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8 February 2006

Ishmael book cover

Serendipity, n.: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

Somtimes, things just come together. Recall, if you will, my recent perplexion, and the fact that I was seriously bothered by the way people “…can be [so] complacent about their own abuse.” Let me also now inform you that I am reading Ishmael (which itself was involved in another of my rants), a book that was recommended to me by Steve Sparks. (You’ll hear more about Steve, eventually.) Those two items have combined in a most unusual way; check out this excerpt from Ishmael and see if you can find any relationship to my perplexion:

…and she said, ‘Why is it that no one is excited? I hear people talking in the Laundromat about the end of the world, and they’re no more excited than if they were comparing detergents. People talk about the destruction of the ozone layer and the death of all life. They talk about the devestation of the rain forests, about deadly pollution that will be with us for thousands and millions of years, about the disappearance of dozens of species of life every day, about the end of speciation itself. And they seem perfectly calm.’

“I said to her, ‘Is this what you want to know then – why people aren’t excited about the destruction of the world?’ She thought about that for a while and said, ‘No, I know why they’re not excited. They’re not excited because they believe what they’ve been told.’”

I said, “Yes?”

“What have people been told that keeps them from becoming excited, that keeps them relatively calm when they view the catastropic damage they’re inflicting on this planet?”

“I don’t know.”

“They’ve been told an explaining story. They’ve been given an explanation of how things came to be this way, and this stills their alarm. This explanation covers everything, including the deterioration of the ozone layer, the pollution of the oceans, the destruction of the rain forests, and even human extinction – and it satisfies them. or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it pacifies them. They put their shoulders to the wheel during the day, stupefy themselves with drugs or television at night, and try not to think too searchingly about the world they’re leaving their children to cope with.”

I think this is going to be a good book.

  1. Amitai Schlair says:

    How was Ishmael involved in the airline rant? Which, incidentally, I think you should copy-paste into an appropriately backdated entry here.

    I read Ishmael years ago (back when I lived chez Phi Kap) and found it facile, though it certainly followed its premise to all the logical conclusions. If you feel after having read it that it was a good book, I’ll give it another whirl.

  2. Nathan Arthur says:

    I got a copy of Ishmael for Christmas and it was in the bag that got soaked by US Air, and was thereby ruined.

    I have now finished it, and I also found it facile (which I had to look up). But it was also not wrong. I’ll post about it after my thoughts have percolated for a while.

  3. Matt McElheny says:

    I haven’t read the book, but that would never stop me from sharing my thoughts on the matter. I don’t have all the context, but I think that this conversation snippet tries to be overly complicated – people aren’t ‘excited’ by this kind of thing due simply to a lack of feeling of personal responsibility or due to learned helplessness to affect the situation – actually, it’s likely some combination of the two.

    Ultimately, it’s become chic to pass off responsibility to fix-it or clean-things-up to ‘the government’ or some other large and easy to blame target. Then we can complain about their incompetence handling disasters like Katrina, or preventing 9/11, or cleaning up the environment – all the while pouring more money at largely ineffective social programs and demanding the creation of new ones. It would require a massive cultural change to realize that the onus is on us to pick up the cross and affect change in our communities with our own two hands, not with the blood of our scapegoats ( cough FEMA cough Bush cough ).

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