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By Luke Walter on 23.1.2024

Green Column 1: How things came to be this way!

For anyone looking to adopt a more ‘eco- friendly’, ‘green’ or a ‘low- carbon’ lifestyle, one must understand how things came to be this way. That is, how things came to this point where we face the current environmental dangers we face, be it the de-forestation of Amazon rain forest every year to make way for intensive cattle farming, extinction- there are now 16, 306 species that now feature on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of endangered species, and of what we hear most often, the amount of polar ice melting each year, just this summer it was revealed the North- East passage that separates the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was now ice free. These issues are all themes in Daniel Quinn’s 1992 book Ishmael, whose principled theme is how things came to be this way.

It’s a book that is often passed around and name dropped by campaigners and activists in the environmentalist movement but its chief topic is not climate change or global warming, rather these are part of a much bigger story one which started before man even entered the industrial age. After a few chapters one can soon understand why it sits on the quasi- spiritual pedestal of green activists anarcho- primitavist types.

The book chronicles the conversations and teachings between a middle- aged man, a pupil, who comes across a newspaper advertisement from a “Teacher seeks Pupil: Must have an earnest desire to save the world”. This is the start of a journey not only for our protagonist, but also for the reader. The man responds to the advertisement to which he travels to a remote building downtown, it is in a deserted room our protagonist meets his teacher, a gorilla who goes by the name Ishmael. Through Ishmael, Daniel Quinn soon gives us our first lesson, the subject Ishmael has specialised in his entire life, captivity. Quinn tells us we are all captives to a story that has been enacted since our ancestors, agriculturalists, what Quinn refers to as “Takers”, and what has been or what appears to have been a battle against “Leavers”, those we commonly refer to as primitives or savages.

The author explains to the reader through our primate teacher our entire culture, our way of life, how we are all part of a way of life which Daniel Quinn believes can only lead to one end, the complete destruction of the way we live because of the way we live it. This destruction not only affects us, but affects all, including gorilla as suggested by the book. We do find out something I had at times asked myself, how did things come to be this way? Ishmael provides us with a sensible answer and a good starting point for adopting that greener lifestyle we should all consider.


  • This sounds like a very similar book to the Alchemist. I think I shall go look for this one as I liked the Alchemist, it was very inspiring.

    By Anonymous on 6.2.2024

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