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Invisible Success, Civilizations that Die or Quit and Memes We Live By; Transcript of an Interview with Daniel Quinn

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Rob Kall:   So, what was the message that you wanted to convey in this book, distilled from all of your research and reading?

Daniel Quinn   OK.  I guess I would say this: that Joseph Campbell is famous for saying that we have no mythology; and I challenged that in Ishmael, saying that we do have a mythology.  Not an anthology of Gods and Heroes; rather, it's the story about the world and our place in it.  And this mythology is that the world was made for man, and man was made to conquer and rule it.  The world is a human possession, something that belongs to us to be used as we please.  This is still more of the mythology: there is only one right way for people to live, and that's our way; and everyone in the world must be made to live the way we live.  This is something we've been pursuing for thousands of years.  A s we swept over the world, we arrived in a new world, and we found all these 'savages' living the 'wrong way.'  We told them very clearly that that is not the way God meant for people to live.  And they were misusing the land, so we took it away from them.  And, like Cain, we started tilling the soil, and killing off our brothers who did not measure up to our standards: killing them off, pushing them into reservations, things like that.  That's what we've been doing for centuries before that, and then we've continued to do it in Australia for example, and in Africa.  Turn forward, our message, that there is one right way to live, the way that humans were meant to live from the beginning of time.  We were meant to live this way.  Part of our mythology is that we are the apex of evolution, the very top. 

...we do have a mythology.  ......that the world was made for man, and man was made to conquer and rule it.  The world is a human possession, something that belongs to us to be used as we please.... that we are the apex...

Rob Kall:   Your book, Ishmael, gives a different message than what you just described is the message that is what you consider the myth of modern humanity.  What is the message that Ishmael gives?


Daniel Quinn   Well, it isn't a myth of 'modern humanity,' it's the myth that has driven us forward for thousands of years.  My message, I guess you would say, is: We should look at this mythology realistically, and think about our position in the world.  Are we really the rulers of the world?  Were we put here, assumedly by God, to rule the world?  Does that make sense?  We're behaving that way.  Do we really have the way that humans were meant to live from the beginning?  Is our the one right way?  Must everyone in the world be made to live the way we live?  We've done a very good job of making everyone in the world live the way we live.  But: look at where it's put us. 


I couldn't have said this is in Ishmael, but it was coming: here we are in the midst of what biologists are calling the sixth extinction, as catastrophic as the fifth extinction that destroyed seventy five percent [75%] of all species, including, of course, the great dinosaurs.  Because of our impact on the environment, it's estimated that as many as fifty thousand species a year are becoming extinct.  This is where our vision, our mythology, has taken us.  This is where our rule of the world has brought us.  That's my message, I guess.


Rob Kall:   And you've given this message in Ishmael, your book, in a way that is very engaging, and entertaining, and fascinating, which is not an easy thing to do.


Daniel Quinn   (laughs)


Rob Kall:   So I contacted you a few weeks ago, and I asked for an interview, and we went back and forth a bit, and you ended up sending me an essay that came out of our discussions - that you'd been mulling over and - that felt great!  You titled it The Invisibility of Success, and -- what's that about?  Can you talk about it?


Daniel Quinn   Yes, I will try to talk about it. First I have to talk about "The Invisibility of Success," what I mean by that.  When I was probably in my mid-teens, my older brother (who was then in college himself) said that he'd often wondered why it was that clouds - these big, solid objects in the sky -- what kept them up, why they didn't fall to earth like every other big, heavy object, solid object.  That sort of a question is the kind of question I've been asking ever since about the things around me: Why don't those clouds fall down? 

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