Friday, January 1, 2010

Evolutionary Retrospective


In the final hours of 2009, let us take a moment to reflect on this: up until 150 years ago, no one had the faintest idea why we look like we do, why we act like we do, or where we came from. Now we know, and we have Charles Darwin to thank. Three cheers!

So what do we do with this knowledge? Well, each of us reacts differently, but for my part I've spent most of the past year trying to celebrate and demystify the implications of Darwin's insights, and I must admit I've been having a blast. I met some of my intellectual heroes along the way (ie Dan Dennett, David Sloan Wilson, Sarah Hrdy, Richard Dawkins). A troubled African American teenager declared her newfound passion for science after seeing my performance; in Edinburgh they gave me an award for my troubles, and wonder of wonders I actually made a living with it. So why stop?

In August I got an email from David Buss, co-author of the recent book "Why Women Have Sex", suggesting I do a sequel specifically about Evolutionary Psychology (he also wrote the EP textbook), and I thought that sounded like a fine idea. So right now I'm in the reading phase, including Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" and Matt Ridley's "Nature Via Nurture" next. So if you were to do a rap album and hip-hop comedy show about human behaviour, what would the required reading be? I'm open to suggestions, insights, dialogue, etc, but not dissuasion. It's too late for that.

Why? Because the truth is too exhilarating to reveal. For instance, I recently had the privilege of performing with Dawkins, Robin Ince, Ben Goldacre, and many others at a truly inspiring variety night called "Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People", a rationalist celebration of Christmas. Now for those of you in the process of clenching up, rest assured it was more about celebrating science than bashing religion. Picture 3,500 people in the sold-out Hammersmith Apollo Theatre in London declaring in unison: "I'm a African!" Click here to read a review from the comedy website Chortle (see paragraph twelve).

Why else? Because misconceptions about evolution are rife. For instance, I was recently the subject of a spurious article on the Discovery Institute's (intelligent design) website entitled "How Darwin Leads People to Eventually Say, 'Hitler Was O.K.'" What I actually said was that if our sex lives were like the sex lives of praying mantises (where the females eat the males during sex), then that's what our religions would be moralizing and our pop songs would be romanticizing ("She refuses to eat me / Cry me a river" etc). It's what comedians call a "joke" and philosophers call an "intuition pump", but according to the article what I said is an example of the "moral relativism" that leads to Nazism. Never mind the fact that Hitler himself was far from a moral relativist and indeed believed he was following God's will, the hysteria found in this article is the last bastion of the desperate, groping for an "objective" basis of morality while failing to imagine any conceivable alternative to divine injunction. As Robin Ince points out in one of his comedy sets: if Darwin leads to Hitler, then Newton leads to falling injuries (stupid gravity!) and Pythagoras leads to Toblerone. Follow this link for an exercise in intellectual cowardice and fallacious argument, from a History professor no less.

It's claptrap like this that reminds me of the need for clear voices amidst the gloom, and in the words of Michael Franti: "If I don't have enemies I'm not doin' my job". Not that I'm necessarily the clearest of voices, but I've gotten pretty good at paraphrasing : ) So my plan for 2010, besides creating a new show, is to tour The Rap Guide to Evolution extensively and keep spreading laughter and light. If you have any ideas or suggestions of places I could do this, please get in touch, and in the mean time I wish you all peace and prosperity in the new year. Sincerely,


PS - here's a brief overview of my touring plans for 2010, in case you're curious: UK in late January, American South in early February, Australia in February/March, UK in April, New York in early May, Western Canada in May/June (tree planting), England in June/July, Edinburgh in August, UK Rebel Cell tour in September/October/November.


Madhu said...

No Fresno on the itinerary for this year?

Anonymous said...

Stephen Baldwin is on Celebrity Big Brother Britain - some damage control is required. He's like a Creationist Tom Cruise.

Somehow I can't imagine Dawkin in the CBB house.

You, Dawkin, and a bunch of other people bein my heroes/heroines bruv.

Robin is hilarious.