You may ask, why the desire to escape? And I’ll point, for starters, to the unbearable garishness of the modern world. The destruction, the filth, the sense of nothing quite working anymore. The tasteless pseudofoods. The incessant glare blotting out night skies. The bloody ugliness and noise and annoyance of it all. But what really crunches me inside is this: when I was born mid-century, life was still livable, and as a girl, I delighted in the tales and images of the wilds teeming with gorgeous animals, whether it be forest, jungle or savanna. I read with wonder of the remote tribes living so differently from us, and representing an amazingly, instructively “other way” of being in the world. This was the world into which I was growing up, and I loved it.
And I believed my elders who taught me that civilization makes everything better in the long run. I believed them so thoroughly that when I heard the Sahara was expanding, I thought… no problem! We’ll plant bushes and trees; we’ll know what to do to turn the desert back! Just a matter of time. Later I found out that even while the National Geographic broadcast those wonderful images, the plunder and destruction was well underway off camera. The tigers, the elephants and the tribes were all being wiped out with a brutality and stupidity unmatched by anything that went before. And to think we could stop the march of the Sahara? What a cruel joke. We’d actually been creating and extending deserts all around the world. The inheritance of my world? A bogus fairy tale. When I allow myself to dwell on this, the betrayal and pain cuts through me like a knife.
As I young adult, I finally managed to get a job I liked, that paid well, and I was able to afford some nice things in life. But as years rolled by, I kept wondering… why do I have to work so hard? Why can’t I job- share with a colleague, I don’t need all this money. I need time, time to travel, to stay with my grandparents before they are gone, time to have a life! My employer chuckled at the very idea of job sharing, and my boss treated me with great disapproval when I took unpaid time off during a slow time of the year. It finally dawned on me I was but a hamster on that treadmill I’d heard about, working to pay the bills, and spending money I did not have to make it all more bearable. I left that life behind, but in the end only to return to formal education and other conventional pursuits. I still hoped this world of ours would have a place for me if I tried hard enough…
When the Cold War ended, naturally I was overjoyed. I’d come to America as an exile from communist CzechoSlovakia, and saw my long-shot hopes realized. I waited with the happy expectation of a peace dividend and a new vision for this world of ours. A new vision for America and a new way of doing things. It never came. It never even fluttered in the distance. More business as usual. Then came the time I realized that the 9/11 events would not be used by Americans for anything but flag-waving and patriotic posturing. Voices advocating introspection regarding America’s past and future were banished from mainstream media. Nothing changed. People shopped on. That too was a real heartbreak and a bitter sense of an opportunity wasted. What was the last straw? Perhaps understanding the corrupt nature of the economic system? Or the vacuousness and inanity of the so-called public discourse? The incessant stream of lies and puffery while fundamental changes remain forever out of reach? I simply experienced an ever-increasing sense of deep wrongness about this modernity-shaped world I lived in. An ever-growing concern gnawed away at me, that I was doing nothing but contributing in my own small way to the mess and the horrors. The power of the ole alibi that I was exempt from grappling with it by virtue of my own personal insignificance, of being just one puny human, was decreasing apace.
And so by and by, this modern world lost my allegiance and came to embody to me the glittering menace of proverbial Babylon. And I began to look, again, for a way out. This proved to be a daunting task. My simplistic effort to join an intentional community failed. I ended up in a small town I liked, and began trying to figure out my possible future path with much greater reflection than before. I finally gave the underlying problems the attention and the careful dissection they deserve.
So here I was, wondering what went wrong, and where, and when. Can it be turned around? And how? What can I myself do to end my complicity, and be part of the turning? What can I do to be among those humans who have walked away from the Leviathan and become part of a new way of being and living? I came to sense that the past would illuminate a viable path into the future. In short, I became one of the growing number of people who are nowadays asking utterly fundamental questions about the system we live in.
When I embarked on my journey, I had but three bits of guidance: the Ishmael trilogy’s wake up call of the Great Remembering; the words of Jesus that suddenly started to make sense to me, the ones about the sparrows and lilies in the field that are taken care of without toil and gathering into barns; and the manuscript of a friend who had been trying to work out “what went wrong” for a number of years. It was Ishmael that inspired me to look deeply into our species’ history, and to endeavor to keep all members of the human race within that history, not only the civilized. I realized, with considerable sadness, that I cannot go and join the Hopi or the Sirionó. They don’t want me, they don’t deserve the assault of more civilized outsiders moving in and about, and they live at the system’s sufferance anyway. I must find a way that is open to people like myself, people who want out as they are: the hopeful ex-Babylonians. I must undergo the Great Remembering and be able to recall and retell a past where “people – the kind of people who now make up the suffering masses – lived well, and human society was not divided into those who are expected to suffer and those who are exempt from suffering.” I thought, once I remember this past, perhaps I will be able to remember where the escape hatches are!
Our deep past is tribal, largely egalitarian and war-less, lived within simple affluence, functional (as it evolved through millennia of trial and error), culturally diverse, and mostly constrained by the surrounding ecosystems. This is the message of Quinn’s Ishmael. In true cultural evolution. what works survives, and what doesn’t, perishes. In a culture hijacked by Babylon, if it does not work, you just suffer. If it does not work, at best the elites try to cobble together some laws that may help some, or may make things worse. “Why should you be surprised that the founders of your culture, having obliterated a lifestyle tested over a period of 3,000,000 years, were unable to instantly slap together a replacement that was just as good?” asks Ishmael. I became intrigued. What other insights and misperceptions are hiding in the fully fleshed out history of Homo sapiens no one has yet written?
Earlier on, I acquired a suspicion that to join an ecovillage is not enough; each of us moderns brings the habits and the destructiveness of Babylon along as ecovillage pioneers cut corners on the eco-aspects, trying to eke out a living in a place somewhat removed, but essentially still in the bosom of Babylon. Each of us is burdened by our deep ignorance of well-functioning human communities. I needed to come to much greater understanding of the Leviathan I was dealing with, so I could begin to come up with ways to live outside its grasp. And I needed to start going another way.
This book is my answer to all those questions, and my workbook for walking away. Perhaps it can serve as a guidebook for those coming after. I was radicalized in the process of writing it. You’ll see. I write as I see it.
A few notes before jumping in:
When I speak of Babylon, I am referring to the glitzy, clever, seductive, destructive, morally and spiritually bankrupt construct nearly (but not quite) synonymous with ‘civilization.’ It encompasses not only our civilization (Western or global) but all its celebrated precursors from Sumer on. Babylon is derivative.
When I later speak of the Machine, I mean the underlying mechanism that extrudes and drives Babylon. The Machine is primary.
I am a believer in a Higher Power. There are places in the text where I refer to God. Those who believe otherwise can easily substitute Nature or Universe. I use all three sometimes.
When I use the word “we”, “us” and “ours,” I am referring to ‘us human beings’ or perhaps ‘us sapiens.’ Any other usage will be qualified in the text. This is to avoid fallacious misdirection created when “us” is used by a particular group of humans to duck responsibility and unload it onto human nature or humanity as a whole. When we say “us humans” but mean “us the civilized,” all those peoples living outside civilization are marginalized, forgotten, erased. WE are everybody. OUR HISTORY is the history of humanity. Like a steamroller, we the civilized ride roughshod over all the planet and just shrug off the bits that get mangled underneath. Not good enough. I wanted to know the real history of our species.