A disclaimer: I read Ishmael against my will, only because I was doing my wife a favor. She was reading this for a “Personal Ecology” class that counts towards her earning her post-graduate degree. She was having a difficult time sitting through the novel, so I had some time to kill and offered to read it, front through back, and give her my opinion. This way, I could assist her in writing any papers due for this class. What can I say? I’m a ringer. No shame in admitting such a status.
I read this in a few hours. And let me say that no book ever FUCKING INFURIATED ME WITH THE RED-HOT FIRES OF A THOUSAND RAGING SUNS the way this insulting, manipulative, steaming, festering pseudo-philosophical babble ever has.
Essentially Socratic didactic written in novel form, Ishmael is the story of a telepathic gorilla (seriously) named…wait for it…Ishmael, who apparently is very wise despite the fact that he is a FUCKING GORILLA. Anyway, Ishmael has a story to tell, and he tells it, in a rather exasperated and condescending fashion, to an unnamed narrator, equally as assholish as Ishmael; the narrator is a child of the “failed ’60’s generation,” and therefore a cynical prick who thinks humans can’t ever amount to shit. He apparently meets a kindred spirit in a telepathic and misanthropic FUCKING GORILLA.
Lest I seem like I’m bashing on a telepathic gorilla, Ishmael does have an interesting perspective on human existence. Because mankind has evolved into the dominant species, it has behaved as the master of all it can survey; that assumption has led to some rather difficult social, political, economic, and environmental consequences, and, dare I say, disasters. Ishmael’s message is that of the biblical Fall of Man, of how our arrogance has led to us leading unsustainable, fruitless, anxiety-ridden lives, in defiance of a natural way of how to live life. But mankind, according to Ishmael’s rather bleak observation, is flawed because it is constantly failing; all of mankind’s attempts to wrest paradise from the earth have only caused mankind to wreak havoc to the earth. Man will never know how to live because what man seeks is unobtainable.
Ishmael asserts that man can be divided into two categories, “takers” and “leavers,” which the FUCKING GORILLA defines as (somewhat derogatorily) “primitive” people, seems facile at best, and very misguided at worst. When the agricultural revolution took place tens of thousands of years ago, the hunter/gatherer peoples came to realize that their life wasn’t sustainable in its present form. “Takers,” as Ishmael calls them, figured the life of hunting and gathering was a wretched existence, rife with terror, danger, and uncertainty. “Leavers,” conversely, were content to remain hunters and gatherers because, frankly, that’s all they knew. They took only what they needed, and left it to their gods to provide the rest for them. By moving from hunting/gathering into agriculture, “takers” took the step of creating civilizations. Civilizations arose from opportunity and necessity, not from a revolution against the mindset of the “leavers” mentality. What the FUCKING GORILLA is suggesting, in his use of the “takers” and “leavers” argument, is only via a Romantic embrace of the “leavers” approach to nature, i.e., “back to nature,” is our salvation as a species.
Sure. Let’s go back to loin cloths and spears and be happy.
In other words, Ishmael is basically a mouthpiece for some hippie bullshit sprung from the mouth of author Daniel Quinn, who’s got some extremely negative and very misanthropic views of humans. Quinn…no, wait, Ishmael, argues that “takers” have failed to master an understanding of the Earth, and because we’ve failed to do this since the first civilization sprung nearly 10,000 years ago, then we’ve failed altogether. That’s a complete crock of a fallacy, in which Quinn (and his fucking gorilla) fail to to take into consideration the growth of civilizations and how they differ from one another. To assume that “takers” all think like one another, and therefore suffer the same fears and anxieties from one another, is a gross overgeneralization. Each society, to this day, has different rules, different priorities, and different agendas. As such, there is a conflict that often times arises when those differences become too apparent and impossible to bear, but those differences have nothing to do with being “takers.” Those differences are dictated by cultural norms and expectations, all of which differ from society to society, since the creation of the first civilizations.
Civilizations were built out of necessity. Necessity is the mother of invention. From such, mankind arose from our humble beginnings. We broke free from the restraints of superstition. We cured epidemics and diseases. We built rockets that landed men on the moon. We created the finest institutes of higher learning. The possibilities to our knowledge are endless, and most certainly obtainable. Simply because we could not obtain such knowledge thousands of years ago did not prevent Copernicus from postulating that the earth revolved around the sun, or that Magellan could circumnavigate the globe, or that the Wright Brothers could build and fly a flying machine. Knowledge has, and always will be, obtainable.
Frankly, for a FUCKING GORILLA, I found Ishmael to be quite the nihilist. And here I was thinking nihilism was purely a human trait.
So go fuck yourself, gorilla.
And, furthermore, the fact that this tripe bullshit passes off for “philosophical and intellectual discourse” is a sad state of affairs, because if anyone who really believes in this message were actually paying attention, you’d realize that you’re being spoken to like an idiot, and this FUCKING GORILLA’S recommendation, if you read between the lines, is that you go drink bleach and die.
Again, go fuck yourself, gorilla.
(I have no idea why Thomas Jefferson is punching a gorilla, but had he ever been face-to-face with “Ishmael,” he would have roundhoused that fucking gorilla as well.)
I really want to write a screenplay based on this book, and produce the film. It’ll be called, “Gorilla, Meet My Fist.” No one will blame me when I pummel the shit out of an 800-lb gorilla for being such a snide twat who happened upon a few Funk & Wagnalls and now thinks of himself as a fucking philosopher.
Shit, Magilla Gorilla was far more intellectually and emotionally riveting than this condescending primate.
Easily the worst novel I’ve ever read. I want the four hours I spent reading this hideous intellectual fraud back.
PS – in case anyone thinks I’m hating on gorillas, consider Koko the gorilla. Sure, Koko was smart, and probably a lot smarter than, say, 60% of most humans, but Koko was also smart enough to know that just because he could read (somewhat), that didn’t make him a philosopher.