Sleeping with Darwin

Although I’m hardly capitalism’s biggest fan, it would be difficult to overestimate how much the closing of Borders last year has affected my life. It is formidable to explain, as I sometimes must, to friends who don’t find books as irresistible as I do, how the simple pleasures of knowing a friendly bookstore was in town could make the world seem a little less cruel. There were towns that I instantly identified with the Borders located within their borders. Towns I rarely visit any more. All of this is by way of preface to explain the book I just finished. As the last desultory books lugubriously lined the shelves, my wife and I went through picking up titles we supposed we might have not found any other way. One of those titles was the little travelogue Darwin Slept Here by Eric Simons.

My admiration for Charles Darwin began when I realized that the Creationist venom I’d been bloated with from early days had been misguided. There was a fascination with this “evil” of evolution I’d been taught to shun. As I began to read more objective accounts, I realized Darwin possessed a keen, if tortured, mind that could not rest with half-truths and theological figure-fudging. In his account of following Darwin’s tracks in South America, Simons’ narrative not so much takes evolution any further, but presents a portrait of a world that has continued to evolve. In lives filled with uber-capitalism, where would a young person find five years to sail off on a voyage of discovery? Where would the health insurance come from? The 401K? The dental? As a species, humanity has been utterly domesticated.

Once in a while I dream of the Galapagos. I think of Easter Island and smile. So many places I will never be able to go. I spent three years specializing in Ugaritic studies and I will never make it to Syria—not on an editor’s salary. Not as an American. The world that we’ve constructed opens travel to the young who rarely have the resources to enjoy it. After seminary I spent six weeks in Israel. Young and healthy and heavily in debt, I at least glimpsed the sun setting over Jerusalem before getting hog-tied into the economy. Simons’ little book will not make him a millionaire, but as I read his reflections of rainforests, youth hostels, and rental cars on the Pampas, I thought where our world would be now had Darwin not been of a family of means. So much of our health care is based on understanding evolution. We would not be chained to our desks by threats of a slow, painful, and perfectly legal death without health insurance. We would be subject to biblical literalists who rejected the tenets of science— Come to think of it, perhaps we’d all better make tracks while we still can.

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