It seems that in Trump’s America, Evolution is a dirty word in many schools. That is a pity. Look at this little fellow. Does he remind you of anyone? Yes. It’s you. Look at his toes, all ten of them. He has developed a clever adaptation of the fingers. It has taken millions of years to produce such perfection. He probably would make an indifferent pianist or keyboard operator. But the fingers work for him. Maybe Evolution intended to equip him with an umbrella during the aeons of precipitation when oxygen and hydrogen came together to fill the cavities of this cooling planet with water. However he got a hang glider. Not even Leonardo da Vinci (clever chap) succeeded in doing that. It has taken humans unreckonable numbers of millennia to achieve flight. To give Leonardo his due, he did many other admirable things. The definition of the Renaissance Man is that he did not specialise in one narrow field, as is the pattern nowadays. Would you go to a fresco painter to design a helicopter for you, or a military fortification? You would look askance at a portrait artist or a writer of sonnets (backwards) who spent his nights sneaking into morgues or tombs to dissect cadavers by candle light. Those are jobs for specialists. They have papers attesting to their qualifications. No room for gifted amateurs.
This is Agatha, an Aye Aye, a specialist. She has enormous ears for eavesdropping on termites. She has wonderful eyes for seeing in the dark and locating termites. Observe the remarkably long middle finger–for (you have probably guessed it)–locating termites inside trees and drawing them out, the perfect finger food. There must be days or even nights when she sees the dark silhouettes of bats crossing the face of the moon and wishes that just once, she could try something different. But no. She has to concentrate on the endless search for termites. High in protein, deliciously crunchy, inordinately nutritious, as the experts might say.
I’m not averse to a spot of evolution, especially when explained by someone like Attenborough. We have followed his account of the development of life on earth and the many twists and turns of that story. He has opened our minds to marvel and wonder at the myriad complexities of this story. We like to think that human ingenuity has liberated us from the tyranny of a mere struggle for survival. We talk of Progress as if all new things are better and will make us happier. Trump has spoken about beautiful American weapons. Weapons make us feel secure. Nothing bad can happen to us if we have enough weapons. Arm the teachers to protect their schools. Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong film mogul had twelve Rolls Royce cars parked on his driveway. He had nowhere to drive them. The Plains Indians captured horses from the invading Spaniards. This increased their productivity when hunting buffalo, to the extent that they had to lug piles of buffalo hides (their index of wealth) around, when they went on migration. This slowed them up. The Flathead Indians tied boards across the foreheads of newborn babies to make them more beautiful. This compressed the frontal lobes of their little brains, impairing their development. The tribe died out, a kind of reverse evolution. The wealth generated by The Industrial Revolution, was won at a hideous cost. We should be able to do better—given our superior intelligence. Rupert Murdoch wants to acquire yet more media.
I watched a shambling hunchbacked figure emerging from the mist. His head was lowered, oblivious to everything around him. His prehensile thumbs flickered across the screen of his phone, tablet, ipad, ipod or whatever, a Quasimodo of the digital age. In a generation or two his descendants will have developed thumbs to rival the Aye Aye’s termite-catching finger, (specialised evolution). Their heads will grow out at right angles from the body, (specialised ditto) the better to see the screen. Perhaps, of course, Natural Selection will cull the most ardent screen watchers, by means of bigger, faster motor vehicles, particularly those who combine phone use with driving. Look around any restaurant. Families dining together, a vital bonding ritual since the days of the cavemen, sharing the wisdom of the elders with the young to give them a start in life. No they don’t. The wise old elders are texting and the young are left to their own devices. No mutual eye contact. The meals take place often without a word. They have the latest gadgets, so they must be happy. They are specialists. Nobody chipping arrow heads, painting the walls, stitching furs together, singing songs, sharing stories and jokes, tending the fire, looking out for sabre-tooth tigers or demonstrating a rudimentary wheel (brilliant idea, might just catch on).
The Chinese used to crush the bones of little girls’ feet and bind them so that they grew into ‘beautiful lilies’. This was to make them more attractive (?) and unable to run away from their husbands (progress?). It was the fashion of the time. The mutilation was usually carried out by the older women of the family. I don’t understand modern shoe fashions. A bevy of young ladies, fashionably dressed as for a wedding, scampered barefoot across a pedestrian crossing in front of me, carrying their fashionable, but unroadworthy, shoes in their hands. But I thought shoes were for…..Nah! They laughed as they ran and talked animatedly on their phones. I hope they weren’t late for the wedding. At least they were able to run. That’s progress I suppose. Grumble grumble. I guess I’m a Luddite at heart.
Not bad but still no cigar.