Gathered Remains Introduction
Gathered Remains: Essays on Wildness, Domestication, Community, and Resistance is slated to come out Winter/Spring 2018.
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…the fact remains that all captive-held wildlife, who by definition are denied normative social interactions and the expanse of natural habitats, live lives of profound deprivation. No interconnecting burrows, toys, or patched-together assemblage of conspecifics can make up for what they have lost or never had—freedom, agency, and the chance to live a life on their own terms with their loved friends and family.
GA Bradshaw, Carnivore Minds
Each of us was born wild.
You, me, your friends, and your enemies: every one of us. If you’re reading this book, you’ve been subjected to the process of domestication. The process that turns each of us—born to take part in wild, nomadic communities of hunter-gatherers—and breaks us into our roles as consumers, workers, and conscripts: fodder for the world of civilization.
Here, we are captives.
Captives saturated with a sense of entitlement to the specifics of our cage-free ranges. We yearn for wholeness, we settle for installments. Some by choice, some by force: always by design. We are sold a sense of individuality to prove that we are unique, special. As though being defined by our choices as a consumer gives us freedom. As if allegiance to abstract constructs and ideologies gives us community.
Our world, the world catered by programmers and domesticators; politicians, priests, and bosses, is built upon tearing apart our needs as social animals—community, sustenance, grounding—and selling their supplementary forms back piecemeal. We are meant to buy it and to perpetually come back for more.
For the most part, we do. Because within each of us is that want. That sense of loss. Our need for a sense of place, in an ecological and psychological sense, pulses beneath the surface.
The reality that civilization has created threatens all life on this planet. It has taken life that will not come back. Every day, lives are on the brink of not coming back. It has created waste that, for all intents and purposes, won’t go away.
Yet, for whatever reason, we are still here. Captive and sedate though we may be, there is a piece of us that knows something is wrong. Something huge is missing. Something worse is unfolding.
Most likely, that feeling is why you are holding this book now. I can relate, that feeling is what got me started down this path. That feeling is a burning rage: a refusal to accept a life of passive captivity. It is a surge of life resisting the world-eating growth of an increasingly mechanical apparatus.
It reminds us that we are still alive. And it keeps us tied to the world that never forgot.
Sedate, broken, wounded; if you’re still breathing, at least a part of your wild self hasn’t stopped fighting yet.
It is that part that I am speaking to. That is my target audience. The arguments, the research, the endless digging: all of that is to explain that aching burn in our guts to our brains. It’s hard to listen to because we’ve been taught to ignore it. Since birth we are trained to see the world as a dead place. We deny our instincts, our gut reactions, even most of our senses.
We silence ourselves. We become complacent: we become complicit.
The more we understand about that process—where it comes from, what it’s costs are—the better our odds are at breaking it. To un-domesticate, to re-wild: to tear apart the cracks in the veneer of domestication and to embrace the wild. Suppressed, enslaved, and under assault though they may be, those wild communities are still there. Struggling. Resisting. Existing.
Domestication has never been a choice; we were born into it by chance.
When we recognize what has been done and what is being done to this world, when we stop seeing ourselves as separate from it, then we will say the same about resistance.
The contents of this book were written in a relatively short period, the oldest piece being from 2013, but this work has been building for a long time. This is built upon over two decades of research, with early drafts of ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ going back to 2004.
What connects these pieces is a particular thread, which goes back to a shift in perspective. My own movement within the world of anarchism to anarcho-primitivism was a want to understand where the roots of social power lie. The more apparent that it became that domestication was the root, there was grounding, a baseline.
Though civilization is built and maintained through historical time, domestication isn’t an event; it’s an ongoing process. The egalitarian, rooted world of the nomadic hunter-gatherer is never truly that far from any of us. For lack of a better term, wildness is a current that runs through all living things. The world I sought to find exists in historic and anthropological terms, but its reality is still here with us. It surrounds us. Our history is a chronicle of the ways civilization has tried to suppress and eliminate it. That history is living and we are living it.
The lingering question I had was why indigenous resistance was infinitely more successful than revolutions. The answer was simple: it’s one thing to have ideals and ideologies; it’s another to have community, to embrace the wild. Simple though that realization may be, it took decades to really understand what I had already felt.
At its base, the search for the origins of civilization requires a clearer picture of the world that civilization must continually attempt to undermine. It means looking at the wild world on its own terms rather than glorified or glamorized visions of it. To really grasp how and why domestication works demands a clearer vision of life without it.
Patterns emerge. Amplified by technology, scaled by growth: civilization is best understood as maintenance rather than innovation. Structures and infrastructure arise as escalations of shamans turned priests and big men turned chiefs. We carry the mythos and bravado of the colonizer, the indignation of the victor, but hubris hasn’t protected civilizations in the past from collapsing under their own excesses.
As our world burns and climate destabilizes, prompting endless resource wars, political turmoil, and waves of climate refugees, we will quickly learn that we are truly no different. It is my intent to undermine domestication by showing how we are still wild.
‘Gathered Remains’ is the most direct take on this. ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ and ‘Society Without Strangers,’ two essays that make up most of this book, are complimentary in understanding the form and function of wild communities and how the needs we have as social animals are supplanted once domestication enters.
Both essays and ‘To Speak of Wildness’ emphasize that the beauty of our wild, anarchistic egalitarian baseline doesn’t require religious and moral visions of purity. Far from it. Brutal things happen in an unquestionably wild world. That would only detract from idealized, voyeuristic views of the wild as an ideal. A version more akin to wilderness and religious fantasy: yet another part of ourselves to shed. The lion may sleep alongside the lamb (more aptly, antelope), but it benefits both the lion and the lamb that a lion eats a lamb from time to time.
‘The Suffocating Void’ is the exception to the rule here. That essay arose because the terms that Lewis Mumford and Jacques Ellul used to speak about technology needed an update. The Interface Revolution that resulted in cell phones for half of the worlds’ adult population, along with fiber optic cables and wireless internet access in areas that had not previously had electricity, is the fastest technological change in the history of humanity. It also represents a largely unchecked and unrecognized shift in the nature of civilization.
When I started Black and Green Review in 2014, it became quickly apparent that this change needed to be addressed. It also reflected an exceptionally significant move from Progress, as the idealized justification for civilization, to Progress as a constant flow of information. People stopped caring about grand schemes and the future of development when they lived it vicariously through phones and other “integrated” devices.
The second part of the book, ‘The Ecology of Resistance,’ deals more directly with the current and unfolding modernized threats to the world of wildness, our world. ‘Ecology of a Bubble’ in particular.
It is not my intent to create blueprints for a future world. I have no want to offer a package of thoughts and notions to foster cannon fodder for ideals. It is my goal to pick up the pieces of our fragmented world and to expose the means by which it was shattered.
I’m more interested in showing that civilization has blueprints. And schematics. At their heart is the means by which the domestication process is maintained. The more we begin to feel, the more we become rooted, and the more we embrace the wild and build real community: the more likely we are to do something about that.
As a process, domestication may not have been a singular historical event.
But rest assured, it does have a starting point. And it will have an end.