Sunday, 6 December 2015

The potential dangerous terrorist I met this luchtime

Have you read Elaine Morgan’s The Descent of Woman

There is little acceptance these days of her fundamental notion about human evolution. That's the “aquatic ape” hypothesis, according to which the species at one time headed back to the sea, along with various others which, like us, have streamlined residual hair and subcutaneous fat (a much more useful way of retaining body heat in water than fur): pigs, elephants, hippos, etc. Indeed, she reckoned that other land species went back to the sea and stayed there – dolphins, for instance. Who knows whether we mightn’t have done better to follow their example.

Still, all that is questioned these days. On the other hand, I stick with her overall stance, that woman must have contributed more, and perhaps a great deal more, to the development of the species than man. That makes sense if only because the rearing of young is key, especially in a species such as ours, where the young are so vulnerable for such a long time.

I haven’t tracked down the quotation, but I think it was Morgan who, in combating the prevailing macho theories of anthropology – the theories of the “Tarzanists” for whom the key development in mankind is the emergence of the hunter, strong, tall, farsighted, courageous, deadly and inevitably male – came up with a great little thought exercise. When faced with such a sentence as “humans are the most lethal predators the Earth has seen”, apply it to some individual human from your daily experience. This will give you give you something along the lines of “that postman coming up my front path is the most lethal predator the Earth has seen.”

It’s a great antidote to over-generalised thinking. And, as well all know thanks to William Blake, “to generalise it to be an idiot.”

It was just this lunchtime that I was reminded of Morgan’s inspiring and lucid thinking. I bought a few bits of food at Marks and Spencer. I was called over to a till by a young woman with a shy but kind smile, who dealt with me politely, efficiently and with friendliness. As it happens, she was wearing a Muslim headscarf.

Two thoughts occurred to me.

The first, why are we who happen to be white entitled to tell a woman like her what she should or shouldn’t wear on her head? It appals me that France, my second nation, full of so many people I like and admire, nonetheless feels it’s entitled to tell the Muslim minority what aspects of its perfectly harmless behaviour are tolerable and which aren’t.

The hijab doesn't even rule out belief in basic
French republican principle
The second was just how appalling a society we will have created if we ever allow ourselves, in our necessary and legitimate pursuit of vigilance, to suspect of terrorism anyone whose dress identifies them as Muslim. What an atmosphere that would be to live in. Besides, if there’s one sure way to create a large pool of alienated and antagonised people, it’s to suspect them of hostility towards you – there’s no better example of a self-fulfilling hypothesis.

“That timid and deferential young woman may be a vicious and callous terrorist?” Yeah, right. I’m really not prepared to live a life in which that’s the first thought that crosses our minds.

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