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« Think Like a Gorilla: Civilization Is Not Such a Great Project Really »

It’s not as if civilization just happened to us humans! We have been shaping it for 12,000 years—ever since the glacial ice receded and the climate stabilized. That’s a long time until we compare it to the 200,000 years that we humans have been on the planet. Which begs us to ask: what was happening those other 180,000 years and why did we humans feel a need to civilize it?

A gorilla got me thinking about this. His name was Ishmael, the creation of Daniel Quinn in his book with the same name, Ishmael (1992). The book brings together a human student with Ishmael, the caged gorilla teacher. He, Ishmael, has spent most of his life caged after once living in the wilderness of Africa. His ancesters have been around even longer than 200,000 years—more like 70 million. From that perspective, Ishmael teaches that the civilization project took off in order to impose the supremacy of Homo sapiens on all other species. The consequences, however, have been dire for him and millions of other species. With the explosion in numbers of the Homo sapiens plus their superior tools to all other species, this single species is civilizing the planet to where it loses inhabitability. A major paradox that needs our intervention before Earth’s wildness corrects the imbalance.

In Blinded by Progress I say more about Ishmael’s impact on me. There’s also a whole chapter on species imbalance—a topic too often not explicitly included in conversations about our impacts on our planet.

Thinking like Ishmael, we see clearly that civilization is a particular human project, not something forced upon us. We can join him and all living gorillas in recognizing the dark, dark side of this project. It opens up the question, “Could we humans have chosen a different path?” To ask the question opens up the space to see that we could have chosen a number of different paths for how to interact with Ishmael and all species. We need to get on one of those paths … quickly!

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