The Daniel Quinn Files: Ishmael (6)

We are still rushing down the cliff on our improvised plane contraption, so let’s get to business right away. Remember, we have stopped at the point of trying to figure out which laws everyone but our culture follows that tells us how to live and which we have been breaking for 10,000 years, taking the whole planet down with us. Let’s find out more.

Before Alan tries to figure out the law by himself, Ishmael gives him some advice on how to figure it out. He explains again that there is a law in the community of life, even if we look at “nature” or “the wilderness” (the name says it all) and only see chaos and anarchy. Watch almost any animal documentary and you hear comments how every creature tries to survive somehow and how tough it is out there, as if every giraffe, frog and platypus was constantly stressed out, figuring out ways not to die. Animals are not enemies to each other in the sense that we see it, there is no hatred between species because that would actually lead to chaos. The law we’re looking for keeps peace and enables life for all, including man who had been following it until one branch, our culture, said “We don’t follow this law anymore”, built civilization and brought the world to the edge of extinction. And our explanation is not that we changed the basic ideas of life on our planet, but that we are just so fundamentally wrong and flawed.

After struggling with it for a while, Alan eventually figures out three things Takers (our culture) do that no one else in the community of life does and they are the basics of our civilization but also the reason for our downfall.

1. Exterminating our competitors: Let’s quote Alan here “In the wild, animals will defend their territories and their kills and they will invade their competitors’ territories and preempt their kills. Some species even include competitors among their prey, but they never hunt competitors down just to make them dead, the way ranchers and farmers do with coyotes and foxes and crows.” I think everyone in our culture, automatically knows this concept and doesn’t normally find it problematic. But if you compare it with every other living species on the planet, you see that no one else acts that way.

And you might say, “So what, I don’t care what farmers do to coyotes,” but it is not hard to see that rule playing out on a larger scale in our culture. This principle is applied in many other areas like sports, politics and business. In all those areas you try to eliminate your competitors before they can harm you. People are taught to act this way if they want to get to the top. If you think that only the strong survive (which is not true), it makes sense to become the strongest by killing off your competitors.

Of course, if you follow that law to its very end, you end up in an unstable situation. If every living thing on Earth exterminated its competitors, there’d be no balance whatsoever. Only the strongest would be left, which doesn’t sound like a very comfortable place to live.

2. Destroying your competitors’ food: This is a logical extension from law 1. If you want to exterminate your competitors, one way is to take away their resources. This law also comes from our governing principle of always taking as much as you can get instead of only taking what you need, which is how the rest of the community of life works.

3. Deny your competitors any access to their food: This is basically an addendum to no.2, but it goes a step further in really ensuring that only you and no one else gets what you want and need. Alan uses this nice analogy “You can say, ‘This gazelle is mine,’ but you can’t say, ‘All the gazelles are mine.’” You can see very well how that applies to our culture on a larger scale as well. If you only think of business, you know that their principles are not “Just get the clients we want and need for us”, but “How do we get our competitors’ clients as well?” Or voters for politicians.

If you summarize these laws, they boil down to one law that is followed in the community of life: “You may compete, but may not wage war.” That is why it is a peace-keeping law. It also promotes diversity because it doesn’t rely on one species being stronger or more important than any other.

Why is diversity important? Because the less diverse an environment is, the more vulnerable it becomes. In a diverse world, one species can never be too important for all the others, but if you have an environment with only a few, “strong” species, it is very easy to tip the balance in any direction. If you consider how many species disappear because of our culture every year (probably every day), you can’t help but see that diversity is really at stake.

This also very naturally leads to population growth. If you wage war on your competitors, there is more food for you and more food means more people. As Alan realizes “You have to end up where the Takers have ended up—constantly eliminating competitors, constantly increasing your food supply, and constantly wondering what you’re going to do about the population explosion.” Mother Culture tells us that this is not true, that we can produce more and more food without an increasing population. You’ll hear scientists again and again tell us that the population is not growing too much, but it stills grows anyway and earlier estimates are continually corrected for higher figures. But I don’t want to get into population growth too much because it invariably causes people to become upset and angry and referring to science and so on. If you want to deny that most of our problems come from overcrowding, then there is nothing to argue about.

So, this is what the law(s) of how people ought to live looks like, if you look at the community of life. We want to believe that we are the exception, that we can bend or even break this law to fit our own demands but if you look at the world and all its problems, you almost have to agree that it doesn’t work. Just as a plane that doesn’t follow the laws of aerodynamics will crash, so will a culture which tries the same. You can argue that this won’t convince anyone because we have been told endlessly that we are exempt from this law, but as Ishmael says the law doesn’t care. Either we get rid of this culture or we won’t survive. It’s a simple as that. In 10,000 years we haven’t been able to really free ourselves from this law, as the problems pile up and people more and more desperate and hopeless. But looking and understanding this actually could give people hope and that is what we need. It is part of a vision that will help us get out of this.

But if we go one living the Taker story of wanting more and more and being the strongest, this won’t work out. The Leaver story might not be as appealing but it works. And we desperately need something that works.

so give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

we are old as hell
we are old and tell the children
when to kill, when to sit still

everyone doing what we say
til our dying day
til our breath is empty

The Thermals  - Power Doesn't Run on Nothing (2006)