“I see,” I said. “And what do you teach?”
“On the basis of my history, what subject would you say I was best qualified to teach?”
I blinked and told him I didn’t know.
“Of course you do. My subject is: captivity.”

“Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?”
“As far as I know, no one specifically wants to destroy the world.”
“And yet you do destroy it, each of you. Each of you contributes daily to the destruction of the world. Why don’t you stop?”
I shrugged. “Frankly, we don’t know how.”
“You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live.”

“I’m telling you this because the people of your culture are in much the same situation. Like the people of Nazi Germany, they are the captives of a story.”
“I know of no such story.”
“You mean you’ve never heard of it?”
“That’s right.”
Ishmael nodded. “That’s because there’s no need to hear of it. There’s no need to name it or discuss it. Every one of you knows it by heart by the time you’re six or seven. Black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, American and Russian, Norwegian and Chinese, you all hear it. And you hear it incessantly, because every medium of propaganda, every medium of education pours it out incessantly. And, hearing it incessantly, you don’t listen to it. There’s no need to listen to it. It’s always there humming away in the background, so there’s no need to attend to it at all.”

“A German who couldn’t bring himself to take a place in Hitler’s story had an option: he could leave Germany. You don’t have that option. Anywhere you go in the world, you’ll find the same story being enacted, and if you don’t take a place in it you won’t get fed.”
“Mother Culture teaches you that this is as it should be. Except for a few thousand savages scattered here and there, all the peoples of the earth are now enacting this story. This is the story man was born to enact, and to depart from it is to resign from the human race itself, is to venture into oblivion. Your place is here, participating in this story, putting your shoulder to the wheel, and, as a reward, being fed. There is no ‘something else.’ To step out of this story is to fall off the edge of the world. There’s no way out of it except through death.”

“Mother Culture, whose voice has been in your ear since the day of your birth, has given you an explanation of how things came to be this way. You know it well; everyone in your culture knows it well. But this explanation wasn’t given to you all at once. No one ever sat you down and said, ‘Here is how things came to be this way, beginning ten or fifteen billion years ago right up to the present.’ Rather, you assembled this explanation like a mosaic: from a million bits of information presented to you in various ways by others who share that explanation. You assembled it from the table talk of your parents, from cartoons you watched on television, from Sunday School lessons, from your textbooks and teachers, from news broadcasts, from movies, novels, sermons, plays, newspapers, and all the rest. Are you with me so far?”
“I think so.”
“This explanation of how things came to be this way is ambient in your culture. Everyone knows it and everyone accepts it without question.”

“As we make our journey here, we’re going to be reexamining key pieces of that mosaic. We’re going to be taking them out of your mosaic and fitting them into an entirely different mosaic: into an entirely different explanation of how things came to be this way.”

“Everyone in your culture knows that the world wasn’t created for jellyfish or salmon or iguanas or gorillas. It was created for man.”
“That’s right.”
Ishmael fixed me with a sardonic eye. “And this is not mythology?”

“Creation wasn’t complete when jellyfish appeared or when amphibians appeared or when reptiles appeared or even when mammals appeared. According to your mythology, it was complete only when man appeared.”<P>
“Why was the world and the universe incomplete without man? What was the world without man?”
“It was just a jungle.”
“That’s right. But the gods didn’t mean to leave the world a jungle, did they?”
“You mean in our mythology? Certainly not.”
“It needed what?”
“It needed someone to come in and . . . straighten it out. Someone to put it in order.”
“And what sort of person is it who straightens things out? What sort of person takes anarchy in hand and puts it in order?”
“Well . . . a ruler. A king.”
“Of course. The world needed a ruler. It needed man.”

“So now we have a clearer idea what this story is all about: The world was made for man, and man was made to rule it.”
“Yes. That’s very obvious now. Everyone understands that.”
“And this is what?”
“It’s mythology,” I said.
“Of which no trace is to be found in your culture.”
“That’s right.”

“You hear this fifty times a day. You can turn on the radio or the television and hear it every hour. Man is conquering the deserts, man is conquering the oceans, man is conquering the atom, man is conquering the elements, man is conquering outer space.”
Ishmael smiled. “You didn’t believe me when I said that this story is ambient in your culture. Now you see what I mean. The mythology of your culture hums in your ears so constantly that no one pays the slightest bit of attention to it. Of course man is conquering space and the atom and the deserts and the oceans and the elements. According to your mythology, this is what he was born to do.”

“Every law has effects or it wouldn’t be discoverable as a law. The effects of the law we’re looking for are very simple. Species that live in compliance with the law live forever–environmental conditions permitting. This will, I hope, be taken as good news for mankind in general, because if mankind lives in compliance with this law, then it too will live forever–or for as long as conditions permit. But of course this isn’t the law’s only effect. Those species that do not live in compliance with the law become extinct. In the scale of biological time, they become extinct very rapidly. And this is going to be very bad news for the people of your culture, the worst they’ve ever heard.”

“The law you’re looking for has been obeyed invariably in the living community for three billion years.” He nodded to the world outside. “And this is how things came to be this way. If this law had not been obeyed from the beginning and in each generation thereafter, the seas would be lifeless deserts and the land would still be dust blowing in the wind. All the countless forms of life that you see here came into being following this law, and, following this law, man too came into being. And only once in all the history of this planet has any species tried to live in defiance of this law, and it wasn’t an entire species, it was only one people, those I’ve named Takers. Ten thousand years ago, this one people said, ‘No more. Man was not meant to be bound by this law,’ and they began to live in a way that flouts the law at every point. Every single thing that is prohibited under the law they incorporated into their civilization as a fundamental policy. And now, after five hundred generations, they are about to pay the penalty that any other species would pay for living contrary to this law.”

“This law that you have so admirably described defines the limits of competition in the community of life. You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war.”
“Yes. As you said, it’s the peace-keeping law.”
“And what’s the effect of the law? What does it promote?”

“Diversity is a survival factor for the community itself. A community of a hundred million species can survive almost anything short of total global catastrophe. Within that hundred million will be thousands that could survive a global temperature drop of twenty degrees, which would be a lot more devastating than it sounds. Within that hundred million will be thousands that could survive a global temperature rise of twenty degrees. But a community of a hundred species or a thousand species has almost no survival value at all.”

“Given an expanding food supply, any population will expand. This is true of any species, including the human. The Takers have been proving this here for ten thousand years. For ten thousand years they’ve been steadily increasing food production to feed an increased population, and every time they’ve done this, the population has increased still more.”

“The law we’ve outlined here enables species to live, enables species to survive, including the human. It won’t tell you whether mood-altering drugs should be legalized or not. It won’t tell you whether premarital sex is good or bad. It won’t tell you whether capital punishment is right or wrong. It will tell you how you have to live if you want to avoid extinction, and that’s the first and most fundamental knowledge anyone needs.”

“One thing I know people will say to me is, ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?'”
“That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “How many times must I say this? Your problem isn’t agriculture but rather your insane notion that all the food in the world belongs to you. In a very real sense, humans have practiced agriculture right from the beginning. Humans everywhere and everywhen have always encouraged the regrowth of their favorite foods, and that’s all agriculture is. Most surviving Leaver peoples are primarily agriculturalists and not hunter-gatherers at all. The difference between you and them is not that they don’t practice agriculture but rather that they don’t practice it as a never-ending war waged on the community of life around them. The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live–and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.” He paused and shook his head. “What I’ve been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is ‘back there’ somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward.”