Takers and Leavers as Explained by Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael

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This will not be the normal Surviving Prepper post. I’m worried that it might not be well received. But I feel so strongly about the topic matter that I’m taking that risk. I recently read a book called Ishmael, and even before I finished it I felt a need to write about it. I hope this post will open some eyes. I hope it will make you think about the bigger picture. That’s a pretty big statement, but if you stick with me here you’ll learn that we’ve been lied to, and you might agree that the bigger picture holds a lot more to think about that you’ve ever realized.

Let me say now that there will be lots of SPOILERS in this post. You really can’t cover some of these ideas without giving away what the book says. But that’s okay, because this book isn’t about surprises, or plot twists. It’s a fairly methodical exploration of our society and how we came to be in the screwed up situation that we’re in. You will get the gist of the story and philosophy by reading this post. But the book goes deeper, explains more, and is well worth reading.

At the beginning of Ishmael we are introduced to a student and his teacher. The student is a man who has felt something missing in his life, for all of his life, and has spent a lot of time searching for someone to help him learn the answers to questions that he really can’t even formulate. He finds his teacher in the form of a — don’t abandon me here… just flow with me — he finds his teacher in the form of a telepathic silverback gorilla.

Yes. I did just say that he found his teacher, the one who will help him examine our society and how it came to be so terribly askew — in the form of a silverback gorilla who communicates by telepathy. I know the book already sounds weird, but once you get past that whole silverback gorilla thing, you see what a unique perspective the gorilla has when it comes to the history of human cultural evolution.

The gorilla guru’s name is Ishmael (hence, the title of the book) and he was pulled out of the jungles of Africa as a young gorilla for placement in a zoo and traveling side show in America. Think about the living situation of an animal in the zoo. They spend their time being gawked at by humans all day. And, on the other hand, from the other side of the glass, they watch people all day, too. And you might not think about it, but they learn from watching us. Ishmael spent much of his life watching, listening to, and learning from the humans that paid to have a look at him. Later in his life he was saved from the side show life by a wealthy man who recognized his intelligence, provided him a home away from prying eyes, and served as a source of nearly unlimited learning opportunities and mental stimulation in the form of books and conversation. So with that background out of the way, the real story starts.

Captivity

Ishmael spend most of his life in captivity, which he uses as an analogy for how modern man is captive in our society too. We are no longer self sufficient. We do not know the skills that kept our forefathers alive. We depend on the collective whole to provide for us. And this really isn’t news to most of us. It’s not that we are unaware. It’s just that the majority of us simply don’t think about it. In fact the “normal” person these days:

  • Spends their childhood in school learning to sit still, stand in line, and think inside the box
  • Spends their early adulthood in college/trade school learning how to fit into the workforce, and focusing on ONE career skill
  • Finds a job
  • Fights rush hour traffic in the morning
  • Works a minimum 8 hours a day for someone else’s profit
  • Fights rush hour traffic going home
  • Tries to raise a family the best they can in the evening
  • Hopes that the little they can put away for retirement is enough to provide them what they need to survive old age
  • Ends up working ten years more than originally expected before retiring
  • Never has enough free time with the ones they love

Sure, there are always people who live a different type of life from the one described above. But not many. Most people don’t have a choice. We are programmed into this way of life from birth because the hive — society at large — needs worker bees. This is how society is set up, and how people are conditioned to live. Our culture does not want individuals. Our culture wants trained workers who stand in line, take what they’re given, and don’t think for themselves. That’s practically a textbook definition of captivity. We’re not all that different from the animals kept in a zoo. Our cage is just a little bigger, and we’ve been conditioned to ignore the bars.

But how did we come to be this way?

Take it or Leave it.

Much of the conversation in Ishmael is focused on the concept of Takers and Leavers, dividing the human population into two categories: those who live in harmony with nature, and those who dominate it. The first group — those who live in harmony with nature — is referred to as Leavers because they leave the world as it is, and are content to live as a part of it. They don’t attempt to control their destiny any more than the monkey, or the wolf, or the raccoon tries to control theirs. The second group is referred to as Takers because they take what they want from the world, regardless of consequence. They slaughter mindlessly, and squander natural resources. They act as gods, above all the Earth and the creatures that live upon it.

You are a Taker. So am I. And — unless you’re an anthropologist who has done work with true hunter gatherer cultures — every single person we know… every single person we have EVER met… all of our ancestors going back thousands of years… they have all been Takers, too. People who have altered the land to live differently upon it — chopping down trees to clear land for farming and to make pastures for livestock, damming creeks and rivers for irrigation purposes, growing more food than we can eat and storing it away so that we can feed more and more and then even more mouths. People who have practiced (or relied upon) agriculture. People who have practiced (or relied upon) food preservation and storage systems. People who have practiced (or relied upon) food and supplies distribution. People who have engaged in constant and unchecked population increases. All of that is Taker activity. You may think that some (or all) of the above is necessary for human survival. But, is it really? Couldn’t humans survive without agriculture and food preservation? Most certainly. The only benefit of those has been unrestricted population growth. Overpopulation. We are crowding ourselves out of this world, and taking the planet down with us.

Fertile Crescent – The Beginning of the End

So, to simplify, let’s look at it this way; Takers are what we consider “civilized man.” (That’s us. We’ve been civilized.) Leavers are the hunter gatherer cultures that we consider “primitives.” (Think Amazonian tribes.) Early in human history, before man learned to farm, all people were Leavers. Today, Leavers are almost extinct and our overpopulated planet is swarming with Takers. But how and where did the change begin? It all started in the Fertile Crescent.

The Fertile Crescent is the region in the Middle East which curves, like a quarter-moon shape, from the Persian Gulf, through modern-day southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and northern Egypt. …the Fertile Crescent is regarded as the birthplace of agriculture, urbanization, writing, trade, science, history and organized religion and was first populated c.10,000 BCE when agriculture and the domestication of animals began in the region. – Ancient History Encyclopedia

Ishmael carefully points out that, back in the day, when the Leaver way of life was the only way of life, there was balance in this world. People, animals, and the Earth that provided for them were all in harmony. Leavers took only what they needed. Without waste or damage or pollution. Without overpopulation. Without consequential extinction of species.

But then change happened. Someone figured out how to farm, which reduced the need to wander and allowed people to settle in one place. But farming also meant a need for cleared land for cultivation. And as the ability to grow food led to a growing population, more and more farm land was required to feed those extra mouths–which meant displacing other peoples in order to obtain more land for more farming to feed more people. And so began the Taker culture.

Ishmael’s argument is that Takers are destroying the planet. He argues that back when Leaver culture was prevalent Mother Culture kept the planet systems in balance. The hunter/gatherer lifestyle involved killing only when hungry. You didn’t gather or kill more than you could consume. If there was drought, people would die. Just like the animals of the world. This was population control, the natural way.

But when the Takers settled down in one place, agriculture and the domestication of animals allowed populations to swell. Every year more and more land was set aside to grow crops for the rising population, displacing nomadic peoples and destroying the habitats of animals. Mother nature lost control of the planet, and balance went with it. Now man controls — or at the very least interferes with — Mother Nature. And no one is making sure that man does a good job of it. Governments and religions are not set up to make sure that it is done right. Organizations pop up to try to raise awareness of our wrongdoing, and providing options to live more in sync with Mother Nature. But no one cares. Well, I should say that not enough people care. The “treehuggers” that talk about change are largely ignored and even ridiculed. Not because they are wrong, but because their message is complicated, and inconvenient, and people don’t want to hear it. People don’t want to change.

Is the Leaver Life Possible Anymore?

The sad part is that it is almost impossible to revert to a Hunter/Gatherer way of life without significant, perhaps catastrophic societal collapse and rebuilding. It might be possible in remote parts of Africa, Alaska, outback Australia, or the Amazon jungle. But our world is just not set up for that way of life anymore. There are too many people to feed. We NEED agriculture to survive. Without it, our planet’s natural food resources would be stripped so thoroughly that natural recovery before human extinction would be next to impossible.

Overpopulation is the Underlying Problem

There are a lot of problems in our world today. But the one problem that outshadows them all is overpopulation. We have more people on this planet than Mother Nature can really handle. We have destroyed the forests and jungles of the planet so that we can grow more crops. So we can feed more people. Our need for technology and transportation is polluting the planet. Hell in some of the large cities in Asia the air quality is so bad that they wear masks to filter out the poisoned air that blankets the city. Every year more animal species than we can account for are eradicated. Extinct from the world forever. Mostly because they have no place to live anymore.

What can we do?

Now it won’t happen in our lifetime, but at some point in the future our planet will be completely covered with cities. The population will grow to the point that there will be no room for the woods and wildlife. No room for natural habitats. That might sound silly, and you can deny it as much as you want. But that is the direction we are headed. That’s not science fiction. It’s an eventuality. If we keep destroying natural habitats to turn them into areas for food production so that we can continue accelerated rates of population increase then we will… run… out… of… room.

Ishmael’s answer to this problem is education. But I think it needs to be more than that.

Question is what can the human race do to slow down or reverse the eventual destruction of our planet?

  • We could stop using fossil fuels. Right now we are making the Middle East rich by buying their oil because it is convenient and easy. We need to rebuild our electrical grid so that it is modern, and can utilize a solar infrastructure. Then we need to work hard to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy technology.
  • We could work toward establishing a societal norm that calls for smaller families. Gone are the days of high infant mortality rates and family farms that require many hands to operate. Families no longer need more children than parents. Two children in a family is enough.
  • We could make electric cars the standard instead of the exception. At one time California required all manufacturers that sold cars in the state to have at least one electric car. It brought about some great innovations and vehicles. But the oil industry squashed this. Companies like Tesla are producing amazing cars that will lead to more manufacturers doing the same.
  • Americans could eat less. We are a society of overweight and out of shape individuals. Our society pushes large portions and we feel that we need to eat it all and more.
  • We could change our work life mentality. Is working a typical 8 to 5 job really worth it? Can we do better with a non-traditional life focused on happiness instead of material “success?”

Wrap it up!

So what do you think? What can we do to save ourselves? Are we screwed? Ishmael was a real eye opener to me, and it made me think on a different level from my typical Prepper Fiction reading. Here is an amazon link to the buy the book. Ordinarily I am a huge audio book fan, but the audio book associated with this title is abridged and not nearly as powerful as the unabridged version of the book.

By |2018-10-26T08:54:57+00:00January 16th, 2018|Book Review, Mother Nature|4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Linda Gaines January 28, 2018 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Thanks for this article. I read Ishmael years ago and felt disturbed for so long. Unfortunately, the cares and worries of everyday life can crowd out that concern. Our hope to implement the “saving” ideas lies with our children. They need to be taught to think for themselves, not to just sell out and get a regular job, not to wildly reproduce themselves and to be more concerned about the health of the natural world and willing to protect it. As adults, most of us are already so caught up in the business of surviving that we can’t break out of that rat race. But young people need to be given ideas, such as Ishmael puts forth, to think about. Not just reading for entertainment. I too love a good prepper fiction book, but it feels good to think about other important issues. I will pull out my copy of Ishmael and reread it. Thanks.

  2. Chris April 24, 2018 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    We can live as Leavers in a modern world. Remember the law that separates the Takers and the Leavers. Competition is fine. Waging war is the problem. Live as you like as long as you’re not waging war on anything else. No downhill negative ripple effects on others as I would put it. It’s a great book.

    • Marc April 24, 2018 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks Chris. I was a huge Lou Ferrigno fan too!

  3. Nigel William August 10, 2018 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    That was principle-shaking arguments, Marc. But it would really raise the eyebrows of many ‘intelligent’ person. They might say people are well-above any animals that walk the earth, and being civilized is the product of our curiosity to seek answers to life’s infinite questions. Change is not a one-night process and turning back 360-degree to our supposed natural way of life is impossible. We have already been trapped in the Takers’ thinking that in this finite life, we must get the most out of it. It is the very reason why we try to make living easier by improving innovation and technology, without considering the underlying negative impact on the planet. Let’s just all be optimistic when the problems slap our faces, we will have something to deal it with. Thanks for this. I’ll surely get a hand on the book itself for more in-depth life realizations.

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