Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ishmael and Crow

Since it originally became very popular in 1992, it's pretty likely Daniel Quinn's book 'Ishmael' is old news to you. I'm sure I passed it by any number of times during my weekly sojourns to Powell's in Portland but one day last week when Crow was going through some documents he came across a picture taken of him and his old friend years ago. We talked about Ishmael's views regarding how humanity divided into two distinct groups about 10,000 years ago when agriculture first gained a foothold around the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The people who elected to stay in one place to farm the land Ishmael called Takers while the ones who preferred to continue their wandering ways he identified as Leavers.

Although his theory is valid, it's somewhat oversimplified for my taste and understanding about the general history of that period. It was just about 10,000 years ago that the last Ice Age ended quickly and produced a climate change significant enough to make food gathering much more difficult than it had previously been. The change to farming rather than following the herds while gathering what edibles could be found among the trees, grasses and tubers produced by nature was very difficult. Archeologists have determined from skeletal remains that the early generations born among the first farmers were noticeably smaller than their hunter-gatherer cousins. However, this soon changed and before long the farmer society formed divisions in its make-up we'd recognize today. Soon there were kings and standing armies to defend the land they had and grab as much more as they could defend. We can well understand that over the course of time the Leavers became more and more marginalized, until today when there aren't many left.

“It's the idea that people living close to nature tend to be noble. It's seeing all those sunsets that does it. You can't watch a sunset and then go off and set fire to your neighbor's tepee. Living close to nature is wonderful for your mental health.”

 There's no doubt that the hardships endured by those early farmers has led to the benefits many of us take for granted today but the fact remains that our headlong rush toward continuing 'progress' has brought us to the brink of planetary climate disaster. The first Industrial Revolution began with the use of fossil fuels and since then we've discovered how to dig deeper for minerals, fish the oceans with larger nets, divert rivers with ever bigger dams and canals, appropriate more habitats of other species and cut down forests with more powerful land clearing equipment. One day last week Earth Overshoot day passed pretty much unnoticed but every year it happens a bit earlier that we exceed our annual use of the world's natural resources. It's the kind of debt the bank can't forgive even if was of a mind to do so.

“We're not destroying the world because we're clumsy. We're destroying the world
because we are, in a very literal and deliberate way, at war with it.”

I see the Occupy Wall St. movement as another harbinger of a growing world-wide movement for a change in the way we live on Earth. It may not be articulated as such but people need something to work for rather than laboring to produce more and more useless stuff from dwindling supplies. Better to do nothing rather than dig one more oil well in deep water or pave one more wetland for a big box store full of goods most of us neither need nor can afford. Now that unemployment has reached massive proportions many of us are already learning to live with less than we thought we needed. Understanding that true wealth lies in a new era of progress without growth might be a smaller step than we realize. The Transition Movement is already gaining some ground in building healthy communities with thriving economies and healthy natural environments.

It's not my habit to write long posts and this one is already quite big enough so I'll end with a final favorite quote from Ishmael:

“If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all.”

Yesterday I saw some people carrying an Occupy Halifax sign. ♡


  1. “It's the idea that people living close to nature tend to be noble. It's seeing all those sunsets that does it. You can't watch a sunset and then go off and set fire to your neighbor's tepee. Living close to nature is wonderful for your mental health.”

    I dig this with a muchness. Amazing how much better I feel on multiple levels after a simple jaunt through the woods.

    & that sign makes me chuckle.

  2. I have no problem living close to nature..... it's when nature comes in the house that causes problems.

  3. For those interested in some interesting scientific and historical analysis which back up such lines of thinking, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel may be interesting.

  4. it's true there are very few Hunter Gatherers left on this planet - a few uncontacted tribes in South America and New Guinea. Perhaps the People of Sentinel Island have the right idea!

  5. marja-leena - Glad you agree.

    randal - This system would work perfectly if people were a little better than people are.

    okjimm - Good point.

    francis - That was a great book as was 'Collapse'. I wish I hadn't left so many books behind now that I have time for reading and re-reading.

    jams - We've lost a lot of irreplaceable knowledge and wisdom.

  6. not long ago i caught the tail end of a documentary on the radio about environment and intelligence. some scientists tested children in different environments. in an environment with sirens, traffic noise and constant sounds identified as 'stressful', they tested noticeably lower than did the same children when taken for testing to a quiet spot in the boreal forest.

    the 'corporations as persons' legal entity concept threw me for a loop when i first heard it in business school.... and coming from the same social strata that once said women and 'colored' folk were NOT persons. too twisted for words. it was one of the things that solidified my certainty that my bottom line is not, nor ever will be, financial.

  7. gfid - It's certainly true noise can be very distracting and it's probably worse for children who simply haven't had time to develop filters. Then again, my filters when it comes to that stuff have been at a low ebb for years.

    The legal concept about corporations being 'people' just goes to show who gets to write the laws, or at least have a seat at the table. It's very nasty.

  8. You know susan, this wonderful post makes my mind work overtime. I don't think I can respond in the space provided. If you think your post is long, I have so many thoughts and opinions on the subject it would take a novel to discuss it here with you, and that is with agreeing with everything that you've said. Imagine if I disagreed with anything?!

    Bottom line for me is, and I've said this before, I am the problem. I have as much as the next door neighbor, so to speak. I use up natural resources. I have some debt and use the banks, I know they are marching for changes, and even though I stand with them in spirit and substance, I'm not there with them.

    I have excuses like I can't get my family to live this way or I'd be alone if I went off to protest. Those things are true, but a real leader, be it in a family or a nation, would command the respect and be followed in his/her actions.

    I'll stop here and just take the blame, but inside I know that if the people were united, we'd never be divided, and that would be from both sides of "their" borders.

    Hats off to you for the deep thought and broaching the subject. Maybe that's enough, to know we care.

    I love the drawing. I wish Crow would stop by on one of his flyovers so we could share a Remy and a cigar. Tell him I said Hello.

    In any event, I still will sign off with Peace.

  9. I'm glad to see the "Occupy" movement is having some impact on our Canadian neighbors.

    I haven't much more to add. I hope you're enjoying your weekend.


  10. spadoman - Well, I pretty much short-formed the whole subject too because it is far too huge to discuss briefly. Nevertheless, I thought it worth mentioning.

    You really aren't the problem any more than any of us. We were born into this particular cultural trap and all we can really do is to acknowledge that and be as helpful as we're able to be when the opportunities arise. I know you do that better than most. As older people we've been very lucky in having lived through some wonderful times. Yes, there's been bad as well but overall things were pretty good for our generation. I have a feeling, as do so many, that we may need that store of positive energy in the time ahead. Of course, you're right about people being united but we must wait to see what's next.

    I'm glad you like the new drawing. With the exception of the Crow drawings I've been stumbling with the rest.

    gina - I'm very glad to see the Occupy movement has caught on in the US. They don't need a leader or a platform and that's just fine.

    Have a great weekend yourself.


  11. there's a wonderful bit in Douglas Adams' 'Last Chance to See', where they stop by to visit mountain gorillas on their way to or from seeing the rhinos (it's a sort of round the world tour of endangered species). Adams describes sitting in the cloud forest near a mountain gorilla, watching it as it watches him take notes about it. all very calm and, in a way, almost genteel. your wonderful drawing brings this to mind. do you use an earth toned ink, or is this just the way the digital image makes it seem?

  12. gfid - I used to have a copy of that book and do remember the part when he met the gorillas. It was beautiful.

    All of my drawings are done either in regular pencil or using black ink. I never did it with the Adventures but the ones here have been slightly tinted because they look prettier to me that way.