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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

I am very happy to see that each of us in the book study are starting to become book critics. From calls for transformation, ananlysis of analogy and metaphor, to the definitive explanantions of man to nature. We have indeed created a good and proper discussion on issues within and beyond the book.

I think that Heather did it best when describing her frustration with Ishamel's teaching. She began questioning Ishmael's connection of Earth to the human spirit, and by spirit I think Ishmael means condition.

The only Mother culture, insofar as humanity is concerned, is in relationship to how we get by, live, and exist; the bottom line is that we have to meet the needs of our basic condition and once those are met, the ability to design necessities beyond are trivial in relation to that first priority. Whether it is taker or leaver, our primary goal is the same and all subsequent goals dependent on the first alone.

Okay, Ishmael lost me.

We finally got to The Law, and, while I expected something of the sort, I'm still mildly confused. Well, confused is too general a term. I'm not confused so much as not convinced.

I was with Ishmael when he said that we are enacting a story that puts us at war with the world through our use of agriculture. I could even understand how he said that increased food production always leads to an increased population. But when he said that the answer was to let people starve (and, yes, I admit that I'm probably coming from Mother Culture's perspective here), there he lost me. How can we be concerned with maintaining the diversity of the planet and not be concerned with people who are dying for lack of food?

And I do take issue with the fact that Ishmael said we always hear about sending food to impoverished countries, but not contraceptives. I, at least, have heard about sending contraceptives to impoverished countries, although it was in the context of slowing AIDS and giving women control over their bodies.

I also take issue, much like the narrator, with the fact that Ishmael calls our culture "Mother Culture". The fact that Ishmael explains this away by saying that culture is nurturing only offends me more. Who says that men can't be nurturing? And why is it still expected that women need to fill that nurturuing role? There are plenty of women who don't appreciate being boxed into that personality archetype.

Also, I disagreed with Ishmael's notion that the Leaver culture is somehow more conducive to the human spirit. On page 148 he says, "They're not seething with discontent and rebellion, not incessantly wrangling over what should be allowed and what forbidden, not forever accusing each other of not living the right way, not living in terror of each other, not going crazy because their lives seem empty and pointless, not having to stupefy themselves with drugs to get through the days, not inventing a new religion every week to give them something to hold on to, not forever searching for something to do or something to believe in that will make their lives worth living."

Well, of course not. They're busy surviving. That doesn't mean the Leavers feel more nurtured... it means they're tired. And that doesn't strike me as an automatically more healthy way to live.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Taker Thunderbolt

Is this analogy flawed? To refer to the Taker story as a falling object destined to hit the ground is, in my opinion, a little inappropriate, or at least suspect. If our society is to change midway, and at the last minute, to glide safely to the skies, are we really the Kamikaze Thunderbolt Ishmael speaks about in chapter 6? If we change our course, are we still Takers? Or are we a new story all together; Borrowers for example? In this free fall I believe our fate may not be as perilous as that of our early aviator example. Ishmael would have us believe we cannot abandon ship mid flight, construct a new flying machine, and soar into the heavens. I can appreciate this analogy, although I find it pessimistic. I'd like to say we can put back what we've "Taken". What is the aerodynamic Borrower story? I hope the next few chapters give me some idea what this may be like. Although it may be impossible to return to the cliff top from which we launched 10,000 years ago, it may be possible to repair our doomed vessel. It could be like Apollo 13 or something.

A world of transformation and resilience

Scott and I really enjoyed a recent essay, "The Resilient World", by Jamais Cascio (who, incidentally, I got to meet last month). It's worth a read.


Some of us (I'm talking about myself here) who stay up late studying technocriticism for fun occasionally need to be reminded about the priority of political, economic, and social concerns over those of technoscience. Technocritical writers like Carrico, however, understand the sociopolitics and the technoscience to be tightly interwoven. Our energy crisis and its associated climate effects, for instance, are not apolitical problems of technology. This perspective is well-explained in his 2006 essay, "Transformation, Not Transcendence". I especially like this quote (which itself contains a quote).

“The future,” writes science fiction author Bruce Sterling, “isn’t an alien world, it is this very world.” It’s the kind of insight that you never knew you needed to hear, until you actually hear it said. The future will be here, not elsewhere. And it will be shared. “The future is a process,” Sterling goes on to say. That process, whatever our wishes in the matter, will never amount simply to a process of scientific discovery or of engineers solving problems. Progress is not a wave for you to ride on or a Truth for you to die for, but a project that needs many collaborators to succeed.

I want to change the world, not to leave it. I want transformation, not transcendence.