Yesterday my dear friend (and co-editor of Emergent Thought Magazine) and I were discussing Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and the book’s lessons for social change and the human animal condition. I mentioned how the book seems to be a bible for primitive anarchism and re-wilding initiatives. But my friend concluded that the book is much more than that. The work forces us to explore the multiple degrees of human sociality and how economic and social diversity (as well as cultural diversity) is necessary for humans to have a stable ecological existence.
We realized that Ishmael is not so much a book that promotes anti-civilization ideology. It’s not so much that the world would be a better place for all living beings if humans did not socially organize in civilization. The book is about human organization in general and how any type of social organization imposed on all people is bad for the world.
When radical social activists and emergent thinkers talk about alternative world orders for how humans could and should live, the frameworks assume that all humans desire to live (and therefore should live) under the same degree of sociality–tight-knit and participatory community. Though many humans do seem to require frequent social interaction to be healthy and happy and depend on the surrounding social structure for survival, enough humans exist that don’t meet these standards. In the participatory model of community, there is no place for hermits, isolationists, floaters, and spiritual journeyers.
Semi-social and solitary states are just as important for human long-term survival as living in community. They add to the diversity of that which is the human animal condition. At this point, expecting for all humans to live in tight-knit, participatory community is just as folly as expecting all humans to live in modern civilization. And the same would be if all humans lived as individual-based, highly territorial isolationists. I agree with Daniel Quinn on this matter: we don’t need one solution to fit all; we need multiple strategies. A solitary human is part of the multiple strategies, and as catalysts and drivers for positive social change, we should be mindful in our actions that may seek to eradicate that part of humanity.