I-One of the most striking features of the Taker culture is its passionate and unwavering dependence on prophets. There is no tradition whatever of prophets rising up among the Leavers to straighten out their lives and give them new sets of laws or principles to live by. Why this dependence on prophets? Why do you need prophets to tell you how to live? s-We need the prophets to tell us how to live because otherwise we wouldn’t know. Questions about how life is supposed to be lived ultimately become religious questions amongst Takers. And they find the answers to these questions worth dying for. Take the question of legalization of drugs and abortion, for example. Why do you need the prophets, why don’t you know the answers yourself? Because Mother Culture tells us that we can find out certain answers to things like atoms, but not answers about how we should live. No matter what we decide to do about legalizing drugs we will never be sure if it was the right thing to do. The knowledge of how to live is just not out there. Are you sure? Have you looked? Finding the answers to matters of how man ought to live is one of the biggest problems facing him. Does it not seem strange to you, no one is looking? You’d think there would be a whole branch of science devoted to it. But we know the answer is not there. In advance of looking you mean? I-So we know two more things about the how the Taker culture sees things. For one thing, man is fundamentally flawed, and for another, he doesn’t know how to live. If man knew how to live, then he would know how to handle human nature.
Could it be that the only flaw in man is that he doesn’t know how he ought to live? The story so far states that the world was given to man to turn into a paradise, but he is bound to screw it up because he is fundamentally flawed. He might be able to do something about this if he knew how he ought to live but he doesn’t, so, however he might labor to try and fix things he will fail. It’s a sorry story you have there, a story of hopelessness and futility, a story in which there is literally nothing to be done. Mankind rushing helplessly into oblivion. s-Yes that is the way is seems. No wonder so many of you go mad or become suicidal. Is there another story, another way of seeing things? Yes, there is another story to be in, but the Takers are doing their best to destroy that along with everything else. I-We confront a wall at the boundary of thought in your culture. This wall is an axiom stating that certain knowledge about how people ought to live is unobtainable. I reject this axiom and climb over the wall. You don’t need prophets to tell you how to live; you can find out for yourselves by consulting what’s actually there. A century ago, man was in the same situation with regard to learning how to fly. He had no certain knowledge about how to fly, just a number of theories. He could argue those theories to his hearts content at the time because there was no certain knowledge about any of them. Without knowledge of a law which described what always happens when air flows around a wing, they had to proceed with trial and error; just as they are proceeding with trial and error around how they should live. They pass laws, but these are not true laws, they can be changed with a vote. The law which describes how air behaves when it flows across a wing cannot be changed just as the laws about how life should be lived cannot be changed. I-Where do you think we should look for the laws regarding how humans should live? s-In human behavior I suppose. Only human behavior? I have news for you. Man is not alone on this planet, he is part of a community upon which he depends absolutely. Have you ever had any suspicions to this effect? Yes. What’s the name of this community of which man is only one member? The community of life. And can the answer to how man ought to live, be found by looking in this community? No, because Mother Culture says that we are far above the rest of the community and if there were such an answer it wouldn’t apply to us. And can you think of any laws that effect the rest of the community but from which you are exempt? Such as? The law of gravity? The law of genetics? The law of aerodynamics? The law of Thermodynamics? No. But the laws of how a turtle ought to live surely don’t concern us. Did the laws of aerodynamics concern you thousands of years ago? No. When did they become relevant? When we wanted to fly. And when you are on the brink of extinction and want to live for a while longer, the laws governing life might conceivably become relevant. I-When Newton discovered the law of gravity, was anyone astonished? s-No. This is because he did not discover the phenomenon of gravity, everyone was aware of its effects; he simply made it a law. In the same way, nothing you discover about life is going to astound anyone. My goal here is similar; to formulate a law about how to live life.
Would you say that the law of gravity is about flight? I would say that it affects rocks and airplanes in the same way. Good. The law we are looking for describes a phenomenon which effects flocks of birds and herds of deer. It makes no distinction between humankind and beehives. This is one reason why the law has remained undiscovered in your culture. According to Taker mythology, man is by definition a biological exception. I- The gods have played three dirty tricks on the Takers. The first was not putting the world at the center of the universe. The Takers really hated hearing this. The second was evolving man out of the slime like the rest of the life on earth. The Takers hated hearing this even more. But, to these things they have learned to adjust. Even if man was not the center of the universe and came from the slime it was still his destiny to rule the universe. No adjustment will be possible for the third law. The law which is applicable to both mankind and the rest of life alike. The effects of the law are simple: species that follow the law will live forever, environmental conditions permitting. This should be good news for man, for if he follows the law, he too will live forever. If he does not, he will assuredly become extinct. I-The law we are looking for is like the law of gravity. It is always in effect. We cannot escape it. We can understand it, and in conjuction with other laws we can learn to live with its effect. By understanding the laws of aerodynamics we learned to fly in spite of the law of gravity. By understanding this third law, we can build a civilization that will work. Imagine a man learning to fly, he builds a contraption and pushes it over the side of a cliff. On the way down he might say ‘Look I am flying!’, not realizing that his craft in no way utilizing the laws of aerodynamics. Since his demise is a long way off, if it were a high enough cliff, he might say ‘So far, so good’. As the ground rushes toward him he might be slightly alarmed and pedal harder, but he would have faith in his craft that has taken him this far without so much as a scratch or a bruise. What he doesn’t realize is that the craft is unsuitable for flight, and his efforts to pedal it are futile, yet he believes that with more effort he will be fine. Ten thousand years ago, man embarked on a "civilization flight" in a craft that wasn’t designed according to anything at all. At first it was terrific; the Takers were pedaling away, pleased with themselves to have been freed from the constraints of the laws of biology. They couldn’t have known that they were in the air, but not in flight. They see and wonder at the remains of crafts that were abandoned by the likes of the Mayans or the Anasazi and wonder, but are content to be airborne, oblivious to the fact that they are bound by the law of the community of life. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law affords no protection from its affects and they will be in trouble in the not to distant future. Man used to say, ‘If we only pedal a little bit harder and more efficiently, we will be ok’. But pedaling harder only increases the destruction. And, such simple answers are not enough to reassure the people of your culture nowadays. Everybody is looking down, and it’s obvious that the ground is rushing up faster and faster every year. I-Suppose you come across a society that you have never heard of before. The people are friendly, cheerful, healthy, prosperous, vigorous, peaceable, and well educated. Their kind has survived for three million years. You ask them how they can manage and they tell you that they all have a law, and they follow it invariably. You need to find out what the law is.
You cannot ask directly. You have to find out by observation. How would you go about it? s-I would have two things that I would need to observe. The first is to see what they never do; and the second is to see what the people who are punished do that the others never do. Very good. I will tell you more about these people. The Takers draw back from this community thinking it to be a culture of lawless chaos, and savage relentless competition where every creature lives in terror of its life. But those that live in the community do not see it as such a place and would fight to the death rather than be separated from it. It is in fact an orderly community. One in which plants are eaten by the plant eaters who are in turn eaten by the predators who are then eaten by other predators. Scavengers get the rest. The animals return to the earth the nutrients which enrich the earth for the plants. The plant eaters don’t eat the plants out of hate. And the predators don’t eat the plant eaters because they are at war with them. They eat because they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. And all of this comes about because there is a law that is followed invariably within the community. Without it the community would indeed become complete chaos and disintegrate rapidly. Man owes his very existence to this law. It is a law that protects not only the community as a whole but entire species right on down to the individual. It is a peace-keeping law that has been followed by every species…up until about ten thousand years ago when the family of Homo sapiens sapiens said, ‘Man is exempt from this law’. And now that man has brought the entire world to the point of death, the Takers explain that the problem is not that man might be doing something wrong, but that there is something fundamentally wrong with human nature itself. About the time that the Takers came in and started kicking everything to pieces, the Leavers were trying to figure out a way to achieve settlement that is in accord with the law that they had been following for three billion years. They proceeded by trial and error, and had the sense to abandon civilizational crafts that they knew wouldn’t fly. They understood there was no hurry, and that they didn’t have to get into the air. There was no sense in committing themselves to disaster the way that the Takers have. So your task, knowing about this society and how is operates, and knowing that there is a law that they follow invariably, is to tell me that law. It is a fundamental law. It is the true explanation of how things got to be this way. If this law had not been followed for the last three million years, the world would still be dust and chaos. And now, after five hundred generations, man is about to pay the penalty that any other species would pay after living contrary to this law. s-I have an answer. I think I understand why you had me figure it out myself. If you had just told what the Takers do that is never done in the natural community, I probably would have just said ‘Yeah, so what?’. As I make it out, there are three things that the Takers do that are never done in the rest of the community, and these are all fundamental to their civilizational system. First, they exterminate their competitors, which is something that never happens in the wild. I-And how can you be sure that this is not something that the rest of the community does? Well, if this had been going on since the beginning of time, there would only be one species left by now, the strongest. Go on. Secondly, the Takers systematically destroy their competitors’ food supply to make room for their own. In the natural community, the law is: take what you need and leave the rest alone. Third, the Takers deny their competitors access to food. Since every square foot of this planet is ours, we claim it and put it all to use to make food for ourselves, then our competitors are just plain out of luck. So, the law, what might it entail? You may compete with other species, but you cannot wage war on them. If species had been waging war on each other for the last three billion years there would probably be only a few hundred species left at the various levels of competition. And what is the difference between what the community is like now and what you described it could be like? What does following the law promote? Diversity. And what is so great about that? I would think that a community of few species would be very fragile. Diversity is a survival factor for the whole community itself. Within a community of millions there will always be thousands that will be able to survive the conditions of some calamity. And every day, dozens of species are eliminated as a direct result of the way the Takers compete outside the law. We are destroying the world because we are, in a very literal and deliberate way, at war with it.