Years ago I read some Daniel Quinn. I could tell he was saying something important, but I couldn't figure out what it meant or what to do with it. I'm not sure why, but I just wasn't ready for it, I guess.
In November I read Providence, which touches on a bunch of his ideas in a shorter space. This time it really clicked, and I decided it was time try again.
For Christmas, I asked my wife to get me. Two by Daniel Quinn: Ishmael and The Story of B . Two by Patrick O'Brian: HMS Surprise and The Mauritius Command . However, I hate the way that the Christmas giving obligation drives us to spend, consume natural resources, create trash, etc. So I asked her to get them from the library if possible, or used otherwise.
So, in the last 3 weeks I have read Ishmael, the Story of B, and My Ishmael (which I already had a copy of from my previous experience). I hadn't read B before, because someone told me it was about religion, and discussion religion usually bores me to tears.
Ishmael struck me again. I came away with one big question: if we need to quickly, drastically reduce human population in order to make room for some other life on the planet, and we assume that population is directly linked to food supply, then we must reduce the amount of food humans are consuming, just as quickly and drastically. This makes perfect sense at the species level, but I have trouble with it on the individual level. I'm not willing to let someone I care about starve just because I think there are too many people. Furthermore, I'm not willing to decide that the people I care about shall be well-fed, while the have-nots go hungry, even if I do believe it's somehow for the good of the species and the whole planet.
What I'm really run in to here is the one of the fundemental issues that Quinn is pointing to: the fact that I, as a "Taker" think that the decision of who lives and who dies belongs in the hands of man. I read him as saying that I must make that decision, but I sense that he's not saying that at all.
The Story of B was much better than I expected. The religious aspects did not bore me at all, and the story was damn interesting. In that way it kept my attention better than any of his other books that I've read. The message that changed minds are required is important. I may not know how to change the way we live, but perhaps I can spread the understanding that a change is necessary, and why.
My Ishmael was fine for me, until the narrative at the end. I think I understand why it was important for some people, but for me I was not so interested in that part. I was looking for insights, and the story involved characters I didn't care about very much, since we hadn't really met them as people in the first part of the book.
The increased focus on "moving forward" and on tribal, not hierarchical structures for humanity is clearly important, and something I can lean on to help me in the future.
The next book to read is Beyond Civilization, which I read 2 years ago. You can see the impact it had on me in the Christmas Spirit post I linked to above. I don't have my copy any more (loaned it out, I think). Time to find another copy. After that, it's on to his latest book, If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways, which is very, very new. I think I'll read it, too.