Monday, October 31, 2005

Profanity on the Bounty

Swearing and cursing is one of those human activities that has no direct counterpart in the wild. Animals do make vocalised threats, it’s true, but always with the aim of warning off intruders. Statements of the kind “you are a cunt” are not used because they would serve no purpose. Telling a lion that he is a foul-breathed fucker may be accurate enough, but it would not hurt his feelings or cause him to change his immediate plans. In fact, it would be a complete waste of an insult.

For humans, of course, swearing serves various social functions, one of which is to relieve the feelings of the swearer. But this catharsis often comes at a high price. Consider the case of William Bligh of the Royal Navy. He ought to be remembered as a skilful navigator and fearless commander, mentioned in dispatches by Nelson for his bravery at the Battle of Copenhagen. Instead, he is famous for a tawdry soap opera enacted in the South Pacific that resulted in the loss of his ship to an upper class fop named Fletcher Christian. And it all happened because of Bligh’s habit of swearing.

Let it be said straight away that Bligh never called anyone a cunt. His preferred epithets were: “infernal scoundrel”, “contemptible thief”, “incompetent mongrel” and “cowardly rascal”, which in modern English would pass for measured and even affectionate rebukes. But this was not so in the late 18th century. Most unwisely of all, he would apply these descriptions to his fellow officers in front of the whole ship’s company, yet a short while later behave as if nothing had happened. Were one to write a book on human social conventions, this sort of thing would come high on the list of faux pas.

Yet thanks to the deeply ingrained discipline of British seamen, Bligh might have got away with his cursing had it not been for the events that occurred in Tahiti. As every film buff knows, the crew of the Bounty had an extended period of shore leave on that tropical island, where the native women were eager to offer them a full repertoire of carnal pleasures. Mr Christian was one who indulged himself to the utmost, and he may have been vain enough to believe some of the flattery that women employ on such occasions to maintain the stamina of their stud. Certainly, a man who has got used to remarks such as “Fletcher big white dick make Tahiti girl happy” is going to place service to King and Country lower down on his list of priorities.

This period of indolence and debauchery meant that the crew of the Bounty were in no fit mental state to resume their duties when the ship eventually set sail, far less accept the insults of the ship’s captain with British stoicism and restraint. So when Bligh called Christian “a coward” over some trivial incident, he was promptly cast adrift on a small boat, which he nonetheless brilliantly navigated to Timor.

Bligh was not a bad man by any means and his use of the cat ‘o nine tails was sparing by the standards of the day. But his cursing became so habitual that he lost all sense of the offence he was causing his colleagues. Perhaps there is a warning for bloggers here. Could they become so accustomed to the use of swear words in a humorous context that they forget the powerful effect of these phrases and expressions outside the community of their readers? I have a vision of a solitary
bearded man in a lifeboat, desperately reading the vessel’s manual while receding into the wake of an ocean liner, whose stony-faced skipper is on the bridge, muttering about the riff-raff that can afford to go on cruises these days.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Shaggy: great human

I was never a fan of Scooby Doo. This oversized mutt exemplifies some of the worst aspects of the human-pet relationship. He is forced – against his will - to participate in the investigation of various unsolved mysteries by insufferably pretentious children, who fancy themselves to be modern-day Sherlock Holmeses. And his role during these activities is either to amuse these children with buffoonish antics or allow himself to be patronized by them in the most irritating manner. His only constructive contribution appears to be the accidental discovery of one kind of clue or another, which usually occurs when he’s trying to make good his escape from imaginary ghosts or ghouls.

However one of the children – if indeed he be a child – behaves towards the dog in a manner that befits a true friendship between man and beast. The ginger-haired freak, Shaggy, is the only human who engages Scooby Doo in a partnership of equals. He has no qualms about sharing his fears with the dog and asking for his protection in times of danger. As Scooby Doo is almost as cowardly as Shaggy, this is a task he is ill-equipped to perform. But I give Shaggy credit for frankly admitting to his fears and placing his trust in the dog, unlike the other children who pretend to believe that rationality and diligence alone can protect them from the evils of man.

The camaraderie between Shaggy and Scooby Doo is best illustrated by their dining arrangements. They are both perpetually afflicted by ravenous hunger and highly susceptible to bribery with food. But contrary to the norms of human-pet interaction, there is no distinction between them in either the mode of eating or the type of food accepted. Scooby Doo will happily devour any sandwiches and cakes that are placed in his path, and Shaggy does not try to claim first right to them as a human. Similarly, Shaggy will gratefully swallow any “Scooby-snacks” that are thrown in his direction, even though these dog-biscuits were designed to suit the tastes of his canine friend.

As a gorilla of independent means, I have not found it too hard to get humans to treat me with the same consideration they would show a member of their own species. And if any human is difficult to convince on this matter, I can always force the issue by hoisting him upside down by his ankles and farting in front of his face. But I abhor unnecessary violence and would much rather solve these problems through dialogue and education. So I say to humans who want to treat their animal companions with respect: Learn from Shaggy!

I leave you with the Scooby Doo
theme song. The last word of the third line of the song is “slipper”.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The most evil human award

A correspondent tells me that my posts are unbalanced. Too much yin and not enough yang – or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, he has a point. I shouldn’t publish post after post about great humans without exploring the dark side of the naked ape. Otherwise my human readers might get complacent, which would do them no favours.

So after much thought, I have compiled the following short-list for the ignoble title of “Most Evil Human That Ever Lived” (MEHTEL):

[] Adolf Hitler, dictator of Nazi Germany

[] Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union

[] Captain Black, Mysteron agent

Now some may argue that Hitler and Stalin are in a league of their own because of the millions they killed. This oversimplifies a complex reality. Hitler and Stalin couldn’t personally have killed millions of people. One should rather say that they and their supporters killed millions of people. So when it comes to assigning guilt, the foolish humans who followed these dictators and elevated them to the status of living gods must share the blame. The responsibility for the millions who died must be divided fairly amongst the millions who helped to kill them.

Once these facts are understood, it becomes apparent that Hitler and Stalin were morally not much worse than a gangster like Al Capone, even though the damage done by Scarface was insignificant by comparison. Like Hitler and Stalin, Capone and his gang also killed those whom they considered enemies. Now just suppose that in addition to being a gangster, Capone had been a brilliant orator with a seductive political philosophy who had lived in a lawless country thirsting for a strongman to put the house in order. Don’t you think that millions of people would have flocked to his banner? Don’t you think that he and his followers would have exterminated their perceived enemies just as ruthlessly as Hitler and Stalin?

We need to examine these issues carefully before making snap moral judgments about Hitler and Stalin.

Now let’s turn to Captain Black. In one important respect, he was much worse than the dictators. For unlike Hitler and Stalin, Captain Black was a traitor – and a traitor to the entire human race, not just to a particular nation. And not content with being an agent of menacingly hostile aliens from Mars, he had the nerve to retain the uniform and rank of an officer of
Spectrum! The barefaced cheek of the man! Even Kim Philby had the decency to assume the rank of a KGB colonel on defecting to the Soviet Union.

Some may argue that Captain Black doesn’t belong on the list because of the low number of casualties he inflicted, but this would be a total misunderstanding of the Mysteron approach to warfare. Their strategy is to probe the enemy carefully, sending their agents to prowl about spookily in alleyways, treading on any stray cats that get in the way, until they have amassed enough intelligence. They will then launch a massive, overwhelming attack that delivers a knock-out blow from which there is no hope of recovery or retaliation. The entire human race will go phut in a single afternoon, leaving the Earth empty for colonization from Mars. Any resistance from that point onward would have to come from the animals, which is not a prospect I would relish. This
clip, which may distress cat lovers, gives a taste of their vile treachery.

Well, I‘ve had my say on the candidates for the title of MEHTEL, and as you can see I have my own biases and preferences. I throw it open to the floor for debate.

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