Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Ishmael [LINK] – Daniel Quinn

I picked this up out of recommendation (thanks, Mo!) and, coincidentally, it read as a fictional counterpart to Sapiens.

At times I wasn’t sure if I was reading a real-life account of our demise or participating in one of those end-of-the-universe films. The book follows along a nameless protagonist who answers a newspaper ad: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Our protaganist soon finds himself in a room with a Gorilla, Ishmael, who begins to question his desire to “save the world.”

Ishmael explains the rise of humans and how they became the dominant force in the world: by caring only for themselves. These Takers, as Ishmael explains, believe they are the pinnacle of evolution, the world was created solely for them, for their taking, for their consumption.

This was very fun to read right alongside Sapiens. In Ishmael, we are warned that our consumption-driven society will cause the ultimate demise of the planet. In Sapiens, we learn how Homo sapiensreliance on myths has influenced everything from societal norms to the consumer-centric society marketers’ control. Even though one of these is fictional, they both share a similar warning: over consumption and myths can lead to human’s demise – if we are told the wrong story and follow along like sheep, the herd will consume more than they can replace.

While our protagonist still wants to save the world, Ishmael counters his intentions with an explanation that doing so world would mean changing our culture, which is to change the story in which humans are participating. As learned in Sapiens, we have progressed because of our storytelling. To be an individual of change, you still must engage within the confines of society. Man has no free-will, as “those who refuse to take a place do not get fed.” It doesn’t make a difference if we are being lied to or not, we must continue to get up, go to work, and pay the bills like everyone else. Ishmael explains that this does not mean being passive. If you want to change the world, you must change the culture. And to change the culture, means telling a different story. Every generation has a way that works best for people, change comes as each generation’s story develops.

”It isn’t the tale you tell that counts, it’s the way you actually live.”