Ishmael is the first book in Daniel Quinn's Ishmael Trilogy. These books serve as springboard for the mind; allowing you to look around and see things that you have always known are there, but never really thought about. It allows you to see "modern" culture as compared to the cultures of what we consider primitave peoples. I highly recomend this book, as well as the two others in the Ishmael Trilogy: The Story of B and My Ishmael.

In the Bible (specifically Genesis 16-21) and the Koran, the son of Abraham and his wife Sarah's maid Hagar. Sarah had told Abraham to conceive an heir with Hagar, but acording to the Bible, some time later when Sarah conceived a son with Abraham herself, Isaac, Sarah had Ishamel and his mother thrown out of Abraham's household. Abraham was not originally happy with this until God told him to do so. The two go off with minimal provisions, and are close to dying of thirst in the desert until an angel alerts Hagar to the existence of a well.

The version of the story in the Koran apparently has the journey of Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness taking places when Ishmael was just a baby, before Isaac could have been born. (Though the Koran also has Abraham being told by God to sacrifice Ishmael, rather than Isaac as is stated in the Old Testament. The son to be sacrificed was rather older than babyhood in both versions of the story, so Abraham would have had to have been in contact with both his sons. This goes along with Muslim tradition, which traces the lineage of Arabic Muslims back to Abraham through Ishmael, and says that both Abraham's sons are part of the covenant God made with Abraham.)

The character with the role of ingenue and narrator in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Ishmael befriends Queequeg and signs aboard the whaling ship Pequod, unaware of the strange journey he is about to be pulled along in.

I have just finished Daniel Quinn's book Ishmael. It didn't take long.

While it is quite readable, I rate it as consistently annoying. I rapidly got over the didactic device of the telepathic gorilla, after all good ideas are good even if presented in an improbable fictional form.

I got over the fact that it's not so much the dialog that it seems to be, but a monolog with occasional interjections of "OK, I see, go on".

But having read some of Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins' exceptional books on evolution and what it means to be human, this bunch of simplistic half-truths, straw man and slippery slope arguments really doesn't cut it.

For instance, Quinn claims via his mouthpeice, Ishmael, that humankind see themselves as the pinacle and endpoint of evolution, outside and beyond it. This may be a perception of the common man, but it is a straw man.

No serious evolutionary biologist sees the human race as anything but one of the growing points on a vast radiating tree, a product, but not an endproduct, of evolution like all the rest. You would do, if you took care to educate yourself.

It is not a teneable belief that selection has simply stopped dead for human beings. You cannot stop natural selection, only change the selection criteria.

Quin claims that increased food production leads inevitably to increased numbers of people. Tell that to Europe, with a shrinking population. He claims that somehow this excess population shows up in other parts of the world, but never explains the mechanism for this. Not many people are leaving Europe.

He proceeds down this slippery slope to even more questionable conclusions based on these partly-true "facts".

At one point Quinn writes of the waring between primitive tribes, and claims that a tribesman who find himself in enemy teritory is likely to be killed out of hand. Only pages later he starts taking about how these tribes, unlike us, always respect other ways of life.

Quinn is silent on the fact that the extinction of the North American megafauna such as the sabre-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis) and Mammoth conicided with the arival of the first human hunter-gatherers over 10,000 years ago, but of course in his cosmology they are the good guys and don't do stuff like that.

It is simplistic to lump all non-western cultures from the Native Americans to the san bushmen and the Australian Aboriginies as a single group, and try to present "their" world view. Maybe they do have something in common, but that is never gone into.

The language is also anoyingly sexist for a supposedly 1960's-informed enlightened universalist. He just never stops writing stuff like "So man sets out to conquer his planet" Emphasis added. It may be minor, but it's more evidence that the whole thing is facile.

I will not deny that we are currently experiencing a great extinction of human cause.

It is most likely that our species (and other species) would be better of if we reverted to a poplulation of a few million, and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. But as the evolutionary biologists are fond of saying, the good of the individual is not the good of the species. That life is nasty, brutish and short for the individual. I wonder if it is deliberate if the narator's dentistry is mentioned in passing. None of us would like to give up modern dentistry.

Let me indulge in a bit of guilt-by-association and point out that reverting to this lifestyle for the good of the species was precisely what the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski proposed in his manifesto. We didn't buy it then, and found his proposed solution of smashing civilisation to be psychotic. Quinn is wise enough to not even propose a solution.

Anyone who claims to be trying to save the world is just selling something. Mass-market books, in this case.

Quinn does not attribute any of his ideas, which, while they are occasionally good, are not original. There is a tension between books that dumb down important ideas, and those which make them accesible to a wider audience. I tend to side with those books that do not present new ideas as if they had arrived out of the blue, chanelled as new-age wisdom from a forest spirit, and I side with those books with a bibliography or at least acknowledgements of sources for the benefit of a reader who wises to delve deeper. Indeed, acknoledgements that there are sources of wisdom beyond Mr. Quinn would be a good start.

Ah, but the serious reader of Ishmael can always buy Quinn's next book. This is a tactic which takes me back to all that new age stuff.

May I recommend for the serious reader Jared Diamond’s excellent Guns, germs and steel (a short history of everybody for the last 1300 years), Collapse and The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee (The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal), which discuss many of these ideas in greater depth, with a recommended reading list, sounder logic, real-world evidence to back it up, and without any talking animals.

Pardon that this is a response to another writeup.

I have just finished Daniel Quin's book Ishmael. It didn't take long.

While it is quite readable, I rate it as consistently annoying. I rapidly got over the didactic device of the telepathic gorilla, after all good ideas are good even if presented in an improbable fictional form.

I got over the fact that it's not so much a dialog as a monolog with occasional interjections of "OK, I see, go on".

No one promised you a dialogue. :P

But having read some of Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins' exceptional books on evolution and what it means to be human, this bunch of simplistic half-truths, straw man and slippery slope arguments really doesn't cut it.

For instance, Quin claims via his mouthpeice, Ishmael, that humankind see themselves as the pinacle and endpoint of evolution, outside and beyond it. This may be a perception of the common man, but it is a straw man.

Quinn is only speaking of the common man, as demonstrated through his/her behavior and is not speaking of evolutionary biologists at all. In fact, if memory serves, he makes mention of exactly that fact. I could be wrong about that being in Ishmael, but it is definitely in either My Ishmael or The Story of B.

No serious evolutionary biologist sees the human race as anything but one of the growing points on a vast radiating tree, a product, but not an endproduct, of evolution like all the rest. You would do, if you took care to educate yourself.

EXACTLY. Quinn's point is simply that most people have not educated themselves, will most likely never educate themselves on this point and will act according to this lack of knowledge and treat themselves like the endpoint of human evolution.

It is not a teneable belief that selection has simply stopped dead for human beings. You cannot stop natural selection, only change the selection criteria.

Quite what Quinn himself is saying.

Quin claims that increased food production leads inevitably to increased numbers of people. Tell that to Europe. He claims that somehow this excess population shows up in other parts of the world, but never explains the mechanism for this. He proceeds down this slippery slope to even more questionable conclusions based on these partly-true "facts".

This Mechanism is known as "immigration/emigration". This is covered AT LENGTH in one of his follow-up books The Story of B. In this book Quinn explains it better. He gives an example of a cage with 50 rats in it at week 1. If there is enough food to sustain 50 rats put into the cage then the next week there will be 50 rats. There can not be more rats than there is enough food to sustain them (of course, Quinn factors in minor fluctuations accounting for as many as 60 or as few as 40 or so rats when there is enough food for 50 rats in the cage, but it will always balance around 50 when that is the amount of food you put in the cage). If you put enough food for 30 rats in the cage there will be 30 rats. This is fairly basic. The next part is also basic but people are hesitant to apply it to humans. When you expand the walls of the cage and put in food for 100 rats, in a week or two (or three or whenever, please excuse my ignorance regarding rat breeding habits) there will be 100 rats in the cage. This is hypothesized to be because rats cannot control their breeding habits and will breed excessively and constantly as long as the resources to do so (food, a warm safe area) are present. Quinn basically goes the extra step and applies it to humans citing the incredible population jumps in humans in the last few thousand years as a good reason to at least be suspicious of the possibilty that humans, as a species and on a very large general level, cannot control their breeding habits.

At one point Quin writes of the waring between primitive tribes, and claims that a tribesman who find himself in enemy teritory is likely to be killed out of hand. Only pages later he starts taking about how these tribes, unlike us, always respect other ways of life.

This is not the unbelievable contradiction you make it out to be. There is a huge difference between not tolerating someone's lifestyle (which Quinn represents with missionaries actually going into another person's tribe, home, village, wherever and telling them how to live) and killing someone when they enter into your territory. Quinn never denies that the tribespeople might be extremely territorial and that is a lot different than not respecting another person's way of life.

Quin is silent on the fact that the extinction of the North American megafauna such as the sabre-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis) and Mammoth conicided with the arival of the first human hunter-gatherers over 10,000 years ago, but of course in his cosmology they are the good guys and don't do stuff like that.

Quinn says NOTHING about good guys and bad guys. There is NO moral value associated with the hunter-gatherers or with the agriculturalists who overrun them. Quinn simply explains that the hunter-gatherers were on land that the agriculturalists needed to feed their growing population. He makes it out to be a story of people taking what they needed whether they wanted to need it or not. Quinn also places no moral value on extinction.

It is simplistic to lump all non-western cultures from the Native Americans to the san bushmen and the Australian Aboriginies as a single group, and try to present "thier" world view.

This is more accurately described in The Story of B as well. He explains that he isn't lumping them together so much as discussing a similarity they are share. This similarity is a religion he calls animism.

The language is also anoyingly sexist for a supposedly 1960's-informed enlightened universalist. He just never stops writing stuff like "So man sets out to conquer his planet" Emphasis added. It may be minor, but it's more evidence that the whole thing is facile.

Come on now.

I will not deny that we are currently experiencing a great extinction of human cause.

It is most likely that our species (and other species) would be better of if we reverted to a poplulation of a few million, and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. But as the evolutionary biologists are fond of saying, the good of the individual is not the good of the species. That life is nasty, brutish and short for the individual. I wonder if it is deliberate if the narator's dentistry is mentioned in passing. None of use would like to give up dentistry.

Quinn also makes no such suggestion. He simply presents a case and lets the reader decide what to do with it. This is evidenced COMPLETELY in the fact that Ishmael never gives the man (Alan Lomax) a plan on how to change his life or save the world. He makes NO such suggestion in his book through his characters and he makes no such suggestion in real life.

Let me indulge in a bit of guilt-by-association and point out that reverting to this lifestyle for the good of the species was precisely what the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski proposed in his manifesto.

But even as you said that is guilt by association, which has another more accurate fallacious name which I am sure you know, being that you are obviously well versed in fallacy, (I say this because you know the names of them, not because I think you are engaging in fallacious reasoning).

Anyone who claims to be trying to save the world is selling something. Books, in this case.

Yup. The question is, "is he trying to sell books AND save the world?" I'm sure you understand that his saving-the-world career would be short lived indeed if he wasn't selling something and getting a paycheck.

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