As a piece of fiction The Story of B isn’t that compelling. It is a thinly veiled thriller about a Catholic priest of the Laurentian order sent to investigate a preacher in Europe who is dispelling revolutionary ideas. From a narrative perspective, there are too many shortcuts that aren’t believable such as the fact that the protagonist, Fr. Jared Osborne, an intellectual with no investigative skills is able to effortlessly track down the elusive B within his first few days of arriving in Europe and after seeing B speak only twice he is quickly invited into B’s inner circle as B’s latest protege. The novel is filled with murder, deceit, and even an explosion of terrorist proportion, however these elements of the narrative arch feel contrived for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
Don’t let this criticism dissuade you however, for the narrative arch is not why one should read Daniel Quinn’s followup to the phenomenal Ishmael. The Story of B is really a polemic that uses narrative as a means for expressing some fascinating ideas about the origins of humanity, the forgetting of an ancient way of life, and the destructive force of the assimilating mono-culture that has been spreading across the globe for the past 10,000 years.
Told simply, the idea is this:
For hundreds of thousands of years humanity lived a way of life that was successful in propagating the species around the globe without the current belief that the world was made for man to use as he wishes. This way of life was not idyllic: although there was no written language there were laws and there were wars, however man was more at one with nature because the tribes of man were diverse and subject to the natural laws of evolution. Successful adaptation to the environment did promote the growth of certain tribes, but the limitations of natural resources always balanced the dominance of certain tribal cultures beyond the niche of their environment. Tribes of man were set apart, each developing their own cultures and views of the world. There was battle between the tribes, however genocide was a rarity because the laws of evolution promoted the continued success of uniquely adapted cultures that did not benefit from unchecked expansion.
This balance was lost with the advent of agriculture. And in that loss man forgot that he lived successfully on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years. Agriculture, and the dominance of the land, dominance of the species, fooled man into believing that this new way of life was why man was placed on this planet. Religions had existed before agriculture and religion is inherent in tribal cultures, however with the advent of agriculture and the abundance of food to promote an unbalanced population growth a new religious view developed that righteously believed that there was only One way to live through the dependence of agriculture. This way of life has been spreading across the globe for the past 10,000 years and has nearly obliterated the diversity of tribal man. Without the diversity that kept mankind in balance with the Earth, we are facing the potential for a cultural and ecological collapse because the Earth cannot sustain this One way of life that obliterates the balance of the Earth.
That pretty much sums up the The Story of B. However, having read it I’m not quite sure what to do with the ideas presented within. Having been a convert to Ishmael almost 10 years ago, I agree with much of Daniel Quinn’s philosophy, but I can’t admit that my life is changed by his views. I am far too entrenched in the mono-culture that is destroying this world to feel that I have any power to change our path. I can live consciously, and most days I aim to do so, but my conscious awareness of my place in humanity causes me to be more nihilistic than hopeful. I know that in the end of things, one day humanity will collapse and the Earth will continue to live without us. I don’t know what do with that awareness other than to share it with others.