Maggie’s Farm has a long excerpt from Tom Wolfe’s much longer speech (“Tom Wolfe on Everything” is how they title it) to the National Endowment for the Humanities last week:
Evolution came to an end when the human beast developed speech! As soon as he became not Homo sapiens, “man reasoning,” but Homo loquax, “man talking”! Speech gave the human beast far more than an ingenious tool. Speech was a veritable nuclear weapon! It gave the human beast the powers of reason, complex memory, and long-term planning, eventually in the form of print and engineering plans. Speech gave him the power to enlarge his food supply at will through an artifice called farming. Speech ended not only the evolution of man, by making it no longer necessary, but also the evolution of animals! Our animal friends—we’re very sentimental about predators these days, aren’t we—the lions, the tigers, the wolves, the rhinoceroses, the great apes, kangaroos, leopards, cheetahs, grizzly bears, polar bears, cougars—they’re “endangered,” meaning hanging on for dear life. Today the so-called animal kingdom exists only at the human beast’s sufferance. The beast has dealt crippling blows even to the unseen empire of the microbes. Stunted adults from Third World countries with abysmal sanitation come to the United States and their offspring grow six or more inches taller, thanks to the wonders of hygiene. Cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys would be extinct by now had not the human beasts hit upon the idea of animal husbandry. So far the human beast enjoys the luxury of crying sentimental tears over the deer because she’s so pretty. But the day the human beast discovers deer in his cellar, fawns in his bedroom closet, bucks tangling horns in the attic at night above his very bedroom . . . those filthy oversized vermin, the deer, will be added to that big long list above. We’re sentimental about the dolphins, because they’re so smart. What about the tuna? It’s okay to kill tunas by the ton because they’re dimwits? It would take an evolutionary mystic (and there are such) to believe these animals will ever evolve their way out of the hole they’re in thanks to man’s power of speech.
The whole speech is here; as Wolfe told his audience:
Since The Origin of Species in 1859 the doctrine of Evolution has done more than anything else to put an end to religious faith among educated people in Europe and America; for God is dead.
As Wolfe notes above, the post-religious left simply replaces religion with aesthetics. (Something that another astute social critic also noted, years ago.) Fortunately, the animal world is quick to remind the morally equivalent among us that animals are indeed, animals–don’t expect them to be voting in the 2008 election.
Update: Umm, speaking of aesthetics and the post-religious left!