Separating Civ from Self

When I first started to understand that civilization itself was the root of so many inextricable problems, pain, and destruction, I wanted to throw it out of my life altogether.

But I have learned that it is of no use to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Before I became so critical and mistrustful of civ when I was about 19 or 20, I really loved my life and what I was doing with it. I was really into math, and loved it for its own sake. And I wanted to work “within the system” to change the world in ways that I felt would help stop the pain and destruction; I wanted to go into urban planning. I was easily inspired, made quirky jokes constantly, and felt close to myself; I knew myself well (for the most part).

And… I was thoroughly a part of civ. I would go so far as to say that my life was “set up” (through the kind of family I was raised in) to have a major role in the functioning of civ. My brainpower was being harvested by educational institutions (and later, presumably, would be used in urban design work). I was going to have a “very bright future,” I was going to make a contribution… to civilization! And, as a high school/college kid, I accepted that, gladly. Don’t get me wrong, I was deeply concerned about the environment, and I was in love (still am) with the land, lakes and forests of my youth, and the thought of something like the North American genocide inspired sadness and anger. BUT I didn’t see how anything about the way I intended to live my life had anything to do with those feelings about wild, beautiful things.

When I first got that unshakable impulse to fly in the face of civ, I lost my entire identity. The baby had been dumped with the bathwater… and I couldn’t turn to ANYONE for support. It was hard, but I persevered.

And the thing is, sometimes, that old me comes back, and it makes me so emotionally confused. I have a new boyfriend who’s in school part time. Recently he took a lot of college math. We had a brief discussion the other day about multi-variable calculus and non-Cartesian coordinate systems, and I realized how much I miss my old mind, how beautiful and poetic math was to me. Math is this whole world that stems from years and years, layers, of CIVILIZED intellectual/philosophical discourse, and it’s not useful in rewilding–more than likely, it gets in the way–and I just don’t know what to do about that, not to mention so many other things that stake a claim on my life. Whether I want them to influence me or not, they do. And then when I realize that, I get more than a little anxious about it. On one hand, I feel as though those things tether me to civ like sinister black tentacles. On the other hand, they are part of who I am and accepting/submitting to that seems like a healthy thing to do.

I’m so confused. What am I missing here? I need some kind of clue, or perspective. Surely I can rewild without demolishing myself in the process!

Does anyone else ever feel this way?


I'm so confused. What am I missing here? I need some kind of clue, or perspective. Surely I can rewild without demolishing myself in the process!

Does anyone else ever feel this way?

Yes. I find that it’s not a fun place to be in. Is this what psychologists call cognitive dissonance? Seriously, I really don’t know much about CD.

Once and awhile when I’m in that place, I find myself turning to this essay by Ran Prieur.

Or I go back and read this response about false dichotomies by Devin over at my blog.

I think a lot of it depends on the mental framework we choose to think about these things.

I wish I could offer you more.

Take care,


IMHO in don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with math. I personally hate it because I’m horrible at it. But I still wouldn’t discourage others from studying it … I think it depends on how you use math whether it gets in the way of rewilding or not… yes, math is often a way of thinking abstractly that is in opposition to nature, but I think we need that type of thought right now. We use calculus to study things like population growth and wildlife destruction, don’t we? Plus, you seem to be able to keep civ-thinking and re-wild philosophies “side by side” just fine, so I don’t think you’re in danger of getting completely recivilized.

But I do know what you mean. That confusion when you consider part of your identity to still be within civs boundaries. I feel this type of separation anxiety even though I honestly don’t have much at stake in civ anymore.

I guess my question for you would be: What would happen if you submitted to those “civ” influences? Do you think you’d be re-integrated in some way? Or would your re-wilding philosophy flow outwards into what you were doing?

I guess it would depend on what you did with your talents. I don’t think that working through the system implies working with the system. Derrick Jensen and Daniel Quinn still have to publish books made out of murdered trees. Bombs made by materials only available through civ would be the ones used to destroy dams. Urban planning might not have to be a destructive occupation.

The hard part becomes making money, because we all know working through civ usually forces us to make life into product in order to gain profit. But some professions/activities do alot less damage than others. I’m not sure if this adresses your confusion though, because I don’t know where you fear your submission to math-oriented thinking would take you, or how you think rewilding would demolish that part of you.

It seems to me that many people on this forum “engage” in their civ interests/occupations, while holding a (very) special place in their hearts for rewilding, not the other way around. I think for right now that could be a healthy way for many of us to “arrange” our thoughts, and I hope you (and all of us) can find a balance among those thoughts that works well.

Hmm, I’m going to echo Brian: I don’t think I understand your thoughts/feelings on this well enough to help, but I’d like to. Can you help me understand the identifications you’re making (for yourself) and what you fear might happen if you don’t resolve this?

Ai think it about time someone rewilded mathematics. :wink:

Haha, yeah. The more I think about this, the less I see a dichotomy. I mean, we (rewilding people) aren’t opposed to something just because it came from civ, are we? Most of us would be be willing to use transition tech to survive, right?

I especially don’t see a problem if you’re just studying/discussing math for its own sake. From what my brother (mechanical engineer) tells me, once you’re out of school and in an occupation these days, you depend mostly on computers to do calculations. So it seems that lately, civ hardly encourages the view of math as “poetry”, and instead exploits it like any other resource.

Didn’t Derrick Jensen and Ted Kaczynski both study lots of math? Why couldn’t rewilding people learn about math, and keep that knowledge alive? Does it represent the same danger to the wild that technology and monocropping do? I’m not really sure of the prevailing wisdom on this, but some part of me just wants to say, “follow your heart.”

You could go urban plan the st out of someplace… make it more efficient, or "green,"or beautiful… make an urban food garden, or just convince people to stop building… and then start tearing st down to make wildlife parks. I dunno.


I’m a physicist by qualification. I love mathematics.

To me, maths isn’t a product of civ at all.

It’s a beautiful entity in its own right. Like so much, it’s the use it’s been harnessed to do that is an abomination.

An ability and an appreciation of maths just means your brain is set up a certain way, and you’ll find you’re good at stuff like astronomy and understanding how things work, too - this is a useful skill to have in rewilding, as far as I’m concerned.

And shit, man, we do need it all.

Terri in Joburg

Your post reminds me so much of myself. I went through the same thing at the same time (age 20 then, early 20’s now), and I was a majoring in math. I worshipped at the altar of technology, and I planned to use my skills make the world more ‘technologically advanced’.

I eventually gave up those plans, but I analyzed everything based on it’s own merit. Yes, math came about via civ, but do you have any reason to give it up besides that? I don’t like the idea that just because something came about via civ it should be discarded. Should we discard the info gleaned from Nazi experiments on humans? I’d say no.

Abstract algebra might be useless with regards to rewilding, but is that any reason to discard it? (and who knows, maybe 50 years down the line you’ll find some use for it)

If you like it, and it has no negative side effects (of course, be wary), isn’t that good enough a reason to stick with it?

I love math too and I’ll probably never give it up.

I’m glad this is one of those posts I was drawn to today… I have always loved math. It was the only thing I was consistently drawn to and did well at in school (unless I had a shitty teacher). I didn’t do the college thing, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed more complex math. Anyway, I’m getting off-track.

The first thing I wanted to say is that I relate to an undertone of this thread about the difficulty making money while making peace with the fact we’re using the system to do it. I am really having a hard time with that right now, and will most likely end up posting something about it on another thread…

The second point is one that has already been said: math as an art form. I think it is a really good point that now-a-days computers do the computing, and relate to that sense of peace one can attain when in the ‘zone’ with math in mind.

Now, a question: have you ever seen the movie Pi? Same director as Requiem for a Dream. I already had noticed a personal tendency toward numbers in my life, and a feeling that they had something to do with everything. Pi talks a lot about math being the language of nature, and I think this is some of the ‘poetic’ stuff that was being talked about. There will always be someone ready to corrupt something, but that doesn’t mean the thing itself is corrupt… anyway, if you want, check out that movie and share your thoughts. :slight_smile:

To the Vision of Truth,


Hi everyone,

I want to thank you for all of your words over the past month. It’s a lot to digest, but I want to enter back into the discussion again eventually. However, I can’t respond in any detail today because I’m leaving to go to a friend’s house in a few minutes. But I want you all to know that I appreciate your responses. I’ll definitely be revisiting this thread.

Hi all, I realize this thread has been quiet for a long time but I feel my own experience fits in nicely here (and might even shed some light on how to “rewild math”).

Patterns and puzzles have always intrigued me. Math came easily to me, and in deciding whether to study biology or math I chose math because biology was not offered where I could live near my friends.

It was not until after graduation that I realized I had lost most of my interest in math. Why? In effect, what I had been looking for was to fully understand what those folks like Newton had experienced, sitting near the apple tree and watching the apples fall. What had they seen in nature that was expressed by these simple, elegant formulae?
Well, making students re-live that experience was not what academic schooling was aiming for. Instead, the goal was to teach you how to use this knowledge/formula/power an apply it in other places…

Years later, one day, as the bus I was on had stopped on a road through Romania’s wild woods, I got the strong sense that my education had been way to one-dimensional: I was taught to follow that road either in this direction or that, because that would bring me to places where I knew to find food and shelter.
But how about those other directions? All those 358 degrees (and more, really) that would lead me into the forest for goodness knows how many miles. Why had nobody taught me how to be able to go there?

Ah yes, to rewild math regarding Newton’s Law of Gravity, I guess it would suffice to spend a lot of time sitting with an apple tree for many, many days and watch the apples fall.