Friday, February 29, 2008


I had great hopes for Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It came highly recommended, and I anticipated a wonderful book that would be difficult to put down.

Instead, I had to force myself to read it. After the first few pages I knew I did not like it. (It reminded me of Sophie's World, a novel that's supposed to be a fantasy about the history of philosophy.) Ishmael also uses a Socratic approach as Ishmael, a gorilla, teaches a white man (who is a writer) about the world, civilization, and "Mother Culture." This book is a sociological/anthropological/environmental/ecological novel.

What Ishmael teaches his pupil is that agriculture is BAD. Farmers are "Takers" responsible for overpopulation and most of the world's woes. Herders and hunters are GOOD. They are "Leavers" and their lifestyle encourages famine, which a benign, natural way of controlling population. (I'm not making this up!)

At one point Ishmael says to his pupil:
"Whenever a Taker couple talks about how wonderful it would be to have a big family, they're reenacting this scene beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They're saying to themselves, 'Of course it's our right to to apportion life on the planet as we please. Why stop at four kids or six? We can have fifteen if we like. All we have to do is plow under another few hundred acres of rain forest -- and who cares if a dozen other species disappear as a result?' "

Takers are bad because they have the knowledge of good and evil and can live apart from "the gods." Leavers are good because they live from hand to mouth - really in the hands of "the gods." (There is an awful lot of weird reasoning from the Bible here, too. Takers are descendents of the line of Cain, and Leavers are descended from Abel. Yeah. ) Takers are stagnant. Leavers are still evolving.

And the answer to the question, "What is Ishmael's pupil to do with this new knowledge?" is this: Save endangered Leaver peoples from extinction because they can show the Taker peoples that there is no one right way to live.



Blogger Jennie C. said...

Wonder why the leavers were becoming extinct. :-)

5:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Heh, heh - yeah, like having too few children and enjoying famine every few years might not be such a good thing?

6:27 PM  
Blogger Dy said...

Able, being the... shepherd... the oh, yeah, equivalent of our ranchers... ROFLOL! The environmentalist's favorite industry!

What a bizarre little tome. I'm glad for the heads' up on that one.


7:57 AM  

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