The following is a short reaction to one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time:
“Ishmael” begins with a look at an unsatisfied, bitter man who has seen the great revolution of the ‘60s succumb to mainstream society and fail; knowing the importance of the movement, he was pained by its lack of wisdom and inability to do anything for the world. So, when he sees the ad in the paper asking for a student who wants to save the world, he is beyond indignant. There can be no such way!
The bulk of the story takes place as a dialogue between the narrator and his new teacher, the gorilla called Ishmael. The lesson is that man is living outside the law of nature, defying his place in the natural order by taking dominion when he is supposed to coexist.
The book explores the origins of human arrogance and need to control as well as the divine right of man to take over nature. At the end, the narrator comes to the conclusion that man is made for the world not that the world was made for man.
“Ishmael” is especially relevant in modern times because humanity has progressed so far into the destruction of the world. It puts a heavy burden on the reader, too, with the overall message; by proving the point through rational conversation instead of just ranting, the reader is unable to discount the message and move on. It was one of the best features of the story.
The call toward the end of the story to spread the world about humanity and its true purpose is intimidating, but people are beginning to come around… not by Ishmael’s standards, of course, but they are starting in the environmental revolution. While humans still think they are the masters of the universe, we are at least trying to have less effect while maintaining our superiority. I don’t think that will work in the future (at all), but progress counts as well.