Questions & Answers

Q&A

I just read Ishmael and found it thought provoking in many ways. The central tenet seems to be that Taker culture, in its present course, has harmed and will eventually destroy the environment. I am familiar with much of the literature that supports this apocalyptic vision. However, I find Bjorn Lomborg’s book “Skeptical Environmentalist,” in which he discredits much of this premise, to be quite credible. My own research and observations put me in varying degrees of agreement with Lomborg. Do you have any comment on Lomborg’s research and have you considered the possibility that your assertions of imminent environmental destruction are exaggerated or simply false?

Okay, so you have grown up in this society that is ruled by mother culture’s values, and lived your whole life in it. How did you see the invisible questions and rules that Mother Culture tells you day after day, week after week, year after year, to write down in your books? What caused you to see these messages that are repeated so often that no one knows they’re there anymore?

In Jared Diamond’s excellent book Guns, Germs, and Steel, he addresses the question of the origins of agriculture at some length and concludes that food production developed independently in at least seven places – the Fertile Crescent, two different areas in China, New Guinea, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and the Eastern present-day U.S. – and possibly as many as eleven. Furthermore, in at least five of those places agriculture could have been characterized as “totalitarian” – prompting large alterations to landscapes, supporting of a large social hierarchy, and yielding aggressive expansion into lands inhabited by non-agriculturalists (either killing or converting them). Diamond also points out that the areas that did not develop intensive food production were the areas where it was not possible to do so given the existing local wild edibles. He also argues that many of the regions that “received” agriculture from elsewhere did so through trade, not necessarily through expansion of existing Taker societies. So yes, the actual course of events turns out to be much more mottled and complex than the theory. My question is, doesn’t all this somewhat undermine your basic notion that the rise of intensive agriculture took place in just one or two small locations and then expanded everywhere else through population growth and conquest? Doesn’t it strongly imply that the momentum of people more or less everywhere was towards food production? If Mr. Diamond is to be believed, the number of societies that willingly gave up Leaver lifestyles for Taker ones is far, far greater than the number for whom it went the other way around.

I find it difficult to teach the “unteachable,” or better yet, to “unteach” them. Please, don’t get me wrong here – I am not suggesting that they are intellectually inept but rather that they are unwilling to listen to anything that goes against their conditioning. Do you think that this fact (?) will seal our fate? I only ask because I find that the types of individuals who are drawn to books such as yours are the ones looking for an alternative in the first place. I find that most people I talk to either don’t want to be challenged or truly believe in this “lifestyle” because they don’t know any better. I am sorry if this question sounds redundant as I have read your views on this but what is your approach for the most “closeminded” individuals, or isn’t there one?

I was interested in your response to Question No. 579, in which you say that the subculture of Taker culture is growing explosively and could be as large as 2-3 million in 2002, from something like twenty thousand in 1992. If I quote this to someone and they ask where it came from and I say, “from Daniel Quinn”, the answer is going to be “Oh, he would say that”. So where do your estimates come from? From sales of Ishmael? From a gut feeling? Or where? Just for interest, are you able to reveal the global sales figures for Ishmael? At least I could quote that to people with some sense of satisfaction.

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