A strange premise? Let me quote a passage from the beginning of the book which conveys some sense of its tone, its content, and the quality of thought. Ishmael starts out with a question: "Among the people of your culture...," he asks,
"... which want to destroy the world?"
" 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 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."
Which, so far as I'm concerned, is what the Buddhist meditation practice is all about. It's about learning to recognize in what ways I am captive to systems that control the way I think and the way I act, and learning to free myself from them. It's about learning to be human, and to live in as enlightened a manner as possible. Ishmael will soon begin to instruct his student about the difference between the culture he calls the Leavers and the culture he calls the Takers. The people of our culture--the one that is destroying the world--are the Takers. The Leavers are those who leave no footprint where they walk, and for whom all resources are renewable. We Takers, believing unquestioningly in the myth that this our god-given right, are busy taking the planet from them.
"Ishmael" was first published in 1992. Its warning was already obvious by then, to anyone who wished to see. But in the world of power politics, Al Gore's was the only voice in the wilderness--and look what happened to him. The fact that we have begun to resurrect him now from the oblivion to which we sought to consign him does not compensate for the ridicule to which he was subjected for so many years. It's sad that Quinn's voice, one of the relatively few, along with Gore's, was not more widely heard, or at least more widely heeded, fifteen years ago. We have squandered a good deal of the precious time that has been granted us to save ourselves, and save the planet Earth--if not for our own species, then for some future species on the evolutionary path.
In the meantime, may we all learn to leave more and take less. May we all learn to free ourselves from those systems we have designed for our own destruction. May we all be more conscious of what it is we do.