wout's Reviews > Ishmael
bookshelves: bookclub, ebook, wonderful, zeal-pin, social, philosophy, history, fiction, collapse
Any story that explains the meaning of the world, the intentions of the gods, and the destiny of man is bound to be mythology. You think of mythology as a set of fanciful tales. The Greeks didn't think of their mythology this way. Surely you must realize that. I'm talking about living mythology. Not recorded in any book — recorded in the minds of the people of your culture, and being enacted all over the world even as we sit here and speak of it. So you see that your agricultural revolution is not an event like the Trojan War, isolated in the distant past and without direct relevance to your lives today.
As we, the Takers, see it, the gods gave man the same choice they gave Achilles: a brief life of glory or a long, uneventful life in obscurity. And the Takers chose a brief life of glory, bringing the whole thing to the point of collapse in only five hundred generations. Man is the trailblazer, the pathfinder. His destiny is to be the first to learn that creatures like man have a choice: They can try to thwart the gods and perish in the attempt — or they can stand aside and make some room for all the rest.
I had to face it: I didn't just want a teacher — I wanted a teacher for life. Over the next decade, he taught me all he knew of the world and the universe and human history, and when my questions went beyond his knowledge, we studied side by side. Someone has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire. Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime? In my experience, you never really know how you're going to handle a problem until you actually have it. —Daniel Quinn
A humbling account of the extant homo species' extent of mythology in its everyday lives and it's blinding unawareness of it. The story we tell ourselves about us, maybe different than we presumed and may be coloured by hubris. A sense of control is always what we desired, but in there lies a big assumption; that we can simply keep on tuning things without letting the interplay of systems settle in their balanced states. Like Icarus, the man that should not fly too high in the sky because of the heat of the sun, nor too low near the sea, because of the dampness that clogs his feathers. The sun's heat in the atmosphere gets ever warmer, slowly melting our wax. So too, is the dampness of the sea reaching greater heights with rising water levels and more evaporation. All that makes the zone where Icarus can still fly without perishing to complacency or hubris speedily smaller, until both he and we meet one of those limits. A good example of how fictionalizing stories can help us examine our naive narrative, to see where it will leads us and lets us choose whether we want to take corrective action or that we rather enjoy our the brief moment of glory.
I give “Ishmael” five stars.
Quotes wout Liked
But of course there was an anthropologist on hand. What sort of world would it be without an anthropologist? He was, however a very depressed and disillusioned anthropologist, for he'd been everywhere on the planet looking for someone to interview, and every tape in his knapsack was as blank as the sky. But one day as he was moping alongside the ocean he saw what seemed to be a living creature in the shallows off shore. It was nothing to brag about, just sort of a squishy blob, but it was the only prospect he'd seen in all his journeys, so he waded out to where it was bobbing in the waves.
He greeted the creature politely and was greeted in kind, and soon the two of them were good friends. The anthropologist explained as well as he could that he was a student of life-styles and customs, and begged his new friend for information of this sort, which was readily forthcoming. ‘And now’, he said at last, ‘I'd like to get on tape in your own words some of the stories you tell among yourselves.’
‘Stories?’ the other asked.
‘You know, like your creation myth, if you have one.’
‘What is a creation myth?’ the creature asked.
‘Oh, you know,’ the anthropologist replied, ‘the fanciful tale you tell your children about the origins of the world.’
Well, at this, the creature drew itself up indignantly- at least as well as a squishy blob can do- and replied that his people had no such fanciful tale.
‘You have no account of creation then?’
‘Certainly we have an account of creation,’ the other snapped. ‘But its definitely not a myth.’
‘Oh certainly not,’ the anthropologist said, remembering his training at last. ‘Ill be terribly grateful if you share it with me.’
‘Very well,’ the creature said. ‘But I want you to understand that, like you, we are a strictly rational people, who accept nothing that is not based on observation, logic, and scientific method.’
‘"Of course, of course,’ the anthropologist agreed.
So at last the creature began its story. ‘The universe,’ it said, ‘was born a long, long time ago, perhaps ten or fifteen billion years ago. Our own solar system-this star, this planet, and all the others- seem to have come into being some two or three billion years ago. For a long time, nothing whatever lived here. But then, after a billion years or so, life appeared.’
‘Excuse me,’ the anthropologist said. ‘You say that life appeared. Where did that happen, according to your myth- I mean, according to your scientific account.’
The creature seemed baffled by the question and turned a pale lavender. ‘Do you mean in what precise spot?’
‘No. I mean, did this happen on land or in the sea?’
‘Land?’ the other asked. ‘What is land?’
‘Oh, you know,’ he said, waving toward the shore, ‘the expanse of dirt and rocks that begins over there.’
The creature turned a deeper shade of lavender and said, ‘I cant imagine what you're gibbering about. The dirt and rocks over there are simply the lip of the vast bowl that holds the sea.’
‘Oh yes,’ the anthropologist said, ‘I see what you mean. Quite. Go on.’
‘Very well,’ the other said. ‘For many millions of centuries the life of the world was merely microorganisms floating helplessly in a chemical broth. But little by little, more complex forms appeared: single-celled creatures, slimes, algae, polyps, and so on.’
‘But finally,’ the creature said, turning quite pink with pride as he came to the climax of his story, ‘but finally jellyfish appeared!”