Daniel Clarence Quinn
|Born||October 11, 1935|
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
|Died||February 17, 2018 (aged 82)|
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 referred to 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 MacKay Quinn, 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. Several judges disputed giving the entire $500,000 award to Quinn for Ishmael, rather than dividing the money among several authors, though judge Ray Bradbury, for one, supported the decision.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 mentioned in Ishmael but made much more forcefully in The Story of B's Appendix that the total human population grows and shrinks 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 science behind the ideas he describes in his fiction.
Quinn's book Tales of Adam was released in 2005 after a long bankruptcy scuffle with its initial 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.
Daniel Quinn was largely a fiction writer who explored the culturally-biased world-view ("mythology", in his terms) driving modern civilization and the destruction of the natural world. He sought to recognize and criticize some of civilization's most unchallenged "myths" or "memes", which he considered to include the following: that the Earth was made especially for humans, so humans are destined to conquer and rule it; that humans are innately and inevitably 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.
Other common themes included ecology, environmental ethics, and an in-depth look at human population dynamics. Although Quinn himself regarded the following associations as coincidental, his philosophy is sometimes compared with deep ecology, dark-green environmentalism, or anarcho-primitivism. Quinn notably claimed that the total population of humans, like all living things, grows and shrinks according to a basic ecological law: an increase in food availability for any population yields an accompanying increase in the population's overall size. Quinn worried that popular cultural thinking ignores this reality, instead regarding civilized humans as separate from and above any such law. He identified the Neolithic Revolution as the start of human overpopulation, when civilized peoples began to practice an imperialistic world-view that denigrates nature and that relies entirely upon expansionist farming ("totalitarian agriculture"), the human population growing in proportion to the decline of the rest of the world's biomass. Quinn's warnings about population, especially in relation to food availability, have often been compared to the warnings of 19th-century economist Thomas Robert Malthus. However, while Malthus warned that excess human population precariously motivates an excess of food in order to sustain that population, Quinn considered this assessment backwards. He instead warned 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 imply 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 described civilization as primarily a single global economy and culture, whose total dependence on agriculture requires ever-more expansion, in turn generating ever-more population growth (an escalating vicious cycle he identifies as the "food race"). As a result, he viewed modern civilization, by definition, as unsustainable. He commonly analyzed and defended the effectiveness of traditional indigenous tribal societies—regarded by anthropological research as fairly egalitarian, ecologically well-adapted, and socially secure—as role models for developing a new diversity of workable human social structures in the future.
Quinn self-admittedly avoided presenting simplistic or universal solutions, though he strongly encouraged a worldwide paradigm shift away from the self-destructive memes of civilization and towards the values and organizational structures of a "new tribalism". He clarified that this did not refer to 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 named this hypothetical, gradual shift the "New Tribal Revolution". Quinn cautioned that his admiration for the sustainable lifestyles of indigenous tribes is not intended to encourage a massive "return" to hunting and gathering. Rather, he intended merely to acknowledge the enormous history of relative ecological harmony between humans and the rest of the environment (from which humans are never separate) and embrace the basic unit of a tribe as an effective model for human societies (just as the pack works for wolves, the hive for bees, etc.).
Quinn was influential in developing a vocabulary for his philosophy; he coined or popularized a variety of terms, including the following:
Ishmael directly inspired the 1998 Pearl Jam album Yield (and particularly the song "Do the Evolution"), some of the ideology behind the 1999 drama film Instinct, the 2007 documentary film What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire, and the Chicano Batman song "The Taker Story" on their 2017 album Freedom is Free. 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, and its sequel, My Ishmael, inspired the name of the band Animals as Leaders.
Recently I was introduced to an audience as a cultural critic, and I think this probably says it best.