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The most recent member to join our 10k club, incendiary_dan is a guy with the skills to keep us all alive in the event of the zombiepocalypse, or, you know, a regular old emergency. He can find, grow, and cook foods you haven’t even heard of (not to mention some you have, like bacon!); handle a firearm; and is no slouch in the survival field. In short, he’s got our backs.
He’s also got some interesting ideas about where civilization is, and where it ought to be headed. We thought it was high time we learned a little more about this Dan with a plan.
Is there a story behind your username? Should I be worried if this interview doesn’t go well?
Well, not very worried. Although I do love to make a cozy fire, and I’m partial to the molotov cocktail imagery, the name was actually something my long time partner (hobbitsubculture) came up with when we were in college. She observed that my mere presence would instigate argument in certain groups, whether or not I was belligerent myself.
How did you find Fluther? What made you join, and what makes you stay?
Again, that was hobbitsubculture. She posted a couple questions and turned me on to the site when asking about what to look for when apartment hunting. I got really into Fluther when I started making friendships with people, and realized that the computer at one of my jobs doesn’t block it.
Your favorite question asked by you? Asked by someone else?
I sparked a pretty good conversation by asking why some men care so much about their wives taking their name. I still don’t get it, but I heard some great input and gained a bit of insight on the subject. As for other peoples’, I often like the ones Hobbes asks about culture and civilization, but they also tend to attract people waving the flag of relentless Progress.
Aside from Fluther, what are your hobbies?
I read a lot, usually about politics, anthropology (which I went to school for), and peak oil, but also some sci-fi and fantasy thrown in. I also spend a fair amount of time in my garden, or in the kitchen making delicious things (often featuring bacon). Hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor adventures are another favorite, particularly when en route to letterboxes.
You seem to be our resident expert on Gift Economies. For those of us not in the know, what exactly is a Gift Economy?
Gift economies are basically just complex ways of sharing. Societies that function primarily by gift economies have traditions that dictate ways in which essentials like food are divvied up so everyone gets some. In that respect it sounds like communism, but isn’t at all authoritarian; nobody calls the shots. The thing that keeps people giving to each other is that they know the others in their group will do the same.
What can societies based on this type of economy teach today’s societies?
I think the main thing is that high standards of living can be achieved without immense energy costs, if only greed and power are taken out of the equation. That and the fact that a high standard of living doesn’t require exploitation of others elsewhere or environmental draw-down. Marshall Sahlins wrote The Original Affluent Society about the subject, and I recommend it as a primer.
In your profile, you describe yourself as a “radical green anarchist rewilder”. Can you tell us a little about that?
I guess the best thing would be to go over the individual words, since I mashed a few together. The term ‘radical’ in this context signifies the root meaning of the word, which means “root” in Latin. My intellectual approach involves seeing what systemic factors cause present circumstances, and how those influence whether societies are just or unjust, sustainable or unsustainable, etc. An anarchist is someone who believes in having no rulers or coercive hierarchies, running society instead on mutual aid and consensus on local levels. “Green” is a fairly obvious reference to an environmental focus. As for defining ‘rewilding’, I go with my friend Urban Scout’s definition: Rewild, v; to foster and maintain a sustainable way of life through hunter-gatherer-gardener social and economic systems; including, but not limited to, the encouragement of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental biodiversity and the prevention and undoing of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental domestication and enslavement.
Some people might think you want everyone to run off into the woods with no technology. Is that true?
Yes and no. We need to reintegrate with the natural world, but it’s unreasonable to tell people to just abandon what they know to live another way. The “no technology” part is fallacious, too; indigenous hunter-gatherer-gardeners use and have used “technology”, it just doesn’t feature microchips and internal combustion engines. Rather, peoples living in place use technologies appropriate to their landbases, based on what is freely given by that land (i.e. what can be indefinitely harvested at that rate). And being social animals, running off alone would be a pretty bad idea. Our culture(s) need to change, or we need to start new ones. And using “appropriate technologies” would mean turning land currently cultivated using annual monocrops into land being cultivated using companion planting and permaculture, which produce many times more food per acre and can build soil, rather than degrade it. The focus on technology also overlooks the importance of our relational existence in respect to the land, in which our technology use is only one part.
You talk smack about civilization a lot. What do you mean when you say “civilization”?
Civilization, using writer and activist Derrick Jensen’s definition, is a way of life characterized by the growth of cities. That’s attestable both historically and linguistically. A city is a group of people living in a high enough concentration as to require the importation of resources, because they’ve denuded their landbase of that particular resource. What this means is that your way of life is necessarily violent, because trade for that resource can never be sufficiently reliable. So if you need something, and you use more than you yourself can produce, and your neighbor is unwilling to trade, you’ll go and take it from them. Historically this is also when we see empires, patriarchy, and social stratification emerge, just to name a few ills. They’re all intertwined.
What would your ideal society look like?
An ideal society would be an egalitarian group of humans making decisions by consensus on local village scales (maybe as part of larger federations of villages who cooperate for mutual protection), subsisting by mixed hunting, gathering, fishing, and gardening/permaculture. These wouldn’t be anachronisms of American Indians or some other historical group; this would both be a patronizing appropriation of indigenous culture, and entirely impractical. We’ll find our own ways to live in each of our landbases. Gender and gender roles would be radically different, if they exist at all, and groups of women would share and discuss the knowledge necessary for natural family planning. This isn’t a perfect way to live, because nothing is. It’s just stood the test of time as a better way to live on many levels.
In what way(s) would it benefit people over what we have now?
It’s hard for me to think of a way people wouldn’t benefit. An immediate shift to a foraging and gardening existence would improve health drastically, since we’d have not only more variety in food but wild and feral food always has more nutrient density than its domesticated counterpart. Cancer, diabetes, and a lot of other illnesses are basically unheard of in foraging societies. Foraging for subsistence only requires an average of three hours a day; traditional peoples typically spend much of their time socializing, playing, or pursuing artistic endeavors. That’s a lot less stress and more relaxation. If it were widespread, the air, water, and our food would all be drastically cleaner, even fairly soon after such a change. In the long term, I think social issues would ease, since systemic oppression is rooted in unnecessary hierarchies. As long as you don’t consider an Xbox a necessity, you benefit in every way.
Do you think it’s actually feasible in this day and age?
It’s possible. Indeed, if our species is to survive we need to do it, but whether it’s likely to happen soon is another question. Certainly, the basic nutritional and environmental needs of we humans is the same as it was in the Pleistocene. But much of the once fertile land is barren as a result of monocrop agriculture, and needs repairing. We have (mostly) men in funny outfits telling us where we can or can’t forage, hunt, sleep, etc. We have lots of (mostly) men in other funny outfits claiming to own lots of land they’ve never even seen, just because they have a paper that says so, and those first men in funny outfits I mentioned tend to back them up.
If so, how can we get there?
I think that it will take several things, each just as important as the other. It’s kind of like a multi-pronged revolution. We need to foster as much sustainable self-sufficiency as possible, particularly in terms of food and shelter, particularly in cities where resources are scarce. We need to change our concepts of land ownership, which requires a fundamental overhaul of the whole economy (or its collapse, which historically has been a positive thing for the average person). We need to support womens’ rights everywhere, dismantle institutionalized racism, and combat any sort of oppression. We need to conserve and heal the lands ravaged by our culture. I guess at the base of that, we need to stop pretending we’re anything more than a complex social ape and that we have our own niche to fill in our ecosystems.
How did you first become interested in this movement/way of life?
It sort of worked out as a merging of a few interests. I became interested in natural medicine as a pre-teen when I was fairly ill and got better through natural treatments. Herbal medicine in particular interested me. That led into foraging, and that into primitive and wilderness skills, which influenced my desire to be as self-sufficient as possible. A big moment in my life was my tenth grade history class, in which my teacher had us build a replica of a Nipmuc village. Combine that with my realizations that the industrial system is unstable and unsustainable, and my studies of anthropology and psychology leading me towards anti-authoritarian politics and radical feminism, and I became a rewilder.
I understand that you’re a primitive skills instructor. What kinds of things do you teach? Could you teach me to start a fire with nothing but sticks?
We’d need some string, too. Fire by friction is one that I teach, but I admittedly need practice in that myself. I’ve been spoiled by my fire piston, which is another means by which to get primitive fire. Besides that, I try to teach people how to take care of all of their needs. A useful guide is the rule of threes: on average, humans can last three hours in harsh weather, three days without water, and three weeks without food. I sometimes add three seconds without safety, three minutes without air, and three months without going batshit crazy from loneliness. So at the school I work at, we’ve taught friction fire, several types of shelter (both short and long term), how to get water and purify it, and how to forage, hunt, and trap.
If a jelly wanted to find an instructor like yourself in their area, where would they look?
There are a few schools around the country that teach various primitive skills, so I’d start there. I’ve taught at Great Hollow Wilderness School and Two Coyotes Wilderness School, both of which are in CT. Different schools often differ on their focus, in terms of skill sets and philosophy. Some regions might not have any schools, so finding someone willing to mentor on an email list might be a good idea. I have friends who have attended Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School in New Jersey and Teaching Drum in Wisconsin.
How did you learn all of the skills you teach?
I learned mostly by trial and error, reading books, hanging out with the right people, and I admit it, lots of Youtube. Wash, rinse, repeat, and you have a wilderness skills instructor.
Suppose you could teach everyone in the world just one primitive skill. Which one would it be and why?
That really depends on the situation someone is in. Someone in the desert has to worry about water a lot, so finding water sources would be an essential skill. In the subarctic evergreen forests, fire and shelter are primary needs. And everyone’s got to eat. Assuming someone has a home they live in, I think being able to find and gather wild food will be of the most benefit. I’ll count traditional companion planting in that, like the Three Sisters garden I’m growing (that’s maize-corn, beans, and squash). In particular, the Big Four plant food sources are useful. They’re acorns, cattails, pines, and grasses.
What are some good resources for learning more about rewilding and primitive skills?
Urban Scout put out a book recently called Rewild or Die, which really gets to the heart of rewilding. It’s also the only book specifically about rewilding, to my knowledge. Tom Brown Jr.’s survival books are good, you just have to disregard his likely-fictional stories. Even the U.S. Army’s Survival Guide is pretty good. Otherwise, I quite like a few Youtube channels, such as EatTheWeeds and wildernessoutfitters, and I moderate at the rewild.info forums.
One resource Dan didn’t mention (but we will!) is his own blog.
We really appreciate you sharing some of your life and ideas with us. Thanks, Dan!