Rewild or Die is the title and the ultimatum of a book written and published in 2010 by Urban Scout (aka Peter Bauer). The author asked me to review the book here, and I am accommodating his request.
Expectedly, Rewild or Die starts with a few definitions. Rewilding is best explained by a description of what rewilders do (p. 4): “In order to accomplish rewilding, rewilders practice a multitude of skills such as innovative team building skills, storytelling skills, martial arts and ancient hand crafts like brain-tanning deer skins into buckskins and making tools from stone, bone and wood. Because rewilders see rewilding as part of a transition culture, they do not shun the use of modern technology such as computers, guns, cars, etc. Knowing that those technologies rely on an unsustainable industrial economy and will not last through the end of empire.”
The sentence fragment at the end of the paragraph is emblematic of a text filled with poor grammar and misspelled words. It was difficult for this former teacher to gloss over the poorly edited text in search of the many valuable kernels contained between the book’s covers. In fact, this is the primary paradox associated with Rewild or Die: I agree with the message and the necessity of spreading it, but I have serious problems with the messenger’s butchering of the English language. To Scout’s credit, he uses E-Prime (or English Prime), an experimental version of the English language that excludes the use of the verb “to be.” Nonetheless, the book’s message is difficult to locate because of the many errors in grammar, spelling, and logic. Although I agree with Scout’s assessment of civilization, it’s tough to take seriously any book replete with errors and F-bombs.
There’s an F-bomb on nearly every page. They, and the many other curses meant to impart gravitas, simply lose impact after the first few pages (p. 105): “I’ve always hated school. No wait, I mean, I always fucking hated school. In fact, I’ve dropped out 5 times, from 4 schools.” Scout is no fan of books, either: (p. 113): “Information stored in books generally remains under lock and key. In a field guide, the knowledge of skills remains locked in a book. Copyright laws prohibit an individual from dispersing the information.”
Scout’s long list of dislikes extends well beyond school and books. He expresses considerable disdain for Christianity, science (which he classifies as a religion), vegans, and voting. With respect to the latter, he recommends walking away (p. 115): Voting “merely shows you still want to remain in denial. Walk away. Walk away. Walk away. Let it go.” This is odd advice coming from a man living in a city of 600,000 people who then goes on to explain that he does vote (p. 116): “I vote for schools to receive less money (fuck ‘em).” I understand internal inconsistency and I find it maddening. Apparently it doesn’t bother Scout.
The paradoxes continue throughout the book, and sometimes they are used to good effect (p. 195): “People say I should focus on the more beautiful things in the world in order to feel better. But when I see a beautiful world, I also see our civilization destroying it. I have a loyal supportive family and group of friends and I also see civilization enslaving them. I have so many things to live for and feel great about, and I feel great about those things, and yet I also see the larger oppressive forces at work.”
Lest I get too hung up on the incongruities, there are numerous points on which I agree with Scout. Consider, for example, the following paragraphs.
“I find it funny when I hear people say that our problems occur because people don’t take personal responsibility. Blame the person, not the culture, not the system of wealth management and the armies that enforce it. Since Climate Change threatens us all, does that mean that a slave-child sewing soccer balls in Taiwan has a personal responsibility to stop Climate Change? Do you think the slaves in the third world have a personal responsibility to stop Climate Change? Do you honestly think they have the power? Where they can’t even afford to buy ‘rights’? Do you honestly think us more privileged Americans do?” (Paragraph from p. 32.)
“Many argue over whether or not actions like blowing up a dam will bring civilization down or merely strengthen it. To wild humans, an argument like that makes no sense. Like arguing over whether or not the tree whose roots tear up the sidewalk will bring down civilization or strengthen it. Yes, the tree may get cut down and the street repaved. But civilization will never have the power to cut them all down, to repave all of those streets. A dandelion growing in a suburban lawn, a tree ripping apart the street, an earthquake tearing down buildings, and rewilding humans dismantling logging equipment seems as natural a process as taking out the trash feels to the civilized. I see resistance to domestication as the wildness deep down in our souls bursting forth; A rewilding human blowing up a dam as the natural world going about its daily routines… with a little tenacity.”
“Many proponents who argue against such actions say that “civilization will just rebuild.” The idea that civilization will go on resisting the roots of a tree, cut it down and pave another road, does not stop the tree from growing roots. Similarly, whether or not civilization will continue to resist the flow of water and build another dam does not stop the actions of rewilding humans. The forces of nature at work, whether we mean trees growing roots, water rushing to the ocean or wild humans caretaking the land, will continue to undomesticate the world regardless of civilization’s growing or diminishing resistance to them.” (Preceding two paragraphs are from page 51.)
“Control lies at the heart of civilization. Control over food supply means control over the earth. This culture, by its very nature, lacks humility towards the earth. You cannot show empathy towards those you dominate.” (p. 171)
“You want to know what the apocalypse looks like? Go outside and look around. The apocalypse looks like alienation from your neighbors and family. It looks like eating food sprayed with toxins and then shipped 3,000 miles to the store. It looks like slaving your life away for mere pennies so you can afford another drink at the bar or puff on your pipe to forget about your slaving. Oh god, let’s not put an end to any of that!” (p. 197)
Predictably for a proponent of the anti-civ movement, Scout takes cities to task. And I agree with his assessment regarding how the collapse of civilization will turn out for occupants of cities (p. 100): “While those in urban environments experience the worst of a collapsing monolith, those out in the wild will live freer lives, just as Robin Hood did. For rewilding to catch on, we need role models. We need heroes. Real or imagined. And we need them now.” Apparently Scout has no aspirations of becoming one of those heroes, judging from his choice to live at the apex of empire, a city in the United States (p. 62): “I live in a metropolis” (Scout lives on the western shore of North America in Portland, Oregon).
Scout knows the trade-offs between living in the city — and thereby extracting everything needed for human survival — and living in the country (p. 150): “And what the city offers up as a resource, diversity of people and perspectives, the country lacks. FoxNews plays on every bar television screen. I see Jesus Saves & American Pride bumper stickers everywhere I turn. But in the end, at this point, the pros outweigh the cons.” I disagree strongly with Scout’s conclusion about the lack of diversity in country living. My human community includes Caucasian multimillionaires, self-reliant cowboys, back-to-the-land hippies, and a broad spectrum of colors and viewpoints.
Scout goes on to claim the lives of urbanites, presumably including himself, are pointless (p. 182): “Urban people’s lives have no point. We exist as the human waste product of agriculture. We have no integrated purpose in the context of the real, wild world. We have no relationship with our landbase, except blind exploitation. We exist only to serve coffee to those in power, to enter data into spreadsheets for those in power, or operate machinery for those in power. We simply shift wealth around so that we feel like we have some worth, even though we don’t. Though we drown ourselves in culture, none of it has any meaning beyond its initial consumption. We’ve made our entire culture disposable. We’ve made our lives disposable.”
It’s difficult to disagree with the overarching sentiment, but many people find meaning in their lives regardless of where they live. Further, the paradox between Scout’s pointed criticism and the way he chooses to live leave me wanting further explanation. How can an individual justify living in a city while harshly criticizing cities and the meaningless lives of their occupants?
In addition to the paradoxes, there are enough factual errors to cause concern (p. 71): “I want to hunt and gather and garden all my own food. I can’t, because I don’t know how and it feels extra hard because no one else does either (at least in this country).” This line is evocative, and it certainly serves as an excuse for living contrary to principle. But it’s not true. Somebody in my community lives exactly this way. I’d guess there are many others in this country. Other factual errors are evident, even to me, on the topics of vegetation dynamics, fire ecology, and the notion that native peoples did not live in cities (in the New World, Incans, Mayans, and Chacoans come to mind).
The obvious paradoxes continue through the penultimate chapter (p. 207): “I have to say that by now, after spending years philosophizing about the word rewilding… I fucking hate it.” Although these internal inconsistencies are maddening, they certainly provoked thought on the part of this reader. And I certainly agree with the ultimatum provided by the title: Individuals and their tribes will rewild or die.
Ultimately, I would have preferred a more consistent, coherent assessment of the potential roles of rewilding in overcoming the horrors of civilization. The topic is too important to get lost in errors and F-bombs. Perhaps Scout should have stayed in school a little longer, if only to polish his writing skills.
Please remember: The author asked me to review the book here, and I am accommodating his request as if I have time to deal with juvenile delinquents who do not know how to write. In response to this favor, which gave me the opportunity read and comment on a poorly written book, Scout trashed me and my review on my blog and his. No good deed ….