Rewilding, which is defined in this text as “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 preservation and undoing of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental domestication and enslavement”, is presented in as the alternative to death through ecological and social collapse.
Rewild or Die by Peter Bauer (Urban Scout) is an attempt to convince people that rewilding is a better option than alternatives, such as domestication, empire, veganism, pacifism and resistance. Peter states in the foreword that this isn’t his book, and that it is Urban Scout’s. Very early on in the text though it becomes clear that Bauer doesn’t entirely like his alter-ego Urban Scout, with what feels like a eulogy for the moniker in the foreword. This is also apparent in his blog post, clarifying his reasons for rereleasing the book.
If I’m honest, while I have a great deal of respect for Bauer and his group Rewild Portland, I also don’t like Urban Scout.
In the preface of the book he claims “with this book I intend to clarify the meaning behind this cultural renaissance we call rewilding.” He states early on that he claims no expertise and that he stakes his claims on personal experience. He then relies on many dictionary definitions in his process of defining rewilding, as well as many other terms. Quickly the question arises, what meaning are you intending to clarify? The dictionaries? Your own personal meanings? At this point it is unclear as to whether or not we should expect some analytic deconstruction of terminology or Muir-style personal accounts of wildness.
The book doesn’t cover any of the practical rewilding skills that you would generally assume would be the general focus of discussion. Instead it takes the form of short pieces of writing that cover many of the basic radical-environmentalist positions. These positions parallel those of Daniel Quinn and Derrick Jensen in particular, as well as, at points, anarchist writers like John Zerzan and Kevin Tucker. He states many positions and arguments within these short pieces that those of us who embrace dark-green/eco-pessimist ideas also hold.
The initial issue with this work is that, despite attempting to expand upon dictionary definitions early on in the book, it remains consistently unclear what it is Peter means by rewilding. Unless you are familiar with primitivism, feral revolution or other concepts – limited to a relatively small amount of people in this culture – you’re going to struggle to really grasp what it is he is trying to convince you to do. There is a consistently implied “return to nature” theme throughout, but he doesn’t actually establish what this entails.
No foraging skills included. No wild-craft skills included. Nothing on the practices of indigenous cultures, that he has drawn from in his own rewilding experience.
For the most part this book isn’t about rewilding, as its title suggests – it is about Urban Scout/Bauer (or whatever exists in the space between these 2 identities) and his personal opinions. This would be fine, as there are some nice personal, phenomenological accounts, which are interesting (probably more interesting to someone who likes Urban Scout). But I was wanting to read about those 2 options – rewild or die. So sadly, the laziness in argument and lack of substantial content is disappointing. Sections like the one on hipsters just read like “don’t be mean to me” rants, which are completely uninteresting to someone wanting to read about rewilding or dying.
He early on in the text lazily brushes over arguments he views as “philosophical masturbation” and argues in favour of socially-normative forms of knowledge. But shortly after he flips over to claim that rewilding has provided him a “complex lens” that he uses to see through the myths of civilisation. At points he acknowledges cultural biases in discourse, but stunningly holds his initial normative position. For someone who is a philosophy nerd and a lover of stuff regarding rewilding, the level of cognitive dissonance is quite unnerving from the outset.
Throughout the text there is a lot that is very annoying about the book. Poor attempts at discourse analysis; poorly argued speculative claims; accounts of subjects, such as agriculture, veganism and permaculture, that could be easily improved with some evidence to back them up; annoyingly pretentious sections on his use of alternative English language, full of semantic waffling and claims (again) devoid of anything to back them up; pointless chapters where he barely touches upon the supposed subject, using them to vent about people posting in his blogs comments section, conversations he overhears and obviously stupid articles. This is what dominates the overall content.
Sections like his critique of pacifism and account of ageism, while could have been improved with some degree of evidential analysis, are better than the others. Urban Scout/Bauer again states a lot of positions that are very typical of those held by people in the radical environmentalist political camp, and writes them in a way that is easily accessible to the reader. That being said, I would not suggest this book as an introduction to this type of thought, mainly due to the lack of substantial argument. I would recommend this book mainly to those interested in Urban Scout, who already have a background in this type of writing/politics/lifestyle.
Urban Scout undoubtedly holds value as an internet presence for anti-civ thought. Peter and his organisation Rewild Portland does fantastic work, an account of which would probably make for a very good book (should Peter decide to write another).
The book is written in a style very reminiscent of Derrick Jensen and draws massively from the philosophy of Daniel Quinn (though is not of the same quality of either of them). If you enjoy either of these 2 writers and/or are interested in Urban Scout/Bauer’s work, purchase this book and please enjoy it. Most of what is argued I agree with, it just isn’t argued particularly well, with a great deal of inconsistency.
As for rating the book, I give it a 5/10.