Join me for a conversation with professor of philosophy, primitivist, and founder of the Native Roots Collective, Christian Cotton.
Christian Cotton grew up in rural Louisiana, surrounded by acres of field and forest, which he spent much of his time trying to avoid. He was raised tending gardens and livestock, bearing witness to the efforts of “Back to the Land” parents to live a more self-reliant,off-grid, & simple existence. These childhood experiences would have a lasting effect.
As a young teenager, Christian developed a keen interest in religion,and being brought up in a home that valued free thinking and study,this interest turned toward Native American religious expressions in the early 90’s, in part due to a “revival” of those traditions through films such as Dances With Wolves and Thunderheart. The timing was fortuitous.
Witha small group of similarly inclined friends, Christian met and studied under a “Back to the Land” eco-radical whose aesthetic was Native American--especially of the Plains cultures--even while his teachings were a mixture of Don Juan Matus, Henry David Thoreau,& Edward Abbey. This was a time of deeply immersive and transformative wilderness experience.
In these formative years, Christian came to embrace an animistic view of the world. Not coincidentally, these years also saw him introduced to the study of philosophy and anthropology which, along with religion,would form the foundation of his intellectual background. From these early attempts to reconcile experience and education emerged a view he calls “animistic panentheism.”
Pursuing advanced studies in philosophy, religion, & anthropology, these many strands began to coalesce into a more focused path, that of environmental or ecological philosophy: a systematic attempt to understand the place of humans in the natural world. Central to this project was the examination of human social organisation, which would eventually lead to an endorsement of anarchism.
The deeper and more systematic the examination of humanity’s place in the natural world became, the more skeptical Christian became of proposed solutions to the ever more undeniable ecological crisis. Suggestions of lifestyle changes--like reduce, reuse, recycle; applications of advancing technologies--like clean and green energy; and international policy--like climate change--seemed to belie the real issue.
The issue, he came to understand, was the very way of life of the vast majority of humans, a way of life built around the notion of human exceptionalism, that humans somehow transcend the natural order. In consequence of this way of life, they have become what he calls“strangers in the land”: separated by the belief in their own exceptionalism, they have forgotten their place within a more-than-human world.
Inits place, he believes, they have built a world--a 12,000 year old experiment called civilization--in which they strive to create a place for themselves, rather than trying to find the place they’ve forgotten, but which the rest of humanity--and for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years before--still acknowledges. And so, the hope of “finding our place” brought Christian to the primitivist critique of civilization & rewilding.
In 2013, Christian created Refuse, Resist, Rewild on Facebook to spread information relevant to a critique of civilization and the practice of rewilding. The group rests on a vow: to refuse to be taken in by the Dominant Culture’s myths about our place in the world; to resist the institutions and practices that keep us at a distance from our true place; and to rewild the Earth as much as possible in order to find that place.
In 2015, he officially launched the Native Roots Collective, whose publishing arm is an imprint of Black Malkin Press supporting publications dedicated to primitivist philosophy, ancestral living, &spiritual ecology. The Collective is in its infancy and gladly welcomes those who share in its pursuits to reach out to them on Facebook with your thoughts and ideas.