Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

Christmas Round-Robins: The new snobbery?

We have come to that time of year where we learn that Jonny and Sophie spent Christmas on the slopes of Klosters with Charlie and Cammi (or, better still, Wills and Kate), that Dave and Sam met up with them for a picnic on safari in Kenya, that little Charlotte won Teacher’s Pet of the Year Award for the fifth year running, and that dear little Henry gained his PhD before he was six … Oxbridge of course!

Nigel Pocock

Aristocratic privilege has been exchanged for meritocratic privilege. Parents want the ‘best’ for their little kiddiwinkles, precisely so that they can climb the greasy pole of material success, have the best paid job, hence the biggest mortgage, and thereby repeat the process with their children.

Perhaps the much-maligned Richard Herrnstein was right—success quite literally breeds success, as the intellectually well-endowed mate and pass on their favourable genetic makeup to their progeny? But has this anything to do with value? What is ‘value’? Is a Prime Minister worth more than an old person in a care home with dementia? Who is to say? One person did say it, and he was promptly murdered by the political and religious powers.

That ‘the least shall be the greatest’ coupled with the idea that he was a rightful ruler was dangerous stuff indeed.

The recent unravelling of the genome of Neanderthal man has revealed that modern European homo sapiens (the wise one!!) have around 2%-5% of Neanderthal DNA.

The recent facial and bodily reconstruction of homo erectus (contemporary with Neanderthal, but in different parts of the globe) revealed an extraordinary likeness to Australian Aboriginal people. Neanderthals had a larger brain.

Does this mean that those who have bigger brains are worth more? Is a new polygenesis (multiple origins of modern people) on the horizon?

Charles Darwin

What many people do not realise because of the ridiculously polarised debate over human origins is that both Charles Darwin and fundamentalist Evangelicals actually agreed on monogenesis (one origin of all present humans), and that Darwin opposed polygenesis, noting that it led to racism.

The point is that, of the three things that divide people, physical appearance, culture and DNA, none are an adequate basis for snobbery. The Nazis believed in theories of degeneration from an otherwise ‘pure’ white race because it suited them to do so. Some even wistfully tried to persuade themselves that there were such people as ‘mulattoes’—’mules’, that were the supposed sterile offspring of miscegenation—mixed-race matings. Paradoxically, it may even be that mixing the gene pool may increase the physical health of people, not the reverse.

By this measure, mulattoes have the highest worth! Still more recent thinking has suggested that caring for those that are ill has weakened the gene pool. What if that is the case? Might not a more compassionate person evolve instead?

What then of the round-robin? Perhaps cock-sparrow, with his bow and arrow, should puncture him, and let out all the hot air? Deflation might be no bad thing. Humility can be painful. It involves initially chaotic relations, followed by an emptying of the egocentric self, before a new, listening, self and community can emerge. But that is a story for another time.

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