Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 6

Summary

Ishmael greets the narrator playfully the next day, wondering if he's excited about the discoveries they'll make. Ishmael begins by making a parallel between Taker culture and the first aeronauts. He says that aeronauts tried to fly before understanding the law of aerodynamics, but that nonetheless the law of aerodynamics applied to their attempts. Ishmael's goal is to define a similar, unarguable law about how to live.

Ishmael continues by bringing up another metaphor, regarding the discovery of gravity. The narrator agrees with his premise that no one was shocked by the fact of gravity as they'd all seen that objects fall toward the earth. Ishmael pushes the narrator to explain how the law was discovered then; the narrator says through studying matter. Thus, Ishmael suggests that, in order to understand how to live, one must study life. The narrator explains that Mother Culture would suggest that humans are above any law that applies to the rest of life on earth. Ishmael sets out to show how, regardless of what Mother Culture says, the law of living applies, and that he'll use the analogy of gravity and flight to explain.

Ishmael begins by suggesting that the Takers' gods tricked the Takers in three ways: First, they're (the Takers) not the center of the universe, though they act like they are. Second, humans evolved just like everything else, even though they feel above evolution. And third, that they're not actually exempt from the laws of life. Ishmael explains by describing an early attempt at flight. He describes a man pedaling a bi-winged contraption. He says that if the man runs off a tall cliff, he will experience free fall for long enough that it will feel like flight to him, even though he's not actually flying. Additionally, the man will keep pedaling because so far it's working, even though below him he'll see abandoned crafts just like his own. But, eventually, he'll fall to the earth because his craft hasn't followed the rules of aerodynamics. Ishmael suggests that Taker culture is in the same boat: it's an experiment in free fall, even though it feels like flight, and Takers are accelerating toward a crash. Takers also see abandoned attempts at civilization (for example, the Mayans) but nonetheless believe that their attempt will survive because it has "worked" so far. The narrator jumps in at the end of Ishmael's lecture and says that people will just try to do the same thing all over again if the narrator's culture ends in catastrophe; Ishmael sadly agrees.

Analysis

Through the use of several analogies, Ishmael presents his ideas about civilization and natural laws to the narrator and furthers Quinn's arguments regarding humanity's place in the world. The first analogy Ishmael employs is that of aerodynamics. He explains that early aeronauts struggled to obtain flight but were unaware of the law of aerodynamics and were thus largely unsuccessful because they could rely only on trial and error. He uses this analogy to explain Taker culture: it is obedient to a law about living, but it is ignorant of that law and so is unable to see how it's doomed to fail.

The second analogy Ishmael uses is the discovery of gravity. He employs this analogy by asking the narrator how Newton discovered gravity. After Ishmael asks a variety of leading questions, the narrator suggests that Newton discovered the law of gravity by observation. Ishmael also builds on this analogy to explain that the only way to understand what laws organisms must live by is by observing living organisms.

Finally, Ishmael combines these two analogies to create an extended description of the problem of Taker culture. He compares Taker culture to a man in a flying contraption that does not obey the laws of aerodynamics; it may appear he's "beat" gravity because he's in free fall, but gravity will eventually catch up with him. Similarly, while Mother Culture tells Takers that they're above the laws of life, they too are in free fall, and eventually their civilization will also crash due to its inability to follow the laws of life. Through these three analogies, Quinn furthers his argument that humankind is at the brink of a catastrophe.

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