Ishmael - Magnifique !!!

First things first,

This is a novella, par excellence.

No book, that I have read, in recent times comes close to it.

The very concept is so superb that it left me wondering, how did I miss this book.

The premise is simple. There is a strange looking advertisement in the paper, which the author goes to investigate and the journey after that is the whole story.

Basically its about saving the world. But not the James Bond Style. This one is more subtle.



Starting from a very basic notion of Takers and Leavers, Ishmael weaves a wonderful story of the origin, although biblical. Its about how man is at the edge of his own extinction and how much better he could have been. And the best part of this whole journey is that nobody is blamed !! Not even the Gods !!

The book is LOADED with logic. If you are not the type who does not like to read philosophical or logical arguments, then this is not the book for you. The arguments are beautifully presented, leaving no room for any doubt. All the queries that we have are raised by the author himself and are answered satisfactorily.
Well, Almost !!!

The story actually wanders slightly in the middle especially with the Adam and Eve and Fruit of Knowledge theories, but finally wraps it all up in style...

My favorite part in the whole book is the Four rules of mankind that the author formulates. Awesome !!!

It is a short book. Not much complications. No emotional attachments, but leaves one with a deep sense of satisfaction of having found out the truth at last. J

Below are some passages from the book, that I liked a lot.

“Of course you do. My subject is: captivity.”
“Captivity.”

“That’s correct.”

I sat there for a minute, then I said, “I’m trying to figure out what this has to do with saving the world.”

Ishmael thought for a moment. “Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?”

“Which want to destroy it? As far as I know, no one specifically wants to destroy the world.”
“And yet you do destroy it, each of you. Each of you contributes daily to the destruction of the world.”

“Yes, that’s so.”
“Why don’t you stop?”

I shrugged. “Frankly, we don’t know how.”

“You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live.”

“Yes, that’s the way it seems.”

“So. You are captives—and you have made a captive of the world itself. That’s what’s at stake, isn’t it?—your captivity and the captivity of the world.”

“Yes, that’s so. I’ve just never thought of it that way.”

“And you yourself are a captive in a personal way, are you not?”

“How so?”
Ishmael smiled, revealing a great mass of ivory–colored teeth.
I hadn’t known he could, until then.


I said: “I have an impression of being a captive, but I can’t explain why I have this impression.”
“A few years ago—you must have been a child at the time, so you may not remember it—many young people of this country had the same impression. They made an ingenuous and disorganized effort to escape from captivity but ultimately failed, because they were unable to find the bars of the cage. If you can’t discover what’s keeping you in, the will to get out soon becomes confused and ineffectual.”

“We now have in place all the major elements of your culture’s explanation of how things came to be this way. The world was given to man to turn into a paradise, but he’s always screwed it up, because he’s fundamentally flawed. He might be able to do something about this if he knew how he ought to live, but he doesn’t—and he never will, because no knowledge about that is obtainable. So, however hard man might labor to turn the world into a paradise, he’s probably just going to go on screwing it up.”
“Yes, that’s the way it seems.”

“It’s a sorry story you have there, a story of hopelessness and futility, a story in which there is literally nothing to be done. Man is flawed, so he keeps on screwing up what should be paradise, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You don’t know how to live so as to stop screwing up paradise, and there’s nothing you can do about that. So there you are, rushing headlong toward catastrophe, and all you can do is watch it come.”



"According to your maps, the world of thought is coterminous with your culture. It ends at the border of your culture, and if you venture beyond that border, you simply fall off the edge of the world. Do you see what I mean?”
“I think so.”

“Tomorrow we’ll screw up our courage and cross that border. And as you’ll see, we will not fall off the edge of the world. We’ll just find ourselves in new territory, in territory never explored by anyone in your culture, because your maps say it isn’t there—and indeed can’t be there.”


“Here is a puzzle for you to consider,” said Ishmael.
“You are in a faraway land and find yourself in a strange city isolated from all others. You’re immediately impressed by the people you find there. They’re friendly, cheerful, healthy, prosperous, vigorous, peaceable, and well educated, and they tell you things have been this way for as long as anyone can remember. Well, you’re glad to break your journey here, and one family invites you to stay with them.


That night you sample their food at dinner and, finding it delicious but unfamiliar, ask them what it is, and they say,
‘Oh, it’s B meat, of course. That’s all we eat.’
This naturally puzzles you and you ask if they mean the meat of the little insects that gather honey. They laugh and take you to the window.

‘There are some B’s there,’ they say, pointing to their neighbors in the next house.

“ ‘Good lord!’ you exclaim in horror, ‘you don’t mean that you eat people!’
And they look at you in a puzzled way and say, ‘We eat B’s.’


“ ‘How atrocious,’ you reply. ‘Are they your slaves then? Do you keep them penned up?’

“ ‘Why on earth should we keep them penned up?’ your hosts ask.

“ ‘To keep them from running away, of course!’

“By now your hosts are beginning to think you’re a little weak in the head, and they explain that the B’s would never think of running away, because their own food, the A’s, live right across the street.
“Well, I won’t weary you with all your outraged exclamations and their baffled explanations. Eventually you piece together the whole ghastly scheme.
The A’s are eaten by the B’s and the B’s are eaten by the C’s and the C’s in turn are eaten by the A’s. There is no hierarchy among these food classes. The C’s don’t lord it over the B’s just because the B’s are their food, because after all they themselves are the food of the A’s.

It’s all perfectly democratic and friendly. But of course it’s all perfectly dreadful to you, and you ask them how they can stand to live in this lawless way. Once again they look at you in bafflement.

‘What do you mean, lawless?’ they ask.
‘We have a law, and we all follow it invariably. This is why we’re friendly and cheerful and peaceable and all those other things you find so attractive in us. This law is the foundation of our success as a people and has been so from the beginning.’


“Here at last is the puzzle. Without asking them, how can you discover what law it is they follow?” I blinked at him for a moment.
“I can’t imagine.”

“Think about it.”

“Well . . . obviously their law is that A’s eat C’s and B’s eat A’s and C’s eat B’s.”

Ishmael shook his head. “These are food preferences. No law is required.”

“I need something more to go on then. All I’ve got is their food preferences.”

“You have three other things to go on. They have a law, they follow it invariably, and because they follow it invariably, they have a highly successful society.”


First, they exterminate their competitors, which is something that never happens in the wild.

In the wild, animals will defend their territories and their kills and they will invade their competitors’ territories and preempt their kills. Some species even include competitors among their prey, but they never hunt competitors down just to make them dead, the way ranchers and farmers do with coyotes and foxes and crows. What they hunt, they eat.”

Ishmael nodded.
“It should be noted, however, that animals will also kill in self–defense, or even when they merely feel threatened. For example, baboons may attack a leopard that hasn’t attacked
them. The point to see is that, although baboons will go looking for food, they will never go looking for leopards.”

“I’m not sure I see what you mean.” “I mean that in the absence of food, baboons will organize themselves to find a meal, but in the absence of leopards they will never organize themselves to find a leopard. In other words, it’s as you say: when animals go hunting—even extremely aggressive animals like baboons—it’s to obtain food, not to exterminate competitors or even animals that prey on them.”

“Next, the Takers systematically destroy their competitors’ food to make room for their own. Nothing like this occurs in the natural community. The rule there is: Take what you need, and leave the rest alone.”

“Next, the Takers deny their competitors access to food. In the wild, the rule is: You may deny your competitors access to what you’re eating, but you may not deny them access to food in general. In other words, you can say, ‘This gazelle is mine,’ but you can’t say, ‘All the gazelles are mine.’ The lion defends its kill as its own, but it doesn’t defend the herd as its own.”


“Yes. In the wild, the lion kills a gazelle and eats it. It doesn’t kill a second gazelle to save for tomorrow. The deer eats the grass that’s there. It doesn’t cut the grass down and save it for the winter. But these are things the Takers do.”

“Yes, but I’m after something else now. What would have happened if this law had been repealed ten million years ago? What would the community be like?”

“Once again, I’d have to say there would only be one form of life at each level of competition. If all the competitors for the grasses had been waging war on each other for ten million years, I’d have to think an overall winner would have emerged by now. Or maybe there’d be one insect winner, one avian winner, one reptile winner, and so on. The same would be true at all levels.”


Once you exempt yourself from the law of limited competition, everything in the world except your food and the food of your food becomes an enemy to be exterminated.

Ishmael said, “We know what happens if you take the Taker premise, that the world belongs to man.”
“Yes, that’s a disaster.”

“And what happens if you take the Leaver premise, that man belongs to the world?”

“Then creation goes on forever.”

“How does that sound?”

“It has my vote.”


Human settlement isn’t against the law, it’s subject to the law—and the same is true of civilization


“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand–up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”


It wasn’t till I got Ishmael’s poster to the framing shop that I discovered there were messages on both sides. I had it framed so that both can be seen. The message on one side is the one Ishmael displayed on the wall of his den:

WITH MAN GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR GORILLA?
The message on the other side reads:
WITH GORILLA GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR MAN?



Fantabulous.. Lovers of Logic and Rationale... Must Read !!!

My rating :- 8.5/10

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 by Hari
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