The Daniel Quinn Files: Ishmael (3)

Last time we stopped before Alan could try to figure out what our culture’s creation myth is. It’s an interesting question to ponder for anyone. Let’s get to it then.

Alan’s try of telling our culture’s origin story goes something like this: the universe starts with the big bang, billions of years ago, life on earth starts five billion years ago, bacteria become more complex life forms, life moves to land, mammals, primates and finally man appeared. Now, is that a story you would agree with? I guess most people naturally would and yet Ishmael claims that the story is a myth. You are confused now, like Alan? That’s sort of the point.

To make his point, Ishmael tells him a different story. It takes place on earth half a billion years ago, when an anthropologist talks to a creature, asking him for their creation myth. The creature seems offended, saying they surely have a creation story they pass on to their children, but not a myth. He tells it anyway. In this story the universe starts billions of years ago, followed by the planet their own and life a billion years ago. When the anthropologist asks if it appeared on land or in the sea, the creature doesn’t know what he means by land, explaining that to him it’s just some bowl that holds the sea. Let’s hear the rest of the story as Quinn writes it:

“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!”

Alan feels embarrassed or cheated but he realizes what Ishmael wanted to tell him: that our creation story ends with the appearance of men as the highlight of that story, the end point because we see humanity as the pinnacle of creation, assuming that creation has ended. Isn’t that what you would assume? Of course this leads to the further assumption that the world was created for man since he is what everything leads up to. If nothing better can come than man of course he is supposed to rule over everything that’s beneath him. It’s part of every major religion ("For man God framed this fair world; to man's use he adapted it with minutest care") and part of our culture’s belief no matter where you look.

But there is no evidence for that assumption, as the universe, the world, the species haven’t stopped their creational processes just because man appeared.

The universe went on as before, the planet went on as before. Man’s appearance caused no more stir than the appearance of jellyfish.

So, what does this make our creation a story? A myth. A myth that suggests that the birth of man was most important event in the history of the universe and that earth is simply there to serve man and keep him alive. Man seems to be really special, more special than any other creature, but the story does not reveal why that is supposed be true. If you think about how much philosophers and thinkers have spent time figuring out what man’s purpose is, you see one of the many fallacies of this myth.

Ishmael explains that every story needs a premise and the Taker’s story (our story) has the simple premise of The world was made for man. Again, it sounds simple but of course it has severe consequences that most people at least are aware of nowadays. If the world was made for man, we can do whatever we want with it.

That’s what’s been happening here for the past ten thousand years: You’ve been doing what you damn well please with the world. And of course you mean to go right on doing what you damn well please with it, because the whole damn thing belongs to you.

It’s our world, our forests, our seas, our environment and so on and so on.

Actually, all of this is just the beginning of our cultural story, again, the premise that’s the basis for everything else. I hope you see how important that premise is and how it still affects us every single day, how we re-tell it again and again. But it’s just the beginning and things will become even clearer when we get to the rest of the story.