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The Original Sin of Agriculture: Takers or Leavers

In Daniel Quinn’s book Ishmael, the world is divided into two groups of people, Takers and Leavers.

Takers believe that humanity is the end product of creation and are intended to rule over and master nature. They see agriculture as a means to eventually free themselves from the constraints and limitations of creation. Takers continually expand the land that they farm for food in order to feed an ever growing population. This only makes it possible for the population to continue to grow and necessitate the conquering of more people and more land to feed the cycle.

Leavers on the other hand see humanity as one of many pieces of the natural world. They are subject to the vagaries of changes in climate and weather. Famine results in decline in populations which means people die. They are dependent on creation and a part of it. They are hunter-gatherers who live as close as possible to the land, because their survival depends on it.

Anytime you divide the world into half you are bound to be oversimplifying things. You might also be hitting on some truth that could be helpful. The Takers’ story so dominates our imagination that just the suggestion that there is another story is hard to wrap our minds around. Then comes the trouble of trying to figure out what to do with this revolution in how we think about the world, agriculture and history. I’m still working it out.

Some people might say that the Leavers’ story is one of bygone era and doesn’t even matter anymore. However, Leavers still exist in the world today. It is also apparent that the fruit of the Takers’ story is ultimately the destruction of the planet and all that sustains us as a species. The question that remains is what to do with this information.

I feel like it needs to be explained further, but rather than beating this piece of roadkill I’ll stop there.

This is part of an ongoing series exploring basic assumptions about agriculture, history and our relationship to creation: The Original Sin of Agriculture Part I

5 comments on “The Original Sin of Agriculture: Takers or Leavers

  1. “Takers continually expand the land that they farm for food in order to feed an ever growing population.”
    This sounds Malthusian, (whose thoughts were roughly applicable until the industrial revolution). Aren’t we getting more food using less land these days?


  2. Justin, you’re not supposed to be reading this. How did you find me?

    It does sound Malthusian to an extent and I have a post brewing on the implications of this idea. However, Malthus went further, I believe, and claimed that war and disease were also good because they controlled population. That is not what this book is arguing.

    Some people say we are getting more food from less land, but others disagree. I’m not an expert. We do know that food production has stayed ahead of population growth. We are also finding out that the claims of Monsanto and others about increased yield of genetically modified seeds are not true. Another question should be, even if we’re getting more “food” from less land, what kind of food is it and what is its nutritional value and impact on people and the earth? We may be getting more corn out of less acres, but if that’s all we’re eating (in many many forms) then how his that helping, particularly those who can’t afford those foods?


  3. Given the rate of topsoil loss, it might be more accurate to say that we’re getting less land from more food.


  4. well put carl.


  5. lifeloversgmailcom

    It could be that this whole story is a process that we go through as a species and that the takers have just as integral a part as the leavers. Lessons are needed for us to evolve as a species and we’re learning some mighty big lessons at this point in time. Peace.


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