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November 27, 2005


Sometimes connections make themselves. Maybe always. Maybe it's just a projection, or a subconscious urge which
guides the hand. I ordered This Simian World by Clarence Day after reading a mention of it by Kurt Vonnegut. A week
or two later, I chance upon Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in Ophelia's on Fremont Ave. (I'd read Quinn's End of Civilization.)

This Simian World posits what the world would have been like had various species besides man been the first to develop
self-awareness. Ishmael is the story of a telepathic gorilla engaging in Socratic dialogue with an eager human pupil.
(I'm about to give away the "surprise" conclusion of Ishmael, so you might want to stop now--though I don't think what
I divulge will ruin the book for anyone.)

Still with me? OK, good, let us proceed...      [scroll down]








The basic premise of Ishmael is that humans are divided into two basic types--the "civilized" Takers and the "primitive"
Leavers. Each type is defined by the prevailing story, or myth, which they tell and attempt to fulfill. These stories are not
obvious as such at first, being the taken-for-granted culture; culture being to people what water is to fish. The
agriculturist Takers, taking their cue from the Bible, seek dominion over the Earth, wishing to replace God/the gods as
arbiters or life and death, good and evil. The hunter/gatherer Leavers are content to "live in the hands of the gods,"
taking only what they need to subsist and co-existing with other species. Obviously, Taker culture is ruining the planet
for all life.  But in order to change directions, the Takers need a new myth worth striving for. Ishmael provides the goal:
Humans can go down in future history as being the first self-aware species--pioneers wise enough to preserve the
conditions whereby other species could evolve into self-awareness. One can only hope for the best. (And act accordingly.)