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Tom Wolfe Hunts the Biggest of Prey in The Kingdom of Speech

A Virtue Signaler in Wolfe’s Clothing

Making a documentary on intelligent design in 2008 slammed many doors shut on economist/pundit Ben Stein’s part-time Hollywood career as a deadpan commercial pitchman and TV guest star. Perhaps as a result, given what sacred cows Darwin and Chomsky are in the intertwined worlds of leftwing academia and pop culture intellectualism, Wolfe knows he needs to walk a fine line.

Or as Wolfe writes in The Kingdom of Speech after comparing Darwin’s The Descent of Man to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, after noticing both men certainly did a lot of anthropomorphizing of primitive animals, “Kipling’s intention from the outset was to entertain children. Darwin’s intention, on the other hand, was dead serious and absolutely sincere in the name of science and his cosmogony. Neither had any evidence to back up his tale. Kipling, of course, never pretended to. But Darwin did. The first person to refer to Darwin’s tales as Just So Stories was a Harvard paleontologist and evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, in 1978. Orthodox neo-Darwinists never forgave him. Gould was not a heretic and not even an apostate. He was a simple profane sinner. He had called attention to the fact that Darwin’s Just So Stories required a feat of fiction writing Kipling couldn’t compete with. Darwin’s storytelling power soared in The Descent of Man precisely where it had to, i.e., in accounting for this perplexing business of language.”

A man of the center-right, Wolfe has been residing in the elite leftwing New York intellectual world for over 50 years. So while he knows that The Kingdom of Speech will be catnip to the conservative Intelligent Design community, he not-so-subtly declares that deep down, he’s no intellectual apostate and not part of the controversial ID movement himself, with his virtue signaling references to ancient dates as “BCE.” That of course is “Before Common Era,” the arch, politically correct designation for what, until a decade ago, was universally known as “Before Christ.” This also reminds his readers that, as Wolfe has admitted in the past, he is an atheist who has long been fascinated by Nietzsche’s cryptic “God is Dead” forecasts and how Nietzsche seemingly accurately predicted the two World Wars to come. Not to mention neuroscience, which Wolfe profiled in a Forbes article back in 1996 not so subtly titled “Sorry, Your Soul Just Died.”