What I Love and Hate About Daniel Vitalis, Rewilding, and Civilization
Just because I've distanced myself from some of the rhetoric of rewilding, doesn't mean I don't think it has a ton of good to offer. Wild food plants and animals DO have better nutritional value than more domesticated food crops. We DO live in a horrifically toxic world. People ARE incredibly traumatized. The coyote howls and the screech owl calls eerily-beautifully outside my open bedroom window as I type this and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Daniel Vitalis, who got his internet health celebrity start in the raw foods world, is the first person to attempt to capitalize on rewilding by targeting the paleo lifestyle crowd. I personally don't have any problem with that. I think its smart. I think it will help the same information reach more people. I think it is only a step beyond what I was attempting when myself and some of my compatriots were “hipsterifying” rewilding in the mid-late 00's and drawing ire from the “real” green anarchists whom we felt were douche-bags for their inability to understand the clear value of infiltrating popular culture.
But for a lot of my old friends he has crossed a line. Some of this has to do with specific words and phrases that they felt he stole without attribution much like the Fat Jew debacle that was in the media recently involving controversy over reposted memes and stolen jokes. I can't say if Daniel was influenced by anything of mine. However, I would be flattered if he did steal a line or idea from me. I don't care.
The other reason the old-school rewilders are mad at him is that marketing and making lots of money off things isn't cool for most of that crowd. They believe that at its core rewilding means, not only undoing domestication, but walking away from civilization(or civ, as those of us in the know call it) and its trappings, including the current economic system. I wrote about why I disagree with that attitude in my posts Why Money Is Not The Root of All Evil and Why I Don't Date Guys Who Want to Live Off-Grid.
I do agree that some of the expensive supplements Daniel Vitalis promotes feel a little bit inauthentic or out of place for someone whose taboo flaunting shtick includes posting Instagram photos of themselves shitting. It's not just as simple as plugging in this Dave Asprey Bulletproof-type approach into rewilding. There is a slight energetic discord there, a mismatch with the present audience that I think will keep it from maximum success, but that audience might change to be more appropriate for selling high-end, boutique products to if he were to adjust his message ever so slightly as I'm about to suggest below.
Suffice to say, I have no problem with the overall concept of selling valuable products, services, or information and making a shit ton of money regardless of whether one uses that money to support their own lifestyle or, for example, siphons it toward preserving wildlands, which is always an option.
My personal problem with Daniel Vitalis, isn't really a problem. (Daniel if you are reading this now, I think you are a good person, with a good heart, and good intentions and we could have a lot to offer each other. Plus we both have Catahoula dogs and use Squarespace for our blogs! So let's be friends). It is more of a mild critique or suggestion. I just feel strongly that there are certain aspects of his message that are too dogmatic to ever fly with the mainstream.
Some would argue, "Well so what, the mainstream is stupid," but at times I tend to give more credit to the wisdom of the mainstream than others and this is one of those times. I think that Truth has the ability to touch hearts far and wide. A little while ago when I was curious to learn more about what Daniel had done with rewilding, I listened to his interview with my favorite podcaster Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness Radio. Sean is such a nice guy. He always finds something wonderful yet genuine to say to his guests. I could never do his job. I'd be all like, “Your book has some really great points. Overall it sucks. I felt you could improve it by incorporating XYZ.” Which is essentially what I'm doing right now, minus the book part!
So when I listened to Sean's podcast with Daniel I was actually impressed that he presented a very rational sounding argument for rewilding for a good three-quarters of it. There is too much of a fear of nature among citified folks. Check. Primitive people had better teeth. Check. Uptight taboos against nudity, tattoos, and long hair represent some sort of weird Protestant attempts to distance ourselves from animals. Sure, okay. Daniel lays out a fairly convincing picture of the idyllic hunter-gather life. But then Sean asks him the critical question:
“But here's the thing. Were not going to go back to that system. I mean do you actually see us going back to that system?”
And after the great build up and convincing critique that he'd presented in the first half of the show, Daniel gave this answer that was just so unsatisfying. He said:
“No, not by choice...We're living in a factory farm and we can't go back to our wild environment, so we might want to turn this factory farm into a zoo.”
Frankly I find that answer a) uninspiring b) inaccurate and c) dark. First of all if I was going to make the argument that humans are factory farmed animals and slaves to capitalism and that the hunter gather lifestyle was clearly the best lifestyle this planet has ever seen, I would own it. I would say, “Yes, we can go back. Why not? It might take awhile but we should try right now with all our hearts. If you've made a mistake, and you know you've made a mistake. What excuse do you have for not rectifying it?”
I got this impression that he was trying to temper his true beliefs for a mass audience and it just wasn't working. It is disheartening to suggest that the best our generation can expect to achieve, and that therefore all we should try for, is some sub-optimal zoo life. Haven't you ever heard of shooting for the goddamn stars?
But I wouldn't make that argument because I think the modern-humans-are-work-animals-raised-in-captivity-by-our-corporate-overlords-analogy is just too much of a stretch. I'm not even sure I believe in this whole human domestication thing or that if humans are domesticated that it is bad. Do you feel like a factory farmed animal? I'm truly sorry if you do, but I don't. And I pay $1000 of rent and utilities and $600 in credit card debts each month and spend about $250 on supplements to try and combat my chronic fatigue which some would blame on the psychic or chemical toxins of our civilization. And yet I still don't feel un-free.
I do more or less exactly what I want with my life. I go jogging and swimming. I eat healthy delicious foods. I meet cool people and have sex with them. I live in a spacious and tastefully decorated home set within a beautiful landscape. I read entertaining stories and write out my feelings and share them with the world on this amazing cultural technology called the Internet. Really, there are lot of great things about it.
Indicating that we humans are being farmed by other humans, blaming some shadowy other, perhaps the 1%, for all our problems in the vein of some Illuminati conspiracy theory, whatever shred of truth there is to that (and I'm sure there is some shred), just doesn't make make for an inspiring message. It says that we can never be unencumbered in this lifetime, that our personal salvation is tied in with the fate of the entire global system and that we need to go around lamenting our destiny and being various degrees of angry and resentful at everyone until they get on board with our wishes.
I have to disagree. I think happiness and freedom are attainable to anyone in any lifetime. Nature is great. It does tend to have a certain je ne sais quoi, lacking in many civilized human activities. But not all of them. I can't go into the redesign of civilization for greater health, social equality, and ecological sustainability, maybe even more so than found in our hunter-gatherer past, at this point. That is for another post.
I will just say that I've never met anyone that didn't enjoy some of the perks of our modern society, and that denying or depriving oneself those things can result in a certain cognitive dissonance and shame and even the denial of one's true purpose in life. So I'll be the first to come out of the closet. I am totally gay for civilization.
I believe what people are searching for through rewilding are qualities like freedom, self-sufficiency, creativity, and joy and that I think that those qualities are available to us all right now. And I DON'T mean in some kind of mind-numbing Buddhist-dancing-cult way (that's an obscure reference to Pom Poko, an anime movie about Japanese raccoon dogs with giant nutsacks struggling with their relationship to the city for you non-Studio Ghibli fans). I mean a real vibrant, bountiful, sovereign, blessed life.
I agree with the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. To an unhappy rewilder lamenting their domestication I would say:
"Freedom in its essence is the acceptance of the chains which suit you and for which you are suited, and of the harness in which you pull towards an end chosen and valued by yourself, and not imposed. It is not, and never can be, the absence of restrictions, obligations of law and of duty.”
I would further say that to be born in this era, into civilization, is a chain we have chosen for ourselves and to which we are all suited by virtue of being here, and NOT just a constraint chosen to fight against, but chosen to thrive within. My answer to Sean's question would be:
"No. While they have much to teach us, we can't and shouldn't go back to the exact conditions of our indigenous ancestors. However, we can and should aim to recreate/experience the essence of those values which we are projecting onto them, which they may or may not have truly exhibited. We should aim first and foremost to rewild our souls."
Clear air and water, healthy food, natural movement, and sun on the bare skin are all important, but only part of the puzzle. Even less obvious indigenous practices like attachment parenting, non-violent communication, storytelling and healing community ritual are not at the core of what I am speaking of. If you're curious what rewilding of the soul might look like and how you could possibly achieve freedom, safety, and happiness amidst all the confusion and chaos of civ, read just about any other post on this blog, especially those categorized under soul hacking.
Here is the original podcast: