|Daniel Clarence Quinn|
October 11, 1935|
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
February 17, 2018|
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Daniel Clarence Quinn (October 11, 1935 – February 17, 2018) was an American author (primarily, novelist and fabulist), cultural critic, and publisher of educational texts, best known for his novel Ishmael, which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991 and was published the following year. Quinn's ideas are popularly associated with environmentalism, though he criticized this term for portraying the environment as separate from human life, thus creating a false dichotomy. Instead, Quinn identified his philosophy as new tribalism.
Daniel Quinn was born in Omaha, Nebraska, where he graduated from Creighton Preparatory School. He went on to study at Saint Louis University, at the University of Vienna, Austria, through IES Abroad, and at Loyola University, receiving a bachelor's degree in English, cum laude, in 1957. He delayed part of this university education, however, while a postulant at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky, where he hoped to become a Trappist monk; however his spiritual director, Thomas Merton, prematurely ended Quinn's postulancy. Quinn went into publishing, abandoned his Catholic faith, and married twice unsuccessfully, before marrying Rennie, his third and final wife of 42 years.
In 1975, Quinn left his career as a publisher to become a freelance writer. He is best known for his book Ishmael (1992), which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991. Ishmael became the first of a loose trilogy of novels by Quinn, including The Story of B and My Ishmael, all of which brought increasing fame to Quinn throughout the 1990s. He became a well-known author to followers of the environmental, simple living, and anarchist movements, although he did not strongly self-identify with any of these.
Quinn traveled widely to lecture and discuss his books. While response to Ishmael was mostly very positive, Quinn's ideas have inspired the most controversy with a claim briefly mentioned in Ishmael but made much more forcefully in The Story of B's appendix that human populations grow and shrink according to food availability and with the catastrophic real-world conclusions he draws from this.
In 1998, Quinn collaborated with environmental biologist Alan D. Thornhill in producing Food Production and Population Growth, a video elaborating in-depth the ideas presented in his books.
Quinn's book Tales of Adam was released in 2005 after a long bankruptcy scuffle with its initially scheduled publisher. It is designed to be a look through the animist's eyes in seven short tales; Quinn first explores the idea of animism as the original worldwide religion and as his own dogma-free belief system in The Story of B and his autobiography, Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest.
Philosophy and themes
Quinn's writing focused on recognizing and criticizing some of civilization's most unchallenged myths, or "memes", which he considered to include the following: that the Earth was made especially for humans, who are destined to conquer and rule it; that humans are innately flawed; that humans are separate from and superior to nature (which Quinn called "the most dangerous idea in existence"); and that all humans must be made to live according to some one right way.
Others common themes include ecology, environmental ethics, and an in-depth look at human population dynamics. He claimed that the total population of humans, like all living things, grows and shrinks according to an ecological law—an increase in food availability for any population yields an accompanying increase in the population's overall size—despite the fact that popular cultural thinking regards civilized humans as separate from and above any such law.
Quinn argued that the global economy's dependence on agriculture requires ever-more expansion, in turn generating ever-more population growth (an escalating vicious cycle he identifies as the "food race") making modern civilization, by definition, unsustainable. He commonly analyzed and defended the effectiveness of traditional indigenous tribal societies—regarded by recent anthropological research as fairly egalitarian, ecologically well-adapted, and socially secure—as models to develop a new diversity of workable human social structures for the future.
According to Quinn, beginning with the Neolithic Revolution, human overpopulation has been driven by an imperialistic way of life that denigrates nature and that relies entirely upon expansionist farming (which Quinn calls "totalitarian agriculture"), in which human population grows in proportion to the rest of the living world's decline in biomass. Quinn described civilization today as largely a single, mass global economy and culture.
Quinn warned about food and population dangers in a way often compared to Thomas Robert Malthus, though Quinn's warning is markedly different. Unlike Malthus, who warned that rising human population would outpace the food generated to feed it, Quinn considered this assessment backwards, instead warning that excess population is the result of excess food. According to Quinn, the success of totalitarian agriculture is causing a catastrophic loss of biodiversity, and, even more directly, overshoot towards an eventual population crash, of which the civilized mainstream shows very little anticipation or interest.
Quinn's conclusions on population also suggest the controversial notion that sustained food aid to starving nations is merely delaying and dramatically worsening massive starvation crises, rather than resolving such crises, as is commonly assumed. Quinn claimed that reconnecting people to the food made available through their local habitats is a proven way to avoid famines and accompanying starvation. Some have interpreted this to mean that Quinn was resolving to let starving people in impoverished nations continue starving, which he repeatedly refuted.
Quinn self-admittedly presented a lack of simplistic or universal solutions, though he strongly encouraged a worldwide paradigm shift away from self-destructive memes and towards the values and organizational structures of tribalism, but not in the old style of ethnic tribalism so much as new groupings of individuals as equals trying to make a living communally, while still subject to evolution by natural selection; he eventually referred to this gradual shift as the "New Tribal Revolution".
Quinn noted that his admiration for the sustainable lifestyles of indigenous tribes is not intended to encourage a massive "return" to hunting and gathering so much as the acknowledgement of an enormous history of relative ecological harmony between humans and the rest of the environment (from which humans are never separate), attributable to the tribe as an effective model for human societies (just as the pack works for wolves, the hive for bees, etc.).
Although Quinn himself regarded the following associations as coincidental, his philosophy is sometimes considered related to deep ecology, dark green environmentalism, or anarcho-primitivism.
Quinn was influential in developing a vocabulary for his philosophy; he coined or popularized a variety of terms, including the following:
- Takers and Leavers — "Takers" refers to members of the dominant globalized civilization and its culture, while "Leavers" refers to members of the countless other non-civilized cultures existing both in the past and currently
- Mother Culture – a personification of any culture's inherently biased influences that are not perceived as biased by its members
- Food Race – the phenomenon of ongoing human overpopulation and its accompanying global catastrophes, in which the giving of more food to starving, growing populations paradoxically yields only still greater population growth and starvation
- Law of limited competition – a biological law that "defines the limits of competition in the community of life," according to which "you may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them... access to food in general," meaning across-the-board; species that violate this law end up extinct
- Law of Life – the universal collection of all evolutionarily stable strategies
- Totalitarian Agriculture – today's dominant form of agriculture that "subordinates all other life-forms to the relentless, single-minded production of human food," unsustainable because it generates enormous food supplies that in turn generate ever-greater human population booms
- The Great Forgetting – widespread historical ignorance regarding "the fact that we [humans] are a biological species in a community of biological species and are not exempt or exemptible from the forces that shape all life on this planet; this also includes our forgetting of the fact that most of human history has been based on an ecologically sound way of life (largely hunting and gathering)"
- Boiling frog – "a metaphor for so many circumstances in life when people are unwilling or unable to react effectively to crises that occur very gradually or imperceptibly," used especially by Quinn to refer to creeping normality in terms of escalating environmental degradation
- New Tribal Revolution – a hypothetical, sociocultural period of global change that Quinn supports, in which civilization would gradually begin to transform into a collection of more sustainable, tribally-organized societies
Ishmael directly inspired the 1998 Pearl Jam album Yield (and particularly the song "Do the Evolution"), the name of the band Animals as Leaders, the ideology behind the 1999 drama film Instinct, and the 2007 documentary film What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire. Quinn's writings have also influenced the filmmaker Tom Shadyac (who featured Quinn in the documentary I Am), as well as the entrepreneur Ray C. Anderson, founder of Interface, Inc. (the world's largest manufacturer of modular carpet), who began transforming Interface with more "green" initiatives. Actor Morgan Freeman's interest in the Ishmael trilogy inspired his involvement with nature documentaries, such as Island of Lemurs: Madagascar and Born to Be Wild, both of which he narrated, while adopting from Quinn the phrase "the tyranny of agriculture". Punk rock band Rise Against includes Ishmael on their album The Sufferer & the Witness' reading list.
- (1988) Dreamer
- (1992) Ishmael, Bantam, ISBN 0553375407
- (1996) The Story of B, Bantam, ISBN 0553379011
- (1996) Providence: The Story of a 50 Year Vision Quest (autobiography), Bantam, ISBN 0553375490
- (1997) My Ishmael, Bantam, ISBN 0553379658
- (1997) A Newcomer's Guide to the Afterlife (with Tom Whalen), Bantam, ISBN 0553379798
- (1999) An Animist Testament (audio cassette of Quinn reading The Tales of Adam and The Book of the Damned)
- (2000) Beyond Civilization, Broadway Books, ISBN 0609805363
- (2001) The Man Who Grew Young (graphic novel with Tim Eldred), Context, ISBN 1893956172
- (2001) After Dachau, Steerforth, ISBN 1581952155
- (2002) The Holy, Steerforth, ISBN 1581952147
- (2005) Tales of Adam, Steerforth, ISBN 1586420747
- (2006) Work, Work, Work, Steerforth, ISBN
- (2007) If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways, Steerforth, ISBN 1586421263
- (2010) Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. (chapter) Nelson, Michael P. and Kathleen Dean Moore (eds.). Trinity University Press, ISBN 9781595340665
- (2012) At Woomeroo, CreateSpace, ISBN 1477599975
- (2014) The Invisibility of Success, CreateSpace, ISBN 1494930935
- (2014)The Teachings, CreateSpace, ISBN 1502356155
- Von Ruff, Al. "Daniel Quinn bibliography". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
- "The Blaze". n+1. 2018-03-09. Retrieved 2018-03-10.
- Wilson (2007:70)
- Quinn, Daniel (2007). "Schooling: The Hidden Agenda".
Recently I was introduced to an audience as a cultural critic, and I think this probably says it best.
- Quinn, Daniel (March 7, 2002). "The New Renaissance". Archived from the original on January 19, 2012.
- Dawei (2014:53)
- Dawei (2014:46)
- Quinn (Providence, 1996:107)
- "In Memory of Daniel Clarence Quinn". Legacy. Neptune Society. 2018.
- Taylor (2010:78–79)
- Dawei (2014:44)
- "Daniel Quinn". Moral Ground. Trinity University Press. 2010.
- Gorman (2012:201–2)
- Burr (2007:36–38)
- Seed & Spring 2005
- Burr (2007:37–38)
- Foung (2002:91)
- Experiencing Globalization: Religion in Contemporary Contexts. Derrick M. Nault, Bei Dawei, Evangelos Voulgarakis, Rab Paterson, Cesar Andres-Miguel Suva (eds). Anthem Press. 2014. p. 12.
- Frank, Adam. "Is Civilization a Bad Idea?" NPR, 2011.
- Dawei (2014:49)
- Burr (2007:24–5)
- "Q and A #83". Ishmael.org. Ishmael.org. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
- Dawei (2014:45)
- Godesky, Jason (2005). "Thesis #4: Human population is a function of food supply Archived June 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.." The Anthropik Network. Rewild.info.
- "Q and A #23". Ishmael.org. 2013. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013.
- "Q and A #767". Ishmael.org. 2013. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013.
- Dawei (2014:52)
- Rehling, Petra (2012) "Enemy metaphors and the countdown for mankind in the American TV series Space: Above and Beyond (1995-1996) and Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)”, in Jordan J. Copeland (ed.), The Projected and Prophetic: Humanity in Cyberculture, Cyberspace and Science Fiction. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 145-152; PDF version: p. 7 Archived May 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine..
- Zellen, Barry (2008), Breaking the Ice. From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Arctic, Lexington Books, 2008, pg. 331
- Burr (2007:24–5)
- Foung (2002:94)
- Burr (2007:33–4)
- Burr (2007:48)
- Dawei (2014:55)
- Burr (2007:30–1)
- Day, Lori. "Republicans and the Parable of the Boiling Frog", TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 2013.
- Anderson, Stacey. "Do the Evolution: 5 Insights From Ovation's Pearl Jam Doc." Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 2014.
- Hart, Craig. Climate Change and the Private Sector. Routledge, 2013. p. 174.
- "Interview: Morgan Freeman on Narrating Born to be Wild", Coming Soon. CRAVEONLINE MEDIA, LLC, 2011.
- Triplett, Gene. "Morgan Freeman narrates new documentary on dwindling lemur population", News OK. News OK (The Oklahoman), 2014.
- Busteed, Sheila (2007). "[www.pluginmusic.com/features.php?page=riseagainst The state of the nation: Rise Against frontman talks about war, education and the modern role model]". PlugInMusic.
- Burr, Chuck (2007), Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution, Trafford Publishing
- Dawei, Bei (2014), "Chapter 3: Daniel Quinn on Religion: Saving the World through Anti-Globalism?", Experiencing Globalization: Religion in Contemporary Contexts, Anthem Press
- Foung, Mira (2002), "Chapter 4: Genetic Trespassing and Environmental Ethics", Ethical Issues in Biotechnology, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
- Gorman, Michael, E. (2012), Transforming Nature: Ethics, Invention and Discovery, Springer Science & Business Media, pp. 201–2
- Seed, John (Spring 2005), "The Ecological Self", EarthLight Magazine #53, V. 14 (No. 4)
- Quinn, Daniel (1992), Ishmael, New York: Bantam Books
- Quinn, Daniel (1997), The Story of B, New York: Bantam Books
- Quinn, Daniel (1999), Beyond Civilization, New York: Three Rivers Press
- Taylor, Bron (2010), Dark Green Religion: Nature, Spirituality, and the Planetary Future, University of California Press, pp. 78–9
- Wilson, Staci Layne (2007), Animal Movies Guide, USA: Running Free Press, p. 70