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 Darwinian Graffiti 

December 27, 2005 
I can never sufficiently thank Al Gore for creating the Internet. It has become an indispensable tool for my work and even an important part Today's column is "Darwinian Graffiti" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.of my life. I owe it new friendships and the renewal of dear acquaintances, to mention only two of its countless benefits.

The drawbacks are hardly worth complaining about. But if I were the plaintive type, I might wish that Mr. Gore had also invented a Coward Filter.

Now and then I get messages from people who don’t like what I write. Usually they are reasonably polite and intelligent; sometimes they correct me in real errors and leave me indebted.

But then there are the others. I got several of them in a single day after I wrote about my friend Tom Bethell’s stimulating critique of Darwinism. The writers, defending Darwin after their fashion, assured me that Tom and I are a pair of dunces (never mind that Tom went to Oxford University), one of them using words like excrement and, for good measure, trashing the Catholic Church and the Bible into the bargain. An odd way to vindicate the scientific spirit, if you ask me.

I don’t want to blame Mr. Gore for such baffling people, who have as much raw courage as it takes to send insults on the Internet, and who seem to think others can be intimidated by schoolyard taunts. But they make me wonder. Do they suppose anyone is going to take these tantrums for the Voice of Science? Is this the tone of someone who cares about truth, either scientific or any other sort? Don’t they even have any self-respect? Nearly anyone, I should think, would disdain to write a message that would demonstrate nothing but his own mean spirit and cowardice.

What makes it amusing is that it doesn’t seem very Darwinian. I doubt that Darwin himself, a proper Victorian, would have tried to persuade others of his theory by mailing them unsigned abusive letters; he had enough tact to know that vulgar invective doesn’t prove much of scientific value.

[Breaker quote for Darwinian Graffiti: The vulgar voices of "science"]The Internet has shown dramatically how many people out there lack any sense of their own dignity. Most of us don’t want to look in the mirror and see a lower life form; we like to feel we’ve evolved beyond that, if you’ll pardon the metaphor.

I’ve often felt the same disgusted curiosity when seeing some crude graffiti in a public lavatory. What kind of person chooses to express himself in this way? To what purpose? It can’t even hurt anyone else, and I’ve never heard of anyone taking pride in it or even admitting doing it. So why does it happen at all? It’s not as if vile graffiti had any survival value, even in New York. If anything, they suggest that Darwinism can’t account for our irrational impulses, especially those that seem more akin to self-destruction, in some obscure way, than to self-preservation.

I have difficulty imagining Al Gore, or even Bill Clinton, scrawling obscenities on a men’s room wall. So who does these things? Do they do it on impulse, or do they plan it? If they act with premeditation, do they take a felt-tipped pen with them so they can leave their mark when they go to a fast-food joint?

I mean, somebody is doing these things, though nobody ever admits to it. I don’t say it’s a sin, but why is it even a temptation? It’s not as if this were an impulse most of us have to resist. Does smoking reefers cause certain unstable individuals to do it? Is it some aberrant gene?

This is not my sly way of implying that Darwinians are especially prone to it. I frankly doubt that. Some of my own friends are Darwinians, and they are generally fine people otherwise. I’m just groping for a more or less scientific explanation for a form of behavior so base that we usually pretend not to notice it, until the Internet forces us to acknowledge it as something peculiar to our species. The nearest thing to it in the animal kingdom, as far as I know, is when monkeys play with their own doo-doo, another fact Darwinism can’t account for any better than Aristotelian teleology. (Platonists tend to duck the whole issue.)

I’m afraid that Darwinian hate mail, then, must remain a mystery. But I beseech those who are inclined to it to send it to Tom, not me. He studied at Oxford, whereas I’m not sufficiently evolved to deal with it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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