|By Alaa Alghamdi| Daniel Quinn is a lesser known American writer, albeit with an enthusiastic, if not huge, following. I, personally, find his ideas rather brilliant, but I understand why they may not be widely understood or accepted. Quinn uses simple fictional frameworks to convey powerful, often controversial social and political messages. And he has some notions that may be considered odd until one carefully reconsiders them – including the idea that the development of agriculture may not actually have been the great boon it is almost always considered by historians to be, because it spread so widely and destroyed the diversity of multiple ways of life and livelihood.
Rather than name nations or groups in his historical rumination (in fact, they may be too remote in time to be named), Quinn refers to them as “Leavers” and “Takers”. His contention is, in fact, that there are only two types of peoples in the world: Leavers, who are content to limit their own power to the boundaries of their own territory, to live and let live, and Takers, whose drive is to expand indefinitely, turning those around them into copies of themselves. By definition, Takers take. They dominate a region, and then the region they have dominated expands and swallows other neighbouring regions. In this manner, Quinn asserts, agriculturally-based culture took over, bringing with it longer working hours, social hierarchy, disease, wars – any number of social ills. Why did the neighbouring ‘Leavers’, content in their hunting-gathering lifestyle, acquiesce? Because, of course, they had no choice. And because history is invariably written by the victors, we now view the takeover as inevitable and favourable.
I am not here to argue whether humankind ought to have adopted agriculture six thousand years ago. (If you are interested in that issue, historian Jared Diamond has some interesting things to say on the topic.) I would like, instead, to point out that Leavers and Takers still exist, though we have called them by various names throughout history – colonizers and colonized, for example. The actions and aspirations of truly committed Takers are nothing short of chilling. In our modern era, this would be a country whose drive to expand, both culturally and territorially, is checked by no appeal to law, propriety, or morality. A country whose assault on the peace of the region surrounding it is relentless, because chaos and dissent are the precursors or foreign control.
In our time, in our region, Iran is one such country. Its attempts to attain hegemony over the lesser powers in the region are well known. It is sensible to fear the lengths to which it is willing to go – including the encouragement of terrorism and the development of nuclear technology. If anyone has any thoughts that Iran may be a favourable influence over the region, one need only consider its abysmal domestic human rights record. A country that cannot do right by its own people has little chance of doing right by anyone else.
If Daniel Quinn’s speculative version of distant history is too obscure for serious consideration, one need not go back nearly that far to see the effects of Takers, and how the world has dealt and misdealt with them. The great folly of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy during the 1930s will suffice to convince most of us measures must be taken now to limit Iran’s power in our region.