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“IF THEY GIVE YOU LINED PAPER, WRITE SIDEWAYS” Daniel Quinn

by Dr. Shruti Shankar Gaur

Isn’t the title of this book astounding! If you ever get to read Daniel Quinn, this one line defines him wholly. He is among the few writers who has the power to change the reader’s thought pattern by 180 degrees. I can vouch that if you read Quinn (pick any of his work) you won’t view the world in the  same manner as you perceived it previously. He will scar you for life & in case you plan to survive in this world, it won’t be of any good. I tell you why? If you discuss his ideas with a non-Quinn person, chances are you will be labelled a lunatic. I can ascertain that. Thus, it is hereby issued in public interest: Watch out before you decide to read him!

I was introduced to Daniel Quinn by my intern @MadhuriRana during one of our brainstorming sessions. Ishmael was the first book of his that I had read. It blew my mind. I just couldn’t get it out of my system. His thoughts lingered on until I decided to recreate some of his thoughts into a children’s book before the mother culture seeps in. While the book is in nascent stage, I needed to read more of Daniel Quinn. I needed to do the necessary groundwork. I had to research Daniel Quinn.

It was at this time that my dear friend, @MarkSMerrit guided me to more of Quinn’s ideology. I ordered four books.  ‘If they give you lined paper, write sideways’ was the first to arrive.

“There is always a brave new world”, said Parriot, “but only, you know, for very special people. The lucky ones. The ones who carry the making of that world within themselves.”          -Agatha Christie

The book is a conversation between Quinn & one of his fan Elaine to discover the ‘Quinn Method’. “How to think like Daniel Quinn?” “How he thinks what he thinks? How he figures out things that everyone else on the planet miss completely?” “How does he conclude?” I knew this would be an interesting read, to get into the mind of Daniel Quinn, if we may so.

In his own typical style of circling around the issue, nudging, probing, guessing, he was able to help Elaine & myself disguise into the ‘Martian Anthropologists’ for at least some time.

Summarising Quinn’s Method for anyone & everyone who plans to become a Martian Anthropologist like him: 

1. People speak from a conventional point of reference. Before we scrutinise using Quinn’s Method, we must understand the frame of reference.

2. To understand the frame of reference, we must be able to detach the assumption from any statement or question. For example: “if they give you lined paper, write sideways- In this quote the assumption is that lined paper represents the received wisdom of our culture. What is the received wisdom of our culture- Anything we humans do that disturbs the balance of nature, must be eliminated from our life.”

3. Pull back & view the assumptions from a wider perspective. What do they infer? Why are they assumed as they are? What’s the hidden indoctrination in it? “Being a Martian Anthropologist, I have to pull back from your assumption, have to take off the blinders you are asking me to wear. Believing in things that may not exist- is a peculiarity of your culture, not a universal human activity. Because it’s universal among you, you assume it’s universal among humans in general.     

4. Reach the faculty of absurdity. “As William of Occam put it, Credo Quia absurdum: I believe because it’s absurd. A thing whose reality doesn’t seem to you absurd doesn’t require belief.”

5. Catch the perspective behind the absurdity: “I have trained myself to recognise the voice of mother culture in the things I read & hear. I am able to stab it.”

6. Identify the Cultural Fallacy in everything around. “The belief that the ideas that come to us as the received wisdom of our culture are innate to the human mind- that they actually arise from the structure of human mind itself. According to this particular Cultural Fallacy, someone who can’t tell the difference between right and wrong is either retarded or insane. How do we know right from wrong? What’s the reference point? If reference point shifts, does right become wrong?”

7. What am I missing here? Before we come to any point of conclusion, it becomes important to analyse again looking for loops, missing pieces, probable absurdities, cultural fallacies etc.

8. Congratulations!!!! You have perfected the Quinn Method & now you are a certified Martian Anthropologist. Yippee!!!! What to do next – Alertness to Nonsense.

Quoting Quinn again, “In all my writings I stress the fact that if people go on thinking the way they do now, we are doomed. Nothing can save us but changing the way we think, perceive and act.” Quinn believed in Buckminster Fuller’s quote, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Quinn isn’t anymore with us but Covid19 is here to shake us up, to rethink & restructure the human ideologies shaped by mother culture so as to protect the planet & the life on it. Maybe it’s the ‘tipping point’ as Malcolm Gladwell called it. “The point where an accumulation of very small things- often quite suddenly & unexpectedly produces an enormous change.” Maybe it’s our last chance………year 2020 confirmed it is the only chance……………

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