Evolutionary Depression:

Feeding wooden stock through the howling planer machine in my workshop the other day I overheard, in moments of relative silence whilst re-setting the machine between one piece and another, snatches of an unidentified voice on the radio espousing the notion that nature tends to produce brown people. That was all I heard of the conversation before hitting the start button again, anxious to get on with a job that had already gone on too long.

I took the speaker to mean that like a baker using stone-ground flour “wi’ nowt tekken out” as the TV advert for a certain brand of brown bread in the UK used to say, given its head, free from social constraints and prejudices, assisted by human ingenuity in such things as international travel and inter-racial marriage, nature would eventually populate the entire world with a single race who would be neither black nor white, neither Asian, Caucasian, Arab nor any other distinctive race, but simply a uniform mixture of all.

That’s quite a lot to extract from a few quite possibly misheard words, but the context seemed to be the implication that if nature be left to her own devices then the white race would disappear entirely. Extracting one piece of wood from the planer and inserting the next it occurred to me that this might be a disturbing prospect for a certain sort of white bloke: not the sort of incitement that ought to be spouted on the public airwaves, surely?

Staggered at the Beeb’s slipshod editing in such an incendiary matter, two further thoughts crossed my mind: by the same logic, if we are all to be processed in God’s great kitchen blender and subsumed into a single homogenous mass like supermarket milk but less white, would it not equally mean the disappearance of all other races too: and would it matter?

Annoyed with the radio for disturbing my happy concentration on the work in hand, I knocked off and made myself a cup of tea, intending to direct my thoughts instead to the plot of the book I was just then reading, for I like to read during my “fourses”. But there’s no rest for the wicked, as my grandmother was fond of saying. My mind, against the better judgement of my brain, insisted on wandering back to the issue, for some further thoughts occurred to me as the kettle boiled.

Nature, so we are told by Darwin and Wallace, actually tends to produce varieties. Left to their own devices our genes mutate slowly so that individuals who happen to inherit some chance mistake in the copying of genes from their parents might, for example, enjoy the serendipitous effect of being more fertile, or better able to feed their offspring, or simply able to reach higher for the available food. Those lucky individuals will breed more successfully than the average and so by degrees their kind become more prominent amongst the herd. The horse, so to speak, eventually becomes the giraffe (I don’t think it did, actually, but you get the idea).

If their differences are such as to make them socially isolated, say by being driven out by their jealous fellows en-mass, then inbreeding exaggerates their difference until they become a breed distinct from the original. Given long-continued physical isolation such as by continents conveniently drifting apart, the new breed further mutates in the same way to become, eventually, a new race. And that’s how come we have black people and white people and Asian, Caucasian, Arab, Chinese and other assorted races of mankind. At least, I thought, contemplatively stirring my tea, that was more or less what Darwin implied in his Origin of Species which I laboured through some while ago. The speaker on the radio who espoused the theory of brown people was obviously off his trolley.

But taking my tea and biscuit outside to enjoy the sunshine and roses in my back garden I began to see what the speaker on the radio might have been getting at. It occurred to me that in mankind, nature and Darwin are doomed to defeat, and the Wright brothers, having invented the aeroplane, have a great deal to answer for. So bored out of our skulls by our humdrum jobs and pointless existence that we are prepared to put up with cramped seating, deep vein thrombosis and bank-holiday airport strikes, thanks to Wilbur and Orville we hop over nature’s barriers with impunity, thence to defeat Darwinian evolution by merrily inter-breeding with each other, eventually to become all brown.

Hmmm… Doesn’t bode well for nature’s varieties, does it? I wonder if the unidentified speaker on the wireless who spoilt my day came to a similar conclusion whilst blotted out of my hearing by my noisy planer machine?

Most creatures, I mused, settling down with tea, biscuit and book, seem to benefit in vigour and intelligence from serendipitous cross-breeding. Friendly mongrel pooches are always less trouble to keep than neurotic pedigrees, when it comes to pets. Perhaps nature’s way of fighting back against the universal brown people theory is to make us all cantankerous and argumentative. We’re doomed, thus, to repeat the patterns of history, each new race striving against the old to establish its place in the world; the old race, irked, strives to maintain its place; both races indulge in prejudice and their belligerence provokes war… a bleak outlook indeed. I’ve depressed myself now, writing this. Damn the BBC…

Ah well, back to that novel. Maybe that will cheer me up. I opened the book at a page marked by a pleasing leather bookmark with windmill emblem, a holiday memento from Norfolk (UK). And the title of the book? It was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four! If that’s not enough to depress a body then nothing will. Can anybody recommend a good therapist…?

Here’s a little quiz for you: There are at least three allusions to my novels in this post. Anyone spotted them?

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