"Pointing to the logs burning in the fireplace, one child asked me, "What is fire?" I answered, "Fire is the Sun unwinding from the tree's log. The Earth revolves and the trees revolve as the radiation from the Sun's flame reaches the revolving planet Earth... Each ring of the many rings of the saw-cut log is one year's Sun-energy impoundment. So the fire is the many-years-of-Sun-flame-winding now unwinding from the tree. When the log fire pop-sparks, it is letting go a very sunny day long ago, and doing so in a hurry." Conventionally educated grown-ups rarely know how to answer such questions. They're all too specialized."
From "Critical Path" by R. Buckmister Fuller
The earth is losing its wild places. Natural resources are being depleted, contaminated, and exploited. Most humans would agree that these statements are true, and that these issues need to be addressed, but there is little agreement in the human community on how to do so. As we look at the options for preserving and promoting some elements of "Wildness" in our global and personal environments, we are faced with a basic contradiction - for a majority of humans in the "developed" world, "wildness" only exists as an intellectual concept - most people will never spend time completely immersed in the direct interaction with their environment on a level of basic survival. Because humans are physically ill-equipped to survive in the wild, our tribes have strived to remove us from harm, and like any successful species, our own survival/success may be our eventual downfall, due to resource depletion; human over-grazing.
Ironically, one of humankind's most primitive institutions, tribalism, is the major obstacle to preserving "Wildness". Humans first conceptual tool in the struggle for dominance over the terran environment, tribalism remains hardwired into the cultural psyche of humans in the forms of governments, corporations and religions - all of which continue to tool up to wage a war for survival that was long ago won. How do we retool our tribal machinery to serve not as political, social and economic weaponry, but as vehicles for omni-survival, what Buckminster Fuller referred to as "livingry"? Is it possible to use technology to reclaim elements of the wild, to find a balance at the fringe of domestication where these "feral technologies" might flourish?
In examining this paradox, it may be helpful to examine the "Time-Binding" model developed by mathematician Alfred Korzybski in the1920's. Korzybski theorized that all terran life fell somewhere along a spectrum marked by three classifications -
1. Energy-Binding: Originally referred to by Korzybski as "chemistry-binding", this includes the range of beings from single cell organisms to plants, which interact directly with the source of life - solar energy. Plants are solar collectors - directly processing the suns energy. Without proximity to sunlight, water, and necessary chemicals, energy binders cannot exist.
2. Space-Binding: Unlike energy-binders, space-binders cannot directly process solar power. Space-binders rely on mobility for survival. Animals are space-binders - they hunt, graze and forage across space in order to survive.
3. Time-Binding: Korzybski defined humans as time-binders. We have one major difference from other animals - the ability to communicate complex information and concepts from generation to generation, to build on that information and to store it in very sophisticated ways. Despite our physical disadvantages to other animals, "time-binding" allows humans to develop conceptual and mechanical tools that enable us to survive in the face of "Wildness".
Of course, these categories are not exclusive - as we know, plants have the ability to adapt and migrate and animals do bind both energy and time to some degree. Only humankind is dependent on the depth of it's interaction with time, and it's ability to overcome the constraints of time with technology.
As the father of General Semantics, Korzybski is also famous for phrases like "the map is not the territory" and "a word is not the thing", and without digressing into a general semantic discussion about the existence of "Wildness" beyond the realm of human intellectual concept, I think it is safe to say that a Korzybskian definition of "Wildness" might be an environment in which the effects of time-binding are reduced.
It could be argued that human spirituality is based almost universally on this need to slide back down the scale from time-binding to energy-binding, and reestablish a direct connection to energy. The concept of the Garden of Eden is an allegory for humankind's evolution from energy binders to space binders to time binders. The yogic focus on breath, "sun salutations" and the Zen Buddhist quest to "live moment by moment", all are rooted in the desire to escape our human instinct to time-bind and to explore our own abilities to energy-bind.
On a planet so dominated at this point in history by time-binders, can we expect to ever see the resurrection of the truly "wild"? Is it our quest as time-binders to try to make it happen or to make certain it doesn't? What can we learn from the adaptive technologies of the energy and space binders, which have survived and thrived in a wild state, despite the best efforts of time binders to domesticate or eradicate them?
One might make the argument that "wildness" re-introduces itself into human society in many ways, most of them unintentional and many uninvited. Some are classified as generally positive - the nesting of raptors in the skyscrapers of a large city, for instance. It seems harmless to real estate and commerce, and even the most hardened urban dweller can appreciate the significance of the occurrence. Other more invasive forms of "rewilding" we define as negative. In my personal experience, one of the clearest and most extreme examples of a human environment returning to a "wild" state was in the area of Detroit where I worked as a machinist in the early 1980's. Devastated 15 years earlier by deadly riots, many areas of the inner city were nothing but empty lots, and at that time held native plant species, pheasant, deer, and supposedly even coyote. As a country boy who had grown up thinking of cities as places devoid of any sign of wilderness, I was amazed at the speed at which "the wild" could reintroduce itself in the seemingly permanent world of bricks and steel.
Despite the best efforts of time-binders to compartmentalize energy-binders and space-binders (and less powerful time-binders) for their optimal productivity and maximum benefit to the survival and pleasure of the most powerful among them, some terran life forms refuse to stay in their compartments. These domesticated beings, having returned to a wild state, are referred to as having "gone feral". These plants and animals (and occasionally humans) generally begin their existence in the service of time-binding. Domestic cats & dogs, swine, horses, rabbits, carp, garlic mustard, kudzu, thistles, multiflora rose and members of a plethora of other species have escaped the best-laid plans of humans and adapted, with varying success AND varying levels of detrimental environmental impact, to "the Wild". Because "wildness" is an inherently non-time-binding attribute, humans can rarely exist "in a wild state", but "feral" is available to all, and by extension, so can humans apply the concept of "Feral" to the outgrowth of their time-binding expertise - technology. "Feral" is the wild, shadowy doppelganger to domestication, existing side-by-side, sometimes in the same space, like the legendary coyotes in the heart of the Motor City.
The Rise of "Feral Technology"
By definition, the terms "domesticated"," wild", and "feral" all refer to biological organisms. Domesticated plants and animals are those raised and bred for attributes, which allow them to best serve humankind. Is it possible for these terms to apply to technologies? Aren't technological innovations merely an outgrowth of the domestication of living organisms practiced by our forbearers?
Humans often show feral traits, when living in environments neglected or abandoned by domesticated society. In the inner cities and industrial areas of the developed world and in the shantytowns of the developing world, humans adapt their primary survival tool - technology, to fit the needs of the inhabitants. Like the amazing skill sets including mobility, adaptability and resource management which allow a colony of feral cats to thrive virtually unnoticed in the middle of a heavily populated urban neighborhood, humans are adapting any available technology, high or low, for "feral" uses. On all levels of society and in all parts of the world, technology is being used in ways it was never intended. In the film "Brazil", Terry Gilliam's brilliant dystopian vision of the future, rogue repairman Archibald "Harry" Tuttle (played by Robert DeNiro), when asked if he can repair the heating system, responds "No, but I can bypass it".
For years, tinkerers, farmers, back-to-the-landers and "fringe" researchers have looked at adapting all manner of technology to "feral" uses. Most arise from necessity- the need to provide themselves with food, water, shelter and transportation to allow them to more effectively bind space and energy. Basic materials like the blue utility tarp and corrugated cardboard are the products of sophisticated industrial production systems, and yet these cheap and disposable products are integral shelter components for many humans. At the other end of the spectrum, the Linux operating system is changing the world of computing, developing almost entirely outside of the "domesticated" corporate development structure.
- "Earthship" homes, built of used tires, recycled materials and earthen plasters have sprung up across the southwestern United States, and the technology is spreading to poorer countries where building materials are scarce, and recycling is a way of life.
- In Southeast Asian fishing villages, residents are using small photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to charge batteries to power lights and radios, freeing them from dependence on noisy gas generators, which pollute both the air and the water on which they depend for life. The same aerospace PV technology, along with wind turbine technology also borrowed from aeronautics, are used in remote locations around the world to provide the interface for energy that is necessary for the survival of time-binders, in a way less invasive to the "wild" environment than more primitive energy generation relying on fossilized energy binders (coal, oil, etc.).
- "Living Design" and "Biomimicry" are philosophies based in the desire to combine the biological system design seen in the wild to create a technology that integrates energy, water and waste management that mimics the systems of our wilder companions in the energy-binding realm. Beautiful, high-tech living environments are being created with intentional, integrated wildness.
- The bicycle - perhaps humankind's most successful invention - is the single most commonly used and most commonly "feralized" machine on earth. It's ability to efficiently maximize human power makes it a perfect tool for running electrical generators, pumps and other tools, as well as binding space and time - pulling trailers, delivering goods or providing speedy and secure information transfer. In major cities across the globe, no class of citizen epitomizes "feral human" more than the bicycle messenger!
Often finding their roots in military technology, "feral technology" transforms weaponry into Fuller's "livingry". Most recently, information and communications technology have gone feral - the open source software movement, "hacking", "phreaking" telecommunications hacking) and "swarming" (group communication through cell phone text messaging) are all unintended outgrowths of digital technology. The internet itself was designed for military communication, but now provides a forum for more open interaction and free thought than ever before - for better or worse.
In his book "Smart Mobs", author Howard Rheingold addresses the idea of information technology and it's role in humans striking out against their own domestication:
"Smart mobs emerge when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation. The impacts of smart mob technology already appear to be both beneficial and destructive, used by some of its earliest adopters to support democracy and by others to coordinate terrorist attacks. The technologies that are beginning to make smart mobs possible are mobile communication devices and pervasive computing - inexpensive microprocessors embedded in everyday objects and environments. Already, governments have fallen, youth subcultures have blossomed from Asia to Scandinavia, new industries have been born and older industries have launched furious counterattacks... Street demonstrators in the 1999 anti-WTO protests used dynamically updated websites, cell-phones, and "swarming" tactics in the "battle of Seattle." A million Filipinos toppled President Estrada through public demonstrations organized through salvos of text messages."
Once again, relatively inexpensive, mass-produced technology is used to move humans away from ever-encroaching domestication, in this case, the ordering of the social and economic environment by governments and multi-national corporations. These "virtual species", evolved from time-binders, are the only predators on earth that constitute a significant threat to humankind. It is their quest for dominion over resources/energy/life on earth that threatens the survival of the human species, as well as the physical existence of the human concept of "wildness". Only the "feralization" of humans and their technology and the integration of both into a biomemetic system of "livingry" will allow humans to survive on earth.
Designing a New Model
In Fuller's landmark book "Critical Path" he states... "The success of all humanity can be accomplished only by a terrestrially comprehensive, technologically competent, design revolution. This revolution must develop artifacts where energy-use efficiency not only occasions the artifacts' spontaneous adoption by humanity, but also occasions the inadvertent, unregretted abandonment and permanent obsolescence of socially and economically undesirable viewpoints, customs and practices."
Fuller puts his finger on the problem: only through the "...permanent obsolescence of socially and economically undesirable viewpoints, customs and practices" can we assure the survival of humanity, and by extension, "wildness". Chances are that biological life will continue on earth with or without humans, but if we wish to establish a healthy eco-system of which humans are a part, we must seek alternatives to our current systems for binding of energy, space and time.
We cannot legislate wildness back into existence - under the current corporate-tribal governments; "protected" lands are merely museum pieces, theme parks or set-aside areas to provide exclusive contracts to the politically powerful. We cannot turn back the clock, put the technological genie back in the bottle and return to the Garden of Eden. The first step toward a new wildness is for humans to go technologically, spiritually, intellectually and culturally feral, to move away from the dominance of their own artificial constructs, and to integrate energy and space binding back into their daily lives.