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Ishmael and the Crash of Civilization, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1728

Essay

In Part six of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, Quinn introduces the trope of the Taker Thunderbolt as a formative part of his argument that contemporary society was headed towards annihilation. Prior to the discovery of the laws of aerodynamics by the Takers, who are dubbed the civilized peoples, the narrator Ishmael discusses how man tried to model machines to imitate a bird that flapped its wings in an attempt to fly. Due to the absence of knowledge about scientific laws discovered in nature as they are known today, the flight of bird could never be imitated despite the fact that the narrator mistakenly viewed the act of free falling as flying and thus man who attempted to do so would fall to their demise. This machine called the Taker Thunderbolt thus is representative of modern civilization and was constructed by various individuals through the act of trial and error in an attempt to mimic flight. Such a trial-and-error methodology, according to the narrator, was what was deployed to create modern phenomena such as urbanization, science, and technology (Quinn 107). In addition, the narrator contends that trial-and-error was also utilized to construct the foundations of western civilizations, as the Takers simply “pedaled harder” and hoped for the best when they wanted to solve any problems or dilemmas they faced. Such an evaluation of modern symbolization using the trope of the Taker thunderbolt is reductive and quite flawed by nature due to the fact that the hegemonic understanding of the development of modern society has been informed by empirical research and scientific data rather than randomized trial-and-error attempts. Ishmael postulates that ‘Trial and error is not a bad way to learn how to build an aircraft, but it can be a disastrous way to learn how to build a civilization” (Quinn 110). As such, Quinn contends that the crash of modern civilization will manifest as a result of trial and error forming the crux of its very foundation. While man in its nascent stages of evolution—when they lacked the knowledge of science and the laws that governed nature–may have learned how to irrigate crops and build infrastructure through the trial and error method, such an observation cannot be transposed onto an analysis of contemporary society. The Taker Thunderbolt trope carries an argument that modern society is imminently going to crash, which is why measures must be taken immediately in order to avert disaster and avoid such a crash from transpiring in the near future.

A poorly designed aircraft that commences into a free fall and remains suspended in free fall, the so-called Taker Thunderbolt remains in the air but, according to Quinn, cannot be rendered in flight. Ishmael asserts that “Everyone is looking down, and it’s obvious that the ground is rushing up toward you—and rushing up faster every year. Basic ecological and planetary systems are being impacted by the Taker Thunderbolt and that impact increases in intensity every year. Basic, irreplaceable resources are being devoured every year—and they’re being devoured more greedily every year” (Quinn105-107).  Entire species are vanishing, according to the so-called pessimists, because of the encroachment of modern man, which is why the specter of a crash lingers in the next twenty years, although it may transpire at any time. Conversely, the optimists contend that man must maintain faith in this metaphorical aircraft due to the fact that it has hitherto kept humanity safe, so such an apocalyptic view of contemporary society should be eschewed. By merely “peddling a little faster,” humanity can ensure that the Taker Thunderbolt will enable mankind to conquer the universe and preserve an “endless future” through the avoidance of catastrophe (Quinn 105-110). Quinn, however, criticizes the optimistic view of the Taker Thunderbolt, arguing that the aircraft will not save humanity but rather will bring about the demise of modern society regardless of how many people try and pedal an aircraft that remains in free fall.

Quinn’s discussion of the Taker Thunderbolt thus clearly retains an environmental dimension as he laments the extinction of several species of flora and fauna as the primary signifier of future destruction. This disastrous impact of modern civilization on the planet is the focal point of this metaphor within this novel. Quinn intimates that the aversion of the crash of this aircraft requires that members of modern society—or the metaphorical passengers of the aircraft—actually comprehend why the Taker Thunderbolt cannot remain in the air and from its inception never was able to do so. This acknowledgement and understanding is critical because the passengers need to exert great effort to render the aircraft worthy of flight rather than free fall. Moreover, if the passengers prove unable to figure out how to make the Thunderbolt worthy of flight, which causes the aircraft to crash, it is necessary for the passengers to accept the fact that they can never rebuilt another aircraft like it ever again. This line of reasoning thus is a far more nuanced understanding of the metaphor than many readers acknowledge. Viewing the trope as an apocalyptic perception of modern society in which readers believe that Quinn seeks to accelerate the crash of modern society, it seems more likely to interpret this metaphor as suggesting that if the aircraft were to crash in the near future, that the passengers would quickly begin to rebuild it. This swift reconstruction process would take place due to the ignorance of modern civilization regarding its own vagaries. As such, the catastrophe would reoccur at some point in the future, which is why members of modern civilization need to understand how modern society needs to be rebuilt with respect to the natural environment. Rather than accelerating the destruction of modern civilization, Quinn argues for invoking a paradigm-shift in how members of modern society view themselves within the natural world around them.

A closer look at this analogy between the Taker’s way of life and the trial-and-error attempt at flying like birds is necessary in order to better understand the currency Quinn places in it. There are so many diverse peoples and cultures spanning the globe, which renders it seemingly unviable to lump them into just two distinct categories. The Taker Thunderbolt is a poignant example used by Quinn to further develop the points he tries to make throughout the novel through the gorilla narrator Ishmael. Initially when the aircraft begins its descent, it is difficult to believe that its only pilot does not understand that the aircraft is not flying but rather suspended into a freefall. This distortion of reality can be understood if the aircraft was being flown in an area that that so vast that the pilot was unable to discern that the ground was coming closer to the falling aircraft, thereby projecting an image of the aircraft soaring in the air. If the aircraft was not falling in a nosedive formation, it would appear as though the Thunderbolt was indeed in flight. This idea can be transposed into the way that people themselves view reality, as reality is distilled according to personal experiences. Perceptions of reality thus can be distorted as a result of individual experiences, which further enhances the currency of this analogy between the Takers and modern society. Indeed, the pilot embodies the entire Taker populace, or humanity during the modern era. The plane is representative of the immaterial aspects of Taker culture, and the flight itself typifies the material aspects of modern civilization. Members of Taker society yearn to live in a world demarked by peace, meaning in a world that is devoid of catastrophe and doom and in which they are able to take control over the manner in which they extirpate.  Efforts to avoid feeling the pangs of hunger or dying from freezing to death are two goals of the Taker society, and garnering the liberty of not needing to constantly search for shelter and food, members of modern civilization want more. Modernization and industrialization calls for technological advancements due to the fact that Takers do not want to engage in physical labor. The mechanization of society germinated as a result, which has created pernicious ramifications on the environment. Takers simply strive to gain control over their own lives through antibiotics, vaccinations, modes of transportation, and frozen foods, which propels them to search for more amenities to make life easier for them at the expense of others. Death and discomfort are averted, which undergirds the drive of Takers to search for more and more within any mental or physical limitations. Ultimately, the Takers yearn to gain control over their own fate and destiny in this pervasive search for control over everything, including nature. This notion that man can control everything, or that all human desires can be attained, governs the paradigm in which the Thunderbolt was constructed in addition to all of the values needed in order to ensure that this aircraft was constructed. It is the very design of the Thunderbolt that Ishmael argues is inherently flawed, as it lacks the aerodynamic quality needed for flight. As such, it is inevitable that the Thunderbolt will crash whether tomorrow or within the next two decades. Flight itself was not granted to humans by nature, so by the Takers achieving flight, they believe that they provided a corrective to what nature did not grant humans.

It is clear in Ishmael that Daniel Quinn decries the vagaries of modern society due to human vanity and desire to control all of nature. Artificial flight is a cogent metaphor and analogy used to demonstrate how members of modern society go to great lengths to try and control their future in unnatural ways and often at the expense of the environment. As such, the flight becomes representative of how members of modern civilization are socialized throughout the history of the modern world.  While the flight is merely symbolic it is clear that Quinn articulates a narrative about how humans treat the natural world in their quest to control their destiny. Currently, anthropogenic activities that are undertaken around the world by members of modern society are abusing the environment on a quotidian basis. Doing so has plunged civilization into a nose dive en route to catastrophe if the way humans treat the environment in such an adverse manner persists. Consuming more and more will merely result in implosion and drive modern society closer towards its unfortunate demise.

Works Cited

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. United States: Bantam/Turner Books, 1992. Print.

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