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Dirty Greek - Defending Ishmael and Daniel Quinn After James Lee Story
  Culture Critique : Defending Ishmael and Daniel Quinn After James Lee Story
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Today, in an unfortunate series of events, James J. Lee took hostages at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, MD. This is obviously a big deal (by the way, he has now been shot, and all hostages are safe), but it's an even bigger deal to me for a couple of reasons. One is because it's yet another instance of an obviously unstable person misunderstanding the ideas in a book and bringing them to an incorrect and violent conclusion.
Wednesday, as police tried to get the situation under control, details of Lee were emerging. His MySpace page shows a 43-year-old who wanted to meet "environmentalists, scientists, readers of Daniel Quinn, and people who want to work toward a real change."
If you've followed me for a while, you may have seen me mention Quinn and Ishmael. His books were an inspiration for me, however, not in the same way they were an inspiration for Lee. Violence was certainly never advocated by Quinn, in fact, quite the opposite. However, Lee's misunderstanding goes much further than that. Daniel Quinn's website is here.

In his Manifesto, Lee makes it clear that he misunderstood Quinn's message completely:
Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural
roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the
human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn't, then get hell off the
planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they??
Also, many are calling this a "left-wing" attack, though his words seem to indicate more of a crazy mishmash of right-wing, left-wing, environmentalist, and anarchist beliefs. He does mention Daniel Quinn and Al Gore as inspirations, but he also says
Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration
pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people
in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR
these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek
jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO
(The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families
are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant
A Fox News viewer, apparently, among other things. To be clear, Daniel Quinn's books do indicate that our civilization is dangerous and headed to collapse. He does indicate that population-curbing programs would be a good idea. However, he does not imply that these changes should be made with eugenics and violence. He advocates groups of people coming to common-sense solutions through education. He does not ever say that humans are evil or dirty or a problem. In fact, he makes it very clear that the problem isn't humanity but the way humanity started living after the agricultural revolution. Some quotes from Ishmael:
"First, some vocabulary. Let's have some names so we don't have to go on talking about 'the people of your culture' and 'the people of all other cultures.' I've used various names with various pupils, but I'm going to try a new pair with you. You're familiar with the expression 'Take it or leave it.' Using them in this sense, do the words takers and leavers have any heavy connotation for you?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"I mean, if I call one group Takers and the other group Leavers, will this sound like I'm setting up one to be good guys and the other to be bad guys?"

"No. They sound pretty neutral to me."

"Good. So henceforth I'm going to call the people of your culture Takers and the people of all other cultures Leavers."
The premise of the Taker story is the world belongs to man...The premise of the Leaver story is man belongs to the world.
You can't change these things with laws. You must change people's minds.
“The story the Leavers have been enacting for the past three million years isn’t a story of conquest and rule. Enacting it doesn’t give them power. Enacting it gives them lives that are satisfying and meaningful to them. This is what you’ll find if you go among them. They’re not seething with discontent and rebellion, not incessantly wrangling over what should be allowed and what forbidden, not forever accusing each other of not living the right way, not living in terror of each other not going crazy because their lives seem empty and pointless, not having to stupefy themselves with drugs to get through the days, not having a new religion every week to give them something to hold on to, not forever searching for something to do or something to believe in that will make lives worth living. And – I repeat – this is not because they live close to nature or have no formal government or because they’re innately noble. This is simply because they’re enacting a story that works well for people – a story that worked well for three million years and that still works well where the Takers haven’t yet managed to stamp it out.”
Ishmael thought for a moment, "Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?"
"Which want to destroy it? 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 civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live."
"Yes, that's the way it seems."
Quinn, for his part, clearly disavows this behavior:
When reached in Houston on Wednesday afternoon, Quinn told TBD that he had never heard of Lee, and his wife could not recall any type of correspondence from him.

"Good God," Quinn said. "Well, I'm certainly surprised and distressed that he had somehow or other taken my book as a model for this kind of behavior."

When asked what he would tell Lee if he could talk to him, Quinn said: "I guess I would ask him what he thinks he's doing and what he thinks he's accomplishing and then go from there. What's in his mind is what's paramount right now. Sort of wish I could talk to him."
The way it looks to me is not necessarily that he was inspired to violence by the books but inspired to change the world by the books... then decided (if you can call what someone this unstable does) that taking hostages would reach that end. Clearly he is confused and dangerous, and his story ended sadly today.
Link or Discuss | By George on 09/01/2010 @ 05:27 PM | Share And Enjoy: Post To Twitter Post To Del.icio.us Post To Digg Email To A Friend

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