Daniel Quinn

American writer (1935-2018)
(Redirected from Ishmael (novel))

Daniel Clarence Quinn (October 11, 1935 – February 17, 2018) was an American author, cultural critic, and publisher of educational texts, best known for his novel Ishmael, which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991 and was published the following year.

Daniel Quinn (2013)



All quotes from the trade paperback edition, published in 1995 by Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-37540-7, 1st printing
All italics as in the book

  • In fact, of course, there is no secret knowledge; no one knows anything that can’t be found on a shelf in the public library.
    • Part 1, Chapter 1 (p. 5)
  • Five severed fingers do not make a hand.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 12)
  • People say that I’m sour and misanthropic, and I tell them they’re probably right. Argument of any sort, on any subject, has always seemed like a waste of time to me.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 28)
  • The Leavers and the Takers are enacting two separate stories, based on entirely different and contradictory premises.
    • Part 2, Chapter 6 (p. 42)
  • “As the Takers see it, the gods gave man the same choice they gave Achilles: a brief life of glory or a long, uneventful life in obscurity. And the Takers chose a brief life of glory.”
    “Yes, that’s certainly how it’s understood. People just shrug and say, ‘Well, this is the price that had to be paid for indoor plumbing and central hearing and air conditioning and automobiles and all the rest.’” I gave him a quizzical look. “And what are you saying?”
    “I’m saying that the price you’ve paid is not the price of becoming human. It’s not even the price of having the things you just mentioned. It’s the price of enacting a story that casts mankind as the enemy of the world.”
    • Part 4, Chapter 5 (p. 75)
  • The problem is that man’s conquest of the world has itself devastated the world.
    • Part 5, Chapter 1 (p. 80)
  • It’s pointless to argue with mythology.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 83)
  • There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 84)
  • We don’t need prophets to tell us how to live; we can find out for ourselves by consulting what’s actually there.
    • Part 6, Chapter 1 (p. 96)
  • The law we’re looking for here is much like that with respect to civilizations. It’s not about civilizations, but it applies to civilizations in the same way that it applies to flocks of birds and herds of deer. It makes no distinction between human civilizations and beehives. It applies to all species without distinction. This is one reason why the law has remained undiscovered in your culture. According to Taker mythology, man is by definition a biological exception. Out of all the millions of species, only one is an end product.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 102)
  • But, alas, a law is catching up to them. They don’t know such a law even exists, but this ignorance affords them no protection from its effects.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 108)
  • The gazelle and the lion are enemies only in the minds of the Takers.
    • Part 7, Chapter 2 (p. 117)
  • I no longer think of what we’re doing as a blunder. We’re not destroying the world because we’re clumsy. We’re destroying the world because we are, in a very literal and deliberate way, at war with it.
    • Part 8, Chapter 2 (p. 130)
  • Once you exempt yourself from the law of limited competition, everything in the world except your food and the food of your food becomes an enemy to be exterminated.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 132)
  • “‘Intensification of production to feed an increased population leads to a still greater increase in population.’ Peter Farb said it in Humankind.”
    “You said it was a paradox?”
    “No, he said it was a paradox.”
    Ishmael shrugged. “I’m sure he knows that any species in the wild will invariably expand to the extent that its food supply expands. But, as you know, Mother Culture teaches that such laws do not apply to man.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 133)
  • Increasing food production to feed an increased population results in yet another increase in population. Obviously it has to have this result, and to predict any other is simply to indulge in biological and mathematical fantasies.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 136)
  • Within your culture as a whole, there is in fact no significant thrust toward global population control. The point to see is that there never will be such a thrust so long as you’re enacting a story that says the gods made the world for man. For as long as you enact that story, Mother Culture will demand increased food production today—and promise population control tomorrow.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 137)
  • This is precisely how someone speaks who imagines that he is the world’s divinely appointed ruler.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 138)
  • You must face the fact that increasing food production doesn’t feed your hungry, it only fuels your population explosion.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 140)
  • If the will is there, the method will be found.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 140)
  • Obviously Mother Culture must be finished off if you’re going to survive, and that’s something the people of your culture can do. She has no existence outside your minds. Once you stop listening to her, she ceases to exist.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 144)
  • The world was not made for any one species.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 145)
  • Mankind was not needed to bring order to the world.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 146)
  • “Whenever a Taker couple talk about how wonderful it would be to have a big family, they’re reenacting the scene beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They’re saying to themselves, ‘Of course it’s our right to apportion life on this planet as we please. Why stop at four kids or six? We can have fifteen if we like. All we have to do is plow under another few hundred acres of rain forest—and who cares if a dozen other species disappear as a result?’”
    • Part 9, Chapter 15 (p. 181)
  • Adam wasn’t the progenitor of our race, he was the progenitor of our culture.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 184)
  • In order to make their story come true, the Takers have to put an end to creation itself—and they’re doing a damned good job of it.
    • Part 12, Chapter 3 (p. 239)
  • The premise of the Taker story is the world belongs to man.... The premise of the Leaver story is man belongs to the world.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 239; ellipsis represents elision of one sentence for the sake of continuity)
  • Of course it’s not enough. But if you begin anywhere else, there’s no hope at all.
    • Chapter 9 (pp. 248-249)
  • Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 249)
  • “One thing I know people will say to me is ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?’”
    “That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live—and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 250)
  • “The world of the Takers is one vast prison, and except for a handful of Leavers scattered across the world, the entire human race is now inside that prison. During the last century every remaining Leaver people in North America was given a choice: to be exterminated or to accept imprisonment. Many chose imprisonment, but not many were actually capable of adjusting to prison life.”
    “Yes, that seems to be the case.”
    Ishmael fixed me with a drooping, moist eye. “Naturally a well-run prison must have a prison industry. I’m sure you see why.”
    “Well…it helps to keep the inmates busy, I suppose. Takes their minds off the boredom and futility of their lives.”
    “Yes. Can you name yours?”
    “Our prison industry? Not offhand. I suppose it’s obvious.”
    “Quite obvious, I would say.”
    I gave it some thought. “Consuming the world.”
    Ishmael nodded. “Got it on the first try.”
    • Chapter 10 (pp. 251-252)
  • It should be noted that what is crucial to our survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself.
    • Chapter 11 (pp. 252-253)

All quotes from the trade paperback edition, published in 1997 by Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-37901-1, 1st printing
The chapters in the book are not numbered
All italics as in the book

  • Atterley’s message seemed difficult to summarize and was typically characterized as “mind-boggling” by those who were favorably impressed and as “incomprehensible” by those who weren’t.
    • “Friday, May 10” (p. 9)
  • Anyone who thinks the Church is open to new ideas is living in a dreamworld.
    • “Friday, May 10” (p. 10)
  • Programs are initiated in order to counter or defeat vision.
    • “Sunday, May 19” (p. 49)
  • I asked, “Is it so easy to change a cultural vision.”
    “The relevant measures are not ease and difficulty. The relevant measures are readiness and unreadiness. If the time isn’t right for a new idea, no power on earth can make it catch on, but if the time is right, it will sweep the world like wildfire.
    • “Sunday, May 19” (p. 50)
  • “Always has been my guiding principle for forty years to say ‘Never trust a Christian.’ Not once has ever Christian given me reason to change.”
    • “Sunday, May 19 (cont.)” (p. 55)
  • I closed my eyes and found the interior rooms of my head quite thoroughly deserted.
    • “Sunday, May 19 (cont.)” (p. 61)
  • “It doesn’t matter that everyone ‘knows’ the human race is three million years older than the cities of Mesopotamia. Every molecule of thought in our culture bears the impress of the idea that we needn’t look beyond the Mesopotamian horizon in order to understand our history.”
    • “Monday, May 20” (p. 76)
  • Modern humans have been around for two hundred thousand years, but according to to our beliefs, God had not a word to say to any of them until we came along.
    • “Monday, May 20” (p. 81)
  • Any culture will become an obscenity when blown up into a universal world culture to which all must belong.
    • “Monday, May 20” (p. 82)
  • “I guess this is what you mean when you say that if the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds. People with unchanged minds will say, ‘Let’s minimize the effects of pushing the button.’ People with changed minds will say, ‘Let’s throw the box away!’”
    • “Monday, May 20 (cont.)” (p. 94)
  • “Now, the way the Zeugen imagined it, the gods have a special knowledge that enables them to rule the world. The knowledge includes the knowledge of who should live and who should die, but it embraces much more than that.This is the general knowledge the gods employ in every choice they make. What the Zeugen perceived is this, that every choice the gods make is good for one creature but evil for another, and if you think about it, it really can’t be otherwise. If the quail goes out to hunt and the gods send it a grasshopper, then this is good for the quail but evil for the grasshopper. And if the fox goes out to hunt, and the gods send it a quail, then this is good for the fox but evil for the quail. And vice versa, of course.If the fox goes out to hunt, and the gods withhold the quail, then this is good for the quail but evil for the fox. Do you see what I mean?”
    “Of course.”
    • “Monday, May 20 (cont.)” (p. 96)
  • But when we look back beyond our agricultural revolution into the human past, we no longer understand what people had in mind. We don’t understand what they had in mind as they lived through tens of thousands of years without trade and commerce, without empires or kingdoms or even villages, without accomplishments of any kind.
    • “Tuesday, May 21” (p. 106)
  • The fundamental Taker delusion is that humanity itself was designed—and therefore destined—to become us. This is a twin of the idea that the entire universe was created in order to produce this planet. We would smile patronizingly if the Gebusi boasted that humanity was divinely destined to become Gebusi, but we are perfectly satisfied humanity was divinely destined to become us.
    • “Friday, May 24 (two A.M.)” (p. 129)
  • The God of revealed religions—and by this I mean religions like yours, Taker religions—is a profoundly inarticulate God. No matter how many times he tries, he can’t make himself clearly or completely understood. He speaks for centuries to the Jews but fails to make himself understood. At last he sends his only-begotten son, and his son can’t seem to do any better. Jesus might have sat himself down with a scribe and dictated the answers to every conceivable theological question in absolutely unequivocal terms, but he chose not to, leaving subsequent generations to settle what Jesus had in mind with pogroms, purges, persecutions, wars, the burning stake, and the rack. Having failed through Jesus, God next tried to make himself understood through Muhammad, with limited success, as always. After a thousand years of silence he tried again with Joseph Smith, with no better results. Averaging it out, all God has been able to tell us for sure is that we should do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. What’s that—a dozen words? Not much to show for five thousand years of work, and we probably could have figured out that much for ourselves anyway. To be honest, I’d be embarrassed to be associated with a god as incompetent as that.
    • “Friday, May 24 (two A.M.)” (p. 135)
  • What appears to be kind and is meant to be kind can be the reverse of kind.
    • “Friday, May 24 (two A.M.)” (p. 140)
  • The religions I just mentioned—the revealed religions—are fundamentally wed to our cultural vision, and I use the word wed advisedly. These religions are like a harem of sanctimonious wives married to a greedy, loutish sensualist of a husband.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 145)
  • “To you, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism look very different, but to me they look the same. Many of you would say that something like Buddhism doesn’t even belong in this list, since it doesn’t link salvation to divine worship, but to me this is just a quibble. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all perceive human beings as flawed, wounded creatures in need of salvation, and all rely fundamentally on revelations that spell out how salvation is to be attained, either by departing from this life or by rising above it.”
    “The adherents of these religions are mightily struck and obsessed by their differences—to the point of mayhem, murder, jihad, and genocide—but to me, as I say, you all look alike.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 148)
  • So, this is the Taker vision: The world was made for Man, and Man was made to conquer and rule it.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 151)
  • It has happened that a species has tried to live in violation of the Law of Limited Competition. Or rather it has happened one time, in one human culture—ours. That’s what our agricultural revolution is all about. That’s the whole point of totalitarian agriculture: We hunt our competitors down, we destroy their food, and we deny them access to food. That’s what makes it totalitarian.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 154)
  • Pursuing an evolutionarily unstable strategy doesn’t eliminate you instantly, Jared, it eliminates you eventually.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 154)
  • In spite of everything he said, I felt sure he was showing us that our population explosion is a social problem, like, say, crime or race schism. I failed to hear him say that our population explosion is a biological problem, that if we pursue a policy that would be fatal for any species, then it will fatal for us in exactly the same way. We can’t will it to be otherwise. We can’t say, “Well, yes, our civilization is built on an evolutionarily unstable strategy but we can make it work anyhow, because we’re humans.” The world will not make an exception for us. And of course what the Church teaches is that God will make an exception for us. God will let us behave in a way that would be fatal for any other species, will somehow “fix it” so we can live in a way that is in a very real sense of self-eliminating. That is like expecting God to make our airplanes fly even if they’re aerodynamically incapable of flight.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 155)
  • If the world is saved, it will not be saved by people with the old vision and new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with a new vision and no programs.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 155)
  • The important thing to note is that the vision grew out of the lifestyle, the lifestyle didn’t grow out of the vision.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 156)
  • If I were someone else, I’d try to console you with a fairy tale like the one they tell about Santa Claus every Christmas. I’d tell you that Mommy’s going to be taken up to heaven to live with God and the angels, and from there I’ll look down and watch over you. The truth is better than this—partly because it is the truth.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 159)
  • Unlike the God whose name begins with a capital letter, our gods are not all-powerful, Louis. Can you imagine that? Any one of them can be vanquished by a flamethrower or a bulldozer or a bomb—silenced, driven away, enfeebled. Sit in the middle of a shopping mall at midnight, surrounded by half a mile of concrete in all directions, and there the god that was once as strong as a buffalo or a rhinoceros is as feeble as a moth sprayed with pyrethrin. Feeble—but not dead, not wholly extinguished. Tear down the mall and rip up the concrete, and within days that place will be pulsing with life again. Nothing needs to be done, beyond carting away the poisons. The god knows how to take care of that place. It will never be what it was before—but nothing is ever what it was before. It doesn’t need to be what it was before. You’ll hear people talk about turning the plains of North America back into what they were before the Takers arrived. This is nonsense. What the plains were five hundred years ago was not their final form, was not the final, sacrosanct form ordained for them from the beginning of time. There is no such form and never will be any such form. Everything here is on the way. Everything here is in process.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (pp. 160-161)
  • “Would the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God have sent his only-begotten son to save those beetles and their household mites, Jared?”
    “But the god of this place has as great a care for them as for any other creature in the world. This is why I knew you could benefit from seeing those beetles yesterday. Those beetles are a manifestation of the gods’ unending abundance and a sign to be read by those who have eyes to read. I wanted you to see how the gods lavish care without stint on every thing: no less upon a beetle whose supreme achievement is burying a mouse than upon the brain of Einstein, no less upon a mite whose favorite dish is a fly’s egg than upon the eye of Michelangelo.”
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 162)
  • You don’t have to understand what you see but you must at least make an effort to see what you see.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 164)
  • “Nature is a phantom that sprang entirely from the Great Forgetting, which, after all, is precisely a forgetting of the fact that we are exactly as much a part of the processes and phenomena of the world as any other creature, and if there were such a thing as Nature, we would be as much a part of it as squirrels or squids or mosquitoes or daffodils. We are unable to alienate ourselves from Nature or to ’live against’ it. We can no more alienate ourselves from Nature than we can alienate ourselves from entropy. We can no more live against Nature than we can live against gravity. On the contrary, what we’re seeing here more and more clearly is that the processes and phenomena of the world are working on us in exactly the same way that they work on all other creatures. Our lifestyle is evolutionarily unstable—and is therefore in the process of eliminating itself in the perfectly ordinary way.”
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (pp. 180-181)
  • These caves aren’t art galleries or shamanistic temples, they’re schools of the hunting arts—the equivalent of one of our museums of science and industry.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 183)
  • All paths lie together like a web endlessly woven, and yours and mine are no greater or less than the beetle’s or the mouse’s. All are held together.
    • “Friday, May 24 (ten P.M.)” (p. 186)
  • I am at what seminarians used to call “the Company Farm,” which is where you go when you “need a little rest”—or a little vacation from booze—or the whispers about you and the altar boys are beginning to get a bit noisy. All the big orders have them, of course, some of them have several, thoughtfully specialized. Naturally they are not called penitentiaries anymore; nowadays they are called retreat centers.
    • “May 31” (p. 195)
  • “And you actually authorized his assassination?”
    The man shrugged. “You said it very well, Jared: These days are still those days. Nothing’s changed in the last five hundred years—or the last thousand—except that heretics cannot longer be executed in public. I take all this as seriously as Pope Innocent the Third, who ordered up a crusade against the Albigenses. I take it all as seriously as Pius the Fifth, who, when he was the grand inquisitor, personally instigated the massacre of thousands of Protestants in southern Italy. I take it all as seriously as Thomas Aquinas, who said, ’if ordinary criminals may be justly put to death, then how much more may heretics be justly slain.’ For Thomas well knew that the murderer just shortens his neighbors’ temporal life, whereas the heretic deprives them of eternal life. If you no longer understand the difference—or if it no longer matters to you—then I assume you’ve lost your faith.”
    • “Monday, June 3” (p. 204)
  • I left, and because it seemed like a good time to start being a little less incredibly trusting, I didn’t turn my back on him till I was outside with the door shut between us.
    • “Monday, June 3” (p. 207)
  • “The question is, can you do would B did?”
    “What exactly do you have in mind?”
    “You took in their insights, but do you have any of your own? Are you a thinker and a teacher or just a reciter of Holy Writ? If all you can do is chant the Scriptures, then you’re no more B than I am. You’re just an altar boy who has all the responses down pat.”
    • “Saturday, June 8” (p. 213)
  • What works, evidently, is cultural diversity. This should not come as a surprise. If culture is viewed as a biological phenomenon, then we should expect to see diversity favored over uniformity. A thousand designs—one for every locale and situation—always works better than one design for all locals and situations. Birds are more likely to survive in ten thousand nest patterns than in one. Mammals are more likely to survive in ten thousand social patterns that in one. And humans are more likely to survive in ten thousand cultures than in one—as we are in the process of proving right now. We’re in the process of making the world unlivable for ourselves—precisely because everyone is being forced to live a single way. There would be no problem if only one person in ten thousand lived the way we live. The problem appears only as we approach the point where only one person in ten thousand is permitted to live any other way than the way we live. In a world of ten thousand cultures, one culture can be completely mad and destructive, and little harm will be done. In a world of one culture—and that one culture completely mad and destructive—catastrophe is inevitable.
    • “Saturday, June 8” (p. 219)
  • The world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by new minds—with no programs.
    • “Undated” (p. 234)
  • It means I’ve been changed, fundamentally and permanently. It means I cannot be put back to what I was.
    That’s why I am B: I cannot be put back to what I was.
    • “Undated” (p. 235)
  • I wonder if you’ve ever considered how strange it is that the educational and character-shaping structures of our culture expose us but a single time in our lives to the ideas of Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Aristotle, Herodotus, Augustine, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Descartes, Rousseau, Newton, Racine, Darwin, Kant, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, Goethe, Freud, Marx, Einstein, and dozens of others of the same rank, but expose us annually, monthly, weekly, and even daily to the ideas of persons like Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and Buddha. Why is it, do you think, that we need quarterly lectures on charity, while a single lecture on the laws of thermodynamics is presumed to last us a lifetime? Why is the meaning of Christmas judged to be so difficult of comprehension that we must hear a dozen explications of it, not once in a lifetime, but every single year, year after year after year? Perhaps even more to the point, why do the pious (who already know every word of whatever text they find holy) need to have it repeated to them week after week after week, and even day after day after day?
    • “The Great Forgetting” (p. 239)
  • A few years ago, when I begin speaking to audiences, I have the rather naive idea that it would be sufficient—indeed entirely sufficient—to say each thing exactly once. Only gradually did I understand that saying a thing once is tantamount to not saying it at all.
    • “The Great Forgetting” (p. 240)
  • What was forgotten in the Great Forgetting was the fact that, before the advent of agriculture and village life, humans had lived in a profoundly different way.…Paleontology made untenable the idea that humanity, agriculture, and civilization all began at roughly the same time.
    • “The Great Forgetting” (pp. 244-245; ellipsis represents the elision of a paragraph of explanation)
  • Q. Wasn’t agriculture developed as a response to famine?
    A. Agriculture is useless as a response to famine. You can no more respond to famine by planting a crop than you can respond to falling out of an airplane by knitting a parachute. But this really misses the point. To say that agriculture was developed as a response to famine is like saying that cigarette smoking was developed as a response to lung cancer. Agriculture doesn’t cure famine, it promotes famine—it creates the conditions in which famines occur. Agriculture makes it possible for more people to live in an area than that area can support—and that’s exactly where famines occur.
    • “The Great Forgetting” (p. 257)
  • Totalitarian agriculture is based on the premise that all the food in the world belongs to us, and there is no limit whatever to what we may take for ourselves and deny to all others.
    • “The Boiling Frog” (p. 260)
  • Without a standing army, a king is just a windbag in fancy clothes.
    • “The Boiling Frog” (p. 263)
  • Crimes are what the state defines as crimes.
    • “The Boiling Frog” (p. 265)
  • In 1950 there wasn’t the slightest whisper of a doubt about this anywhere in our culture, East or West, capitalist or communist. In 1950 this was something everyone could agree on: Exploiting the world was our God-given right. The world was created for us to exploit. Exploiting the world actually improved it! There was no limit to what we could do. Cut as much down as you like, dig up as much as you like. Scrape away the forests, fill in the wetlands, dam the rivers, dump poisons anywhere you want, as much as you want. None of this was regarded as wicked or dangerous. Good heavens, why would it be? The earth was created specifically to be used in this way. It was a limitless, indestructible playroom for humans. You simply didn’t have to consider the possibility of running out of something or of damaging something. The earth was designed to take any punishment, to absorb and sweeten any toxin, in any quantity. Explode nuclear weapons? Good heavens, yes—as many as you want! Thousands, if you like. Radioactive material generated while trying to achieve our God-given destiny can’t harm us.
    Wipe out whole species? Absolutely! Why ever not? If people don’t need these creatures, then obviously they’re superfluous! To exercise such control over the world is to humanize it, to take us a step closer to our destiny.
    • “The Collapse of Values” (p. 278)
  • I’ve said that this new era of the collapse of values began in 1960. Strictly speaking, it should be dated to 1962, the year of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the first substantive challenge ever issued to the motivating vision of our culture.
    • “The Collapse of Values” (p. 281)
  • What is observed in the human population is that intensification of production to feed and increase the population invariably leads to a still greater increase in population. I’ve seen this called a paradox, but in fact it’s only what the laws of ecology predict. Listen to it again: “Intensification of production to feed an increase the population invariably leads to a still greater increase in population.”
    • “Population: A Systems Approach” (p. 296)
  • History—and not just thirty years of history but ten thousand years of history—offers no support whatever for the idea that we can simultaneously increase food production and end population growth. On the contrary, history resoundingly confirms what ecology teaches: If you make more food available, there will be more people to consume it.
    • “Population: A Systems Approach” (p. 302)
  • And of course I have to deal with the starving millions. Don’t we have to continue to increase food production in order to feed the starving millions? There are two things to understand here. The first is that the excess that we produce each year does not go to feed the starving millions. It didn’t go to feed starving millions in 1995, it didn’t go to feed the starving millions in 1994, it didn’t go to feed the starving millions in 1993, it didn’t go to feed starving millions in 1992—and it won’t go to feed the starving millions in 1996. Where did it go? It went to fuel our population explosion.
    That’s the first thing. The second thing is that everyone involved in the problem of world hunger knows that the problem is not a shortage of food. Producing more food does not solve the problem, because that’s simply not the problem. Producing more food just produces more people.
    • “Population: A Systems Approach” (p. 303)
  • When all else fails, it will be objected that the people of the world will not tolerate a limit on food. That may be, but it has nothing to do with the facts presented here.
    • “Population: A Systems Approach” (p. 304)
  • No one has ever specifically asked me what I have against birth control, but I’ll answer the question anyway. I don’t have a thing against birth control as such. It just represents a very poor problem-solving strategy. The rule in crisis management is, Don’t make it your goal to control effects, make it your goal to control causes. If you control causes, then you don’t have to control effects.
    • “Population: A Systems Approach” (p. 304)
  • It can’t possibly be said too often that there is no one right way for people to live; that’s only the delusion of the most murderous and destructive culture that history has ever produced.
    • “The Great Remembering” (p. 318)
  • The tribal life is precious because it tested out. For three million years it worked for people. It worked for people the way nests work for birds, the way webs work for spiders, the way burrows work for moles, the way hibernation works for bears. It doesn’t make it lovable, that makes it viable.
    People will also say to me, “Well, if it was so wonderful, why didn’t it last?” The answer is that it did last—it has lasted right up to the present moment. It continues to work, but the fact that something works doesn’t make it invulnerable. Burrows and nests and webs can all be destroyed, but that doesn’t change the fact that they work. Tribalism can be destroyed and indeed has largely been destroyed, but that doesn’t change the fact that it worked for three million years and still works today as well as it ever did.
    And the fact that tribalism works doesn’t mean that something else can’t work. The trouble is that our particular something else isn’t working—doesn’t work and can’t work. It bears with it its own seeds of destruction. It’s fundamentally unstable. And unfortunately it had to reach global proportions before the nature of its instability could be recognized.
    • “The Great Remembering” (p. 320)
  • You’re not surprised that natural selection has organized geese in a way that works well for geese. You’re not surprised that natural selection has organized elephants in a way that works well for elephants. You’re not surprised that natural selection has organized dolphins in a way that works well for dolphins. Why should you be surprised that natural selection organized people in a way that worked well for people?
    • “The Great Remembering” (pp. 321-322)
  • And conversely, why should you be surprised if the founders of our culture, having obliterated a lifestyle tested over a period of three million years, were unable to instantly slap together a replacement that was just as good? Really, the task was a formidable one. We’ve been working at it for ten thousand years, and where are we?
    The very first thing to go was the very thing that made tribal life a success: its social, economic, and political egalitarianism. As soon as our revolution began, the process of division began, between rulers and ruled, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, masters and slaves. The suffering class had arrived, and that class (as it would always be) was the masses. I won’t repeat a tale everyone knows. Just a few thousand years separates the bare beginning of our culture in rude farming villages from the age of the god-kings, when the royal classes lived in mind-boggling splendor and all the rest—the suffering masses—lived like cattle.
    • “The Great Remembering” (p. 322)
  • The world must live, the world must live! We are only one species among billions. The gods don’t love us more than they love spiders or bears or whales or water lilies.
    • “The Great Remembering” (p. 324)

All quotes from the trade paperback edition, published in 1998 by Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-37965-8, 15th printing
All italics as in the book

  • No story is devoid of meaning, if you know how to look for it. This is as true of nursery rhymes and daydreams as it is of novels and epic poems.
    • Chapter 6, “Meet Mother Culture” (p. 26)
  • Don’t make faces. It won’t hurt you to hear a new word.
    • Chapter 8, “Your Culture” (p. 43)
  • No two journeys are ever alike, because no two pupils are ever alike.
    • Chapter 8, “Your Culture” (p. 44)
  • I told him these numbers were hard to believe.
    “Do the arithmetic yourself sometime, then you won’t have to believe it, you’ll know it.
    • Chapter 11, “The Parable Examined” (p. 62)
  • People seldom look very hard for things they don’t want to find.
    • Chapter 11, “The Parable Examined” (p. 63)
  • Those who wish to imagine that God called every species to life in a final, changeless form are welcome to do so, but I’m incapable of embracing such a primitive scenario.
    • Chapter 12, “A Visit to Calliope” (p. 68)
  • They’re sure that there must be all sorts of things wrong with ever tribal way of life, and of course they’re correct—if you mean by “wrong” something you don’t like.
    • Chapter 14, “Intermission” (p. 95)
  • The schools are there to regulate the flow of young competitors into the job market.
    • Chapter 18, “School Daze” (p. 135)
  • Mother Culture’s deception here is that schools exist to serve the needs of people. In fact, they exist to serve the needs of your economy. The schools turn out graduates who can’t live without jobs but who have no job skills, and this suits your economic needs perfectly. What you’re seeing at work in your schools isn’t a system defect, it’s a system requirement, and they meet that requirement with close to one hundred percent efficiency.
    • Chapter 18, “School Daze” (p. 145)
  • By the simple act of being locked up, food was transformed into a product—the fundamental product of your economy.
    • Chapter 21, “Wealth, Taker Style” (p. 174)
  • A system based on exchanging products inevitably channels wealth to a few, and no governmental change will ever be able to correct that. It isn’t a defect of the system, it’s intrinsic to the system.
    • Chapter 21, “Wealth, Taker Style” (p. 175)
  • Six billion of you wake up every morning and start devouring the world.
    • Chapter 22, “Wealth, Leaver Style” (p. 185)
  • Of course, there is no one right way for people to live, any more than there is one right way for birds to build nests or for spiders to spin webs.
    • Chapter 23, “Less is Not Always More” (p. 188)
  • “This may be totally wrong,” I told him. “This may just be the simple truth, but this is what I hear: ‘sure, you can save the world, but you're really going to hate it. It's really going to be painful.’”
    “Why is it going to be painful?”
    “Because of all the stuff we have to give up. But as I say, this may just be the simple truth.”
    “No, it's not the simple truth, Julie. It's Mother Culture’s simple lie. Although Mother Culture is a metaphor, she really does behave uncannily like a real person sometimes. Why do you think she would tell this particular lie?”
    “She wants to discourage us from changing, I guess.”
    “Of course. Her whole function is to preserve the status quo. This is not a peculiarity of your Mother Culture. In every culture, it's the function of Mother Culture to preserve the status quo.”
    • Chapter 23, “Less is Not Always More” (p. 189)
  • That’s what governments are there for, to keep good things from happening.
    • Chapter 25, “Revolutionaries” (p. 212)
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