Rewilding and the danger of a Neo-Eugenics


#1

Eugenics emerged with the notion of evolution and genetics. The idea was controlling evolution to make the ideal or perfect genetic human. In the Paleo health and fitness world, there is an idea that there is an “ideal” diet and and ideal exercise routine “based on our genetics” and evolution. This is an unformed thought… but I want to open the discussion because I feel like there is room for Rewilding to end up being some fucked up neo-eugenics idea. Especially when you have people like Daniel Vitalis giving names like “Homo Fragilis” or whatever he calls it, to people living in the modern era. Calling us “domesticated” and viewing that as bad, and therefore creating a need to alter our DNA to be more “wild” is a huge miss step I believe. Recently on the rewild.com Facebook group we were talking about rewilding animals, and I thought of this project in germany that is mean to rewild a cow to be more like the wild Auroch. Sarah T. posted an article about the origins of that idea, and that they came from the Eugenics movement.

Here is the wiki page for the Tauros Project:

And it’s predecessor:
http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/45/wang.php

Thoughts?


#2

Eugenics is an ignorant train of thought that hasn’t kept up with the latest genetic research.

It ignores epigenetics, which is how genes are switched on and off by the environment we are in and lifestyle we lead. All genes are subject to it.

We still have our ancestors genes, our lifestyle however has switched genes in a way that is not representative of our true potential.


#3

Yes, Epigenetics changes some things, but there is still this fake idea that there is an “ideal” human form, rather than an ever-changing, ever adapting one. The strive for some sort of “perfected” state, as opposed to just a better state than what we have now, but by no means perfect.


#4

True. And in my mind that is no different to racism…


#5

I’m not convinced that softening the phrasing from “perfect” to “better” makes any fundamental difference at all. I don’t think it really undermines the motivation in any way-- you can still be driven to the same actions even if you are only seeking improvement. I don’t think the horrors of nazi germany happened b/c they were seeking perfection when they should have been seeking improvement. And there are so many recent examples, with neoliberalism and neocolonialism, of the potential dangers of pursuing this idea of improvement.

I agree, Peter, that epigenetics doesn’t change much here. It’s a slightly different understanding of gene expression than previous eugenics practitioners had. But the same structures of thought behind eugenics just get placed on this new mechanism. I don’t think the problem with previous eugenics projects was that they just didn’t know about epigenetics yet so their projects were bound to fail… or something like that. For me, the problem isn’t feasibility, it’s ethics.

I’m not terribly concerned about the ethics of breeding animals either. Sure, there are ethical questions in there that other people might be passionate about promoting or debating etc. I’m just not particularly passionate about those questions myself.

My main concern is… what underlying values/ideas/aesthetics might cause rewilders to reach the same conclusions as nazis, and what can we do about that?

I think it’s really easy, too, to identify when the Other has something in common with the nazis. That’s probably something that westerners agree on more than anything else is that the Other is like the nazis haha. But I think the fact that the nazi is always Other and never Self is part of why atrocities keep happening again and again.


#6

Interesting topic and links, thanks. Nazi rewilding, who knew? Although just because they did it doesn’t make it inherently evil or devoid of merit…

I heard about the ‘domestico fragilis’ thing through Vitalis’ buddy Arthur Haines. Apparently it started out as a bit of a joke but Haines’ discussion has some weight to it IMO:

(relevant part from 5:10)

The subject of breeding brings discomfort, mostly because of the association with eugenics as you say. There’s no controversy in admitting that cows, sheep, chickens etc. as well as the major plant domesticates have been purposefully bred to serve human requirements at the expense of their own needs. In ecological terminology their r-selected traits of rapid growth, high resource consumption, early & prolific reproduction have been enhanced and harnessed by human farmers to provide a maximum of usable commodity with the minimum energy taken up by the domesticate itself. Very clearly this has detrimental effects on the quality of life for the animal or plant in question - disease-prone, totally dependent, barely functional organisms. But things get sticky when you apply the same line of inquiry to humans! It seems undeniable that we face selection pressures as we grow up in the civilised culture - parents, teachers, employers, priests, politicians etc. all choose which particular behaviours and attitudes to encourage and which to punish, with success, prestige and influence granted only to those who abide by these rules while habitual offenders fall by the wayside. (In the 3rd world and during former times in the West too there appears to have been a definite encouragement of r-selected traits in the populations of farmers and early city-dwellers, especially when it came to having massive families.) But has there been a conscious breeding program guiding this all along? Seems more doubtful. Following the Herman-Chomsky propaganda model interpretation of mass indoctrination in the media I’d be less inclined to see a deliberate conspiracy and more a combination of unseen forces which predictably lead to the same outcomes. In their model it would be the underlying structure of free-market capitalism, whereas for human domestication we would be looking for deeper factors in the structure of agrarian societies. Maybe the ‘cultural materialism’ by which anthropologists have learned to predict social structures simply by looking at the methods of subsistence?

So where does that leave this ‘New Aboriginal’ form of rewilding? I don’t like the contempt sometimes shown towards domesticated humans much in the same way I’ve come to dislike the way some people speak about domesticated animals. Can you really blame them for being that way, given they had little or no choice in the matter and that the path of their life has been largely dictated by external agents and/or pressures? I think the Nazi/fascist-type approach to this would be through harsh contempt and injunctions about how people should (always SHOULD) ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, much like you see in today’s dominant narratives about poverty and benefits claimants. A ‘chosen race’ would emerge of people ‘up to the task’ and these would be lionised and perhaps used to supplant ‘lesser’ peoples who would be considered responsible for their own failures. I’d be looking for a more gentle, understanding approach that works with reality as things currently stand rather than freaking out over how far away this might be from an ‘ideal’ form that someone has in their head (compare to the Heck bros obsession with ‘aesthetics’ of how the cattle appeared which completely tramples over any consideration of what would be good for the animal) and throwing out anything, anyone that doesn’t comply. This would apply to self-work as well as to relationships with animal & plant domesticates: letting the soft animal bodies simply love what they love, to paraphrase Mary Oliver:

But I don’t really think Vitalis or Haines would disagree with this, judging from what little I’ve read/seen of them.

cheers,
Ian


#7

It’s one thing to observe nature and learn from it, especially our place in it, but quite another to imagine that one has learned it all and now can start to control it. I think that’s the difference between actual rewilding and any eugenics notions. Seeing how humans turned a wolf into a poodle doesn’t necessarily lead to the notion that humans can contribute to species evolution in a useful way.

The ones who are attracted to eugenics notions just haven’t really learned much, like a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There’s no danger of a neo-eugenics, eugenics isn’t old enough for a new one to appear yet. It’s hardly surprising that such ideas appear on facebook!

There’s nothing wrong with considering that the laws that apply to all other life might possibly also apply to humans, we should not stop exploring and promoting such thoughts just because some ignoramuses can’t think properly. The problem with eugenicists isn’t that they exist, it;s that they are in positions of power.


#8

This is super problematic I agree. These kinds of things are always difficult to navigate, it does seem to be something that has been overlooked. Another issue that I see, although this is a tangent, is with racism that white rewilders may be perpetuating by participating in a system of colonization and white supremacy without doing enough to undo this system. Besides Rewild Portland, Miles Olsen and some other folks, there seems to be not enough recognition of the fact that this whole movement takes place within the context of a series of oppressive systems. To me (and I’ll admit that I’m not super involved in the rewilding community yet), coming from a background of activism, it is important to make conscious steps to undo this and fight side-by-side with people of color and other marginalized identities. And this doesn’t just mean being an Ally™. Of course one must also be aware of tokenization, white saviorism, etc. but I think that one must be aware that many of the prominent philosophers of this movement (at least many that have inspired me) are white, cis males. This seems to be a common thread in arguments against rewilding or at least similar ideologies/ideas/movements such as so-called “anarcho-primitivism” (don’t like part of that particular phrase). What about those in this culture who don’t have the privilege to have access to rewilding? What will happen to them when collapse comes? It seems like this is conveniently ignored, or worse actively accepted as part of a racist agenda that many people may not even be conscious of. This said, there are obviously groups such as Rewild Portland working to change this but just seems to be overlooked from my view. Sorry if this was too off-topic but just had to get it out. No easy answers again, but I think it’s an extremely important discussion to have. Peace