Daniel Quinn: Another Interpretation of the ‘Meaning of Life’ (part 1)

March 2016 300 dpiOnly the men and women of a single culture write here of the meaning of life. It’s a culture seven billion strong, unified by access to a global system of interconnected computer networks. Many of these billions are unaware that we share the planet with hundreds of other cultures. India alone is home to 75 hunting-gathering peoples categorized by the Constitution of India as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (previously known as Primitive Tribal Groups). Other such peoples are named below by region; all are silent, having no access to that “global system of interconnected computer networks”; all are the remnants of tens of thousands of “Primitive Tribal Groups” that have been trampled into extinction by the march of our culture across the face of the earth (memorable to recent history being those natives of the Americas). “Particularly Vulnerable,” all live everywhere on the verge of being extinguished by the immense forces wielded by the seven billion of us who want their land for crops, forage, oil, and other resources.

You see here more than 500 visitors who belong to our planet’s ruling culture, responsible for bringing into existence a Sixth Extinction as dire as the Fifth, which carried off 75% of all species alive at that time. You see here what these visitors alone have to say about the meaning of life, describing it in terms that are in fact rarely evidenced in the “real” world.

Among hundreds of other vulnerable tribal groups around the world are the Maasai, the Tuareg, the Lugbara, the Makonde, the Tutsi, and the Mbouti and Ba-Bejellé pygmies of Africa; the Chukchi and Yukaghirs of Siberia, the Yup’ik and Cup’ik of Alaska; the Khoid of Mongolia; the Enga and Bosavis of Papua New Guinea; the Pitupi, the Tiwi, the Alawa, the Gebusi, Nduidui, the Mekeo, the Kilenge, the Tangu, the Mendi, the Elema, the Lardil, the Trobriands of Australia; the Kreen-Akrore, the Yanomami, the Kalapalo, and the Tupí-Guaraní of South America.

I come here to ask: What would these hundreds of “Particularly Vulnerable” peoples think of what is written here, compared to what they actually see being ENACTED here? I personally believe they would see that the meaning of life for the people of our culture is unlimited growth and the acquisition of wealth and power (rather than the noble, selfless, and spiritual virtues generally described here). Invite Donald Trump and Bill Gates to describe for us the meaning of THEIR lives!

In the “over 500 interviews” found here, I note two with native American backgrounds: flutist Charles Littleleaf, who sells his handmade flutes on the Internet, and Ed McGaa, who has a law degree and served in the Marines in Korea. Among the missing are authors Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, Adrian C. Louis, N. Scott Momaday, and Vine Deloria, who wrote: “When ecologists find a predictable life-span of a generation separating us from total extinction, it would seem that we have a duty to search for another interpretation of mankind’s life story.”


~Daniel Quinn is an American writer, cultural critic, and former publisher of educational texts, best known for his novel Ishmael, which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991.

Copyright © 2016 Excellence Reporter

Categories: Culture, Writers

11 replies »

  1. According to Daniel the civilized tell themselves they have found the one right way to live. There is no right way to live. Instead, there are more ways to live than the number of creatures who have ever lived, who are living now, and ever will live. This is certainly a large number of ways to live, but it is not an infinite number of ways to live. So, there must also be ways to not-live. The civilized are so unfortunate as to have chosen one of the ways to not-live to call their one right way to live. So, unless the civilized change, they will die. Life itself, on the other hand, will continue.


  2. What is it to perpetuate our own as well as other cultures be they 4 legged, finned, winged or even all the other 2 legged, extinction?
    We do this every day as did our ancestors before us back 10,000 years. Do we as Jesus so aptly put “know not what we do”?
    Therein is only part of the crux.
    We know not what we do, for we’re hard wired to be willfully ignorant of anything that recognizes though we’re the most powerful by our own definition, that when it comes to true power we’ve given/give it all to perpetuate the illusion which perpetuates the destruction while decrying our salvation is for ‘all god’s creatures’ which we as a culture claim dominion over.
    Yes we know what this so called revolution has wrought without, have some glimmer of it’s parasitic effects within, yet is there the courage to look at our brothers and sisters who’ve quietly continued (as best they’re able) human evolution and say we’re lost. though we never knew.
    we’re helpless
    as we always feared
    and now in a huge push of every ounce of courage left within
    born of hope
    we ask
    are we worthy to teach
    is there a tribe/community/culture
    that might be home to me?
    There most assuredly is no ‘one right way’, and yet, just as assuredly
    we’re discovering there certainly is a way to destruction with so much misery on it’s path
    that there are times i can only be astounded that out of this prison come such beauty, insight and vision.
    Daniel Quinn is truly visionary and quite comprehensible in how he writes (so rare)
    I read Ishmael last week and finished My Ishmael yesterday and have begun the story of B
    i’ll never see the world the same or my mother culture.
    i’ve a strong sense that this is a seed planted at the most opportune time~for many
    Peace and Joy in the Moment,


  3. It makes sense that this planet is our home. This is it guys there is no after life after life. Once the gift of life has been given it can’t be taken back & who’s gonna take it? God? Gods gonna take your life that was so complex & glorious in its making?? No A creator wouldn’t promise life after life. This is life & life is never ending. The term salvation has its origin , time & reason for beginning. The belief in a creator however doesn’t need the premise of heaven . No. Not at all.


  4. For me it wasn’t easy to read Daniel Quinns statement. I found myself hating what was written there and I found myself thinking that Daniel himself hated our “culture”. After some days, and with the help of some of the other comments, I came back to earth: yes, he is right to remind me of the other culures. Yes, he is right to remind me of the extinction our “culture” did to them. Yes, I can feel the the sadness following his insight. So I must give way to what will follow.


  5. As a previous poster (Carol) said – my meaning of life changed when I read Ishmael & The Story of B. Our culture’s viewpoint is not the only one in existence on our planet. As a species we need to find a meaning of life that is inclusive, not self-destructive, not selfish, doesn’t seek to impose itself on it’s environment and is in tune all the life on the this planet.


  6. Dan never “pulls a punch.” Here he provides us the opportunity to review our (mondern humans’) place on the planet–we are visitors, and recent visitor at that (read Ishmael if you want to explore that idea more).

    If modern humans are still here 500 years from now, we will have “naturalized” and found a way to live here as residents and not just visitors.

    There are plenty of examples and voices of the long-time inhabitants, residents–will we slow down enough to listen and learn?

    Thank you, Excellence Reporter for posting the minority report about the majority of residents on planet Earth.


  7. The meaning of life for me changed markedly after reading “The Story of B” and other novels by Daniel Quinn. Thank you, Mr. Quinn, for sharing your wisdom with those of us who have been educated in the bubble of civilization.


  8. Bravo to Daniel Quinn for writing this, and to all who had a hand in posting it on the “global system of interconnected computer networks”. I want to add, “What about the non-human communities? What would the ants, bees, wolves, elk, dolphins, wild turkeys, and all the other animal societies of the world think of these human-centered “meanings of life”? Thank you, Mr. Quinn, for teaching me to see so much more broadly than my own limited social context!


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