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Flight of Life

An excellent of paper 2 by J.L.

In Daniel Quinn's novel "Ishmael" the gorilla compares the Taker's way of life to a trial attempt at flight (104-110). At first I found this analogy difficult to believe, but then as I thought about perception up close compared to far away, it made a lot of sense. It was difficult to assume with so many diverse cultures on Earth that we could lump them all into two groups. Then take one group and further lump them into one person attempting flight, hardly a sufficient sample size. Of course Quinn goes on to give another example of a flight with a craft that the Takers all use together called the Taker Thunderbolt (107). The initial descent of the lone pilot seemed ludicrous. How can one not see they are dropping not flying? Then I thought if the canyon was large enough that you did not immediately see the ground and you could possibly soar, then any direction that was not nose down would seem like flight. This was the same as any situation that one is too close to see the entire reality. Life, to each person, is seen from a narrow perspective. As much as we try to look openly, we still see with the blinders of our own individual experiences. In comparing this final acceptance of the analogy I can see clearly how it compares to the Takers as well as Society today.

In the analogy that Quinn uses, the pilot is representative of the Taker population, or more simply put, the majority of the human race. The plane is the nonmaterial part of the culture of the society, while the flight itself represents the material portion of the Taker culture.

The quest for humans in a Taker's world is to live at peace. This is not to be confused with "in peace," but at peace with no fear of doom. Our basic desire in life as a human is to live with full control over how we die. First we work to not feel hunger or freeze to death. As we feel the initial freedom of not having to search for food or shelter, we strive for more. Then we experience the comfort of not having to participate in physical labor by inventing machines and we then strive for more. We achieve a level of comfort that gives us what we perceive as control over our lives through vaccinations, frozen foods, antibiotics, airplanes, etc., still we strive for more. We look around to see who is missing out in our comfort and we "help" them to be more like us. Then we learn that our way of living has power that comes with it, this is where we find something more to strive for. As long as we are looking for a way to avoid discomfort and death we will be forever striving for more. As a society we want a peaceful death that comes while we are sleeping, sometime after we have had a long fulfilling life. Plus we cannot have any limitations on that journey either mentally or physically. The only limitations we are willing to accept are ones that are due to status not nature. We can be poor and live in squalor as long as we are in control of all of our faculties. A simple desire to live is within all of us. Once we learned that we can obtain some control over our destiny the common mistake in Taker thought is born, the idea that all of our dreams are achievable. This goal is what creates the framework for our plane and all values and norms that are necessary in order to achieve this, make up the skin.

The design of the plane is what Quinn states is flawed. Our plane is not aerodynamic, so it will inevitably crash. Another view of this analogy focuses on the idea of flight in itself. The gods did not give the gift of flight to humans, yet here the humans were trying to compensate what the gods obviously forgot to do. By achieving flight we are proving to ourselves that we are the only ones to rely on and our way is correct. Gods are not cruel so it was a simple oversight that they would allow us to die a painful death or suffer from the pain of another's death. This way of life is focused on correcting that mistake as often as possible, how could that possibly be bad? The plane is a great analogy for Quinn to use since it represents what man has already done to achieve a goal that we were not born with. No one stops to ask why we were not born able to fly? We get on the plane that takes us to the world of endless dreams. We need to step back and ask ourselves if total control over our lives is worth the lack of control over the future.
The flight itself represents the product of socialization of the Takers throughout our history. This is the material part of culture where we follow the script and enforce the norms. This is the part that Quinn describes as enacting the story. The way we as humans enact the story tells us what angle our descent will be. Quinn tells us that we are not in actual flight, but the way we live our lives and abuse the Earth is what tells us how close to a nose dive we are actually going to descend. This is similar to the theory that if we recycle and do things that preserve the Earth then we may soar for a while. If we go on and consume, consume, consume without a second thought, then we will go into a direct descent down. Anything in between will react by adjusting the flight angle accordingly. In general that is how we would perceive the direct impact we make on the Earth. But if you look at it while keeping in mind the peacekeeping laws, then it is not quite as simple. The more we have the more we want and all the while the more we populate. The more we populate the more land we need to provide personal space for everyone. The more human space we need the less animal space we leave. This continues until there are only a select few species of animals that we choose will live, and only how and where we allow them to live. This thought overwhelms me due to its present inevitability.

A negative aspect of Quinn's analogy is that it does not offer a chance to change course or push a pause button so we can reconstruct the plane to become aerodynamic. Quinn states that no matter what we do, the plane will never fly because it is not in line with the laws. This view seems defeatist yet, at the same time, honest. Everything has its own life cycle. One could argue that the Earth will not survive forever no matter what choice you make in how you live. That seems an idiotic thought since accelerating the end is obviously not the best option for anyone. This analogy is great but it brings with it a feeling of impending doom instead of a demand for change. Quinn's point was just that though, "Trial and error isn't a bad way to learn how to build an aircraft, but it can be a disastrous way to learn how to build a civilization" (110).

This analogy also compares to weather and global warming. As in sociology, our understanding of weather is through the observations of patterns. We only have a limited amount of recorded years to conduct a search for patterns in our weather system. Depending on how close we look, different patterns emerge. It's like looking at a collection of letters on a page and working through them in an attempt to form words. Because we only have one page of letters we automatically assume that only one page ever existed. At first we attempt to make small words because we look for the simplest patterns first. But if you have no idea the word is "alphabet" you can create a pattern of a five letter word, then a four letter word. When the next word is not another five letter word we begin to panic and look for reasons as to why this is not occurring in sequence. Possibly the next word is "tomorrow." Although this is an eight letter word we can make three words in sequence with it. So now we think the pattern is five-letter, four-letter, (alpha-bet) then three-letter, two-letter, and three letter words (tom-or-row). When in reality it is only a pattern of two words. Just like our weather, we are guessing at the pattern that may exist. The seventy year flood may be in reality a 35 year flood or even 150 year flood depending on who was documenting the weather and what their individual observations were based on. This probably is not the case with this flood since I'm making it up, but the point is there. If we can only see for a limited amount of time in history, how can a valid weather pattern be established? Could it be, if we had access to timeless documentation that we would not be as worried about the melting ice shelf in the Arctic as we would have been about the shelf forming in the first place? If we could see 6000 years ago to the time that some believe dates to the age of the forming of the shelf would we have thought the ice age was starting? Or possibly the water was all going to accumulate there and not have enough to water our crops and people? Maybe the shelf was even larger then. I'm not trying to play light on the seriousness and urgency needed for global warming, but I want to make sure what we are seeing is not from the view of the pilot in the airplane but the view of the unbiased bystander. When we base the structure of our plane on one belief system and then attempt flight with those folkways, mores and sanctions, it is still a trial and error because only with time will we know for sure what was real and what was assumed.

Work Cited

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. New York, NY: Bantam
Books, 1995.