In his novel Ishmael, Daniel Quinn discusses the destruction and salvation of the world. By way of a newspaper ad, an unnamed narrator meets a telepathic gorilla, named Ishmael, who had put up the ad to find a pupil with a desire to save the world. Spurred by his benefactor’s obsession with Nazi Germany, Ishmael imparts on the narrator what he knows best: captivity (Quinn 24). Ishmael claims humans of what are considered civilized cultures are captives of a story that keeps the world captive. This large group, Ishmael calls “Takers,” while everyone else—usually hunter-gatherers of “primitive” cultures—Ishmael calls “Leavers” (Quinn 39). In order to save the world, Ishmael believes Takers need to be freed from the story they are enacting and return to a Leaver-lifestyle. Although he may seem romanticize hunter-gatherers and seem to be urging modern society to become foragers, I feel we can convert and are converting to a Leaver-lifestyle without necessarily becoming hunter-gatherers.
According to Ishmael, Takers are captives of a story that compels them to enact (Quinn 37). The story begins with the premise that the world was created for humanity, an idea humans didn’t become aware of till they abandoned nomadic, hunter-gatherer life to settle and become agriculturalists (68). Because the world belonged to them, humanity’s destiny was then to rule and bring order to the chaotic world, but because the world wouldn’t submit, they turned to conquering it (225). However, “… given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered … one day, inevitably, their foe will be bleeding to death at their feet …” (Quinn 84).
Leavers have also been enacting a story—one that Ishmael claims gave rise to the birth of humanity. Their story begins with the premise that humans belong to the world and, therefore, live according to “the law of limited competition” (Quinn 132). While Takers view themselves exempt from this law and wage war on their competitors, Leavers continue to compete with other organisms and consequently have the capacity to continue evolving with the world (237). Leavers find ways to live that fit their situation; particular lifestyles evolved among particular Leaver groups and continue to evolve (206). According to this story, the world move towards increasing complexity, and humans, being the first of organisms to develop self-awareness, were intended to be “trailblazers,” a “role model” for other organisms when they became self-aware (Quinn 242). They were to show other organisms how to live without destroying the world.
According to Ishmael, while some Takers blame the world’s destruction on human’s fundamentally flawed nature, others have tried to free the world and themselves (Quinn 82-82). However, “unable to find the bars of the cage” and without another story to enact—another way to live—they remained captives of Taker culture along with the world (26, 214). After years of living as Takers and abandoning...