Thursday, 17 January 2008

Cricket: A Monkey Business!

Last week Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh was banned for three matches for making a racist comment towards Australian opponent, Andrew Symonds. Read about it here.

Though neither umpire heard it at the time, off-spinner Singh was found guilty of having called Symonds a "monkey". The BBC report that "Match referee Mike Procter said he was satisfied Harbhajan had used the word - though neither of the two umpires heard the remarks - and that 'he meant it to offend on the basis of Symonds' race or ethnic origin'." Symonds, one of the world's most talented all-rounders, is an Aboriginal.

Something's Missing...

What the BBC don't report, though, is exactly why calling Symonds a monkey would be a racist insult. In modern test cricket, stump microphones regularly pick up all manner of insults. The Australian team are renowned for the lengths to which they have taken the practice of verbally intimidating their opponents, a practice called "sledging". It's not unusual for a cricketer to be insulted with the name of some animal; I'm sure that when I played village cricket I can remember people being called donkeys to insult their playing ability.

What's the difference, then, between a monkey and a donkey? The newspapers and radios don't seem to have bothered to explain this. Why would calling an opponent a donkey be unremarkable, but calling him a monkey get you a three match ban and newspaper column inches all over the world?


The answer, in case you hadn't twigged, is Darwin's theory of evolution. The theory claims that every living creature alive is descended from a single common ancestor. Most controversially, it says that human beings have evolved from apes - in the (in relative terms) very recent past.

Darwin's theory eventually developed into Neo-Darwinism, which is the theory most widely held today. Neo-Darwinism theorises that all the inherited variation in our genes is due to random copying mistakes at the time of reproduction. That is, all the essential differences between you and a chimp is due to random mistakes in copying your genes.

The relevance of Darwin's theory to the question of racism is like this. If we are evolved from the monkeys, and if different parts of the human race show different characteristics (which they obviously do, as I don't look very like a Chinaman, and an African doesn't look much like an Eskimo), then it follows that evolution has not been an equal process.

In other words, it means that some of us will be more highly evolved than others. Or closer to the point, some of us are closer to being monkeys than the rest of us.

That is, of course, why someone wishing to make a racist insult will call someone a "monkey". It is not a coincidence that the monkey chants sadly sometimes still heard in football matches are aimed at the players of African descent. The insult being given is as follows: "You are backwards, less highly evolved - close to being a chimp".

Why does the BBC not mention this? Because it would be a bit politically incorrect to do so. If Darwin's theory is true, then racism might in fact be not only racist, but correct. Different parts of the human race do self-evidently have different characteristics, and if Darwin's theory is true then it is a valid question to ask which of those characteristics owe most to the gibbons in our ancestry. Some parts of the human family might in fact be inferior - and pointing it out might be scientifically accurate.

It's not very PC to talk about that, though. The enslaving of supposedly inferior Africans by Europeans, the building of an Aryan master race and extermination of inferior Jewish races, etcetera - history shows a horrible legacy from people who started to take the kind of ideas that Darwin's theory leads to seriously.

As a creationist, though, I can happily point this out. I don't believe that we are highly evolved monkeys. The Bible tells me that God made man as a special and distinct creation, uniquely important - made in the image of God. The differences amongst human beings are the expression of a combination of the incredibly rich genetic diversity present in the first human couple at creation, and genetic mutations which have almost all been destructive, not beneficial. No human being is a monkey; 100% of them bear the divine image and so, for God's sake, are worthy of respect. Yes, genetic defects exist - but none of them are monkey remains.

The question to ask, of course, is if Darwinism is true, then why is it not allowed to be consistent with it? Why are we expected to treat all humans as being equal in dignity, if this may not be true? Are we just meant to assume that by a happy coincidence, all of us just happened to evolve to the same level? That though we have obvious physical differences, none of them are remnants of what we had as monkeys? That despite the physical differences mentally we all just happened to evolve to just the same level when talking about IQ or other mental abilities?

We're meant to believe that Darwinism is true... but behave as if it were false. We're meant to believe that we are evolved from monkeys, but behave as if all humans have unique and equal dignity just as if we'd been created by God. We're meant to accept Darwinism: but not its consequences. But if your belief system can't be consistently lived out in this way, maybe it's time to take a closer look at it...

David Anderson


Graham Weeks said...

This is an interesting perspective. You might like to find out what animal names are acceptable epithets in Kenya. In the Hausa language in Nigeria, monkey is not acceptable bit not for evolutionary reasons. They are troublesome creatures. Complimentary epithets are elephant, lion and buffalo.

Isaac Gouy said...

"The answer, in case you hadn't twigged, is Darwin's theory of evolution."
If the thrower of the insult lived in a country without monkeys then there might be the tiniest possibility of making the argument you wish to make. As he comes from a country where monkeys are vermin, I would suggest you are making a great deal out of nothing at all :-)

David Anderson said...

Very creative, Isaac! The reason why black people are racially abused when they are compared to monkeys is something to do with rats. I am left wondering why the Indian Cricket Board forgot to bring forward this argument as a defence - maybe you have a contact number where they can hire you? ;-)


IlĂ­on said...

I'm a bit surprised that some ‘atheist’ and/or evolutionist hasn’t yet taken you to task for using the “monkey” to denote our purported ancestry.

Because, of course [I'm rolling my eyes here], that silly point would invalidate the reasoning you've presented.