The generational amnesia that has eroded our conscious connection with the lifestyles of our indigenous relatives and those of our ancestors in the distant past is, perhaps, not a permanent form of memory loss. In many cases of trauma-induced amnesia the memories return with time, and much of what doesn’t return can be relearned. We lost touch with our wild nature slowly, generation by generation, immersed in civilization’s corrosive epigenetic bath, but a core wildness still remains active and ready to respond, deeply embedded in the genetic tissues of every newborn child. Although it took 10,000 years to get this far away from where we belong, it can take just one generation to bring us to the beckoning threshold of home.
In this there is hope.
However, rewilding is not a matter of simply dropping our cell phones and fashioning atlatls and spears. It’s not a matter of simply adopting the material trappings of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. An authentic human life is not a role to be enacted, something to be read off a script and supported by the appropriate props. The world is not the same place it was prior to the Neolithic. The world is not the same place it was even as little as 200 years ago—or yesterday, for that matter. Many of the life-ways appropriate to the artists of Lascaux or to the Cheyenne of ten generations past are no longer relevant or even possible given recent changes in the physical environment. Adopting a “primitive” lifestyle, living in the forest, rediscovering the skills of the ancients, learning to craft Stone Age technology and master Paleolithic hunting methods, and surrounding yourself with wild nature is a better option than taking a job at a fast food franchise, perhaps. But it is important not to get stuck on the surface. The tendency to get stuck on the surface is a characteristic feature of a mind that has been thoroughly alienated from itself, a mind that is cued by distraction, a mind that no longer knows how to get beyond its own reflection, the shallow narcissistic mind of a consumer.
Perhaps the simplest way of describing the difference between wild humans and their domesticated and civilized counterparts is that the latter are disconnected. We are disconnected from the earth. We are disconnected from each other. We are disconnected from ourselves. These disconnects are necessary in order for civilization to function. Each disconnect provides a porous opening, a point of easy contact, a lynchpin for yoking us to the drivetrain of the machine.
Right away my civilization-contaminated mind plots an obvious technical resolution to the problem. The solution emerges as a two-pronged strategy, two steps or stages: disconnect, reconnect. First, we need to find ways of severing our personal connections to the machine, ways of snapping the lynchpins that keep us in tow, ways of yanking free of our monitors and feeding tubes. Second, once we have freed ourselves, we need to reestablish our wild connections with each other and with the many other beings inhabiting the space around us—and with the actual space around us, the living, breathing land itself. Simple.
Simple, until you adjust the resolution down to the next level. Even assuming that it would be possible for me to free myself from civilization’s life support systems and the multitude of tethers that have me bound, I am still faced with the daunting task of forging new connections to replace the old. And who’s to say that I won’t quickly find myself just as attached as before, and just as dependent. I see a parallel in the struggling heroin addict who kicks her habit only to become hooked on methadone: it’s a game of “the lesser of two evils” that leaves the real problem unresolved. I suspect that the real solution (if that word has any real meaning in this situation) lies in moving directly to the second stage and letting the first take care of itself. Once meaningful authentic connections have been established, perhaps the tethers of civilization will atrophy and dissolve of their own accord. Authentic connection is the key—authentic human connection: the source of authentic human community.
In this there is hope.
Spectacle long ago replaced community, with spectatorship taking the place of participation, vicariousness in the place of personal presence. A shared and penetrating narrative, an intimate evening around a communal fire to sing, to dance, to tell stories, to laugh, and sometimes to cry, has been displaced by an insulated and isolating narcissistic touchscreen fiction. Networking through social media is just that: social contact reduced to mere connectivity, human interaction digitized and packaged and commodified and stripped of all meaning—community becomes a collection of patterned connections among empty nodes, hollow echoes bouncing through a billion electronic tunnels to nowhere.
We are drawn to participate in this fraud, this hollow ersatz experience, out of misplaced fear—180 degrees misplaced. Our loneliness makes us afraid of being alone. The triviality of civilized life makes us afraid we might miss something important, afraid to blink. Our lack of authentic meaning makes us vampires of the superficial, attempting to siphon a tiny soul-warming drop of relevance from a cold mass-produced two-dimensional electronic corpse.
But all is not lost. We still carry wild nature within us after all—every one of us, in every cell, driving every breath, a primordial wildness that crouches just below the surface, waiting just out of sight in the shadows of our consciousness, threatening to spring into the light the moment conditions are ripe, the moment civilization drops its guard. The proof that our core being is still wild is all around us, in the many features of civilized life designed to function specifically as countermeasures to curtail its expression. The proof is in the massive and ever-expanding prison industrial complex. The proof is in the militarized police. The proof is in ubiquitous surveillance and pervasive monitoring. The proof is in the thinly disguised state propaganda called public education. The proof is in the repetitive drone of corporate news and the distracting sparkle of corporate marketing. The proof is in the behavioral pharmacology force-fed to school children who have difficulty ignoring the pulse of life that beckons to them from the center of their being. The proof is in the locks on our doors and the motion-activated security lights around our houses, arrayed like the searchlights of a concentration camp. Why would any of these be necessary unless we were, at our very core, wild creatures forced to live like captive animals in zoos, wild creatures forced to live in concrete and asphalt enclosures that bear little resemblance to our natural habitat, wild creatures who would surely escape the moment we discover that there is a critical weakness in the walls of our cage?
If you can read this you have been domesticated, but the tendrils of domestic control yet just barely penetrate the surface, and their grip is still frail and tenuous and in need of persistent reinforcement.
In this there is hope.