Posts Tagged ‘man’

Humanity’s Most Essential Lessons

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Daniel Quinn’s novel, Ishmael, is a conversation, start to end, between a gorilla and a man. If this strikes you as strange, it may be at first, until you set aside your disbelief and go along for the ride. And what a ride it is. A man is disillusioned with the world; he seeks something better, and that’s when he stumbles across an ad in the paper: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” He applies, walks into a room, and comes face to face with his teacher: an intensely intelligent gorilla, Ishmael, who also likes to chew on stalks of grass and snuffle his nose.

They begin with talk of myths, particularly the myth of why the universe was created. “As you tell it [Ismael lectures his student], the birth of man was a central event – indeed, the central event – in the history of the cosmos itself. From the birth of man on, the rest of the universe ceases to be of interest, ceases to participate in the unfolding drama.” Ismael asks the pertinent question: Is this how a wombat might view creation?

He divides humans into two categories: the Leavers, which are societies that have exited from three million years ago until present, ancestrally as hunter gatherers and in modern-day as certain indigenous and tribal communities such as exist in tiny pockets all over the world; and the Takers, which are those that split off ten-thousand years ago at the start of the agricultural revolution and grew into what we know now as modern civilization.

Ishmael deftly argues that both the Leavers and Takers are enacting a story. The Takers’ story? The world belongs to Man. Man learns to manipulate and control the world through agriculture. Man eventually conquers the world.

Ishmael says, “There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as [the Takers’] does, they will live at odds with the world, they will act like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.”

Grim, yes. Here’s the end of the Takers’ story: Man destroys the world.

The Leavers’ story, on the other hand, has remained unchanged for three million years: Man belongs to the world. “Creatures who [abide by this story] follow the peace-keeping law, and because they follow that law, they give the creatures around them a chance to grow toward whatever it’s possible for them to become.” The peace-keeping law is the law of limited competition, the law that says you don’t exterminate your competitors, or their source of food; you take your share, yes, you fill your belly, yes, and then you let them to fill their bellies too.

When you belong to something, you see yourself as part of a whole, you see the impact of your actions on the whole, you care about the welfare of the whole.

Here’s the end of the Leavers’ story: All creatures get to fulfill their potential, not just humans. All creatures. The world survives.

Most of us are enacting old belief systems and mythologies, until we awaken, break them, and consciously chose the stories we want to enact, stories that are positive to ourselves and those around us. In the novel’s closing pages, we see Ishmael taken captive as part of a menagerie, huddled in a cage, shivering with cold, gawked at like a circus animal. And the man – the man is horrified by such cruelty, by the fact that humans are the ones truly captive by their/our limited thinking; he will do anything to save this gorilla.

It’s too late for Ishmael.

May it not be too late for our world and its living community.