(Published in Business Standard on June 29, 2013)
It’s been a stupid couple of weeks. First, a subspecies of the African black rhino was declared extinct. While species have always come and gone from the earth, and extinction is as natural a process as evolution, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species reads like a horror story. We’re fast-forwarding the process to the point of inanity. Thank you very much, poachers and people who think that environmental concerns are for the, well, birds.
Then, flash floods washed out chunks of Uttarakhand, and while this is a tragic and awful thing, everyone would rather gloss over the fact that we bring a lot of this sort of catastrophe down upon ourselves, with unregulated deforestation and development and total disregard for whatever laws are in place to minimise the carnage wreaked by acts of god. In a friend’s contemporary phrase, the tragedy in Uttarakhand is partly nature’s way of autocorrecting for human greed and stupidity. The fact that the planet bites back should make us put our enormous homo sapiens sapiens brains together to make smarter choices about social and individual behavior.
Speaking of enormous homo sapiens sapiens brains, does it ever seem to you that humankind has maybe come to the end of our freakish meteoric rise? That the triumph of evolution and adaptation that gives us complete domination of the planet might be proving to be a lot like the epic journey home that salmon make through the oceans, except that when they get there it turns out it’s a disappointing little kiddie pool where they all bump up against each other and thrash around futilely in the millions?
Humankind has done some amazing things—penicillin, and the pyramids, and art, and space travel, and the internet, and charting the planet, and sequencing the human genome, and Nutella. (After Nutella, how much higher can we go?) A two year-old Shakespeare-reading toddler in the UK who can rattle off the periodic table and multiplication tables, and understands three other languages including Japanese, is now Mensa’s youngest member. It’s amazing.
So what, really, do most people do with their ginormous brains?
Consider cat bearding. It’s new! It’s exciting! It’s one displaced consonant away from cat breading, which, in its time, was also new and exciting. Cat breading was an internet meme consisting of people cutting out the middle of a slice of bread, sticking their cat’s face into it, taking a photo and uploading it. It was an elaborate play on the word ‘inbred’. Take that, planet, that’s how big our brains are.
Cat bearding is an internet meme consisting of people placing their cat in front of their face but with the cat looking up, so that the person’s face looks as if they have a beard, often with two tiny feline incisors in the middle. Cat bearding has gone viral. It’s biiiig. Human brains are so big, in fact, that we’ve cunningly expanded this meme to include dog bearding.
No? Still think people are adorable?
How about this news item (which I found on the same page, incidentally, as the cat bearding YouTube video): “Woman Falls Into Fountain While Texting”. They were able to show this from three different angles thanks to the security cameras that now record every moment of our public lives on account of stupid people who like to rob/stab/hurt/blow up other people in the belief that they’re stupid.
Seriously, our great big brains often appear to have exhausted their great big possibilities. Maybe it’s time we called a spade a spade, and settle into the dotage of the species. Maybe cat bearding is just another step in the long slow process of our own autocorrection.