Daniel Quinn: Pursuing A Better Path

Few books have left as large an imprint on Chris' general outlook on the world as has Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. 

Our so called modern economy requires the equivalent of two full planets of resources to operate. Therefore, it's living on borrowed time, which means that someday, that experiment must end -- as must every living arrangement that borrows too heavily from the future. 

Giving that we're indoctrinated from birth that "Growth is good", how can an intelligent person grapple with this contradiction? Get ready for a discussion that upends much of the conventional programing we grew up with, and asks us: What different path should we be taking?

Daniel Quinn:  Every culture has a mother culture whose function is to assure continuity, to repeat the wisdom of the culture and to see that it remains in place. In our case, our mother culture happens to be insane. So she is unique. She is constantly teaching us things that in the real world are destructive and insane.

For example, that the world was made for man and man was made to conquer and rule it, which is what mother culture teaches us. We alone have that belief and it has led us to take the world into our own hands and to put the world and ourselves at great risk because of that.

Chris Martenson:  For instance, be fruitful and multiply was maybe a good idea with a few tens of millions of people on the planet, maybe not a useful idea today.

Daniel Quinn:  Yes, that’s true.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Daniel Quinn (60m:05s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/daniel-quinn-pursuing-a-better-path/

As I said in the intro, Daniel Quinn is a person who has changed my thinking.    Altered it in ways both profound and subtle.
Here's a passage taken from his book Beyond Civilization:

Who are the people of "our culture"? It's easy to pick out the people who belong to "our" culture.

If you go somewhere—anywhere in the world—where the food is under lock and key, you'll know you're among people of our culture.

They may differ wildly in relatively superficial matters—in the way they dress, in their marriage customs, in the holidays they observe, and so on. But when it comes to the most fundamental thing of all, getting the food they need to stay alive, they're all alike. In these places, the food is all owned by someone, and if you want some, you'll have to buy it.

This is expected in these places; the people of our culture know no other way. Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key—and putting it there is the cornerstone of our economy, for if the food wasn't under lock and key, who would work?

How different would your life be if the food of our culture was not under lock and key?  Every culture that locks the food away is a member of 'our culture.'

My personal experience in life is that people of the least means are the most generous with what they have, certainly on a percentage basis, but also in the gracious and genuine manner in which they share their food.  

On the other end of the spectrum there are places where it is illegal to take what seems to be perfectly good food out of a dumpster to eat.  Now how should we interpret that?  What's being said there?

It's really quite profound when you get right down to it.

"In our case our mother culture happens to be insane"!
I went to a Dave & Busters for the first time ever this summer.  Wow, what a shock.  The facility must have cost millions and the concept was obviously a money maker but from a sociological perspective I was deeply saddened.  My family went there to eat and the marketing concept was pay a little extra and get a game card so we could play any of the copious games.  The games were all rated on a points basis so it wasn't easy to tell how much each game cost.  Of course when your game card ran out you simply had it filled again with another credit card or perhaps cash.  Mom's and Dad's had their children on their laps as they played various games.  The lessons of course were have fun interacting with machines, mostly by yourself, sometimes against another player.  The graphics were amazing, lots of lights,  noise, sights and sounds to mesmerize, distract and create an alternate reality.  As a token of ones game prowess the player received "tickets" which could be exchanged for stuffed animals and other trophy's.  A few beers, dinner and  many dollars and hours later and a stuffed bear for a prize.  I get the concept, I see the appeal, it just saddens me to see that we are creating a generation that spends our resources, time, money and emphasis on glorified carnival games.  It must be a multimillion dollar industry. Collectively we must be insane.  

I am planning on getting Mr. Quinn's book.  

AK GrannyWGrit



Altered my paradigm forever. The last 20 years of my life has been in service to trying to find ways to live in such a way as to see the earth for what it is: a garden of Eden, and not an enemy to be conquered.

Got the books two weeks ago (Ishmael and Beyond Civilization). Must finish reading the 5 stages of collapse first.
By the way, Amazon shipped me two of each book. They are available to gift to a PP member in the Montreal area. Let me know if you want them! wink


A huge thanks to Chris and Daniel for this podcast.  Ishmael was one of the most influential books I've ever read…one I've often thought I might "unread" if given the chance since life can be so much easier unexamined.
Chris, there is serendipity for me in you highlighting the excerpt about food being under lock and key.  I've been searching for my lifes work for a while now and have been having trouble because I've been looking at it all wrong.  I was looking for a "right livelihood" but finding that I don't assign value to the same things our economy does.  Having a kid this year made me more financially risk averse but also more motivated than ever to take part in creating a better world.  I have settled on a solution.  Instead of looking to be financially rewarded for the work I think matters, I'm just going to do it.  I'm growing trees and giving them away.  In the spring I'd like to add perennials and herbs.  I'm going to take part in picking the lock and freeing up small amounts of free-again food for my community.

In this town we have many charities. From food to medical to housing the bases are covered, but the lock and key paradigm holds. No one has access without the key of proved poverty. A few years ago this was ironically brought into focus when there was a break in and large theft at the ‘toys for tots’ collection center right before Christmas.
In the midst of this typical lock and key approach to poverty is the bicycle operation. People donate time and old bikes. Any kid who is willing to come and learn basic maintenance can take home a bike. . It’s a start.
My questin on this is how big a group can operate on this basis for all of life’s needs? Dunbar’s number comes to mind first.
Also the ‘settling’ of both North America and Australia involved ‘teaching savages’ not to live on anything but Western civilization’s mother culture’s meme. The right to private property is foundational to western codes of law. This goes back a long way in history. If you look at the teachings of Jesus regarding use of property you get a picture of personal ownership, but a personal responsibility to make sure property is used to work toward a better balance of access. But even then the expectation was that ‘the poor will always be with you.’

Below is a link to a 10 yr old interview with Mr. Quinn, talking in depth on the themes covered in both Ishmael and Beyond Civilization. His ability to articulate his thoughts is exhilarating, and having the furniture moved around in your head that way can change lives. It's a lengthy piece, but well worth the time.

Thanks Chris for reminding me of this profound thinker…gonna go re-read Ishmael and order Beyond Civilization!

Your strawman (STRAWMAN). Mother Culture has been hijacked.












That was wonderful interview and full of the stuff that is concerning me recently. I'd never heard of Daniel Quinn before but will certainly read his books. Thank you.

There are a vast number of potentially habitable planets in the universe. Even in our galaxy the number of earth like planets (with liquid water) orbiting sun like stars has been calculated in the billions. Where are the signs of intelligent extra-terrestrial life?
With the possible exception of UFO's which I'll set aside for the moment there are none.

The Fermi paradox talks of a great filter. Either intelligent life in the universe is very rare or civilizations get wiped out before they get to the galactic empire stage. This conundrum puzzled me for a long time but ( I just finished reading Ishmael) Daniel Quinn provides us with a compelling explanation why our own species is unlikely to get much further.


Slow computer - triplicate post

Triplicate post sorry
I must not hammer impatiently on my keyboard

I must not hammer impatiently on my keyboard

I must not…



One of the main 'memes' or narratives with which we must eventually contend is population.
Of course population is exposed as the key driver of the exponential functions that are racing us towards whatever future awaits in the crash course, but I've always struggled to really illustrate just how historically unusual it is to be living at this moment of the human population experiment.

Well - ta da! - someone solved that illustration issue very nicely.  I know that at slightly over 6 minutes this may seem slow, but the suspense builds and I think it's time well spent to watch this whole video:


I found it fascinating to watch just how slowly and carefully human population expanded for the first 1700 years from AD 0.

Then - BOOM!