“The world was made for man, and man was made to rule it.”
– Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael tells a story to the narrator in the book about a jellyfish believing that he is the ultimate being; the final creation in the chain of evolution.
But one day as he [an anthropologist] was moping along beside the ocean he saw what seemed to be a living creature in the shallows off shore. It was nothing to brag about, just a sort of squishy blob, but it was the only prospect he’d seen in all his journeys, so he waded out to where it was bobbing in the waves.
He greeted the creature politely and was greeted in kind, and soon the two of them were good friends. The anthropologist explained the best he could that he was a student of life-styles and customs, and begged his new friend for information of this sort, which was readily forthcoming. “And now,” he said at last, “i’d like to get on tape in your own words some of the stories you tell among yourselves.”
“Stories?” the other asked.
“You know, like your creation myth, if you have one.”
“What is a creation myth?” the creature asked. “Oh, you know,” the anthropologist replied, “the fanciful tale you tell your children about the origins of the world.”
Well, at this, the creature drew itself up indignantly – at least as well as a squishy blob can do – and replied that his people had no such fanciful tale.
“You have no account of creation then?”
“Certainly we have an account of creation,” the other snapped. “But it is definitely not a myth.”
“Oh, certainly not,” the anthropologist said, remembering his training at last. “I’ll be terribly grateful if you share it with me.”
“Very well,” the creature said. “But I want you to understand that, like you, we are a strictly rational people, who accept nothing that is not based on observation, logic, and the scientific method.”
“Of course, of course,” the anthropologist agreed.
So at last the creature began its story. “The universe,” it said, “was born a long, long time ago, perhaps ten or fifteen billion years ago. Our own solar system—this star, this planet and all the others—seem to have come into being some two or three billion years ago. For a long time, nothing whatever lived here. But then, after a billion years or so, life appeared.”
“Excuse me,” the anthropologist said. “You say that life appeared. Where did that happen, according to your myth – mean, according to your scientific account.”
The creature seemed baffled by the question and turned a pale lavender. “Do you mean in what precise spot?”
“No. I mean, did this happen on the land or in the sea?”
“Land?” the other asked. “What is land?”
“Oh, you know,” he said, waving toward the shore, “the expanse of dirt and rocks that begins over there.”
The creature turned a deeper shade of lavender and said, “I can’t imagine what you’re gibbering about. The dirt and rocks over there are simply the lip of the vast bowl that holds the sea.”
“Oh, yes,” the anthropologist said, “I see what you mean.Quite. Go on.”
“Very well,” the other said. “For many millions of centuries the life of the world was merely microorganisms floating helplessly in a chemical broth. But little by little, more complex forms appeared: single-celled creatures, slimes, algae, polyps, and so on.
“But finally,” the creature said, turning quite pink with pride as he came to the climax of his story, “but finally jellyfish appeared!“
-Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael went on to talk to the narrator about the flaws of the story. We, as humans, know that jellyfish were not the last creatures to evolve and that life does not only exist in the oceans, but to the jellyfish, he was the superior being. Ishmael told the story in response to the narrator’s story, which ended with “Well, onething led to another. Species followed species, and finally man appeared. That was what? Three million years ago?”.
Ishmael suggests that the very idea of a superior being is crazy in itself and the human belief that everything revolves around them is even crazier, which lends to the ego of the Takers. Perhaps the reason that we automatically think like this is because we are raised to. Ishmael describes it as the “gentle hum” of Mother Culture.
To a lot of people, the idea that humans aren’t superior beings and that the Earth was not made for them is a hard thought to swallow. Even if people don’t immediately think they believe that, many practice it in everyday life. The idea of many religions (particularly Christianity) is that God made the Earth and all of the animals and plants on it for humans. Genesis 1:26 states “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have domininon over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (ASV)
Religion is a large part of our culture and even there it states that man is the superior being, but what if we’re wrong? What if man isn’t the last being in the chain of evolution? The idea of such a suggestion seems ludacris to us because our culture is teaching us that we own the planet; that Earth is ours to do with what we please.
Ishmael asked the narrator to think about what Mother Culture is telling him. What are we doing because it’s what we’re “supposed” to do or what we’re “expected” to do. The majority of young adults still have amazing dreams. Some of us want to travel the world, some want to work on a team towards a common goal, others want to do internships, or backpack across the states, but Mother Culture is telling us that we’re expected to go to college, get a degree, get a stable job, a house, a dog, and have two kids before we even think about following those dreams.
A kid’s family is the number one influence in his/her life, even above their peers, and the pressure to conform to society’s rules is intense. Intense enough to keep us in this neverending cycle of Takers and Leavers, where we are the takers and everyone else are the leavers. Until we begin to think outside of the box and follow our dreams, even if they deviate from the cultural norm, we are going to continue on this cycle until we rot from the inside out.
So here’s a question for the day: What do you want to do with your life? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to see? Where do you want to live? Now ask yourself… does that make you a Taker or a Leaver?