Unlike "Leaver" societies, which sustained themselves and the natural world for thousands of years, our "Taker" society will run out of things to kill and will die. Quinn likens the agricultural revolution to humans' first attempts at flight. Those attempts failed because we tried to mimic a bird. Only when we discovered the law of aerodynamics did we learn to fly.
Through "Ishmael," Quinn argues that no law or theory underpins "Taker" culture — and that's why it has been in free fall since its adoption.
Quinn emphasizes that the natural world, which includes "Leaver" cultures, sustains itself through what he calls the law of limited competition. Under this peace-keeping law, he says, you may not hunt down competitors or deny them food or access to it. You also may not commit genocide against your competition.
"And only once in all the history of this planet has any species tried to live in defiance of this law — and it wasn't an entire species, it was only one people, those I've named the Takers," Ishmael tells the narrator. "Ten thousand years ago, this one people said, 'No more. Man was not meant to be bound by this law,' and they began to live in a way that flouts the law at every point."
People have asked me why I don't just become a hunter-gatherer. I have no interest in becoming a hunter-gatherer — and I know my wife, who focuses on the good in our society, wouldn't, either. I wouldn't know what to do and especially where to go. My problem is less with civilization than the aggressiveness and mindlessness of this one. As Quinn points out in "Ishmael," civilization isn't against the law of limited competition; it's subject to the law of limited competition.
While writing this essay, I took a break to go with my wife and son to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform at the Morton Arboretum. As I listened, I thought about all the beauty this culture has produced.
Yet I yearn to live in a civilization that blends less madness with its music. I yearn to live in a civilization that redefines not only wealth but profit. A new shopping center and fast-food restaurant turns up trees by the roots but lifts no spirit. A lawn built on chemical products kills the dandelion but misses the miracle. A daytime flight over Chicago anticipates the skyline but ignores the slaughter. I yearn to live in a civilization that aviates consciously.
I know of like minds who found inspiration in "Ishmael."
"When I was a legal advocate for chemical victims, I was already well aware of the distorted values at work in our culture," Earon Davis, a former Chicago resident who recently moved to Bloomington, Ind., wrote in an email. "'Ishmael' helped me to see that our entire society's sustainability and adaptability were being jeopardized by corrupted group-think in our mainstream culture."
Davis said he tried to establish a Chicago-based discussion group related to "Ishmael" but got limited participation. He continues to lead a Web-based discussion group, which sees little activity.
"I can see how most people who are initially drawn to 'Ishmael' need to back away from the message of Quinn in order to focus on earning a living, raising a family, and living a 'normal' life," he wrote.
Barbara Ridd said she incorporates "Ishmael" into the curriculum of a course called Ecology of Personal Life at DePaul University's School for New Learning. She said the book offends some students who feel it questions the Bible.
"I think that closes those people off to the greater message, that we have to take stock of ourselves," she said. "I think that sometimes, when given such a blunt look at our existence as mankind, people don't like that as well."
Laura M. Hartman, assistant professor of religion at Augustana College in Rock Island, said she read "Ishmael" for two courses as an undergraduate at Indiana University. "The general concept of 'Takers' and 'Leavers' still resonates with me," she said. Yet she sees a weakness in the book: Instead of providing instructions on how to change the world, Quinn appeals for changed minds.
Essay about Ishmael
1588 Words7 Pages
Ishmael Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael is the story of one man’s quest for knowledge and his desire to “save the world”. Answering a simple ad in the paper of a teacher looking for students (p4), the narrator is sent on an incredible philosophical journey. The teacher our narrator expects is not that which he finds, however, as our titular character Ishmael, so aptly named by Walter Sokolow (p18) as he sensed the gorilla’s almost divine presence, is that teacher. This teaching is made possible by Ishmael’s miraculous telepathic way of communication (p21). Ishmael’s name, originally Goliath due his size and presumed demeanor (p14), I find incredibly fitting as he, like Abraham’s eldest son, appears to be sent from the heavens though in this…show more content…
The Leavers do not exempt themselves from the laws of competition while the Takers do. The Takers, in exempting themselves from these laws, exterminate and remove all forms of competition in their way. In a lesson where the narrator role-plays as a Taker trying to convince Ishmael, a Leaver, to live his life-style (p222) he comes upon the conclusion that being human is living on your own terms rather than the gods’ and this is what separates us from the animals (p225). It is Mother Culture who teaches this since the day we’re born (p37), that we should live on our own terms rather than the gods’ and that we know good and evil and evil is living by chance. Thus, Takers are on a quest to find the one right way to do things and hence all our laws and such contrivances come into being. Controlling the world and the universe is the primary goal of the Takers so they no longer have to live in any sort of fear and as such they are a culture of the new whereas the Leavers are a culture of tradition (p205). Quinn relates “culture” to a mother because of its nurturing qualities and “among Leaver peoples, Mother Culture explains and preserves a life-style that is healthy and self-sustaining. Among Taker peoples she explains and preserves a life-style that has proven to be unhealthy and self-destructive” (p148). That explanation is what sets the two groups in