Sunday, July 08, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex (-ratios)

Speaking of sex videos, I can think of few better ways to spend a spare half-hour on the Sabbath than watching Richard Dawkins give a 'brisk run-through' on sex-ratio theory and sexual selection.

Not only do you get a rare opportunity to see Dawkins lecture in casual beachwear, there is something special about hearing the Oxford professor utter words like 'copulation' and 'Bull sea lion' in the same sentence. (Dawkins, for instance, seems genuinely moved by the unjust plight of the 90% of 'bachelor sea lions' who 'never get a look in'. His pronunciation of harem as 'har-eem', though, is a bit mysterious. Perhaps things are done differently in Oxford...)

(While we're on the topic of sexy animals, it has recently been suggested that even sparrows have some kind of notion of what it means to be cutting edge, musically speaking. Thanks to Anja for the tip.)

Also this Sunday, I'm concluding my reading of Christopher Hitchens's book, God Is Not Great. I've enjoyed it very much, although much as in the case of my reading of Sam Harris's The End of Faith, or Dawkins's own The God Delusion, there is an odd feeling--almost a kind of exhaustion--that comes with reading so much intense argument with which one agrees.

I am struck, though, by what I see as an unexpected mildness of tone in Hitchens's critique of religion. Not that he doesn't have his (enjoyably) splenetic moments, but I found the book to be surprisingly balanced.

(A General Theory of Rubbish has posted just today some quite good video of Hitchens in fine, though restrained, form. Hitchens's mildness is all the more remarkable given the sunny, superficial inanities uttered by John Meacham, the other guest. I mean, please: 'I believe in God for the same reason I believe in love'? This is what Meacham builds his life around?)

Of the three, it strikes me that it is Harris who comes across as the most angry, whereas Dawkins is the most relentlessly rational. He (Dawkins) is also the most optimistic. There is a weariness in Hitchens's book, I think (for all its energy and venom), which perhaps derives from a pessimism about how likely it is that the fanatical madness he chronicles can be subdued. If so, this is a doubt I share.

Not, of course, that he (or I) would for a moment suggest that we should stop trying.

As it was pithily put recently, in a message directed toward the most recent attempted outrage by religious fanatics: 'We'll just set about ye'.

And I, for one, can't top that.


Geoff Coupe said...

"har-eem"? But, but, but, surely that's how any Englishman would pronounce it. You mean that some people might pronounce it differently? The Empire clearly has failed.

J. Carter Wood said...

Well, whether it failed or succeeded in the case of the USA is an interesting question... Certainly as far as pronunciation goes. Being only half-English, I get the word only half-right, with the second half rhyming with 'them'. (Which, as Mr. Webster would certainly say, is the more reasonable of the choices...I mean, you don't say 'theem', do you? Or do you?)

I am still, I think, lightly traumatised by my early experiences with two peoples separated by a common language. Visiting my mother's home town when still of tender years, the native children would delight in tormenting me for the way I pronounced words like 'water' and 'tomato'.

Not, of course, that people in Devon have any justification in making fun of the way other people talk. But, of course, I didn't know that then.