Wildness is the earthy, untamed, undomesticated state of things — open-ended, improvisational, moving according to its own boisterous logic. That which is wild is not really out of control; it is simply out of our control. Wildness is not a state of disorder, but a condition whose order is not imposed from outside. Wild land follows its own order, its own Tao, its own inherent way in the world.
Wilderness, a related term, has in the modern era come to be equated with land that is pristine, uninhabited by humans, and unaffected by human artifice. Such a narrow definition assumes, however, that humans are not a part of nature, and that our species has no wildness of its own. A broader definition might equate wilderness with land that is untouched by modern humankind, unaffected by technological civilization. But is such an ideal landscape to be found anywhere today? Has not technological civilization spread its influence unto every corner of the planet? Rapid climate change, itself a result of the profligate burning of fossil fuel for human convenience, is by now altering organic life in every region of the biosphere. Hence unadulterated wilderness, free of all taint from civilization, can no longer be said to exist.
Yet at the very same historical moment when wilderness, in that pristine sense, is vanishing from the world, a new and unexpected recognition is slowly arising that there is no place that is not wild! It is now becoming apparent that there exists no place on earth where an exclusively human logic holds complete sway over things – there is no realm (not even the mental terrain of our thoughts) that falls completely under conscious human control.
Indeed, the new sciences of “chaos” and “complexity” demonstrate that even the simplest and most ubiquitous phenomena — the air currents, for instance, in the room where you sit reading this, including the small vortices made by your breath as it slips in and out of your nostrils – enact dynamic patterns that we can never precisely predict, even if we were to know all of the knowable parameters. The slow metamorphosis of a storm-cloud, the halting trajectory of a raindrop down a windowpane, the precise micro-moment of your next heartbeat — all of these happenings exceed the determinative or predictive power of even the most sophisticated science. They are, in other words, wild.They are not entirely out of control; they are simply out of ourcontrol, beyond our ability to fully map with our theories or fully fathom with our thoughts.
Human creativity and craft, when practiced in attentive, participatory attunement with the earthly locale, can also be deeply wild. Indeed human culture can be beneficial not only to ourselves but to the wild, more-than-human reality that enfolds and sustains us. Such are the forms of culture that the Alliance for Wild Ethics seeds and encourages — practices that draw human groups into ever deeper accord with the exuberant nature that surrounds them, enabling community to thrive in reciprocity with a flourishing terrain. Wild culture accords well with a wild-flourishing Earth!
David Abram is a cultural ecologist and geo-philosopher who teaches widely on several continents. He’s the author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology and The Spell of the Sensuous. Hailed as “revolutionary” by the Los Angeles Times, as “daring” and “truly original” by Science, David’s work has helped catalyze the emergence of several new disciplines, including the burgeoning field of ecopsychology. Co-founder of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE), he lives with his family in the foothills of the southern Rockies.
David presents Between the Body and the Breathing Earth at Hollyhock on Cortes, August 4 – 9, 2013.