Exploring the Theme of Moral Responsibility in Daniel Quinn's Ishmael

We are destroying the earth in order to survive. What is our Moral Responsibility?

Daniel Quinn has written a book about how things have come to be the way they are. He looks at the meaning of the world and the fate of humans. Ishmael the main character is a teacher of vast wisdom, as well as being a Gorilla. Being no ordinary Gorilla, Ishmael recognises the failing of human kind in relation to their moral responsibilities. He ultimately directs use towards a solution to the problems we have created for the planet. Ishmael is trying to convey that man kind is living in such a way that we can not last. Our vast numbers alone is hindering our survival.

Moral responsibility is a clear theme of this text. One prime example is: 

"Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?" "Which want to destroy it? As far as I know, no one specifically wants to destroy the world." "And yet you do destroy it, each of you. Each of you contributes daily to the destruction of the world." (Quinn, 1995:25)

This quotation opens your eyes, I know of no one who wants to destroy the earth either. The majority of man kind doesn’t think too much about what is happening to the earth due to their actions. When most of us drive a car or spray deodorant we don’t think of the consequences. It is the responsibility of those who create problems to help fix them and prevent them from happening again. In society today it is evident that man kind’s morals have been called into question. Society has been tackled on many issues that affect the world from recycling to global warming. The UK Parliament has made considerable movement towards helping schools in Britain to become kinder to the planet. The Scottish government has introduced an eco-schools programme into the British school system. These eco-schools and the government hold close links with Education for sustainable development (ESD). 

“We have to learn our way out of current social and environmental problems and learn to live sustainably.” (ESD) 

The eco-schools programme offers environmental education that benefits the pupils by developing the skills in them that will help them live a morally responsible life. 
I believe anyone who reads this book will be made to stop and think about their contribution to the suffering of the world. It is extremely thought provoking book; it makes you question how society functions and the life you live. This is a dominant theme in all RE classrooms. It is imperative that pupils think of the world they live in and how they can help make it a better place.

One thing Ishmael points out is humans existed for millions of years without the modern view of civilisation. It was not until the ‘modern world’ was introduced that earth began to ‘suffer’. The damage that came about due to the ‘modern world’ Ishmael has a solution. His answer to it is to move on from what he calls a “taker” society to a “leaver” society. To move from the view that the world was made for man to the view that man belongs to the world. “Takers” have adopted a process of destruction of the Earth that has become routine, never thought about. On the other hand there is “Leavers” who have adopted a way to live in harmony with the Earth. We have a moral obligation to look after the world we live in. We must adapt our way of living to make sure we continue to strive and no longer hinder our own existence.

Ishmael highlights that people should learn from each other and learning from your peers is an important part of learning and life. If we didn’t learn from each other the world would never thrive or be able to adapt to the changes that the modern day brings. The moral responsibilities of humans that the text highlights are essential to living a good life. The responsibilities that are discussed are important in the teaching of religious education. All teachers have the responsibility to develop skills and qualities in their pupils that are beneficial to their lives and the lives of others.

Works Cited:

Quinn, D (1995), Ishmael, Bantam/Turner Book Publication. 

United nations Educational (UNESCO 1995-2009), Scientific and Cultural Education, Education for sustainable development
Available at: http://www.unesco.org/en/esd/ (Date accessed 21/12/09)

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