Trapped Aboard the Pequod

TRC contributor, Christopher Weller

“Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations…”

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; – Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

– Ishmael, from Moby Dick

Not too far from where hurricane Sandy had ravaged the East Coast of the United States, is the fabled Island of Nantucket, where the setting of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick begins. Nature’s wrath attacks the very heart of the society that has become the epitome of that which has attempted to control the natural world. The economic center of a global empire rests not too far away, and it is led by a global culture with psychopathic madmen at the helm bent on world domination. It is as if a great irony is being played out. A message is being given, not unlike the message of the great novel.

In the great classic, after the crew meets their ship, the Pequod, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, they set sail to Nantucket and then out to the sea, launching an epic adventure. The crew believes the ship’s mission was to earn a fair share at the bounty of whales they hoped to harvest on the long voyage. But their captain, Ahab, had a different mission – one that had motives of vengeance and obsession with power. The pathological quest to vanquish what he saw as all the evil in the world, became the death of him and his crew but one soul, fair Ishmael.

With a torn body and gashed soul bleeding into one another until his mind was obsessed with one purpose, to strike through the white mask of Moby Dick to whatever lay beyond, Ahab was driven by a never ending, never satisfied obsession in vanquishing the white whale. In Moby Dick he saw incarnate “all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.”

Ishmael, the fair sailor who is the novel’s narrator, comes from a life of the orphan, one alienated from society. Ishmael’s character struggles with the reality of why Ahab pursuits the whale, why the world had seemed formed in love through the veil of whiteness of the whale, but to Ahab the universe seems full of heartless voids that must be closed, such as the blankness he saw in looking through the white veil of Moby Dick. To Ishmael, Ahab was part of some other world. To Ishmael, Ahab’s pursuit reminds him of self-annihilation, vacuousness, devoid of color & meaning. Ahab is so blinded by his hunger for power over the whale, as we are over Nature, that it is blasphemous, heretical, to see the world from any different kind of consciousness & understanding. Ahab seems more from our world than his.

Like the mad, psychotic culture in charge of the world today, Ahab tempts his crew with glory and wealth if they continue to stay with him on his quest. He nails a golden doubloon to the mast of the Pequod to motivate the crew to join him in his pursuit, and to whosoever were to spot the great white whale first could have the coin. They do not know that they will pay a price for following the mad captain – they will pay with their very lives.

Is this not like our own myth spun to us by the money masters of the world to have us believing in such fables as the American Dream? A fantasy only a portion of the world can possibly achieve? A myth that the more we desire it, scrounge for it, pillage the land for it, we may never have? A quest, a pursuit that will lead us all to a deep abyss of pain, suffering, and death?

This madness is reflected in the Promethean character of Ahab. Ishmael, the narrator, survives the entire fated voyage not only because one must survive to tell the tale, but primarily because he resists this Promethean urge, he resists the death urge that is a part of it as well. He is not a party with Ahab’s entire consent to the blasphemous pursuit of the white whale. Ishmael lives by a different creed altogether – not to attempt to control, acquire, exploit nature, not be a part of the madness, the psychopathic obsession of Ahab.

Ahab in his last attempt at killing the whale, atop the flailing creature, using his last harpoon he stabs into the flesh of the beast, but does not realize that the rope line of the harpoon has entangled his neck.  His nemesis drags him down to the depths of the roaring ocean to his doom. It is his own weapon, his own obsession, it is his false understanding of the nature of the universe that kills him.

In the character of Ahab, we see ourselves. We obsessively believe another delusion that we are invincible, and have every right to keep on consuming the planet to oblivion, that we are above nature, and that we have control of it. We have the delusion that somehow we can fix the problems that arise from our culture and from our society using the very same delusional systems and institutions that have led to our pending self-destruction. We become broken time and time again, we are punished by nature over and over, we suffer poverty and starvation, drought, war, strife, and conflict, we hate ourselves and each other, persuaded by the propaganda, through being indoctrinated by the culture. Yet, we still push on, head on into the abyss. We are obsessively pursuing our own graves. We have the same death urge that we cannot shake, only to keep on tearing ourselves, our world, and our souls apart, looking with eyes that will never see, and for salvation that will never come. We seek an answer that is not there, only eternal blankness, as Ahab sought in the whale.

Like the true intentions of Ahab, and how the whaling was not the intended purpose, like his true purpose of the voyage was to pursuit such a myth, to avenge through the human perversion of power over nature, that which he believed a mythical white whale had taken from him, by having taken out and destroyed a previous whaling ship, and most especially taken a leg, a part of him, our delusion is similar. We believe that no matter what is thrown at us by the wrath of Mother Nature, no matter how much we are beaten down, we still see it as an evil that must be tamed. We lie to the world and to ourselves as we extend the pursuit of civilization. We try to be “democratic,” “just,” or “moral,” but in truth we only follow our obsessive quest for power, encouraged, coerced, and welcomed by the dominant culture. And, if Nature’s wrath falls upon us, we are too insulted, and seek vengeance by escalating our attempt at dominance over her.

We seek this “power” over nature, we are at war with it, not necessarily seeking to destroy it, but to tame it so that we can continue to plunder & exploit its bounty, to control it, to conquer it instead. When faced with the wrath of which Nature herself releases upon us, we fight furiously against it with vengeful rage, further escalating the war against our Mother. We are oblivious to the reality that our efforts to contain her fury are for naught. We have made her our own nemesis. Our delusion of invincibility and grandeur convinces us that the tools of civilization, our methods, our technology, and so on, will save us. But, it cannot. Through the eyes of our culture we are blinded by our arrogance. Without realizing our true place in this world, and redefining the very systems we live by, we only infuriate “the whale” more.

Similarly to how Ahab looks to find why the evil exists, we seek to know why the wrath of Nature and the perils of life seem to endlessly collapse upon us, but what we don’t realize is that what we are seeing as “evil” is from this obsession we have. It is the process, the culture of civilization that further exacerbates the pain. We try blaming one side or the other, one people or another, one belief or the other, yet we are chasing a ghost – the same as what Ahab sought in the whale.


Like our own fantasy that we chase today, the evil is a delusion, just as much as the pursuit of the white whale was for Ahab. The chasing of what is naught resembles the perverse attempt of our modern society to pursuit a cure for our pain, the “evil,” outside of us and within, through the false promises of our cultural systems. With it we believe we can vanquish the ills of climate change, economic & ecological collapse, and our societal woes with such things as a “green economy,” “more growth,” and the like, which only further fog over, concealing the true evil of the culture itself.

It is why we too can’t see it. It is our underlying cultural delusions that creates the evil. We try to fix an evil, something that is a result of our grand fantasy and delusion, with more fantasy, with more delusion. We try to remove the evil that our evils have produced in the first place. Through this process our pursuit of the answer to our evils will be endless, self-destructive, and never satisfied until we realize the evil itself is the delusion.

There can be no “green economy, “ because the economy itself is part of the delusion. There can be no “infinite growth,” because the planet is finite. Even a child can understand that we cannot have endless growth on a planet with limits, without consequences, without hoarding of wealth, without starving children, without species extinction, without our eventual extinction. The lies of our culture convince us that such a fable, such a myth is possible.

It is our twisted, perverse belief in the meaning of economy altogether that is the deception. “Eco” comes from the ancient Greek word οἶκος meaning “household,” our house, our home. “Economy” means management of home. Management is synonymous with “efficiency,” “administrate,” or “direct,” but it is misunderstood, misconstrued by this culture to mean “control,” “manipulate,” “restrain,” or “subdue.” “Ecology” means the “study of our home.” Through study, one finds knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

Ecology is telling us that it and our economy are not separate. Our management of our home must come from what we learn from studying it, from knowledge, understanding, and wisdom gained. They must be the two as one. They must be one. Our ancestral cultures, who live at peace with this planet, if they even had words such as these in their language, wouldn’t understand them as representing separate thoughts at all, because there would be only one word for both. Economy would be ecology, and ecology would be economy, just as Nature actually works, in symbiosis.

As with Ahab, our cultural ambitions are relentless. The part of him, the leg, which he lost doesn’t stop Ahab’s rage, nor does it stop his ambition to avenge, prove his “power,” and be above nature – like us, we will continue to ravage, to conquer, to exploit, even as pieces of us, our very lives are degraded and destroyed, our future eaten away. We will madly pursue until we destroy ourselves, at the expense of our “crew,” our human brethren. Our lust for power over Nature, over all things, fuels the death urge, even with our families, our relationships suffering, destroyed and laid to waste by our systems.

Nearly all of our problems revolve around the current global economic paradigm, the grand superstition in control of our lives, that which we need to survive, and through it, all life around the world suffers.  Yet, we madly push on, believing that there is always a better day around the corner as long as we keep pushing on the same way. The culture coerces us into believing that if we fail it is our fault, if our marriages or relationships fail, if our children don’t “succeed,” if we don’t “succeed,” and even if our planet suffers and is destroyed, the culture tells us that it is the individual that is at fault. We are not told that in truth it is the system itself, the culture in control, the delusions and lies it produces that is the culprit.

In truth, we are all on board the Pequod – a ship headed straight into the abyss. We strap ourselves in and batten ourselves down on this prison, like a barge alone in a vast, raging ocean of pain & suffering, a prison with no bars and no walls, as nature pounds us from all sides, starboard to port, forward to aft, led by madmen at the helm.

…to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.“– Ahab, from Moby Dick

Ahab who worships the blinding power of the Promethean fire had gazed into an artificial hell of his own making and the slow, agonizing death feeds upon his heart forever through its equally blind pursuit. Likewise, the culture of civilization teaches us the way of Ahab, and we are punished for our blindness, and the eternal woe of madness.

How easily we give up and succumb to the death urge as Ahab, because we know no other way out, only of what we’ve been taught to do, to respond with more violence toward Nature and ourselves – to face the world as the plunderer, with our obsession we seek to destroy the evil by furthering and expanding our war against a foe we cannot defeat. As we continue to attack Nature, that which we truly have no power over – we, in truth, merely attack ourselves, and take others with us.

Through the super storms, the droughts, the hurricanes, the seemingly endless die-offs of fish & fowl, the increasing species extinctions, the clear cutting of our forests, the wars, the poverty, we persist with the death urge, the insanity leading, taunting us toward our graves. It is a stabbing lance, a harpoon driven straight through our hearts, gouging our bleeding souls. We push the projectile deeper and deeper into ourselves, hoping to kill the “whale,” to kill it off with vengeance, greed, and wrath, for it is all we know.

But, this is only that which is a delusion that pushes us so. A vicious cycle reinforced by itself. It is the death urge that is the prison. It is the madness. It is the fear, or better, it is the fear to change. It is that which we anger against – that which we must destroy in order to be set free, free of the chains aboard a doomed vessel set sail. We are all caught by a wave of fatalism & monomania, the same death urge we see throughout the culture of today, and our obsession leads us to our doom.

Some may say that all that is necessary is for us to not step on board the fateful ship of civilization, or for us to get off now if we don’t like it, but we can no longer refuse to board the ship. We have no choice. We had boarded it upon our birth. We are given an identity and a number. But, we do have the choice to jump off now, into the water, before it’s too late. For, unlike Ishmael, if the ship goes down, we have no other ship to come to rescue us out of the raging waters. We are alone in this vast cosmos to save ourselves. And at the moment, there are madmen at the wheel, steering us into oblivion. Yet, just removing the captain will not save us. The purpose and meaning of our voyage must change altogether, and we must remove ourselves from their charge or face death.

Hurricane “Sandy” 2012


Although we in the Transition Culture may see ourselves in the character of Ishmael, or even some of us with the unsuspecting crew, and although we too are orphaned and alienated from the world, and have willfully divorced ourselves from the pathological ambitions of the culture, or are “not party to” the Promethean character of Ahab, we must not forget that we are not yet free from the prison and its fate.

We are still aboard the doomed ship of civilization. We can boast of our knowledge of the state of the world and where we are headed, we can feel secure in our separation from the culture of destruction, we can be confident that we will have the mental capacity to absorb what may happen next, but we will never be safe from the abyss of misery the world will suffer unless we take action to steer the ship in another direction. Nature will not discriminate between us or the countless zombies still hypnotized by the false promises of the dominant culture when it begins to sink all of us into the depths of despair. Like Ahab, madmen at the helm of civilization will fight against nature with us trapped aboard all the way down to its doom.

Ishmael had a chance in the story, but we will not as long as we remain silent. Like Ishmael as he was being washed from the sinking ship, we may have relinquished our fear of the death of industrial civilization, accepting it, but we will not survive unless we stop the madmen at the helm. They may never awaken from their arrogant blindness and lust for power, even when the end is nigh, even with the wrath of Nature right at their doorstep, but we still have a chance to take the wheel from them before they destroy our world and take us along with them. Right now Mother Nature is on our side. She is awakening to assist us in bringing the ship a’ stern. She is weakening the monomaniacs and their system enslaving the world with her fury. It is now up to us to fight with her or go down with the ship.