“It would is not over. Long live what it would be! ”

Is Wildness Over?
Forfatter: Paul Wapner
Forlag: Polity Books (USA)
NATURAL / The attempt to control nature's wildness locally has created uncontrolled effects globally. Do we have to freeze and sweat more in the future, or is civilization far wilder?


American Paul Wapner is a professor of global environmental policy and has previously written the book Living Through the End of Nature (2013). Here he considers what nature conservation is according to what Bill McKibbens has called the postnatural.the idea of ​​the demise of wild and independent nature in a time where man-made climate changes, pollution and unrestrained looting of natural resources are ubiquitous. In his new book Is Wildness Over? Wapner discusses how nature's repressed wild side returns and haunts us.

The goal of the modern capitalist world has been to create a safe and comfortable world and to fight all that is unruly and unpredictable. Although there are remnants of a free and uncontrolled nature in the nature reserves, these are also ironically managed, monitored and controlled. Here we can still get a taste of the wild, which "stimulates the soul, exercises the body and raises the spirit." Wapner's book is written as a kind of tribute to the free natureone, but he reminds us timely that most people have a very limited acceptance of the wild. Not only are you afraid of snakes and predators, but you get annoyed with insects and "pests", cold and heat. According to Wapner, the average American lives indoors, in overprotected remote areas, 93 percent of the time.

Colonization and romance

Human efforts to establish a way of life that is comfortable, effortless and well-organized, create an enhanced savagery globally, Wapner claims. By direct and indirect means, the taming of nature leads to climate disturbances and ecosystems in imbalance.

In these times, it seems natural to add virus epidemics like Covid-19 to the list of wild side effects, because as many have pointed out, viruses spread from animals to humans as a result of us invading more and more of the last wilderness – and exploiting more and more wild animalearter for food, medicine and as exotic trophies.

Entire ecosystems are gripped by what Wapner calls global "spasms."

To explain this kind of interaction between a wilderness endangered by humanity and unforeseen consequences where nature threatens humanity, Wapner operates with a simplified model – as striking as it is unfounded – where the sum of wildness is constant. Based on such a logic, it could thus never be subdued, but only shifted to other places. This way of thinking is vaguely reminiscent of entropy principles from physics, where any zone of order can only arise in exchange for increased chaos in the environment. However, when Wapner makes the wild a constant force, a kind of universal unrest, his model lacks any scientific grounding.

Historically, it would have been an unequivocal retreat, and Wapner also talks about one colonization and domestication of the wild. The colonizers' efforts for control and their own comfort have pushed both nature and more natural human societies into a marginal existence, a struggle for survival that is often lost. Nature is reduced by the rational industrial society to a pure resource, mechanisms we can intervene in to achieve our goals. The counter-reaction to modernity finds Wapner in the romance, who emphasized the organic as something vital and unfathomable – an encounter with the radical Other who can teach us something we have forgotten.

In his most effective argument, Wapner says that today we are faced with two possibilities: We can continue in the modern direction – and try to gain control over the uncontrolled side effects, such as when we spray more and more insecticides because the insects have become resistant. Alternatively, we can take a step back and give up some of the control: start adapting to nature rather than adapting nature to ourselves.

To put nature in belts

If we globally want to avoid amplifying the wild by pushing it away, we must, according to Wapner, invite more of the natural and unruly into life locally. It means for Wapner to give up some of the benefits of civilization. We must embrace a certain difficulty and a contact with unruly experiences: move more on foot and by bicycle, find ourselves freezing and sweating more, learning to coexist with "pests" and predators.

Wapner admits that "rewilding" can not solve global environmental problems. Nevertheless, he may be right that the movement towards "rewilding" can be therapeutic – it is a response, a step towards a liberation and acceptance of the uncontrolled. With a psychoanalytic logic, the wild side of nature acquires status as symptoms, which can give us important insights if we interpret them correctly.

Most people have a very limited acceptance of the wild.

Locally, the balance may be rediscovered, but globally the symptoms of failed control are more severe: Climate disruption and entire ecosystems are gripped by what he calls global "spasms." When we try to resort to engineering interventions in the sea and atmosphere, it is like trying to put nature in belts after driving it crazy, if we were to allow ourselves to build on Wapner's metaphors.

That would remain

It basically seems easy to give Wapner the right to say that we should decolonize nature and try to "make it wilder and more self-sufficient".

Nevertheless, it can take a long time before nature can be left to itself: In many places, nature is too sick, damaged and unstable to manage on its own. Forests are vulnerable to illegal and (loose legal) logging, and wild animals are vulnerable to illegal (and loose legal) hunting, fishing and trade. The atmosphere is also vulnerable to illegal (and reckless legal) emissions. Man's escape from the wild nature into the safe luxury of the comfort zone also creates not only "wild" and violent effects, but impoverishment and weakening. Wapner is fully aware of this, although he does not find room for it in his pamphlet rhetoric.

In his conclusion “It would is not over. Long live what it would be! ” Wapner's rhetoric still seems unclear and a bit forced. A celebration of the wild as something uncontrollably falls on its own unreasonableness to the extent that "the wild" should denote both ecological global imbalance and abandonment of comfort and control in humans – and at the same time should be synonymous with a positively emphasized robust, independent nature.

The errors in the text reveal something misleading in the very concept of the wild: The wild nature has been seen as the opposite of civilization, but civilization is by nature far wilder. The brutal and often misunderstood attempts to tame nature are only half the problem. That it modern the world has not been able to tame man – our runaway pollution, unbridled consumption growth and wild looting of nature – is a far more pressing problem.

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