Happy 200th Darwin day!
Two days ahead of Valentine, I highlight this as a red-letter day instead.
No Chocolates or roses necessary. I don't celebrate Valentine's day but instead make it a point to appreciate the union I have with my wife over many days of the year. Beats having to claw my way into a restaurant after battling for parking for a meal that could be enjoyed away from this lemming-like imperative. Not holding it against any of youse who do celebrate this cherubic love assassin's day. And chocolate? Fuggeddabowdit.
On matters Darwin. Born 200 years ago in 1809, February 12. Interesting article about Darwin's reaction to seeing slavery up close during his travels on the Beagle.
This itinerary of far-flung places is well-known. What is less generally realised is that the voyage had multiple objectives. Darwin sailed as gentleman companion to the prickly Captain Robert FitzRoy, whose first aim was to return three Alakaluf and Yahgan aboriginals ("Fuegians" to Darwin, as they came from Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago of islands at the southernmost tip of the Americas). They had been snatched during the Beagle's previous voyage and Christianised as an experiment. Darwin lived for months with these so-called civilised "savages" and came to understand first-hand how, as he put it, the savage-to-civilised distance was no more than that between wild and domestic animals.
Still more significantly, the voyage exposed Darwin to what few English gentlemen of his day would ever see—the full barbarity of slavery in the raw.
Pertinent stuff in these times when race relations are enjoying an emblematic period with our new president. Also heady times for science as well. I'll close with the ending paragraph to the article above.
To celebrate historical figures we have first to understand them. In 2009, 200 years after his birth, it is time to switch the spotlight onto the younger Darwin—the man whose belief in human brotherhood transmuted into an evolutionary theory of common descent. Rather than being morally subversive, as his Christian critics claim, Darwin's achievement was morally grounded. Rather than being a dispassionate practice, his science had a humanitarian drive. It made brothers and sisters not only of all human races, but of all life.
Live long and prosper.
And if that don't beat all, it's also Lincoln's birthday.
Prospect article: Darwin the Abolitionist