Ishmael is the story of a young man, who is looking for something in his life but he is not sure of what that something is. He happens upon an advertisement that there is a teacher who wants a pupil to save the world. This interests the young man who meets with Ishmael, he learns that the world is in captivity and it is being destroyed, and to save it the people must be caged with the world being released from captivity.
The teacher will tell him the story of how the world has come to be this way but that he will never look at life the same way. He gives an example to help the man understand his own misconceptions of his own dominance of the world. Only the ocean exists to the jellyfish that has no competitors in his example and they are on the top of the food chain and the world is the bowl that hold their existence. This is how man feels, that the world is made for him, and all of mankind is aware of this truth. Ishmael now tells him that man is destroying the world because he makes it different from the way it naturally is. In the end man will control all of the earth, the weather, etc. Then move into the universe until they have conquered all they can. Mans major flaw is that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.
He tells the pupil that he is apart of a group that they will call the “takers” and they split off of another group called the “leavers”, when the agricultural revolution started. Because man is now a taker, he will inevitably end the world, but if he had stayed a leaver the world would remain forever. If humans and creatures follow the law they can live forever, but if they don’t they will become extinct. All laws apply to all creatures on the earth and humans are not excluded. The problem is that humans go out of their way to stop competitors. Ishmael gives and example here using a different animal and how it would be if they were doing what the humans do. The hyenas kill the deer for their food supply, but they just kill what they need to eat they don’t kill all the deer so no other animals can eat them. The hyenas would be like humans if they killed off the lions (their competition), but eventually there would be to many of them because they would be the heads of the food chain. So they would not have enough food, so they would kill off all of the other animals that eat the grass so the deer would have plenty of food so they would multiply.
Mother Culture’s story of “how things came to be this way” is,
“If Mother Culture were to give an account of human history using there terms, it would go something like this: ‘The Leavers were chapter one of human history-a long and uneventful chapter. Their chapter of human history ended about ten thousand years ago with the birth of agriculture in the Near East. This event marked the beginning of chapter two, the chapter of the Takers, it’s true there are still Leavers living in the world, but these are anachronisms, fossils-people living in the past, people who just don’t realize that their chapter of human history is over.’ ”(Quinn 42)
We have grown up being told this story our whole lives and we know of no other because this is what we have been taught by out parents and teachers our entire lives.
How is it that the entire world know the same myth, we look to archeologist who tell us we evolved from less advanced people. We take pride in our advances, and we look at other species and feel that they are subservient to us. We put zoos into our cities so we can see the animals that live in the “wild”, that once used to be our neighbors. We pride ourselves in that we have knowledge over all other things on this earth; we feel that we are the best things that ever touched this planet, so therefor we can do what ever we want.
We don’t care what went on in the past before us we are always looking forward, trying to advance our culture to better the world and the comforts we hold dear to us. We are unable to see our world in a cyclical manor anymore, of the seasons and time repeating over and over again. We see time now on a time line going only forward. Our ancestors before us did not see life this way, the seasons told them what was going on in the world. We can no longer remember any farther back beyond our grandparents, if we never experienced or have tangible evidence of something it does not apply to us. We look at religion the same way, we believe in evolution not in a god that provided everything for us. And the people who do believe in god see us as better than the animals that are below us, and that is why we are justified in being able to control there lives, because we need to be in control of our own destinies not god or Mother Culture.
We are chapter two in the story of the leavers and the takers, the people who moved out of the dirt into houses in the suburbs, with cable television and cars to drive us to work. We are smart enough to have the amenities that make our lives comfortable, and no longer have to be afraid of other predators or cold winters that would kill us off. The leavers to us are primitive; their way of life is the past, which we have left behind with technological advances. The way that the takers look at what they are doing is that Mother Culture provided us with all that we need to make our society that we have today, so how could what we are doing be wrong.
“It’s clear that any action we take will be good for some and evil or others, so let’s take no action at all. Then none of the creatures that live in our hands can call us criminals.” (Quinn 158) Takers possess the knowledge that the gods have but the leavers do not. To rule the world as the takers, you must possess power over it and everything that inhabits it. For you to be sure that there is food for you we grow our own, but we also grow enough that others can have some of ours. We keep animals such as pigs and cattle in captivity so whenever we are hungry we can slaughter one and eat. The thing about the taker society is that I do not own a plant that would give me food or an animal that I could eat, so how do I survive? I go to the market where I trade goods and services for a commonly accepted denomination so I can eat. We see the leaver culture as living on the knifes edge, everyday not knowing where they will find their next meal. In actuality they have a better chance in the long run than we do, because we the takers will someday use up all of our food supply, such as how the buffalo’s were killed off generations ago.
The takers do not think that it is wrong that they ate from the tree of knowledge because it was the best piece of knowledge that they have. The takers believe they should have the same knowledge as the gods and will never give it up and so they will destroy the world. The takers told the leavers they had to no longer hunt and gather, being an agriculturist is our punishment from eating the tree of knowledge. If we didn’t we would have had food provided to us in the garden of eaden.
Without the knowledge of good and evil you can not rule the world, but we justify having this knowledge and still doing what we are doing by saying that we are above all other species on this planet. We must kill other animals for ourselves alone to prosper; but we justify our actions by passing laws on the treatment of animals so we are not cruel, whenever we can. The underlying fact about having the knowledge of good and evil is that you didn’t know there was a difference between the two, we all assume that it would be good but in actuality you don’t know this. You have to have evil to have good in this world. People may believe that the garden of eaden was perfect and everything in it was good. But there was evil in it but the people who lived in it couldn’t distinguish between the temptation of the snake. So man ate from the forbidden tree and saw that he was naked and that there was wrong. Or is it that there was always evil in the garden but it took this knowledge to recognize it. You can not have a world with out evil. If you have a world with only good and you have no idea of wrong, how do you know that your world is not completely wrong?
This is the argument that the leavers would give, that possessing this knowledge is what separates them from the savages. We know of good and evil and are able to ward off bad things. It is only with the knowledge of good and evil that you can stop evil. Without knowing what is wrong or evil you would feel that you were doing nothing wrong, and continue doing what ever we wanted.
Is it the world that we live in that is fundamentally wrong or is it our human nature that is what is wrong? We are born into this world and we have been told that being successful it the way to happiness. My parents pay for me to go to college for me to have a better life than that I would have with a high school education. And where is the wrong in this equation? I hope to enter into the work force with a greater opportunity then the man next to me so I will get the job, so I will be in charge of him and make more money. I have yet to even meet this person, but right now he is trying to better himself over me, so instead he will get the job over myself.
So is it the world that we live in, the capitalistic society that we have made. The one where you make the most money you can so you can have the most comfortable existence that you can have. Or maybe it is the people who dream of having many children, more than they would need. For any family to continue over time they must procreate, to exist on the time line of life. In so doing they are making more people on a world that is becoming over populated, meaning that there will soon not be enough room for all of us to live and eat. Is this the problem that we should monitor how many children that we have to make sure that everyone has something to eat?
Ishmael says that our thirst for more is our problem, if we only used what we absolutely needed then the existence of man would be able to sustain forever. It is easy to just blame the world in which we live in being the problem, it isn’t my problem that I was born into this, is the attitude that people have. We know good and evil, because we have all eaten from the tree of knowledge without even knowing that we were doing so. But without this knowledge I believe no one would ever know what evil was so how would you ever know what you were doing was good. I believe that you need this knowledge, but I also agree that this will be our downfall. I don’t believe you could get many people who would willingly go back to a leaver society even if they could. So yes it is the people that are fundamentally wrong with this world but I don’t believe that they have a choice, you can try your best throughout your life to change your actions, to leave as much as you can for future generations. And I hope that maybe doing this would make it so other societies could remain after ours.
In conclusion I would like to point out that I enjoyed that book. I just find it hard to take all in, because it leaves you feeling like you are powerless over what is happening. You know what is wrong but how do you make a change. “Takers are those who know good and evil leavers are those who live in the hands of god. Takers say the world belongs to man, leavers say man belongs to the world but you will live forever.” (Quinn 215-2)