The conflicts that arise between taker (modern, industrial) and leaver (ancient, subsistence) societies and the earth are treated in “Ishmael” as an unwritten, ongoing debate between Mother Culture and Mother Nature.
Daniel Quinn, author of “After Dachau,” “The Story of B,” “Beyond Civilization,” is a global thinker, a man who takes every issue and lays it out to look at how it affects everyone everywhere throughout time.
All societies have their own Mother Culture. Humanity is so young compared to the earth. Modern civilization's Mother Culture is a teenage pregnancy case and consequently raises her children by the expectations that her environment places on her. She is young and inexperienced compared to Mother Nature. She is forced to use all resources available to grow with her needy children. Like most mothers, she wants to provide what is best for her young, however the constant whines of “we need this now mommy” often overwhelm her.
According to Ishmael, Mother Culture is the constant hum in the background that we don't recognize as a separate entity because she has always been here, will always be here. This intriguing concept is presented by the equally intriguing gorilla, Ishmael, who communicates with his student through telepathy. All I have to say about using a six-ton, bug-and-stick consuming primate as a philosophy mentor is that Quinn sure does know how test our definitions of reality.
That's good. It forces not only examination, but also a soul-searching redefining of normally acceptable truths.
Mother Culture is, in her entire form, us: our own civilization from whom we learn our rules, morals and ways of viewing the world. A baby-sitter might do a ritualistic, everyday chore in one way only to hear the children say, “But our mommy does it this way.” Their mother has, purposely or not, melded into her offspring the idea of this is how it's done. This may cause narrow-mindedness, blindness and ignorance. Mother Culture is the kind of parent whose answer to everything is “because I'm the mommy and I said so, that's why.”
Ishmael might conversely be thought of as the intriguing baby-sitter who is trying to show that things can be done in more than one way. Quinn tries to open minds by forcing his readers to look at a given situation differently than Mother Culture instructs.
Of course we look at a six-ton gorilla differently than we would Dr. Joe-Schmoe philosophy professor and his assembly line, rubber stamp degree. The gorilla is great. His presence helps the reader question everything that Mother has been saying all these years.
Some of Quinn's allegories are long and drawn out. Don't let that discourage you. I recommend getting your favorite jammies, cookies and fuzzy blanket together on a night off to absorb this book and the questions it raises.