The Lesson of Quinn's Ishmael

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The Lesson of Quinn's Ishmael There are some books that you can just sit back and enjoy, just let the authors words wash over you and, most importantly, you don't have to think. And then there's Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. The novel Ishmael, "an adventure of the mind and spirit," opens with a disillusioned and depressed man in search of a teacher, and not just any teacher. He wants someone to show him what life is all about. And so he finds Ishmael, a meiutic teacher (one who acts as a midwife to his pupils, in bringing ideas to the surface), who turns out to be a large telepathic gorilla of extraordinary intelligence. The largest part of the book consists of their conversations, in which Ishmael discusses how things got to be this way (in terms of human culture, beginning with the agricultural revolution). Ishmael shows the narrator exactly what doesn't work in our society: the reasoning that there is only one right way to live, and that that way is with humans conquering the planet. Daniel Quinn points out that many other cultures, most notably those who have a tribal lifestyle, work, in that they do not destroy their resources, have no need for crime control or other programs, and do not have population problems. He insists that our culture is not based on humans being human, it is based on humans being gods and trying to control the world. Ishmael has a habit of raising questions and ideas. The gorilla Ishmael not only brought out thoughts and questions in the narrator, he brought up a lot of questions and ideas in Coast to Coast 2000. Ishmael took us all aback. Although many of us questioned some of Daniel Quinn's minor points, we all agreed on one of his main points: that there is no one right way to live. The Bushmen of Africa are living in a way that is just as right and works just as well as ours, and possibly even better, as they are capable of living without destroying everything in their paths. These "Leaver" cultures are in no way inferior to ours though we consider them to be uncivilized. In fact, Ishmael says that it is "Taker" civilization itself, the hierarchical structure that locks up food and spreads through the idea that people must live the same way, that is actually inferior.

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