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What is Wildism?

+4 votes
I've seen this term mentioned here and there, but I can't pinpoint what it means other than it may have something to do with rewilding. So, just curious if anyone on here knows.
asked Apr 16, 2016 by human (3,740 points)
Thanks. I'll have to read more in the first link, but the second link was overly hostile and described it as similar to primitivism. I sort of dismissed the 2nd link when the author broke out the tu quoque argument concerning anti-civ/primitivists and wildists.

Unrelated, but the 2nd link mentioned theunterrified. That dude all but upped and vanished. I wonder if something happened.
if anyone can find the differences between wildism, primitivism, and ... feralism, i think? i would love to hear them.

1 Answer

+4 votes

Hi, I'm John Jacobi, one of the main popularizers of wildism. The major text explaining wildist ideas is "The Foundations of Wildist Ethics" in the first issue of our journal, Hunter/Gatherer. Because it is long and can be simplified, I'll do that here. It really focuses on three elements: 

1. Acceptance of our material condition

We believe that the natural world is the real world. This is technically a philosophical jump, but there's no reason to get into all that here. What's important are the consequences of this philosophical naturalism: (1) nihilism, or the belief that there is no objective morality; (2) fatalism, or the belief that everything is predetermined, or at the very least it is outside of human control in any real sense; (3) philosophical pessmism, which is hard to explain, but I recommend reading the Wikipedia page; (4) psychological egoism, or the recognition that all desires, values, moral imperatives, etc. come from an individual's "will" or "nature," which combined with the rest of our philosophy (evolutionary perspectives, fatalism, etc.) is not something we can really choose. In other words, "You can do what you will, but you cannot will what you will." 

2. Rejection of all forms of progressivism

"The Myth of Progress" is defined as the belief that modifying and dominating nature is a moral imperative, a moral good. The dominant progressivist narrative today is humanism, which believes in the equal moral value of every human person. It is used to justify much of industrial development, since further development includes marginalized classes in industrial life, it is the only path forward for universal medicine, etc. We reject this. We believe it is dangerous to view nature, including human nature, as something to be "improved" upon, as if that were some kind of divine imperative. This includes ESPECIALLY social progressivism, such as ideologies like feminism, gay liberation, pro-democracy movements, etc. 

3. Acceptance of the imperative to rewild

Because our values come from our will, and because no morality is objective, wildists believe that those with a "wild will" or "indomitable spirit" have nothing holding them back from accepting in accordance to that will. As a result, we accept the imperative to rewild as borne from our own will. We simply want the world to collapse into a less managed place. It matters little whether this is through natural disasters, revolution, and so forth. In fact, it doesn't even matter if it is impossible. What matters is that while these things are here, we do not have to respect them. 

Wildism is less of an expansive ideology and more of a discourse and set of values that unites the people who claim the name. The discourse is really simple: 

  • The Cosmos --- the Cosmos, or capital-N Nature, or Reality, or "the material world," is all that exists. 
  • Nature/Artifice --- nature is the part of the Cosmos that is not made or controlled by humans or their technical systems. Artifice is the part that is made or controlled. "Naturalness" is more of a quality on a spectrum with "artificialness," so those things that are less controlled or dominated are called "nature" and those things that are more controlled or dominated are not. It's just a rough way of talking about our values. Note that artifice is not inherently bad; the distinction is only descriptive. It is progressivism that we reject.
  • Wildness --- wildness is the "not controlled" part of nature. It is the defining quality dividing nature and artifice. For example, a caged animal doesn't immediately lose its naturalness, but because of its immediate loss of wildness, its naturalness starts to deteriorate as it is domesticated. Conversely, a dammed river becomes more natural after it is un-dammed, or rewilded. Our concern with nature is secondary to our concern for wildness. Nature is simple what we would expect in a more wild world--we can't expect amenities of industrial life, for example, because those are highly artificial or rely on highly artificial systems.
  • Progress --- the myth of Progress is the belief that artificialization of nature is a moral good, a moral imperative. Progress is the process of artificialization. Progressivism is an ideology that is based on the myth of progress, like humanism, colonialism, etc. 
  • Humanism --- humanism is an ideology that states that every human being has equal moral worth. Associated are the imperatives to bring marginalized people into the fold and to extend moral consideration where it is due. For example, just like in previous times racial progressivist ideologies expanded to include blacks and whites (creating humanism), now humanists are being pushed to include some sentient creatures by animal rights proponents, or even all of nature by some progressive environmentalists. 
Our VALUE is the value of wildness. We want the world to move from a less artificial and managed state to a wilder and more natural state. In particular, we feel no loyalty to artifice at the level of civilization, or life based around cities, enabled by agriculture and later industry.Thus, in the course of rewilding, we advocate acting without regard for civilization, with no loyalty to it whatsoever, so far as that is manageable. 

We differ from anarcho-primitivists in several ways, but the most important of these is our rejection of progressive humanist values. Zerzan still talks of equality, connections between human beings, a more peaceful life, a life without any authority, and that sort of thing. We reject all that. A good explanation for why we reject these values is in my essay "Misanthropy," published in Hunter/Gatherer 1.3

It is also important to note that AP does not necessarily imply action. Many APs seem to regard it as some sort of academic or philosophical mind game they can play sometimes. But wildist eco-radicals are united by their desire to ACTUALLY rewild. This means attacks, defense, and personal changes. It means it all. 

Finally, AP is a brand of anarchism, which we reject. There is some overlap, of course, especially with the egoists and nihilists, but there is nothing to little of use in the labor movement, social justice movements, and most progressive green anarchist movements.

If you'd like to discuss this further in a non-public place, just email me (see first issue of HG). Otherwise I'll keep replying here. 

answered Jun 22, 2016 by johnjacobi (210 points)
"Yes, we are stuck with civilization for now, and possibly/probably long into the future. Now how will you respond to it? "

by creating my own life, on my own terms, as much as possible. i don't seek to present my own way of doing so as better than anyone else's.

" I don't mind the concept of "lived experience," but it's intimately tied to postmodern theories ..."

well let me clarify that i have no affinity with anything i understand as "postmodern". so i don't agree with your assessment that "lived experience" is intimately tied to postmodern theories. on the contrary. maybe that is a terminology issue, related to academic perspectives, which i generally despise. i think of "lived experience" as ... the actual experience of one living their life. to me, nothing could be further from what i think of as postmodern, or poststructural, thought. which to me is a world of abstraction, rather than experience.

but no doubt there is some generalization there on my part...

"To say that "nature" doesn't exist without defining it first is to engage in really sloppy thinking."

hogwash. i sense that 'nature' is a sloppy concept. your article does nothing to change this, at least for me. on one hand you say that 'nature [as non-artifice] leaves us something to work with' and so tacitly admit to 'nature' as a concept, that is, an artifice. any notion of 'nature qua non-artificial' can only be an artifice since there can be no perception of any such 'nature' by you or anyone else. self-contradict much? you artificially leave yourself out of your own perspective in doing so and create a metaphysical dualism despite yourself. the belief in a unified 'nature' is one of the spookiest presups there may be, and all too modern civ to boot.

you then go on about 'obscurantism' and 'wordgames' and yet that's exactly what you're peddling. you still wish to maintain thought and speech geared to a wide audience (abstractions, generalities, etc) , that is, mass society.  i don't so much.

living out in very remote places over the last four days and i encountered 'nature' exactly never...not once. i am joyful of the reminder. your 'wildism' ain't for me.

for what it's worth, you/jacobi comes up in a significant way in one of the episodes of the brilliant that just got put up.


for those who are interested. it is about science, not about wildism, but obviously there is a relationship...
Dot: Thanks, I saw that. They made some really good points. I sent a link to it out on the HG newsletter.

AmorFati: You remind me a lot of the folks from Disposess Podcast. Do you know them? They're easy to get into contact with, and I think ya'll have similar enough opinions that connecting would be a good idea.

And I wasn't really trying to convince you after the second (?) comment when it became clear that we were just explaining our views to each other, nothing more.

Finally, yeah all human language is artificial. But artificial doesn't mean bad. Artifice is a fundamental part of human life. If you haven't gotten that I've either not explained well enough or you don't understand. I doubt you're interested in me reiterating these things though, so if you _are_ interested in filling in the gap, I'd basically just repeat some of what I've said above.
Also, for anyone who is interested, there's an AMA on wildism going on over at the /r/DebateAnarchism subreddit right now. Some good questions that I think really flesh out wildism as a lot of the people in the Wild Will Coalition see it.