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Unwinding the Spool of Civilization in Ponting’s The Green History of the World and Quinn’s Ishmael

Unwinding the Spool of Civilization in Ponting’s The Green History of the World and Quinn’s Ishmael

Clive Ponting’s The Green History of the World and Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael both critique the dominant paradigms of modern human civilization-especially where its relationship with environment is concerned. Both feel strongly that we are in trouble. Neither are quite willing to make final connections and present us with a systematic method for getting out of our impending ecological crisis, but they both do spell out what has been wrong, what is wrong now, and what will happen should we choose not to take evasive action.

In the absence of similar works “in the canon” it is hard not to feel as though, (as the character Ishmael promised), if you accept their premises you are doomed to isolation for, those who see the future most clearly are usually outcasts, lost as to what power they may have to change minds and directions.

Enlightenment almost always comes at a price, often steep.

In the interest of exploring the necessity of dissent, let’s follow that line of environmental thought a little further. Ponting presents us with the scientific/cultural evidence that backs up what Quinn is saying: that we as a species are destroying our foundations even as we proclaim our creation-Civilization-a success. If this massive breakdown and foreboding future are certainties, then we must ask-as Quinn does-who or what is telling us lies to make us believe otherwise? His character Ishmael calls it “Mother Culture” and insists that its pervasive voice acts to keep us on course even when large portions of the population have every reason to lose hope in Her tenets. This all-powerful entity would, presumably, include most educational establishments and media outlets, and so information to the contrary would rarely be funded or reported, and probably never directly emphasized.

Which leaves us with a challenge: using Thomas Kuhn’s model for change in the social sciences, we must endeavor to see if the Ponting/Quinn paradigm for all civilization is merely a shift in attitude or-as would be difficult for Kuhn to imagine-an entirely new realization that carries with it remedies for the penalties it warns of. If this is a shift back in paradigm, to hunter-gatherer or Noble Savage imagery, then the potential for civil disruption is great. With the stakes of annihilation as high as they are presented, such a shift could justify sweeping political/economic reform that-in the absence of the believed-in reality-would only place more of the Earth’s population in positions of subsistence and subservience.

Comparing Nature of Man in Island of Dr. Moreau and Lord of the Flies

Nature of Man Exposed in Island of Dr. Moreau and Lord of the Flies

Throughout the natural history of mankind, the human race has always held a notion of its predominance over all other creations of nature. Man has long believed that he is somehow morally superior to all other creatures, motivated by a higher source than basic instincts. Yet, the history of man is marked by an interminable string of events that would seem to contradict that theory: war, genocide, segregation, suppression, tyranny, the list goes on and on. Only a cursory look at man’s history is required to come to the conclusion that man is at least as cruel and savage as the beasts they strive to surpass. H.G. Wells in The Island of Dr. Moreau and William Golding in Lord of the Flies each attack man’s artificial superiority extensively. Both men believed that the beast itself resided in man’s soul, surfacing occasionally to produce the evil that man is capable of. Yet, the men approached this concept in two distinct manners, leading to differences in a number of key aspects of the ir respective theories, differences that could weigh heavily on the future of the human race.

When H.G. Wells’ was asked what his motivation was for writing Moreau, he responded, “This story was but the response of an imaginative mind to the reminder that humanity is but animal rough-hewn to a reasonable shape and in perpetual conflict between instinct and injunction…It was written just to give the utmost possible vividness to that conception of man as hewn and confused and tormented beasts” (Batchelor 17). Inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Wells’ island tale of Dr. Moreau and his wild beasts carries a far deeper purpose than the simple survival story…

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….” Critical Essays on William Golding. G.K. Hall

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