The Invisibility of Success

{5/5} “When things work, the forces that make them work are invisible.”

The Invisibility of Success and Other Investigations by Daniel Quinn, published in 2014

This is a collection of essays and talks Quinn gave over a period of several years. Here are some highlights, with direct quotations:

  • On civilizations that disappeared, like the Maya and Olmec:
    • “When they became fed up with what they were building, they were free to walk away from it, because they didn’t have the idea that it must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance.”
  • On our civilization:
    • “We know in our bones that it must continue at any cost and never be abandoned under any circumstance — even if it kills us and all life on this planet.”
  • On our civilization’s education:
    • “From infancy, our children are voracious, non-stop learners. Our schools put a stop to that by trying to make them learn things they have no use for and no interest in.”
  • On Indigenous peoples’ education:
    • “Children… go on learning voraciously everything their parents know, everything that goes on around them in their community — not when they ‘should’ learn it but when their own needs and interests draw them to it… The children of aboriginal parents infallibly learn it all and as teenagers are ready to take their place as the next generation.”
  • On the idea that humans are the rules and owners of the world:
    • “To negotiate a path from the earth to the moon, we had to relinquish the medieval idea of the earth’s specialness in the universe. To negotiate a path from the year 2000 to the year 3000, we’re going to have to relinquish the medieval idea of human specialness in the world.”
  • On the phrase “protecting the environment”:
    • “Protecting the environment is for bureaucrats and vote-getters. We can safely leave that in their hands to screw up in the usual fashion. But saving the world is different… Saving the world is for upstarts and lovers.”
  • On the problem:
    • “Our problem is a world-devouring vision that seven billion people are turning into a reality.”
  • On how to save the world:
    • “If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds. And anyone can change a mind.”
  • On the tipping point for changed minds:
    • “That’s why I have hope for the future. There IS a tipping point out there — and the only way to reach it is by changing the minds of the people around us.”

It’s a short book, but it’s packed with different ways of thinking about things. He talks about how our civilization works better for products than people. He talks about repeating failures, mass extinction, human population, and the idea that there are 2 sides to every story. He also has a unique, and persuasive, way of explaining part of the story of Genesis.

In an afterward, he discusses something he’d recently discovered — that people using something called Permaculture have found a way forward.

I’d read one chapter before, which was previously published as a pamphlet.

Fans of Quinn will enjoy this book, perhaps especially ones who haven’t read his others in a while — it will refresh your memory on some of his ideas. If you’re not a fan of Quinn, my highest recommendation is that you read his Ishmael.

It’s been a while since I read a book by Quinn, but I’m a big fan of his. I’ve read 12 of his books — 6 novels, 1 graphic novel, 1 collection, and 4 nonfiction books.

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