Ishmael by D. Quinn
The authors vision of the world organization and cause-effect relations which brought our planet to the contemporary miserable state is unconvincing. Quinn develops the concept of division of all human population into Takers and Leavers (Quinn 22). The former are cultures which became technologically developed and thus consume too much and degrade the world. The latter are usually indigenous tribes, cultures and communities that do not harm nature. According to Quinn, all people used to be Leavers (Quinn 22). Later, some communities managed to improve their technology, which allowed them attacking other people or hunting and exploiting animals, which turned them into Takers. However, it is obvious that the culture of Takes must have evolved to their permanent dominating state from some lower levels of development. Thus, it is clear that some Leavers simply improved their mode of life. There are no opposing groups on our planet; there are only cultures that evolved and communities which have not mastered technological advancements yet. Besides, Quinns idea that only Leavers know the rules according to which all people must live to improve the condition of our planet is also uncertain. I believe that contemporary science offers a much greater database about our nature compared to indigenous cultures. I also think it would be more appropriate to say that only stopping any human activity completely would help to change the situation in the environment for better.
Additionally, Quinns rejection and criticism of knowledge and technological progress also sounds ungrounded. The author claims that Leavers in a specific way create and accumulate some type of knowledge that later turns into wisdom. This wisdom also involves approaches to the surrounding environment that work best for a particular culture or community. Thus, if some indigenous community is destroyed, this knowledge also disappears. Simultaneously, Takers only acquire knowledge about what is good for things or objects. According to Quinn, these two kinds of knowledge are in a permanent conflict because one of them tries to maintain the correct way of living, while the other encourages consumption and thus enhanced production of all sorts of goods, which is harmful for the planet (Quinn 132). Additionally, the author stresses that the Takers belief that agricultural revolution will resolve the majority of problems is wrong because there still will be too many poor and hungry people left. Nonetheless, Quinn neglects the fact that a number of achievements improved life on Earth significantly. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that technology brings only harm and that modern science and knowledge should be rejected.
First, it is well-known that all primitive indigenous communities used to worship either natural elements or objects because they perceived that they either cannot control them or depend on them. Today people are aware of the causes of the majority of natural processes, which means that contemporary people possess knowledge that exceeds the wisdom of indigenous cultures. Second, people who lived in primitive communities starved or died from some unknown diseases and had no opportunity to get any help. By contrast, today many developed cities have aid centers that can help people in need. Moreover, it is obvious that if some indigenous community were offered to use the benefits of the contemporary technological developments or medicine, they would not refuse this knowledge of Takers.
The authors criticism of the modern culture is also invalid. Quinn stresses that Takers communities enact the story. Thus, it is whispered by Mother Culture to all humans since their childhood that the whole world was created only for the purposes of human beings (Quinn 37). The author reorganizes Biblical stories to fit his concept he claims that Adam, the symbol of humanity, was tempted by Eve, which means life in translation. Thereby, according to Quinn, people are too passionate about the surrounding nature, objects, and other living creatures, and thus they want to seize the whole world and take everything from it that can be useful for them (Quinn 108). I do not accept this authors vision. There are many religions and cultures in the world that do not see the environment as a mere source of profit or benefit and worship it. For instance, the Japanese Shinto religion teaches that there are millions of natural gods in our world. Thus, the Japanese cherish nature greatly, while Japan is one of the most technologically developed states in the world.
Additionally, it is wrong mentioning that the entire human population of Earth believes that the world was made for people. It would be more appropriate to say that there are people who are not aware of the destructive consequences of overconsumption, and thus there is a need in greater promotion of this idea. The main problem of our generation is that many problems are silenced. Thereby, people do harm only because they do not know what negative consequences their actions might have. Finally, all living beings, not only humans, are tempted by life. Every creature does everything possible to live in comfortable conditions. For example, many animal species store food for winter or preserve themselves from hunger as people do. Thus, contemporary humans behavior is caused by some natural instincts, which are characteristic for all animals.
The main theme of this novel is the depiction of the captive condition of the humanity. Ishmael recounts that one of his previous students, who had spent some time in prison, told him that every inmate in prison, either poor or rich, is given some specific work to distract them form thoughts about their useless lives. A well-organized prison is able to both distract and give some occupation for its inmates (Quinn 154). Ishmael explains that Mother Culture also imprisoned all contemporary people by distracting them with work, production, and consumption of the manufactured goods. Thus, people cannot notice that they are captives. This Quinns concept needs a more detailed examination.
Undoubtedly, it is always much easier to criticize something than to offer a workable solution. Quinn positions himself as a distant observer who has no connection to human beings and watches the world from some distant place, which is much better and more developed than our realm and thus allows him to judge the humanity. Nonetheless, the main question is whether humans are really the prisoners of nature and our planet. Considering the significant progress and evolution of species, I think no scientist and no educated person would deny that today human species is the most developed form of life on Earth. Moreover, even all religious and ethical teachings emphasize that humans are more advanced than animals because they managed to overcome their animal nature and learned to control their behavior, affections, and passions. Thereby, human kind escaped the prison of natural instincts and became independent from the domination of the bestial nature and reflexes, while all other animals remain constrained by their nature and thus remain prisoners.
Therefore, the more appropriate question is whether the modern culture is the prison for human beings or the whole universe is organized in way that implies imprisonment. First, our ancestors, apes, tried to find a way to escape their cage a permanent need to look for food, to run away from predators, or to search and compete for vital resources. Today, humanity must think of a new way to escape a different cage the dangers of overconsumption, overpopulation, and depletion of renewable resources. It is obvious that any environment imposes some restrictions and limitations, and thus it is always a prison for a plant, an animal, and a human. People found their way to escape the prison of being an animal they created culture, civilization, and technological progress. Hence, technological progress is not a limitation, or a prison, but merely another method of adapting. Additionally, Quinn does not specify where people should escape. The author states that now both the rich and the poor are in prison, in which the rich feel safer than outside (Quinn 154). However, Quinn does not explain what this outside place means. It is obvious that no outside can exist in our universe because the only way to escape from it is to die.
Finally, to prove the correctness of his ideas, Quinn creates a theory, which is actually is an absurd combination of science and religion. First, the author claims that Takers have a master plan to put an end to everything alive on Earth and to enact their story, which tells that a human being is the final step of evolution and creation. For some reason, Quinn is convinced that this is exactly the main motive that pushes everyone to overexploit the environment and nature (Quinn). However, it is clear that overconsumption and exploitation are merely the side effects of the attempts of humanity to save its species and to allow all people to live in equal conditions. Humanity is not aiming to destroy the environment. All the negative consequences were not a part of their plan, and people are already trying to remove and counteract such side effects as overexploitation or destruction of nature.
Next, the author developed an idea that all creatures had to reach the state when they become aware and conscious that they are people. This would have been possible if everyone lived with gods and according to their intentions (Quinn 147). However, a closer analysis of this concept of the world where all living beings are self-aware, allows seeing clearly that such mode of existence of would cause permanent inter-species wars. Thus, if that all creatures perceived that they deserve to live in good conditions, they would fight with each other not to turn into dinner. Besides, the need to survive would stimulate the continuous fight for resources. Ultimately, it would destroy nature much faster than merely human activity. The author has an idealized vision of coexistence of all species since, according to this which, all creatures would support the existing food chains. However, it is obvious that no normal thinking creature would sacrifice itself even for the sake of a greater good.
Lastly, the author develops an idea that humans evolved to their contemporary state only because all other animals allowed them to do so. Such idea contradicts the existing scientific findings, which prove that evolution is possible not when everyone lives in peace and harmony but exactly when there is a need to fight and adapt to some hostile conditions or environment. Thus, without challenges, no change would happen and no species would evolve. Nonetheless, Quinn stresses that evolution is a process given by gods as a gift (Quinn 150). It is impossible to accept such concept because it is in a contradiction to the laws of nature evolution is a long and complicated process of natural selection, which allows only the strongest and most adapted to remain alive.
Therefore, it may be concluded that the authors work is completely unconvincing. It is obvious that Quinn is strongly bothered about the contemporary miserable state of nature, and thus he wanted to make humans realize that they are the only creatures responsible for the planet, environment, species, and their future. Hence, the goal of the novel was to make people feel guilt. However, the style and concepts created by the author do not allow to consider the book serious. Quinns method of explanation is close to preaching, when all ideas should be taken for granted, though rational consideration proves that they are inconsistent. Therefore, the novel did not affect and did not convince me. The only thing the author was correct about is stressing that people today produce and consume too much. I agree that this is an urgent issue which has to resolved in the nearest future.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize that I support Quinns message, even though he did not find correct words to deliver it. It is clear that people should stop producing and buying things which they do not need and consuming more than it is required and unite their efforts to start preventing overexploitation and devastation of natural resources. Quinns division of people in two opposing groups, Takers and Leavers, one of which is perceived as a role model that has to be followed, while the other has to be persecuted and condemned, evokes aggression, destruction, and intolerance. I think that such structure of human community should not be used by contemporary people. In my opinion, human history has witnessed too many wars and persecutions to seriously consider a worldview that differs from the generally accepted one. Therefore, I think it is time for people to forget about their distinctions and unite to make our planet a better place for all living beings.