Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

IshmaelIshmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit is a novel by Daniel Quinn written in 1992. The novel focuses on ethics and it determines society’s sustainability and collapse.

The reader is put into the shoes of the narrator of the story, who sees an advertisement in the newspaper that piques his interest. The ad is a teacher who is searching for a student who wants to save the world. The narrator, who’s had idealistic notions of saving the world throughout his life, laments at how late the ad is, but still goes to the address stated on the ad. He finds an office that is pretty much empty except for one lone gorilla behind a glass pane.

Surprisingly, the gorilla starts to talk to him using telepathy. The narrator realizes that the gorilla was probably the teacher who wrote the newspaper ad. The gorilla’s name is Ishmael, and he immediately launches into a telepathic narrative about his journey.

Originally from the jungles of Africa, Ishmael was captured at a young age. He spent his early days in captivity in a zoo, then he was with a carnival, before he was sold to Walter Sokolow, who taught him how to telepathically communicate with others. With his owner’s help, Ishmael was able to obtain books with which to educate himself. He was particularly curious about the topic of captivity because of his previous experiences with it. This fascination transcended onto other topics, until finally he took a liking to books about human culture and history.

Ishmael begins telling the narrator about his observations about the human race. According to Ishmael, there are two types of humans: the leavers and the takers. Takers are humans who believed that humans are the dominant specie and in effect, rule the Earth. All the takers care about is growing, dominating, and using through the use of technological advancements.

Leavers, on the other hand, live in harmony with the universe and considers themselves equal to all other living things on Earth, and in effect, the rules of the universe apply to them in the same way that it applies to everything else. According to Ishmael, takers think that they’re above the laws of the universe, but it’s this belief that will lead to their destruction, once they have sucked the life out of this planet.

Many such conversations take place in the book, but near the end of it the narrator becomes embroiled with issues in his personal life and thus could not visit Ishmael. He returns to the office, only to find that the gorilla was gone. He discovers that Ishmael is with a carnival and tracks him down, only to find out that the gorilla has met his end due to pneumonia. The narrator then takes the gorilla’s belongings, determined to spread what he has learned in an effort to convert humans from their taker behavior.

The book clearly echoes the author’s dislike for the taker culture, and hopes to squash the notion that humans are at the top of the biological evolution ladder. Ishmael’s stories are ways by which the author dismisses accepted truths in today’s society as cultural myths. Through Ishmael’s stories, the author cautions readers against being attached to the taker ideology, as it will eventually cause mankind’s collapse and ruin if left unchecked.

The author speaks to the readers through Ishmael. Captured at a young age, Ishmael becomes fascinated with the topic of captivity and when his studies lead to his discovery of human culture, he realizes that in some ways, humans are also in captivity, a slave to their destructive behavior, all for the sake of world domination.

According to Ishmael, majority of the world’s population are takers, driven by a desire to rule the world. He considers members of tribes as leavers, as they still follow the laws of nature, which are laws followed by all creatures on Earth. Quinn laments that takers are blind to the destruction they are causing and their blatant disregard for other lifeforms.

Although the book’s tone might lead one to believe that the author hate’s preexisting human culture, but a closer inspection of the book reveals that he is not. Ishmael does tell the narrator that humans are not fundamentally wrong.

Instead, he blames cultural myth that implants in people’s heads that humans are on top of the food chain and it is their destiny to rule the world. However, this cultural myth is wrong. Man cannot rule the world because he is imperfect, and if he keeps forcing this belief, it will result in the destruction of the world around him.

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