Saturday 23 February 2019

Daniel Quinn’s Books: Ishmael and The Story of B

What can I do?

I think the late Daniel Quinn was a genius, and his books, Ishmael and The Story of B, have answered questions I had, as well as giving me a new view on how the world got in the mess it is in today. I have gained a useful understanding from reading his work, and while this is all very well and good, I find myself asking: What can I do? Quinn said in interviews that this was a question he had often been asked by his fans, fans who had understood the points he was making in his work and felt moved to want to take action. The author’s answer was to go out and get 100 more people to understand. So, this is what I am trying to do here. The idea is that if 100 people understand Quinn’s theories, that they can get another 100, and that 100 can get another 100. The word will keep spreading and eventually there will be enough change in how the world is run, and this will help stop the world being destroyed. So let me tell you about my understanding of what Quinn was saying in his work. Let me introduce you to Ishmael!
Gorilla (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
The character of Ishmael is actually a gorilla, but he becomes a teacher for the narrator of the story. Ishmael challenges the storyteller and the reader with his questions and statements. Ishmael makes the point that all of us have been conditioned by our “Mother Culture” to share beliefs, and this culture has spread globally. It is the culture responsible for world religions, world politics, global corporations, and the daily damage being inflicted on the natural world. It is responsible for consumerism, for wasting natural resources, and for the crazy belief that humans are superior to other animals, and that the world is made for them to use as they please. This has led humans from this culture to be at war, not only with other humans and themselves, but with nature. They see nature as something to be conquered. The verb “conquer” is frequently used in common speech. For example, a mountain climber is conquering a mountain. Humans like this do not see that they are as much a part of nature as the natural world they are attempting to conquer and use.
Quinn puts forward the idea that this all began about 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of civilisation, as it is taught. We have been told that civilisation began in the Middle East area, when great cultures like the Phoenicians, the Babylonians, Sumerians and Egyptians began building cities, using writing, and living in a civilised way. It is as if everything that went before this was of little consequence, primitive, and not worth talking about. These early civilisations went in for agriculture in a big way. It enabled them to settle in one location and to feed the many people who lived and worked in the cities. But according to Quinn, it was what he calls “Totalitarian agriculture,” and I will explain more about this later. But what went before these cultures and societies were hundreds of thousands of years, in which people were living on the planet and getting along fine. We don’t hear about this period of human history. I never did, when I was in school. So the greatest span of time in which humans were living on the planet is more or less unaccounted for by Mother Culture. It has been very conveniently forgotten about. Quinn calls this the “Great Forgetting.” The very many tribal peoples that lived before civilisation were hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists and combinations of these life-support lifestyles. Some practiced the herding of animals, like goats and sheep. Many still do but they are at odds with the advancement of global civilisation and development that has no problem with taking these peoples’ lands, mining them, polluting them, and destroying environments and the ways of life of indigenous people.
The Takers and The Leavers
Ishmael, who by now we realise is voicing Quinn’s ideas, calls the cultures that were the ones recorded in history as the civilised societies, the “Takers.” Not in the book, but later on in his life he regretted using this term because it has been misunderstood, but I will use it here. The rest of the world, in other words, all tribal and indigenous peoples, were, and still are the “Leavers.” There are and were fundamental differences in what these cultures believed. Quinn, speaking as Ishmael, explains that the takers violated and continue to violate the “Law of Limited Competition” that all the rest of the animal world and that all Leavers obey. He explains this law in this way: “You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food.” The Takers hold the view that the Earth was made for them, that they are superior in the knowledge and lifestyles to the Leaver cultures, which they regard as primitive, and that they have the right to take what they want and do what they want. Biblical scriptures in Genesis 1:28 back up their views: ‘God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."’ This is indeed, what has happened. Humans have increased so much that we now have over 7 billion, and many humans of the Takers who follow the Mother Culture and are in positions of power, have been thinking they are right to rule over all living creatures.The Takers feel that it is right to enforce their ways, their culture, their religions and their consumerism upon the Leavers and the rest of the world. This is where the Takers are “breaking the law,” according to Quinn. No other culture amongst the Leavers does this or has done. There are and were many other cultures!
Salvation and Prophets
At the same time that the Mother Culture of the Takers holds this view that it is right and that it should be enforced on the rest of the world, all the major religions followed by the Takers teach that humans are flawed and need some form of spiritual salvation. The patriarchal religions teach that we are born sinners and need to repent. These religions all have prophets, who came to Earth to show us the way to God. The religions of the Far East, Buddhism and Hinduism, also teach that we are flawed and need to follow disciplines, meditation, the use of mantras, etc., to attain enlightenment or to free us from the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. We are taught that we have something wrong with us, and thus need to follow scriptures with the aid of priests and gurus. Mother Culture has spread these ideas worldwide in all civilised societies, where even those people who are atheists, still understand the concept of sin and salvation. All of these religions came about and all of these prophets are said to have been here within the last 6,000 years. The question that came to my mind is what about the hundreds of thousands of years before this? Why had I not thought about this before reading Quinn’s books? The author takes a far greater look at this in The Story of B.
Totalitarian Agriculture

In the Takers “Totalitarian Agriculture” it is right to keep on increasing the amount of land farmed. It is right to destroy all potential other animals and birds that can damage the crops or eat farmed animals, and it is right to prevent them from having access to their natural food. It is easy to think of lots of examples of this, where animals such as wolves, coyotes, pumas, and foxes are hunted and culled. Sea mammals are not spared. Seals are killed because they might eat fish that humans want. Seals might take fish from fish farms, so they must be shot. This stops the animal having access to its natural food, classes it as an enemy and kills it. I have recently been reading reports of seals shot in Shetland because they are viewed as a threat to salmon farms.This culling is currently in progress in many places where birds and mammals are regarded as a threat to farmed crops and farmed animals. Quinn points out that only people of the Takers do this. Only Takers break the Law of Limited Competition.
Feeding the Starving Millions
Quinn explains that followers of the Mother Culture talk a lot about feeding the starving millions. Increased farming is given as the way to help these people by increasing food production. However, in reality even though the amount of land given over to farming is increased, the millions continue to starve. Food is unfairly distributed and often wasted in vast amounts, and this is becoming common knowledge. It is a myth that there is insufficient food for the people on the planet. What does continue to happen from the increased food production is an increase in population numbers. People from all classes of society, including those very poor ones in the starving millions, continue to reproduce and the population continues to rise. Many people die but still the population is increasing. Quinn points out that with all forms of life, increased food sources means an increase in population. Peoples of the Leaver tribes do not do this, so their numbers stay within the natural resources of the areas they are in. Quinn is not putting forward the idea that the Leaver peoples do not have conflict with other neighbouring peoples but they work out a system whereby each tribe has a territory. It has its own culture and belief system but it does not attempt to convert the rest of the world to its ways of living, unlike those of the Takers. Human population growth is continuing to use resources, destroy the environment worldwide and drive an increasing number of other species to extinction, estimated by scientists to be as much as 200 species a day. It is easy to see that the ways of the Takers are endangering all life on this planet.

The above represents my understanding of Quinn’s philosophical ideas. The author has given me a new way of thinking. This is what is needed. We need to think about where our beliefs are coming from. We need to understand we have all been influenced by the Mother Culture and are living in a world held in its power. Something big has got to change and each of us can contribute to that change. So what do I recommend? I recommend reading Quinn’s books and watching the interviews with him included in this blog. Hopefully you will then want to find the next hundred to spread the word!

Thursday 14 February 2019

The Ecological Park Varzea in Quinta Do Conde in Portugal

A lot more to the town of Quinta Do Conde
Map of the Ecological Park (Photo: Steve Andrews)
If you were driving through on the main road through the town of Quinta do Conde in Portugal you might not think there was much to see there. You might think it was merely a typical Portuguese town with plenty of houses, apartment blocks, local businesses, a share of restaurants and bars, as well as shops, roads, and all the usual urban ingredients.  A pleasant enough place if you lived or worked there perhaps, but not a lot else there, and not much to see. However, you would be very wrong. If you are interested in nature, ecology and gardening, Quinta Do Conde has an amazing Ecological Park known as the Parque Ecológico da Várzea da Quinta do Conde. This park is actually right next to the main road, and just minutes from the busy local Continente and Pingo Doce supermarkets, but it is a real haven for wildlife, a wonderful place for relaxing, and it even has an allotment area where local people can grow fruit and vegetables.
Turtle Lake and White Storks
Lagoa Cagados (Photo: Steve Andrews)
The Ecological Park has a lake known as Lagoa Cagados, which means Turtle Lake in Portuguese and presumably refers to freshwater terrapins that can be found there. I didn’t see any any when I visited but I did see a number of frogs jumping into the water. They were Iberian Water Frogs, a species that is common here. There is a large area of swampy meadow where I have seen flocks of White Storks gather. They are easy to see from the main road and I have noticed them on my way to the shops. I expect these large birds are hunting frogs that are plentiful in the park. I saw more of these amphibians in a reedy pool but the creatures were too quick for me to get any photos.

According to an information plaque, Grey Herons also frequent the wetlands provided here. I am not surprised because there are many ponds, water canals and reed-beds. In one part there is a lookout point for birdwatchers.

Swampy Meadow Where Storks Gather (Photo: Steve Andrews)
Walking Areas
There is a system of paths and walking routes around the park, as well as areas with tables and benches where you could relax or enjoy a picnic. I was impressed with the number of small birds I saw and heard in the park, and also there were plenty of honeybees collecting nectar from the catkins of the Sallows, or “Pussy Willows” as I also know them.

Pussy Willow (Photo: Steve Andrews)
I noticed a lot of Fennel sprouting amongst the greenery, and this plant is eaten by the caterpillars of the Swallowtail Butterfly, which breeds in the park. I found a clump of Salad Burnet too, which is another edible herb.
Salad Burnet (Photo: Steve Andrews)
There are plenty of trees and woodland areas in the Ecological Park and many of the trees are labelled. I saw an Alder covered in catkins, and there are also Cork Oaks, Pines, and at least one Strawberry Tree. In one part of woodland I noticed a large pile of rocks. It had been fenced off and I wondered if this was intended as a place for reptiles and amphibians to shelter and hibernate in winter. It would make a great place for this. According to an information board I saw, the Viperine and Ladder Snake can be found there, as can Fire Salamanders and the Common Toad. I would not be at all surprised. It is simply a wonderful location for wildlife of most types.
Fish and amphibians (Photo: Steve Andrews)
The Allotments
Allotment (Photo: Steve Andrews)
Continuing my walk around the grounds of the Varzea Ecological Park of Quinta Do Conde, I had a look at the area given over to allotments. This area is very much for wildlife as well as people, and I noticed nest-boxes were in use to encourage nesting birds.
Nest-box (Photo: Steve Andrews)
Here in the allotment section, local gardeners grow cabbages, kale, onions, leeks and many other vegetables.
Vegetable Plot (Photo: Steve Andrews)
The plants all looked very green and healthy, and the plots of ground are watered with water from the ponds and water channels. These pools and areas of freshwater provide further areas for aquatic life, amphibians and water birds, and I could see thousands of the Mosquito Fish (Gambusia holbrooki) in one of the larger ponds. This is a fish I was used to seeing in Tenerife when I lived there some years ago. Mosquito Fish have become naturalised in many subtropical parts of the world where they were originally brought, as their name suggests, in an effort to control mosquitoes. These little fish are very adaptable and can tolerate high and low temperatures, polluted and brackish water.
Pond with water used in the allotments (Photo: Steve Andrews)
I saw a few dragonflies too and would think the park would have loads of these insects later in the year. I am lucky to have this park near to where I live so will be making many more visits and seeing what goes on there in spring and summer. I imagine the ponds will have a loud chorus of frogs and plenty of tadpoles will be swimming in the water. I love the sound of frogs croaking!
Iberian Water Frog (Photo: Steve Andrews)