Friday, July 10, 2009

Is "Ishmael" a "Divine Primate"?

Daniel Quinn's wonderful books, including "Ishmael" have contributed greatly to my understanding of what humans need to change about our culture. I have also been influenced by contemporary writers like Thom Hartmann, Riane Eisler, Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal. Each has their own particular points of view and their own particular styles for presenting them.

My own peculiar "take" on human culture, which I refer to as "Divine Primates," does differ from Daniel Quinn's in that I strongly believe that we need to focus directly on human nature rather than blame our excesses solely on our cultural systems, or on the fact that humans shifted from being tribal nomads to farmers. I believe that our nature, as primates, will always challenge our cultural institutions and that our collective consciousness, like everything in nature, is cyclic. We come up with new cultural forms and they seem to work for a while, maybe even for generations. They may spread rapidly and seem permanent. Eventually, the institutions that evolve to protect those cultural forms become rigid as other forms compete with them and the status and power they bring to their leaders and insiders. Change happens. We mourn the "good old days" and eventually move on to a different mindset.

We can not blame human nature for anything because that only begs the question. But we absolutely need to recognize that we are imperfect beings, that we are largely irrational and that our egos wreak havoc on us and everything around us. The more we think we know - the less open we are to other perspectives and to adapting to change around us.

While I believe that human nature is the source of the problem, I also find it to be the solution. As we create cultures that serve us well (just as Daniel Quinn proposes), we will learn to live more sustainably and rationally. Yet, I also feel that we will not build sustainable cultures until we realize at a deep level that humans are not divine beings, nor vulcans nor computer-beings. We are quirky, stubborn, creative and inspired primates. As Desmond Morris, author of "The Naked Ape" wrote, he sees humans not fallen angels, but rather as risen apes. Indeed, we are, but please also consider the words of American Author and Actress Cornelia Otis Skinner,

"It is disturbing to discover in oneself these curious revelations
of the validity of the Darwinian theory.
If it is true that we have sprung
from the ape,
there are occasions when my own spring
appears not to have been very far."

I honor Daniel Quinn and his remarkable insights, persistence and cultural awareness. He is one of my heroes.