Environmental Ethics and David Quinn's Ishmael Term Paper

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environmental ethics in "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn

This paper looks at the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and how the environmental ethics as outlined by Quinn relate to the world and man today. How man by looking at the damage he has carried out in the name of progress and listening to his neighbors and their roles can help to halt and possibly heal the earth before its destruction is complete.

Ishmael: An Environmental Ethical Issue

There are few books that have the ability to hold the key to saving the environment in which we live in. Many books of this ilk are either tired or over-hyped and in many ways bring forth an image of under-done images that provide as much aid and help in halting the destruction of the earth as nuclear waste or by becoming a vegetarian, recycling as much glass, plastic and aluminium cans as possible, or installing solar panels on to our roof tops in place of electricity then it is refreshing when a book that holds the true key to saving the environment comes along.

Man is destroying the planet he lives on, and in this book we see how this environmental destruction is an ongoing process that is not new to the twentieth century, but is linked to the contradictions in human civilised development.

The book Ishmael brings forth a refreshing look at the spiritual understanding of how man and civilization progressed, its journey and the destination, which sadly seems to be one of extinction through self-destructive means. Ishmael is seen by man as a book of fiction yet despite being classified as such it provides the world with a clear message that echoes with ethical principles and moralities more than any non-fictional book could provide.

Daniel Quinn's Ishmael is such a book where a young man in need of a teacher, as such he begins his quest and search for a man who will bring him the enlightenment he seeks. The teacher the young man finds his teacher in the role of a lowland gorilla; here we see a species different from the man's who has a different outlook and perception of our history along with our role in the universe.

Ishmael was the winner of the 1991 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship for being a fictionalized piece of work to provide solutions to the global problems faced by man.

Moreover, it was selected from over two thousand five hundred stories from around the globe, the panel of judges that selected this environmental story included Nadine Gordimer and Ray Bradbury.

Ishmael begins in simple and innocent enough way, the narrator is reading a local newspaper; during his reading he finds a simple ad of three lines within the Personals section. It read "TEACHER SEEKS PUPIL. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person." The reaction of the narrator at first is one of every normal man, cursing and spitting in disgust and throws the paper first onto the floor and then into the rubbish.

After finishing his breakfast the narrator removes the paper from the rubbish bin and rereads the advert, making sure and probably assuring himself that he had read the advert right in the first place. The narrator visits the address in the advert and discover who the teacher is.

Ishmael is a book that will slowly draw the reader into an imagery that is almost direct and forthright into new perspectives and answers old questions, it opens up new attitudes and understandings of old mysteries that are so ingrained into the culture of man that they are accepted as truth. Ishmael is a book for those who are disillusioned with the current state that the world is in and the politically correct solutions that are totally ineffective.

Quinn in his book brings out many a good argument about the old past cultures and how the depth of the origins run, with strong emphasis upon the new western cultural ideals which they have changed not only with the development of new technology such as nuclear power, but over the last two centuries.

To give us a deeper understanding of this environmental change we need to look at the clashes between the older and newer western cultures. This is also an historical context that places the threat into a clearer and more long-term perspective and also places more evidence towards the more long-term nature of mans self-destruction.

The process of destruction is traced back to over 10,000 years ago. The lash of the new and the old, a battle for dominance in much the way the biblical story of Cain and able materialised. Starting in the Fertile Crescent we see the beginnings of the culture clash. In this well-known area, located in the area we now know as Iraq, between the Tigris and the Euphrates there was the development of a new way of life that was to have a large impact upon the development of man and his relationship with the environment.

It was in this area that the move from a hunter-gatherer society to the sedentary farming way of life, placing man in the position of changing the environment in which he lived, taming it and taking from it what they want. This is referred to by Quinn as the clash between the leavers and the takers. This may be seen as the beginning of the change, a process that has continued, seeing man gradually eliminate many forms of life and resources in the way that they tame the environment.

If we consider this kind of change and impact on the environment then we can make comparisons with the destruction of today's environment then we can see the parallels. There are many native cultures that are being destroyed, the student may choose from many modern examples to illustrate this such as the Native Americans, Maoris and Aboriginals are just some. All of these have a major factor in common, the new dominant culture is one that will change the environment with the predominant concerning being the development of the environment to suit mans short-term needs.

It is interesting to see that the fight for the environment may also be seen in the way that the book is written with the use of a Gorilla; a non-human character that is a close relation to man, and as such may be seen as both a neighbour in terms of species as well as geographically in many areas. Ishmael, the title character, is the gorilla.

Yet why did Quinn make Ishmael a gorilla, the simple solution may be that man needs to understand the role and ideals of his closest and yet furthest bipedal neighbour, gorillas are in many ways the closest thing to the early homonids.

Gorillas also understand the environment and the land they live in unlike the later evolved and civilized man who has only one aim when it comes to the environment and the earth is to destroy. Quinn has stated that in his aims of having Ishmael the teacher as a Gorilla and that in making his point is this: "If we want to survive on this planet, we must listen to what our neighbors in the community of life have to tell us." (Quinn PG).

Daniel Quinn has within his book Ishmael brought out the true understanding of what man is doing to the world, not is world but the world of all species that live on the planet. It is an important aspect and issue to state that man does not own the world; it is not his to with as he wishes rather it is a haven for all of the creatures created by nature.

As the bible tells us Man was put on this earth to be the caretaker of the…

Sources Used in Document:


Quinn D (1995) Ishmael: Bantam Books

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