Wild and Free
by Grant A. Mincy
John Adams believed Independence Day would become a great anniversary festival. He was right. July fourth is the central holiday of the summer. Post solstice, on this day folks celebrate with pomp parades, sports and games, the cracking of rifles, the blaze of bonfires and the pop, flash and fizzle of fireworks. It is a fun day, a great day — full of cheer and a collective expression of solidarity.
My family and I have developed our own unique tradition to ring in the declaration that officially split American colonies from the British empire: We escape.
We wake early, pack our gear (water, cold beer, fried chicken, cheese and fruits), brew some coffee and with a caffeine high we hop in the family wagon and make our way to a National Park. Theme song of the day? Well, for me, it is of course Born Country, by Alabama: “I was born country and that’s what I’ll always be, like the rivers and the woodlands wild and free.” We live in Knoxville, Tennessee so we frequent the Great Smoky Mountains. When liberty is the theme of the day, makes sense to us that we should spend said day in wilderness.
In wilderness we live in wildness, that’s what I like to say. We live in liberty, absent of control and administration from the hierarchies that organize human civilization. It’s nice to forget about the woes of society, instead we respect the territory of the black bear. It is interesting every year, the bears authority always seems legitimate — I thank them for reminding me of freedom.
I love wild lands. I am fortunate enough, in my 31 years, to have traveled the political boundaries of the United States six times. The great American road trips! Coast to coast, across mountains, deltas, deserts, rolling hills covered in sage brush, the wide open prairie, scab lands and bad lands, big horns and big sky, mighty sequoia’s, majestic redwoods, canopied poplars the mighty Pacific and the growing Atlantic — I’ve never met a wild land I didn’t admire.
I admire wild lands because of their refuge. They remind us of what makes life worth living: Liberty. Among the mixed deciduous forest, under the canopy of poplar, oak, hemlock and spruce, a rich, harmonious chorus of leaves, wind, insects, small mammals, larger beasts, trickling springs, roaring rivers and childlike laughter fills the forest. There is excitement, danger, solitude, cheer and a common connection in wild lands. My heart beats proudly for humanity in open spaces. Here we are, traveling around the sun, building our lives with each other on an ancient Earth for just an instant in deep time. I can think of nothing more inspiring or beautiful than that.
So, for me, the old saying from American anarchist and conservationist Ed Abbey rings true: A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
In protecting country from government, we protect ourselves from tyranny. The greatest gift wild lands provide is the ability to reflect upon our own societies so we may craft a civilization worthy of wilderness — worthy of freedom and the advancement of human liberty.
I’ve often thought, the National Parks, though under government control, offer a model of liberation. Open spaces anywhere else, be it mountaintop removal coal mining across Appalachia, Resolution Coppers impending assault on holy Apache land in Tonto National Forest, tar sands mining in the great Boreal forests, oil spills on the coasts, development on wetlands, growth machines on all hinterlands, and so on, are under the extreme archism of the corporate state — modified forever, taken from future generations and lost to the commons. National Parks were secured by a grand preservationist movement. These naturalists did not much care to talk about what governments ought to do, but rather what they ought not do. Environmental achievement was obtained by pronouncing the splendid beauty of natural ecosystems, the challenges facing nature, and the innate need to protect wild spaces.
We have a right to claim our governance, thus we have a right to preserve our common lands. National parks are a reflection of this — one step closer to reclaiming the commons.
Just like our mountains and rivers, our societies need change. Deep-Ecologist Gary Snyder, in his essay, The Etiquette of Freedom, describes, in great detail, the need to reclaim the words nature, wilderness and wildness — and it is in wildness that we will discover untamed liberty.
Nature, of course, is the collective physical world — all landscapes and seascapes, all flora and fauna, free of development. Wilderness is uncultivated land, in a natural state, liberated of human behavior. Wildness, however, is the ultimate practice — a praxis of liberty. Wildness, according to Snyder, is the quality of being wild or untamed. Snyder notes that human beings are indeed wild, but this does not mean disorderly. In fact, he argues that wildness will lead to a highly ordered society where our relationship with nature will be interactive, thus allowing the construction of durable social systems. This is also an idea explored by naturalist anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his book, Mutual Aid – A Factor of Evolution [PDF]:
In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species[…] in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits[…] and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development[…] are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.
There is indeed mutualism everywhere in nature, just as in human society, but the concept is absent from systems of power and domination. If we are to take preservation of the natural environment seriously, it is our duty to abandon such systems as they represent the unsociable species — they restrict human innovation, exacerbate environmental change and are composed of a ruling caste who seek first and foremost their own preservation. Simply, they are doomed to decay — and thus our message along with them.
Liberty, in its purest form, seeks the elevation of human society along with the natural world. Conservation and sustainable resource use would re-organize our neighborhoods. We would be free to labor in our own communities, craft our own institutions and own the means of our production. We would have a mutual relationship with our surrounding ecology, where we could receive beneficial ecosystem services such as air and water purification, flood control, carbon sequestration, psychological benefits and much more simply by conserving natural areas.
The natural world would benefit from being liberated of sprawl. Complex ecosystems (even in urban areas) would be left intact. In such an order species decline would be mitigated by the protection and restoration of natural habitat. Furthermore, the more decentralized our societies, the more we are liberated from institutions that seek maximum utility of resources. Our communities will flourish when liberated of growth.
On the fourth let’s celebrate country, but turn our backs to the state. Love of country and love of community have nothing to do with allegiance to government, but rather faith in an informed conscience in spite of government. Discover the wildness that awaits you — we’ll be right behind you, in liberty.