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Charleston, SC, United States
"Fear is a stranger to the ways of love. Identify with fear, and you will be a stranger to yourself." -ACIM

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Book Review: My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

This was the second book in this series that I have read. The first, Ishmael, was essentially the same narrative just from a different perspective. I enjoyed Ishmael and thought it presented a different way of looking at how we as a culture got to where we are today.

With this book, Quinn tells the same developmental narrative through the main character to a young girl instead of a middle aged man as in Ishmael. In case you aren’t familiar with this series, Ishmael is a giant gorilla who is a teacher that communicates to his students telepathically. (Yes, I know that sounds completely ridiculous.) But Quinn starts with the assumption that if you are open minded enough to accept a gorilla telling stories telepathically then you are open minded enough to listen to the stories that he tells.

While I enjoyed both books, I found My Ishmael to be the better of the two. (There is another in the series, however I doubt that I’ll get around to it.) The book is very easy to read due to its predominantly conversational style and I highly recommend it to anyone asking the question; how did it all come to this?

What Ishmael tries to impart on this student is that we can improve ourselves and in effect save ourselves by increasing the questions we ask and by not being blinded by what he calls “Mother Culture.” Ishmael says that Mother Culture has told us how to think what to think and how we as ‘developed’ people are so superior when in fact our system may be the very thing destroying us.

Ishmael says that we have become so blinded by Mother Culture that we don’t even realize that there are solutions out there to be found.

“Thinkers aren’t limited by what they know, because they can always increase what they know. Rather they are limited by what puzzles them, because there’s no way to become curious about something that doesn’t puzzle you. If a thing falls outside the range of people’s curiosity, then they simply cannot make inquires about it. It constitutes a blind spot – a spot of blindness that you can’t even know is there until someone draws your attention to it.”

What Ishmael and Quinn are trying to do in his teachings is to draw attention to this blind spot and make readers curious enough to start asking some of these cultural and sociological questions.

Quinn makes the argument that the tribal systems that worked for tens of thousands of years were not flawed systems - hence they were done away with - but rather that a more hostile and powerful flawed system simply incorporated and destroyed them.

“For hundreds of thousands of years, people as smart as you had had a way of life that worked well for them. The descendants of these people can today still be found here and there, and wherever they’re found in an untouched state, they give every evidence of being perfectly content with their way of life. They’re not at war with each other, generation against generation or class against class. They’re not plagued by anguish, anxiety, depression, self hatred, crime, madness, alcoholism, and drug addiction. They don’t complain of oppression and injustice. They don’t describe their lives as meaningless and empty. They’re not seething with hatred and rage. They don’t look to the sky, yearning for contact with gods and angles and prophets and alien spacemen and spirits of the dead. And they don’t wish someone would come along and tell them how to live. This is because they already know how to live, as ten thousand years ago humans everywhere knew how to live. But knowing how to live was something the people of your culture had to destroy in order to make themselves the rulers of the world.”

This section is taken slightly out of context since he is not advocating that we go back to a tribal system or a completely socialist system. What he is doing is simply pointing out the flaws in our system that were not present in the system that we destroyed and replaced. He is advocating that we start to examine why we feel the need to destroy what we do not understand and why it is that we cannot simply look to ourselves to know how to live. I do believe that there are some undertones of Atheism in this, however I don’t think that Quinn is against the idea of Faith as a way to guide one’s life.

Overall I think this book should be read by anyone wondering how it is that we’ve traveled so far down the rabbit hole. The girl in the book constantly has a voice in that back of her head that says, “I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here!” What Ishmael tries to pull out is why people of our culture have this feeling. Why is it that we are so uncomfortable in our own skin and as a group in our own system? What has caused us to ignore the poor, become depressed and turn to drugs, wage war all over the globe against people we do not understand, and destroy the one and only planet that we have to live on?

So if you find yourself with a day to kill, pick up a copy of either Ishmael or My Ishmael and keep an open mind about the telepathic gorilla. I think some of the questions need to be asked and eventually the ideas that Quinn presents will surface when we and our culture are finally forced to face ourselves.

1 comment:

anonomous said...

I love Daniel Quinns books all of them i've read Ismael and im trying to wonder does Ismael believe in God? I know it is a dum question but it comfuses me..