I’m going to add some food for thought into this discussion.
This Q and A from the Ishmael Community, I think, helps clarify why Daniel Quinn uses the “the craft that is in the air (but not flying)” metaphor.
The Question (ID Number 497)... Do you agree that, as defined by John Ralston Saul, ethics are "a matter of daily practical concern"?
…and the response:
The fact that the words ethics, ethical, and unethical appear nowhere in any of my books, essays, or speeches should give you a hint that ethics is not my concern. I hoped to underline this in my choice of “the craft that is in the air (but not flying)” as a metaphor for our civilization. The aeronauts who built dysfunctional aircraft were not making unethical choices, they were just making unworkable choices. The point for me is NOT that the choices we’ve been making here for the past ten thousand years are unethical but that they’ve brought us to the brink of catastrophe. What good would it do us if it were somehow proved that every single one of those choices was in fact completely ethical? Would that make it all okay? Of course not. Ethics may make a fine guide for personal betterment, but I’ve never seen personal betterment as our problem here (since humans managed to live here for millions of years without being personally better than we are). Ethics are as useless a guide to achieving a sustainable human future as they were to achieving heavier-than-air flight.
And here is a excerpt out of a speech he gave in 2005 that briefly explains how and why societies change.
Most recently we've been put on notice that oil production has peaked and is on its way down--while the consumption of it continues to increase. The most serious threat in this is related to the fact that our agricultural systems are completely dependent on fossil fuel--at every stage, from raw land to the supermarket shelf. If we don't remodel those systems to make them function without fossil fuels--and it apparently CAN be done--we're going to face a global panic and famine that I for one wouldn't care to be around to see.
Of course, if the worst happened, this would certainly solve the problem of our overpopulation right quick–but that possibility certainly doesn’t make me rejoice.
When people look into the future and give up hope, it’s because they don’t know what to DO about the bad things they see. I’ve heard it so often that I’m sure the very first letter I got when Ishmael came out said something like, “I loved your book, and I get what you’re saying–but what are we supposed to DO?”
Of course he didn’t really get what I was saying or he wouldn’t have asked that question. This wasn’t his fault. If people don’t get what I’m saying and they’re reasonably well-educated, reasonably intelligent, and older than, say fourteen, then it’s my fault. I should have quoted something Thorstein Veblen said in The Theory of the Leisure Class a century ago. Here goes: “Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an altered situation ONLY through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals who make up the community.”
Let’s look at it more closely. He’s talking about social transformation, and he says this happens ONLY through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals who make up the community." It’s important to note that he’s not talking about the leaders of the community. He’s saying that a society is transformed only when people in general start thinking a new way.
He goes on as follows: “The evolution of society is substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of individuals under stress of circumstances that will no longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to a different set of circumstances in the past.” [1899, Slightly adapted.] What kind of circumstances put people under stress? Veblen says they’re circumstances that will no longer tolerate old habits of thought–habits of thought that were formed under and appropriate to a different set of circumstances that prevailed in the past.