Thursday, September 1, 2011

Evolution? Who Needs It?

I just reread the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I forgot what exquisite satire it is, Jonathan Swift meets Kurt Vonnegut meets Monty Python. The following passage in particular jumped out at me. It’s a description of an alien race called the Vogons, who destroy the Earth because it’s in the path of a planned intergalactic expressway which, it later turns out, doesn’t need to be built in the first place:
… billions of years ago when the Vogons first crawled out of the sluggish primeval seas of Vogsphere, and had lain panting and heaving on the planet’s virgin shores … when the first rays of the bright young Vogsol sun had shone across them that morning, it was as if the forces of evolution had simply given up on them there and then, had turned aside in disgust and written them off as an ugly and unfortunate mistake. They never evolved again: they should never have survived.

The fact that they did is some kind of tribute to the thick-willed slug-brained stubborness of these creatures. Evolution? they said to themselves, Who needs it?, and what nature refused to do for them they simply did without until such time as they were able to rectify the gross anatomical inconveniences with surgery.

Meanwhile, the natural forces on the planet Vogsphere had been working overtime to make up for their earlier blunder. They brought forth scintillating jeweled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, smashing their shells with iron mallets; tall aspiring trees of breathtaking slenderness and color which the Vogons cut down and burned the crabmeat with; elegant gazellelike creatures with silken coats and dewy eyes which the Vogons would catch and sit on. They were no use as transport because their backs would snap instantly, but the Vogons sat on them anyway.

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