Thursday, June 21, 2007

Haunted by Visions

Graduation speakers are notorious for quoting other people, sometimes out of context and sometimes, I suspect, without any verification whatsoever. For example, there's a supposed bit from Charles Darwin that goes like this: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” I've heard or seen this a dozen times in the past six months or so, most recently at a graduation ceremony. Corporations sometimes use it as a mantra for laying people off, or so it would seem. Simple question: did Darwin really ever write this, or did a modern copywriter toss it off "in the spirit of Darwin"? So far, I cannot verify the authenticity of authorship, Darwin or otherwise. But more will be revealed, I suspect.

It's Jean-Paul Sartre's birthday, so here's a supposed quip from him: "If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company." He may have written this or said it (presumably in French): I don't know. But the following simple statement can be traced to Sartre's play, Le Diable et le bon Dieu / The Devil and the Good Lord (1951): "When the rich wage war it is the poor who die." Certainly true in Iraq.

It's also Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's birthday, the man lampooned by Voltaire via Professor Pangloss (Candide, or Optimism) for his jaunty assertion that we live in "the best of all possible worlds."

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.

Birthdays: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Reinhold Niebuhr, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mary McCarthy, Jane Russell, Maureen Stapleton, Abdel Halim Hafez (Isma'el Shabana), Françoise Sagan (Quoirez), Ray Davies, Shirin Ebadi, Ian McEwan, Vasilis Papakonstantinou, Müjde Ar (b. Kamile Suat Ebrem), Marcella Detroit (Levy), Kathy Mattea, Pierre Omidyar, Juliette Lewis.

Happy Trails! Summer's here . . . . .


Erik Donald France said...

Darwin: "One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die." Origin of Species (1859). I was appalled to see that the British Library Net shut down a couple months ago. It was a helpful research database for the world -- and included Darwin's complete works, searchable on the internet. Gone. What did it cost to maintain -- a day's worth of ammo wasted in Iraq?

Charles Gramlich said...

I've read most of Darwin's stuff but I don't remember that quote. That means little. It's not like I memorized his work word for word. It sounds like something he might have said.

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, thanks for the comment.

I still believe this may be made up, falsely attributed to Darwin. Being reasonably intelligent, strong and adaptable, I have no problem with the content, just the authority. Because if we can make stuff up and say someone famous first did it, why bother teaching, reading, thinking, writing at all? We'll just make stuff up as we go along. Who cares anyway?

Erik Donald France said...

I just did a scan of the 341-page Origin of Species. The word "adaptable" does not exist anywhere in the text. A sleuthing challenge.

Johnny Yen said...

Your post reminded me of the email that went around a few years back-- it was advice to graduates, and included admonishments to use sunscreen. It was widely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut-- that it was a speech he gave at graduation-- but turned out to be a column from the Chicago Sun-Times.

I frequently get emails from people with "facts" and quotes that I find later are completely false. You are wise to be dubious.

the walking man said...

One thing you have no need to doubt Erik, is that the rich do wage the war and the poor pay the entire price for it.



t said...

Amazing post.
Not to be cheesy, but one of my top moments of disillusionment with academic society: first year at Caltech, an argument in a big seminar on bio. This really big shot biologist Caltech man said something he attributed to Darwin. It was as though George Bush had walked into the room.
I'm barely a biologist but because I was studying so much biology at the time, I had previously bought and read The Origin of Species, but apparently men never see a similar need to learn facts, they learn to hustle and dominate conversation yes...I was young and kept my mouth shut but there was a big shot woman scientist in the room (thank God, since there are only like a handful in the Western world) who of course had bothered to learn what Darwin's work really was, so his ignorance was not to prevail in that room on that day.
Come to think of it, this happened more than once - the horrible Physics class in which kids (sorry but it's always boys, and you know I love boys) wasted ten minutes of my life beating their chests "the real line is open" "no, the real line is closed" and I thought they could have used that time better learning some math.
Einstein suffers the same as Darwin, a lot of people wield him before them, as the crucifix, to ward off all argument.
I'm dealing with the job search now, and totally enjoyed the joke about survival of the fittest coming in handy in firing.

t said...

Dear blog brother:
I just read the comments now. I'm like wow, you checked.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all, for the comments. Tosin, sounds like a possible memoir ;)

Just read a new study about how men still receive preferential treatment in jobs and pay, even though women are frequently better educated down the line. All one need do is look at the candidates for US president, I suppose. In any case, good luck with the job search! I emailed the Darwin Papers archivist at Cambridge, so we'll see if he responds on the origin of the "Darwin" q.