Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Letter and Cassia's Essay

I'm going to post a letter to the editor that I wrote to our local newspapers and an amazing essay by 17 year old homeschooler Cassia Scarborough.

Here is my letter to the editor. I actually had a retired school teacher that was visiting his cabin in our area call me to say that he and his neighbors really liked the letter. I really felt good about this. It's always good to here praise.

Many cultural myths dispelled
Sawyer County Record

A few weeks ago, our 7-year-old son mentioned that a fellow classmate had the good intentions of letting him know that if he didn’t believe in God he was going to hell. I smiled. I was told the same thing when I was a child.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about what it would be like to spend eternal life in the fires of hell. By now I thought for sure this myth wouldn’t be as popular as it once was in our children’s culture, apparently not.

This story has led me to question how cultural myths change over time. Take a look at the three dirty tricks the gods have played on us so far. First off, they didn’t put the world in the center of the universe where we would’ve liked it to be. We can thank Nicolaus Copernicus for that.

Secondly, they didn’t make us in a separate act of creation. It was arranged so we evolved from the common slime, just like spiders and centipedes have. We can thank Charles Darwin for that.

And lastly, this trick is one most of us haven’t fully realized yet. The gods made it so were not exempt from the same biological laws that govern the lives of ticks and timber wolves. And why would it be any other way?

We’re not exempt from the laws of gravity. Anyhow, we can thank Daniel Quinn for this.

Like Darwin, Copernicus and Quinn we can start to question these so-called “self evident truths” that have been handed down to us through the generations. Look at how we conduct ourselves within the biological community. We really think we can grow our population without limit. And we really think that we can get away with hunting down our biological competitors, destroying their food or denying them access to their food. We act like rebels.

There are consequences for members of the biological community who’ve made it a policy to behave like this. It’s called extinction. And the gods aren’t going to save us.

I am the King of the World
An Essay on Conquest and Consequences
by Cassia Scarborough

What if the world was made for a single person? What if, for example, it was made for you? What would you do if you knew for a fact that from the moment you were born, the world was yours. God himself had fashioned the universe so that your solar system could float in it. He made the solar system so that your sun could be in it. He made that burning coin so that it could warm the ninth rock that circled it like a befuddled moth. He made that ninth rock so that the ocean could be in it. He made the ocean so that slime and amoebas could wriggle and squirm into life. He made frogs and newts and such slimy things as those so that they could make use of dry land. He made reptiles so that they could evolve into mammals. He made mammals so that Homo Habilis could bask in what would be called Africa. He made Homo Habilis so that Homo Erectus could explore Europe and Asia. He made Homo Erectus so that they could one day become Homo Sapiens and of course Homo Sapiens came into existence solely so that you yourself, you child of fortune, you supreme being, you pinnacle of creation, you to whom the Gods have entrusted the world, so that you could be born.

If the world was made for you, then it follows obviously that it belongs to you. So, now you can kinda call yourself the ruler of the world, talk about an ego boost, eh? Imagine Leanardo DiCarprio on the helm of the Titanic, arms splayed apart, screaming, "I'm the King of the World!" Well, won't he feel silly when he hears the truth. You're not at the helm of some silly ship, you're leaning over the earth, running your fingers through your oceans, watching your seagulls swoop through your sky, running along the silken shoreline of your beaches, cackling with the insane unbelievable power rush.

Suddenly, all the old rules no longer apply. Sharing? Why should you share anything with anyone when everything and everyone was created for your benefit? Obviously trees were made so that you could have air to breath and pretty wooden furniture in your home. If you want to cut down a forest to make an army of ornate coffee mugs with intricately carved handles then you are goanna cut the fucking forest down and no one can say a thing because it's yours. And if you want a fox fur coat then the foxes are just gonna have to deal with that. And if you want sex with that attractive neighbor on Laurel St. well then, what is there to stop you?

You could make Hollywood into your own private night club. Africa could hold your huge, sprawling house of ten thousand rooms. You could have a pride of lions as your house cats and jackals as your guard dogs. The veldt could be fashioned into a nice lawn. Florida could become nothing but swimming pools and little bars that sold only your favorite drinks, as long as you got rid of those nasty alligators. School could be out, forever. Unless of course you have children of your own, in which case you could make school be twenty three hours a day, six days a week, giving you more time to enjoy your swimming pools and alcohol.

But obviously the world was not made for a single person. That would be impossible. Sorry to spoil your delusions of grandeur. Time to come back down to reality. However, what if instead, the world was made not for specific person, but a specific species? What if God created the solar system, sun, planet, ocean, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals for the sole benefit of a chosen race, a race of fortune, a race composed of supreme beings gifted with the knowledge needed to govern His realm. This species would obviously be the pinnacle of creation, the grand finale. What if the world was made for man?

"Think of the consequences of taking that as your premise. If the world was made for you, then what? ... If the world was made for us then it belongs to us and we can do what we damn well please with it... That's what's been happening here for the past ten thousand years. You've been doing what you damn well please with the world and of course you mean to go on doing what you damn well please with it because the whole damn thing belongs to you." (Ishmael, page 61)

Ishmael, the award winning novel by Daniel Quinn, posits that Humanity has taken as the premise of its culture the idea that the world was made for man. Daniel Quinn uses dialog to entrap the reader and attempts to answer the very fundamental question of how things came to be this way. How did it happen that global warming is causing huge storms, huge shifts in weather patterns, everything from droughts to floods, and no one seems to be worried? How is it that we can read about the imminent collapse of oceanic ecosystems without breaking a sweat? How did it come about that there are six billion people on the earth and overpopulation looks like it will lead somewhere nasty? How can we hear about pollution, war, starvation, the end of speciation itself without flinching? Or even if we flinch at these things, what is it that keeps us from actually stopping them? There are many reasons, but the main one is that we have all been lied to. Ishmael is an attempt to shed light on that lie, so that we as a species may just have a chance to survive its effects.

In Ishmael, the protagonist is a disillusioned writer who remains nameless. He was once an idealist, a man out to save the world that he saw slowly falling to pieces around him, but time passed and cynicism set in and by the time the story starts he has lost the dreams that used to drive him to search for something other than the life doled out to the masses. One fateful morning, our man opens his newspaper to see a strange ad in the classifieds section. It is three lines, in bold print, with an address below. The ad reads:




In order to assure himself that the whole affair was nothing but a hoax dreamed up by some money hungry guru spouting hymns to peace and urging people to love their neighbors, he goes to the address indicated. The place he finds doesn't look like his idea of a pseudo-guru's abode; it is a dingy office building in a run down part of town near the docks. The room that he enters is even further from what he had expected. It has only an armchair, a bookshelf, and a black glass window looking into an adjacent room. What our hero soon discovers is that the window also looks into a pair of big, black eyes. And that the eyes, when looking into his, speak. And what they say, will change not only his life, but the lives of anyone who reads Ishmael with an open mind and a an earnest desire to save the world.

The black eyes belong to Ishmael, the teacher. Ishmael is a gorilla. He and the the man meet almost everyday after that, slowly revealing the truth of how things came to be the way they are, what lies we have been told, and what happens if any one species begins to believe that the world was made for them.

In this novel, special meanings are given to certain words. When talking about a story, Ishmael makes it clear that he is talking about, "A scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods." A story must always have a premise, as any writer can tell you. A premise is, "the question or problem that is the basic idea of a story." Finally, a culture is defined by Ishmael as, "A group of people living so as to make a story a reality."

What happens when a species takes as the premise of its story that the world was made for man? And what happens when a culture develops that is composed of people living so as to make that story a reality. It does what it wants with the world. If that species feels that it owns land, then it will claim it. If it claims it, it can do whatever it wishes with that land, and anything that used to live there just has to deal with it. So what if humans want Florida to become covered in pools and bars? It will mean that alligators will have to be killed, but what of it? We own the land known as Florida, we own the pools, the bars, and we own the alligators, they were all made for our benefit, so of course we'll do what we wish with them. If we want the Veldt to become a green, sterile lawn, then why the hell shouldn't it be one? If we want a lion for a pet, it's our right to put the great tawny cats in cages.

"...If a king comes to a city that will not meekly submit to his rule, what does he have to do?"(Ishmael, page 73) The answer is obvious enough. If the world was made for man, then it follows that man owns the world in which case man must be the ruler of the world. Another way to say this is that not only was it the god's intention to create the world for man, but it was also His intention to create man to rule over the world and the lower creatures. But as we can see, by the fact that man's rule has not been an easy one, the world refused to submit to god's plan for it. The crops that man planted, drought, insects, floods ruined. The walls that he built, the weather broke down. The orders he wrote, chance laid siege to. What does a king do when a whole world refuses his rule? He conquers it.

Now, we can articulate the premise of our culture's story better. It is, the world was made for man, and man was made to conquer and rule it. The problem with this premise is that by living so as to make it a reality, we really are conquering the world, and we are doing such a good job that if we don't stop soon, we are going to kill it. Why don't people riot in the streets when the hear about the rain forest burning, 90% of the large fish in the ocean dieing, storms that will get more deadly with each passing year, chemicals in our food and water and air that will kill us or make us glow or both. It is because they believe what they have been told.

They have been told a lie. The lie is that the world was made for man and man was made to conquer and rule it and that the price we've paid, the pollution, the destruction, the death of the only world we can survive on, was inevitable. It's what we've had to pay for indoor plumbing and microwaves. It's worth it. There was never any other option. This is what Humans were born to do, this is what we would have done no matter what, maybe we're flawed or maybe we're just stupid or evil or greedy or whatever, but no matter what, this is how things had to turn out. All this was just the price we've had to pay to fulfill our destiny.

"Would things have been this way if the world were made for jellyfish?... No, they wouldn't... Obviously not, if the world had been made for jellyfish things would have been entirely different... That's right, but it wasn't made for jellyfish, it was made for man... It's sort of a sneaky way of blaming the gods for everything. If they'd made the world for jellyfish, then none of this would have happened." (Ishmael, page 62)

The question then, is what is there left? If the story we are enacting is killing us, what can we do? Ishmael has some good news. If a whole species thought that the world was made for them, and that was the only story to enact, then we would be in trouble. Luckily for us, not all humans think the way that civilized people do. Scattered across the globe are the remains of native cultures, each one different from every other, some violent, some peaceful, all living in a way that is in harmony with the rest of the world. They are enacting a story as well, a story that does not cast them as the earth's enemies. Their story's premise can be articulated as this: man was made for the world.

What if every single plant, animal, stone and river was made for the world? What would you do if you knew for a fact that from the moment you were born, you were a part of a community. A community that relied on diversity for its survival. A community composed of other animals that were different from you, but also in some ways the same. A community in which there were laws as invisible and unbreakable as the law of gravity. What if the slime and amoebas lived, just to be alive, not as a stepping stone to some divine species? What if newts and frogs were alive simply to be newts and frogs? What if reptiles and mammals lived just for the sake of being alive in a part of a community? What if humans were just another species of animal, different, but not a pinnacle. What if there was something to come after man? What if there were lots of somethings to come after man?

This story talks about the world as if it were an apple tree. An apple tree can be said to grow apples, you could even say that an apple tree apples. Like a tree, the world grows people, or the world peoples. The apples belong to the tree that gave birth to them, they owe the tree everything. So too, the peoples belong to the earth, they owe everything to it. Just as there is no need for the apples to try to control the tree, or to conquer the tree, so there is no need for the peoples who enact this story to try to control the world, or to conquer the world. The tree gives the apples everything they need to survive, and in return, the apples hold within themselves the seeds of new trees which they will one day sow. The apples give themselves to the animals that need their flesh to survive and the animals give themselves to the soil at the tree's roots so that it may be left richer than it was before their deaths. So too, does the world care for her peoples. The world gives her peoples everything they need to survive. It feeds the lions and the zebra, waters the grass of the Veldt, sends fish to the alligator and insects to the fish, rain to one forest, fire to another, all to keep her children healthy and alive. The earth is old. The earth knows how to rule fairly. It does not need humans to rule, it needs humans to belong to it like every other animal.

"High overhead, moon and planets and stars swung in their long smooth curves. They had no eyes and they saw not; yet from the time when man's fancy first formed within him, he has imagined that they looked down upon the earth. And if so we may still imagine and if they looked down upon the earth that night, (when humanity disappeared) what did they see? Then we must say that they saw no change. Though smoke from stacks and chimneys and campfires no longer rose to dim the atmosphere, yet still smoke rose from volcanoes and from forest fires. Seen even from the moon, the planet that night must have shown only with its accustomed splendor-- no brighter, no dimmer."(Earth Abides, page 16)

The story we are telling by the way we live our lives will change. It must change. There is no alternative. "Peace will come, but whether of harmony or entropy I cannot say." (Unknown) Either humanity will kill itself, or the world will kill us, or we will redeem ourselves. If we kill ourselves, death will come in war. If the earth kills us, it will come in natural disasters. The earth will not let one species ruin eons of work. It is like a mother, it is hovering around us tapping its foot in the form of unseasonable frosts and huge storms, and it is glaring at our messy room and it is telling us that if we don't clean up after ourselves it will and if it has to clean things up we aren't goanna like how it does it. (anology by derrick jensen, i couldn't find the direct quote) In the long run, humanity's death will cause no more disturbance then the death of a fly. "Men go and come, but earth abides." (Ecclesiastes, I, 4)

"I consider myself answerable to -- responsible to -- the humans who will come after, who will inherit the wreckage our generation is leaving to them...I can sometimes lie to myself...But to them, to all of those to whom I hold myself responsible -- I could never lie. To them, and for them, I give my brightest, deepest truth." (Derrick Jensen, Endgame Volume I)

Author and activist Derrick Jensen takes the ideas presented in Ishmael a step further in his series of provocative non-fiction books. He takes us beyond ideas, beyond fiction, beyond civilization, beyond hope. Hope, he says, is what you do when you have no power over the outcome of a situation. You do not hope that you will take a breath, you take a breath. You do not hope that you will eat, you eat. You do hope that your crush has feelings for you, because you have no control over their feelings. When it comes to saving the world, there is no longer any room for hope. We no longer have the luxury to hope that someone does something. We cannot hope that things change. We cannot hope, we have to act. Now is the time to fight for our very survival as a species. Now is the time to write a new story, ten new stories, a million new stories for the people of our culture to make real by the way we live.

Evolution teaches us that there is strength in diversity, so diversify. Take as your premise, what if man belonged to the world? You write the rest. When you follow the path that this premise points to, you will know what to fight, what to strive for. Live this story if you have an earnest desire to save the world, and you will soon find that it's a lot easier, and a lot harder, then you ever imagined.

If man belonged to the world, then...


John Brady said...

Amazing, incredible and beautiful. A wonderful piece of writing, with amazing clarity. A great summary of "Ishmael" and the problem the world is in, as a direct result of all of our actions. An excellent call to arms to change things - for the better.


Curt said...


Yes, it is an amazing piece of writing. I just want to mention again that the second essay I posted was not by me but by Cassia Scarborough.

Thank you,