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Unlearn, Rewild

Unlearn, RewildMiles Olson's Unlearn, Rewild is Thoreau-like in that the author translates philosophy into action, but Olson's book is much more readable than Walden is.  On the other hand, a modern audience will probably find Olson more radical than Thoreau, and Olson does have a rose-tinted view of hunter-gatherer cultures (going so far as to posit that rape was virtually unknown in North America before European contact, which seems like a hard fact to prove).  However, even if the philosophy in the first half of the book turns you off, I hope you'll flip to the primitive-living skills in the second half since Olson presents each project in such an inspiring and engaging way.

So, what is Olson's radical philosophy?  He believes we all need to "rewild" --- to return to Stone Age technology and food-gathering methods, spending time alone in nature to cleanse our minds and unlearn.  Olson writes that domestication is "killing the wildness."  He believes that only hunter-gatherers who depend on limited, place-based natural resources can keep their populations small enough and their wants ungreedy enough that they can live lightly on the earth.

Practicing what he preaches, Olson spent years living with a group of friends in scavenged-materials cabins on squatted land on Vancouver Island.  As I'll explain in later posts, he dumpster-dived, ate roadkill, and harvested wild foods like dandelions.  He believes that you can't opt out of the system without breaking the rules unless you're a "lone mountain man," and Olson clearly believes that society with other people is one of our inherent human needs.  So he recommends squatting with friends in a marginalized environment (especially on the edges of cities and towns).

As enticing as I find some of the skills Olson presents, his belief system seems fundamentally flawed.  Like him, I believe that hunter-gatherer societies had a lot going for them, but the big reason we changed over to agriculture (in my opinion) was because our population expanded to the point where we couldn't feed ourselves as hunter-gatherersUnlearn, Rewild does include a chapter on non-pharmaceutical birth control, but Olson stops short of talking about overpopulation as the driving force of our ecological problems.  Maybe he thought that would have been too radical?


This post is part of our Unlearn, Rewild lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:


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I was actually much less interested in the practical half of the book, than the philosophical part. The two sections almost seem like entirely different books, but I guess including them both allows the book to appeal to a wider audience.
Comment by Jonathan Mon Dec 23 12:22:01 2013
do I get sister privileges?
Comment by Maggie Mon Dec 23 12:49:06 2013

Jonathan --- Funny that we found entirely different parts of the book helpful! :-)

Maggie --- I'm not ready to lend it out yet since there are still several projects in it I want to try. But you can look at it in person sometime if you want....

Comment by anna Mon Dec 23 13:16:37 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime