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 see the Real
Media version of reels
2270 from our full interview with Mr. Quinn. Please note that
the recording includes roughly 60 seconds
of color bars and sound tone for
technical settings at the outset of the recordings.
numbers refer to time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview.
"Misc." refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise,
unrelated to the interview.
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.
I’m delighted to.
Where did your
intellectual adventure begin?
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
00:02:51 - 2269
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
00:03:43 - 2269
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
00:04:57 - 2269
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
00:05:47 - 2269
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
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
00:06:59 - 2269
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
00:08:08 - 2269
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
00:09:02 - 2269
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.
Was Rachel Carson an
influence on you?
00:10:59 - 2269
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.
00:12:09 - 2269
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
00:13:01 - 2269
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.
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?
00:14:35 - 2269
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
00:15:48 - 2269
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.
Is there something that
you can point to in the educational books and game and puppets that
would have made children more cultural survivors?
00:16:57 - 2269
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.
jump ahead talk about the vision that did from
00:17:59 - 2269
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
It’s like putting a
mirror up to ourselves.
00:18:50 - 2269
And what do you think
this mirror has shown?
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
00:19:57 - 2269
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
00:21:15 - 2269
billions of years,
hundred of millions of years. These are the things that
wanted to try to make
his pupils see and see what their importance was.
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?
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
00:22:42 - 2269
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
00:24:00 - 2269
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
00:25:10 - 2269
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
00:26:14 - 2269
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
00:27:26 - 2269
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
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
you go into this idea of The Great Forgetting
that you mentioned earlier?
00:28:40 - 2269
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?
I would say that the
forgetting of this alternative…
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
00:29:20 - 2269
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.
00:30:25 - 2269
Was it the situation
where the conquering culture usually tells the history?
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
00:31:15 - 2269
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.
Perhaps you could give some examples of how Abel’s
culture did survive into modern times?
00:32:01 - 2269
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.
Can you describe a
little bit more about these two terms you often use, the leavers and the
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
00:34:11 - 2269
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.
Can you help us understand the spread of the taker
culture maybe with a few examples of confrontations between takers and
00:35:21 - 2269
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.
Describe some of the
changes in population that were furthering this spread.
00:36:24 - 2269
What changes do you
The growth that you’ve
often pointed out.
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
00:37:34 - 2269
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
00:38:54 - 2269
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.
Can you help us
understand why people are somehow biologically different and don’t have
population dynamics that are similar to wildlife?
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
00:39:42 - 2269
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
00:40:35 - 2269
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.
What do you think the offense is?
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
00:41:39 - 2269
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
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
00:42:33 - 2269
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
00:43:29 - 2269
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
00:44:30 - 2269
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.
It’s a problem more of food distribution than food
00:45:03 - 2269
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.
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
00:45:52 - 2269
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
00:46:43 - 2269
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?
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
00:47:54 - 2269
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
What do you say to
those who might criticize you know within an effort to withhold food by
Not withholding it.
I’m just not sending it.
I shouldn’t have…
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.
00:48:19 - 2269
They are, yeah, for
Do we abandon them now?
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
00:48:51 - 2269
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
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.
How does that work?
00:49:44 - 2269
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
00:50:25 - 2269
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
What subsidizes this
deficit of calories and energy?
00:51:03 - 2269
Money that’s generated
outside of agriculture.
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.
00:51:23 - 2269
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?
Why is there this
appeal over the last ten thousand years for agriculture? It seems
like a harder road to hoe.
00:52:07 - 2269
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
00:53:05 - 2269
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
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
00:54:19 - 2269
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
00:55:04 - 2269
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.
inevitability to it.
00:55:23 - 2269
Can you give us some
examples of cultures that abandon this hierarchical intensive
The May—Mayans, the
people of Teotihuacan. I don’t have the other names on the tip of
The Anasazi or Hohokam?
00:55:49 - 2269
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
00:56:31 - 2269
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.
it just slowly kind of come apart in bits and pieces too slow for anyone
to notice in any single generation or century?
00:57:32 - 2269
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
00:58:27 - 2269
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.
00:59:31 - 2269
And the goal wasn’t just conversion, but…
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]
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?
00:01:51 - 2270
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
00:03:18 - 2270
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
00:04:48 - 2270
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.
00:05:57 - 2270
Can you give us an
example of beetles and a living ecosystem and how taking out a species
of beetles might affect “higher” orders?
00:06:20 - 2270
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.
00:07:07 - 2270
For something that was
not accepted 30 or 40 years ago, what do you attribute the success to?
00:07:27 - 2270
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
00:08:37 - 2270
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.
Can you give an example
of how minds can be changed?
00:09:23 - 2270
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
00:10:37 - 2270
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
00:11:33 - 2270
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
00:13:01 - 2270
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
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.
What will it take to
overcome the political reality with what should be the spiritual force?
00:14:14 - 2270
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.
00:15:08 - 2270
Can you give us some
examples in very recent times of revolutions or evolutions that have
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?
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
00:16:01 - 2270
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
Is rock and roll the
sort of cultural mean that you sometimes talk about?
00:16:54 - 2270
Yeah, I mean it’s—it
spread all over the world. It went out there.
Like a virus.
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.
Could you talk about
some of the tools that you’ve used to spread your ideas?
00:17:14 - 2270
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
00:18:00 - 2270
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,
00:18:49 - 2270
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
00:19:52 - 2270
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
00:20:42 - 2270
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
00:21:10 - 2270
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.
00:21:48 - 2270
You’ve also talked
about different social structures.
00:22:19 - 2270
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
00:23:16 - 2270
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
00:23:55 - 2270
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
00:24:58 - 2270
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
00:25:49 - 2270
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
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
00:26:59 - 2270
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
00:27:56 - 2270
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
00:28:47 - 2270
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
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—
00:29:40 - 2270
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…
Standards of living?
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
00:30:14 - 2270
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
00:31:13 - 2270
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.
00:32:00 - 2270
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.
Can you talk about the
historical roots to a tribal organization?
00:32:44 - 2270
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
00:33:32 - 2270
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
00:35:04 - 2270
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
00:35:50 - 2270
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
good for all of them equally.
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?
00:37:25 - 2270
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
00:38:04 - 2270
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.
00:39:07 - 2270
What is your feeling
regarding illness in tribal groups?
00:39:57 - 2270
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,
00:40:43 - 2270
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 you find that it
makes a difference whether things tend to be patriarchal or matriarchal
in a civilization?
00:41:39 - 2270
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.
I wonder if Margaret
Thatcher would have been different than Tony Blair in that respect?
00:42:11 - 2270
I don’t know.
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?
00:42:35 - 2270
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?
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
00:44:15 - 2270
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…
How would you
distinguish yourself from an environmentalist?
00:45:09 - 2270
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
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.
00:45:39 - 2270
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—
00:46:22 - 2270
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.
So you have skepticism
about programs and their effect?
00:47:07 - 2270
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
00:47:50 - 2270
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.
00:48:33 - 2270
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
00:48:51 - 2270
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…
00:49:38 - 2270
00:49:45 - 2270
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
00:51:02 - 2270
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
00:52:12 - 2270
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
00:53:10 - 2270
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.
00:54:16 - 2270
Is it like the
dinosaur's hope? Lord, give me more time.
Yeah, yes, L—Lord more
Can you read from some
of the passages that you’ve written?
00:54:42 - 2270
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
00:55:46 - 2270
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.
00:56:44 - 2270
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.
00:57:44 - 2270
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
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
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.
00:58:26 - 2270
[End of Reel 2270]
[End of Interview with Daniel Quinn]