Friday, September 25, 2009

How Nothing Works

I've been reading Robert Bly's The Sibling Society and at the same time wondering why Ishmael had such an impact on me ten years ago. It always amazes how you can hold a question in your mind and answers to those questions pop out at you from all different kinds of sources. Take this quote out of TSS about breaking up tribal societies for instance:

"It's possible that American culture now exhibits many qualities we associate with a typical colonialist society. We now know from twentieth-century psychology, if from no other source, that, given the nature of human life, people and nations cannot practice destruction of tribal societies without having it come back on them.
When colonial administrators take over a tribal society, their first task is to prove to the indigenous people that nothing in their culture works. It is important also to prove that tribal ways, such as consensus, do not work, and the old ways of talking with the gods, the ways the shamans practice, do not work.
Ships, gunpowder, and armor overpowered the African tribes, and then Westerners, to secure the power, dismantled the elder system. Pg. 160

In Ishmael, and the rest of his work, Daniel Quinn simply pointed out ways that worked for human beings for hundreds of thousands of years. In other words, we dont have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding a better way to live, we have plenty of models to work off from.

That's one reason why I think Ishmael had such an impact on me at that time in my life. At 25 (Hell, at 7 or 8) I knew the world was messed up, and that's part of the reason I was feeling down all the time. Most of the advice and stories I was hearing from adults over the age of 50 wasn't wasn't enough for me, there were always a few missing pieces that I was looking for. Well, Quinn provided the missing pieces, atleast that's the way it looks so far.


Michael Levy said...

Yeah -- before I came to writers like Quinn and Jensen I failed to see the (obvious) possibility of living as indigenous people have for millennia. I had several times come to primitivism as the only/best solution, but my thoughts always went to "caveman" style living, which always seemed prohibitively unattractive. Why did I never think of indigenous style of living? Maybe because the dominant culture trains us not to look there. If cannot perceive the alternative that we are busy destroying, then we can't choose it as an alternative.

Curt said...


Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I hear what you're saying about "caveman" style living being unattractive. Looking back the first person that ever mentioned to me that we shouldn't be living this way was my grandfather. I was 13 or 14 than. In that conversation he mentioned that indians were living the way humans were suppose to be living. The second place was reading sections out of "The Tracker", by Tom Brown Jr. I was 15 or 16 then. After both of those occasions I still thought indigenous tribal peoples preferred our way of life over theirs. In other words, they were glad to see us bring them civilization. It wasn't until my midtwenties that I realized this was far from the truth.