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Urban Selectors Fail | High Sierra Backpacker

Urban Selectors Fail

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 13 August 2011

Matt Weiser of the Sacramento Bee just wrote Yosemite deaths: Americans may have lost respect for nature's risks. Matt's article asks if we are "underestimating the risks of commonplace outdoor recreation?"

Though Matt does not just come out and say it, the structure and evolution of his article says yes, and he explores some of the potential reasons people are dying in nature. I'm going to ask how this unnatural misfit between man and nature came about, what it means, and what I'm going to do about it.

Matt’s article identifies weather, fitness, experience, and technology as possible factors contributing to the demise of urban idiots in nature. Matt’s approach and the way he weaves subtle warnings about the inherent dangers of nature in the text of his articles shows great concern for the safety and feelings of his mainly urban readership. Matt's article indicates that there’s much more to this "safety" problem than "faulty risk assessment."

We can see that two threads tie together many of this year's deaths. First, a person makes a stupid decision in a dangerous situation leading to imminent death. Second, onlookers heroiclly rush into the same dangerous circumstance to attempt rescue. Both the first party and their erstwhile rescuers then perish. 

Matt's article indicates to me that there is a deeper explanation for our loss of fitness, our loss of weather understanding, and our loss of trail and camp skills. I see that there is a much deeper social malaise that creates and maintains these “poor risk assessment skills,” as Matt so diplomatically calls the outright stupidity displayed by so many of California's residents.

The sad fact is that our society here in California, its experiences, its knowledge base, and subsequently its ethical values have all been radically degraded during the last forty years. 

The growth of massive super cities out here on the West Coast has changed the character and knowledge base of our people from well-rounded educated citizens with a diversity of natural and social experiences into millions and millions of simple Urban Consumer Idiots. 

The rise of, and capture of California’s character and values by Urban Consumer Culture has not just done serious damage to our average citizen's health, their ability to safely cross natural terrain, observe and analyze their environment, but this change has also deprived us of the esthetic and spiritual values contributed to society through the experience of engaging nature.

This social transformation has irresponsibly and irrevocably damaged our social and natural infrastructures, and seriously damaged every individual’s security inside of society, and made most of us incompentent when traveling outside of society in Nature. We have made ourselves stupid.

One step forward, Two steps back

As California’s cities have grown vastly larger and ever more distant from natural terrain, our population has lost the common sense skills and knowledge that engagement with nature brings.

Our average citizen's ability to observe and physically engage nature has been replaced  by sedentairy experiences and abstract engagement with digital media. The practices and experiences required to flourish in urban consumer culture are quite different from those required to travel through nature. 

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Californians have had no experiences in nature and have no knowledge of the logic and beauty of the natural terrain that exists here in California.

The physical and mental skills gained through natural engagement are foreign to the vast majority of Californians. My experiences indicate that the majority of our population don't even have the remotest idea of where California is on a national or world map, let alone how to properly line up the map.

The average Californian cannot walk effectively on a cement sidewalk. They cannot properly observe to safely cross a paved street. They certainly cannot analyize circumstances and make decisions in motion through natural terrain.

The result is tragedy after tragedy when these ill-equipped people are exposed to natural terrain. Urban consumer culture is as bad for our bodies as it is for our minds.  

This society-wide lobotomy of natural experience and values has had the secondary physical consequence of building a population, and especially the younger generation, that is obese, diabetic, and arthritic. Just wait until these little piggies grow up!

The psychological and social consequences of disengaged urban living are also disturbing. Today's average urban Californian is incapable of basic informal social engagement and courtesey.

Socially, this results in situations where people who come into regular contact cannot look each other in the eye, exchange simple hellos on passing, or share any common social space. The average Californian appears to be incapable of effective observation or analysis of their physical environment, or engaging socially, when walking or driving in the city or when hiking in the wilderness.

Public social contact in California can be understood psychologically through the emotions of fear and greed. The majority of our people fear the dangers of social contact while simultanously look to greedily take advantage and profit from social contact.

General notions of goodwill and fellowship are not even an afterthought in most potential socal contacts in California. People are too busy ignoring each other for something as naieve as expressing "general notions of goodwill."  Besides being socially dangerous, this lack of social space and common goodwill is just plain sad.

The costs and consequences of forty years of poor decision making are not just beginning to come due on our High Sierra Trails, but are playing out in the classrooms and on the streets and sidewalks of California's cities as well.

  Urban Idiot Culture vs. Nature

Urban Idiot Consumers are the nasty by-product of the mega-cities that we have so unwisely grown on the West Coast during the last forty years. They make a heck of a mess when they enter our natural areas.

Yosemite, and every other major park in the nation has had to develop regular ranger police departments and big jails to deal with all the urban idiots that flood into the National Parks and Forests every Summer. This flow brings a number of problems.

The persistant bear problems, regular deaths, and huge seasonal flows of people into the parks are just a few of the side-effects from the irresponsible growth of mega cities in California.

I have contended for decades that California's growth was so effectively sheltering our population from Natural experience in our growing vast urban populations that the result would eventually be a society of physical and philosophical incompentents. We are coming very close to reaching the point of physical and philosophical incompentence as a society.

 These changes have transformed the social and physical landscapes of California, as well as removing natural engagement as one of our shared common experiences. The real question is what have we transformed ourselves into?  With what have we replaced our physical and philosophical relationship with nature? 

We have replaced natural engagement with "Social Selectors," an active system of social rewards and punishments.

Social Selectors

I call the operating social values that reward or punish behavior "Social Selectors." Social Selectors have completely replaced natural selectors in California, and Social selectors determine and reward social behaviors with status, power, and wealth. The majority of Californian's social and wealth status positions are established by an individual’s particular position in the economic balance between fear and greed. In California it is simple: either you are getting screwed, or your are doing the screwing.

Your particular level of success in gathering wealth will determine your status. There is no room for nature or wilderness experience in the brutal contest for social success we have created in our mega-cities.

The "environment" this social battle is fought within is nothing more than an economic and legal abstraction of our own construction, operating within an equally self-constructed urban jungle. We have created a social world devoid of natural inputs.

Every element of our social battle for wealth, prestige, and consumption is fought with, including the playing field and the rewards themselves, were constructed by and for humans. The vast majority of our huge society is now completely living within an urban bubble of its own creation, with absolutely no natural engagement as part of that experience.

  Matt’s article indicates that we are damn close to finishing the job of completely separating the average Californian from any knowledge of Nature, the skills to travel safely through nature, or even the simple ability to recognize a dangerous environment. This indicates the complete triumph of Social Selectors over Natural Selectors.

This relationship will not last long.

Urban idiots dying when they barely touch nature is the canary in the coal mine, and these events should be ringing alarm bells in your head. The wide gulf between urban Californians and their environment demonstrates the complete loss of our physical and perceptive relationship with nature. Losing physical contact with nature deprives us of something even more valuable, though intangible: the ethical and spiritual effects that maintaining a natural context provides each of us, in our own way.

We have created a society that has neither an external natural compass nor a valid internal social compass. I am not advocating a “return to nature,” or turning back the technological or social “clocks.” I am pointing out the invaluable sense of context imparted by direct and long engagement with nature is a vital part of a well-rounded experience, and necessary for long-term social balance. 

The transformation and domination of California by Urban Idiot Culture has broadly changed how we understand what we are, who we are, how we work, and what the fundamental goals of life, and American society, are.

Our current social values have dissolved our human complexity into little more than a constant stream of near-pornographic gratifications of sex, violence, and crude emotional gratifications through a wide range of digital graphical interfaces. This type of engagement is insufficient for your physical or mental health, and is especially bad for kids.

Natural engagement offers different answers to these questions than society. Natural engagement offers each of us different answers than society's interpretation of what, who, how, and why each of us is here.

Nature must be referenced for each of us to have the range of experience necessary to find the correct answers for each of us among those offered by nature and society.
Mega Cities provide social answers, and Urban Idiots obey the Urban Social Selectors that guide mega city life, and this Social System will severely punish those who do not pursue the socially defined “rewards” of obedient consumption.

Social selectors are nothing more than the real rules that reflect a culture’s fundamental experiences and values. Sadly, our massive urban growth and the attendant lack of natural experiences has contributed to values that have narrowed themselves down to little more than the pursuit of constant gross material self-gratification. 

When societies cut their fundamental relationship with nature, they lose. First their citizens lose their physical skills. Then they lose their sensory skills. Then the analytical skills degrade, and finally there are no longer common shared reality. Without shared experiences in natural environments as a component of every citizen's life, social character gets drowned in the shifting sands of shallow material self-gratification. When a society loses its shared experiences and values, every member is less secure. We are there.

  History of Ignorance

Natural selectors were eliminated from the East Coast Urban Populations during the industrial expansion of Mega-Cities of the late 19th Century when the "Eastern Seaboard" was established. A century later this same pernicious pattern has been intentionally repeated on the West Coast. Our populations have undergone a parallel transformation.

Natural Selectors, the ability to deal with the environment, has been eliminated from our population here on the West Coast in pursuit of the rewards of the mega city: personal consumption and developing corporate wealth and power.

While we have been pursuing the false notions of wealth and the cheap gratifications of Urban Corporate Consumers, we have lost the real wealth that enriched our society: the treasure of our relationship with nature and with each other. We have lost the true range of experiences that characterize a healthy democracy.

  Natural engagement shows us the logic of social development: our mutual and individual security. Our technological development gave us choices, and we have chosen to trade off our fundamental relationship with ourselves, nature, and each other for transient notions of material wealth. These notions of wealth are currently evaporating before our eyes, leaving us insecure before both man and nature.

Now, when Nature's Natural Selectors come even slightly into play, such as on a vacation to Yosemite, American Consumers Die. When the power of Nature fully asserts itself, and Natural Selectors predominate, many American Consumers Die. Half are killed by nature, the other by their fellow man.

Matt's article deftly reveals the practical elements that characterize people out of contact with nature: the loss of experience, the ability to walk, fitness itself, the ability to observe, and Matt explores the false sense of security that technology provides. But Matt skirts around the controversial implications of losing these skills, and how we lost them is far beyond the scope of his fine essay on safety.

Independent of the loss of cultural information, practical skills, and spiritual context, losing our relationship with nature and its selectors has made our society deeply insecure.

Our abilities to observe, analyize, and travel through various environments have been lost. These sites are my efforts to bridge this gap. The Art of Walking and Trail and Camp Skills are my practical approach to restoring validity in American Society, one step at a time. 

We have replaced our fundamental relationship with nature and each other with a bunch of shit. It’s time to turn the shit into fertilizer, and grow some flowers.

  This is a Draft essay: Final Edit this evening...

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