“Now a second global warming is taking place. This time because of deforestation and industrialisation; man-made, maybe in 100 years there will be no more humans on the planet, in just 100 years.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
The book of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is a curious read. It centers around a conversation, or series of conversations a seeker has with a gorilla who has posted an advert ‘Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world.’ The beauty of it, as well as the frank and accessible writing style adopted by Quinn, are a number of mind bending truths that the gorilla – Ishmael – reveals to his ‘pupil’ as they make their way through his lessons, rewriting the history of planet earth and the story of evolution as we know it.
As the promotional quote on the front of the book states: “From now on I will divide the books I have read into two categories – the ones I read before Ishmael and those I read after.” (Jim Britell, Whole Earth Review).
The harmful beliefs the gorilla helps his pupil to discover become pills swallowed like truths and are revealed to be absurd fabrications about life. Their revelation enables an alternative fiction to trickle through and cause a much wanted if uncomfortable shift in the reader’s consciousness.
As well as wholeheartedly recommend you read the entire book, I’d like to share my reaction alongside some of the most destructive beliefs the book focuses on:
There are Takers, and there are Leavers… But we Don’t have a Choice.
“The community of life on this planet has worked well for three billion years… The Takers draw back in horror from this community, thinking it a place of lawless chaos and savage, relentless competition…”
Ishmael divides the population of the world into two categories; leavers, and takers, the takers making up the largest percentage; those who buy in to the cultural narrative, global economy and structure of society. This includes buying in to the laws that govern this society and the assumption that we must keep consuming, growing and spreading to survive.
There is also a small percentage of the population who do not buy in to this cultural narrative (Quinn, or should I say Ishmael calls it ‘Mother Culture’, which, I find an ironic comparison. See the third belief), and who live outside the perimeters of the grid. These people, as you’ve guessed, are largely tribes who live outside of society, and who honour and love the earth, treating it with respect.
The Earth was made FOR US
“Creation wasn’t complete when jellyfish appeared or when amphibians appeared or when reptiles appeared or even when mammals appeared. According to your mythology, it was complete only when man appeared.”
Of course it wasn’t! I hear you cry. But how many of us, no matter how aware of awake, or switched on still slip back into this ‘myth’ that we are conditioned with from birth. History is written up to this point, and at this point humans appear to be the dominant species on earth.
We remind ourselves with facts about how many million years dinosaurs lived on earth for in comparison to how many we have been here (…in comparison to …), but this fleeting fact too often gets buried under the sand of good old conditioning coupled with blind ignorance… and the cultural narrative that blares in our eyes, nose and ears 24/7. Let’s revisit the fact that the world was not made for us every day, and then vibrate pure humility.
The wonderfulness of the sarcasm of the gorilla Ishmael really drives this point home. How arrogant can one species be? How conceited and self-important can even the supposed ‘dominant’ species stoop to?
We know that to be wise we must be humble, but in an ego-centric world of the west, even this fact often gets lost in the self-help of the pseudo spiritual. Egolessness is waiting in the silence of everything. The realization of the Whole and the fact that is never sleeps.
Mankind is inherently Flawed
“It wasn’t possible to become fully human living besides dragons in the slime… Man’s destiny was to conquer and rule the world… and he had to fulfil his destiny, didn’t he?”
Mankind is not inherently flawed. This comes from the creation myth rooted in the downfall of man where we somehow defiled God. If God is a metaphor for the earth, then in a way, we did. When we chose to become bigger than nature then perhaps we did defy God and begin our narrative that went against the flow. Whatever the truth may be, it doesn’t really matter. What matters now is actually forgiving ourselves; on a personal, familial, and global scale. We are not flawed, we are not responsible or obliged to pay for the worn out guilt-trippings that began thousands of years ago. That’s done now. You are forgiven, you are glorious. You are loved by the earth.
Mankind is the Enemy of the World
“The price you’ve (mankind) paid is not the price of becoming human… It’s the price of enacting a story that casts mankind as the enemy of the world.”
This narrative, myth or story whatever you want to call it, is one so ingrained – even when replaced by the story of evolution – that it could be surmised as the one problem alive and well in mankind’s consciousness across nations.
This anger – perhaps especially apparent in the British people (I’m British, I can say it), is one of rejection. It’s the child stamping their foot at the refusal of love, they become an enemy of the one thing that loves them; the one thing that nurtures and embraces them. It’s almost as if mankind has interpreted the strength and unforgiving nature of the earth (think volcanos, storms, earthquakes etc) and decided it is something to conquer, and as pointed out in Ishmael, the ending of the story of ‘the Takers’ is that the war between mankind and the world ends in catastrophe. An ending we are all familiar with.
But is this really the only way? Is this even at all true? Perhaps the one belief we need to focus on more than any other is: We are not the enemies of the world, and will not be wiped out. We are learning how to live with her, rather than against her.
We can only Solve our Problems with Scripture and Belief, rather than Natural Laws
“Diversity is a survival factor for the community itself… and diversity is exactly what is under attack here…” On how mankind had flaunted and disobeyed the ‘peacekeeping law’; the law which all species on earth apart from us obey (i.e. not taking more than they need, bees claiming ownership over their hive in the apple tree but not the apples).
The average Joe may be aware of natural laws on an intuitive level, but they are generally too ashamed of their intuition in this patriarchal time where only either man-made religion or man-made logic rule… but they also delight in the luxuries the modern world provides. The time of woman may be a cringe-worthy throwback from some science fiction novel, ‘though still a very real step in our immediate future, and the time of intuition and integration and even worthier one.
To strike a balance between science and religion, where our belief is in the sheer complexity of the earth and how it functions is the only way forward. To honour life as chaos yet not fear it or see it as an act of God will be the death of the human ego, and perhaps, as Quinn puts it, a step back into the slime.
So in fact we do have a choice in the way we want to live, we must remind ourselves that the earth was not made for us, mankind is not inherently flawed, nor the enemy of the world, and we have the choice whether to fix our problems with universal laws rather than floaty and inaccessible rules on life such as those outlined by any major religion. It is only ‘mankind’s’ ego that stands in the way.
Meditating on these beliefs, or should we say facts about humans’ place on this planet daily, might just create enough good vibration combined with right action to truly delve our roots firmly back in the soil.