Thursday, April 12, 2007

The difference between Ishmael and Poison Ivy.

As I read the ending to Ishmael, I kept thinking of Poison Ivy. For those of you who don't know (and, yes, I will forgive you) Poison Ivy is one of the villains of Gotham City. She usually endangers countless citizens of Gotham with her vile plots to destroy humanity and leave the world for the plants, only to be stopped by a Batman who assures us that human beings have a right to live.

Poison Ivy says that the world was once a peaceful and nurturing place before Man arrived to plunder her. I find that some of Ishmael's arguments are as thin. Sure, I thought his prison analogy was brilliant (does it remind anyone else of a certain shadowy cave?), and what he's saying makes crystal clear biological sense: for life in general to continue, certain weaker individuals must lose their lives before they can procreate. When human beings stepped outside of the "rules", they stopped biological progress (ignoring, of course, the various parasites and bacteria which are thriving and evolving faster than scientists can create new antibiotics) for the world.

With the knowledge of the gods, they halted creation.

But, somehow, when I look at the world this continued creation would have made, it makes me wonder a little. It's not a world of plants, like Poison Ivy would have envisioned, but a world where all animals are in constant competition, living unknowingly to a more complex and self-aware end. But a perfect utopia where Man and animals starve, die of preventable diseases, and Man lives in small tribes which would kill one another on sight (as Ishmael says the Native Americans did, thus ensuring Man lived within his bounds) seems like a contradiction of terms.

In principle, I'm all for the Tree of Life. In practice, I feel like Batman facing down Poison Ivy.

That's It?

Why did this book end like every book I read in fifth grade? I could picture my fourth or fifth grade teacher fighting back a tear as he/she read about Ishmael's demise even as I read the final pages to myself. Timeless as the formula my be, it didn't leave a great impression on me.

The end message of the book? Change your way of thinking about your relationship with the Earth. I suppose to some extent the book was effective, but it's really leaving it up to the reader what a real image of unity between Mankind and Earth looks like. Oh well, It was a swell effort. I enjoyed reading something that wasn't ultra-academic for a change anyway. Great book study Scott! Thanks a bunch!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Evolved Wisdom?

Ishmael implies in this chapter that Leavers hold a kind of evolved wisdom. He considers them to be the last holders of the natural order in the human race, as if they hold the knowledge of their ancient ancestors. I think Ishmael is is correct, but misleading. He somehow treats Takers as though they just started planting things because they chose to ignore the natural order. I look at the Taker culture as something that evolved from the natural order. By Ishmael's description of the transformation from nonhuman primate life to homo s. s. Leavers, one could easily also describe the gradual process that has led from Leaver to Taker culture. There is a gray area between Taker and Leaver that Ishmael is not giving enough attention. He, in my opinion, has focused to much attention on the inciting incident at the beginning of agriculture. Taker culture is the bastard son of Leaver culture. Evolution is not always pretty.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Existentialism in Qiunn

I am virtually positive that Quinn is bringing us to some existentialist conclusions in this book.
The reason that I believe this to be so, is because of the way he has framed the Taker and Leaver culture. He has made participation in Taker or Leaver culture a choice, and therefore, the essence of humanity now is based upon a taker culture that has centered the materials of the world around the preservation of its being.
What interests me is that I think Quinn is saying is that the Leavers are not afraid to not exist, they simply co-exist with the iminent non-being that all beings eventually become. The Takers on the other hand, are perhaps filled with an anxiety because despite having controlled some elements of existence, takers are not yet able to control the end result of their existence, which is non-being.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The "gods [sic]" must be crazy.

This chapter is another failed attempt by Quinn to construct a convincing metaphor. If he was going to use the Adam and Eve story from a monotheistic tradition, he should never have told a story involving gods(plural). I wasn't confused, I just think this sounded like a story the author made up on the toilet while reading a hotel's Gideon Bible. He must never have thought about the implications. Despite using this new analogy and revisiting the failed aviator, this chapter still held some value. I think the image of the conflict between Caine and Able was quite fitting as a metaphor for the competition between the Takers and Leavers. Anyway, I'm unimpressed with the progression of this story. What was an interesting collection of revelations has slowly regressed into wishy washy folklore analogies and aimless story telling. I'm waiting for the world saving solutions this book has to offer that don't involve mass famine and neglecting the hungry. This book is obviously not timeless, many of it's assumptions are old truths. I'm pretty sure people are talking very seriously about family planning in the third world as I am writing this. For me it's not about increased food production and simultaneous increases in population or the reversal of this, it's about education against Quinn's brand of social Darwinism, the spread of compassion and the war against reproductive ignorance. If people alter their reality to reject Mother Culture, not just to follow the Law of Nature, but to take the third path, or environmental Golden Mean man can survive. We can't have it both ways, but there is an amazing compromise between Nature and Culture. How to to live? Ask Nature. Why to live? Ask Culture. From this point in history neither can truly be ignored. Dig it?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Child labour regulation as environmental policy?

My cultural psychology textbook makes an interesting claim about cultural influences on birth rates: Children are economic assets in societies where their labour is expected, but in industrialized and urbanized societies, they are economic liabilities. In the latter societies, children may be protected from employment. If having a child generates expense rather than revenue, people may be less eager to procreate. This supposedly helps to explain why the latter societies have lower birth rates (in addition to the cause of women being able to control their fertilities). Could child labour regulation, if it discourages having children, be an important factor in sustainability (or resiliency)?

Friday, March 9, 2007

The truth about the world is rather unsettling, but I’m learning to cope. I couldn’t have chosen a better major for study at this time in my life than Political Science. History and theories about leadership have showed me a continuous cycle of manipulation and exploitation. In relation to my faith this has been extremely challenging (examples in the church are infinite). I have known people afraid to study anything but business, multimedia, or communications for fear that any sciences, natural or otherwise, might contradict their six-thousand-year history of the world. The academic study of religion is also frightening to someone accustomed to a fundamentalist Christian relationship with science and society, not to mention the ‘heretic’ study of philosophy. I heard someone say that the Creationist’s view of geology and biology is analogous to Flat Earth Geography. I agree with this to some extent, but I also know that the world as God created it will always be flat in a metaphoric sense as mystery and wonder remain a constant. Opposite the Neo-Con Fundamentalists (I use this term lightly) are the scientists who argue either that we should abandon technology and live as Leavers (described in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael) or that man can completely manipulate, predict and control the planet, saving it from destruction caused by pollution and human strain and make it new again. In so many words, we are either to live as well adjusted animals or as cyborgs. There is a medium here, and I am still searching for it. In almost every respect I have embraced, or at least considered, the benefits of all the extremes mentioned above.