Do what you alone can do

Home page for Ishmael and the work of Daniel Quinn.

After reading Quinn's books, like so many others, I asked myself, what to do? In the books, this is not directly addressed; Quinn, after all, can't possibly know what I or anyone else should do. But Quinn was asked the question (so many thousands of times) he eventually found a way to distill and focus the answer into an imperative: do what you alone can do.

If you're the president of a carpet company, then do what you alone can do: perhaps reform an entire industry.

If you're a rock star, then do what you alone can do: perhaps write a best-selling album.

If you're a random computer programmer, then do what you alone can do: write your own web page, or software, or whatever. (This is one of my own attempts.)

It doesn't matter who you are, a gofer in Hollywood, a student in Alaska, anyone anywhere. You have resources. Do what you alone can do.

I heard this in Quinn's talk, The Ishmael Imperative, on an audiotape entitled Ishmael: Inner Workings: three talks by Daniel Quinn, November 1998. It used to be available from the Quinns' online store, New Tribal Ventures. Unfortunately, it is apparently no longer in stock. I hope it comes back soon.

Themes of Ishmael

If you're unfamiliar with Quinn's ideas, or looking for a way to describe it to others, here is Quinn's summary of the essential ideas in Ishmael and his other work. He addressed these in the The Ishmael Themes talk (same deal with availability). Here they are, slightly edited by me:

Which is to say:

Humanity belongs to the world.