Monday, June 20, 2011

#171 / The Quinn Trilogy

I have now completed the basic Daniel Quinn trilogy: Ishmael, The Story Of B, and My Ishmael. I found these books provocative and well worth reading, but diagnosis, not remedy, is the main emphasis.

For instance, My Ishmael takes on education, and seems to imply that the elimination of all formal schooling would be a good thing. There is, however, no actual recommendation that this be tried. In The Story Of B, Quinn takes on irrigated agriculture, and he seems to imply that the elimination of irrigated agriculture would be beneficial. Nonetheless, despite the implications of his analysis, Quinn specifically disavows this as a recommendation.

In other words, while Quinn's critique of our current human civilization is blistering, no political or other specific program for change is suggested. In fact, it is Quinn's view, repeated several times in The Story Of B, that people who advance new programs to deal with real problems (but who don't propound any change in our current vision of the world) are bound to be ineffectual. Genuine change will come from people with a new vision, and no programs at all.

For Quinn, thus, "vision" is posited as ultimately self-executing. Quinn's obvious and commendable desire to "save the world," which is the explicit objective of "B," can be accomplished simply by articulating our situation in the way Quinn does in his books.

Maybe this technique will work. I would like to believe it will, but the test isn't in the analysis; it's in the results. As Karl Marx said, in his Theses on Feuerbach, "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."


  1. My understanding was that Quinn's purpose is to change the vision of who is the active agent in the global change and what is the scope of the constituency for consultation in the change process. It is this new vision of the nature of the agency and the recipient constituency that will be self executing and that will be likely to be our salvation.

    Of course, that constituency and agency is humans and other animals as a class. Ishmael is the symbol of our brother/sister in the expanding arc of justice and fairness that has developed over the last 4,000 years to include most humans. That arc leads toward justice for those included.

    It was for this reason that Quinn received the Turner Prize.

  2. "Where there is no vision, the people perish..."
    Proverbs 29:18.

    I do believe that renewing our understanding of who we really are as humans is vital, and Quinn provides magnificent assistance in his books. It is my thesis, however, that we truly do live in "two" worlds, and the problems we need to solve are found in "ours," the human world that we create. That means that we must change human behavior, not just human ideas. No change in behavior will occur without a new vision, but it is action upon the vision that will reconstitute our reality.

    I am always wary of any claim is that all we need to do is "know" the truth. The Quakers say we need to "do" the truth. Such was the point in my posting #171.


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