This post is one of four posts that comprise a lengthy excerpt from Daniel Quinn’s novel, Ishmael.
The Agricultural Revolution that began around twelve thousand years ago has never ended and continues to spread. It remains the foundation of our vast civilization today in exactly the same way that it was the foundation of the very first farming village. It’s why we tell our children the story about the meaning of the world, about divine interventions in the world, and about how the destiny of man is of such profound importance to the people of our culture. It’s the manifesto of the revolution on which our culture is based. It’s the repository of all our revolutionary doctrine and the definitive expression of our revolutionary spirit. It explains why the revolution was necessary and why it must be carried forward at any cost whatever.
A few thousand years ago, an event of exquisite irony occurred within the Taker culture: the Takers adopted a story as their own that had originated among the Leavers many centuries before. The irony is that it was a story that had been told among Leavers about the origins of the Takers and about the special knowledge one must have if you’re going to rule the world. The Takers imagine they possess this knowledge, of course, and they’re very, very proud of it. This is the most fundamental knowledge of all, and it’s absolutely indispensable to those who would rule the world. When the Takers go among the Leavers, they discover that the Leavers do not have this knowledge. The only others who would have this knowledge, besides the Takers, are the gods.
At first, the gods bickered among themselves about the garden they had created. They groaned that they had created a place of terror, that all who lived in it hated them as tyrants and criminals, and that was appropriate because by action or inaction, the gods sent the inhabitants of the garden good one day and evil the next because the gods did not know what they should do. Eventually, one of the gods remembered that they had created a tree whose fruit is the knowledge of good and evil. The gods found the tree, ate the fruit, and their eyes were opened. They knew that they finally had the knowledge they needed to tend the garden without becoming criminals and earning the curses of all who lived in the garden. They had acquired the proper knowledge of the gods: the knowledge of who shall live and who shall die.
When the gods saw that Adam was awakening, they discussed what span of life and destiny they should give him. They considered making the quest for the Tree of Life the occupation of Adam’s adolescence. In this way, he’ll discover for himself how he may have life for the lifetime of this planet; however, they worried that after a few thousand years of searching, he might despair of finding the Tree of Life and would be tempted to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though this tree could only nourish the gods. They knew the danger was not that Adam would acquire this knowledge (he couldn’t); the danger was that Adam might imagine that he’d gained it. He might say, I have eaten at the gods’ own tree of knowledge and know as well how to rule the world. He might believe he knew how to rule the world. Because they knew this could be a problem, they forbid Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because they knew on the day he ate of that tree, he would certainly die.
The Takers have never been able to understand why the knowledge of good and evil should be forbidden to Man because to them, this is the very best knowledge of all. It is the knowledge that rulers must have because everything they do is good for some but evil for others. Twelve thousand years ago, the people of our culture took into their own hands the power of life and death over the world, and on the day they did so, their doom was assured.
We can tell that the Taker story of creation originated with the Leavers because if it had been written from the Taker point of view, the knowledge of good and evil would not have been forbidden to Adam, it would have been thrust upon him. If the Takers had authored the story, eating the fruit of the forbidden tree wouldn’t be called the Fall; it would have been called the Ascent. Takers will never give up their tyranny of the world because they’ve always believed that what they were doing was right, which is demonstrated by the Taker practice of forcing everyone in the world to do what they do, to live the way they live. The Leavers were never obsessed by the delusion that what they were doing was right. They just know they do what they do because it’s the way they prefer.
It would be hard as hell for the Takers to give up their way of living because it would mean that they’d been wrong, that they’d never known how to rule the world. It would mean relinquishing their pretensions to godhood.
According to the authors of the “story of Adam and Eve,” one of the creation stories in the book of Genesis, the people living between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers had eaten at the gods’ own tree of knowledge. Among the people known as the Hebrews, this was already an ancient story—and a mysterious story. The Hebrews stepped into history as Takers—and wanted nothing more than to be like their Taker neighbors.
The ancient ancestors of the Hebrews were the Semites. The land of the Fall lay within the Fertile Crescent and was surrounded by nonagriculturalists. Early Takers, the founders of your culture, were unknown, isolated, and unimportant. The Semites were not eyewitnesses to the events described in chapter three of Genesis, but in 4500 B.C., the Semites were eyewitness to an event in their own front yard: the expansion of the Takers.
The Semites were Leavers but were no longer hunter-gatherers. They were pastoralists, herders, and along the border between the Semites and the Hebrews, Takers were killing the Leavers, i.e. the tillers of the soil were watering their fields with the blood of Semite herders: Cain was killing Abel. This was what always happened along the borders of Taker expansion. The Leavers were being killed off so that more land could be put under cultivation—the story was authored not by the Takers but by the Leavers as a piece of Semitic war propaganda. For those who were confused as to why God accepted Abel and his offspring and rejected Cain and his offspring, it can now be understood that the Semites are using this story to tell their children, “God is on our side.” If Takers read the story as written by their ancestors, it is incomprehensible. It only begins to make sense when one realizes that it originated among the enemies of our cultural ancestors.
Where did the Semites get the idea that the people of the Fertile Crescent had eaten at the gods’ own tree of knowledge? They looked at the people they were fighting and said, “My god, how did they get this way?” They could tell that what was going on was wholly new. These weren’t people drawing a line and baring their teeth at the Semites to make sure the Semites knew the Takers were there. The Semites realized the Takers fully intended to kill them, to exterminate them. The Semites knew the Takers were saying that Abel has to be wiped out. This allowed the Semites to determine that the Takers were acting as if they were the gods themselves, like they had eaten from the gods’ tree of knowledge, that they believed they were as wise as the gods and could send life and death wherever they pleased.
According to the Semite’s story, when the gods found out what the Takers had done, the gods said, “Okay, you wretched people, that’s it for you! We’re not taking care of you anymore. You’re out. We banish you from the garden. From now on, instead of living on our bounty, you can wrest your food from the ground by the sweat of your brows,” which the Semites used to explain how the accursed tillers of the soil, the Takers, came to be hunting them down and watering their fields with Semite blood. One of the clearest indications that these two stories were not authored by our cultural ancestors is the fact that agriculture is not portrayed as a desirable choice, freely made, but rather as a curse. In the Taker culture, the adoption of agriculture is a prelude to ascent. In the Genesis stories, agriculture is the lot of the fallen. As the Semites perceived it, the Fall divided the human race of man into two—into bad guys and good guys, into tillers of the soil and herders, the former bent on murdering the latter.
How does Eve figure in all of this? Her name means life. Adam’s temptation wasn’t sex or lust or uxoriousness. Adam was tempted by life. In terms of population expansion, men and women have markedly different roles that are by no means equal. In the frame of mind of a nonagricultural people, population control is always a critical problem. A band of herders that consists of fifty men and one woman is in no danger of experiencing a population explosion, but a band that consists of one man and fifty women is in big trouble.
Why were the Takers to the north pushing south into Semite territory? They were increasing food production to support an expanded population. What the Semites observed in their Taker brothers to the north was that population expansion didn’t matter to them. Adam and Eve had spent three million years in the garden, living on the bounty of the gods, and their growth was very modest; in the Leaver life-style this is the way it has to be. The Semites had no need to exercise the gods’ prerogative of deciding who shall live and who shall die. But when Eve presented Adam with this knowledge, he said, “Yes, I see. With this we no longer have to depend on the bounty of the gods. With the matter of who shall live and who shall die in our own hands, we can create a bounty that will exist for us alone, and this means we can say yes to Life and grow without limit.”
When Adam ate of the tree, he succumbed to the temptation to live without limit—so the person who offered him that fruit is named, Life.
This post is one of four posts that comprise a lengthy excerpt from Daniel Quinn’s novel, Ishmael.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Howland Ehrlich, became media darlings who shared their warnings about unlimited population growth with us in their best selling book and via the likes of Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas. The world population in 1968 was ~3.5 billion humans. 53 years before that it was ~1.6 billion, and 53 years before that in 1862, it was ~1.2 billion and had taken ~175 years for the world population to double to that number.
Today, 53 years after 1968, the world population is estimated to be ~7.8 billion. In other words, beginning around the time of World War I and the Spanish Flu Pandemic, the world population has been more than doubling every 50 years. In my view, every ecological crisis from pollution to climate change to the ongoing mass extinction event can be laid at the feet of human population growth. The Ehrlichs gave us Boomers a loud wake up call about the dangers that lay ahead, but we hit the snooze button and effectively did nothing about population growth. For me, Dan Quinn’s Ishmael has explained why things have come to be this way.
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