Wild, Urban, and Totally Confused

Joe Bradley, Human Forms (2011). Via Canada Gallery

Learning wild living skills for me is both a pleasurable way to feel part of nature and a long process toward gaining literacy at off-grid living, so that I may have the option of unplugging some day, should I choose to. I sense that this is a vision shared by many people I know.

What I wonder is, to what degree does an embrace of this vision require the rejection of industrial civilization? There are a number of people who would say it requires 100 percent rejection, including all trappings of modern technology. If so, is it terribly ironic, then, that these same folks circulate their views on YouTube videos and social networking sites, which of course can only be viewed via industrially created technology? I’m not asking this question to be a jerk. Judgment isn’t useful. What I am getting at instead is, is there maybe something happening here that eclipses duality?

The internet is clearly useful for spreading information for free and communicating ideas far and wide, and I don’t know anyone who would argue differently. Just in the past year we’ve watched it spark revolutions, overturn laws, shame politicians, and sign petitions that support the rights of indigenous cultures in far corners of the world. The internet is an incredibly empowering and liberating tool. And not just the internet. I have a bookcase full of books, each of which was manufactured and shipped in some way by machines.

The honest truth is, industrialization has created empowerment and liberation all over the world and continues to do so more every day. It is as responsible for polluting and enslaving Nature as for saving it.

In my personal journey I find myself gradually bringing the wild into my life more and more. And yet, I do like listening to an iPod while I run. And I was thinking about how uncluttered my living room could be if I read books on a Kindle or a Nook. Should I feel guilty about that? How can we reconcile who we are with who we would like to be? What it does it mean to be true to our deepest love for Nature, and honoring dreams of a hunter-gatherer future, while being honest about how much we enjoy the many benefits and conveniences of modernity? The alternative reality does not yet exist on a broad enough or strong enough scale for any of us to choose it except in a very isolated way, and hermitage is not for everyone. I think that if we all became hermits, we would not be contributing very much in the way of creating possibilities for the rest of the world. Maybe we are in a transitional state and technology is temporary. If so, how do we choose which we bring in our lives and which we reject? What are our ethical obligations? Or is it cool to relax and embrace it before everything falls apart through a combination of natural disasters, solar flares, and economic meltdown?

What are your thoughts on all of this? What does it mean to you to be authentically yourself in the modern world?

22 thoughts on “Wild, Urban, and Totally Confused

  1. Alder already hit on the point I wanted to make, that for all the trouble industrialization has brought us it also relieved much of the drudgery of everyday life.

    Most of us who are reading this probably have a good idea of how much energy is required to gather and store enough to food last into the next growing season. With a small intensive garden and fairly regular foraging (in season) I still don’t think I’m providing more than about 10% of my total annual sustenance.

    Same for other things, like household energy. I heat my home with wood that I cut and split but I’m still using tons of electricity for lighting, to run this computer, to cook, to heat my water, etc. So industrialization has relieved a good part of the drudgery.

    Still, our adventures in foraging and other forms of self-sufficiency teach us how important a healthy environment. We now have the capability of undermining our own existence. And many of our actions are making our eventual downfall the dominant paradigm.

    But at least now there are among us some few who see this and are working to educate the masses. This is a good and positive trend.

  2. Thanks for raising these questions! These are the ones I am, and I am pretty certain many others along with me, are pondering daily in one way or another.

    In the past I used to be more of a zealot when regarding these questions. I seemed to more often than not draw a line in the sand and view them through the black and white lens. Now, I think the question of authenticity points towards ones development of awareness and consciousness.

    Our natural state is bliss, and in the unfolding of that awareness we find our authenticity. Making decisions about my level of participation in the world of consumerism and technology is gradually more informed by that awareness than by a laundry list of “shoulds” and “should nots”. Awareness, total awareness is the key.

    What feels right to me is to tread lighter on the Earth. For example, I cycle rather than drive, but now I don’t create any suffering around my decisions. So, if it is chucking down buckets of rain, I drive. I eat mainly vegetarian because I think it creates, in general, a smaller foot print on the Earth, especially when I eat locally.

    In terms of technology, especially the internet and my personal usage, I have become aware of how polluted the technosphere has become with the unlimited possibilities that the web provides. There runs the gambit of inane and profane to enlightened and awakened information and connections to be found. And in terms of social networking, well, it is a mixed bag to be sure. I always seem to come back to saying something like this, “Wow, we have more means to communicate than ever before, and yet, I really don’t feel like we understand each other to any greater depth, nor do we really communicate any better.”

  3. i’ve just run across this blog and responses through a link from Facebook. Not even sure I can find my way back to it once this evening is over. I am a permaculture practitioner and teacher and I believe permaculture and primitive skills have a lot to share. I think everyone mulling the role and value of technology needs to consider the following.
    1. Embodied energy. That IPod might be a very small thing, but there’s a huge amount of resources behind it. A college education is a completely invisible thing, and there’s a huge amount of resources behind that, too. We have to all admit (unless there’s a real Third World off-grid subsistence culture person reading this, which I doubt) that industrial civilization has enabled us, empowered us, freed us from the mundane round of subsistence and survival which dominated much of human life on earth till 150 years ago…and that civilization is based on fossil energy. Your IPod, your college degree….arguably even the fabric of your body (given that the total human biomass is about 40% based on industrially fixed nitrogen-protein) is made thanks to fossil fuels.

    2. Population. As stated above. 40% overshoot. As compared to intensive subsistence agriculture. Or use whatever numbers you want. Modern population is significantly above sustainability, and way above any sustainability for people living primitively. Do an EcoFootprint survey.

    3. Dependency and brittleness. A book, if it is kept dry, can be legible after centuries (provided the people in the future have literacy in that language….a question of surplus energy itself). But a kindle or a laptop? The grid goes down….three…seven,…nine hours on battery. So you’re on solar or wind. Cool. What happens when you need parts…or new batteries? While populations remain high, and expectations remain high, we’d all better pray the shit doesn’t hit the fan! You know what could be fed into all those coal-burning power plants, if it really came down to it? Wood chips. That’s right. Goodbye to all the world’s forests…fast.

    4. Political will . Fossil fuels could, right now, be used not to burn in the tanks of Hummers, but to build the infrastructure of a new world….more and more solar panels and wind turbines. We need a critical mass of these high-embodied energy structures so they can begin to fuel their own replacement. And then there’s the dangerous promise of third and fourth generation nukes, solar thermal, wave generators, geothermal….who knows what else. The technology is present…what’s needed is the collective will to implement it.

    5. Human ingenuity….one of the things liberated by the era of surplus (as opposed to subsistence) culture. Every time I make tempeh I’m astounded that poisonous seeds can be rendered into a digestible and nutritious food by being first half sprouted, then half boiled, then allowed to become completely moldy, and then fried!!! Who could have thought of such a thing? A process in which, if any step were skipped or done half-ass, the result would be inedible? And the world is full of such things! Cassava. The internal combustion engine.

    6. Diversity. We need all kinds. We need the people cooking roadkill over a campfire in the rain, living in bark huts (my wife actually visited people like this, living in the remote mountains of Appalachia). And we need the kids in the hack zones working with Anonymous taking on child porn sites and police department websites. Do those extremes have anything to do with each other? Bet your ass they do! The challenge…find where your gifts meet the world’s need.

  4. I wrestle with this stuff all the time. Used to be a purist Anarcho-Primitivist who new almost nothing about living in nature, Now as I continue to learn to learn how to be a hunter-gatherer, I find that I am less concerned with a critique of technology, and more concerned with encouraging people to have any relationship with nature.

    Keep in mind that hunter-gatherers never denied tools. Let us use the tools we have available to us, as we attempt to transition to a new earth culture, and encourage growth rather than judge other imperfect people. We did not become domesticated in one generation, and we will most likely not reverse it in one generation.

    • The purist mindset will drive a person crazy. I like your emphasis on growth, on learning as a process, and on becoming.

  5. Also, I hold faith in the nature of humankind. The regenerative real world use of technology on a massive scale will blow your mind and kill all doubt in the next four years. Beyond civilization.

  6. Charles Eisenstein wrote an amazing book looking at the role of technology in the human world. It’s called Ascent of Humanity. It deals directly with the duality you mentioned. You can even read it free here: http://www.ascentofhumanity.com/
    I saw him speak, and he is an incredible person. He has really thought a lot about how to use a lot of the negative aspects of our current culture to our benefit by just changing things here and there. He also wrote a book called Sacred Economics about an alternative economic system. Also free!

  7. I’ve had this conversation with my husband a number of times. Of course, he’s not into technology – doesn’t see the benefits of computers and smart phones and the like and dreams of living totally off the grid. I think that technology has a very useful place, but that some people forget that it’s only a window and not the world. For myself, I read ebooks almost exclusively and do massive amounts of research online. I don’t watch much tv/movies and for music I’m just as happy listening to the radio as downloading a bunch of songs.

  8. I have no problem with technology and use it all the time. However, we might think different of technology if we had the complete picture. Where did the resources to make the iPod come from? Where did the electricity come from to charge it? When you disconnect from the sound around you what are the effects of that?

    That kind of awareness is difficult to have in the short term. All we can do is use what we think is appropriate and suffer the consequences. In the long term it will shake itself out.

  9. I personally enjoy modern conveniences and think that any rational person would admit that some of them are worth having. The internet, electricity, modern healthcare and modern plumbing to name a few. Lugging a bucket of water from the stream every day gets pretty old pretty quick. Like most things there’s a balance to be struck and only the individual can decide what that balance is.

  10. Easy for me- the internet instead of newspaper, huge telephone bill to call distant family, and TV- it replaces all other media in my house and is portable. Just received a kindle as a gift and now am swearing off books which kill trees- as what I’d call a MAJOR reader this is going to have a huge impact both to the environment and my storage… the only paper we will be consuming regularly now is TP. It’s the crazy madness of waste, waste, waste that needs to go, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!

    • Hmm, Anita, that’s a good point. I didn’t think about the paper that an e-reader would save. My apartment actually is powered by wind energy, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad at all.

  11. I just messed up the comments form some how so apologies if this appears twice…

    I ask myself this question all the time, but haven’t come up with a good answer yet. It’s not so much the technology for me but things like shampoo and detergants, and shop bought compost because I can’t make enough of the stuff myself. I love my books far more than is normal, use the net… Every choice seems to be between a rock and a hard place though. Tried going no shampoo and lasted about 7 and a half weeks before my scalp itched so much I finally gave in. I was so dissapointed with myself.

    • Aw you can totally get some biodegradable shampoo! That’s the easiest thing. The bare bones version would be Dr. Bronner’s, but there are lots of options out there now. You could also make your own shampoo, but I don’t know how.

  12. It is an interesting conundrum that I have struggled with as well because I tend to be a pretty ‘techy’ person. Personally I think the balance lies in not letting technology control my life the way it does a lot of people. I have a cell phone, but I regularly leave it sitting on the dresser so i’m not interupted while I’m in the garden. The internet is great to connect with like-minded people and to learn new things but then I have to make sure I balance it with actual hands-on learning and doing. I also don’t get caught up in having the latest and the greatest like I used to. A $100 cobbled-together computer works just fine.

  13. Living out in the sticks in north west Ireland we live pretty close with nature, however, I also enjoy the internet, TV etc to keep up with what’s happening in the world and indeed to keep in touch with like minded people from all over the globe. So for us it’s the best of both worlds I suppose!

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