September 18, 2008

I’d like to say “Thank God” for John Derbyshire, except that the crotchety old Brit has convinced me not to believe that he exists. God, I mean—not Derbyshire, whom I have met in person. Although, come to think of it, my encounter with the featherless biped (no, not a plucked chicken, the other kind) which called itself “John Derbyshire” is by no means conclusive evidence. I mean, the grey-haired primate who sat across the table at an immigration dinner claimed to go by the name “John Derbyshire,” but of how much evidentiary value is that? I’ve also had encounters that convinced me that “God” existed, which also entailed communication with what seemed to be an intelligence that didn’t originate in my head.


Now, won over by the argument (made by an online entity also claiming to be “Derbyshire”) that religious believers “don’t really have any doubts,” I’m following Descartes’ logic a good bit further than that timid Frenchmen would go. Descartes began with doubt but weaseled out by positing “God” to guarantee that his cogito could father an ergo. But I, like “Derbyshire,” am braver, bolder, and more intellectually honest. We scorn the hordes of trimmers who quailed when faced with facts, and clouded their minds with nervous evasions made grander with glittering titles like The City of God, Summa Theologiae, Pensees, and The Gulag Archipelago. I would rather stand with Freud, whose best book Totem and Taboo explained religion as the side-effect of ape-fights over incest; with Darwin, who courted martyrdom by refusing to write about this issue; with Marx who averred that religion was simply a form of social aspirin, and boldly moved on to forbid any further questions on the subject. And I stand with “Derbyshire.” If he really is Derbyshire.


Now the highly developed, yet oddly ape-like figure (I bet he shares most of his DNA with one of those beasts) I met did handle a fork and knife. But lab monkeys can be trained to do the same. So could some insidious Derbyshire imposter, dispatched for unknown purposes to trick me…. Still, it seems only prudent to grant that when a Derbyshire claimant presents himself, you give him the benefit of the doubt—if only to keep him calm. (He had a fine set of teeth, with impressive canines I knew could bite straight through one of my fingers—a danger I silently registered as I watched him eagerly feed.)


I was tempted just now by old intellectual habits to say “for the sake of common courtesy,” but that notion is really a shadow of my old religious belief, which goaded me with unexamined arguments and ancient prejudice to regard each one of the shambling figures that block my way on the streets of a crowded city as somehow my moral equal. What’s more—and for freeing my mind here I really have to thank the packets of data which came to me over the Internet labeled as the product of some external form of consciousness branded rather convincingly as “Derbyshire”—I even tried my best to extend this groundless claim of equality to primates that looked entirely different from me. Tall, loping two-legged creatures with skin the color of cheap, milk chocolate Easter eggs, and the little, yellow homunculi that swarm on Mulberry Street. I even managed to work up empathy for the hordes of incompetent, nearly incontinent residents of the left hand of the Bell Curve—whom the forces of ancient dogma had thumped me into thinking had a claim on equal treatment. This superstition now prevails in the armed organization calling itself “the State,” which keeps order in the vast troop of primates that surrounds me. So I’d better not squawk about it—not if I want to pass along any of my chromosomes, that is.


But then again, since I only get this one go-round at consciousness before the hungry spark I call my “self” drops like a match into a toilet, why should I trouble myself with the dreary business of reproduction? My DNA may be selfish, but so am “I.” If it’s so bloody determined to replicate itself, it had better rejigger my neurons to offer me a better set of hedonic rewards for taking the effort to do its bidding. So far, no sale.


Sure, the tribe tells me that having children is somehow essential to “happiness,” but I’m not convinced. I’ve seen those dreary, weary parents emerging, drained, from Chuck E. Cheese. I’ve read a compelling study that shows the happiest married couples are the childless—who are free to use their resources to gratify their own actual desires, instead of pouring their time and toil into some other, smaller person, to help him gratify his. To this end, men work longer hours at tedious tasks, give up the chance to travel, move out of exciting cities full of cool ethnic restaurants and beautiful buildings into sprawling, sterile suburbs with “decent schools.” They even allow their mates to gain weight that is hard to lose, to accumulate stretch marks and droopy breasts—and all for what?


What’s the payoff for those who let entropic “nature” take its course? Best case scenario: If all goes really well and their spawn don’t turn out ugly, stupid, or dead, the parents will gain some secondhand happiness—a warm fuzzy glow acquired vicariously, gussied up with the language of “sacrifice.” I’m doing the math right now, and it adds up to this: Vasectomy.


My employer is a primate training camp that exists to propagate some Mediterranean death and resurrection cult whose whispered taboos forbid this simple, scientific operation—so this procedure will have to be out of pocket. But cheap at the price. My genes are those of a Western European. Why shouldn’t I act like one?


I’m not sure that the data stream “Derbyshire” will respond to this news with encouragement, since I seem to recall that “he” claims to have children himself, and says he worries about their future. Well, he bred in his bed, so let him sleep in it. He’s free to be intellectually sloppy if he wishes, or to grievously miscalculate his rational self-interest. He’d just better keep his brood-spawn off my lawn and out of my way.


I’ve even read that my dinner companion treasures an interest in the mating habits, hierarchical behavior, and grooming preferences of one particular sub-group of the human species—the Caucasoids. It seems that “Derbyshire” shares a tiny bit more DNA in common with this mating pool, and prefers the way they organize their troop. So he spends part of his dwindling time beneath the sun consumed with fear that this subspecies might dwindle in size, perhaps even lose their dominance over food sources and habitat to different, more aggressive subspecies with higher birthrates. Well, each man to his hobby.


Perhaps if I’d fed my reptilian brain its rat, and fathered brats, I’d give in to instinctual worry about their fate. I’d fear that they would find uncongenial the new troop organization imposed by the alien subspecies, and I’d spend my precious resources trying to smooth their way in the world. Except that then I’d remember I’ll soon enough be dead, and never find out what happened to these self-serving half-copies of me. Let them negotiate their own dominance patterns with the faster-breeding primates, and survive if they are fit. My own successes, I am confident, give scant comfort to the corpses of my parents, decaying beneath some ornamental rocks somewhere in Queens. If am happy, does that shift one maggot from their skulls? If I breed, do their bones feel a tiny shiver? Do the DNA molecules which tricked these mammals into wasting themselves to craft a new receptacle for their blind and meaningless replication offer those two blue collar ex-New Yorkers some kind of eternal reward? An eternity they might choose, of endless TV dinners and infinite bingo? I await the double-blind study offering some evidence for this.


In its absence, I am grateful to NRO for once again laying down the solid groundwork for the conservatism of the future.


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