Simple predator/prey models in which numbers of predators and prey oscillate predictably over time ignore the myriad of factors that affect population size. Major population explosions and declines are inherent features of numerous natural systems. Some ecologists suggest that many interacting populations are chaotic systems, in the mathematical sense of chaos[66]. Although these systems are fully deterministic, accurate predictions about them are impossible because tiny (and thus hard to measure) differences in initial conditions can produce drastically different results. Furthermore, ecologists no longer assume a tight correlation between stability and diversity. There is evidence that an intermediate level of disturbance can increase diversity[67]. Also, some stable ecosystems are not very diverse, such as east coast U.S. salt marsh grass ecosystems where Spartina alterniflora grows in vast stands that are simple in species composition but quite stable.

With flux taken to be the norm on a variety of levels, it becomes more difficult to interpret natural systems as well-integrated, persisting wholes, much like organisms. Ecosystem integrity becomes problematic when species relationships are opportunistic. Noting that co-occurrence of species is determined by abiotic factors as much as by species interactions and that typical interactions between species involve competition, predation, parasitism, and disease, one well-known conservation biologist claims that “the idea that species live in integrated communities is a myth.”[68] Evidence suggests that species groupings are historically contingent and are not fixed packages that come and go as units[69]. ] Insofar as species associations are transient, individualistic, biotic assemblages, we must begin to question the ideas that ecosystems are supposed to have certain species, that without all of its species an ecosystem is “incomplete,” and that exotic species do not belong.

Indeed, the very notion of an ecosystem has become suspect in some quarters. A number of ecologists now investigate the dynamics of “patches” of land, giving up on the idea of homogenous ecosystems. Others retain the notion of an ecosystem, but drop the organismic assumptions often associated with it. We follow the latter course, recognizing that without these assumptions, what counts as an ecosystem depends on our purposes as well as on the empirical facts.

One intriguing response to these worries has been advanced by J. Baird Callicott[70]. Callicott points out that, like biotic communities, human communities are neither stable nor typological—that is, they change over time and do not come and go as units. Human communities are also composed of individualistic, self-promoting, and competitive individuals. Callicott concludes that biotic communities are no less integrated and no harder to demarcate than are human communities, and thus that if human communities are sufficiently coherent to generate obligations to them, then so are biotic communities.

One problem with this argument is that human communities are held together by shared purpose and meaning. That people see themselves as part of a human community is essential to its unity. Self-seeking individualism, predatory competition, and parasitism, unchecked by community spirit and identity, tear apart human communities. Sprawl development characterized by vacant strip malls, big-box stores adjacent to diseased local merchants, and aggressive automobile traffic hardly constitutes a community that generates preservationist obligations. Callicott’s analogy ignores the fact that the shared purpose and meaning that bind together changing, self-seeking individuals into human communities are lacking in biotic communities[71].

Callicott also suggests that the Leopoldian response to the ecology of instability should be to modify Leopold’s dictum to say: “A thing is right when it tends to disturb the biotic community only at normal spatial and temporal scales. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”[72] This implausibly suggests that it is morally permissible to intentionally extirpate other species so long as we do so at rates comparable to normal extinction frequencies in evolutionary history. It also has the unfortunate consequence that extensive restoration pro jects are impermissible insofar as they disturb nature at nonnormal scales. Callicott has not quieted the worries about ecocentric ethics generated by the ecology of instability.

We want to stress that there are important ways in which many natural systems display significant degrees of integrity and stability in various respects. Ecosystems are certainly not mere jumbles of self-sufficient individuals. No one denies the existence of causal connections between individuals in ecosystems or dependencies between species. Species adapt to each other, to disturbances, and to changing environments. Sometimes these adaptations can make ecosystems more resistant (and persistent), as when a keystone tree species on hurricaneprone barrier islands evolves a thicker trunk and begins to hug the ground. Selective pressures also put a brake on species self-aggrandizement, for example, by working against predator species that drive their prey to extinction and parasites that destroy their hosts. Many dimensions of natural systems clearly persist on human time scales.

The ecology of instability is far from achieving the status of a dominant paradigm. There continues to be ongoing fruitful work on stability at larger scales and in systems where the disturbance interval is long relative to recovery time.[73] Some recent experimental research supports the claim that increases in diversity produce increases in stability[74]. Additionally, ongoing research in group selection (i.e., natural selection operating on higher levels of organization than the individual), including selection at the community level, may provide support for ecosystem stability and integrity of certain sorts[75].

Some respected ecologists even suggest that the emphasis on disturbance, instability, and chaos is as much a function of sociological factors, such as the novelty of research on disequilibrium, as it is of new data in ecology.[76] Ecologists are exploring a variety of fruitful metaphors drawn from other sciences and society at large. The success of population biology and of chaos theory outside ecology, as well as our culture’s increasing individualism, provide resources for plausible sociological explanations of the popularity of the metaphors and models informing contemporary ecology. Nonetheless, these models have also proved to be empirically fruitful.

Although it would be unreasonable to reject wholesale the ecology of stability, the dangers of basing an environmental ethic on that ecology are significant. An ecocentrism that emphasizes preserving the stability and integrity in ecosystems would seem to leave those ecosystems which lack significant stability or integrity largely unprotected. If an ecocentric ethic is based on valuing stability and integrity, would it not follow, implausibly, that less stable and integrated ecosystems were less valuable and thus less worthy of protection? Michael Soul thinks it positively dangerous to emphasize the equilibrial, self-regulating, stability producing tendencies of ecosystems[77]. If nature is so stable, it ought to be able to handle human disturbance. If it can, it seems we ought to be protecting the more fragile ecosystems rather than the more stable ones. Moreover, what about the different kinds of stability? Would ecosystems that lacked resilience, but had constancy, such as tundra ecosystems, be subject to more or less protection than those that are resilient, but less constant, such as fire-prone chaparral? Would more tightly integrated biotic communities (e.g., ecosystems with keystone species) take precedence over looser species assemblages? Such questions indicate how developments in ecology muddy the waters for an ecocentrism that emphasizes stability and integrity and leave it with a range of unpalatable implications. Leopold’s dictum that what is right is what “preserves the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community” seems all too vulnerable to the charge that we may be obligating ourselves to preserve something that frequently does not exist.

In particular, consider the implications of viewing the case of the Yellowstone wolves through the lens of the ecology of instability. It is no longer clear that ecocentrists can justify the claims that elimination of wolves from Yellowstone damaged the ecosystem and that their restoration is desirable. Perhaps those who hunted and poisoned the wolves did not disrupt any significant stability and integrity of the system. They may have merely changed the system, much like other phenomena might change it (e.g., an ice age, disease, etc.); now it is governed by a different set of dynamics.

Of course, it may be that characteristics of the Yellowstone ecosystem relevant to wolves can be most fruitfully explained by stability models. But what if, in relevant respects, Yellowstone is better interpreted using instability models? Suppose that elk populations would fluctuate dramatically and irregularly with or without wolves and that such fluctuations had a variety of unpredictable impacts on animals dependent on elk forage. Do we want our obligations to Yellowstone to depend on how stable or unstable, integrated or loosely organized it is? We think not. We may, of course, decide that we should restore wolves to Yellowstone for other reasons, perhaps because we enjoy seeing wolves and want our children to be able to experience them. But then we have abandoned an ecocentric ethic, and this, we believe, is premature.

Wildness and Ecocentrism

We think that advocates of ecocentric ethics should shift the emphasis away from integrity and stability toward other intrinsically valuable features of natural systems, such as diversity, complexity, creativity, beauty, fecundity, and wildness. For reasons we outline below, we think that the value of wildness plays a central role in this nexus of values. Emphasizing wildness provides the most promising general strategy for defending ecocentric ethics. Others have suggested that the wildness of some natural systems gives us a strong reason for valuing them intrinsically[78]. We support this claim by showing how wildness value is in reflective equilibrium with many considered judgements, by showing how a focus on wildness avoids a number of problems with traditional ecocentrism, and by defending the value of the wild from a host of criticisms.

The term wild has a variety of meanings, many of which are not relevant to our defense of ecocentrism. For example, by wild we do not mean “chaotic,” “fierce,” or “uncontrollable.” As we use the term, something is wild in a certain respect to the extent that it is not humanized in that respect. An entity is humanized in the degree to which it is influenced, altered or controlled by humans. While one person walking through the woods does little to diminish its wildness, leaving garbage, culling deer, or clear cutting do diminish wildness, although in different degrees. Do we tend to value wildness so defined?

Numerous examples from ordinary life suggest that people do value wildness in a variety of contexts. For instance, admiration of a person’s attractive features is likely to diminish when it is learned that they were produced by elective plastic surgery. People prefer the birth of a child without the use of drugs or a Caesarean section, and they do so not just because the former may be more conducive to health. Picking raspberries discovered in a local ravine is preferable to procuring the store-bought commercial variety (and not just because of the beauty of the setting). Our appreciation of catching cut-throat trout in an isolated and rugged mountain valley is reduced by reports that the Department of Fish and Game stocked the stream the previous week. Imagine how visitors to Yellowstone would feel about Old Faithful if they thought that the National Park Service put soap into the geyser to regulate and enhance its eruptions. In each example, people value more highly what is less sub ject to human alteration or control than a more humanized variant of the same phenomenon. The value differential may result from several features of these cases, but central among them is the difference in wildness. Notice that if we focus on different aspects of these situations, the judgment of wildness changes: the mountain stream may be wild in many respects, even if its fish are not. Although we value wildness in many things, an ecocentric ethic will focus on the value of the wildness of natural systems.

In addition to such specific judgments, there are powerful and widespread general intuitions that support the value of the nonhumanized. 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[79]. 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.”[80] 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.

With dramatic humanization of the planet, wildness becomes especially significant. In general, when something of value becomes rare, that value increases. Today, the spontaneous workings of nature are becoming increasingly rare. Reportedly, humans appropriate between twenty and forty percent of the photosynthetic energy produced by terrestrial plants.[81] Humans now rival the major geologic forces in our propensity to move around soil and rock[82]. Human population, now approaching six billion, is projected to increase by fifty percent by the middle of the next century.Leaving out Antarctica, there are now 100 humans for every square mile of the land surface of the Earth.[83] Almost everyone knows a special natural area that has been “developed” and is now gone. The increasing importance of biotechnology further manifests our domestication, artificialization, and humanization of nature. Wildness is threatened on a variety of fronts, and the passions that fuel many environmental disputes can often be explained by this rapid loss of the wild and the consequent increase in the value of what remains.

By positing wildness as a significant value-enhancing property, we account for a wide range of intuitions. Of course, the nature that we value in virtue of its wildness is also valuable because it is complex, creative, fecund, diverse, beautiful, and so on. Why focus on wildness, rather than on biodiversity, as is currently fashionable (or on some other characteristic)? We believe that the emphasis on wildness is justified by the transformative and intensifying roles it plays in this nexus of values. These roles suggest that wildness is a kind of “root” value, that is, a significant source of these other values.

Wildness is transformative in that it can combine with a property that has neutral or even negative value and turn the whole into a positive value. For example, wildness helps to transform biodiversity into the powerful value it is in today’s environmental debates. Biodiversity is not by itself valuable. If it were, we could add value to ecosystems by integrating large numbers of genetically engineered organisms into them. But doing so seems unacceptable. It is wild biodiversity that people wish to protect. Wildness transforms biodiversity into a significant value-bearing property. The presence or absence of wildness frequently transforms our evaluation of things; a beautiful sunset is diminished in value when it is caused by pollution. Wildness also intensifies the value of properties that are already valuable[84]. For example, wildness often significantly enhances the value of beauty. As Eugene Hargrove argues, “our aesthetic admi-ration and appreciation for natural beauty is an appreciation of the achievement of complex form that is entirely unplanned. It is in fact because it is unplanned and independent of human involvement that the achievement is so amazing, wonderful, and delightful.”[85]

An ecocentrism that emphasizes wildness value also puts a brake on alleged human improvements of nature through anthropogenic production of the properties in virtue of which we value nature. A stability and integrity based ecocentrism would have to judge human activity that enhanced ecosystem stability or integrity as value increasing. A highly humanized ecosystem could be more stable, integrated, and diverse than a natural ecosystem that it replaced. For example, an engineered beach with breakwaters and keystone exotics that held the sand might be more stable, integrated, and diverse than the naturally eroding beach it replaced. Only an ecocentrism that puts its central focus on wildness value can prevent the unpalatable conclusion that such human manipulation of nature would, if successful, increase intrinsic value.

While we argue that it is now reasonable to strongly value wildness, it was not always reasonable to do so. The value of wildness varies with context. For example, clearing an old-growth forest in the late twentieth century has very different value implications from doing so ten thousand years ago. In early periods of human history, wildness was ubiquitous and threatening. Controlling a small patch of land was a significant achievement for humanity and had significant value in itself. In contrast, wildness had little or no value in itself: there was simply too much of it relative to humanized environments. This contextualization of the value of wildness fits well with the “holistic” insight that the seriousness of environmental threats depends on what else is taking place on the planet. Humans extirpating the wolf from the Yellowstone region in the first part of this century had a vastly different impact on wildness value than did comparable prehistoric anthropogenic extinctions.

The value of wildness depends not only on the larger historical context, but also on the kind of object it characterizes. For example, a vegetable garden gone wild is less valuable than one under the gardener’s control because of the purposes implicit in the description “vegetable garden.” We do not here undertake the difficult task of providing a theory of the appropriate contexts and ob ject descriptions for evaluating wildness. One may worry that contexts could be gerrymandered or objects artificially described so that implausible appraisals of wildness result. For example, wildness on the Earth is of great value given its relative rarity, but if the context is the solar system with its abundance of wildness, we might reach a different conclusion. In most cases people can recognize such clearly inappropriate contextualizations or descriptions, but it is often difficult to specify how they do so. This difficulty applies to almost any theory of value, as the contextualization of value is pervasive.

In arguing that ecocentrism should emphasize wildness value, we are not suggesting that wildness is always an overriding value or that highly wild ecosystems are always more valuable than less wild places. Wild things can have value-subtracting qualities that are more weighty than wildness value. Both anthropocentric values and nonanthropocentric values may trump wildness values in some situations. 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 somewhat 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.

Some may worry that an environmental ethic that emphasizes wildness value abandons ecocentrism in favor of an instrumental anthropocentrism because it apparently appeals to human pleasure at contemplating wildness. But this worry confuses what is being valued with the valuing itself (or with a byproduct of the valuing). Valuing nature for its wildness is not valuing wild nature for the pleasure it brings us, anymore than valuing a friend is simply valuing the pleasure one derives from the friendship. Pleasure may be a sign of value without being its source.

We are not maintaining that the value of wildness inheres in natural systems themselves independent of consciousness of them. We remain neutral on the issue of whether wildness value is objective in this sense or is a function of a valuing subject. We also remain neutral about what kind of a value wildness is. Some may think that wildness value is an aesthetic or religious value rather than a moral value. As long as the presence of aesthetic or religious value can obligate us in significant ways, we need not decide whether wildness value is aesthetic, religious, or moral (or some combination of these).

Objections and Responses

Wildness has come under increasing criticism. One concern is that intuitions about the value of wildness are idiosyncratic. Many people do not seem to value wildness, but instead fear it or profess dislike for things not under human control.[86] David Orr identifies a trend he calls “biophobia” and claims that the more “we dwell in and among our own creations,” the more we become “uncomfortable with nature lying beyond our direct control.”[87]

We are not suggesting that everyone will immediately assent to the claim that wildness is valuable. Rather, we claim that valuing wildness is a rational and reflective response to the current situation on the planet[88]. We grant that it is not the only rational response. No doubt, the valuing of wildness springs from and reflects certain cultural traditions.[89] In this respect, it is no different from many other values that orient ethics and policy, such as the value of human equality or freedom of political speech. Even if the valuing of wildness originated in Western culture, wildness value can have much wider significance. After all, the notion of human rights arose from movements in Western thought, but it is now believed to have universal validity. We believe that, for a wide range of people, increased education about the massive humanization of the Earth will lead to greater recognition of the value of wildness.

Furthermore, many people value wildness without understanding their evaluations in these terms. Wildness comes in degrees and often people value things in virtue of lesser degrees of wildness. People value gardening, bird watching, golfing, dinner on the porch, or walks in the park, partially because these activities put them in touch with nonhuman nature. Even the ranchers who opposed the restoration of wolves into Yellowstone seem to love the outdoor lives they have chosen in part because it involves an encounter with the relatively nonhu-manized.

An increasingly frequent objection to “wilderness environmentalism” is that by privileging big wilderness areas, it ignores the value of more local, humanized landscapes.[90] Our position avoids this objection by valuing some natural systems, such as pasture and parks, for their intermediate degrees of wildness. It would be a mistake to equate wildness with wilderness, though wilderness is an important manifestation of wildness and would be strongly protected by the proposed ecocentrism. A related concern is that a focus on wildland preservation ignores the central importance of finding a way for humans to live in nature without destroying it[91]. We too believe that turning human societies toward a sustainable use of nature is crucial. An ecocentric ethic that emphasizes wildness value does suggest that we should diminish our impacts on nature, and this is one aspect of sustainability. But clearly other values, including anthropocentric ones, are needed to fully guide humans to a more sustainable relationship with the Earth. We believe, however, that without an emphasis on wildness value, sustainability will all too likely result in human domination of the Earth.[92]

Embracing degrees of wildness also allows for a response to the objection that there is no wild nature left to value. Recent work in ecology, anthropology, and environmental history points to long-standing and sustained human impact on the planet. On the basis of such research, J. Baird Callicott (among others) has attacked the idea of wilderness, claiming that “in 1492, Antarctica was the only true wilderness land mass on the planet”—that is, the only place “undominated by the works of man.”[93] If we add to this large-scale early human influence the impact of more numerous and technologically powerful modern humans, then valuing the wildness of natural systems may appear to be a willo’g-thewisp.

We have noted that relatively less humanized places carry significant wildness value. It may be arbitrary to make fine discriminations in degrees of wildness, but that should not obscure obvious distinctions. The following environments are ordered in clearly increasing degrees of wildness: an air conditioned building, a parking lot with weeds sprouting up, a garden, a tree farm, a national park, a wilderness area. Even extensively humanized places like backyards, gardens, or New York’s Central Park carry important wildness value in the right context and when contrasted with more humanized places.

This ob jection also fails to account for ways in which humanization “washes out” of natural systems. Early human influence on a system is dampened by intervening epochs with little impact. A system can recapture previous levels of wildness as human influence diminishes. Intuitively, Dartmoor in England and the Western Adirondacks in the U.S. (both areas once stripped of their treecover by humans) are examples of high degrees of wildness returning after significant human impact.

Some charge that emphasizing the value of wildness dichotomizes humans and nature and ignores the Darwinian insight that humans, like any species, are a part of nature and are not separate from it[94]. Many are inclined to view humans, especially native peoples, as “biotic citizens” who are members of the natural communities they alter, just as beavers are members of the natural communities they radically alter. We do not deny that humans are part of nature in important senses of this phrase. To a significant extent, humans are the result of and are embedded in natural processes. Certain dimensions of human life are properly understood and valued as manifestations of wild nature. Allowing our bodies to reflect the impacts of sun, wind, and aging is to partake in wildness. Acting on instinct is letting the spontaneous processes of nature unfold within us. We value the wild in humans as well as in nonhuman nature[95]. Of course, we do not always value wildness in humans, just as we do not always value wildness in ecosystems. Much depends on competing values and the context. It is obviously appropriate for humans to civilize themselves and civilization clearly has enhanced human value. Nonetheless, we agree with Thoreau when he says, “I would not have every man nor every part of a man cultivated, any more than I would have every acre of earth cultivated.”[96]

Although humans are a part of nature in the above senses (and others), there are important reasons to distinguish human activity from the activity of wild nature[97]. Human transformations of the land are different in evaluatively relevant ways from transformations imposed by nonhuman species or processes. For example, only human activities are fully morally assessable. Also, human activities can affect nature on a scale and speed much greater than the activities of other individual species. Rolston has identified important differences in the methods and speed by which humans transfer and use information.[98] Little in nonhuman nature approaches the deeply layered intentional, cultural, social, economic, and technological dimensions of much human activity.

As a group, humans have become too powerful and too populous to be simply “plain members and citizens” of biotic communities. Given the intense human domination of the planet, the metaphor of the biotic citizen is as likely to mislead as it is to help. It suggests that modern humans should be fully assimilated into natural systems, but doing so would have a disastrous effect on many ecosystems. For an environmental ethic to interpret the human presence in, and influence on, natural systems as not different in evaluatively relevant ways from that of any other species or natural phenomenon is to carry a valid Darwinian insight to absurd lengths.

Restoration, Wolves, and the Wild

Appealing to the value of wildness provides strong reasons to believe that it was wrong to extirpate wolves from Yellowstone. Eliminating wolves involved significant human alteration of the processes that characterized that system. In the context of the twentieth century, this loss of wildness in Yellowstone carried with it significant loss of value. Nonetheless, we cannot directly infer from the loss of wild value in Yellowstone that wildness counts in favor of restoration of wolves, for reintroducing wolves involves significant additional human alteration and management of Yellowstone, and it is hard to see how such a reintroduction can be sanctioned by the value of wildness. Indeed, intuitions about the positive value of restoration result in another objection to wildness value. As Robin Attfield puts the point, “How can anything be restored by human agency the essence of which is to be independent of human agency?”[99] Restoration is a contentious environmental issue. Some philosophers disparage restorations as fakes or artifacts[100]. Other philosophers stress our obligations to restore nature and suggest that certain types of restoration can increase value significantly[101]. We believe that an ecocentric ethic that emphasizes the value of wildness has the virtue of maintaining and explaining this ambivalent attitude. Although restoration typically fails to increase wildness in the short run, it can speed recovery of wildness by helping humanization wash out of natural systems.

Notice that a stability-integrity ecocentrism must be quite sanguine about restoration (at least in theory). If an ecosystem’s stability or integrity is restored, no loss has occurred. In contrast, restoration designed to enhance wildness value wears its limitations on its sleeve. Not only will the additional human activity involved in restoration tend to detract from wildness value, but restoring the original system’s wildness will not be possible in one respect: human activity will forever remain part of the causal chain leading to that ecosystem. Never-theless, wildness value can count in favor of restoration pro jects. By returning the system to what it would have been had humans not altered it, restoration can help diminish human influence.

A number of factors affect the speed and extent of “washout.” In general, the greater the human influence on a system, the longer it will take for the humanization to wash out. For example, previous levels of wildness will return more quickly to a selectively-cut forest than to a clear-cut forest. Temporal distance from the humanization also affects washout. The mere fact that it has been at least six hundred years since humans removed the trees from Dartmoor makes that landscape significantly wilder than it would be had the deforestation occurred fifty years ago. Complete washout of human influence can occur rapidly. A volcanic eruption that destroys a humanized landscape and covers it with a thick layer of lava would seem to return the full wildness of the landscape almost instantaneously. The land becomes very much like what it would have been whether or not it had been humanized. Such transformations suggest that washout is also a function of the extent to which a system instantiates a pattern it would have displayed absent some relatively recent humanization. A fourth factor affecting washout is the extent to which natural processes rework an humanized area, whether or not the result instantiates what it would have been absent humanization. For example, Dartmoor has recovered more of its lost wildness than has the cliffs of Mount Rushmore because natural processes have been more successful in changing the humanized state.

We think that restoring wolves to Yellowstone is a case in which additional human activity can help humanization washout of a natural system. The human involvement in the restoration does initially subtract from wildness in important respects: humans transporting wolves from Canada into the park, attaching radio collars to the animals, and then tracking their movements involves additional and significant human activity in natural systems and it alters natural systems as they are currently constituted. Yellowstone would become wilder sooner if wolves returned without human assistance. Still, we believe this additional human activity will eventually decrease the degree to which Yellowstone is a humanized environment. By putting wolves back, we diminish the overall impact of humans on Yellowstone, much the way picking up litter in a forest diminishes the human impact on the forest or removing a dam reduces the human impact on a river—despite involving additional human activity. Contrast wolf restoration with introducing snow leopards into Yellowstone. Wildness value counts significantly in favor of wolf restoration rather than snow leopard introduction because wolves and not snow leopards would have been in Yellowstone today. An ecocentrism based on stability would have no reason to support putting back the native species rather than a functionally equivalent exotic.


We have argued that an ecocentric ethic that emphasizes the value of wildness of natural systems has a number of virtues in comparison with traditional ecocentrism. Most importantly, it avoids the ecologically and philosophically troubling assumptions that natural systems worthy of protection are integrated and stable. Moreover, by focusing on wildness, ecocentrism can avoid the counterintuitive result that humans can improve ecosystem’s value by increasing their integrity, stability, biodiversity, and so on. An ecocentrism that emphasizes wildness allows for a more ambivalent assessment of restoration than the overly sanguine approach resulting from traditional ecocentrism.

We have shown how focusing ecocentrism on the wildness of natural systems can explain a wide range of intuitions, including beliefs about our obligations to preserve and restore natural systems like Yellowstone. We have also shown how common objections to emphasizing wildness can be avoided. It seems unwise to ground ecocentrism in general theories, such as the ecology of stability or the ecology of instability, when nature displays so much variation and complexity. Powerful intuitions about the value of wildness that are accepted by many people can provide that grounding. Other values can also play important roles in a fully developed ecocentric ethic, though, if we are right, their roles will usually depend on wildness.

[Ned Hettinger, Philosophy Department, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424; Bill Throop, Philosophy and Environmental Studies, Green Mountain College, Poultney, VT 05764. The authors thank Baird Callicott, Gary Comstock, Todd Grantham, Carl Whitney, two referees for Environmental Ethics, Wayne Ouderkirk and Brian K. Steverson, and especially Holmes Rolston, III, for stimulating comments and criticisms. We also benefitted from discussing these ideas with audiences at Baylor University and Texas A & M University and at meetings of the Society for Conservation Biology and the International Society for Environmental Ethics.]

Chapter 11. A Sketch of Wildism in Contrast to Leftism


A friend recently sent me an email in which she complained about the poverty of Wildist critiques of leftism:

You and other wildists have spent a lot of time articulating what leftism is so that you can later say “we are not that.” And usually your rebuke of leftism is hardly explained well. The only real reason I understand is that it inundates a movement with all sorts of causes, so weakens the one or two most important ones. But it’s obvious you reject leftism for more reasons than just that. And even if those reasons were clear, you would be better off explaining what you’re for, since any number of political belief systems could be “non-leftist,” and if what your [sic] for really has no similarity to left-wing groups, they would not be attracted to it anyway.

My friend is correct that, now that the critique of leftism is out of the way, Wildism should devote more time and energy to explaining what Wildism is. In this essay, I do not intend to give an exhaustive exposition of all the principles of Wildism and their consequences, but I do hope to give the general character and approach of the Wildist ideology, especially in the places that it differs from the left. In this way we might take some steps toward a positive articulation of our ideology and, consequently, the way it differs from some other non-leftist ideologies as well, such as laissez-faire libertarianism.

But first, a note on why it was necessary to begin with a critique of leftism. I believe that my friend has undeserved faith in the left to recognize its incompatibility with a given ideology and to walk away from the ideology without conflict. As Ted Kaczynski pointed out in “Industrial Society and Its Future,” as ltimo Reducto pointed out in “Leftism,” and as a recent study on “victimhood culture” on college campuses pointed out[102] , the psychological character of the contemporary left is characterized largely by a quest for power. Of course, the left’s ideological battles against sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. are serious commitments for many, especially among the oversocialized; but the quest for power as an underlying psychological motive often determines how those battles play out. For example, if the left were seriously committed to ending sexism and racism, you would think they would dedicate most if not all of their time attacking the most powerful structures in our society producing these ills. Instead, a significant portion of the left focuses on attacking relatively powerless or insignificant figures or groups. For example, at a recent Earth First! Rendezvous (2015), a clique of rather noxious individuals threw a great fit about the white people with dreadlocks. A leftist might be able to look at this event positively: perhaps, he might think, we have done so well at achieving our goals that these white people are the only ones left to attack. But given the race riots that have recently flared up all over the US, I think we can all agree that this perspective would be delusional, and the unpleasant individuals throwing their temper tantrum could have engaged in much more productive work. Another example: earlier this year a petition began circulating that called for an all-white, all-male rock band named “Black Pussy” to change its name or suffer a boycott. The petition got significant press, and at least one venue cancelled on the band after complaints and threats.[145][103] One Faceb ook event description for a protest against the band called the band’s refusal to change their name “an act of racialised, sexist violence.”[104] All this, despite the band not being well known before the petition and almost definitely benefitting from the controversy. These kinds of things are typical of the contemporary left, and it is because a significant amount of left-wing activists are more interested in getting fulfillment from exercising collective power than they are interested in the actual cause they profess to be fighting for.[105]

The underlying quest for power means that at least a faction of the left often flocks to movements once they begin to become influential, and sometimes this includes movements that are decidedly not leftist in character to begin with. An elegant example of this can be seen in the history of Earth First!, which provides us with historical evidence that even if a movement’s original principles are not compatible with leftist values and currents, the movement may still become subject to “leftist swarm.”[106] This might occur for no other reason than the leftist need to embark on a noble crusade to eradicate all the perceived evil - isms from a movement. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance to clearly and explicitly articulate a rejection of leftism, and to maintain due diligence in avoiding the terrible disease of “leftist swarm.”

There is an added complication. Several currents in the “New Left” talk about “rejecting leftism” and have the delusional belief that they themselves are not part of the left-wing. (This is especially popular amongst anarchists and New Left types.) Usually these currents mean three things by “the left.” First, they sometimes mean only the most innocuous of left-wingers, the liberals or progressives, who are derided because they are “not radical enough.” Oftentimes the progressive application of left-wing values (through NGOs, international bodies like the UN, etc.) are seen as “co-optation” of left-wing struggles. But this is not “co-optation” in the normal sense. Che Guevara t-shirts are an example of capitalist co-optation: they depict and idealize a left-wing hero, but only after he has been drained of all meaning and detached from any significant challenge to capitalism. The “co-optation” of NGOs and international bodies, however, are real applications of left-wing values. Survival International really does want to see an eradication of “settler culture”; the NAACP really does want to see black equality in the US; and the UN really is fighting for gender equity, among other things. They may have differences with more extreme left-wing groups concerning analysis and strategy, but the values are basically the same. The second use of the term “leftist,” as it is used by other leftists, refers to the “Old Left.” Usually the cited reasons for rejecting the Old Left include its reliance on hierarchical organizations (or even “organization” itself), its emphasis on ideology rather than “lived experience,” and its focus on the working class rather than a focus on “all forms of oppression.” Finally, not everyone on the left likes the power-seekers who spend more energy attacking other leftists and left-wing movements than they do governments and elite classes. Oftentimes these people are derided as “identity politicians” or something else, but sometimes they are the meaning behind a left-winger’s confusingly derogatory use of the term “leftist.” All this again indicates that without an explicit statement of what leftism is and an accompanying rejection of it, a movement could easily become vulnerable to left-wingers and their web of causes. For all these reasons, we started with a statement of rejection and are now moving on from there.


We can divide the tenets of a political ideology into two categories: analysis and values. Analysis concerns an understanding for what is: where does the problem come from, how can it be solved, etc. Values, on the other hand, are the principles, objects, or qualities that the group that believes the ideology holds in high regard. The two categories are not strictly separate of course. For example, the question “What is the problem?” involves both analysis and values. And since analysis is an epistemological issue, it involves at least an implicit set of “epistemological values” such as a preference for simplicity, scope, etc. But the categories are separate more or less, which ends up meaning that two ideologies can have an identical analysis but diverge in extreme ways because of a difference in values, and vice versa.

The Wildist analysis relies on the principles behind scientific materialism and— especially—one of its most important theories, the theory of evolution. Scientific materialism is simply the idea that all things in the universe are material (i.e., made of matter or energy) and all phenomena are a result of material processes. (This idea cannot be absolutely proven, nor, for that matter, can any of our knowledge, but, as I explain in “The Revolutionary Importance of Science,” this is not a very strong argument against it.) Our scientific materialism also comes with a set of epistemological values that prefer “accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness”[107] (or, as the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos put it, “predictive” and “explanatory power”[108]; and it accepts, at least by way of a modest metaphor, that an “out there” exists, and that we can both discover it and more or less accurately represent it with our language, theories, and models.[109]

The Wildist analysis also relies on a concept called “consilience,” which is, according to Merriam-Webster, “the linking together of principles from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory.” In other words, it is the belief that our ideas about culture should not contradict our ideas about psychology, which should not contradict our ideas about biology, which should not contradict our ideas about physics, and so on; rather, all these disciplines should complement and inform each other.[110] This is an especially important principle to keep in mind when trying to understand social processes and culture, since a lot of literature on the subject agrees with Emile Durkheim’s opposite idea that social phenomena are autonomous from the material world and can therefore only be explained by other social phenomena[111]. For example, Durkheim’s idea, or a version of it, is the inspiration for the alleged difference between sex and gender, with idealist theorists often claiming that gender is completely unrelated to sex, or, at the very least, that gender, a “social construct,” is best explained by other social phenomena, like power. In contrast to Durkheim’s idea, an analysis of social life that is consilient with other scientific disciplines can be found, for example, in the work of evolutionary psychologists, who point out that many ideas around gender are rooted in material sex differences[112]. In fact, a consilient view, such as the one offered by Diane Halpern in Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities[113] , would find that even the division between gender and sex is dubious.

Scientific materialism immediately separates Wildism from the majority of other ideologies in existence today, including all ideologies that believe in a supernatural realm and those that believe in a realm autonomous from material processes. The former includes almost every religion, except for a small group of quasireligions like Unitarian Universalism (and even then only some of the time). The second includes many leftist currents, including the social constructionism common among feminists, and orthodox Marxism, which relies on “the dialectic.” Indeed, the left has had a rather tumultuous relationship with Darwin’s idea of evolution. The Soviet communists called genetics “a bourgeois pseudoscience” and replaced Darwinian evolution with Lamarckism and Lysenkoism. And the anarchists were so upset at Darwin’s recognition that competition played the dominant role in evolution that one anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, outlined his alternative theory that cooperation was just as important a factor, if not more important[114]. Even today, Marxists like Stephen Jay Gould continue to have trouble accepting the full implications of evolutionary psychology.[115]

Some important clarifications: we do not believe that science and reason have any intrinsic morality, nor do we believe that education based on the principles of science and reason will somehow eradicate the “darker” sides of human behavior (i.e., usually the sides of human nature that are an obstacle to the proper functioning of civilization). These are all delusional Enlightenment ideas, and they have been partially debunked by science itself.

By “science,” we mean “scientific thinking,” and when we advocate scientific thinking, we are only necessarily advocating it for the small group of revolutionaries dedicated to aiding the collapse of industry. This is because science, despite its real problems, is simply the best tool we have to understand our reality, explain it, and in some limited ways predict it. This matters for revolutionaries in particular, because without a proper understanding of reality, they significantly increase their likelihood of failure. Think of the countless hours rev-olutionaries with a religious ideology have spent praying, studying scriptures, or doing some other task that does little to breed useful knowledge for their cause. Furthermore, without scientific reasoning or some measure by which to evaluate empirical claims, we are left politically impotent: the king who claims he has divine authority, the climate-change deniers, the touters of racist pseudoscience all have as much claim to truth as we. Obscuring the truth has been a great tool for the powerful to exercise their power over mystified populations.

Of course, these reasons for a scientific analysis means that we believe it would benefit most people in their day-to-day lives in some way. However, and this point cannot be overstated, the goal of Wildism is not to indoctrinate or evangelize to the general population; it is to have a tangible effect on the functioning of industrial society. For various reasons, an ideology is conducive to this goal, but for the most part these reasons do not make it necessary for anyone beyond the core of committed revolutionaries to believe it.

And finally: we do not advocate scientific exploration at the expense of freedom and wild Nature. It is utterly disgusting to tear up a forest for a massive lab that will only be used as a playground for technocratic physicists who like to smash atoms together. What is worse still is that the findings of those physicists contribute to some of the most dangerous threats we face today. Knowledge is important, but we must always ask, “Knowledge at what cost?” Thus, the importance of values.


A different analysis alone does not differentiate us from leftism. Indeed, many of the most convincing left-wing currents agree with our analysis one-hundred percent, but their values result in different obligations and conclusions regarding the same issues. In the following paragraphs we will examine the political views of Peter Singer, Steven Pinker, and Noam Chomsky, three people who believe in scientific materialism yet maintain left-wing viewpoints. While we review their beliefs, keep in mind the three values that ltimo Reducto discerned were present in all forms of leftism: equality, indiscriminate solidarity, and justice (or “liberation”) for victims or alleged victims[116].


ltimo Reducto pointed out to me that he wrote “identification with or solicitude towards victims or alleged victims,” which is different from both “justice” and “liberation.”

In 1999 Peter Singer published a book entitled A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation, in which he argued that the left should not:

Deny the existence of a human nature, nor insist that human nature is inherently good, nor that it is infinitely malleable;

Expect to end all conflict and strife between human beings, whether by political revolution, social change, or better education;

Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in every case. . .[117]

. . . and that the left should use knowledge of human nature to better actualize its values, one of the most notable being compassion for victims. Indeed, in his book Singer defines the left by this value: “If we shrug our shoulders at the avoidable suffering of the weak and the poor, of those who are getting exploited and ripped off, or who simply do not have enough to sustain life at a decent level, we are not of the left.”

Singer argues against an appeal to nature—that what is natural is good—and says that despite the fact that competition is a central part of evolution, the left should “promote structures that foster cooperation rather than competition.” This echoes statements made by Richard Dawkins, who has said we humans 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.”[118] All these goals, Singer argues, would be easier to achieve with a proper understanding of reality.

Singer outlines his idea of equality, which is “not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans” but “a prescription of how we should treat human beings.”[119] Of course, the idea of granting equal moral consideration to every human being is rather new. But Singer is also the author of a book The Expanding Circle, in which he argues that, although altruism developed in order to protect kin and community members, this biological inclination is now the basis for an ethical choice that expands the circle of moral consideration to all human beings and even, as Singer argued in another book, to animals.[120] (This is to what ltimo Reducto refers when he mentions indiscriminate solidarity.) The expansion of our moral circle is, according to Singer, a sign of “moral progress,” which we achieve through the application of our reasoning abilities.

Pinker has similar opinions as Singer. For example, he says of equality: “The ideal of political equality is not a guarantee that people are innately indistinguishable”; rather, “it is a policy to recognize inalienable rights in all people by virtue of the fact that they are sentient human beings.”[121] The mission to institute policies and structures that include all vulnerable populations into this vision is, according to Pinker, an important part of achieving the ideal. Again, in this he is in complete agreement with Singer. What Pinker does better than Singer, however, is illustrate the infrastructure, organization, and complexity necessary to achieve and maintain an expanded moral circle. More on this later.

Chomsky is not much different from the other two in his beliefs. I only mention him here because he is loved by (or at worst innocuous to) most portions of the left; Singer and Pinker, on the other hand, have received very significant and visceral hatred from factions on the left, so a left-winger reading this essay might be tempted to say that what I have written here does not accurately represent leftist views. I doubt anyone can say such a thing about Chomsky. Chomsky also offers to us an added insight into the left-wing idea of equality, which is only vaguely articulated sometimes because of the discrepancy in possible meanings:

The distinction between equality of condition and equality of rights loses its apparent sharpness when we attend to it more closely. Suppose that individuals, at each stage of their personal existence, are to be accorded their intrinsic human rights; in this sense, “equality of rights” is to be upheld. Then conditions must be such that they can enjoy these rights. To the extent that inequality of condition impairs the exercise of these rights, it is illegitimate and is to be overcome, in a decent society. What, then, are these rights? If they include the right to develop one’s capacities to the fullest, to realize what Marx calls the “species character” of “free conscious activity” and “productive life” in free associations based on constructive, creative work, then conditions must be equalized at least to the rather considerable extent required to guarantee these rights, if equality of rights is to be maintained. The vision of the left, then, blurs the distinction between equality of rights and condition, denies that inequality of endowment merits or demands corresponding inequality of reward, rejects equality of condition as a principle in itself, and sees no intellectual dilemma in the conflict between egalitarian principles, properly understood, and variability of endowment. Rather we must face the problems of a repressive and unjust society, emerging with greater clarity as we progress beyond the realm of necessity.[122]

Now, I promised in the introduction that most of this essay would be spent outlining what Wildism is, not what leftism is, and we will certainly get to that. But the previous exposition was not only necessary to accent the ways Wildist values contrast from the left; the exposition was also necessary to make an added point about why criticizing leftist values is such a priority. The leftism outlined above is, with only minor deviations some of the time, the dominant ideology of contemporary industrial civilization. That is not to say that it is the most common ideology, although that certainly may be true, depending on the scope of consideration. No, leftism is “dominant” in the sense that it has extraordinary persuasive power, general acceptance, and naturalized tenets. In other words, it is “dominant” in the sense of power, not numerical superiority. Just think: even if in practice a man grants greater moral consideration to his family and close friends, he will not question the dominant assertion that all of humanity deserves equal moral consideration. And even though politically significant ideologies that do challenge this claim operate in our world, they are certainly not the ideologies preached by the UN, NGOs, the mass media, or the elite classes. As Kaczynski points out in “The System’s Neatest Trick,” some self-professed radicals have been duped by this ideology just as effectively as the supposed non-radicals. And we can see the likes of Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Murray Bookchin, and now even the Pope spewing out a grotesque blend of green convictions and red socialism that further obscures the problem. Wildism attacks leftism because, more than any other ideology, its promises of inclusion, an expanding circle, and moral progress are vehicles of legitimacy for more of the technological infrastructure that is tearing apart our wild earth. For this reason it must be rejected, delegitimized, and sent to the burning fires of hell where it belongs.


Now we’re going to move into the realm of tangible facts, which, as I mentioned earlier, is difficult for some factions of leftism. The factions that disagree with the facts and their proposed explanations as stated here should be dismissed from the reader’s mind, as they are not the factions meant to be represented in this section. Rather, the important part of this section is where we differ from the scientific left in how our values are applied to the facts, and what moral obligations this application produces.

Violence has generally decreased since the advent of human civilization. This fact is disputed by some, but, with a few notable exceptions, the ones who dispute this are usually accompanied by profound ideological commitments (e.g., indigenous rights activists). Otherwise, I have heard nothing but support for this idea from credible sources, many of them skillfully collected and presented together in the book The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker. In Better Angels, Pinker makes the case that the advent of the state, democracy, communications technologies, and so on bring a decreased chance of a violent death to individuals within the realm of influence of those exogenous factors. This contributes to the overall trend of violence decreasing amongst all humans worldwide.

Pinker points out six statistically significant trends—the Pacification Process, the Civilizing Process, the Humanitarian Revolution, the Long Peace, the New

Peace, and the Rights Revolutions —and he dedicates one chapter to each. For example, the chapter dedicated to the Pacification Process outlines the effect the advent of the state has had on violent deaths. Pinker spends this chapter explaining the evolutionary logic behind violence and presenting various statistics concerning homicide amongst hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies, both prehistoric and modern. The presence of a state has a striking effect (see Figure 1). Pinker also suggests that another statistically significant trend, during which people denounced torture and the like, was caused largely by the advent of new communications technologies, such as books, which helped sustain an expanded moral circle that was mentioned earlier.

5*mr Nahar Rai, India, 3140-850 BCE

Northeast Mains. 148s CE rWbart.Dnk.. «ioo BCE Bogebalclien, Onk. 4300-3S00 BCE

SkatelKlm I. Sweden. 4100 BCE

S. California, aS sites. 3500 BCE-13S0CE

Kentuelty. 1750 BCE

Cli. California. 1500 BCE -1500 CE CalumMla, Algeria, $300-5 joo BCE Ctl. California, i sites. 240-1770CE Nubia, nr site 117,12^00-10,000 BCE

Arg. zi prehistory archaeolofiica! site

Arg 10 hunterhort & tnbul

Ancent Memo. before tsooCE

. . . And so on. I’m not going to try to restate Pinker’s whole argument here. The book is over 800 pages and jampacked with numbers, graphs, and citations, so a summary within a short essay would hardly do it justice. But suffice it to say that the book is convincing, as are his many sources, including Homicide by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson; War before Civilization by Lawrence Keeley; Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War by J. Mueller; the Hu@@@man Security Report Pro ject; and so on.

So what are we to make of all this? The main lesson to be learned is that leftist values cannot be instituted without artificial infrastructure to uphold them. The value of “peace” is the most obvious example, as it is the subject of the book, but this lesson applies to other values as well. For example, for “humanity” to be a

valid unit of moral consideration, as is required for the humanism that sprung out of the Enlightenment, there must be some sort of communications infrastructure in place to constantly reinforce this idea; similar reasoning applies to the human rights revolutions occurring right now, both partially spurned on and reinforced by digital communications technologies. Should infrastructure break apart so as to make concern for all of humanity impractical, it is unlikely (I don’t think it is a stretch to say “impossible”) for such a morality to arise. Consider the absurdity of the people of ancient Egypt being concerned with the welfare of gays in the Indus Valley, or even the people as a whole, to the extent that NGOs are concerned with the welfare of “developing” nations today.

Of course, this is all a matter of values. If you are not concerned with the creation of bubbles of artifice to escape, albeit temporarily, the ins-and-outs of wild Nature, or if you think this is a small price to pay for peace, solidarity, justice, and equality, then there is no arguing with you. Someone can either agree with the value you place on those things or he can’t. And being a Wildist means the latter. A Wildist accepts only wild Nature as his primary value; all other values are subordinate. Insofar as the actualization of specific values implies development against wild Nature, those values are incompatible with Wildism.

But why do we value wild Nature so much? This question invokes the core issue of ethics: intrinsic versus extrinsic value. The topic has been sub jected to much debate over the years without any clear answer arising, so in many ways this question is unanswerable. However, two points are relevant here.

One, any moral system has to rest on first principles that cannot be proven. At some point we have to take the position that some thing or action is valuable in itself, where its value cannot be derived from anything else. This is the point at which we have reached “intrinsic value.” There is no way of getting around it. There is a similar problem in science, which was outlined by the philosopher David Hume. Hume pointed out that empirical knowledge comes from our senses, but that there is no real reason to trust our senses. Because of this, the position of radical skepticism is irrefutable. Yet, no one lives out their day to day lives as a radical skeptic. We simply accept that empirical knowledge is valid (or we do not).

Second, we might ask what imbues something with intrinsic value, according to Wildism, and this is best explained by way of analogy. A left humanist places intrinsic value on those things that have the ability to flourish and the ability to experience pain. Traditionally this has included only humans, but the question of what has the ability to flourish and experience pain is at least partially a scientific one, and as a result some circles have expanded the humanist project to include some kinds of animals. In a similar way, a Wildist places intrinsic value on those things that are natural (in the sense of “non-artificial”) and have the capacity to be wild (in the sense of “autonomous”). Thus, just as the flourishing of human (or sentient) beings is primary for the left humanist, the wildness of Nature is primary for the Wildist. This would include the non-artificial aspects of human beings (called their “human nature”), it would include ecosystems such as those in the Grand Canyon or the Amazon rainforests, and so forth. There is always going to be some level of ambiguity in the Wildist ethic, just as with the humanist ethic there is ambiguity over which animals are sentient and which are not. These ambiguities are an indication that we should tread lightly and take potential consequences seriously, but they do not by themselves invalidate an ethical system.


There are some consequences of the Wildist ideology that are mentioned frequently enough to bring up here. Still, keep in mind that the core value is wild Nature itself, especially since the following concepts have been interpreted in many ways that do not consider wild Nature primary, such as the concept of freedom.

First, Wildists emphasize the individual and his relations (“allegados” in the writings of the Spanish Wildists). “Relations” is perhaps a vague term, but it is all that is left after the fascists have taken “kith and kin” to reference their respective racial groups. A man’s “relations” are different than a racial group, as a relation can be anyone with whom one has a deep and powerful connection. (Racial solidarity is, like solidarity amongst all humans, indiscriminate solidarity.) 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. This number, by the way, is known as “Dunbar’s number,” conceived of by the anthropologist Robin Dunbar in his article “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates.” Other similar studies report higher estimates, but as far as I know they never exceed 300.

It is clear that civilization, and especially industrial civilization, is abrasive towards or, at worst, destructive of the individual and his relations. 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. Industry requires that an individual’s loyalty to his relations be kept at a non-threatening level or that the loyalty be broken down completely. Kaczynski writes more about this in “Industrial Society and Its Future,” although he refers to “relations” as “small groups.”

Another consequence of wild Nature as a primary value is the veneration of freedom (defined in the Statement of Principles as the autonomy of human nature, or the non-artificial part of humans). This is related to the above point, which advocates for the autonomy of the individual and his relations, even at the expense of larger social structures. Primitive man had a fairly reasonable amount of control over the circumstances of his own life. He could make decisions about when to eat, how to eat, what to eat; he could decide whether to engage in warfare or not; and so on. In modern industrial society, man’s choice is restricted by large corporations and governments. Even a man who has es-caped into the forest to live alone cannot avoid the consequences of industrial development, if not directly, then indirectly from pollution, possible disasters, climate change, and so on. One might correctly point out that primitive man’s choice was restricted by nature, and technology would allow him to escape from this restriction. But as I stated a few paragraphs above, the primary value is wild Nature, so this is, to a Wildist, acceptable.

The value system might seem absurd. Why would someone detest restrictions enforced by an artificial system but be okay with the restrictions caused by wild Nature? But consider this idea again, keeping in mind that it operates in many places. Today there are men and women all over who go into the wilderness for what they describe as freedom and peace of mind. But certainly the crickets at night are not peaceful and the winters are not always conducive to freedom. Yet these same men and women often detest the noise and restrictions from civilization: the noise of development and cars, the smothering atmosphere of modern work, and so on.

Some explanations for why humans tend to behave in these ways come from the theory of evolution. If we evolved for thousands and millions of years as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the Pleistocene, then unless our physical bodies are changed through technics, we are bound to desire or require many things that are actualized by that way of life. Consider, for example, the work in evolutionary aesthetics, which suggests that many ideas about beauty are innate to human beings, the result of physiological responses that evolved in response to our Stone Age environments[123]. These kinds of explanations are not sufficient, however, since some of valuing wild Nature comes from the application of reason, not direct experience, emotion, or intuition. One might compare this to the way empathic abilities have sometimes granted left humanist movements potency, as did the emotions stirred by Uncle Tom’s Cabin during the abolitionist movement, even though the philosophy of humanism stands or falls based on abstract moral reasoning, like the concept of rights and sovereignty.

It is more of this abstract moral reasoning that is required to solidify the foundations of Wildism, and now that the critique of leftism has been solidified, there is room for such an endeavor. Hopefully this essay has provided a foundation for us to take our first steps in that direction and toward a wild world.

For the wild,

John Jacobi, September 2015

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

Published by The Wildist Institute

2016 CC-BY 4.0

ISSN 2470-0452

Table of Contents


1. Introducing Hunter/Gatherer

2. Our Strategy, 2016 — John Jacobi, Jeremy Grolman, Alex Kellogg


3. The Foundations of Wildist Ethics — John Jacobi

4. The Fable of Managed Earth — David Ehrenfeld


5. In Memory of Doug Tompkins — Paul Kingsnorth


6. Briefly Noted

Published by The Wildist Institute www.wildism.org

Unless otherwise noted, all content is licensed under the CC-BY 4.0 license. The authors retain the copyright.

Introducing Hunter/Gatherer

AFTER closing down The Wildernist, a student conservation magazine I ran from 2014-2016, I wanted to start another journal, this time more scholarly and focused exclusively on fleshing out the main ideas of wildist conservationism. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that there are too few wildists out there for the journal to start off as developed as I would like. That was the whole reason for starting a popular magazine in the first place!

Still, shutting down the magazine was a good idea. Both I and the other executive editor found ourselves living drastically different lives than those we were living when we first started the project, and the publication's flow and structure were an odd fit for the new conditions. Furthermore, the magazine was an experiment that had by the third and final issue proven successful. We concluded that enough people care for the wild world, and enough evidence exists that it is being relentlessly trammeled by industry, that there is room for an uncompromising ethic to enter the stage and demand, with sacrifice to back it up, that the trammeling stop. This may or may not mean the end of industry wholesale, but if it does, and if this goal is feasible, then we ought to make it so.

Hunter/Gatherer, then, will focus exclusively on developing the implications of these ideas, but I will be writing most of the articles, at least at the beginning, simply because I am the only one of the people working on the project who writes well in English and enjoys it. But the publication is intended to be a forum for wildists, so more contributors are expected as it develops.

My long-term goal for the publication is to use it to consolidate wildist conservationists so that we might become a notable force within the movement. No one knows exactly what that will look like, of course, but hopefully it will become clearer with more issues of

Hunter/Gatherer. Until then, the goal is exclusively to develop a foundational and reasoned body of literature for future practical work to draw on. Thus, the intended audience is not the general public, but cadres of committed individuals willing to study the articles and, later at least, engage in whatever work is necessary to implement the ideas.

Please share this publication widely, and for more information, or to submit to the journal, email:

mailto:johnfjacobi@wildism.org][j ohnfj acobi@ wildism. or g.

For wild aatuee, John Jacobi, 2016

Our Strategy, 2016

John Jacobi, Jeremy Grolman, Alex Kellogg

Abstract—The Wildist Institute is an organization dedicated to spreading the ethical philosophy of wildism and helping create a movement able to pose a real challenge to the industrial destruction of wild nature. Towards these ends, this article is the Institute’s 2016 strategy.

I. What We’re Sure Of

This journal is meant to investigate what we don’t know, but there’s still quite a bit we’re sure of. For example, although we are trying to decide exactly what it means to be in conflict with industry (e.g., should we wait for collapse or instigate collapse where possible?), we are sure that we ought to preserve and restore nature from the remnants left. To this end, the Institute will be encouraging at least four kinds of work through Hunter/Gatherer.

First, of course, is conservation work. Conservation biologists have been essential in outlining the ways current industrial practices are incompatible with wild nature, destroying the wild to a degree offensive to just about anyone’s moral sense, if they have one. Furthermore, in the very act of protecting the things we love, conservation activists are bringing to the forefront the tension between nature and industry. What does it say about a civilization that extinction of non-human life is a normal part of its operation, and, worse, that con-servation of that life is completely at odds with it?

Second is journalistic work. So long as the journalists stick with the facts, not intentionally bending their narrative to fit their politics, their work should be as effective as the conservation biologists. On the other hand, if they lie or distort the facts, which, even apart from being unethical, is completely unnecessary, they’ll do more to inspire tension between the public and conservationists than the public and industry, hurting, rather than helping, the cause.

Third is academic work. Deep ecology has a strong academic base that sustains the intellectual foundations of the movement. There ought to be more concerted work being done specifically under the heading of wildism, particularly in the area of applied ethics.

Fourth, monkeywrenching can at times be a very effective tactic that we will not condemn, and in fact will report on when it is done strategically and for the sake of conscience, rather than the sake of simply breaking the law. What we will report on includes old tactics like tree spiking and sand in bulldozer tanks, but it also includes new tactics like whistleblowing and urban-oriented actions. We’re serious about the importance of conscience, though. Dave Foreman wrote a great piece on the topic entitled “The Perils of Illegality,” in which he wrote, “Be careful and deliberate in choosing the laws you break for ethical reasons, or the targets for monkeywrenching. Be sure you are justified, that you have exhausted every legal means.” Please also keep in mind that our domain of work is wholly legal and will remain that way.

Finally, we’re sure that all this work ought to be done on the basis of wildism. As explained in this issue’s “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” deep ecology has served its purpose, but it’s time to focus and to no longer obscure the incompatibilities between some deep ecologists, focused on a reasoned defense of wild nature, and most of the others, who belong to left humanist movements, who espouse social progressivism, or who are interested mostly in woo woo spirituality. Rather, our resistance must be based on scientific and reasoned principles, it must be concerned with increasing the autonomy of nature, and it must reject all narratives of progress, including and especially those of the social progressives.

II. Our Work

One of the aims of the Institute is to build the intellectual foundations for a movement that can pose a real threat to the industrial destruction of wild nature. The core of this is the ethical philosophy of wildism, but there are other important topics of investigation to work through as well. Most of this long-term work can be divided into three general categories—wildist ethics, scientific analysis, and conservation strategy— with three tangible counterparts—the ideology, the publication, and the conservation program and projects.

A. Wildist Ethics

Most of the foundational work in this category has been done and merely needs explication. This is a primary task of the first volume of Hunter/Gatherer, and it has mostly been done with “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” but no doubt some clarification essays will be necessary. After that, however, the foundations will have been set.

The next step will be to introduce wildism to environmental ethics journals. This will achieve many things, including increased credibility, a more distributed and therefore resilient movement infrastructure, and a greater field of influence. It will also ensure that the ideas will be long-lasting, since academic preservation practices are meant to withstand time. And, finally, it will allow people better acquainted and equipped to deal with philosophical conundrums relevant to wildism to address them and maybe even sort them out.

These first two steps are necessary to have a consistent and exact language for conversations about wildism among wildists, but the third step is to spread wildism outward, into the real world, most likely with accompanying activism. Earth First! did this with deep ecology, for example. (This is not to say that we need to do it the same way as Earth First! To the contrary, while Earth First! contributed a great to the movement for wild nature, much has changed, and our efforts must be properly attuned to the political landscape, both the broad, mainstream one, and the narrower, ecological one.)

B. Scientific Analysis

Theoretically there is a major gap that must be filled for wildists to make a proper analysis, namely, the gap in our knowledge of cultural and technical evolution. For this, there must be a synthesis between cultural ecology and sociobiology, as the former gives too little attention to human nature and the latter has major gaps that cultural ecology could fill. Those at the Institute are provisionally calling the synthesis “biocultural materialism.” Sometime in the near future we will be publishing reviews on the available literature to instigate work in this area.

A second area of focus should be on human nature. Sociobiology has the most to offer on this topic, and being familiar with the concepts of evolution, evolutionary psychology, game theory, and so forth should be necessary for most wildist cadres, especially those that do journalistic or theoretical work (and by default those that do scientific work).

Finally, of course, is the work of the conservation biologists, which is already well-understood.

C. Conservation Strategy

Much of the work in the area of conservation strategy will have to be highly innovative. This is especially true given the seriousness with which we at the Institute are outlining the utter incompatibility of industry and nature’s wildness. If our conclusion that the collapse of industry is our only way out sustains itself through critique, then clearly this will require some changes in strategy. Still, innovation is not our focus right now and won’t be for at least another year or two.

Our primary effort is building what we call the “tactical spectrum.” The concept is best explained by a David Brower quote:

The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We’re still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable.

In recent years, leftist swarm has successfully broken down this spectrum which used to unite radical and moderate efforts in the conservation and environmentalist movements. It is absolutely necessary that the spectrum be rebuilt and strengthened, because the time is indeed fast approaching for a movement that makes Earth First! seem reasonable. As discussed below, one of the primary ways to go about doing this is through tangible conservation projects.

D. The Role of the Ideology

Radical ideologies serve at least three functions that are relevant to us. First, they mobilize a small core of committed people, and are emphatically not for large-scale mobilization. They are important especially in asymmetric battles where the smaller side cannot rely too heavily, if at all, on the usual tools of hierarchical organization, bureaucracy, and so on. Instead, ideologies provide a sense of unity and a basis for independent but coherent and directed action without the overhead of bureaucratic management.

Wildism exists, then, to motivate only a small party of people. It’s not just that one can expect the party to be small; smallness is, in fact, desirable, since it allows quicker and more unified action. Thus, the party should not be afraid of factionalism per se. Minor disagreements should be no big deal, of course, but major disagreements that can’t be resolved in a timely manner would be better ended with a split. Because of the importance of ideology in maintaining the strength of the small side in an asymmetric conflict, a primary goal of the party should be to preserve a loyal core even at the expense of greater numbers. This is the first function of the ideology.

The second function is to allow the core to speak about relevant issues exactly and efficiently.

A different and looser approach is required for broad-based action, but even in the context of specific actions or conservation projects, wildist cadres should strive to make the wildist narrative the dominant one, where appropriate. Speaking in technical language is in most of these circumstances unnecessary or even harmful, but it is important to answer the public’s “Why?” with wildist answers that point out the tension between nature and industry, rather than, say, the social ecologist’s pro-socialist answers. To put it another way, if you throw a pie at a Jewish CEO, it matters whether your reason was that he was a CEO or whether it was that he was Jewish. Thus, the third function of the ideology is ensuring that the cited reasons for an action are well-reasoned and true.

E. The Role of the Publication

The publication is the most important project of the party. It always serves more than one function, and be-cause it is such a versatile tool, these often change with the shifting political landscape. Still, one consistent function it has is unifying the party with a single project that teaches members how they best work with each other and which keeps them consistently working on the stated cause.

The publication also provides a means to consolidate wildists. Whereas conservation projects and actions are usually geared toward the general public, the movement publication is for an internal audience. Public-facing publications should also exist, but are not the purpose of Hunter/Gatherer, at least at the moment. Most of the public-facing work should be done by cadres and individuals who read Hunter/Gatherer and can translate the ideas for the general public through projects, art, articles, speeches, etc.

The final function of the publication is, of course, to spread information and provide a forum for movement discussions.

A. The Role of Conservation Projects

Whereas the ideology and internal publication exist to consolidate and maintain networks, relationships, and infrastructure, more broad-based mobilization should be done through tangible conservation projects or specific actions with concrete goals. These sorts of projects allow a wider range of ideological opinions because, although a certain amount of unity is important, people mostly need to simply agree on the goal, no matter their stated reasons.

Given that the Institute’s primary focus is laying intellectual foundations, for now we will mostly be focused on ideology and the publication. Other tangible work we do will not innovate on conservation strategy much at all, and will stick with the normal goals of protecting wildlands, connecting habitats, conserving species, and so forth.

At some point we hope to produce a general program that will consolidate many of the grassroots efforts we are and will be involved with. This will build on much of the great work already being done by organizations such as The Wildlands Network, Yellowstone to Yukon, and The Rewilding Institute. But we will also try to fill in the gaps in the programs, such as the conspicuous absence of any mention of ocean life.

We will also work to develop effective talking points for the public. Some issues are complex and difficult to deliver in soundbites, but with care the gist of the argument can be delivered quickly and eloquently. To give just one example, in arguing that industry is incompatible with nature and nature’s wildness, we need not bring up arguments about technical and cultural evolution, we merely need to focus on technologies that function as “pressure points,” such as roads, mines, genetic engineering, agriculture, and dams.

I. The Big Questions

In addition to outlining the basic ideas of wildism, a goal of the first volume of Hunter/Gatherer is to intensely scrutinize the hypothesis that industrial collapse is the only way out of our ecological problems, and even more intensely scrutinize the hypothesis that we must therefore aid the process of collapse. While most of us are fairly convinced of this conclusion, its repercussions are too far-reaching for us to run with it without carefully considering the alternatives first. This is especially true in the case of aiding collapse— which could mean a broad range of things, many of them not what we espouse at all. To this end, we are putting effort into answering the following questions:

Is there any viable alternative to the collapse of industry given our stated values?

What are strong criticisms of the idea that collapse or aiding colS lapse is the solution to our ecolog<

ical problems? '

What is the moral difference between collapse happening and helping collapse along, if any?

How true are the Anthropocene booster’s claims that technology can decrease human impact on nature?

Individuals attempting to take on these questions will have to draw from a wide range of sources and fields, such as population ethics, the ethics of war, conservation science, and, in the case of the last question, technical and engineering sciences. This should consume at least a year of time, possibly more.

IV. Conclusion

The Institute is focused on issues that fall into three general categories: wildist ethics, scientific analysis, and conservation strategy. These roughly parallel the three components of our work, namely, our ideology, our publication, and our conservation projects and program. At the moment and into the near future, we will be focused on only the ethical and analytical components, working especially to ensure that we are correct when we say that the collapse of industry is our only way out, which could mean aiding collapse is a moral obligation. These immediate tasks should take at least a year or two.

This work is especially important in light of new revisionist ideologies and the left-wing takeover of en-vironmentalism. it is important to reinvigorate the tactical spectrum that once strongly united radical and moderate conservationists, and to build a group that can maintain that spectrum and function as the con-science of the conservation movement, guarding its critique from the revisionism of the boosters, the watered-down critique of the cowards, and the anathema that is leftism, so that we might move far, far away from this industrial disaster and toward a wild earth.


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 disc