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FOR TEACHERS
The Ishmael Companion
Beyond Civilization
 Study Guide


  Ishmael Community: Book of the Damned

Book of the Damned

The Book of the Damned Cover
Imagine that during the first three million years of
human life people were enacting a story. And that
it was man's destiny to enact that story.

Not just for three million years. For thirty million
years.

For three hundred million years.

For the lifetime of our planet, perhaps.

Billions of years.

It was that good a story.

 

It was a good story, good for the lifetime of a
genus.

But it was not a story about power---about
conquest and mastery and ruling. Enacting it didn't
make people powerful. Enacting it, people
didn't need to be powerful. Because, enacting
it, people didn't need to rule the world.

 

Imagine that ruling the world was something
they thought they didn't need to do.

Because it was already being done.

As it had always been done.

As it had been done from the beginning.

 

Imagine that they had a different supposition
about the world and man's place in it.

Imagine that they didn't suppose, as Homo
magister does, that the world belongs to man,
that it is his to conquer and rule. Imagine that,
in their ignorance, they supposed something else
entirely.

Be outrageous.

Imagine that they supposed something completely
absurd.

That man belongs to the world.

 

It was never hidden.

It was only hidden from Homo magister
because he was sure that what had shaped
their lives was nothing---an absence of
knowledge, ignorance.

Not something.

Not a different supposition about the world
and man's place in it.

Man belongs to the world.

Actually, it's plainly written in their lives.

 

It's plainly written in the general community to
which they belonged: the community of life on
this planet.

Anyone can read it.

You just have to look.

 

Every creature born in the biological community
of the earth belongs to that community. Nothing
lives in isolation from the rest; nothing can live
in isolation from the rest. Nothing lives only in
itself, needing nothing from the community. Nothing
lives only for itself, owing nothing to the community.
Nothing is untouchable or untouched.

Every life in the community is owed to the community---
and is paid back to the community in death.

The community is a web of life, and every strand of the
web is a path to all the other strands.

Nothing is exempt. Nothing is special. Nothing
lives on a strand by itself, unconnected
to the rest.

Nothing is wasted. Everything that lives is food
for another.

And everything that feeds is ultimately itself fed
upon or in death returns its substance to the
community.

And in belonging to the community, each species is shaped.

By belonging.

By belonging---by feeding and being fed upon,
each generation of each species is shaped. Of each
generation, some, better suited to survive, live to
reproduce. Others, less well suited, do not.

And so the generations are shaped.

By belonging to the community that shapes them.

Nothing is exempt from the shaping.

 

The fishes that, four hundred million years ago, lived
in the off-shore shallows of the oceans were shaped.

And learned to venture up onto the land.

And in venturing onto the land were shaped by their
contact with the community already living there.

And, being shaped, over millions of years, became
reptiles. No longer tied to the shore, the reptiles
ventured inland.

Where they were shaped.

So that, over millions of years, some of them
became birds. So that some of them, shaped in
another way, became mammals.

And the mammals, belonging to a community
of plants, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, were
shaped. Into many different forms. Into bats and
anteaters and dogs and horses and deer and
elephants and apes.

And all of these were shaped.

By belonging to the community of life.

By feeding and being fed upon.

And, over millions of years, the members of
one branch of the family of apes were shaped
into a manlike creature we call Australopithecus
africanus.

And Australopithecus africanus was
shaped over millions of years until he became
Australopithecus robustus---stronger and taller
and still more manlike.

Because he had been shaped.

Because he had belonged to the community of life.

And, being shaped over millions of years,
Australopithecus robustus became still
stronger and taller and more manlike, until,
looking at him, we have to call him . . . man.
Homo habilis.

Man was born belonging to the world.

Being shaped.

He did not exempt himself from that shaping just
because he was man. And so he continued to belong to the
community that had shaped him. And, by belonging to it,
continued to be shaped.

And, being shaped, Homo habilis became
stronger and taller and more dexterous and
more intelligent, until, looking at him, we have
to give him a new name: Homo erectus.

And Homo erectus was born being shaped, and
he belonged to the community that was shaping him.

His life belonged to that community. And those of
each generation who were less well suited to survive in the
community rendered back their lives at an early age, while
the rest lived on to reproduce.

And so Homo erectus was shaped, so that he
became stronger, taller, more agile, more dexterous, and
more intelligent, until, looking at him, we have to call
him . . . us. Homo sapiens.

And Homo sapiens was born being shaped. He
was born a member of the community that was shaping him.

Not exempt from membership by virtue of his greater
intelligence. Not isolated from the rest by virtue of his
capacity to wonder and dream. Not aloof from the rest
by virtue of his knowing that he was unlike the rest in
these ways. A part of the rest. And being a part of the rest,
Homo sapiens was shaped.

Shaped not by nothing.

Shaped not by ignorance.

Shaped by belonging to the community of life.

Which was itself being shaped.

 

The community itself was being shaped.

The matter was being handled.

Not by man.

The shaping of the world was not in man's hands.

It was in other hands, which had shaped it from the
beginning.

 

It was in the hands of the gods.

The gods were shaping the community of life on earth.
And man belonged to that community and was being
shaped with it and in it.

Man was being shaped by the gods.

 

Man was living in the hands of the gods. And the gods did
not rebuke him. Or send him teachers. Or send him saviors.

Because there was no need to.

Because he was living in their hands.

 

Man had found his destiny.

He had been fulfilling it from the beginning.

It was his destiny to live in the hands of the gods.

For the lifetime of this planet.

 

And, following the supposition with which he had been
born---the supposition that man belongs to the world---
Homo sapiens was shaped.

The shaping had hardly begun.

The shaping had hardly begun, but he was already a
singer of songs and a dancer and a painter and a sculptor.

The shaping had hardly begun, when, in one part of
the world, one branch of the family of Homo sapiens said:

Stop.

Man was not born to be shaped.

Man was born to shape.

Man was not born to be shaped by the world. He was
born to shape the world.

Stop.

Man was not born to live in the hands of the gods.

Man was born to live in his own hands.

Stop.

We have been testing the wrong supposition.

Man doesn't belong to the world.

The world belongs to man.

It's ours.

To shape.

To conquer.

To rule.

 

Homo magister had been born. And he was born
refusing to be shaped any further, refusing to be shaped as
man had been shaped from the beginning---by belonging to
the community of life.

He didn't belong to that community.

That community belonged to him.

He didn't owe his life to it.

It owed its life to him.

He took that life and made himself the master of it. He
took the life of the biological community into his own hands
and used it as if it belonged to him.

 

It wasn't a technological advance.

It was a rebellion.

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