Ishmael - Daniel Quinn [3/9]

How did you come across the book?

This book was recommended to me by the wonderful Katherine Stevens, we started off as colleagues and developed into good friends. This is probably the first fiction book I have read in twenty years and it’s a testament to Katherine’s ability to open the minds of others in the kindest way!

What is the book about?

Ok for all you non-fiction readers, bear with me. Ishmael is essentially a philosophical novel that makes you aware of the hidden cultural biases that drive our civilisation and naturally explores ethics, sustainability, and global catastrophe...through the conversations of a gorilla with a man.

Favourite Quote or Passage from the book?

There are three rules that exist which every other living creature of this planet adheres to and which we do not:

  • We exterminate our predators: While animals may attack under threat or under a perceived threat they will never hunt competitors with the sole purpose of making them dead. Yet nearly all of our natural predators have been hunted to the limit of extinction.

  • We systematically destroy competitors' food to make space for our own: All other animal species operate under the law to take what you need and leave everything else alone. No other species destroys the food of others to make way for its own. Yet since 1978 over 750,000 square kilometers of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for pasture, soy, sugar cane or coffee plantations.

  • Deny our competitors access to food: Animals will absolutely lay claim over their own prey, but will never claim ownership over all the prey. Yet this year alone we denied 821 million people in the world access to adequate food.

When all species adhere to these rules, one of the most important survival factors for the community exists naturally, diversity. One specifies choosing to live outside of these rules however has the same effect as all species choosing to live outside the law and we see the evidence of this in the ever decreasing diversity of this plant.

What were the three most interesting takeaways?

1. We are not the pinnacle of evolution and the world was made for you.

I’ve heard the bible’s and Darwin’s stories of creation since I was a child and while very different, they both have one thing in common, explicitly or implicitly the climax is always the creation and/or evolution of mankind. Perhaps we are the first rung on the evolutionary ladder to develop consciousness, but by no means will we be the last. We are not the pinnacle of evolution and the world was not made for us.

2. Mankind was not needed to bring order to the world.

We have previously viewed the entire planet, jungles and rainforests like a plot of land with a sign reading ‘For Development’ as if, what existed before was anarchy, unmanaged and unordered. Yet the opposite is really true, the law of competition ensured that each species thrived and lived alongside millions of others in a true diverse ecosystem. Nature didn’t need a single species to rule to bring order, it was already there.

3. We should look to the Leavers for inspiration.

So often in different documentaries, articles or anecdotes groups of people who chose not to live like all of us reading this article are referred to as ‘primitive’. In Ishmael these groups are instead referred to as ‘Leavers’ because they follow the rules of competition, taking only what they need and leaving the rest for the community. Ishmael offers the opinion that these people are the endangered species most critical to the world because they are living breathing examples that living alongside the rest of the world’s community is possible in many different ways.

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