Our town is a theme park really. Its centre is flooded with tourists all year round. Tourists who have no idea what injuries a bike can cause, and who will willingly throw themselves of the sidewalk onto the road in front of one. Tourists who mistakenly think that our local morals permit anything, anytime, anywhere, and believe they can misbehave at will.
You’d expect Sodom and Gomorrah there, but strangely enough, only two groups of tourists stick out. First are the Japanese, who go collectively deaf once they step on a bike lane. No amount of bell-ringing or shouting -even in Japanese- succeeds in getting them of it. A close second are young British men. They’re loud, unruly and drunk and even when they’re not, they behave as such.
My girlfriend, my brother and me were walking through town a while ago and passed a group of these young British men. They don’t exist in a solitary state, they’re always in groups. Single-sex ones too, I presume the young British females stay in Britain. The young British men behaved as always and I commented that you really do wonder how Charles Darwin ever thought of the idea that man descended from apes. The irony didn’t escape my girlfriend, but somehow my brother missed the point. ‘You wonder why nobody though of it earlier!’ he said in earnest.
Missing the irony sometimes makes for good questions. Observing young British men is so similar to observing apes that it really makes you wonder why nobody ever saw the lack of difference between the two. Before Darwin that is. Why did we miss it?
Darwin was a ‘naturalist’, that’s the clue to an answer. It’s not a question of not observing our fellow humans, it’s a question of observing nature. When in the 5th century BC the Carthaginian Hanno encountered gorilla’s somewhere in West Africa, his seamen thought they were just hairy men. Medieval seamen thought seals were bishops traversing the sea. We were part of nature. Before the advent of ‘naturalists’ we didn’t look at nature as something distinct enough from us to notice both similarities and dissimilarities.