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Daniel Quinn

INTERVIEWEE: Daniel Quinn (DQ)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 20, 2003
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Karen Brewer and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2269 and 2270

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Boldfaced numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 20th, 2003. We’re in Houston, Texas, at the home and office of Daniel Quinn, who’s a philosopher and writer. He’s published over seven books and they deal with some of the most basic issues of agriculture, population and some of the threats that are facing the environment and the world. And I wanted to take this chance to thank him for taking time to talk to us.
DQ: I’m delighted to.
DT: Where did your intellectual adventure begin?
DQ: Yeah, it began so long ago that if you used the word environment—environmentalist no one would have known what you were talking about. If you used the word sustainable no one would have known what you were referring to. It actually started not with an issue about the environment or conservation or anything like that, but about what we teach our children in school. I was—in about 1961 I went to work for
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Science Research Associates where we were putting out a mathematics program beginning in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade and so on. You first—kindergarten and first grade came out the first year, second grade the second year and so on. And so I had the experience—we all remember what college was like. Some of us remember what high school was like, but very few of us remember what kindergarten, first grade and second grade were like. And so I basically went to school all over again and I was very struck by what I saw and struck by the strangeness of it. Strange to me, of course, wasn’t strange to—to other people but it was very strange to me. And I began to look into—began to think about why—why we send children to
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school and how school came to be in the shape that it is right now. This led me to many other things. One of—one of the great mysteries to me at the time was that I was certainly aware that children in aboriginal societies at the age of 13 or 14 are fully competent adults with survival value of a hundred percent, whereas in our own more advanced society, children graduate from school the average citizen at age the 18 with virtually zero survival value. I thought this was very peculiar and began to wonder why it was that we dismiss the first three million years of human history as of no interest and of no value; nothing there for us to learn. I found this—and—and that live—the lives
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lived during that time were of no value and I—this I found unacceptable. So I began to look into this question and look in—look back into human history and began to see that much of what we learn and teach our children is—is false. This—I was answering my own questions and went on in this way up into the mid 70’s. I was working mainly in educational publishing and had for some time been in the position to control the—the content of—of a major publisher. I mean—I don’t mean control in that complete
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sentence but I was able to influence it. And I though I would be able to begin to infiltrate some new ideas into the curriculum, but I soon realized that that was impossible because the educational publishers serve the schools, the schools tell them what to—what to put out period. And so I got out of educational publishing, started my own development company, and after about three years entering a lull I wrote a book, the first version of what was ultimately to become Ishmael, sent it off to a—to an agent. The—the biggest agent in New York at the time who wrote back and said well, this is—it’s certainly an interesting book, but it will never be published and I took his word for that and so started a second version. After a thousand pages I realized I was nowhere near getting where I wanted to get, which I didn’t know where I wanted to get really. So I threw away that
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thousand pages and started again on the third version. The same thing happened. Fourth version I did something entirely different. Some fragments of that book will be published probably next spring in a book called Tales of Adam. Sort of a novel but not—not really a novel, not—not a good enough novel to be published, so I put that aside and came out with a fifth version called The Book of the Damned, which since I was seemed to be unable to get to the end I said—said to myself that I would—I would simply publish it in parts and go on publishing in parts until I was—didn’t have anything more to say. And so I published it myself and it—it was quite an underground success in Santa Fe where—where I was living at the time, but I got to the end of part three and found I couldn’t come up with the part four. So I set that aside and started on version six, which was called
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Another Story to Be In. I finally had it if I only knew what I—what I had to do and I did finish that book and did have a publisher for it and we came—we had a disagreement and I’m very glad that he didn’t publish it finally. My agent in New York said basically you’re—you’re wasting your life. If it had been—if it were still the 70’s maybe this book would be published, but no one cares about saving the world now. No one cares about that anymore, that—that’s a dead issue. So I—I—it was quite a long book then, a hundred thousand words, so I cut it down to about 70 thousand words and tried to market it myself and found no interest, so that was version seven. And then we got news of Ted Turners, Turner Tomorrow Fellowship—Turner Tomorrow Competition where he was looking for novels offering solutions to global problems. By then everyone knew that
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there were global problems. When I began, no, except for, of course, Rachel Carson’s book that came out in 1960 – 61, something like that, and so I had Rennie, my wife, had been urging me for years to try writing the book as a novel and I had resisted the notion, one of many mistakes I’ve made in my life, thinking that no one would take it seriously if it was fiction, but if I was going to enter the Turner Tomorrow Competition it would have to be a novel. That was all they were looking at. And so I sat down to rewrite it as a novel and I said earlier books had had a teacher student dialogue in them. I said to Rennie what—what would you think if the teacher were a—were a gorilla and she said yeah, that sounds fine. That—and that’s the story of how—how it came to be that there was a gorilla in Ishmael.
DT: Was Rachel Carson an influence on you?
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DQ: Well, it was an influence on everyone, really. It—it brought the news, which was news at that time that believe it or not the earth cannot assimilate all the poisons that we give it. Until that time it was thought there was no limit. We could do anything. And with DDT, what she was showing was it doesn’t work. You can’t do it. So this was a revelation to everybody and, of course, this was certainly part of what I was saying in—in Ishmael and in all subsequent books is that one of—when I—when I got to another story to be—to be in I realized I was dealing with a mythology and that was what I devoted Ishmael to was an examination of our cultural mythology. John—who is the famous mythologist? John—he’s been on—he’s world famous.
DT: Joseph Campbell?
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DQ: Joseph Campbell, yes, had—had lamented the fact that—that we have no mythology. And so I was—I was really taking issue with him and saying oh yes we do, but it’s mythology that we don’t acknowledge and we’re not even aware that it is a mythology and that mythology is that the world was made for us. It belongs to us. It’s a human property and we can do whatever we want to with it. And that we were created to conquer and rule the earth. That’s our job. It’s part of our mythology that the world needs us and that we’ve done—we’ve done a great thing by taking it in hand and developing it. So he c—it was a mess. It was a jungle and so by humanizing it we have
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elevated it. God—God didn’t do a really top notch job with the world and he needed our help; this is part of our mythology. Another part of our mythology is that humans unaccountably are immutably, irreversibly flawed, which is of course a paradox because we are flawed, but it is our place to rule the world and we are its stewards though we are irreversibly flawed. And this excuses every—all of the mistakes that we make in ruling the world. It’s what you would expect, we’re flawed and so in Ishmael I examined all of this—this mythology of our culture.
DT: When you were working for this educational publisher you had confronted the editors and publishers and had trouble trying to change the traditional education that young children were getting. Is that fair to say?
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DQ: Okay, I was in charge of—I was the head of the editorial department at SVE, The Society for Visual Education, which is owned by the Singer Corporation, and what I was doing was putting out big multi media supplementary packages with film strips, audio tapes, board games, floor games, work books, puppets, whatever—whatever was needed to—to accomplish the objectives that we—we set for ourselves. And this is funny, that some—some of the—some teachers were actually worried because the kids were having too much fun. It was—it was my strange philosophy that children would learn more if they enjoyed themselves, but they—they wanted it—they were—they wanted something a little—a little less fun than what I was producing. Ev—eventually we—we got a new
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president who knew nothing about education at all. He was simply a—a bean counter and he knew that he was only going to be there for a short period of time. And one day he came to me and said Daniel you’re making the material too good. It doesn’t have to be that good because kids can’t tell the difference. I—I knew my career in publishing was over at that point. What he meant, of course, was I’m going to cut your budget. They were tremendously successful. They made a lot of money for the company and by—but by cutting the—my budget he was going to produce a little bump in profits, which would look good on his record and he was gone in a years—year or so.
DT: Is there something that you can point to in the educational books and game and puppets that would have made children more cultural survivors?
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DQ: Yeah, well, yeah, I—I couldn’t have put anything—anything completely overt into—into the text. It was—it was going to be—it was really more shading the material the way I wanted it and after all I was still far away from the vision that would inform Ishmael. So I wasn’t really ready to—to do—but—to do what I wanted to do, but I—I realized finally that that was not the place for me, that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do there though I didn’t know exactly what I did want to do. I was still a young man then.
DT: Let’s jump ahead talk about the vision that did from Ishmael.
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DQ: Yeah, yeah, yeah it—oddly enough the—the question the people usually ask is why a gorilla, whereas the relevant question is why not a human? And the—the fact is that if I’d used a human nobody would have paid the slightest bit of attention and there would have been no impact on readers. The fact that it was a member of another species is what made it count. He was—Ishmael was a spokesman for the rest of the living community trying to let us see how we would be seen by the rest of the living community if they could see if they were intelligent.
DT: It’s like putting a mirror up to ourselves.
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DQ: Yeah.
DT: And what do you think this mirror has shown?
DQ: Well, as I say that one—one further part of our mythology is that humans were born to be agriculturalists and civilization builders. This arise—arose among us because of something that in The Story of B called The Great Forgetting. Between—when our—our ag—agricultural revolution began about ten thousand years ago. Another five thousand years passed before anything like civilization began, before literacy appeared and during that five thousand years, of course, it was completely forgotten among the
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people of—of the civilized world. Europe and the Near East was completely forgotten that we had a different past. As far as they could tell humanity could be traced back to the birth of agriculture and the birth of civilization. So as far as they could see humans were born agriculturalists and civilization builders. They were completely unaware that another three million years of human life lay back there. This—they were unaware also that the—the earth had been round for billions of years and that the rest of the living community had been round for billions of years. In—in the Judeo Christian part of the mythology it all happened at once, virtually, everything came into being in its final form and there was man. And so there was no idea that we had been preceded by life for
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billions of years, hundred of millions of years. These are the things that Ishmael wanted to try to make his pupils see and see what their importance was.
DT: Can you discuss the story of Cain and Abel and how that might have been part of this agricultural revolution that you’ve been speaking about?
DQ: One of the things that I noticed early on or that came to my attention early on was that the agricultural—agricultural revolution, the birth of what we consider agriculture, occurred at the same time arguably and in the same place as the birth of agriculture as described in Genesis. The difference is that in Genesis—in the Genesis story agriculture is portrayed as a punishment and so I said, why is it there portrayed as a punishment, whereas in our own culture it is portrayed as our greatest triumph as the beginning of all
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of this wonderful stuff. So very—it’s—it’s our greatest blessing, instead in Genesis it’s a curse. And so I began to evolve a theory that this being the case, isn’t it likely that the story belonged not to people of our culture but to people of a different culture, entirely having a complete—completely different view of the world. Of course this is—that story is followed by the story of Cain and Abel, which has always been the great mystery to people. Cain is a tiller of the field and Abel was a herder. And God accepted Abel’s gift, but rejected Cain’s. Why? Again, that—perhaps this is another indication that this—this story is—is being told from an entirely different point of view. It was being told, of course, by the—by an ancient Semitic people. Okay, who were they? They were the
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people who lived just south of the land where agriculture began, which was among the Caucasians. What happened among, as always happened among us is that we grow more food than we need. We want a surplus. We must have a surplus in order to start a village, for example. And because we have a surplus our population grows and therefore we must increase food production. In order to support this increased growth and in order to support that increase in population we have to extend our—our agriculture rep—production again and so on and so on. We’ve been doing it for ten thousand years. So it was inevitable that the—the people among whom agriculture began, I call it totalitarian agriculture because agriculture has been part of every society probably for hundreds of
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thousands of years to a c—certain extent. So it was inevitable that these people were going to come up against the Semites and want their land. And the—my suggestion—my theory is that the story of Cain and Abel originated among the—among these ancient Semites who portrayed themselves—thought of themselves as Abel and that Cain had come to them knife in hand to water his fields with their blood just as we came to North America and watered our fields with the Native Americans—the blood of the Native Americans who were here. And what they did was to try and figure out, and of course this is over a long period of time, the agricultural revolution was probably hundreds or even thousands of years in—in the past, the actual beginning of agriculture. So they—
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they tried to imagine what had happened to turn their neighbors in the north into these people and they came up with this story. These people think that they have the wisdom to rule the world. They are as wise as the gods. They think that they have eaten at the god’s own tree of knowledge, which is the knowledge of good and evil. What does—what does that mean? Everything that the gods do is good for one but evil for another. It’s inevitable no matter what they do. It’s good for one but evil for another. If the fox goes after a pheasant and catches the pheasant this is good for the fox but bad for the—for the pheasant. If the pheasant escapes and flies away then this is good for the pheasant but bad for the fox. You can go to anything and—and see it this way. And that—by
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eating at the gods own tree of knowledge they won a punishment, which was that they would now have to live by the sweat of their brow and grow their own food. That’s what happened to Adam. God said from now on you will live by the sweat of your brow and you will no longer live in Eden, which is where all the food is—is already grown, you see, and that’s the way—that’s the way aboriginal peoples have always lived. They’ve just taken what’s there. You don’t have to work for it. This is probably the—when people speak of any specific part of Ishmael, cite any particular part that’s of importance to them they usually talk about this exploration of the story of the fall and the story of Cain and Abel.
DT: Can you go into this idea of The Great Forgetting that you mentioned earlier?
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DQ: Well, the story of—of the fall and of Cain and Abel, of course, I wouldn’t say they were forgotten. They are probably the most universally known stories in the world. So I’m not quite sure what you mean?
DT: I would say that the forgetting of this alternative…
DQ: Oh yeah, well that would certainly account for the fact that the people of our culture have never been able to figure out what—what the stories are—what they mean? What is this tree of knowledge of good and evil? What’s wrong with the knowledge of good and evil? We have the g—knowledge of good and evil. Why, you know, why would God
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forbid us this knowledge? It doesn’t make any sense. So for most people that is well, God had to forbid man something and—and just to test him and so he arbitrarily picked this one tree and said you shall not eat—eat of this tree and so it was just an act of disobedience for which he was punished. Not—not realizing that three million years of history—human history existed before Adam. Adam was the first man, so they couldn’t really—they didn’t have the intellectual—oh, they didn’t have the information to be able to read these stories this way. I was going to say something else but I can’t think of it.
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DT: Was it the situation where the conquering culture usually tells the history?
DQ: That’s certainly part of it. We having become the conquerors of the world tell the story of history our way. It all began with us. Oh I guess there—there was three million years of human history before that but that was nothing. Nothing was achieved. It was a miserable life, dangerous life, hard life and that’s what our children are learning in school. They also learn that yes, it was three million years of history but about ten
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thousand years ago humans gave up living like hunters and gatherers and began growing their own food. I’ve seen this in history books. I’ve seen it—I’ve seen his—historians quoted as s—saying virtually this and of course it’s ab—absolutely a lie, completely false. Humanity did not give up hunting and gathering life ten thousand years ago. We did and the rest of the world went on just as before as—as we found when we got to the new world. It continued all over the world.
DT: Perhaps you could give some examples of how Abel’s culture did survive into modern times?
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DQ: Oh well, we’ve pretty well extinguished them but—by now but certainly the—everyone who lived on the continent of North America and South America a part from, you know, two or three civilizations—small civilizations that were down there were living in a way that was completely different from ours. Hunting and gathering was the common life in—in the Americas in the new world. It was the common life in Australia, New Zealand and, of course, it can still be found there or there are still people living—I call them the leavers—leave it—leaving as leavers in—in the interior of New Zealand and the interior of Brazil and so on. But they’re m—very much beleaguered, of course, at this point.
DT: Can you describe a little bit more about these two terms you often use, the leavers and the takers
DQ: Yeah, I—I often regret having—having invented them because people have often converted them into meaning something that I—I don’t mean. Often convert them into good people and bad people. Takers are bad people and leavers are good people, which of course is not what I meant at all. I didn’t—I wanted an—an alternative to civilized and savage, you know, because I—I—we civilized people are far more savaged than—than any savage. I wanted—I didn’t have a good term so I invented two terms and the meaning of the terms is this that leavers are those who leave their hand—their g—their lives in the hands of the gods and take what the gods provide and takers are those who
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t—have taken their lives into their own hands because their own hands are much more trustworthy. If they can grow their own food then they control their lives and so that’s the meaning of the terms. The taker phenomenon spread from the Near East in all directions and eventually as I say eventually reached here in the 15th century, but always with the same character with the belief that all the food in the world belongs to us and if we—we won’t share it with our competitors we would—we kill them off, which is something that leavers never do. They don’t have to. Whereas we want to exterminate all the creatures who would eat our food, this is—all belongs to us.
DT: Can you help us understand the spread of the taker culture maybe with a few examples of confrontations between takers and leavers?
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DQ: Well, so much of it took place before history—before written history began and it’s—it’s impossible to describe it in detail, but other than to say that it moved—the revolution moved upward into Turkey and—and then westward into Europe and further to the East into India and China and from, of course, Europe it moved into the new world.
DT: Describe some of the changes in population that were furthering this spread.
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DQ: What changes do you mean?
DT: The growth that you’ve often pointed out.
DQ: Just as—as now when places get crowded people move to some place where it’s less crowded and—and then—and that they continue to grow because they continue to grow more and more food. This is—is—any species—this will—will happen to any species. Any species is controlled by food availability. The population of any species is controlled by food availability. Every hunter knows this. Every farmer knows this. If there—if there’s less food for the deer there are fewer deer. They don’t—they don’t
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necessarily starve to death, but life becomes less easy when there is less food. They have less time to devote to finding mates, to caring for the young, to less time—have to spend more time looking for food and so on. And as—there’s a constant cycle of predation so that if—if the—there are a lot of wolves in the forest then the—the deer population is going to go down and as the deer population goes down then the wolf population is going to go down and—and as the wolf population goes down then the deer population is going to begin to rise again and then the wolf population is going to begin to rise again. And so you have this constant tracking of—of population, but we have of course have eliminated all of—all those who pr—prey on us for the most part. And we keep increasing our
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own—increasing the availability of food to ourselves and just like any other species if more food is available there will be more members of that species, but many people will deny this of humans because we’re different.
DT: Can you help us understand why people are somehow biologically different and don’t have population dynamics that are similar to wildlife?
DQ: I can’t—I can’t explain that one. It is—it is so deeply rooted. I mean there are—I work with a conservation biologist, Alan Thornhill, who’s the head of The Society for
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Conservation Biology, and we have done many presentations together. Did a video on this subject together and it’s astounding to learn that many of his own colleagues dispute what we’re saying. Even they think that we’re special and that the—the—the dynamics of population growth and decline don’t apply to us. We will g—there is—there are people who will think that w—our population will go on even if we don’t make more food. It’ll continue to grow even in the absence of more food. I say to them what—what do you make people out of? If you’re going to make more people what are you going to make more people out of? Air? Shadow? Wind chime? It’s got to be—they’ve got to be
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made out of food. If you’re going to have more people you have got to have more food. They—they—they just—this is really a hard—a hard nut to crack. People just—it’s so deeply engraved in them it—it terrifies them. I—and I was—one night a woman, we got into this at a—after a book signing or presentation of some kind and one woman got up and said you are the most disgusting person I have ever known and walked out. It—it was some how an insult to her for me to say these things.
DT: What do you think the offense is?
DQ: Denial of our specialness, of our posture at the top of creation. After all, as—another part of our mythology is that creation came to a conclusion with us. When we
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were created what else needed to be created? It was done and that it was all over then and so we—we were the—we were what everything was working toward was us. And I’m attacking our specialness and our—our place in the hierarchy of—of life.
DT: We were talking earlier about population and some of the challenges and questions that you’ve gotten from traditional thinking when you’ve discussed your ideas about population growth and what’s fueling it. Perhaps you can discuss that and compare your attitude to Malthus or some of the more conventional views.
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DQ: Yeah, Malthus is still in favor, of course, he has not been—no one, you know, in the—in the general scientific population and many people have said well, you know, Malthus has already said all this. And it took—it took me a little while to figure out that—that it was not at all the case, that Malthus and I are really saying exactly the opposite thing. Malthus was saying that population growth drives food production and so eventually the population is had—will have to collapse because we’re not going to be able to produce enough. And I’m saying exactly the opposite, that food production drives
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population growth and we are going to keep on growing more and more food until it’s just not possible to grow anymore food and then, of course, our population will level off or a—or possibly be in d—decline because we will have done so much damage to the earth that it won’t be able to produce as much food as it did. One—one of the main arguments is that we must grow more food because of the starving millions and this is—this is—mystifies me because everyone knows that all levels of the population grow if there are—if ten percent of the pop—of—of the pop—population of three billion were
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starving ten percent of the six billion are going to be starving and growing more food for them doesn’t do any good because it doesn’t reach them and it—it doesn’t reach them because the trains don’t run that far or the ships don’t land to those ports. It doesn’t reach them because they’re poor. There are no starving rich people in the world.
DT: It’s a problem more of food distribution than food production.
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DQ: Food distribution in the sense of having money in your pocket to buy it. If you’ve got—people—people who have money in their pocket are not hungry. It’s poor people who are starving. Always has been and the poor are not disappearing. Growing more food doesn’t help them. All it does is make more of us and more—more of the—more people who are more affluent. Our population grows and the population of the poor grows as well.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about the dilemma of famine in North Africa succeeding on a lot of Peace Corps efforts and so on to increase food production in those areas and supposedly alleviate starvation.
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DQ: Yes, well, we have helped them. Well, for hundreds of thousands of years the population of—of Africa was in complete balance with their environment, of course. What we did was to help their—help them grow their population. Now they’re no longer in balance with their en—environment and so—and so they’re—they’re starving. Now we supposedly we send them food, which keeps their population high and therefore perpetuates the problem of—of starvation, but of course we must send more food and we owe it to them. We—I mean I’m talking again of mythology of that—that we—it would
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be terrible for us to allow them to go back to a population level that they can actually sustain themselves. And in fact this is—this is a very risky policy for us—for us to be feeding the rest of the world because what’s going to happen if ever we need that food for ourselves, what’s going to happen to those populations then?
DT: You’ve often written that you’re not in a position to let people starve or allow them to starve and that we’re sort of promoting ourselves in a sort of godlike role of…
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DQ: Exactly, yeah, yeah that people say that to me. We can’t let them starve as though we were God, but God let’s them starve, you know, I’m afraid that’s the truth.
DT: What do you say to those who might criticize you know within an effort to withhold food by saying well…
DQ: Not withholding it. I’m just not sending it.
DT: Yeah.
DQ: I shouldn’t have…
DT: Well no, that may be the answer, but I could see critics saying that well this is a problem that we’ve engendered and you know these folks are now dependent on the food supplies from our surplus.
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DQ: They are, yeah, for sure.
DT: Do we abandon them now?
DQ: We can abandon them now or we can abandon them later. I m—we are going to have to abandon them eventually because our own population is growing and our own resources are being used up and right now we are eating petroleum. All of—all of the
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food that we are growing for ourselves is being grown with machinery that depends on petroleum. There aren’t—there aren’t horses and—and hand held plows out there anymore growing all this enormous amount of food. It’s all being grown with petroleum and God help us when that petroleum runs out.
DT: Maybe you can talk about this insight that you’ve had that agriculture produces a net loss of calories to make a calorie of food.
DQ: Oh yes.
DT: How does that work?
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DQ: It works because we use up so many calories to—to produce it. I mean if—if you start, you know, right at the beginning at—at—at the birth of—of agriculture it was—it is harder to—it’s much harder to plow a field, sow the whatever, harvest the whatever, store the whatever than it is to go out and—and pick it up. Obviously, it takes more calories to do that. But the amount of calories that go into producing a can of peas is far more than
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are contained in the peas. The—consider the—all of the processes that must go into it. All of the machinery that—that must be in—involved in the making of the metal for the cans, the manufacturer of that cans, the shipping of the cans, all the stocking of the cans on the shelf. All that adds up to enormously more than the value—than the calories in the—in the—in the can itself.
DT: What subsidizes this deficit of calories and energy?
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DQ: Money.
DT: Money that’s generated outside of agriculture.
DQ: Well, inside and outside and obviously the manufacturers of those cans are making money. I’m not quite sure I’m—I—I may not be with you on this.
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DT: Well, I think you were saying earlier that it’s fossil fuels that subsidizes 90 percent of calories that are required to make the can and fuel the tractor to make those peas that provide only 10 percent of the calories that’s in that can and peas. Is that accurate?
DQ: Yeah.
DT: Why is there this appeal over the last ten thousand years for agriculture? It seems like a harder road to hoe.
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DQ: It is a harder road to hoe, but of course the—the benefits accrue pretty quickly and there are certainly—there are obviously benefits. When you begin to grow your own food and produce surpluses you can settle down and have yourself a village. And before long a number of things begin to happen and you get division of labor, you get specialists, you get potters and metalsmiths and—and leatherworkers and so on and you get writing and arts and so on. You begin to get civilization in other words. But the point I tried to make
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in Ishmael is that it strikes us as very mysterious that so many civilizations have been abandoned, and it doesn’t strike me as mysterious because these people as I talk out in—Beyond Civilization is that every civilization is hierarchical. You have a few at the top who live luxury—lives of great luxury and you have the middle class that lives well and then at the bot—at the base you have the suffering masses. And what has happened in all of these abandoned civilizations I suggest is that people got sick of it and walked away because there was—they knew exactly what—what the alternative was. They didn’t have to go on being s—suffering masses. They were benefiting those people at the top and
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usually they—they left it—left the—what they left behind was mostly in ruins. They destroyed it. They didn’t—and it looks like a revolution to me and they went back to living the way they’d been living for hundreds of thousands of years before that. But they can’t—this—this—people think this is very strange because one—one of the—one of the key elements of our culture is the notion that this is the way that humans were meant to live from the beginning. It may not have been in the way they were living from the beginning. This is the way they were meant to live. And we must keep living this
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way no matter what, even if it kills us, even if we destroy the world. We must go on living this way because this is the way people are meant to live and we must make everyone in the world live this way.
DT: There’s an inevitability to it.
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DQ: Yeah.
DT: Can you give us some examples of cultures that abandon this hierarchical intensive agriculture approach?
DQ: The May—Mayans, the people of Teotihuacan. I don’t have the other names on the tip of my tongue.
DT: The Anasazi or Hohokam?
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DQ: The Hohokam, yeah, the Anasazi. What people will note is that it’s evident that there was s—s—some degradation that the environment around the Anasazi and they s—and they used that to explain why they quit, but there’s been degradation of the environment around us all the time but we haven’t quit. We can’t quit because this is the way people were meant to live. The Anasazi never had such an idea. They knew that there was no necessity to live this way. When—when they began to find it harder and
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harder to make a living doing what they were doing they quit because they knew there was another way. We can’t quit because we don’t know another way. We certainly are not going to go—go back and live in caves are we? As I always say no, we’re certainly not going to do that. Can’t get—six billion people can’t do that and there’s—no that’s not possible.
DT: Does it just slowly kind of come apart in bits and pieces too slow for anyone to notice in any single generation or century?
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DQ: Well, another—another aspect of our culture is the belief that everyone else should be made to live this way. This—this is a key factor in our expansion. The Maya, for example, did not have this notion so they didn’t take over the western hemisphere. They had plenty of time to. They could have. They didn’t. It didn’t occur to them that they should make everyone around them live that way, so they—they stayed where they were. And but—we because when we got here to the new world we didn’t say wow, this is really not a cool place, these people are happy, they, you know, they seem to be healthy
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and everything, we’ll just leave them alone. Oh no, no, no, we came and said you’re going to live the way we live and if you don’t we’ll kill you or h—herd you on to the reservations. We wiped out—no one has—many arguments about how many—how many—what the native population was, but it was certainly many, many, many, many millions who would not live the way we wanted them to live and whose land we wanted for our own expansion. I mean you just have to think that 500 years ago the European population on this—in the new world was hundreds, now it’s three hundred million. It got that way because we said we want this land and we took it.
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DT: And the goal wasn’t just conversion, but…
DQ: Well, the—the—the notion comes from the necessity. That is we believe that everyone must be made to live this way because it’s the best way to live because that way we get their land. So it’s—it’s a rationalization that—that we elevate into—into a piety. We’re—the world is better off without all these forests. It’s being put to—to good use now. The land was not being q—put to good use when we arrived and—and this—it was a pious act to put—put it to the plow.
[End of Reel 2269]
DT: We were starting to touch on the impact of what population growth and the extension that agriculture might have on the rest of the community of life and you had an interesting insight about the exchange of pounds of human flesh for the biomass of many forms of wildlife. Can you try and explain what you mean by that?
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DQ: Yeah, to begin with the—the biomass of—of the planet is more or less a constant in any brief period of time like a hundred years or a thousand years even. And we—we cannot increase the biomass of the planet because there’s only so much sunlight that falls on it and we can’t increase that. We can decrease the biomass of the planet, however, it’s called desertification. When we—when we create a desert when—where there was no desert then, of course, we lose biomass. This is—people don’t—this is a new and startling idea to people as well because they think—they like to think of the earth as being unlimited, having no limits, but there is only so much biomass. And when we go into a jungle and burn it down to put it to growing potatoes or lima beans or something like that we destroy the biomass of all of the species that were living there. It’s—it’s
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gone and by planting our food in it—in the place of all of those creatures what we’ve done is trade their biomass for our bio—biomass. That is we have put their biomass into—into food for us and so in affect we are taking—we are converting the biomass of the world into human biomass. We’re at a period of mass extinction and this is the cause of it. I—I should have this at the tip of my tongue, but I—I know that there is such thing as background extinction which goes on all the time. There are always species that are going out of existence and—and species coming into existence, but right now the extinction rate is thousands of times higher than the background rate. In other words, we’re in a period of mass extinctions. What this means is that we are attacking the biodiversity of the living community itself and not realizing or not being willing to admit that it is upon this diversity that our lives depend as well. And at—I—s—give this
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example, it’s as though we were living at the top story of a hundred story building and every day we go down to the lower floors and knock bricks out of the wall to take up and use on the top story. And obviously we can do that for a long time, but eventually it can’t be done forever. Eventually, there’s going to be a collapse, which will lead to other collapses, which will lead to other—very rapidly to other collapses. And so the end, if we continue this way, is not going to be a gradual decline, it’s going to be sudden and catastrophic and very likely we will be victims of our own madness as well. If such a thing happens, all large mammals will probably disappear. We’ll be left to the cockroaches I would guess.
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DT: Can you give us an example of beetles and a living ecosystem and how taking out a species of beetles might affect “higher” orders?
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DQ: That would be something Alan Thornhill could do for you very nicely. I’m not—I’m not—I’ve never really tried to—to encompass the detail on that—on that level and I think that’s pretty well understood. I think by, you know, a kid that’s in—in kindergarten understand that—that there is a web of life and that if you continue that there—of course there are key species that are recognized—that ecologists recognize. The Spotted Owl was one and an ecologist could explain to you why the Spotted Owl was so important. I—I can’t but I know I take their word for it, that they’re—they’re the experts in that and I’m not.
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DT: For something that was not accepted 30 or 40 years ago, what do you attribute the success to?
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DQ: Oh well, greater awareness certainly, oh, people ask me, you know, what—whether I have any hope for the future and I say this is—this is the hope, is that awareness of all this has grown tremendously in the last ten years. In—in Ishmael you—you will not find the word sustainable. I myself was not conversant for the word when I wrote that book. Now everybody knows the word and these are—are relatively easy concepts to teach and I was do—I did a program on ecology of—for middle school kids when I was at SVE and ev—even then it was—it was being understood that this was something that had to be added to the curriculum. And at—at one university it was made a policy that every
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course had to include an aspect of ecology and literature, whatever, that it could not be ignored anymore. And so this—this is the—the hope for the future, hope for the planet really is changing peoples minds, changing the peoples vision of our place in the world, our understanding of the world, and getting a true picture of how the world actually works as opposed to the way we wish it worked.
DT: Can you give an example of how minds can be changed?
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DQ: Yeah, well that was—that was the biggest shift that’s ever occurred in—in our culture I would have to say. A few key ideas came under attack. The idea that informed our culture—European culture before that was that the way to certain knowledge was through reason and authority. You’d be able to reason it out and—and find an authority to back you up so that, you know, it—you could see very quickly that—that heavy objects fall faster than light objects and Aristotle said so himself. But in—in the—in the renaissance it came to be seen that observation and experimentation was a more sure
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guide to certain knowledge and that was the beginning of the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, everything. The ability to traverse the world came into being at that time and so the age of exploration began. A revolution in astronomy made it clear to us that in—in the Middle Ages it was pretty well settled that we knew everything that was going to be known and nothing more needed—needed to be known. It was all there and in the renaissance it came to be seen that there was no end to what could be known and so it—it created a tremendous mind shift in every front. It—the Renas—part of the
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renaissance was of course the—the Protestant Reformation, which took—refocused our view away from the church as a necessary intermediate—intermediary between us and God and rather to the individual. The individual could do his own negotiating. We didn’t need the church to do the nego—negotiating with God and so individual—individuality was born in the renaissance and the notion of rights and people having rights was born in the—in—from the same—from that same root and the idea that each human—human was valuable came from that same root. And a r—a similar Renaissance must take place now if there’s going to be any hupe—hope for the future as far as I’m concerned and it was ironical c—considering that I was trying to smuggle ideas into the—into the textbooks 20 years ago. It never once occurred to me that any of my books
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would ever be used in the classroom. And it was—I was astounded when Ishmael began to be used all over the country in classrooms. Very shortly after it came out soon as—as soon as it came out in soft cover is—it just knocked me over. It never occurred to me that anybody would ever use Ishmael in a classroom. So I have to take some credit for—for changing minds in that way and I’ve—I’ve heard from thousands of—of young people saying that they, you know, that I had overturned everything they’d ever thought and that—that it was the most important book they’ve ever read.
DT: What will it take to overcome the political reality with what should be the spiritual force?
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DQ: They—I—I’m—I’m afraid that the—the truth is that the politicians will be the last to come around, but eventually the politicians will be us. The young people of today are eventually going to get there and so will the rest of the population. Right now you couldn’t elect someone with a changed mind, but as people—peoples minds continue to change and continue to see that we really are in dire need here of change there will eventually be a population big enough to elect people with changed minds. And—and that’s—and then important changes will—will begin to be made.
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DT: Can you give us some examples in very recent times of revolutions or evolutions that have happened?
DQ: Well I—I have made—made an analogy with the break up of the Soviet Union. That wasn’t something that—what’s his name?
DT: Gorbachev?
DQ: Gorbachev. Gorbachev didn’t do that. I mean he—he didn’t get there by saying I’m going to destroy the Soviet Union. It was the people who forced him to do that. The people were fed up with living the way they were living. Now may—one would have
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maybe questioned the—the wisdom of the bargain now. I don’t know how they’re living now. But I personally and would have to—I don’t know whether any sociologist has ever tackled this or not but I think that the children’s revolution started—was—was the first domino that changed so much of—of the way people saw things, saw their lives in the rest of the world. I think an argue—argument could be made that rock and roll destroyed the Soviet Union.
DT: Is rock and roll the sort of cultural mean that you sometimes talk about?
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DQ: Yeah, I mean it’s—it spread all over the world. It went out there.
DT: Like a virus.
DQ: Yeah, like a virus. I once said at a—at a public s—talk that I hoped my ideas would spread like a virus and they said oh, no, no, no, don’t say that. Yes, I say that, yes.
DT: Could you talk about some of the tools that you’ve used to spread your ideas?
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DQ: Oh yeah, yeah I—at one time a group of people, a high level of business consultants who were great admirers of my work, they have an annual get together and I was invited to—to come there. And after two days they finally said, you know, what you’ve got to do is start an organization and we can help you do that. And I let myself be talked into that, but I am not an organizer and they—the organization was—was a
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complete flop and because I’m not an organizer and that’s just not one of the things that I do. What I do—what I can do is to write and to create materials and that’s what I do. And when people ask me what they should do I say, you know, you’ve got to use whatever resources you have because there is no twelve step program. Is everybody doing what they can do? And—and people with changed minds are needed everywhere and they’re needed in worse places. You know there’s peop—people who write to me and say, you know, I think I’ll go and live on a mountaintop. Now leave the mountaintop alone, you know, do what—or—or they say, you know, I’ll become an ecologist. No,
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you must become what you’re good at because that’s where you’re going to have the greatest impact. One—one young man said he was—we were doing another television interview and he said I—I work in the film industry and you may not be aware of it but the film industry is really a terrible polluter and destroyer of—of natural resources. That every time they make a set they—they—they cut down trees and—and sets are all thrown away. It’s just tremendously wasteful and I said well no, I didn’t know that. He said well my question is, should I be in this industry? I said well of course. Now you’re—you’re in the pos—position to do something, you know, that’s where you belong, you know, why leave? Don’t leave it to the bad guys, you know, and—and we need—we need people with changed minds in the industry. One of the most important changes
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that—that I know of that was from my work has been with the—in the—in the commercial carpet industry. Ray Anderson, head of the Interface Corporation, one of the biggest global makers of industrial commercial carpeting to airports, hospitals and so on, read first Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce and then Ishmael and reading those two books he realized that he—he’d always been in compliance with regulations, of course, but he realized that really being in compliance with government regulations not nearly enough. He really had to go—he really had to shift the entire focus of his company and he made up his mind that he would as soon as—as quickly as he possibly
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could cease producing petroleum-based carpet. He would—he would go to—to natural fibers. Secondly, he would aim to produce as quickly as possible carpeting made 100 percent from recycled materials that were 100 percent recyclable and he would go for
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the—the green lease as is called and say, you know, we will keep your floors covered and, you know, the way you want them and when you—you’re tired of this carpeting or it’s worn out we’ll come and get it. We’ll take it up and take it back and recycle it. Okay that’s—one man changed the entire industry because everybody else had to do the same because he was the leader. They had to compete with him. And that’s the sort of thing. One mind made a tremendous difference. All of his suppliers, Dupont, they now had to start coming up with new ideas for him and that’s how it happens.
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DT: You’ve also talked about different social structures.
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DQ: Yeah, its always been my position here that this is not about giving up things. We are not rich people giving up things that we really want. It’s not about that. It’s about poor people, needy people, desperate people getting things that they need more. In my lifetime I’ve seen the most amazing changes in the way we live. In the growing up in the 50’s despite, you know, the—the expectation of any day a hydrogen bomb was going to go off and start the Third World War, we thought there was a future, an unlimited future
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and we were lighthearted. We felt good about it. We felt food about ourselves and there wasn’t—we didn’t go to school armed and never—I mean the idea that someone would come in with a sub machine gun and start shooting down their classmates. It would have been laughed at. The idea of drive by shootings, of people massacring their families, you know, massive parts of the population in a state of—of depression, suicides going up all the time. It’s becoming a nightmare here. And it’s not because—nobody—nobody ever
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commits suicide because they don’t have a widescreen television. It is because they’re not getting the things that they need as human beings. I’ve said that we have a hea—heaven here, but it’s a heaven for products because every year the products get better and better and better and better. If you were a product you would think life was beautiful, but it’s getting worse and worse and worse for people and it needs to start getting better for people. I was reading an undergraduate thesis about my work and she said that I had progressed from talking about saving the world in Ishmael to saving people, saving the takers, in Beyond Civilization, the last of these four books. Why? Because if we don’t
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save the people we’re going to lose the earth. We need—we need to find a better way for people to live. We—they—there are things they lack that they must have and the tribal—the tribal life is—is not about hunting and gathering. The tribe is a social organization. Pure and simple. It’s a group of people working together to make a living, period. It’s no more than that. One of the things, to give you a small example, in a tribe no one is ever alone with his or her problems. If you have a sick child people aren’t going to say well that’s your problem, just stay in your tent there and deal with it. If you have an
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ailing parent or a parent whose becoming senile, this is a tribal problem. Every—everyone takes care of everyone and so you are never left with this terrible burden of my wife is ill. I have no money. I have no friends. Where is my gun? I’m going to kill her and I’m going to kill myself. And so I began to think, you know, is the tribal model something that we—we can’t have and if so why? Now this was really the inspiration for Beyond Civilization. My wife and I have twice started tribal businesses without ever remotely thinking about it. It was just something that we—we felt would suit us. The second one was—was much more s—successful than the first. This was a newspaper in
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Mex—New Mexico—in New Mexico called The East Mountain News and we started it literally on $27.00. Our last $27.00 and we put out an issue and fortunately Rennie’s family has been in the newspaper business for a long time and her brother brought us a lot of equipment; computers and headliners and stuff like that. And by the third issue we had a call from an old newspaper man, now unemployable, nobody want—wants him, too old, who had done everything, who c—who could do anything and he did the—the one thing we badly needed was to have a sports writer and so he covered all the—all the
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games in area the size of Rhode Island. That was—that was how much area we—we covered. And then we got a c—call from a young woman who wanted to do a column for us. Of course the question for both of them is—was, can you sell advertising? And they said—CJ said sure I can sell anything. So—so she became the ad sales for a certain area and—and half of the other. He was a great photographer as well, of course, and so he sold advertising. That’s what kept us going and—but they were not employees really. They were just—I—I was the make up man and—and headline writer. Rennie—Rennie
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really did the newspaper and we—the four of us we didn’t live together, but if Hap needed a tire—new tire for his vehicle. We, you know, we said well give him an ad or, you know, we would come up with the money some how or other and the money always, you know, we were—we were just giving out—if you need something let us know we’ll—we’ll get it to you somehow or other. And so that for us was—was very tribal and so I use that as my chief model in the—in Beyond Civilization and it wasn’t that—God knows we didn’t get rich, but we made a living, which we were not doing before. None of the four of us were making a living before, but by get—and if we had started out to—
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to do a traditional newspaper we would have had to, you know, some huge loan from a bank, which we could not have gotten in any way in the world. So by starting small we all had very low scales of living…
DT: Standards?
DQ: Pardon?
DT: Standards of living?
DQ: Standards of living, yeah, we—we were all comfortable. CJ was living—living in a well house if you know what a well house is. It’s just a little building over a well and
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H—Hap was living in a—in a trailer and we were living in a miner’s shack in—in Madrid, New Mexico. We were all content and we had something that made us feel good. I was working on—on the sixth and seventh versions of the book that became Ishmael at the time. And I talked there of other tribal groups—tribal—the Neofuturist Theater Company in Chicago, which—which everyone—there’s one permanent member who is the founder of it and usually a transient group of 13 but they stay for year or two and then move on to something else, who do all the work themselves and basically just
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share all the money that comes in in revenue. They were able to build their own theater they were so successful. And but all of the—all of the members except for him had other jobs—had part time jobs, and so it worked out so well for them and none of them were getting rich. It wasn’t about getting rich. It was about doing something that they loved and being able to do it and make—make a little money, make a living. And I—I have to say that these ideas have not—not—not caught on. At least I haven’t heard of it yet.
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Most people say something like I—they’ll stop us. Who is going to stop us? You know who’s going to stop you from—from having a business like that. They think the government, the FBI is going to come and close you down or something like that. No one—no one knew how we ran The East Mountain News. No one knew or cared and—but it’s also—you—you can’t convert an existing business into a tribal business. I don’t think. Maybe you can. I—I wouldn’t know, but it was real—really written mostly for young people and many of them have made attempts, but I don’t know—I haven’t heard how successful they are.
DT: Can you talk about the historical roots to a tribal organization?
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DQ: I have to assume—I had a historian friend, when he read Ishmael he said how do you know that people were still living tribally ten thousand years ago? And I wrote back I said how do you know that geese were still flying in flocks ten thousand years ago? These things—the—the social organization that you see today in any species is going to
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be the social organization that they grew up with because species don’t pop up individually. They always come into being in some social organization. They evolve with the social organization. Primates have social organizations of their own a band, for example, but that—the tribal organization at the time suited intelligent beings from the beginning as intelligence emerged. The tribe became—maybe there were other things that were tried but the tribe fit. A way to basically make a living and—and—and be protected and have stability and c—cradle the grave security. You can’t—you can’t get fired from a tribe. And so it—its always worked for us and still works just as well today as it ever did. I point out that the homeless spontaneously form tribes, not because
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they’re thinking oh, maybe this will work but because it just—it—they literally fall into it. Because it’s much better if you’re out on the street—it’s much better not to be alone. It you’re alone you’re really in trouble. So you—you want to have a little group around you covering your back and it makes—it—it works best if in that little group if you suddenly have a windfall. It works best to share it with them, not because you’re a nice guy, not because you have high moral standards or anything, but it—because that—because when they get a windfall then they are going to share it with you. And this is
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exactly the way it works in—in—in the aboriginal tribes when the only time an individual is hungry—starving, is when they’re all starving and when times are good then they’re good for all of them equally.
DT: How have you responded to those people who have said that this look at aboriginal or indigenous peoples is somehow quaint and nostalgic but we wouldn’t really have wanted to live like that or it somehow glosses over the details of what that life might have been like in reality?
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DQ: One of the things I was—been careful to do in all of my books is stress the fact that tribal peoples are no better than we are, definitely not. They’re not more charming or more her—heroic or sweeter or—or anything like that. But I—I’ve still had anthropologists say, oh you’re romanticizing them and I’ve done everything in my power to say that there’s nothing romantic about them at all. And some of them s—you—you probably wouldn’t care to be at a Gaboose say for example. Most of us wouldn’t, but
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they have a way of life that suits them. They’re happy with it, but you—you might not like to live that way. I wouldn’t, you know, I—I wouldn’t like to be an—an ancient Iroquois, for example, who were, you know, very peculiar people but it suited them, you know, and that’s really all I’ve said. And th—they all have different styles and some of them look very nice to us. New Age people made great romantic fantasies about a number of Native American tribes. I—and I felt doing them a disadvantage by doing that; drawing—drawing tourists to them and having them become like carnival side shows for them. That’s just my opinion.
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DT: What is your feeling regarding illness in tribal groups?
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DQ: Yeah, yeah, I—I’ve—I have a great admiration for—you say shaman I say shaman. Illness in—in tribal groups is—is really like everything else. It’s sort of a community thing and when somebody gets sick everybody including the shaman is there for them. And I would be willing to venture to say that they—they’re—they have a definite success considering the—the depth of—of attention that they get when they’re sick. I would,
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believe me, I would much prefer to go in to a tribal group and have the shaman work on me than—than going to a hospital, which scares me to death. Hospitals are dangerous places, but I, you know, most people would—would disagree with me about that very much. But of course they don’t have the idea that they should live forever or that they can live forever and—and, you know, I’m sure the shaman’s fail just as our own doctors do.
DT: Do you find that it makes a difference whether things tend to be patriarchal or matriarchal in a civilization?
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DQ: Yes, I don’t know whether that’s a trend or not. I would be inclined to—to—to agree with that, yes I—I think that a—a woman president probably would have reacted to Iraq differently than Mr. Bush has done.
DT: I wonder if Margaret Thatcher would have been different than Tony Blair in that respect?
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DQ: I don’t know.
DT: Speaking of war, is there a territorial imperative that you see shifts over from agriculture and this sort of taker philosophy that we need this additional land and the resources that come with it and maybe not just corn but also oil. Is that fair to say?
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DQ: Yes.
DT: You seem pessimistic or certainly sober when you look at the race between agriculture and population and what it means for our own viability and sustainability of the community of life. On the other hand you seem quite positive and optimistic when you see the alternative cultures that we’ve had in the past and that actually coexists now. Is that fair and how would you balance this optimism and pessimism?
00:43:20- 2270
DQ: No, this way that—my pessimism comes in this way, you know, if we continue to live this way then we have only a few decades left. But if that new renaissance kicks in then we’ll all be different. If—if there are still people here in 200 years they will not be living the way we do and I’m—I make that prediction with complete confidence because if we go on living the way we are we—there will be no people here in 200 years. So if there are people here in 200 years they’re going to be living a different way and they’re going to be living a different way because they think a different way. They are going to
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know, I can predict—predict this as well, they are going to know absolutely that humanity is not separate from the rest of the living community. It is as much a part of the living community as any other species. If we go on thinking—seeing the world as us and it then I think we’re doomed. That’s why I don’t accept the—the title of environmentalist. I think it was a bad—a bad concept to begin with. I—that’s what I mean by old minds. They were…
DT: How would you distinguish yourself from an environmentalist?
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DQ: Because I don’t see it as us and it. We’re all—we’re all in it together. It’s one community. All those other species out there are not our environment.
DT: So man in a sense is part of the landscape. Humans are part of the community of life and we’re not so much stewards as cotenants.
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DQ: We’re—we’re dependent. Yeah, we—to me it’s unthinkable to speak of stewardship. The world—the—the community of life got a long billions of years without our stewardship and it—it can get a long perfectly well without our stewardship. And we are—are—the things that we’ve done that we imagined were going to be helpful have very generally turned out to be disastrous. Al—although—although usually they’re thought of as being beneficial to us but ev—even so—I mean the—the ecologists and—
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and ecological engineers are—are doing their damnedest to make good choices and I—I wish them all the best and I—I hope they—I hope they get better and better and better. But to think of them as stewards of the—of the earth I think is too much because it’s a chaotic system and we’ll always be a chaotic system. So no one can say if we do this then this is going to happen because if you do this thousands of other things are going to happen that you have no control over.
DT: So you have skepticism about programs and their effect?
00:47:07 – 2270
DQ: Yes. Yeah, I—I—I give this example. The—the Industrial Revolution, and I’m not praising the Industrial Revolution and I’m not saying it was a good thing or anything like that, but it is—was the most successful movement ever seen in the world. Look—look at it—what is—is—has accomplished. And it did not have the benefit of a single program. No one ever passed a law helping it along saying, you know, let’s have more of this revolution. No one ever had to protect it with—with a program. No one ever had to
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dole out money to it. It was self starting, self perpetuating. It was all driven by vision. So I contrast vision and—and programs and vision of—that drove the industrial revolution was oh that’s—that’s good. I like that camera, but I bet I could make a better one. I like that watch, but I bet I could make a better one. And starting at every point people took everything that they saw, every—every product and—and said how can I make that better? And they did make it better, which is why it’s heaven for products.
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DT: When we look at the world around us do we not try to improve on products but improve on the culture and improve on what mother culture has been telling us?
00:48:51 – 2270
DQ: Well, just as like the—the first renaissance in the 14th century. On—there are key ideas that once they get out there, it’s also a chaos out there, it’s intellectual chaos as well, you—you never know what’s going to happen. I couldn’t have in any way have predicted that my book was going to have a part in changing the—the commercial carpeting industry. That’s an example of the chaos I’m talking about. The key idea is, one is that the—the—and number them, we are not separate from the rest of the living community. When we…
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DQ: …yeah, yeah the key idea is—one of them is that we are not separate from the rest of the living community and never will be separate—separate from it. This is—lies partly at the root of our notion that we can do things like destroy part of the rain forest because that’s them. It’s not us, but it is. People—I illustrated a story about a—about a hunter in—in a nar—first person narrative from a professional hunter in—in Africa who spoke of a species that—that he’d like to take hunters to to hunt. And over the years he found that they were just farther and farther away and then of course in the end there were none, but he didn’t realize that he—he and other hunters were driving them into
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extinction. And—and we think much the same thing with—because we s—we—we see them as, in a sense, as protected. What we do then doesn’t really hurt, but un—unfortunately it does because all of the biomass that we take from the living community to sustain the six billion of us comes from the rest of the living community. It is not separate from us. People talk forever about the fact that we are separate from nature and isn’t that too bad. No, what’s too bad is that we’re not separate from nature and we never will be. And so everything we take, it—it doesn’t stay there. It—actually we take it and it’s gone. That’s—that’s one key idea. The idea that—that we live on a limited planet;
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many people still don’t see that and really don’t deeply see that, but if there are people—people living here in 200 years they will know it. I’ve heard people say well, we can just start sending people off to other planets. Oh man now that—that is the goofiest idea that—as a solution to—to our problems. That—that’s just not going to happen. That’s not—that is not going to save us. What’s the other key idea? What—when—when these very fundamental ideas are accepted finally then they are going—these ideas are going to have repercussions all across the board and I—I don’t know what they are. I don’t know how they’re—I don’t know how they’re going to work to change things that I know that if you don’t have changed people you’re not going to have changed behavior. And what
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so many people think they can do now is leave the people alone but institute new programs and that’s not going to work. I’ve said that the vision is like a river and you put sticks in the river if you want to—to slow it down, impede the flow, but you can’t. I mean we can put in millions of regulations and that’s not going to do it. You’ve got to start with the people who write the regulations, change their minds, then you’ll see s—things start to change. So I’m hopeful because I see so much change. I see—I see a great deal of change in the way people think compared to the way that they thought 15 or 20 years ago and that’s the hope of the future. I’m only pessimistic if—if we go on living the way we do. If we go on living the way we do then we’re not going to be living here much longer.
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DT: Is it like the dinosaur’s hope? Lord, give me more time.
DQ: Yeah, yes, L—Lord more time.
DT: Can you read from some of the passages that you’ve written?
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DQ: Yeah, I’ll—I’ll read a couple of passages from a book that is part—was part of a book that I s—wrote in—about 1983 from which now The Tales of Adam will be extracted and published. They’ll be published in—in April and what I’m going to read is the opening and the ending.
“When the gods set out to make the universe they said to themselves let us make of it a manifestation of our unending abundance and a sign to be read by those who shall have eyes to read. Let us lavish care without stint on everything, no less upon the most fragile blade of grass, than upon the mightiest of stars, no less upon the gnat that sings for an hour than upon the mountains that stand for a millennium, no less upon a flake of mica than upon a river of gold. Let us make
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no two leaves the same from one branch to the next, no two branches the same from one tree to the next, no two trees the same from one land to the next, no two lands the same from one world to the next. In this way the law of life will be plain to all who shall have eyes to read; the rabbit that creeps out to feed, the fox that lies in wait, the—the eagle that circles above, and the man who bends his bow to the sky. And this was how it was done from first to last. No two things alike in all the mighty universe. No single thing made with less care than any other thing throughout generations of species more numerous than the stars. And those who had eyes to see read the sign and followed the law of life.
This—this is the end. Adam is addressing his son Abel at—probably on his deathbed.
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At last Adam said, you are beginning to know the law of life. I too am beginning to know the law of life. If you ask me on my last day as I close my eyes for the last time whether I know the law of life, I’ll tell you I’m beginning to know it. If any man tells you he knows the whole of the law of life or that he can encompass it in words that man is a fool or a liar because the law of life is written in the universe and no man can know the whole of it. If ever you’re in doubt about the law consult the caterpillar or the gull or the jackal. No man will ever know it better or follow it more steadfastly than they. Then in con—concluding Adam said, wisdom is the gift I give to you, nothing else. This is my legacy to you. It’s a legacy I received from my father and he received from his father. It is the legacy of generations from one to the next for all time. Your tools will—will grow blunt.
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Your spears will shatter. Your tents will crumble. Your twine will fray, but this knowledge I’ve given you will not wear out. In a thousand generations it will still be as strong as it was a thousand generations ago.
DT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DQ: I tend to get emotional about this. Oh I—I don’t—I have nothing particularly on the tip of my tongue to add except to thank you for the opportunity. I certainly appreciate it very much.
DT: Well thank you.
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[End of Reel 2270]
[End of Interview with Daniel Quinn]