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Wildhood is kinship of the wild in all people, places, and things.

What it Means to Rewild


Welcome the wild.

What it Means to Rewild

Mark Douglas

Kahn, Jr., P. H., & Hasbach, P. H. (2013). The rewilding of the human species. In The rediscovery of   the wild, Kahn, Jr., P. H. & Hasbach, P. H. (Eds.), 207-232. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Kahn Jr. and Hasbach (2013) lay out five primary ideas:

1) We, the people, need to be more passionate and we're better served to find healty ways to express our most primal passions like sex and aggression.
2) We, the people, are too timid about primal fear. We're afraid of fear itself. Fear can be an influential and truthful catalyst.
3) We need to avoid sanitizing urges and become more comfortable with soil ourselves.
4) We need to squash beefed up hierarchies. 
5) We need to understand that technology clouds reality.

The authors note the absurdity of making a rational, reasoned, and logical case for something as primal and emotional as human wild being. On account of this inherent drama, they seek literary examples of the phenomana at hand, wildhood.

1) Primal passion

Faulkner's (1961) The Bear demonstrates primal attunement. The bear itself, Old Ben, stands in for the primal. "The bear becomes the embodiment of the untamed, unmanaged, and not encompassed, part of the more than human world that can never be known, not fully" (K&H, p. 209).  When K&H say that "the bear found the hunters within his time and purporse" (p. 209), what they mean is that the bear was boss object among objects. In the realm or world of Old Ben, the hunters show up as entities among entities in bearland. If we're using traditional Cartesian language, the hunters become objects in the subjectivity of the bear.

The Bear is partially a story of manhood, but if we drop the masculinity trip, we can see it truly as a tale of wildhood. The boy craves an encounter with a bear. The boy craves, in the language of snowmobile encounters in the wilds of Yellowstone Winter, a wildlife event. The boy asks his teacher, Ben, the part Chickasaw part Black wisdom holder. Ben told the boy that carrying a gun forecloses the possibility of a true bear event. "The boy had to relinquish control. That is primal" (K&H, p. 210). 

The releasement of ourselves to greater or lesser objects attunes us to primal encounters and events of true depth. The authors move on to what it's like to open yourself to the immensity of being under and within the night sky. And yet beyond releasement, the primal remains witheld by humanity.

Consider sexuality and aggression. If you say these have no place in common culture then good luck with the repression campaign because lingerarie stores and pay-per-view cage fights say otherwise. Where K & H end up is in celebration of mutual reciprocity expressed sexually or agressively. I'd offer the events of The Rocky Horror Show as further evidence of this dimension of wildhood. "Imagine, then, a person using another person, yet based on a moral reciprocity that is itself based on responsible use" (K&H, p. 212). Sounds like leave no trace for your body as wonderland. 

This moral reciprocity hinges on flickering objectivity, that is, iridescence. You become comfortable with being both a witheld being untameable by the other while simultaneously giving yourself over to the other.

Janet struggles with the fear that she's lost that essential being witheld by all objects.

            You tricked me - I wouldn't have -
            I've never - never

            I know.  But it wasn't all bad was it?
            In fact, I think you found it quite pleasurable.
            Mmmmm so soft, so sensual.

    He re-commences making love to her.

            Oh - Oh - no - stop - I mean help.
            I - Brad - Oh.
                (she shouts)

    FRANK places a finger on her lips.

            Ssssh.  Brad's probably asleep by now.  
            Do you want him to see you like this?

            Like this - like how?  It's your fault.
            You're to blame.
            I was saving myself.

            Well, I'm sure you're not spent yet.

Frank assuages her concern. Here's the matter as Kahn and Hasbach (2013) interpret it:

Perhaps it is first feeling confident in giving the other pleasure, and when that is substantiated and solidified psychologically the 'use' --the 'objectification'--of the loved one can occur, and in that context the other welcomes it, needs it, and that need drives the other forward as much as the forward motion drives the other, and the two become one with the one and within the other. (p. 212)

This is quite like the metaphorific relations amongst objects. How is metaphor a construction of "the beast with two backs"? Partners merge and a new element arises with distinct features apart from non-consensual integration by stapler.

2) Face fear itself

Basic premise: "we need to open ourselves up to fearing nature in an appropriate way" (K&H, p. 213). We need to face fear itself. We must, as the joker teases, become prey and "dance with the devil in the pale moonlight". The fight or flight impulse acts in truth. 

The authors then offer compelling social science evidence to accompany their position. Kahn and others (2008) identified coexisting fear and concern expressed by childeren toward bats. In their results, "45 percent said they 'kind of liked' the fear they felt with bats" (K&H, 2014, p. 214, citing K et al., 2008). 

Next the line is drawn between fear and paranoia. It's paranoia that catalyzes mob mentalities. Think of the whirlwind paranoia blowing over reactionary politics these days. "With the paranoia comes the drive to eradicate the source of the fear" (K&H, 2013, p. 215). 

3) Soil

K&H (2013) offer a New York Times story from 2009 (Applebome) to document what they call "The Tepid Pool". Graydon Pool in New Jersey is a 2.6 acre spring-filled and sand-bottomed swimming hole. The 21st century mores seemingly called for action and some folks "wanted to plow under this natural pool and replace it with a blue, concrete pool with 'thoroughly disinfected" chlorinated water. They called this a 'real pool'--a 'bona fide pool' " (K&H, p. 216, citing Applebome, 2009). It seems to be a systemization or taming of a wilder tradition. Traditionally, kids went swimming in Graydon pool as it was in itself. 

Rewilding calls "for greater variation and periodicity in the satisfaction of human needs as well as desires than what is considered normal today" (K&H, 2013, p. 216). Folks have fallen out of tune with and offstep from wilder ways of being in the world. Essentially, "through our agricultural and technological capabilities, however, we diminish as well as buffer ourselves from nature's rhythms and intensity" (p. 217). 

So in consideration of wildhood, ask yourself, "spring fed or chlorine clean?" And you don't need to go back to the Pleistocene and imagine proto people flinging loin clothes into the bushes before a dip. Choose whatever timestamp or cultural moment you like and consider the no action alternative. Which one makes sense, or which one cultivates meanings and practices by which you want your citizenry, as a people, to abide?

4) Squash beefy hierarchies

We worship the maximization of life. We can talk about it in terms of the will to power or the will to will or kinesis but the name of the game is life itself. It's all about happiness. Let's not ignore the dark side of the moon. 

It's a form of utilitarianism. "Patriarchial societies are 'rigidly male dominant' ...[with] 'hierarchic and authoritarian social structure' " (K&H, 2013, p. 218, quoting Eisler, 1987j p. xix). It's all about rank. It's epitomized in our religious and governance structures. "But male-dominant, hierarchical religious systems are actually quite recent in the evolution of our species" (p. 219). 

K&H tell us that these structures are founded near the emergence of agriculture. The begininng of the end as agriculture is also noted by ecological theorist, Tim Morton, with his idea of agrilogistics and his use of the Stoddard (2013) Dark Side of the Moon reinterpretation.

There seems to be a fundamental rift in the unities of linking and ranking. Eisler (1987) noted that during the Neolithic, "attitudes in which linking rather than ranking appears to have been predominant" (p. 27). Women in predominantly linking cultures are realized as powerful and associated with the generative force of life. The point is 

that hierarchical systems that thrive through the domination of people over other people, and particularly of men over women, and that are reified in most, if not all, of the major religions of the world today, do not reflect a natural order. ...If anything, these systems represent a perversion of primal energy. ...It is not a matter of going back to the social structure of hunter-gatherer times because we no longer are hunter-gatherers. ...But the solution, in no small way, involves flattening the social hierarchy, which includes revisioning, valuing, and affirming feminine principles and energy. (pp. 221-222)

Rewilding calls for flattened ontologies with moral reciprocity. Seeing things means first seeing women as more than things. It means realizing womanhood as "a primal woman with body and brains--one who is smart, powerful, beautiful, and seductive, and interested in partnership with others" (p. 224). 

5) Technology clouds reality

Their first point is that technology has a downside. Flashlights illuminate at the expense of constraining ocular attunement. It's harder to eyeball things at night with a torch. The problem is that "technology often leads us to control, dominate, and destroy the wild, or otherwise engage it less deeply" (pp. 225-226). 

Simulations of nature aren't all bad and Kahn and others (multiple citations) have the data to show it. Essentially, a "plasm nature window was better than no nature, but not as good as actual nature" (K&H, 2013, p. 227). This means that nature simulations are not even better than the real thing but they are better than nothing.

We are then offered the problem of *environmental generational amnesia*, or the erosion of nature's meanings. "The basic idea here is that each generation constructs a conception of what is environmentally normal based on the natural world encountered in its childhood" (p. 228). It suggests that we're thrown into a world with pre-structured understandings and relative notions of the environment and that these baselines temper our environmental perceptions. 

This means a specific challenge relative to increased augmentations and simulations of nature coupled with decreases in wildlands. It means more than different styles of environmental understanding. Imagine different environmental tastes akin to different musical tastes. Some prefer industrial death metal while others resonate with sounds akin to those found in the Songza playlist, Songs for a Woodland Clearing. Both are music enthusiasts with stylistic differences. But if music itself were in decline in terms of elegance and resilience then those born into worlds of boorish and flimsy music would have no sense of appreciation for Bach let alone the Beach Boys. 


The point is that the wildwise style one employs in their wildhood, in their attunement to the wild, is less important than the fact that we need folks attuned to the wild at all. Because as the wild itself is seemingly in decline itself in terms of elegance and resilience then those born into worlds of diminsished wildness would have no sense of appreciation for the Bob let alone a community park. One can make a similar agrument that the reason for conserving open space is because folks are becoming more accustomed to claustered space. The value of the open like the value of the wild only increases in the future. 

Wildhood is "a means of expression along with a way of experiencing the world that is uniquely powerful and beautiful in human life" (K&H, 2013, p. 228). Wildhood is at stake in an increasingly technological way of life.

At Last

"We can have it better than our ancestors did if we rediscover our ancestral wildness, and integrate many of those qualities and experiences into the structure of our scientific and technological selves" (K&H, 2013, p. 229).  Remember:

1) Primal passion;
2) Face fear itself;
3) Soil;
4) Squash beefy hierarchies;
5) Technology clouds reality.

The wild is kept by us and the wild is withheld in itself. It is other. We end with the withdraw of the bear, Old Ben. Faulkner (1961, pp. 202-203) uses a fish metaphor to imagine the way the bear "sunk back into the dark depths of its pool and vanished without even any movement". Just as Janet witholds something of herself from Frank, the wild is witheld. This "conveys another primal aspect of the wild, the movement back into mystery, into the 'dark depths' from which the Other comes, and the mysterious primal parts of ourselves, which we can never fully know" (K&H, 2013, p. 230).

As another Brad asks, "How am I not myself?" or "What am I withholding?"