Sunday, May 07, 2017

A review of Ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and SpiritIshmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

Quinn’s Ishmael is a book that really makes you think. A telepathic gorilla goes through the Socratic method with the narrator in order to think through two ways of being human—as a Taker or a Leaver.
Takers, non-tribal people, have separated from the rest of nature through ever expanding consumption, which is dangerous to all other life, and ultimately for the Takers as well.
Leavers, on the other hand, are not wedded to unstoppable expansion, and as such ebb and flow as a people in a way that matches the rest of nature, following, ultimately, the law of the World, a law as concrete and real as the law of gravity.
Quinn warns that without a change in direction, a return to Leaver culture, we Takers are doomed and the world along with us. Additionally, Leaver society is better on an individual level, as well—Leavers only work a few hours a day, have no mental illness, crime, suicide, or addictions. Additionally, their lives are filled with meaning and they have no need of religion.
I really enjoyed the book, though I’m not “sold” on Quinn’s whole program. As a person who would have died without the modern marvels of science (I have a heart condition only fixable in 1983, the year I was born) the casual way Quinn shrugs off the nastiness of natural selection seems out of place with the rest of the book. Anthropocentrism and human arrogance is a danger, I think he’s right in reading Genesis as a whole as skeptical of cities (a “Leaver” narrative), a civilization based on unlimited growth and ignoring future consequences is bad, its right in all these things, but at the same time there does seem to be a ridged dogma to the whole thing.
In sum, I recommend reading Ishmael and taking seriously its critique of the Taker status quo.

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