Well, here we go…
I’m going to come right out and say that I disagree with a great deal of Daniel Quinn’s teachings in both Ishmael and The Story of B, mostly those things in regard to the position of humankind on this planet and his interpretations of the major religions as they exist today. I’ll be getting to that in a little.
If you’ve been following my posts lately (and you can always backtrack and read about them), you know I’ve been reading The Story of B for about two-ish weeks now. I’m rather glad to be done and moving on to other books, but this particular book has left me a lot to think about, and that’s a good thing. Good books do that sort of thing.
There’s a series of emotions I find swirling about as I finish B; annoyance, frustration, and being let down simmer at the top, but there is also a certain amount of understanding and insight to be had as well. Let me get through my frustrations and disagreements first, my irritations with Quinn’s style having been expressed in full here.
Let me try to summarize Quinn’s beliefs about mankind and still do them justice:
1) Man, for several million years, did not regard himself as being made for the world, or the world being made for him. He was just another species on this planet, competing for food with the rest of the species on this planet (but not waging war on his competitors; this is known as the Law of Limited Competition, discussed further here) and was completely fine with that.
2) At some point in time, specifically the dawn of civilization in the Near East (Mesopotamia), a group he identifies as the “Takers” (everyone else is called the “Leavers”), developed a system of agriculture which rejected the Law of Limited Competition and allowed for the elimination of man’s competitors for food (Quinn calls this totalitarian agriculture). All great thinkers, from Moses to Socrates to Jesus to Muhammed and so on, advocated this culture.
3) This cultural development is the cause of all the horrible things in the world, including war, disease, famine, oppression from ruling classes, and everything else we don’t like about the world today (religion is included here as well; salvation became necessary for man who was so horrible in nature).
4) This culture is on the verge of collapse unless we do something about it soon.
All of this is what Quinn is trying to get out to everyone in an effort to produce “changed minds” that might stop the flow of our entire culture toward catastrophe. I’m sure that that doesn’t do justice to everything I just read, but summaries rarely do. Here’s my objections.
1) First, I can’t STAND his understanding of religion. He attempts to generalize all faiths as more or less lap dogs of a culture he views as evil, and needlessly so. He even goes so far as to identify as an Antichrist because he sees what he’s doing as the antithesis of Taker culture and its proponents. Granted, this book was written in 1996, but even then, there existed great amounts of scholarship regarding, for example, biblical interpretation that shows that our beliefs aren’t just for the salvation of man, but the whole universe. Paul makes it clear in Romans 10 that “all creation groans out for the day of redemption.” Religion is not against saving the world; quite the contrary, it’s for it! We’re on your side, Mr. Quinn!
2) My observations regarding man and his evolution (as well as my religious beliefs) still place him as the pinnacle of Creation, but with a role that has been abused through The Fall. As caretakers of the Earth, we have failed, and we must return to our roles in that position.
These two positions of Quinn’s strike me as unnecessary for what Quinn’s character “B” is really fighting: overuse of the world’s resources and the population explosions. We know full well our resources are low, and yet we continue to live unchanged. What, then, is Quinn’s solution? *Spoiler alert, highlight to read*
Limiting food production in an effort to level out population growth.
THAT’S IT!? That’s your big solution to the Great Forgetting!? After all the criticism of our culture and our faiths, that’s what you bring forth? Was all that REALLY that necessary!? Talk about expecting a bang and getting a fizzle. After wading through some really, really hard parts of that book, I feel severely let down.
Although, I have to admit, there’s a certain amount of logic to it, and the way it was approached in the book was rather gentle and with good understanding. Points to you, Mr Quinn. You have some brilliant and amazing points to make here, but you need not make yourself the enemy of so many! You’re fighting a lot of people who actually see where you’re coming from!
Look, I’m not going to tell you not to read this book, because what Quinn deep down wants to go is get people on board for saving the planet, and I’m with that. I want to join in and help too, but I won’t go to the lengths Quinn thinks we need to go to do it. I don’t need to, and neither do you. By all means, though, check this book out, in addition to Ishmael. It’s a fresher take than most, even though it’s flawed. However, as you should ALL books, read with an open mind, but not an empty one. You as the reader have a right to disagree, or to agree in full.
Quinn is right: in order to avoid catastrophe, we need a change of mindset. Just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.