Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Review: "Beyond Civilization" by Daniel Quinn

This summer I read Daniel Quinn's Ishmael trilogy, and during that time, Howard from recommended that I read Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure by the same author. The book is a collection of short essays (akin to copy edited blog entries) that further explain Quinn's neo-tribalist point of view. If you've read the Ishmael trilogy, the earlier essays in the book seem redundant and lack the entertainment value of a Socratic dialogue between a telepathic lowland gorilla and a twelve year old girl.

However, when Quinn goes into more interesting detail as the book progresses, things get interesting. It's probably true that Ishmael had left many with the impression that we all need to go Into the Wild (but as a group, of course) in order to stop the destructiveness of Taker society. In Beyond Civilization, Quinn nuances his ideology by giving us real examples of tribalism - beyond civilization tribalism - living alongside (not isolated from) our buildings, streets, and hierarchy. You really need to read the book to grasp some understanding, as I won't plagiarize Quinn verbatim in this blog. But here's a teaser: Circus folk and the homeless. Go. Read. Now!

Quinn's essays recounting his journey into business tribalism reminds me of my own production company: Mutiny Universe. My business associates (who are also dear friends) might not realize it, but we've been functioning as a (nearly) self-sufficient tribe of filmmakers since our founding. Any semblance of hierarchy is never permanent - only occurring during film production - and we've realized that we are the company. As board members, we don't work for the company: We are the company. According to Quinn, a new tribe makes a living together (unlike communities and many communes), and Mutiny Universe is well into that route of making a living as a solid tribal business.

All that will probably change if and when we have the resources to hire employees, and if and when the board votes to become a microcosm of civilization: A hierarchy. Until that day, I personally have been flourishing creatively within the tribal model: My band the Society of Gloves has recorded a song with moxy phinx for a Mutiny Universe/Sinister Noises production called Outcasts; I've been enjoying composing the music for Mutiny Universe's Elan Vital; I've been recording podcasts for the company on a semi-regular basis; et cetera. Yes, all that, and get to be an armchair pundit most of the time at Of course, while delegating these tasks in a hierarchy (in return for money and power) would be nice, it's been fulfilling being a D.I.Y. creative person.

Then again, to quote Quinn and his thesis: "There is no one right way to live."

Whenever you get the chance, pick up with book. You can even read it in a non-linear fashion, but you might miss some concepts introduced earlier in the book. Since it doesn't have a storyline to follow (as in a novel), Beyond Civilization is great for casual reading.

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