daniel quinn is ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and SpiritIshmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here are my thoughts written out to a former student who read this book and liked it a lot but also needed some guidance with it:

I think there’s some wisdom here–our species’ arrogance has certainly gotten us into a lot of trouble–but I wonder what nature “fixing itself” would look like. I think the claim that humans are the imago Dei and therefore at the top of the pyramid of creation is not a normative or prescriptive claim (“things ought to be such and such..”) but rather a descriptive one (“on the basis of observation, things simply are such and such..”). Thus, any “solution” to the environmental problem is going to involve us.

Secondly, we must remember that although we may be at the “top,” we are nevertheless still part of nature: so nature “fixing itself” without human interference is nonsense. (Unless we purposely enact mass self-extinction–which, some would argue, is where we’re headed anyway!) This brings us back to my first point. If it is nonsense to talk of nature fixing itself and our presence at the top if nature’s pyramid is undeniable, then we are–in a way–nature’s “conscience.” If we don’t fix the problem (a problem which, admittedly, we created), then it won’t be fixed. The only question at that point becomes how to fix it.

Quinn seems to give this Taoist “return to the way of nature, man” suggestion. But he doesn’t do a good job of explaining how that works–or even of characterizing that more noble, natural way that all creatures except certain types of humans still emulate. You’re absolutely right about the weakness of his conclusion.

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2 responses to “daniel quinn is ishmael

  1. I’d love to hear others’ comments about this book. It’s one that’s got a lot of folks thinking about the environment in fruitful ways (it regularly tops folks’ “this book will blow your mind” lists), but that also suffers from serious problems.

  2. thats funny-i couldnt make it through the whole thing. hmmmm. i am much wiser these days, so i shall try again.
    i really have this problem of commenting on your blog before i even read the post. oops.

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