Rewilding: A Radical Approach to Environmentalism?

“Rewilding” is a movement that is quickly picking up interest in avid environmentalist and survivalists alike. To “rewild” is to, according to, “reverse the process of domestication, or to return to a more self-willed state.”

The “domestication” mentioned here is often referred to as the general civilized state. Defining “civilization” based on its etymology and historical context rather than the generic dictionary which typically considers it to be “a highly advanced society.” However, using etymology and history, civilization actually refers to “city life” (“civilization,” see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state). A “city” is then known to be a large, permanent settlement that is often industrialized.

If at the core of rewilding is to abandon civilized life, the core of rewilding is to also be fluid and at least semi-nomadic. These aforementioned large, permanent settlements cannot sustain themselves without the agricultural industry (imagine everyone in Chicago attempting a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.) Renowned anthropologist Jared Diamond, as well as many others, have confirmed that crowding (city development) leads to agriculture, and agriculture leads to crowding. This required agriculture, the domestication of plants and animals as a steady food source, also led our species to domesticate ourselves. Prior to agriculture, hunter-gatherer societies were as free as the game they hunted. At the advent of city life and agriculture, soon after came the concept of “work” (many indigenous societies do not have a word for “work” in their language, as their daily tasks are enjoyed and can be seen as “play.”). With a working people soon arose class structure. There became those who worked and those who governed. Along with class structure came classism and the abuse of power. While in many nomadic societies everyone was treated equally for there was no reason not to be, civilized life required the development of gender roles: Men became workers and women stayed home enduring pregnancy after pregnancy (due to a decreased life expectancy during this transition to civilization, as crowding is well-known to dramatically increase the spread of disease and the hygienic practices that came along with this transition were far from being adequate, women had several children knowing that many would not survive into adulthood and more young males were needed to assist in the working fields). With a civilized life requiring such separation of its people and organization, it is considered by many to be the cause of sexism and racism, as civilizations that became industrial quickly took to global exploration and colonialism which led to these civilizations encountering people who would soon be used for slave labor.

“Many of the crises we see in the 21st century, I would argue, have their roots in the dawn of the Neolithic.” -Anthropologist Spencer Wells

Perhaps in today’s modern industrial societies the desire to return to a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle would be deemed “extremist.” But if one is to make such an accusation, I must then evaluate the lifestyle which is considered “normal.”

Prior to civilizations, especially industrialism:

  • The Holocene extinction did not exist.
  •  Heart disease, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, and cancers were rare.
  • There were not 7,292,099,776 people on the planet.
  • The Great Famine never happened, and could not have (due to hunter-gatherers not relying on agriculture and mass monocrops, but rather diverse local wildlife).
  • Homelessness was unheard of, as there was no real private property.
  • Weapons of mass destruction did not exist.
  • War and crime seldom occurred, and as such…
  • There were no prisons.
  • The concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere was not more than 100ppm higher than any time in the past million years.
  • The human brain had not lost mass equivalent to a tennis ball.

Our species is dying whilst killing everything around us. Humans are suffering. This is “extremist.” Simply desiring returning to the way our species had been living for thousands of years successfully and sustainably is not “extreme.” It is logical. 

“The tribal life and no other is the gift of natural selection to humanity. It is to humanity what pack life is to wolves, pod life is to whales, and hive life is to bees. After three or four million years of human evolution, it alone emerged as the social organization that works for people. People like the tribal organization because it works equally well for all members.” -Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure

For more information, consider reading the following:

  • Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race by Jared Diamond
  • Against Civilization by John Zerzan
  • Endgame by Derrick Jensen
  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
  • The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • Rewild or Die by Urban Scout