IntroductionIshmael, by Daniel Quinn, is the story of a desperate young man in search of a teacher. The teacher he finds is a lowland gorilla, who, being a member of a species entirely different from ours, has an entirely different vision of our history and our role in the universe.
The book won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship in 1991 for a work of fiction offering positive solutions to global problems. It was selected from more than 2500 entries from around the world by a panel of judges that included Nadine Gordimer and Ray Bradbury. Since its initial publication in English in 1992, it has been published in over a dozen languages.
The author was startled when he began getting letters from teachers telling him they were assigning Ishmael to their classes. Even more surprising was the fact that they were not just teachers of literature, who might be expected to use a novel in class, but teachers of biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, history, and more. He heard from teachers in universities, in graduate schools, in high schools, and even middle schools. They told him how they were using Ishmael in their classes, but they also asked if he knew of other teachers with whom they might compare ideas and notes.
That's why we put together The Ishmael Companion. The teachers who share their thoughts and classroom activities with you in the following pages are representative of the several hundred who have written the author over the past few years to share their classroom experience of using Ishmael. What we found, in collecting information for this guide is that Ishmael lends itself to diversity. The ways teachers use the book are as different and creative as the teachers themselves and the schools they teach in. We hope you'll find their experience stimulating and useful in your own teaching.
Sally Helms Maher & Rennie Quinn
Webmaster's note: This document is intended as a tool for teachers, and the information in it may be freely copied and shared in whole or in part. It may not, however, be reproduced in any medium for resale without permission of the copyright holder. The Ishmael Companioncan be downloaded in different formats.
Contents of the Ishmael Companion:
These documents are Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 by QGQ Incorporated. (Published originally by The Hard Rain Press, Austin, TX)
It's never easy to catch Mother Culture in her lies - even for me, with all my practice. She teaches that the way we live is the only human way to live, and thinking about other ways is an utter waste of time. The characteristic that Mother Culture attaches to the Leaver lifestyle most predominantly is absence. Leavers lack technology (untrue, but no matter), lack history (what they have is merely prehistory), lack the noble institutions of civilization, lack the opportunities for wealth and luxury that we enjoy. The last of these is one of the trickiest of Mother Culture's deceptions, because at first glance it seems unarguable. Even very modest Taker households boast amenities that would seem miraculous to our ancient ancestors and that would still seem so to Leaver peoples not yet in contact with our culture. In this light, it's easy to accept the idea that the Taker way is the way of wealth and the Leaver way is the way of poverty.
The answering trick to Mother Culture's trick is almost always this: When she holds up a picture of Nothing, look for Something. When she holds up a picture of an Absence, look for a Presence.
The Leaver way is not a way of poverty, it's a way of wealth -- but the wealth of the Leaver way isn't the wealth of products, it's the wealth of human support. Mother Culture never has names for things she cannot see, and there is no name in English (or any other language I know) for this support. It's not comraderie or friendship or neighborliness. It's motivating origins are not to be found in love or charity or kindliness. In Leaver societies, people look after each other for much the same reasons that people in Taker societies take jobs and have careers. In Leaver societies, people look after one another not because they're saintly but because looking after one another assures that they themselves will be looked after. If they don't look after one another, then the community disappears -- and no one is looked after.
When the members of Family A fall ill, Families B, C, and D share their food with them, because they all know that someday they too could fall ill. When a child is injured, the nearest adult runs to help it, because that adult knows that someday his or her own child may need help. When an aged person becomes sick and helpless, the family of that person isn't alone with the problem. All share the burden, because all know they will have a similar burden someday and will need others to share it. Those who give support shall receive support.
It's an economy. An economy based on support instead of products. It works like the diagram to the right...
The Taker economy, by contrast, works like that on the left...
Everyone knows the Taker economy works, but they find it hard to believe that the Leaver economy works too. This is because Taker wealth is so much more visible than Leaver wealth. Products can be photographed, packaged, and put in store windows, but support can't. There are many other striking differences between these two kinds of wealth.
Taker wealth can be put under lock and key, but Leaver wealth can't. For this reason, Taker wealth is inherently divisive. Behind the locked doors of my house are my furniture, my appliances, my television sets, my radios, my computers, my clothes, my records, my books. I've worked for them, I've earned them, and no one else in the world has worked for them or earned them -- and this is the dividing line between them and me, between theirs and mine. The law of every Taker nation in the world confirms all this. Leaver wealth, by contrast, is not divisive but inherently unitive.
Taker and Leaver economies are mirror images of each other. Takers are rich in products but poor in human support; Leavers are rich in human support but poor in products. But note this: Takers complain noisily and endlessly over the shortcomings of their economic system, but anthropologists find that Leavers (until their cultures are undermined by Taker contact) seem remarkably content with theirs.
The experience of Leavers as one of cradle-to-grave security. This security is not the result of utopian design or nobility of character. It's the result of eons of evolutionary shaping of their communities. In brief, community structures that did not provide cradle-to-grave security for their members did not survive. The structures we know are the ones that survived. They're like the species we know: They survived because they worked.
Many readers may wonder if this "cradle-to-grave security" isn't an exaggeration I indulge in for the sake of making a point. Not so, I assure you. In fact, there's little reason to be surprised that Leaver peoples should enjoy such security. After all, among our neighbors in the community of life, the very same security is enjoyed in every species whose members form communities. Ducks, sea lions, deer, giraffes, wolves, wasps, monkeys, and gorillas (to name just a few species out of millions) enjoy such security. It has to be assumed that the members of Homo habilis enjoyed such security -- or how would they have survived? Is there any reason to doubt that the members of Homo erectus enjoyed such security or that they conferred it upon their descendants, Homo sapiens?
No, as a species, we came into being in communities in which cradle-to-grave security was the rule, and the same rule has been followed throughout the development of Homo sapiens right up to the present moment -- in Leaver societies. It's only in Taker societies that cradle-to-grave security has become a rarity, a special blessing of the privileged few.
In Taker societies, needed support is provided by paid ''professional classes'' of support-givers. If your mother becomes ill, for example, your community doesn't rally round to share the burden of her care. You have to pay people to do that, and the more you spend, the better your mother is cared for and the less heavy your personal burden is. The same is true of any condition that could be alleviated by human support. In Leaver societies, this support is available to everyone in the community, automatically, free of charge. In Taker societies, you pay for it or you don't get it. And, my oh my, do we ever pay for it!
I haven't the time or inclination for such research, but it would be fascinating to know how much it costs us to get all the support that is free in Leaver societies. Virtually all services for which we pay taxes are provided for free by members of Leaver societies as an ordinary part of belonging to the community, and they don't find it especially burdensome to provide them. ''Professional classes'' of support-givers are nonexistent or very small; most shamans, for example, do not ''make their living'' by healing or by performing religious ceremonies, and most tribal chiefs do not ''make their living'' as political leaders.
People sometimes ask if it wouldn't be possible to achieve the Leaver lifestyle simply by leaping out of the Taker lifestyle into nothing. The answer is no, because the Leaver lifestyle isn't nothing, it's an economy -- an economy based on a different sort of wealth and on a different sort of economic transaction: not products for products but support for support.
If you'd like to explore the possibility of moving toward a Leaver lifestyle in your community, don't concentrate on giving up Taker things. To concentrate on giving up Taker things is to concentrate on a negative. The Leaver lifestyle isn't an absence of Taker things, it's a presence of something else, and that presence is support.
I've conjectured that we can reinvent Leaver-style support systems for ourselves incrementally, bit by bit, by working within our own communities and building on each other's successes the way inventors of the Industrial Revolution built on each other's successes. I've received a lot of encouragement for this idea, but as yet no one has reported trying it. I suspect the idea of offering any kind of support to anyone makes people very nervous. That's fine. Don't start by offering anything. Start by bringing out into the open the fears and reservations you have about the whole idea. That's progress, because it's a start.