In this new era, the Anthropocene, among my many would-be interventions, one of the most important to me is to get more people to embrace our role as stewards of the natural world operating within it, as a part of it, rather than as if gods, as if externally, as if outsiders.
The wild, whatever it is to you, can only be found within you. There is nothing ‘wild’ about those spaces humans have deemed ‘wilderness.’
First of all, I’m taking the Wild and Home as distinct: one cannot feel Home in what they consider the Wild by the definitions of the terms: Wilderness is rarely if ever wearied by human feet; if it is visited by our species, we are only passing through along set pathways. If a person were to make their home in a space they considered wild at the time, they become quickly familiar with the undeveloped land around them so that what was Wild becomes Home: the unfamiliar becomes familiar, it is domesticated by the mind of that person within the mind of that person, even if that space is never developed.
To a band of coyotes or a squadron of javelinas, here is nothing wild about a mountainside covered with that obdurate vegetation that provides shelter to so many small animals. That is Home to the coyotes and javelinas; shrubs are Home to any number of species. And if you spend time in Tucson and pay attention you will eventually see squadrons of javelinas or bands of coyotes using surface streets with the same apparent anxiety most people feel in areas designated Wild: what is Wild to the javelina or coyote is Home to us.
Everywhere is Home to some form of life. Even the bacteria that caused the Bubonic Plague have found a home in a species of flea in certain areas of the Sonoran Desert.
You yourself are Home to an unimaginable number of organisms, the loss of any of which through the antibiotic warfare of the WEIRD world, killing harmful bacteria on our skin, itself an organ, with so many different sanitizers and cleansers, at the expense of beneficial bacteria that had evolved over millennia to come to be on your skin. From our evolving understanding of the appendix, which tends so often to become infected out of the blue (as mine did, over a decade ago now), we realize now that it probably functions like a bacteria farm within our bodies.
You, your very physical body itself, you are Home to so many organisms. Just as everywhere and everything and everyone is Home to life of some kind.
There is nothing wild in the Wild. There was never anything wild, not objectively, not as an existent fact. Whatever or wherever in the world you yourself think is Wild is only an echo of a wilderness within you, an unexplored area of dark-shaded overgrowth and tremulously whispered anxieties stretching out across a soft but persistent breeze. The Wild is your mind, your metaphysical existence, your psychological identity.
The Wild to be explored is within you. The world beyond you is Home, though it may not be Home to you. Every bit of our world is Home to beings that you could see with your eyes unaided if you so chose, those that could only be seen through microscopes, and still so many others that may never be seen but whose existence is no more up to you than would be the existence of your neighbor (at least in an ethical sense, when obviously we are agentively capable of controlling the continued existence of members of our own species).
The designation Wild or ‘wilderness’ is itself merely a shorthand for ‘spaces that our species has not taken over to accommodate the interests of a few over-wealthy individuals trained to exploit the world around them for a perceived individual benefit’. What may not have been explored by humans, whatever area may have been passed over thus far by the bootstrapped stomping of explorers and environmental rapists alike, it is not some fearful unknown space, beyond the reach of any society.
You may not know they’re there, you may not understand them, but there are billions of societies beyond the particular configurations employed to suit our species. Ants have a recognizable social structure, elephants, lions and other big mammals, though how much of this is human projection and how much ought to be taken seriously perhaps remains to be seen. Other species of beings interact with each other in distinctive ways, just as humans as a species compared to other species. Trees and other vegetative life rely on third-party fungi to transmit underground communications in what has every appearance of being an information-sharing network, a vegetal internet.
There are societies all around us. It is imperative that we stop allowing ourselves to pretend like our species is unique for being social animals. Our starting point ought to be from the reverse position: we would be better served if we assumed that other forms of life were intelligent social beings, that all life is conscious life, and that we as humans, a species with profoundly consequential abilities, are bound up within natural networks of reciprocity that are bigger than any one individual, just like every other living being around us.
We are recognizing, for example, that we cannot preserve ‘wilderness’ areas untouched from human influence. Nature is not a museum.
Spaces in California that have been preserved from cyclical small-scale burns are suddenly being ravaged by large-scale sequoia-killing fires due to the absence of our traditional influence in favor of maintaining a hands-off conservatism. The necessity of small-scale fires, such as once were lit by various Native American tribes before European settlers removed them from their lands, is born out by the continued existence of the sequoias in areas subjected to prescribed burns.
The issue is controversial, for obvious reasons—among them the horrific results of prescribed burns gone bad in New Mexico earlier this year, and particularly the fact that commercial logging operations are invited into these forests—but the evidence is unambiguous: thousands of sequoias have been killed in the last two years, but those within areas maintained by prescribed burns stand largely unharmed.
Likewise animal preserves are useless without humans within them protecting the animals from other humans. What good is an elephant sanctuary for the elephants if they are not under the protection of humans guarding them from other humans who would butcher them for their tusks? If lions and panthers and leopards aren’t enough to keep ivory poachers from black market profiteering, then the only predator capable of protecting the elephants are other humans. This is why there are wildlife preserves in Africa with armed guards—if only they are more consistently successful.
We are not meant to live outside of the natural world. We are not meant to live against it. We cannot sustain this. Look what we have done to the planet in the attempt. Yet this world is not meant to be without us. Nor are the rest of the species—animal, vegetal and neither—meant to be without us. We WEIRDos led astray by the fantasies of our ancestors must reclaim our place as stewards within the systems we are meant to steward. Everything depends on it. I don’t see us getting out of this growing crisis by big-tech-ing and capitalizing ourselves farther away from nature. Only technologies built by stewards aware of our position as stewards, only technologies that are built for our stewardship, only these will right the wrongs of the last two hundred years.
The Wild is within you. You are your own Wild. Yours is the task of domesticating the Wilds within you. But beyond you, the natural world around you, this is your home. For you Home is among the trees. Your Home is rolling in meadows of soft grass. Your Home is all around you. Ours is the task of recognizing these truths, of domesticating our own Wilds, of finding our many ways back to the Home that has always been ours, our one Home common to all life.
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