Daniel Quinn has an idea. He sees homo sapiens as on the verge of self-destruction and traces the major behavioral patterns bringing this about back to what is commonly referred to as the agricultural revolution. According to Quinn, we long supposed our species to have originated when writing originated some five thousand years ago, and continue to suppose “humanity” to have begun when what Quinn calls “totalitarian farming” began some ten thousand years ago, and this despite our now knowing that our ancestors diverged from other primates millions of years ago and became what we call homo sapiens two hundred thousand years ago. We dismiss the vast majority of human history as “pre-history” which is tantamount to “non-history.” We do not ask much about how humans lived before the agricultural revolution, and when we do we almost always suppose that such poor creatures would have leaped at the chance to be like us. (Quinn’s argument seems to me valuable whether or not we are as close to disaster as he believes. Heidegger traced similar behaviors back to Greece. Others trace them to the Industrial Revolution. Quinn places the Break at the Agricultural Revolution.)
“When the people of your culture encountered the hunter-gatherers of Africa and America, it was thought that these were people who had DEGENERATED from the natural, agricultural state, people who had LOST the arts they’d been born with. The Takers had no idea that they were looking at what they themselves had been before they became agriculturalists. As far as the Takers knew, there WAS no ‘before.’ Creation had occurred just a few thousand years ago, and Man the Agriculturalist had immediately set about the task of building civilization.” (“Ishmael” p.201)
Quinn believes that tribes surrounding the first totalitarian farmers did their best to resist the new way of life, just as “primitive” tribes today try to resist the culture which I cannot call Western since Quinn lumps the East and West together as “Takers.” Totalitarian farming, civilized human culture East and West for the past ten thousand years: this is Taker culture. The vast majority of human history/”prehistory” and various tribes scattered through the world today Quinn calls Leavers. Leavers can be hunters, gatherers, herders, even farmers on a small scale. Quinn points to organized hunting as a uniquely human characteristic uniting us with our distant ancestors. What Leavers do not do is produce more than they need, rapidly expand their population, impose their way on others, annihilate species that threaten crops, and otherwise engage in “totalitarian farming.”
Leavers also do not work nearly as much as Takers. Quinn reads the story of Eden as an ancient Leaver Semitic myth about non-Semitic Takers, a myth handed down to uncomprehending Taker Jews and to uncomprehending Taker people like us. The forbidden wisdom was the arrogance of deciding what animals should live or die. Similarly Cain was the Takers killing the Leavers (Abel), although God preferred Abel’s gift. Whether Quinn is right about the authors of these stories is a rather minor point, though one liable to draw a lot of attention. More important is this: Quinn sees virtually all the troubles of what we ordinarily call human history as the results of overcrowding. He doesn’t think overcrowding is new. He thinks it has just gotten exponentially worse, and – like the frog in the slowly heating water – we are close to letting ourselves be boiled. Quinn blames war, crime, slavery, insanity, poverty, laborious work, suicide, drug addiction and quite a few other things on over-crowding and on the outlook that has caused the overcrowding. There are areas where I have serious doubts about Quinn’s claims, places where I find him wrong or overly speculative. I intend to discuss some of these. But I want to stress first that I think Quinn should be read.
Of course, he IS being read. His books are best-sellers, prominently displayed in the windows of the decreasing number of massive book store chains. But he is not read enough or seriously enough. His books are deceptively easy to flip through in a couple of hours, and they are (horror of horrors) not even simple treatises but NOVELS. In addition, Quinn seems bent on encouraging those who might be tempted to see him as a bit New-Agey, fruitcakey, self-enraptured, with hopes of leading a highly devoted cult. Quinn of course writes clearly and explicitly against such movements, but risks projecting that image all the same. Quinn cannot be accused of obscurantism, but I would be very much surprised if he is not (wrongly) accused of simplicity. And Quinn certainly projects the image of one who will never admit to being mistaken on any points. The Teachers in his books are characters who can accept praise but never correction, and who seem to accept assistance from their disciples only after they themselves have died.
There is a Quinn-related website at www.ishmael.org, which contains information like this:
The current global human population is 5,885,932,366
As many as 127 species of plants and animals have been driven to extinction since midnight GMT.
Approximately 198,508 acres of rainforest have been destroyed since midnight GMT.
About 12,232,572 pounds of toxic chemicals have been released into the environment in the US since midnight GMT.
Data based on current time being: Thu Jan 1 22:19:28 1998 GMT
and I am appending some messages from the “Guestbook” at the end of this article. Some of the messages are less intelligent than others. Some ask, quite predictably: “Well, suppose I want to be a Leaver, or learn from the Leavers, WHAT DO I DO?” Quinn has five books out, of which I have read three and just recently purchased the other two. In his first three he offers this recommendation: Stop increasing, and consider decreasing, the world’s food supply. Quinn dismisses everything else as fiddling with “the effects and not the cause.” I will come to this, and to Quinn’s reply to the inevitable objections, in turn. I want to discuss briefly the three books I’ve read in order, developing on my marginalia, working out some of my hesitations and disagreements.
Quinn’s first and most famous book is “Ishmael.” His second is a short work of autobiography called “Providence; The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest,” which tells something of what led up to the publication of “Ishmael.” Quinn’s third book is called “The Story of B.” The two books which I have not read yet are “A Newcomer’s Guide to the Afterlife,” written with Tom Whalen, and “My Ishmael; A Sequel.” B and, in a sense, Providence are also sequels to Ishmael.
Ishmael was written over twelve years and several versions, and was only written as a novel for the final version, the one which won a half a million dollars and a contest sponsored by Ted Turner in 1992. Quinn had tried to publish a couple of the earlier versions with no success, and rewrote the book as a novel precisely for Turner’s contest. The book is not a novel in any sense that would be acceptable to various definers of the genre such as Milan Kundera (“The Art of the Novel”). It is largely a treatise spoken by a speaking gorilla named Ishmael. But I find this to be a wonderful genre, in so far as it specifies and PORTRAYS its own audience. Quinn, too, seems to have been pleased with the outcome. He has not republished Ishmael as nonfiction, and has continued writing novels of a similar sort.
I read “Ishmael” as a philosophy student taking a course in the Business school called “Business Ethics and the Environment.” This was in April of 1996. My professor and many business students seemed to think Ishmael was too extreme, went to far, was impractical. We can’t become hunter-gatherers, and therefore the book is useless. (Ishmael says [p. 250] “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live – and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers,” but does not elaborate.) But the conclusion that the book is useless was uttered with a little too much relief, and a little too much desire to avoid discussing whether Quinn’s ideas seemed good ones. I was myself disappointed with the lack of practical suggestions, but only slightly. Ishmael was such a phenomenal book that I felt reluctant to demand more of it. And LEARNING FROM a Leaver worldview didn’t seem like a mystery we couldn’t constructively work on. I saw much of what Quinn dismisses as hopelessly small-scale (recycling, ceasing polluting, promoting birth control, preventing environmental destruction) as fitting in with and able to benefit from such a perspective. I continue to see it that way. I don’t see this as the threat to Quinn’s importance and originality that Quinn may possibly see it as.
The idea expressed so terrifically in “Ishmael” is important. Quinn is right to have Ishmael say on p.103 that just as the earth is not in the center of things, and humans are not created nonevolutionarily, (and just as these have been major changes in our thinking) homo sapiens is not exempt from limitations experienced by other species, limitations Ishmael has a lot to say about. One of the most important things Ishmael has to say is that the Taker way of life is not the only or the “right” or the “natural” way of life. Here is an exchange from page 119:
“Man lived harmlessly on this planet for some three million years, but the Takers have brought the whole thing to the point of collapse in only five hundred generations. And their explanation for this is what?”
“I see what you mean. Their explanation is that something is fundamentally wrong with people.”
“Not that you Takers may be doing something wrong but rather that there is something fundamentally wrong with human nature itself.”
“How do you like that explanation now?”
“I’m beginning to have my doubts about it.”
In “Ishmael” (pp. 126-7) Quinn explains Takers thus: (1) They “exterminate their competitors, which is something that never happens in the wild.” (Elsewhere Quinn will be at pains to point out that we ARE PART OF “the wild” or “nature”; his point here is that only Takers do these things. (2) “Takers systematically destroy their competitors’ food to make room for their own.” (3) “Takers deny their competitors access to food.” This is at the very least a new take on the much-romanticised practice known as farming.
Here is the “Law” that Takers break (p.129): “You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war.”
At some moments in reading Quinn I am ready to object that the Leavers can’t have had everything the best it could be, that there are all different kinds of Leavers, that we could change radically had there never been any Leavers or had we never learned of them. But, as long as they adhere to the preceding “Law”, Quinn is open to a vast variety of lifestyles, and even insists on variety as one of the major survival advantages protected by the Law. (Does he confuse genetic with cultural diversity?) Moreover, the existence of the Leavers not only proves to Takers that life CAN be otherwise, but the extremely long-term survival of the Leavers offers us a rough model with a decided advantage over the infinite variety of untried ways to live. I do continue to object when Quinn bases his descriptions of long-vanished Leavers too closely on existing ones, arguing that they must be the same since they’re still here. The Takers are still here too.
I have been somewhat unfair to Quinn as regards things that can be done. Near the end of “Ishmael,” Ishmael says
“The Leavers are the endangered species most critical to the world – not because they’re humans but because they alone can show the destroyers of the world that there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to live. And then, of course, you must spit out the fruit of that forbidden tree. You must absolutely and forever relinquish the idea that you know who should live and who should die on this planet.” (p. 248)
and Quinn adds at the end:
“Thousands of readers have written to ask ‘What can I do to help?’ Ishmael noted, as a matter of utmost urgency, the need to save remaining Leaver peoples from extinction, and I endorse this priority without reservation. One organization dedicated specifically to this task is CULTURAL SURVIVAL/46 Brattle Street/ Cambridge, MA 02138; I know of none more worthy of your support.”
“Providence” (1994) is a short little book with large print and certain sentences misquoted in huge print on most pages as if the book were a long article in a popular magazine. It initially gave me the impression that Quinn had been rather quickly destroyed by success. The first pages seem vacant of thought and overloaded with self-praise. But the book is excellent, both for the story of Quinn’s life and for the ideas along the lines of those given in Ishmael, as well as his commentary on the Catholic church. Providence does not try to show that Quinn’s ideas do not derive from experiences in Quinn’s life. It tries to show that they DO derive from such experiences, and in doing so makes them all the more convincing.
Still, certain passages trip me up. On pages 25-27 Quinn claims that all humans believe in magic in ways in which I can only accept that the vast majority of humans do. I also can make no sense of Quinn’s insistence on the word Providence, and am uncertain what to say about his insistence on speaking of “gods” (see also “The Story of B”). Quinn repeatedly says that he has no opinion on “the number of the gods” and that this number may be “zero,” though he elsewhere (in arguing for animism) declares that every place has a god, which suggests that the number is not zero. Quinn does get repetitive, but explicitly argues that that sort of shift in thinking he is arguing for demands this, and I agree. Quinn might have quoted a Nietzschean aphorism to make this point.
Here is a passage from page 50 making clear the enormity of what Quinn believes is at stake:
“You should see the letters I receive every week from despairing teenagers. Who can live with a light heart while participating in a global slaughter that makes the Nazi holocaust look like a limbering-up exercise? We look back in horror at the millions of Germans who knew more or less exactly [sic] what was happening in the death camps and wonder what kind of monsters those people were. In fifty years our grandchildren (if any survive) will look back at the BILLIONS of us who knowingly and wantonly laid the entire world to waste and wonder what kind of monsters WE were.”
I don’t know if Quinn is overly concerned. I do know that the fact that we don’t all “look evil” is not a counterargument.
I’d like to touch on two topics “Providence” raised for me. One is vegetarianism. Quinn says that refraining from eating animals for ethical reasons is “kingdomism,” and yet he probably refrains from eating humans, which could be called “speciesism.” In a sense I am complaining here of Quinn’s way of making claims. He wants to be very very clear and simple, but then has to double-back and clarify, qualify, counter inevitable objections. In another sense I simply want to point out that Quinn is doing no more or less than expressing preferences (the most serious thing a writer can do), and although there may seem to be all kinds of holes in his Weltanschauung on a first reading, he seems on later consideration to have a pretty coherent set of ideas to peddle. Leavers aren’t the same as vegetarians.
The second topic is that of what I and others see as advantages to Taker culture, or at least to our culture whether or not they are related to Takerism. Quinn calls ours the “most murderous culture in human history,” but ours is also the culture with the lowest infant mortality rate (though also with the highest in some subcultures). We have increased lifespans, produced medicines and all kinds of pleasures and comforts, developed marvelous arts and sciences including Quinn’s books. Quinn praises science and technology in his books. Unlike Heidegger, he does a good job of separating mastery and domination from curiosity and creation. But the question is not whether a culture that is destroying itself is “on the whole” good. And whether it is preferable to various Leaver cultures is almost impossible for me to answer. The important question is what to keep and what to commit to the flames.
“The Story of B” (1996) is the story of a priest who learns of a radical speaker raising a stir. The priest is sent to investigate whether this guy is the Antichrist. Of course, the speaker is none other than the former student of Ishmael, the new student is even more blown away by the speaker’s unheard of genius than he had been by Ishmael’s, and of course everybody (Quinn included) does claim to be the Antichrist, an Antichrist on an order that will dwarf Nietzsche’s little Taker-bound creation. The story involves a good bit of conversation, of teaching, and takes up 235 pages. When a speech is given in the story the reader is referred to the following section of the book (pp. 239-325) which contains the texts of the speeches. Once again, I was initially turned off by this book. The beginning of it contains little in the way of Ishmaelian ideas, and I was wondering why Quinn didn’t just publish the speeches without all the plot-baggage about how earth-shattering they were. But, as I read on, the story began to include the ideas, and became an interesting story. As in “Ishmael” I found it very helpful for Quinn to have depicted people propounding and reacting to his ideas.
As I have been doing with the other books, I want to concentrate on the problems I see in B. I cannot attempt to communicate all of Quinn’s ideas here, and so content myself with recommending that you read his books. But I CAN raise objections (some of which the other two books may answer).
Around page 49 Quinn draws a distinction between “visions” and “programs.” He tells us that recycling and supporting earth-friendly legislation are programs not requiring any change in vision, not a waste of time but productive of a false sense of achievement. He tells us that in our culture isolation is a vision. Because isolation is a vision we live in separate houses, lock our doors, and watch TV, none of which actions are (as I understand it) programs. A program seems to be something a government does and something people don’t want (or perhaps don’t want to do unless everyone does). The Industrial Revolution, Quinn says, has been a vision, never requiring any programs. But is that true? What about scholarship programs for budding technological wizards, funding of research and development? What about land grants or per-child-tax-credits as Taker programs? Perhaps I am complaining too much, though. Quinn’s point seems to be that we cannot save the world with legislation; we need to change people’s thinking. I agree. Yet on page 157 Quinn tells us that the Taker and Leaver visions grew out of the Taker and Leaver lifestyles, not the reverse. I believe he’d be better off saying that vision and lifestyle developed together.
Another odd distinction is the one Quinn makes on page 70 between teaching something the student already has in his head and teaching something that must be put there. No teaching can be entirely one or the other of these sorts. And, although some teaching may be done somewhat more maieutically than other, I don’t see what the distinction does for Quinn. At best it’s just one more way of asking people to stretch their minds, to be willing to think in a new way.
Quinn suggests in B that what he calls salvationist religions (all the religions except animism) only appeared when life became so horrible that people wanted to be released from it. The debts to Nietzsche accumulate through the book. And Quinn suggests further that religion is dying out because things have gotten so bad that religion isn’t good enough to ease the pain anymore.
On page 139 Quinn begins talking about something called “the Law of Life,” but all it seems to amount to is “whatever is good for survival.” Talking about “a law” implies that we can easily know when we’re breaking it. I’m not sure we can always easily know what is good for survival.
Why do Leavers try to remain Leavers? There may not be one answer that is always true. Some of them may just want to resist any foreign culture, especially an aggressive one. Some may find Takerism laborious. Some may see Takers as violating something sacred or as foolishly arrogant. I wish Quinn would develop this point more. On page 181 he writes: “They do indeed have a lifestyle that’s healthier for people and healthier for the planet, but they don’t hold onto it because they’re noble, they hold onto it for the best reason in the world – because they prefer it to ours and would rather be dead than live the way we do.” This doesn’t tell me much.
On page 285 Quinn again points out that the Takers are not “Humanity.” I think he makes two mistakes in his list of people who did not know this: Nietzsche and Sartre. Quinn comes so close to quoting Sartre that including his name seems particularly absurd. And there are moments throughout Quinn’s books where Sartre could have helped him more. Quinn says that on average homo sapiens’ population doubled every nineteen thousand years for the first ten doublings, but in five thousand for the eleventh, two thousand for the twelfth, and so on. He draws a major break between the tenth and eleventh, but does not tell us the speed of the tenth, only the average speed for the first ten. But the break could be much less sharp than Quinn claims, and we could STILL achieve zero or negative population growth, and Sartre knew it.
A few pages later, Quinn distinguishes populations from individuals. He admits that a small group of individuals can be given more food and can choose to reduce its birth-rate, but claims that a large population cannot do the same. He does not explain why, and – for all his fondness for simple facts – ignores the fact that a population is just a conglomeration of individuals. Sartre could have done better. It may very well be that the best course of action is to stop increasing our food supply, but this just cannot be the strict necessity Quinn claims.
To the objection that people are starving, Quinn replies that we all know that the problem is not a lack of food but poor distribution of it. However, it seems to me that better distribution of food would also increase population in the same way that increased production would. But perhaps I am assuming that food is being wasted, whereas Quinn is assuming that food is going toward the encouragement of births in some groups when it could be going to the alleviation of starvation in others.
Quinn does not recognize any degrees of nourishment. Either a person is alive (in which case there is food) or he is dead. Quinn does not recognize that undernourished people reproduce, whether or not undernourished mice (in Quinn’s parable) do the same. And to the objection that some European countries now have negative population growth, Quinn replies that we have to look at the globe as a whole. Why do we? Something other than food-shortages is reducing the populations of Italy and Germany, and this fact may have lessons to be used elsewhere. On the other hand, these statistics usually exclude significant semi-legal immigration, and producing a global Germany or Italy is not possible.
I’m not an expert on prehistory. Recently it’s been suggested to me that martial conquering only began with he domestication of the horse. I suspect it began earlier. In any case, such details can be arranged within Quinn’s picture in which totalitarian agriculture and war are of one piece.
The point I struggle with the most is how we can become like the Leavers, in what ways, and why we need even see our goal that way. Why can’t we just become some new sort of nonTakers who try to live in a sustainable way (which will necessarily have some characteristics in common with the Leavers)? In this case learning about the Leavers is not first and foremost learning what to emulate but learning that Takerism is not inevitable, and Sartre taught us that before “Ishmael” was begun.
I’m looking forward to two more books, and hopefully many more.
The following is copied and pasted from the “Guestbook” at www.ishmael.org:
I have been driven by the force of the Universe to save the lives of many including myself. After reading both ‘Ishmael’ and ‘The Story of B’,I have been given a new birth. I have been wanting to reach out to those with the same desire to heal… Please e-mail me and keep me posted!!! Lita Fierro colorado springs, co USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 20:00:40 (PST)
I read Ismael as a recommendation from a friend of mine. She read it for a discussion class at her University. I passed on the book to others who have also enjoyed it and passed it on. After reading this book a whole new perception of the world dawned on me. After reading B this perception has grown into a new outlook on the world culture and history in general. My hope is that others will read Mr. Quinn’s work, and serious discussion can ensue. Only after changes in personal beliefs and general perception can changes be made. Ginny Evansville, IN USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 19:03:52 (PST)
Loved Ishmael and The Book of B. Want to know more about what you are doing to save our world. Statton Linxweiler Evanston, IL USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 18:57:06 (PST)
I have had difficulty explaining some of my views to those I perceive are obsessed with consumption. Now I tell friends to read “Ishmael.” If anyone takes my advice, we’ll have a lot to discuss. Ken Barrows Washington, DC USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 17:58:54 (PST)
Best explanation of the Tree of Life/Tree of Knowledge, Cain/Abel mysteries I’ve ever encountered. I will be recommending your book in my monthly magazine. Do I need permission to reprint portions? Gershon Siegel Santa Fe, NM USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 12:00:39 (PST)
Trust youth. Empower the young of this planet with these ideas and watch the world change. Matthew Ferraro Pebble Beach, Ca USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 08:14:07 (PST)
Games People Play — I noticed the game my niece and nephew were playing after Christmas — it was called LIFE and the object is to make as much money as possible. During the game, various things happen, but everything is translated into a monetary amount. That is the real object: to have the most money when you retire. Period. Notice that it is not called: “An Approach to Life” or “The Monetary Approach to Life.” No — just plain, LIFE. Then I began thinking about all the other games that I have enjoyed….and in just about every case, the object is to: 1. Destroy your opponents. 2. Make the most money. or 3. Get there the fastest. There are some more recent computer games like Adventure, Manhole, Cosmic Osmo, Myst, Riven, that seem a little more to be about the experience itself rather than aninculcation of the Taker culture. Comments? John Thomas Yorktown, NY USA – Wednesday, December 31, 1997 at 07:21:12 (PST)
I read Ishmael when it first came out a few years ago and my immediate reaction was wanting to buy hundreds of copies and grab people randomly on streetcorners – just grab them by the lapels and say here! read this! now! I haven’t read the other books yet, but I have a vacation coming up soon, so I can look forward to reading them soon. I don’t have a clue how our big story here on earth will turn out, but I thank Mr. Quinn for bringing so much light and clarity to help us find our way. Miriam Dyak Seattle, WA USA – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 22:50:36 (PST)
Someone who signed this guestbook said something about bringing about change. Obviously, it’s not as simple as ‘Let’s walk out into the woods and start a tribe.’What we CAN do is teach. Teach our children. Teach our friends. As Ishmael said, “You may only reach one, but that one may reach a million.” This website is the beginning of reaching the nearly 6 billion people of this world. – Luna. Luna – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 14:28:42 (PST)
I found out about ISHMAEL in an interview with Mr. Quinn that appears in the December 1997 issue of THE SUN. I can’t describe how profoundly the book has affected me. I have the feeling that it’ll be starting point for “the work” I’ve felt I need to do for quite some time. Thank you, Mr. Quinn–and you, fellow readers. Kathleen Shannon Warwick, NY USA – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 14:25:29 (PST)
I have been transformed overnight. I recieved Ishmael 4 days ago and have had to put it down at least half a dozen times, for I couldn’t read through my tears. I have had a huge amount of hate durring the 15 years I have been alive and reading Ishmael has finnally helped me realize why I am so angry. I have never been able to turn on the radio, television etc without feeling that something needs to change, and finally I realize what it is. There is not one person in my life who has not been affected by my intensity and the meaning of this message. Thank you Mr. Quinn, you gave me a purpose, my life is utterly devoted to helping the Takers free themselves from Mother Culture. Shannon Bundock Smithers, BC Canada – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 14:17:56 (PST)
THE SEED WAS PLANTED SOME TWO YRS AGO WITH ISHMAEL THE FOUNDATION CRACKED .THE FOUNDATION CONTINUES TO EXPAND WITH B AND MY ISHMAEL ARGHHH!!!! WHAT DO I TELL MY CHILDREN I TAKE SOME COMFORT IN KNOWING THAT THESE BOOKS ARE DISCUSSED AT COLLEGE AND SCHOOL LEVELS THANKS D.Q. CAL watertown, ny USA – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 13:22:42 (PST)
Although I’m only 14, or perhaps because I’m only 14, Ishmael really struck a cord in me. I have long felt the way Julie does in just “wanting to get away.” I realize that apathy has long been considered the “disease of our youth,” but after reading these two books I also realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. It is not a requirement that teenagers must be unhappy and grow up feeling alone and unfulfilled in their lives. I think that when at least a few of understand that we have a choice about how we live, we can begin to break the cycle. The best way to do this is obviously to get more people to read the books,which I have already recommended to a few of my friends that I hope will value them as much as I do. our lives Caitlin Wells Macon, GA USA – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 11:37:14 (PST)
I’ve just finished “My Ishmael.” Once again, I am left speechless by the eloquence with which Mr. Quinn is able to express what has unsettled my soul since I became an atheist at the tender age of nine. I have always felt something missing in my spirituality, but I also knew it was not God, or any deity at all. I see now why this sense of tribe is so incredibly important, and why our society is so deeply troubled by the lack of it. It is astonishing how completely simplistic the answers seem to be, yet we need a silverback to uncover these answers. I feel I need to respond to Hannah from Sioux Falls, though. I think you may have missed the broader answer. No, Mr. Quinn (Ishmael) does not present THE answer to the problems the Takers have created. But that’s because he can’t. Just as the Leavers know there is no one right way for all people to live, so Ishmael knows there is no one right way for all people to effect a cultural change. This is why he insists upon being creative. Through my creative solution, I will be able to change my world and teach my children how to change theirs. As a college instructor, I will be able to plant the seeds in my students for them to change their own lives, too. If each person who reads any of the books is able to change his or her own life, then we will have at least begun the revolution. But sitting and thinking, “I knew this would happen,” is the worst thing we can do to start the revolution. Just change your own habits. Do it for yourself and your children or your family, and let that be the “shot heard ’round the world.” Jennifer Whistler Shillington, PA USA – Tuesday, December 30, 1997 at 07:32:52 (PST)
changing the world is not the same as changing the viewpoint of each Taker inhabitant of that world. I have a difficult time convincing myself it is possible to turn around the global viewpoint, but I guess there is hope because it has happened once before! Jessica Wade-Murphy USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 21:37:41 (PST)
Along with a handful of other books, Ishmael changed my life forever. Suddenly a fork in the road appeared where there was none before. Reject the ‘inertia’ arguement that many resort to when saying things cannot change – do what you can (c’mon, be creative!) and live with a clear(er) conscience. How could I do anything less after reading these books? Michael Hopfenspirger Omaha, NE USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 17:55:10 (PST)
Having just finished “My Ishmael” (after “Ishmael” and “The Story of B”), I feel like I have a little more direction. My thanks and everlasting gratitude to Daniel Quinn, for showing me and thousands like me that there is a possibility for a different life, if not for us, then for our generations to come. Michael Geske Takoma Park, MD USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 17:44:02 (PST)
Hmmmm. Ok, so I read Ishmael and B, and…now what? Even if EVERYONE read them, then what? You can’t (no matter how people talk about “starting a tribe” somewhere, or creating more “programs,” or even “changing visions”) just snap your fingers and become a Leaver. It can’t work that way. It reminds me of missionary evangelism, the Christian attitude that Buddhists or Jews or Hindus can be “converted.” Your culture, your religion, IS you, no matter how much you hate it or want to change it. And, since I was born into a Christian Taker society, I will be fundamentally Christian and Taker until I die. Even if I eat only bean sprouts and live in a mud hut in the unspoiled wilderness. Even if I call myself an animist, and even if I call myself a Leaver. Some things can’t be changed. Even by books as powerful as these. And they are powerful tools to stimulate thought, but that’s exactly what they’re limited to–thought. I can recommend the book until I’m blue in the face, I could teach B’s theory to everyone I know, and what I’d end up with is a lot of thoughtful friends, a few engaging arguments, and a culture that’s still failing horribly. Thought is good, don’t get me wrong, but the only thing that’s going to CHANGE things is action. Until I see action, I’ll sit here and think. I’ll think until our culture blows itself up, and say “I thought this would happen” when the ship finally sinks. Quinn presents the problems very well, but I don’t see his powerful mind coming up with any real solutions for the problems facing our culture. Maybe that’s because there aren’t any. Hannah Sioux Falls, SD USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 14:34:52 (PST)
brilliant! Ishmael and B blew me away. I am still trying to digest all of the ideas and cannot wait to get a copy of My Ishmael. Absolutely brilliant! Daryl Rivest edmonton, ab canada – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 11:41:37 (PST)
Your books have inspired me to create some poetry of the raddest rhymeset imaginable!! I SPEAK FOR THE BUFFALO WHEN I SAY, ALL MANKIND IS GONNA HAVE TO PAY, FOR CHOOSING THE PATH OF THE WAYWARD WAY, AND LOSING THE LINE ON A DYING DOVE’S DRAWN DAY!! i am B!!! I will spread your message with my voice and my soul and they will know that our day has come Would love to share more poetry with you if you are interested in hearing it. the power of the spoken word – JJ3 B Jacksonville, FL USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 11:38:40 (PST)
I use Microsoft Explorer — is this the info you need for the URL? It is more than just a time to change — it is the only time we have left to change… to change our mental models, to change our “right/wrong” polar thinking, to change by taking responsibility instead of sluffing it off to someone else… Thank you Daniel for sharing the stories of Ishmael with all those ready to hear with their hearts! Bobbi-Lee Taylor Vancouver, BC Canada – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 11:21:14 (PST)
WOW Tim Vanderheide sarnia, on canada – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 08:19:11 (PST)
My wife gave me a wonderful surprise this Christmas, a copy of My Ishmael, Kind of ironic on Mother Culture’s biggest Feast day. Having read Ishamel & B, I was anxious to start right in. I have given Ishamel to several teachers in my school, but never felt comfortable giving it to students. THANK YOU for the tweive year old perspective, I now feel that I will be able to share this story with my students in a way that is more understandable. Please keep me posted. Greg Haughey Dover, DE USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 06:38:19 (PST)
just finished reading B. The message is essential for survival. Proud to have the chance to join the growing stream as it becomes the river of a changed world view. Thank you Daniel Quinn ! graeme elliott hinton, wv USA – Monday, December 29, 1997 at 05:29:47 (PST)
re:above. It doesn’t matter that 1/2 the population doesn’t vote or even pay attention. The world is ruled by 5-10% of the population. Change can be triggered by 5-10%, or less. Stephen Johnston Anchorage, AK USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 22:38:44 (PST)
Just finished the book today. Unable yet to express exactly how I feel except that I’m so very glad I read it. kim kendall washington, dc USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 17:02:18 (PST)
If 1/2 of the population really did vote and take action then we might not be in the situation that we are now. Brian USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 16:57:05 (PST)
I love Ishmael! It is such a thought provoking work of art. Ishmael and B need to be spread into every school and university NOW! Even small children have much to learn and they may just be the best place for us to begin. Keep writing, we will keep reading. Dave Lazarus Hamilton, NY USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 16:27:44 (PST)
Yehhhaaaaa! That book has put to words everything (and more) that I’ve felt since I was a kid! Let’s say it loud “Our culture sucks!” On a more serious and active note-we need your help! Big Mountain Support Network. We are an organiozation devoted to supporting Navajo and Hopi elders who are resisting relocation from uncle sam (who is being prodded along by Peabody CoalCo.) Relocation is genocide! Contact us at my e-mail or find Big MT. supporters in your neighborhood (we’re everywhere) Thanks! “Resist much, obey little” Patrick Garretson Flagstaff, az USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 15:29:59 (PST)
Just finished “My Ishmael.” I have to say that, as usual, Daniel Quinn delivers with a punch!! I must add though that a few things disturb me. . .Ishmael bumperstickers??? Hmmmm. And a movie???? To me this undermines the integrity of the whole work – of every beautiful word written. There are better ways to spread the message, which don’t involve capitalizing on something that is pure!!!!!! Jess Hoar Amherst, MA USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 14:38:33 (PST)
While reading ISHMAEL, I realized that passing environmental laws to limit pollution and control population is just buying time (slowing extinction). True change must come from a change in attitude among the Takers of the world (haulting extinction)! Dave Roelofs Medford, OR USA – Sunday, December 28, 1997 at 10:59:00 (PST)
I have placed several copies of Ishmael in the libraries of local schools, and intend to get more. I would be interested in the thoughts of young people – which is the more powerful vehicle for communicating with middle-schoolers, Ishmael or My Ishmael? Rick Harned Louisville, KY USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 18:57:39 (PST)
Ishmael is one of the best book I have read in a long time. It is too bad that an ape has to sum up the distruction of this wonderful planet, but I don’t think that a human could have done the job that Ishmael did with exquisite grace and attitude. I will pass this book to at least 100 other people and teach my child these true philosophies. David Cohen Queens, NY USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 17:43:06 (PST)
I love Ishamael! I am in the process of reading B and I am loving it just as much. You are totally right when you say the word must be reiterated, Mr. Quinn. I am spellbound!!!!!!!! And it’s so good to have such a positive body of work to echo what we all feel is fundamentally wrong with our culture. Thank you!!!!! aileen vang los angeles, ca USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 14:48:56 (PST)
Read Ishmael years ago and continue to pass it on to others.Thought and action provoking. More schools need his book. Michelle Dallas, TX USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 12:53:22 (PST)
Having been coaxed by a friend to read “Ismael”, I have become an avid Quinn reader. If you haven’t read it yet, try “My Ishmael” – it starts out familiarly but takes you to unexpected places! E. Steele Lafayette, IN USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 10:12:04 (PST)
There is truth in the book that I wish I could see in the world. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will ever happen short of a cataclysmic reaction. Chandler Briggs Salinas, CA USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 10:00:31 (PST)
what to do? Arn Lisnoff Foster, RI USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 03:10:03 (PST)
Read the book, very powerful…but what’s to be done when less than 1/2 the population, the very people whom would benefit from such changes, vote or take action? Jonathan Morgenstein San Francisco, CA USA – Saturday, December 27, 1997 at 00:12:27 (PST)
WOW! Ishmael is powerful and needs to be taught on a broader level so more people can be awakened to what Quinn is saying. It was the most profound book I’ve ever read. Joe Palumbo Syracuse, NY USA – Friday, December 26, 1997 at 16:04:15 (PST)
I haven’t quite finished reading Ishmael, yet, but I have to say that it is the best book I have ever read. I try to describe it to friends, but I can’t think of the right words to say about it. I basically tell them to read it, and then they will un derstand.. 🙂 I just want to say that it is the absolute greatest, and I want to know so much more, but I don’t know from where.. Emma Stephens Aldinga Beach, SA Australia – Thursday, December 25, 1997 at 19:43:29 (PST)
Bravo! Ishmael is, perhaps, the most powerful book I have ever read. I encourage everyone I meet to read Ishmael. Twice! Matthew Normand Kalamazoo, MI USA – Thursday, December 25, 1997 at 05:56:44 (PST)
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