Ishmael- 2

Continuing with this series of excerpts these open with a huge perspective.  I wanted to bold some of the passages I think are of immense importance, but I left copy as it was.  Again, comments from Ishmael are in blue.



                                                                        Part 2 of 4


(P. 100) “A century ago the would-be aeronauts of the world were in exactly the same condition with learning how to fly. Do you see why?”

“No, I don’t see what aeronauts have to do with it.” 

“It was far from certain that the knowledge these would-be aeronauts were looking for existed at all. Some said it wasn’t out there to be found, so there was no point in looking for it. Do you see the similarity now?” 

“The early aeronauts had to proceed by trial and error, because they didn’t know the laws of aerodynamics – didn’t even know there were laws. 

“The people of your culture are in the same condition when it comes to learning how to live. They have to proceed by trial and error, because they don’t know the relevant laws – and don’t even know that there are laws.”

(P. 106) “Your biologists would certainly not be astounded to hear that behavior in the natural community follows certain patterns. You have to remember that when Newton articulated the law of gravity, no one was astounded. It’s not a superhuman achievement to notice that unsupported objects fall toward the center of the earth. Everyone past the age of two knows that. Newton’s achievement was not in discovering the phenomenon of gravity, it was in formulating the phenomenon as a law.” 

“In the same way, nothing you discover here about life in the community of life is going to astound anyone, certainly not naturalists or biologists or animal behaviorists. My achievement, if I succeed, will simply be in formulating it as a law.”

(P. 108) “Every law has effects or it wouldn’t be discoverable as a law. The effects we’re looking for are very simple. Species that live in compliance with the law live forever – environmental conditions permitting. This will, I hope, be taken as good news for mankind in general, because if mankind lives in compliance with this law, then it too will live forever – or for as long as conditions permit. 

“But of course this isn’t the law’s only effect. Those species that do not live in compliance with the law become extinct. In the scale of biological time, they may become extinct very rapidly. And this is going to be very bad news for the people of your culture – the worst they’ve ever heard.”

(P. 112) “Ten thousand years ago, the people of your culture embarked on a similar flight; a civilizational flight. Their craft wasn’t designed according to any theory at all. Like our imaginary airman, they were totally unaware that there is a law that must be complied with in order to achieve civilizational flight. They didn’t even wonder about it. They wanted the freedom of the air, and so they pushed off in the first contraption that came to hand, the Taker Thunderbolt. 

“At first all was well. In fact, all was terrific. The Takers were pedaling away and the wings of their craft were flapping beautifully. They felt wonderful, exhilarated. They were experiencing the freedom of the air; freedom from restraints that bind and limit the rest of the biological community. And with that freedom came marvels – all the things you mentioned the other day: urbanization, technology, literacy, mathematics, science. 

“Their flight could never end; it could only go on becoming more and more exciting. They couldn’t know, couldn’t even have guessed that, like our hapless airman, they were in the air but not in flight. They were in free fall, because their craft was simply not in compliance with the law that makes flight possible. But their disillusionment is far away in the future, and so they’re pedaling away and having a wonderful time. Like our airman, they see strange sights in the course of their fall. They see the remains of craft very like their own – not destroyed, merely abandoned – by the Maya, by the Hohokam, by the Anasazi, by the people of the Hopewell cult, to mention only a few of those found here in the New World. ‘Why,’ they wonder, ‘are these craft on the ground instead of in the air? Why would any people prefer to be earthbound when they could have the freedom of the air, as we do?’ It’s beyond comprehension, an unfathomable mystery. 

“Ah well, the vagaries of such foolish people are nothing to the Takers. They’re pedaling away and having a wonderful time. They’re not going to abandon their craft. They’re going to enjoy the freedom of the air forever. But alas, a law is catching up to them. They don’t know such a law even exists, but this ignorance affords them no protection from its effects. This is a law as unforgiving as the law of gravity, and it’s catching up to them in exactly the same way the law of gravity caught up to our airman: at an accelerating rate. 

“Some gloomy Nineteenth-century thinkers, like Robert Wallace and Thomas Robert Malthus, look down. A thousand years before, even five hundred years before, they would probably have noticed nothing. But now what they see alarms them. It’s as though the ground is rushing up to meet them – as though they are going to crash. They do some figuring and say, ‘If we go on this way, we’re going to be in big trouble in the not-to-distant future.’ The other Takers shrug their predictions off. ‘We’ve come all this enormous way and haven’t even received so much as a scratch. It’s true the ground seems to be rising up to meet us, but that just means we’ll have to pedal a little harder. Not to worry.’ Nevertheless, just as was predicted, famine soon becomes a routine condition of life in many parts of the Taker Thunderbolt – and the Takers have to pedal even harder and more efficiently than before. But oddly enough, the harder and more efficiently they pedal, the worse conditions become. Very strange. Peter Farb calls it a paradox: ‘Intensification of production to feed an increased population leads to a still greater increase in population.’ ‘Never mind,’ The Takers said. ‘We’ll just have to put some people pedaling away on a reliable method of birth control. Then the Taker Thunderbolt will fly forever.’ 

“But simple answers aren’t enough to reassure the people of your culture nowadays. Everyone is looking down and it’s obvious that the ground is rushing up toward you – and rushing up faster every year. Basic ecological and planetary systems are being impacted by the Taker Thunderbolt, and that impact increase in intensity every year. Basic, irreplaceable resources are being devoured every year – and they’re being devoured more greedily every year. Whole species are disappearing as a result of your encroachment – and they’re disappearing in greater numbers every year. Pessimists – or maybe that they’re realists – look down and say, ‘Well, the crash may be twenty years off or maybe as much as fifty years off. Actually it could happen any time. There’s no way to be sure.’ But of course there are optimists as well, who say, ‘We must have faith in our craft. After all, it has brought us this far in safety. What’s ahead isn’t doom, it’s just a little hump that we can clear if we all just pedal a little harder. Then we’ll soar into a glorious, endless future, and the Taker Thunderbolt will take us to the stars and will conquer the universe itself.’ But you’re craft isn’t going to save you. Quite the contrary, it’s your craft that’s carrying you toward catastrophe. Five billion of you pedaling away – or ten billion or twenty billion – can’t make it fly. It’s been in a free fall from the beginning, and that fall is about to end.”

 At last I had something of my own to add to this. “The worst part of this,” I said, “That the survivors, if there are any, will immediately set about doing it all over again, exactly the same way.” 

“Yes, I’m afraid you’re right. Trial and error isn’t a bad way to learn how to build an aircraft, but it can be a disastrous way to learn how to build a civilization.”

(P. 132) “Okay. As I make it out, there are four things the Takers do that are never done in the rest of the community, and there are all fundamental to their civilizational system. First, they exterminate their competitors, which is something that never happens in the wild. … Some species even include competitors among their prey., but 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.” 

“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. 

“Again, our policy is: Every square foot of this planet belongs to us, so if we put it all under cultivation, then all our competitors are just plain out of luck and will have to become extinct. Our policy is to deny our competitors access to all the food in the world, and that’s something no other species does.” 

“There are species that store food, like bees, but most don’t.” 

“There’s no prohibition against food storage as such. Here couldn’t be, because that’s what makes the whole system work: the green plants store food for the plant eaters, the plant eaters store food for the for the predators, and so on.” 

(P. 135) “In other words, you may compete, but you may not wage war.” 

“Yes, as you said, it’s the peace-keeping law. … It promotes order.” 

“I suppose the community I’ve just described would consist of a few dozen or a few hundred different species. The community as it is consists of millions of species. 

“So the law promotes what?” 


(P. 136) “Diversity is a survival factor for the community itself. A community of a hundred thousand species can survive almost anything short of total global catastrophe. Within that hundred million will be thousand that could survive a global temperature drop of twenty degrees – which would be a lot more devastating than it sounds. Within that hundred million will be thousands that could survive a global temperature rise of twenty degrees. But a community of a hundred species or a thousand species has almost no survival value at all.” 

“True. And diversity is exactly what’s under attack here.  Every day dozens of species disappear as a direct result of the way Takers compete outside the law.”

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