Tag Archives: Daniel Quinn

The Little Engine That Couldn’t: How We’re Preparing Ourselves for Extinction

The Little Engine That Couldn’t:
How We’re Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction

Address by Daniel Quinn delivered August 16, 1997, at the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education, Vancouver BC

    • In a recent semi-documentary film called


    • a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, “We’d have to remove everybody from the face of the earth, because humans GENERATE toxic waste, whether it be pathogenic organisms that we excrete from our bodies or whatever. We are toxic to the face of the earth.”

What is your gut reaction to this assessment? Please raise your hands if you agree that humans are inherently toxic.

I understand that many representatives of the First Peoples are attending this conference. I hope there are many in this audience. Please raise your hand if you belong to an aboriginal people. Thank you. Now I’d like to ask you the same question I asked the whole group a moment ago. If you consult your traditional teachings, do you agree that humans are inherently toxic to the life of this planet?

Those who know my work will know that you’ve just demonstrated one of my basic theses, that the people of my culture, whom I call Takers, have a fundamentally different mythology from the First Peoples, whom I call Leavers. In Taker mythology, humans are indeed viewed as inherently toxic to the world, as alien beings who were born to rule—and ultimately destroy—the world. As WE are currently ruling and destroying the world. In Leaver mythology, by contrast, the world is a sacred place, and humans are not perceived as alien to that sacred place but rather as belonging to it. In other words, in the Leaver worldview, people are no less a part of the sacred framework of the universe than scorpions or eagles or salmon or bears or daffodils. . . .

When I first proposed to speak here about how we’re preparing ourselves and our children for extinction, the organizer of the conference wondered if this topic wasn’t directed too exclusively to members of “our” culture—the culture I call Taker culture in my books—the dominant culture of the world, found wherever the food is under lock and key and people have to work to get it. I think it’s important that you hear my answer to this question.

The reality is that, even if you’re a member of one of the First Peoples, you and your children are constantly bombarded with messages from Taker culture by way of books, billboards, movies, newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, and of course pre-eminently by way of the schools.

In other words, it doesn’t really matter whether you belong to our culture or not in this regard. If you or your children watch television, go to movies, listen to the radio, and go to our schools, then, like it or not, you’re preparing yourselves and your children for extinction.

But what do I actually mean by this outrageous statement? I’ll tell you this in a nutshell and then offer some examples of what I’m talking about. In a nutshell: We have been taught—and are therefore teaching our children—that, individually, we are all pretty much helpless when it comes to saving the world. That is, unless we happen to have the power of a world leader—the power of a Clinton or Yeltsin. Or unless we happen to control some vast multi-national corporation like Shell Oil or Du Pont. Or unless we happen to control some big organization like the Red Cross or Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund. We’ve been taught (and are therefore teaching our children) that, as individuals, all we can do is wait for OTHER peoplePOWERFUL people—to save the world. Oh sure, we can do our little bit. We can reduce, reuse, and recycle, and this is very nice and very useful—but really important and far-reaching global change must come from the TOP. We just have to wait and hope for the best. We’re like people standing around watching a neighbor’s house burn down because we’ve been taught that this is a problem for PROFESSIONALS to handle. We mustn’t interfere. Until trained fire-fighters arrive, we’re just supposed to stand there and watch—and if they NEVER arrive, then the house will just have to burn down right to the ground. . . .

Since my novel Ishmael appeared in 1992, I’ve received well over five thousand letters from readers—many of them young people. When they write to me, they don’t say, “Why have I been taught that individually I’m helpless?” This teaching is revealed in a more subtle way. They say to me, “Since I’m not a world leader and don’t control a multi-national corporation or a big NGO, I’m looking for a career that will enable me to make a difference. I’m thinking of going into environmental engineering or something like that. Can you make a suggestion?” Now, until you think about it, this might sound like someone who’s on the right track here. But listen to what he’s really saying. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not electricalengineers. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not optometrists. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not English teachers. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not bus drivers. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not homemakers. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not mail carriers. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not grocery store clerks. Environmental engineers can make a difference—but not potters. I could stand here and extend this list all day—this list of occupations in which people can make no difference. It includes virtually every occupation being pursued on the face of this planet today!

Here’s a statement from an actual letter, from a young woman in Knoxville TN. She writes, “I’ve been in graphic design since I finished high school in ‘86, and I’m still there, but I’m starting to look more and more seriously at environmental policy, national and world politics, and similar areas. I’ve always despised and hated politics.” Do you see what she’s saying? “I’m thinking of going into something I’ve always despised andhated“—because she can’t make a difference as a graphic designer. For her, the question is no longer, “What am I really GOOD at?” It doesn’t matter that she might be a terrific graphic designer and a rotten politician. She has come to believe that graphic designers can’t make a difference. Only very, very rare people can make a difference.

Here’s another, from a young man in Waco TX: “I treasure the ideals of your novel, and pledge my services toward getting something started. I do have one question that I think only you can answer for me, and that is: What can I do to find a job that adheres and advances the principles of your novel? It’s what I’ve been searching for all my life.”

My answer to him was this: We ALL have to make a difference. It doesn’t matter what job we do. We can’t have people saying, “Oh I just flip burgers, so I can’t make a difference.” “Oh I just drive a cab, so I can’t make a difference.” “Oh I just sell insurance, so I can’t make a difference.” “Oh I’m just an auto mechanic, so I can’t make a difference.” “Oh I’m just an accountant, so I can’t make a difference.” Concentrate on doing what you do best, because THAT’S where you’ll have the most influence on the future of the world.

You know, I’ll bet almost all of you were idealists when you were young—or were considered idealists by friends and teachers. If you were an idealistic youngster, please raise your hand. Good. Now—how many of you as youngsters had the experience of being told by a parent or teacher, “Who do you think you are? YOU can’t change the world.”

Believe me, nothing’s changed since you were young. This comes to me from a tenth-grader in Philadelphia: “I just finished Ishmael, and I want to thank you because you have successfully written down in complete form what I and so many people have thought about only in fragments. But when I try to talk to people about these things, being only fourteen, they tell me I’m foolish and ‘trying to be a hippie.'”

This is from the same design student who thought she’d have to go into politics in order to make a difference: “My advisor says I’m young and enthusiastic, in a kind of condescending way when I told him about wanting to go into environmental policy and change people’s perceptions and the way things are done. I want to prove him wrong. . . ”

But I’m not bringing this up to caution you against discouraging young people’s idealism and enthusiasm. I’m sure you don’t do that—or you wouldn’t be in this audience at all. What I’m trying to do is deepen your understanding of what’s happening when oldsters tell youngsters, YOU can’t change the world.

“I want to prove him WRONG,” the design student said. Wrong about what? She IS young and enthusiastic, so she can’t prove him wrong about that. What are the two of them really talking about? What her advisor is hearing from her is something like this: “I’m not going to end up like YOU. You never made any difference in your whole life. Well, I’m not going be like you. I’m going to make a difference.” And of course he’s defending himself the only way he knows how. He can’t say, “Look, kiddo, you may not believe it, but student advisors make PLENTY of difference.” He probably doesn’t even believe it himself! Why would he? He’s been told from childhood that only big shots make a difference. Since he can’t say this, he says instead, “Believe me, you WILL end up like me. What YOU have aren’t ideals, they’re just illusions. Nothing you do will make any difference, and life is going to prove me RIGHT.” He actually has a vested interest in discouraging students, in preparing them for extinction. Their failure will be his vindication! The vein of pessimism runs deep in our culture and is broadcast like a virus in all our communications—including all our communications directed to those of you who belong to the nations of the First People. Three years ago a young Navajo student at Dartmouth managed to track down my unlisted phone number. He told me that over the years he’d drifted away from his cultural roots. Then he read Ishmael. He was calling because he wanted to give me his reaction personally, and this was his reaction: “You’ve given me back my religion.” I asked him to explain why he felt this way, because of course there’s nothing in my book about Navajo religion in particular. He said, “When I was growing up among my own people, I was taught to think of humans as a blessing on the world. Living among your people, I’ve been taught to think of humans as a curse on the world. I didn’t notice it happening until I read your book, and that’s how you’ve given me back my religion.”

This brings me back to where I started, with the assessment of the waste disposal engineer who was asked how we can stop poisoning the world. Here it is again.

He said, “We’d have to remove EVERYBODY from the face of the earth, because humans GENERATE toxic waste, whether it be pathogenic organisms that we excrete from our bodies or whatever. We are toxic to the face of the earth.”

I’d like to take a few minutes explore this strange mythology, so central to our culture, and its impact on our children and their vision of the future.

To begin with, is it mythology? Oh, most certainly it is mythology. Humans no more “generate toxic waste” than elephants or grasshoppers do. And the organisms we excrete from our bodies are no more pathogenic than those excreted from the bodies of sparrows or salmon. This engineer was speaking pure mythology, because the biological truth is that humans lived on this planet for three million years without being any more poisonous than our primate ancestors.

It has been the work of my life to pin down and demolish the lie that is at the root of this mythology in our culture. It’s to be found in the way we tell the human story itself in our culture. You can see it perpetuated in textbook after textbook, and if you keep your eyes open, you’ll see it repeated weekly somewhere—in a newspaper or magazine article, in a television documentary. Here it is, the human story as it’s told in our culture, day in and day out, stripped to its essentials. “Humans appeared in the living community about three million years ago. When they appeared, they were foragers, just like their primate ancestors. Over the millennia, these foragers added hunting to their repertoire and so became hunter-gatherers. Humans lived as hunter-gatherers until about ten thousand years ago, when they abandoned this life for the agricultural life, settling down into villages and beginning to build the civilization that encircles the world today.” That’s the story as our children learn it, and it has just this one little problem, that it didn’t happen that way at all. Ten thousand years ago, it was not HUMANITY that traded in the foraging life for the agricultural life and began to build civilization, it was a single culture. One culture out of ten thousand cultures did this, and the other nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine went on exactly as before. Over the millennia that followed, this one culture, born in the middle east, overran neighboring cultures in all directions, finally arriving in the New World about five hundred years ago. At which point it began to overrun the native cultures of THIS part of the world as well. It is a truism that the conqueror gets to write the history books, and the history our children learn is history as WE tell it. And the central lie of this history is that HUMANITY ITSELF did what WE did.

Well, even if this is so, why does it matter? It matters because everything the waste disposal engineer said was false about HUMANITY, but absolutely true of this one conquering culture. HUMANS don’t generate toxic wastes—but our culture certainly does. HUMANS aren’t toxic to the face of the earth—but our culturecertainly is.

It’s vitally important for our children to know that the curse that needs to be lifted from the earth is not humanity. It’s important for them to know that we may be a doomed culture, but we are not a doomedspecies. It’s important for them to understand that it’s not being HUMAN that is destroying the world. It’s living THIS WAY that is destroying the world. It’s important for them to know that humans HAVE lived other ways, because it’s important for them to know that it’s POSSIBLE for humans to live other ways. Otherwise they can only repeat the falsehood spoken by that waste disposal engineer: That the only way to stop poisoning the world is to get rid of humanity.

Here’s what a college student in Arkansas wrote to me: “Standing riverside with my geology class in the Grand Canyon, viewing one and a half billion year-old basement rocks, humankind’s history was a vertical mile away in the dust of the South Rim. Strangely, my classmates struggled with the concept and acceptance of geologic time. I felt the overburden of reality. Since that time, the extinction of Homo Sapiens has often appeared to me to be the ONLY solution for the vast spread, dominance, consumption, and destruction inflicted on the world by this species.”

This is from a ninth grader in Eugene Oregon: “Since reading your book a second time recently, I’ve talked with some of my friends about their theories about life, the universe, and so on. Some thought we should just kill off all the humans (which I’ll admit would be one way of dealing with things).”

This is from a graduate student at the University of Oregon: “I was at an aquarium with my daughter shortly after re-reading Ishmael, and I happened to spend some time looking at the jellyfish tank. I wondered if the world would be better off if evolution had stopped with these spineless, brainless, majestic entities. . . . Despite our best efforts to resuscitate the cancer known as humanity, we are in fact on our way out, and indeed that may be for the better.”

These students, as you hear, are all thoroughly reconciled to the disappearance of human life.

We absolutely must stop sending our children out to save the world, first arming them with the undermining belief that humans are inherently toxic. Because if they truly believe this, then they will truly be prepared for extinction. We must be on vigilant guard against teaching our children—even by indirection— that the very best thing that can happen to the world is the extinction of the human race.

I know very well that I have set myself up for at least one hard question with this talk, and I’d like to address at least this one hard question before I invite your questions.

I have said—not only here but in a thousand letters and a dozen other speeches like this one—that there is no one who is without resources to change the world. I believe this is a message we must give our children. We don’t just need caring environmental engineers. We need caring attorneys, caring physicians, caring fry cooks, caring salespeople, caring real estate developers, caring industrialists, caring journalists, caring entrepreneurs, caring veterinarians, caring stock brokers, and caring carpenters. We even need good people in bad places. In fact we especially need good people in bad places. For example, whether you know it or not, the film industry is tremendously pollutive and tremendously wasteful. Does this mean caring people should avoid it? Hardly! Just the opposite! We mustn’t leave pollutive and wasteful industries entirely in the hands of people who don’t give a damn about the world. This is why I say and say again that there is no place where no good can be done. And this is why I say to young people, “Don’t think about going into noble lines of work, think only of doing what you do best. Because that’s where you’re going to make the most difference in the world.”

People often ask me if I practice what I preach, and what I say to them is, “Look, I’m doing exactly what I preach. What I preach is, USE YOUR BEST RESOURCES TO DO WHAT YOU CAN DO. And that’s what I’m doing. Doing what I do best, I’m reaching hundreds of thousands of people all over the world in the cause of saving the world.”

I say to them, “Do you think I should have been an environmental engineer instead? I would’ve been a LOUSY environmental engineer!”

And then people typically say to me, “Well, that’s great for YOU, but what am I supposed to do? I’m just a dressmaker, just a bricklayer, just a fiddle player, just a massage therapist, just a choir director, just an asphalt spreader—fill in the blank.

I hope you see that I’m talking about an EDUCATIONAL problem here. We have honest to god GOT to stop teaching our children that only OTHER people count. I think we need to make it a top-priority goal for us to teach our children that it isn’t just people with special jobs who are going to save the world. If the world is saved, it will be because all six billion of us stopped waiting for someone ELSE to do it. If the world is saved, it will be because the people of the world finally woke up to the fact that saving the world isn’t the work of specialists. It’s work we all CAN do—and all MUST do.

Thanks for listening.


Source: Ishmael.org

Is there hope for the future?


Daniel Quinn

Delivered at the Texas Bioneers 2005 Conference, October 15, 2005

The title of my talk this morning is a question I’m asked almost every time I appear in public or have a telephone conference: “Do you think there’s hope for the future?” The answer to that one is easy: “Yes, I do.” The obvious next question is: “Why?”

I suppose I might respond by asking a question of my own: “Why do you have to ask?”

I think I know the answer to that. People need to ask because they themselves have a hard time seeing anything anywhere that will give them hope for the future. They’re like people who step off the side of a cliff onto a shaky rope bridge and look down into a gorge that’s three hundred yards deep. Of course they were told not to do it, but looking down is an almost irresistible impulse, and what they see is a very scary future: the bridge disintegrating under their feet and themselves plunging into the chasm.

When I was growing up in the fifties, the future looked like a coming paradise, where everything was just going to get better and better and better. We were all going to scoot around in our private helicopters and sit around the pool while robots did all the work. The future began to look a bit iffy when the Cold War started in earnest and every year you scanned maps in the newspaper showing your chances of surviving a direct nuclear strike on your city.

Then in 1962 Rachel Carson dropped a mind-boggling bomb of her own, in Silent Spring . The earth doesn’t just placidly swallow any quantity of any poison and give it back as fresh water. There’s a price to be paid for dumping poison into the land and the sea–and, believe it or not, this was staggering news at the time. We’d thought for thousands of years that we could do any damn thing we wanted.

Then just six years later Paul Ehrlich dropped another bomb on us–The Population Bomb. Wow, the future was beginning to look downright GRIM.

hope for the future

But there were things we could DO–at least about some of this. We could, by God, see to it that the government tightened up controls on polluting industries. We could join environmental organizations and vote for environmental candidates. It came as a surprise–to those of us who cared–to see that some very popular politicians cared a whole lot more about polluting industries than they did about us. It took us a while to see that environmentalists were being perceived as people who were in favor of IT–the environment–and AGAINST us humans. Political candidates soon began to shut up about protecting the environment.

A hole opened up in the ozone layer, and people got excited about that for a while. Global warming became something even Rush Limbaugh couldn’t pooh-pooh any longer. But look–no one’s died from global warming. The hole in the ozone layer hasn’t killed anyone you can point at. Pollution–well, that’s a fact of life, something we’ve learned to live with, and if we could put George Bush in office for a third term, we sure would, wouldn’t we? You bet.

But even the direst doomsayers of the seventies, eighties, and nineties couldn’t have forecast the realities that we’re facing now. I came close when I pointed out that we’re systematically and persistently attacking the diversity of the living community on which we depend for our lives, but even I couldn’t imagine that we were already entering a period of mass extinctions that rivals any such period of the past. There’s no argument about this among biologists, but it doesn’t seem to make a very exciting news story. People in general are pretty cool about it. So something like 200 species become extinct every day. We’re not one of them, so who cares? A few years ago I heard a talk-show host say, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I can live without songbirds.” As if the function of birds in the scheme of things on this planet is merely to entertain US.

This period of mass extinctions isn’t being caused by the impact of a huge meteorite. It’s being caused by US. We have a population of more than six billion, and we’re annually increasing it by about 77 million every year. The earth doesn’t have enough biomass to support both us AND the rest of the living community. So something’s got to give, and it ain’t us. We need the biomass that’s locked up in some 200 other species–every day. We’re turning that biomass into HUMAN mass. Every year we produce enough new human mass to populate Canada, Australia, Denmark, Austria, and Greece. Every year.

And the number of these extinctions isn’t going to diminish. As our population continues to increase, this number will also increase–probably geometrically.

We’re like people living at the top of the world’s tallest skyscraper who every day go down to the lower floors and knock 200 bricks out the walls at random. We use these bricks to extend our living space, to build upward. Hey–200 bricks, that’s nothing. There are millions in those walls down there. But every day the structural integrity of the building is being compromised–and there’ll come a day when all these compromises connect up, and the whole thing will come down–not in a week or a day or even an hour. It’ll come down all at once, in minutes.

What most people don’t realize is that being the smartest and most powerful species on earth doesn’t make us invulnerable. If we go on this way, systematically subverting the viability of the living community that’s keeping us alive, the system’s going to crash just like that skyscraper. If that happens, fundamental food chains are going to be disrupted, and our population’s not just going to decline, it’s going to vanish. During the end Permian extinction, all the big guys were doomed, right down to the last member. The centipedes, on the other hand, probably didn’t even notice a difference.

Most recently we’ve been put on notice that oil production has peaked and is on its way down–while the consumption of it continues to increase. The most serious threat in this is related to the fact that our agricultural systems are completely dependent on fossil fuel–at every stage, from raw land to the supermarket shelf. If we don’t remodel those systems to make them function without fossil fuels–and it apparently CAN be done–we’re going to face a global panic and famine that I for one wouldn’t care to be around to see.

Of course, if the worst happened, this would certainly solve the problem of our overpopulation right quick–but that possibility certainly doesn’t make me rejoice.

When people look into the future and give up hope, it’s because they don’t know what to DO about the bad things they see. I’ve heard it so often that I’m sure the very first letter I got when Ishmael came out said something like, “I loved your book, and I get what you’re saying–but what are we supposed to DO?”

Of course he didn’t really get what I was saying or he wouldn’t have asked that question. This wasn’t his fault. If people don’t get what I’m saying and they’re reasonably well-educated, reasonably intelligent, and older than, say fourteen, then it’s my fault. I should have quoted something Thorstein Veblen said in The Theory of the Leisure Classa century ago. Here goes: “Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an altered situation ONLY through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals who make up the community.”

Let’s look at it more closely. He’s talking about social transformation, and he says this happens ONLY through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals who make up the community.” It’s important to note that he’s not talking about the leaders of the community. He’s saying that a society is transformed only when people in generalstart thinking a new way.

He goes on as follows: “The evolution of society is substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of individuals under stress of circumstances that will no longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to a different set of circumstances in the past.” [1899, Slightly adapted.] What kind of circumstances put people under stress? Veblen says they’re circumstances that will no longer tolerate old habits of thought–habits of thought that were formed under and appropriate to a different set of circumstances that prevailed in the past.

Near the end of the book Ishmael’s pupil asked him the same question that so many of my readers have asked: Yes, but what am I supposed to DO?”

Ishmael’s answer was: “Teach a hundred people what you’ve learned here and urge each of them to teach a hundred.” I put these words in Ishmael’s mouth because I know that nothing changes unless people’s minds change first. You can’t change a society by passing new laws–unless people see the necessity for new laws. You can’t put enlightened presidents in office–until the electorate is enlightened. Until the electorate is enlightened, we’re going to continue to elect presidents whose habits of thought are rooted in the nineteenth century. Given a little time to think, I could probably even come up with a name or two.

One of the reasons I accept invitations to speak on occasions like this is that, when I’m lucky, I manage to make a discovery, to come up with something new, something I hadn’t thought of before. I was lucky this time, as I tried to find a way to explain why I have hope for the future. What I saw was an arc–a change in the tenor of relevant thought over the past forty years.

I saw that the year1990 marked the beginning of a new era. It was, of course, the founding year of the Bioneers. It was the year Ted Turner put out a call heard round the world for novels that offered “creative and positive solu¬tions to global problems.” This was a rather odd move, but then Ted’s an odd guy. Anyway, it certainly got me moving in a new direction. I’d been struggling with a certain book for a decade, and Rennie, my wife, had been telling me for years that I should try writing it as a novel. Now I had to, if I wanted to enter the Turner Tomorrow competition.

This was, of course, the birth of Ishmael, which won the competition. When it came out at the beginning of 1992, no one really knew what would happen to it, and in fact it didn’t set the world on fire in its hardcover edition. For a time, there was even talk of not issuing a paperback edition.

But when it did come out in paperback, it became known in the publishing business as a phenomenon. Suddenly it was being used in highschool and college classrooms all over America in subjects more diverse than any single book in history–in courses like biology, sociology, psychology, world history, anthropology, philosophy, religion, political science, and econom¬ics, not to mention literature.

It would be false modesty for me to deny that it’s been a very influential work, one that has changed millions of minds and inspired many other authors, but it wasn’t the only mind-changing book being worked on in 1990. Paul Hawken was amassing the vast base of data that The Ecology of Commerce would be built on. The impact of those two books alone very specifically transformed one global industry–and had repercussion on companies as influential as Dupont.

But my real point is this: The 1990s brought forth a flood of mind-changing books that absolutely couldn’t have come in the seventies or eighties. That couldn’t even have been predicted in the seventies or eighties. I’m not talking through my hat here.

In 1984 I finished the sixth version of the book that would eventually become Ishmael. It was called Another Story To Be In –and it said everything you’ll read in Ishmael . I sent it with high hopes to the most powerful literary agent in America at that time, Scott Meredith. After it was read at every level of the agency and discussed interminably, a seven-page letter was sent to me explaining why it couldn’t possibly be published.

I’ll just summarize it for you: This is the eighties, they said–not the sixties or the seventies–and in the eighties nobody gives a damn about saving the world. “There’s just no way this book could possibly slip through the prejudices and interstices of the marketplace,” they said.

When it came to what was and wasn’t publishable, these people knew what they were talking about. I didn’t doubt that. But they also said it was their “sad duty” to inform me that no amount of revision could possibly turn this into a salable manuscript. What they called my “central underlying conceptualizations” made this material “totally and completely unrevisable.” I knew they were wrong about this–and proved it in 1990 when I turned it into a book that went on to win the largest prize ever awarded a single work of literature.

I’ve said that the close of the eighties brought forth a flood of mind-changing books. I started to make a list but eventually realized I wouldn’t have time to read it all here. I’m sure each of you could make a list of your own. I’ll just mention a few: Paul Hawken’s Natural Capitalism, Janine Benyus’s Biomimicry , Lester Brown’s Eco Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth , Sim Van Der Ryn’s Ecological Design, Gaviotas, Going Local, The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, Insatiable Is Not Sustainable, Consilience, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, The End of Nature.

What is just as important as the books themselves–and perhaps even more important–is the fact there was a vast readership READY for these books. I estimate the readership of my books alone to be around five million, and I know my readers well enough to feel sure that only a few of them are reading all those other books. Each of them has its own readership, numbering tens of thousands to millions.

So how many people have been reached by this flood of mind-changing books–so far? Let’s be conservative and say twenty million. Now I know that very, very few of those twenty million are going to change a hundred minds. At the same time, I know that these twenty million people aren’t inert. They talk, they recommend books to their friends, they lend books to their friends. The people around them can’t remain entirely untouched–that’s just not the way human society works. I don’t doubt for a moment that each of you can testify to this fact from your own experience.

I said twenty million so far. I know that my books add a hundred thousand to that number every year all by themselves. And the other books I’ve mentioned haven’t gone away–they’re adding hundreds of thousands to that number every year as well.

So what am I reaching for with all this arithmetic? I’m reaching for a tipping point.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

I looked at one famous tipping point in Ishmael: the crumbling of the Soviet Union, which took the world by complete surprise in the late 1980s. That’s exactly what occurs when a tipping point is reached. No one realizes anything’s going on but something has been building, building, building–beneath the surface. In the case of the Soviet Union what had been building was a mind-change that had been gaining momentum since the 1960s. And suddenly and unexpectedly, in 1989, what had started as a tiny minority had become a majority–not an overwhelming majority, but one big enough to allow Mikhail Gorbachev to make sweeping changes that ultimately concluded with the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

We too are in a minority right now–there’s no doubt about that. But we’re a growing minority, and there’s no doubt about that either.

There IS a tipping point out there for us–and that’s why I have hope for the future. There IS a tipping point out there–and the only way to reach it is by changing the minds of the people around us. And that gives me another reason for hope, because changing minds is something anyone can do, at any age, in any walk of life. I’ll bet everyone in this room makes a habit of it!

Medeniyet Ötesi. Ezel zaman once

Medeniyet Ötesi

Evsizler ve genç topluluk, bu kitapdaki bahsedilenler medeniyet ötesine sürükleniyorlar. Evsiz insanlar, istem dışı bi manada bu sürece müdahiller fakat; genç toplum, dünya tüketilirken sadece gübre ile besin edinmekten daha fazla mana arayan kimseler gibi, bilinçsiz bi şekilde bunu arzu ediyor, bu kitap hem onlara hem umutların hatrina yazılmıştır.

Soruna odak

Bunu, doğal olarak, dedemden duydum, ve o kendi dedesinden, ve o da kendi dedesinden, yüzlerce seneye denk. Demektir ki; bu çok kadim bi hikayedir. Fakat yok olmayacak. Çünkü ben kendi çocuklarıma sunacağım, ve onlarda kendi çocuklarına.
Çingene Masalcı, Lazaros Harisiadis. Diana Tong’un Çingene Folkor Masalları’ndan alıntı.

Başlangıç masal

Ezel zaman önce bir gezegende hayat evire girmiş. Bu evrimde, bir çok farklı soysal düzenler ortaya getirmiş; sürüler, örgütler, topluluklar vb. bu düzenlerin arasında, düzenbozan bi zekaya sahip bi varlıkta kabile diye adlanan farklı bi sosyal düzenkurmuş. Kabilelik bir çok milyon sene boyunca çok başarılı bi şekilde devam etmiş, ta ki kabileci olmaksızın, hiyerarşik yapıya sahip olan, medeniyet diye yeni bi sosyal düzenle deneyimler yapmaya başlayana kadar. Çok uzun süre asılmadan, yapının üst kademesi çok lük bir hayatta yaşıyorlardı, mükkemmel keyfi bir yaşam içindelerdi. Onların bi altında, yine de sayıhi gayet geniş olan mensuplarda, şikayet ettirecek pek konu olmaksızın, çok mutlu ve değerli bir yaşam sürdüyordu. Fakat bunların altında kalan ve en geniş kitle, bu hiyerarşiyi hiç benimsiyememişdir. Sırf hayatta kalabilmek için, etraflarındaki çeteleşmiş hayvanların hayatlarına dönmüştür.

ya bu iş bize yaramadı demister en büyük, alt kitle.Kabile olayı çok daha iyidir, ona geri dönelim diye devam etmişlerdi, fakat hiyerarşinin reisi, demiştir ki;

‘O ilkel hayatı geride bıraktırk artık ve öyle bir hayata geri dönüş yapamayız.’

‘O zaman geri gidemeyeceksek ilerliyelim, başka bi düzen bulalım farklı bişey’ demiştir alt kitle.

“Öyle bişey yapılamaz” demiştir Reis. “Bundan başka hiçbir düzen mümkün değildir artık. Medeniyetin ötesi yoktur ki ilerliyelim. Medeniye tabii ve sonsuzdur. Ötesi diye bişey yoktur”

“Ama hiç bir icat ötesizdir. Buharlı motor benzinle geliştirilmiştir. Radio ise televizyon ile. Hesap makineleri bilgisayarlarla. Medeniyet bunlardan nasıl farklıdır ki??” diye sormuşlar

“bilmiyorum” demiştir Reis. “Öyle işte.”

Ne o altdaki geniş mazlum kitle buna inamistir,

ne de ben.

How can I save the world?

How can I save the world?

Before we can start to save the world we need to understand some basic terminology. This terminology is what will help us enact the vision that will be this saving factor of our future.

Lets lay out some ground definitions for the student.

  • Takers as people often referred to as “civilized.” Particularly, the culture born in an Agricultural Revolution that began about 10,000 years ago in the Near East; this is the culture of Ishmael‘s pupil and, presumably, the reader.
  • Leavers as people of all other cultures; often derogatorily referred to by Takers as “primitive.”
  • A story as an interrelation between the gods, man, and the earth, with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • To enact is to strive to make a story come true.
  • A culture is a people who are enacting a story.

We start by taking the the myth enacted by the Takers: that they are the pinnacle of evolution, that the world was made for man, and that man is here to conquer and rule the world. This rule is meant to bring about a paradise, as man increases his mastery of the world, however, he is always failing because he is flawed. Man doesn’t know how to live and never will because that knowledge is unattainable. So, however hard he labors to save the world, he is just going to go on defiling and spoiling it.

When the Takers decided there is something fundamentally wrong with humans, they took as evidence only their own culture’s history- “They were looking at a half of one-percent of the evidence taken from a single culture– Not a reasonable sample on which to base such a sweeping conclusion.”

Ishmael says:

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.