Part man, part monkey, looks like to me....

>> Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn Beck's never seen a half-man, half-monkey and wants to know if you have.

Bruce Springsteen, of course, answered that one quite a while back:

The Boss is being funny, but he's also right: everybody you look at is part man, part monkey, most definitely, just like everybody you look like is part every-other-thing-we-share-common-lineage-with and nearly everybody you look at is part whatever-the-human-species-will-look-like-ages-from-now. (Those of us who don't have offspring only look like the future to the extent we look like those of our family members whose offspring will pass traits along to posterity.) Which is why we share physical and behavioral traits with our many-times-removed cousins.

Some of us find this ennobling and astonishing. To realize we share so many parts with a frog or a bird or that we share behaviors and possibly even feelings or thoughts with other creatures possessing nervous systems similar to our own because they developed from the same templates and out of the same prototypes--if I was inclined to believe in a deity, this would be a reason to be inspired by Its elegant solution to populating the globe, and even in the absence of the supernatural it is humbling yet empowering to contemplate being part of one vast family residing in some form in every single nook and cranny this vast planet has to offer.

(And let's consider for a second the oft-overlooked part of the paradox our world presents: frequently we're reminded that this world is, as Carl Sagan once put it, "a small blue dot," but the immensity of this blue dot is such that the bulk of the seafloor remains unmapped and the majority of its lifeforms uncatalogued, and consider that this mass has what you might call a fractal property: e.g. in the nooks and crannies of the rocks are trees and in the nooks and crannies of the trees are arboreal vertebrates and in the nooks and crannies of the arboreal vertebrates are invertebrates and in the nooks and crannies of the invertebrates smaller invertebrates and in their nooks and crannies--the fleas have fleas ad infinitum, as Jonathan Swift famously observed. And, beautifully, so beautifully, we have the wonder that in every single place Life could get to, Life has gotten: that there are living things living in enormously hot rocks inside the Earth's crust and bouncing along the winds of the high atmosphere, life living in places you'd never expect to find it and we can only marvel at the persistence of chemistry that got it there.)

Others, sadly, don't see the beauty. One has to suspect that the principle objection some religious types have to Darwin is the same objection their forebears had to Copernicus: not to the evidence or alleged lack thereof, but to the displacement, to the idea that human beings aren't the center of the universe and aren't at all special. (The nonsense irony being: of course we're special--we might well be the only animal on Earth--maybe even in the entire universe, though this seems less likely--that can reflect on what it means to be an animal.) They find it humiliating to contemplate that we might be a part of a process--and not even the end-stage of a process that has no ending, that is simply an ongoing thing that Life does while it's busy being alive. That's so small and sad, really; I'm less inclined to laugh at Glenn Beck for not having the least small bit of understanding about what he's talking about than I am to think it's terribly sad that he doesn't get how magnificent it is to be a part of this wonderful existence, how excellent it is to be a thinking animal, the power and responsibility of being a creature that is very much like monkeys and horses and dogs and cats and even like birds and alligators and even just a tiny little bit like spiders and starfish and even an infinitesimal-but-undeniable bit like amoebas and paramecia--and completely, entirely, uniquely, fundamentally unlike all of the above and everything that ever was or will be.

Poor Glenn Beck. In a cage, and he doesn't even know there's a whole zoo outside....


timb111 Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 9:08:00 AM EDT  

I've always wondered why it is considered more noble to be formed "of the dust of the ground" than to descend from monkey-like beings.

Perhaps my Aunt Sheila's excessive preoccupation with dirt had something to do with getting back to her roots.

vince Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 3:35:00 PM EDT  

I am special, and I don't need to be the center of the universe to feel that. And I'm never sure what Beck actually does knows and believes, and what he says just to manipulate others for power and to enrich himself. Regardless, he's a despicable human being in my book.

John the Scientist Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 4:49:00 PM EDT  

Well, not half. I've seen a 99% man 1% monkey, based on genetic similarity. It's called a chimp.

Eric Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 5:17:00 PM EDT  

You may have just won the thread, John.

Jim Wright Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 2:11:00 PM EDT  

J. B. S. Haldane, British geneticist and evolutionary biologist, said, "The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine."

Creationists say by implication: "The universe (and therefor God) is only as queer as bronze age sheep herders could imagine, to imagine more is blasphemy."

I think that about sums it up.

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