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The Ishmael Companion
Beyond Civilization
 Study Guide


From The Story of B:
Excerpt 1

Good news.

A woman recently told me she wanted to bring a friend to hear me
speak, but her friend said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t stand to hear any
more bad news.” [Laughter] Yes, it is funny, because you know that,
oddly enough, you’re here in this theater listening to me because
you absolutely know that I’m a bearer of good news.

Yes, that’s so, and because you know it’s so, you laugh. You’re
already feeling better! You’re absolutely right to feel better, and
here’s why. It’s really quite simple. Here is my good news: We
are not humanity.

Can you feel the liberation in those words? Try them out. Go ahead.
Just whisper them to yourselves: We . . . are not . . . humanity.

I’m sure they seem bizarre at the very least. Before we quit for
tonight, I want you to understand why they seem so.

We are not humanity.

Putting them on is like putting on a stranger’s shoes, mistaking
them for your own—your whole life changes in an instant!

We are not humanity. I want you to understand what these four
words are. They are a summary of all that was forgotten during
the Great Forgetting. I mean that quite literally. At the end of
the Great Forgetting, when the people of our culture began to
build civilization in earnest, those four words were practically
unthinkable. In a sense, that’s what the Great Forgetting was all
about: We forgot that we’re only a single culture and came to
think of ourselves as humanity itself.

All the intellectual and spiritual foundations of our culture were
laid by people who believed absolutely that we are humanity itself.
Thucydides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Gautama Buddha, Confucius,
Moses, Jesus, St. Paul, Muhammad, Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas,
Copernicus, Galileo, and Descartes all believed it, knowing no
better. Though they could easily have known better. Hume, Hegel,
Nietzsche, Marx, Kant, Kierkegaard, Bergson, Heidegger, Sartre,
and Camus—they all took it for granted, though they certainly had
the information they needed in order to know better.

But you’re bound to be wondering why it would be such bad news
if we are humanity. I’ll try to explain. If we are humanity, then all
the terrible things we say about ourselves are true of humanity itself
— and that would be very bad news. If we are humanity, then all
our destructiveness belongs not to one misguided culture but to
humanity itself. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our
culture is doomed means that humanity itself is doomed. And if
we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is the enemy of life
on this planet means that humanity itself is the enemy of life on
this planet.

Oh, groan, humanity, if we are humanity! Oh, groan in horror and
despair, if the miserable and misguided creatures of our culture are
humanity itself!

But we’re not humanity, we’re just one culture—one culture out
of hundreds of thousands that have lived their vision on this planet
and sung their song—and that’s wonderful news, even for us!

Listen: It isn’t humanity that needs changing, it’s just . . . us. And
that’s very good news.

Stick with me, friends. We’ll get there, step by step by step.



More excerpts from The Story of B

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