Chris's Reviews > Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure

Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn
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Jan 25, 2009

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Read in February, 2009

3.5, really, but I rounded down for several reasons.

Those familiar with Quinn's thinking will find little in here that is unique or new, however it is probably the most concise manifesto representing his beliefs to date. It is mostly a rephrased and fictionless abridgment of his previous works. This works in some ways, but it underdeveloped at many points, begging the reader to look elsewhere for depth in philosophy. That said, the facts themselves, as he presents them, are equally profound and pertinent as anything else he has done.

To those reviewers who claim that his ideas are nonviable, 'hippie' solutions are members of the hopelessly indoctrinated hegemony whom he is attempting to displace, discredit and reeducate. His words have been wasted on them and I suggest looking to his novels for 'proofs' of his theories that are somewhat more irrefutably arrived upon (this book is comparatively more conclusion than proof, which is perhaps the source of their confusion). To reviewers who claim he offers no 'solutions' to the problems of the world, you have simply misunderstood the meaning of the word solution. There is no such thing as an activity we can engage that will fix our problems, and Quinn says as much in every book he has written ("If the world can be saved, it will not be by people with the old vision and new programs, but by people with new vision and no programs"). Programs are what this reviewer is looking for, and his vision is still flawed.

Rather, Quinn implores us to 'invent.' He does not provide a specific 'solution' because specificity first implies that we only have one, or some small handful of related problems. In fact there are many things we must overcome if the species is to survive. Second, overly specific solutions are more than likely some form of program, which is the very thing he means to avoid. The actual solution he presents here is simply to recognize as a species the consequences of our actions and to start making different choices about what the story of humanity is all about. He does not claim to know what those choices must be, or what form they will take. This is another of his points: "There is no one right way for humans to live."

Basically, my point is that there are certain reviewers who clearly did not understand the text. I'm not claiming it to be a new bible or the blueprint for the success of humanity, but it does at least set out to accomplish its intentions. Using 'hippie' as an epithet is not a reasonable condemnation of his intent or execution.

So why did I round down? That choice is from an avoidable and recurring hypocrisy in Quinn's books. The formatting and editorial choices of his works seem universally to waste a huge amount of white paper space. I tend to write lots of notes for myself in these kinds of books and still found this to be obnoxiously wastefulGiven his ethical stance, the waste of paper undermines the influence and respectability of his arguments.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Tabitha I just ordered this book. I was worried for a moment it would not add up to the rest of his great reads, but you have reassured me in a very clear way that it will be well worth my time. Thank you for putting into all the words I thought but could not reiterate how misunderstood and underappreciated his books are. Thank you.


message 2: by Ted (new)

Ted This and The Story of B are my favorite Quinn books. Have you read Endgame by Derrick Jensen? I'd suggest looking into it... After reading all Quinn's books, Endgame, listening to Ward Churchill talks, listening to just about every single Ted Talk (online) I've come to the conclusion that the best "solution" is to simply give up- not on life, but to just abandon civilization- it's an endless war really, and although we are going to end up with one massive culture or another, it doesn't have to be like this. We must first be willing to consider that everything Civilization stands for is really very extremist: Everything must be full-throttle, taken to the very full extent, but it doesn't even stop there. It's as if we've been trying to subdue chaos this whole time- which in turn makes our lives toilsome and painful. I think the answer is to give up on medical advancements, give up on the economy, give up on trying to fix everything- then there would be a period of mass chaos, but in time that will wash over for the better.


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