Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

I finally read this thing. It's about a gorilla and a guy who discuss how the world/environment got to be this way, and how we can save it.

In short: At the time of the agricultural revolution, people became able to decide which animals live and which die. And we developed external morality, which let us say "we *should* live and they *should* die." We're stuck in this pattern of living, running the planet into the ground, but that's our story and so we're going to stick to it. You can't just say "we're not going to do this", you have to replace it with something you ARE going to do.

Interesting. A couple questions I'm left with:
- is non-agricultural life really as nice as he says? You're really at nature's mercy. But I guess if that's woven into your culture, you're more okay with it, as opposed to us who fight death and disease tooth and claw.
- are you sure there's no actual goal that our civilization can achieve? For example, if there was some ultimate external good that came from Pogs, then the whole agricultural thing would be totally justified and great because it would be the best way for us to make a ton of Pogs. Less comically, maybe we post-agricultural "civilized" humans will achieve the Singularity, upload ourselves, and live a really utopian life. I'm not sure if we could get there without going through a few thousand years of miserable agricultural life first.
- he argues that we've taken ourselves out of evolution, and that really a lot of species are evolving towards self-consciousness if we'd just let them live. I hate when people say that we've taken ourselves out of evolution! Evolution just works differently now.

I kind of gave up on improving the whole world a few years ago, figuring I ought to improve myself first. Sometimes that (and my questions above) feel sort of like cop-outs.

At any rate, read this book! I quite enjoyed it. Quick read, too.

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