Friday, January 10, 2020


Ishmael is an interesting novel that makes you think about Man's place in the world. There are spoilers in the writeup below, so if you plan to read it, you may not want to scroll down.

I thought the action item at the end made a lot of sense: invent. Invent your way out of a problem of consuming too much and otherwise living in an unsustainable way.

But I didn't care a whole lot for how the author gets there. I think he has a very cleansed version of how Leavers have impacted other species. My understanding is wherever Leavers have gone, they have left a long trail of extinctions in their wakes.

I found it laughable that he thinks Takers are not evolving anymore. The dimensions upon which evolution is taking place have changed (e.g. one's eye sight is not a factor in natural selection among Takers, but other things are, like intelligence), that's all.

The author seems to imply that human extinction is imminent as a result of our own doing, and maybe we'll be the first species to extinct ourselves, but I found it odd that he ignored other types of extinction. The dinosaurs and a whole bunch of other species were victims of external factors, factors that humans may be able to affect someday if they continue their present course!

I agree we have made ourselves prone to extinction (we have nukes!). But at the same time, we are also more prone to extinction if we do nothing. Which is likely to happen first? I don't know. But there are downsides to either course of action. As a species though, we are probably less fragile if we colonize other planets and/or have the ability to knock off course an incoming asteroid. But only if we can get there without destroying ourselves first, of course.

He's also worried about overpopulation, but ignores the fact that once income levels reach a certain level, populations actually decline. He sounds Malthusian, a point of view which has been discredited for a long time now. I don't think things are as dire as the author does. Population growth is not accelerating, it's declining. World population might even starting falling next century.

I'm also optimistic about our ability to face new challenges. When this book was written, it looks like humans were afraid of the thinning ozone layer and cutting down too many trees. Those problems appear to have been solved. Sure, there are new problems. But to think they lead to "the end" underestimates life's ability to adapt, in my opinion.

Right now, we are obsessed with global warming. There are no doubt bad things associated with it, but there are also some potential good things, which don't get a lot of mention. How much arable land in northern climates may be freed up? How much more space will there be to live comfortably in a country like Canada? Does the good more than make up for the bad? I couldn't tell you. But I can tell you that anyone who can answer the question with certainty is fooling himself.

Predicting the climate is also very complex, and I suspect the certainty a lot of people have towards this issue is unwarranted. Here's a good recent article I've read on this topic and I highly recommend it: Coal and Climate Change

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