Book Report: Ishmael
Book Report: Ishmael
Human beings are in competition for survival that lead to depletion of the Earth’s limited resources, and soon, the planet will crash like an air plane that has run out of fuel while still high in the skies. The book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, which is the focus of this work, has opened my eyes and provoked a lot of thoughts and conclusion that the humans’ dominion is just a sprint towards the finish line. People’s rule is demonstrated through unending technological advancement, innovations and inventions that are geared towards more effective and quicker exploitation of the environment. Quinn’s book has efficiently supported the mentioned above fact through the discussion of numerous themes and use of various approaches to their analysis.
First, one has to pay attention to the fact that in order to present the topic of the destruction of environment in a more captivating manner, Daniel Quinn uses a gorilla which has been captured from one of the jungles in West Africa as a teacher who is sharing the knowledge on how to save the universe from the outcomes of people’s activity. The animal is personified, given human name and portrayed as able to communicate telepathically. Obviously, the choice of a non-human being telling the story about imminent destruction of the planet by humans has been deliberately meant to demonstrate the feelings of other species concerning the issue. Apparently, they are groaning about such a dominion and wanton exploitation of the environment by human beings.
Second, the book demonstrates how culture is used or rather misused to advance insensate consumerism at the expense of destroying the Earth. For instance, in an attempt to explain why we are here, the gorilla describes two cultural groups inhabiting the planet. The first one consists of people who he refers to as takers. These are those who believe in the necessity of the constant exploitation of the environment to satisfy human desires. They strive for the advancement of the technology in order to enable exploitation of more resources and expedite dominion of humans. Moreover, they support agricultural revolution, industrialization and capitalistic theories of amassing wealth and improving human life without concern for probable depletion of resources. On the other hand, there is a culture of leavers which describes the group of people who live simply and follow natural ecological laws (Quinn, 1992). It is viewed to be primitive, and it is believed that individuals who are in the former group are working hard to get the leavers out of that situation. This group is represented by communities such as the hunters and gatherers who are only concerned about their daily meals and coexist with their surroundings having minimal impact on it. However, they are vulnerable to death through starvation during famine periods. The author portrays this as a way through which nature balances the capacity that it can sustain comfortably. Nevertheless, it is really debatable whether such deaths should be allowed to happen in the name of the nature. Furthermore, one can observe that there is forced migration from the leavers’ culture to the takers’ one, especially through education.
Third, Quinn has also showed the use of religion and myth to propagate consumerism and capitalistic business ventures. In particular, the book shows that the supporters of capitalism have used the creation story to justify the dominion of human beings and the rationale for exploiting more and more resources. Conversely, the conservatives, who are described in this novel as leavers, believe that the capitalists are the negative characters of the myth. They believe that the takers are like the people who have eaten the forbidden fruit of knowing good and bad and are now behaving as if they are gods while, in reality, they are not (Quinn, 1992). Unfortunately, the given group is growing smaller and smaller since they are forced into modernism by the all-powerful takers. I believe that colonization is one of the tools that have been used by the capitalists to force the whole world into capitalism and wanton destruction of the environment. Other programs such as relief food schemes, universal education and globalization are also some of the means that have worked to reduce the number of conventionalists.
Another theme that is running through Ishmael is population increase and pressure. Listening to the gorilla, you get to understand that the number of humans is constantly rising. To reach this, they are taking advantage over other species with disregard for natural population control processes. People provide food to the poor so that they do not die and give medicine to the sick and protect them from passing away as well. Furthermore, modern agriculture is portrayed as a way of ensuring constant supply of food and helping people to avoid death owing to hunger. With regard to the stated, I am struggling in my mind to understand whether Quinn really intended to promote and advocate for death by starvation as a way of natural population control. At the same time, this idea has led to the conclusion that agricultural revolution is not a panacea to humans and the rest of species, but it also has negative impacts that need to be checked. The use of agrochemicals, for instance, influences both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
Speaking about my impressions of Ishmael, I am fascinated by satire in this novel. Particularly, the author uses a captured gorilla whose captivity makes the reader to start thinking and ask why things are happening the way they are. Sarcastically, he points out that humans are also captives who have been caught up in greed, consumerism and wanton exploitation of the natural resources (Dong, Bandyopadhyay, & Chaturvedi, 2017). Unfortunately for the people, they do not seem to realize that they are in captivity and are being pulled down towards the destruction of the planet. They are engrossed in new technological advancements, clothes, food and ways of conquering the earth.
Moreover, despite the fact that the problems and themes considered in the book are real and understandable, I am somehow confused and find it hard to agree with the solutions suggested by Quinn. It is clear that the resources of the Earth are limited and, therefore, human activities towards their exploitation should be monitored lest we all perish with the planet. However, how can the control be exercised? Should we keep quiet when we see people dying because it is natural? It seems to me that even the laws of nature do not allow this to happen. A gazelle in the jungle cannot wait for a lion to kill it even though it is aware that it is natural as it is lion’s prey. Undoubtedly, all the species would resort to adaptation to protect themselves from death and, if possible, increase their population; hence, it is also natural for human beings.
The population theme is even more contradictory. On the one hand, it is apparent that modernity has accelerated population growth through higher food supply that results from modern agriculture and technological advancement. However, on the other hand, we know that today’s world has also brought about birth control methods, such as family planning, which help to keep an eye on the humans’ pressure on the resources of the planet (Ahluwalia, 2015). It is also evident that women who receive contemporary education do not give birth to many children as compared to the indigenous females and those who have not gone to school. Therefore, the fact that modernity is really the cause of the environmental destruction is still put in question.
I have also found some irony in the fact that Daniel Quinn, who is a distinguished professor, is against modernity and supports what we can call primitivism. However, if there were no modernity today, there would be no education. It means Quinn would not have gone to school and, thus, would not have been able to write this novel. And, how would people know the great ideas regarding environmental conservation that are postulated in Ishmael?
Overall, having read this book and related the story with what is currently happening in the world, I have no iota of doubt that it is in the race towards its destruction the major cause of which is human activities. The rate at which the resources are being exploited is far much faster than the one at which the Earth is able to replenish them. Therefore, such exploitation should be controlled. Furthermore, there should be a change of attitude among the human race and shift in the belief concerning the position of man in the ecosystem. As portrayed in the novel, people should not just see themselves as kings, but they should understand that they need to work with others towards sustainability of the environment. They have to realize and remember that they are also a part of nature. With this in mind, I support the principle of sustainable development as a way of overseeing human activities that adversely impact the surroundings and pose a threat of imminent destruction of the Earth. This will ensure that the current generation utilizes the resources without compromising the ability of their descendants to benefit from the same environment.
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