#1 daughter and I finished Ishmael together. She is now moving on to the rest of the trilogy, but I am going directly to the nonfiction.
Ishmael suggests that civilization itself — the process of giving up tribal society for agricultural and perhaps eventually industrial society — is not a worthwhile endeavor. Civilizations fall, Quinn says, because the very premise of civilization is impracticable. Having presented his ideas on this, he then offers a solution. Well, sort of. His solution is that everyone should read Ishmael. With our consciousness raised, we will then be resourceful enough to move beyond civilization to some sort of neo-tribalism. And this will result not only in greater happiness for humanity (or “man,” as Quinn persists in calling us), but also in a renewed process of evolution for other creatures. In Beyond Civilization, he confirms that he thought getting people to read his books would lead inexorably to this happy ending, but that he now recognizes that it did not. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.
Quinn’s initial idea had some flaws, of course. For one thing, he is sort of echoing one of my favorite cartoons, which has a couple of lab-coated guys at a chalkboard where there is a set of formulae with the words “at this point, a miracle occurs” in the middle. “That part may need more explication,” one says to the other. If you want to say that as soon as all the elect are saved, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, you have a prediction complete with the implication that a miracle is going to occur, since God is part of the prediction. Quinn’s idea that the world will be changed because people read his books, however, definitely requires further explication.
Another problem is that his ideas are not new. People did not listen to Thomas Malthus and say, “Hey, he’s right! Let’s give up agriculture!” Why should adding a telepathic gorilla make such a difference?
Personally, I am inclined to think that agriculture’s main effect is not the inexorable progress toward destruction of the natural world, but the opportunity for humans to specialize in their work. That is, agriculture allows a small proportion of the population to provide food for the population as a whole, thus freeing other people to knit, make pottery, and write oratorios.
This is not to say that Quinn’s work has not had profound effects on some of his readers. You can visit his website to see evidence of this.
Meanwhile, Saturday is beginning here. That means a day of agriculture (ahem, gardening), hunting and gathering (grocery shopping), and the restoration of civilization (housework). Also, #2 daughter is intending to make me go to the mall and buy clothes. In retaliation, I will make her help me cut my quilt. Work on the prayer shawl, walking the dogs in the park, mending a bicycle tire, and watching “Vanity Fair” are also on my list for today. My husband will continue training the animals in hopes of reaching a state of peaceful coexistence which will allow Nadia the cat to stay here with us. The boys are visiting friends in the country. I hope you all have equally pleasant plans.