Musings: Ishmael by David Quinn

“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.”

A philosophical book about the ethics of man, Quinn’s Ismael takes the reader to a secret room in a quiet office building where a gorilla named Ismael teaches a man the faults of the human race.  Man’s tragic flaw, he explains, is his ability to answer the question “How things came to be this way?”.  By studying man’s story of evolution Ishmael explains that man is so quick to end his “creation myth” with the phrase “and finally man appeared.” He asks the man to question to this theory.  What is there in history, he asks us to wonder, that says evolution (“creation”) ended when man was placed on this planet? Whose to say that creation, then, did not end when the jellyfish or the turtle or any other creature was put on the earth? The answer to these questions, according to Ishmael, is that man believes that creation ended with him because the world was put here for him to live on.  The world was put here for him to live on so he could “organize” the world; he could rule all other species.  The world is his to rule.

Ishmael further questions man’s creation story in questioning man’s destiny:  If creation ended with man, and it is man’s destiny to conquer and rule the world then why does he destroy it? Again, Ismael explains that because man feels an innate desire to rule “his” world, his desire to conquer takes over.  His conquering of other creatures, in turn, makes the world a worse place to live.  This is a circle that man can not put an end to because his creation story forces him to believe that the world, the universe, existence, exists for his own survival.

Wow.

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