Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Call me Ishmael.

A few weeks ago, I started writing an entry about the (many) books I've read since I last posted anything book-related. I never finished it, and the list of books is only getting longer, so I decided to go ahead and post a few thoughts about book #1, Daniel Quinn's Ishmael (no, not Moby Dick.)

It was great. I had heard a lot about the book from various people who read it for school, so I expected a lot, but still wasn't disappointed. Being excessively introspective as I am, I too often get so wrapped up in all the things happening within me that I fail to think about the grand scheme of things--the big picture. This book served as a powerful antidote to my selfishness. One thing I'd never given much thought to:

"At present there are five and a half billion of you here, and, though millions of you are starving, you're producing enough food to feed six billion. And because you're producing enough food to feed six billion, it's a biological certainty that in three of four years there will be six billion of you. By that time, however, (even though millions of you will still be starving), you'll be producing enough food for six and a half billion--which means that in another three of four years there will be six and a half billion...In order to halt this process, you must face the fact that increasing food production doesn't feed your hungry, it only fuels your population explosion."

This flaw in logic reminded me of a thought I had when I visited the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing in DC when I was in sixth grade. I was quite fascinated with watching the way money is printed. Realizing that money is something that people literally make with paper and ink, I thought, why, then, don't they just make more of it so that everyone will have enough? I eyed a man who was standing (behind the glass) at the end of a conveyor belt and tried to telepathically send him a command to print off some extra dollar bills and go hand them to all the homeless people outside. I think I had a vague sense, even then, that this act wouldn't actually eliminate poverty, but I lacked the economic vocabulary (and probably still do, much to the chagrin of my economics-major friend, Bethany) to determine just why not. It seemed so simple. But, of course, it wasn't. And yet, we're using the same logic in our attempt to elimiate world hunger. Though very troubling, I found this parallel rather enlightening.

I was also very interested in the book's discussion of the creation of the world in Genesis, partly because it was consistent with my personal (seemingly unpopular) view that Adam and Eve do not dichotomously represent man and woman in the neat and orderly way that seems to be widely accepted. I have always thought it important that the Hebrew words for Adam and Eve do not mean "man" and "woman, but, rather, "human" and "life," respectively, and Quinn, using these definitions, brings to light an eerily sensible etiology not only of the human race, but of modern Western culture. It's brilliant. I could say much more about this book, but I'll stop before I start quoting entire chapters. Let me just say that if you haven't read it, you should: I promise you'll enjoy yourself and learn a little (or big) something.

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