'You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model and make the existing one obsolete.' -Buckminster Fuller
Quinn was born in 1935 and raised in Omaha Nebraska, son of Herbert John Quinn and Thelma Warren Quinn, both telegraphers. He was raised Catholic and much like a lot of people who are "raised" in any religion he didn't have any intense fervor for it, but lived by its rules and ignored any cognitive dissonance caused by the teachings of his religion and their inability to be reconciled to the things he saw around him.
When he was 19 he decided to join a Trappist monastery in Kentucky called the Abbey of Gethsemani (named after the hill where Judas betrayed Jesus Christ). In charge of new pupils at this monastery was Thomas Merton who went on to gain some notoriety with his autobiography, the Seven Storey Mountain.
Only a week or two into his stay at Gethsemane he had what he called a vision. This sort of phrase sets off a lot of alarms for skeptics, but to hear Quinn explain it in his autobiography, Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest, it's a lot less touchy-feely, hippy nonsense than you might think. His vision basically lasted for a few minutes when he went outside and saw all the living organic things as if they had a certain new element to them, a certain fire as he called it, and didn't see that fire in things that were dead, wagons and fence posts and the like.
He enthusiastically related this vision to his teacher, Thomas Merton, and was deeply disappointed when Merton acted as though Quinn made the whole thing up to impress him. A few weeks later Merton asked Quinn to leave the monastery.
Quinn married young and somewhat panicked when he was in his early twenties. He had four kids with his first wife. He had a house and all the little things that people in the USA at the time thought made up a life. Like many young families at the time, it fell apart and his wife chose to leave him for another man. She kept the house and the kids.
Quinn, now disillusioned with Catholicism, the Trappists, and the American Dream, moved to Chicago and settled there for a while working with his degree in English (from Loyola University when he was 22). Over the next few decades he worked in Chicago as Biography and Fine Arts editor at the American Peoples Encyclopedia, Managing Editor of the Greater Cleveland Mathematics Program, head of the Mathematics Department at Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation, Executive Editor of Fuller & Dees Publishing and Editorial Director of the Society for Visual Education.
Along the way he met Rennie, the woman who he is currently married to, and has been for the last 30 years or so. They currently work together on a project of theirs called New Tribal Ventues, basically an independent publishing house designed after their experience living in Madrid, New Mexico (a small town they moved to in the late seventies/early eighties) and publishing an independent newspaper called the East Mountain News. During their time in Madrid, Quinn struggled to write a novel encompassing everything he had learned from growing up Catholic, from a dream he had as an 11-year-old, from his time at Gethsamane, from his experiences with writing educational materials for more than 25 years and from his own sense that there was perhaps something wrong with the planet. This endeavor took him nearly ten years and six drafts and the final product was a book called Ishmael, a book that might have had no impact at all if it weren't for Ted Turner.
In 1991 Ted Turner offered a $500,000 grand prize in something called the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship, basically a contest for people to come up with a novel that offered a new way of looking at the world's situation, ecologically and humanistically speaking. Ishmael won.
Since then Ishmael has been published in twenty languages and has been in constant print.
Daniel Quinn wrote two more books in the Ishmael trilogy; The Story of B, and My Ishmael. I'd personally like to say that all bickering about numbers of world populations aside, forgetting squabbling about which tribes lived what ways 15,000 years ago, and discounting petty arguments about other technical elements of Quinn's writings; these books have helped me a lot. My Ishmael in particular has a chapter about a young man who kills himself because he can't seem to find anything that interests him in the world of work. He can't find an occupation that he really enjoys. He's good at a lot of stuff, writing, acting, biking, songwriting, but none of it really does it for him. His failure to find something to do with himself is so complete that despite having the economic resources to continue wandering indefinitely, he drowns himself.
This chapter was based on the life of a man named Paul Eppinger, whose father published his journals under the title "Restless Mind Quiet Thoughts".
It could have been based on any one of a hundred people with the economic means to drift for decades and it could have been based on any one of a thousand people who did not. The world is full of people like this, many of whom do kill themselves, and I have Daniel Quinn to thank for putting that phenomenon in a different perspective, one that makes me feel a lot better about some friends of mine who lived and died like this, not by anesthetizing me, but by showing me that it wasn't necessarily their fault, or my fault or any one person's fault, and by showing me that fault isn't the issue and that this feeling of not belonging here is not because I was born flawed, but maybe because there is something systemically wrong with the way we're taught to live.
Outside of the Ishmael trilogy he has written Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest, After Dachau, Beyond Civilization, a graphic novel called The Man who Grew Young, and just this past month he released The Holy.
He currently lives in Houston, Texas.
Sources: Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest, and the biography section of www.ishmael.org
(On the subject of citing sources: for those who argue that Quinn doesn?t cite sources I present Beyond Civilization. This book is written much more like a technical book than any of his others and accordingly he cites sources, references and has a bibliography.)
In response to teleny's writeup:
Catholic cleric turned Deep Ecology environmentalist novelist/philosopher, author of Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael, and several other works, perennial favorites of hip high school teachers and college professors, and sometimes, their students.
Daniel Quinn was never a Catholic Cleric. He was raised Catholic and didn't shake that off until his mid-thirties.
The most important thing to realize is that neither Ishmael book, nor The Story of B, is intended to be factual. They are fictions, set in worlds much like our own, but not ours. Therefore, they do not contain, as a documentary book would, references, a bibliography, or supplimentary evidence. Assertions are made, experiments are detailed, names of civilizations and ideologues are dropped, and points hammered in again and again and again; at the same time, this is a Universe where gorillas can communicate telepathically, "bau" in German means "burrow" instead of "building", the Laurentian order hosts seminars of the rabidly Right deconstructionist movement, and a cleric preaching Green ideals in Germany is shunned as the Antichrist.
Let me make this very clear. These books are 100% intended by the author to be about the planet we are on. They are fictions yes, but they take place as much on our earth as any fictional book can. Gorillas, of course, do not psychically communicate with humans. They are fictions set in a world EXACTLY like ours, including our human history, but with a few differences in place to allow communication between a gorilla and a few humans. They are fictional in that these conversations never happened. They are not meant to be "documentary books" or reference books. This paragraph is not simply one reader's take on the situation, this is the way Daniel Quinn himself has explained that he intended the books.
Also, teleny's reference to "a cleric preaching green ideals in Germany" being shunned as the Antichrist isn't in any Quinn book. The character of B in The Story of B (the one who get's called an antichrist) is not any kind of cleric, nor is he preaching anything I would call "green ideals". As always, It's probably best to read and decide for yourself.
His argument is, in a nutshell, that up until the advent of agriculture, human beings had a deep spiritual understanding of the Universe that allowed them to live their lives in the serene acceptance of What Is, and both consciously and unconsciously adapted to the greater good, not only of the tribe, but of the ecosystem.
Nope. His argument is that humans had a way of life that worked for them for a hundred thousand years and didn't bring them anywhere near extinction. He does spend some time talking about tribal peoples of 10,000+ years ago and their spirituality, but he NEVER ONCE EVER, let me say this again, NEVER, says that their successful sustainable way of life comes from that spirituality. teleny is inventing this link.
All this was true until the "Great Forgetting", when humanity forgot all this, discovered agriculture, at which point we decided we could take the order of things or leave it. The Leavers, as he calls them, kept to the tried and true ways of hunting and gathering, while the Takers pursued the single-minded program of "totalitarian agriculture" -- that is, growing food at the expense of everything else. This led to uncontrolled population growth, religious beliefs based on "waiting for someone else to save them" ("Salvationism") and hence, totalitarianism in all its other forms, and every kind of social, personal, and ecological evil. Now, we face a crossroads: either move beyond civilization into a new Eden, or die in a cultural collapse.
The first half of this is dead-on accurate as to what Quinn says. The last half of this paragraph is rubbish made from misunderstandings and assumptions. If you want to understand the first half of this paragraph better, add this concept: Neither the "leavers" or the "takers" consciously knew what they were doing. They didn?t gather round and *say* "Hey, let's forget everything!" To them it just looked like one tribe choosing to get their food slightly differently; using agricultural techniques instead of hunting and gathering. If I'm not mistaken this *is* exactly what history books teach. Quinn just puts a different slant on it by considering exactly what kind of sustainability that one tribe gave up when they tried a different way. No moral judgments, no accusations, just a technical view of what happened, which readers tend to expound upon based on their emotions, some by mourning the loss of that tribal sustainability and others by getting angry that someone thinks they found something new. I know I've gone through both myself.
As proof, he offers the following thought experiment: confine a dozen breeding pairs of rats in a large box. Feed them, water them, and take out their litter. Notice how many rats you have after six months. Now take another dozen breeding pairs, and feed them twice as much. After six months you will have many more rats than in the first case. This is because rats instinctively know how to limit their numbers, and will only reproduce enough to replace themselves. In like fashion, human beings will prudently replace themselves under ideal conditions, but when fed, will reproduce beyond all bounds. Therefore, a rational and logical solution to population growth is to cut off all foreign aid, and find ways to limit our own supplies of food.
In truth this is EXACTLY LOGICAL and RATIONAL. It's just not compassionate, realistic OR what Daniel Quinn suggests. Or what anyone else suggests. If anyone can explain to me how the population could grow when there isn't food to feed any more people, please, PLEASE, explain this. If not, well, it sure looks like *a* rational, logical method for keeping the human (or any other population) in check. If your one and only goal was to stop a growing population, THE, I'll repeat *THE* rational, logical way would be to deny them enough food to feed them over a certain number. Since that is not anyone's one and only goal, of course this is absurd and NOT suggested by Daniel Quinn.
Also, Quinn never ever ever says that rats instinctively know when to stop producing. He says they starve and die.
Abandoning this thought experiment, and looking at the actual conditions, we see that weaker rat pups tend to get edged out, and die, if not of starvation outright, then of the accrued factors of scanty diet, weakness, disease, and violence. In some cases, starvation means sterility, which is arguably more merciful than dying outright, but still not the gentle hand of Gaia guiding Her creation. (Ah, but that's just the point! We can't face the truth! say Quinnites. It's not gentle, but we stupidly expect that it should be!) As a matter of fact, we have no evidence that anyone actually tried this experiment, outside of the pages of his books.
Right up until the phrase about "the gentle hand of Gaia" here this paragraph too is 100% in line with what Quinn teaches. Without food the young, the pups, the babies, whoever, gets weak and dies. That's what happens when there is no food. Seems right to me and it seems right to Daniel Quinn, since that is exactly what he said in the Ishmael trilogy. The last half of teleny's paragraph is simply beyond my understanding. I just don't get what it means in English. And yes, this experiment has been conducted over and over and over again by thousands of different species. It goes like this: YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT FOOD.
If you don't think the population grows when it has the chance (has the food to sustain a larger population) I'd love to hear why the human population has grown EVERY GENERATION FOR 10,000 YEARS. Pretty big coincidence. And yes, I mean world population, as, of course, there are a few instances of populations leveling off for a while in certain specific countries/areas.
On the other hand, let's look at the situation of human beings. Looking at the CIA World Factbook, we see that the lowest fertility rate on the planet is in salvationist Italy (1.18 born/woman); Belgium, traditionally the best-fed country in terms of caloric consumption, is slightly higher (1.61 born/woman). Most other European countries follow suit, with fertility rates far below the replacement rate of 2.2 born/woman; the United States, horny bastards as we are, have a rate of 2.06 born/woman; the world average overall is 2.73 born/woman. As you can clearly see, the planet is not "spiralling out of control" in terms of fertility; by and large the population explosion is leveling off. Now, let's look at sub-Saharan Africa, whose animist beliefs allow them an intimate knowlege of natural law, whose food supply is scarce, and who are determinedly not developed: Uganda's women average 6.88 born apiece. Nor does this merely reflect child mortality; Italy's growth rate is 0.07%, the world average is 1.25%, but Uganda's growth rate is a staggering 2.93%. Many other developing nations follow suit; Afghanistan averages 5 children born/woman, with a growth rate of 3.48%.
I discount this entire paragraph quite simply because the author of it has failed to understand anything Daniel Quinn said. WORLD POPULATION. Not the populations of individual countries in one snapshot instant. Nor did he ever say the planet is "spiraling out of control" in terms of fertility (possibly not the right word there anyway). Also, to clear up a MAJOR MISUNDERSTANDING by the author of this paragraph: the people of Sub-Saharan Africa DO NOT HAVE ANIMIST BELIEFS. Certainly not the type that Quinn is talking about when he uses the term Animist.
It's simply not true that agriculture only means growing food. Yes, StarLink is the product of "agriculture", but so is every cat, honeybee, and sparrow in North America. And so is every hybrid tea rose, every boll of cotton, every packet of herbal medicine, and most every sheet of paper. As a matter of fact, StarLink corn is grown to feed animals, edible ones, yes, but also such inessentials as "wild" birds at a feeder. Far from becoming less sensitive to the needs of other animals and plants over time, humanity has tended to become more so: few hunter-gatherers concern themselves unduly with the fate of plankton, or spend (as the Dutch once did) incredible amounts of capital on importing flowers. Having a few houseplants here and there in a highrise may seem like a pathetic attempt at recreating the Forest Primeval, but all those ornamental plantings, cactus, favorite philodendrons, and park trees tend to add up, as do pets, zoo animals, protected animal populations in parks and elsewhere, and the aformentioned rats. Far from becoming less sensitive to the rest of the Universe, we are ever more sensitive -- no matter how greedy we can be, we don't consider the Earth, and by extension, ourselves, the center of it, anymore.
This paragraph isn't terribly out-of-sync with what Quinn himself says in many an essay, including the one at his website entitled "Technology & The Other War".
This paragraph says pretty much what Quinn does: some people live very much in harmony with other natural elements and creatures. Yup. The fact remains, a lot of people don't.
Possibly his biggest gaffe is that he completely shoves evolution, or indeed, any kind of change outside of that brought about by human malfeasance out of the picture. As with the Christian viewpoint he so violently opposes, the natural world, once created, is eternal and basically static, with no change desirable or even possible outside of the drama of mankind's fall and redemption. One doesn't have to be a biologist or even a physicist to know that that simply is not the case: the real stakes in our environmental problem isn't "the Planet", or even "the ecosystem", but the unique balance that allows for our affluent state of human life.
Quinn doesn't violently oppose anything, but besides that, this is LITERALLY what Quinn says.
To clear up a major misconception a lot of people have about Quinn; he is not an environmentalist. He is not trying to "save the ecosystem", "save the trees" or "save the whales". His phrase TIME AND TIME AGAIN is "SAVE THE WORLD", and in EVERY book he has written he clarifies this to mean NOT saving the earth, the dirt we stand on, but saving our stake on it, which definitely involves certain practices many "environmentalists" promote (i.e. not killing everything). George Carlin made it just as clear as Quinn does that the Earth itself will do just fine with or without humans. The funny thing here is that teleny, as anti-Quinn as she is, is practically quoting him here. He?s not trying to save a bunch of green stuff on the planet. He recognizes that what's at stake is "the unique balance that allows for our affluent state of human life".
All of which would be tolerable, were it not for the fact that Quinn is a terrible novelist. The basic plotline of two out of three of his novels (I have yet to read the third) runs Narrator ("A") hates Quinn-mouthpiece ("Q"), A is confronted by Q, A sees the error of his ways and converts, and then Q spends the rest of the novel imparting his wisdom in dialog form to the newly enlightened A. This would be OK, as well: some great literature has been written about the internal and external conflict and resolution that forms the conversion experience. Unfortunately, we don't get to see it happen: Quinn's narrators tend to be obvious straw men who are most often simply struck dumb by the mouthpiece's statements, rather than replying with embarrassing counterarguments, and whose conversion is achieved, in turn, in sudden flashes entirely devoid of any internal dialog whatsoever other than the equivalent of "No! It can't be! Wait, it must be! Hey, it is! Gee, I was stupid!". The rest of the novel is conveyed with long monologues by the mouthpiece to the by-now-adoring pupil, or Socratic dialog of the easily caricaturable kind where the teacher repeats the pupil's remarks as questions until the pupil's only responses are variations on "Yes", "How true", and "What wisdom!" When all else fails, he plays the "oppression" card, where the mouthpiece gets killed, thus proving that he was right all along. (After all, only good guys get assassinated -- right?)
Well, yes and no. To be truthful, the main character in Ishmael *does* offer a wide variety of embarrassing counterarguments, but in the end, that fact alone proves teleny's other point, that it's a really obvious way of moving the plot along and getting to Quinn's basic points.
Shit, I mean, she's right there, Quinn is not much of a novelist. He's no John Grisham. If you can get ahold of an old horror novel Quinn wrote called The Dreamer (which has not a thing to do with saving the world and everything to do with making a buck to get by) you'll see that he's no Stephen King. Personally, I could not care less. He's an "okay" author who manages to get out some ideas that have a huge impact on a lot of people.
That is how the world gets changed. Music is different now because some band came along in 1991 and put out an album of simple, anyone-can-write-this-stuff music that carried with it a powerful message. It was technically unimpressive but still managed to reach a huge audience and reach them in a deep and personal way.
Yeah, Quinn will probably never use the word "ichor" or describe a sunset so well that you'll think you're seeing it. No he may not be the best writer out there technically speaking but he wrote some books that have gotten through to a lot of people, myself included.