let’s try that again

August 26, 2006

Jason Godesky has also joined the debate about aspiring primitivists and hunter-gatherers and why none have yet to walk their talk in a serious way. He seems to be heading down a similar path to my posting on this topic and has included a fantastic quote by Tamarack Song from the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. I don’t think my posting on the subject was written very coherantly, I’m try to feel my way forward to a new understanding and there is a lot of raw thought bashing around in there, but even if I went back and spent a day tweaking it to perfection it wouldn’t come close to what Tamarack Song has to say. I’m not exactly sure where Jason got it from but here it is again;

I’m going to give you all some straight talk, in hopes that it will help to steer you on to a track might get you somewhere. The reality of the situation is that I have not met, or heard of, a single person in the past 40 years who has used the approaches that we have been talking about, who has been able to return to primitive living. This includes the authors of the popular books. Yeah, they might talk a good talk, but look at what they’ve actually done—a month in the mountains, a solo year in the woods, some time in Alaska—is that really living the Old Way? Where is the clan? Where are the elders? The children? Where is the example and clan memories to learn from?

Why didn’t it work for them, and why won’t it work for you? Because they carried civilization with them into the wilderness, and you likely will as well. You can learn all the skills you want, and The Mother will spit you back out just about as fast as you went in. The more stubborn individuals will last a few months or maybe a year, but rest assured, they’ll be back.

Why? Because they didn’t do their work. We come from a technological society, so we naturally think that substituting primitive technology for civilized technology is our doorway. The only problem is that Native people are not into technology. They spend only a couple hours a day providing for their simple needs, and they mostly use simple means. Look at their tools—few and crude, and their craftwork — basic and utilitarian. What a Native person excels at is what I call qualitative skills—how to sit in a circle with your clan mates and speak your truth, how to find your special talent so that you can develop it to serve your people, how to use your intuition, the ways of honor and respect, how to live in balance with elders and women and children, how to speak in the language beyond words, how to befriend fear and live love. Without these skills, you will surely die. Or else you’ll go back to the life that shuns these skills.

Where are the elders? Where is the example? I wish I knew.

Where Jason and I differed is that he believes that when civilisation come down re-wilding will happen naturally, where as my point was that we need to learn to live in a tribe before that can happen. I don’t think these points are mutually exclusive. In fact I’ve written in the past that my big concern is that in a post crash society, when we will need to rely on a community for survival, we may not know how to do it any more. I guess we’ll find out soon enough whether that’s true or not.



  1. The only source I have for that quote is a posting on IshCon. I think Tamarack wrote it on his email list.

    Anyway, I think you’ve misinterpreted me. Rewilding won’t happen on its own, I don’t think. It’s going to be natural selection: those who rewild will survive, and those who don’t, won’t. Some may stumble into rewilding simply as social forces push them into that stream, while others will actively prepare for that end. I think a lot of primitivists will NOT be among those prepared, simply because their focus is myopic, and deeply civilized in its single-minded focus on practical skills alone.

    But I don’t think rewilding will just happen on its own. I agree with you; we need to create a new memetic variety now, that will be adapted to the changing reality. But we should recognize that it’s adapted to an emerging reality, and not the current one, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised if we find it not yet living up to its full potential. In anabolic growth, there is no freedom, and rewilding is a lost cause, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that no one’s managed to do it yet, while we’re still in anabolic growth.

    Posted by: Jason Godesky | 08/26/2006

    I also used that quote from Tamarack in my post about this discussion, and I only found it from a comment Guili left on Anthropik (http://anthropik.com/2006/08/our-big-fat-animist-wedding/#comment-20302). Giuli quotes more of that article in her comment than Jason does in his post, so it might be worth a look.

    Posted by: tom campbell | 08/26/2006

    Sorry for the oversimplification Jason, we’re in the process of shifting house at the moment and the last two postings have been spat out in even more of a hurry than I usually do.

    Tom thanks for that link – I’ll check it out

    Posted by: Aaron | 08/26/2006

    Hello again —

    Just reading through the latest posts after a prompting from Ran, and am pleased to find that everything is very relevant to what I’ve been thinking about recently.

    As I alluded to in my last comment, I’m moving to Wisconsin in a little over a week to live at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. I visited about a month ago, hoping to find a place where I could have a family, especially including elders. (I’ve never had any elders to learn from or examples to emulate, except for those I’ve found in books… so it’s pretty important to me to have elders.) I was hoping the Teaching Drum would be full of people who walked the walk instead of just talking the talk. I think in this regard I was disappointed. They talk a really great and inspiring talk there, but as far as actually living it and being an example they tend to fall short.

    I was pretty frustrated with my experience there. I was going up to check out the possibility of being a nanny for one of the instructors, which is a perfect position for me because of how easily I connect with kids. When I got there, they handed me a copy of The Continuum Concept like they expected me to share those values if I was going to be there, so I was at once pleased and excited to have found a place where I thought I could fit right in. But it wasn’t that easy, unfortunately. My frustration slowly mounted as I realized that there was a huge disconnect between their ideal (of the continuum concept) and what was actually practiced at the school. They had an extremely child-centered culture there, to the point where I questioned whether anyone had understood anything they’d read in The Continuum Concept.

    When I got there, they also told me they practiced Truthspeaking, which meant that if I had something I felt like saying, no matter what it was, I was to go ahead and say it. I was to feel safe and comfortable expressing myself and my emotions because people there did it all the time. They had a book there that was their supposed model for Truthspeaking, Radical Honesty, and they gave that one to me too. I spent quite a bit of time reading it that week, I was really pleased with his approach to communication. The only problem was that when I looked for it being practiced in the community, I didn’t see it. I didn’t feel at all comfortable expressing myself, particularly when I was addressing someone about their interaction with the children.

    I gradually came to realize that not a single one of the qualitative skills that Tamarack talks about above –“how to sit in a circle with your clan mates and speak your truth, how to find your special talent so that you can develop it to serve your people, how to use your intuition, the ways of honor and respect, how to live in balance with elders and women and children, how to speak in the language beyond words, how to befriend fear and live love” — were being lived or modeled. At best they were being practiced, something in my mind more akin to experimentation than serious and intentional practice.

    The only reason I can go back is because when challenged, when pressed, they do recognize that they have a long way to go. They had their weekly meeting while I was there, and I took the opportunity to speak up about my experiences, including how frustrated I was that, as far as I could tell, the values were not being practiced. They were receptive and even appreciative, saying that it’s hard to see yourself sometimes, that they really were trying, and that it’s good to see someone who has the ability, energy, and passion to help with the lengthy and difficult transition to living a completely different way. In other words, they’re open to what I have to offer. So, major kudos to them for that.

    So anyway, I don’t know what’s going to happen there, or with civilization. I think we just have to have faith that it will all work out somehow. I have faith that even if there aren’t examples, even if there aren’t elders out there, that we can become the examples and become the elders for other people. In other words, even though we might not can find it “out there”, maybe we can create it in ourselves. That’s the possibility I’m working on.

    – Devin

    Posted by: Devin | 08/28/2006

    I personally think that the “rewilding” versus “domesticated” idea is another false dichotomy, based on the civilized idea of “nature” separate from “civilization,” and the civilized dichotomy of “wild” and tame.” There is civilization, and there is wilderness, but there is no such thing as anything “separate from nature.” And there are certain wild elements of all cultures–even in civilizaton, we reproduce (something all humans do). So I think the term “rewilding” is a misnomer, and a civilized concept. I think it should be more called “retribalizing” or becoming sustainable.

    When you get right down to it, drawing the line between “wild” and “domesticated” people can become quite difficult. Are ecovillagers wild? Were the foraging chiefdoms such as the Kwakiutl wild? Were the horticultural chiefdoms such as the Arawak wild?

    If anything, I think that being “wild” versus “domesticated” falls on a spectrum versus a strict line.

    Posted by: Jim | 10/06/2006

  2. […] the need to give the ‘back story’ before returning to the recent debate about primitivists not being able to walk their talk.  I keep suggesting that people will need to […]

  3. […] only a part of the quote. I reprinted more of it in this article which, upon re-reading, seems to have sparked some very interesting comments pertinent to this […]

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