A zoological safari down Diyawanna Oya

… in search of Homo sapiens, Homo politicus, and a new sub-species.

| by A. N. Suranimala
(November 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A human – animal connection has many ramifications, from the zenith of the intellectual discourse on evolutionary biology which the venerable Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace initiated, to theoretical zoology, philosophy, anthropology, and then down to the nadir, or the pits as it is more crudely, but descriptively and accurately called - Sri Lankan politics. I’m not referring to the man-pet animal connection where a dog is man’s best friend, but to a more philosophical consideration of Man’s place among the animals. It is essentially a theoretical discussion that might find a place in A-level text-books on zoology, but with no practical applications what-so-ever, except for instance, in stimulating the boss of the Dehiwela Zoo to collect this new sub-species to cage it in the zoo where it properly belongs.

There are some enthusiastic people who postulate that Man is a special creation and the Jesuit priest-paleontologist Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin even hypothesized in his The Future of Man, and The phenomenon of Man, that Man’s ultimate destination is to wind up in what he calls the Noosphere, at The Omega point (whatever and wherever that is). But the Nobel laureate Peter Medawar has shredded Chardin’s view as being very far-fetched while Chardin didn’t tell us ignoramuses where his Noosphere is, that is, how far away. James Thurber, the US humorist-writer was certainly in no jocular mood but was dead serious when he wrote so perceptively (in I believe, 1947): "Before we can pronounce any judgement on Man’s destiny, we must take a look at the dilemma into which he has got himself. We must examine his nature before we can measure his hope of Heaven. For some curious reason Man has always assumed that his is the highest form of life in the Universe. There is, of course, nothing at all with which to sustain this view. Man is simply the highest form of life on his own planet. His superiority rests on a thin and chancy basis; he had the trick of articulate speech and out of this, slowly and laboriously he developed the capacity of abstract reasoning. Abstract reasoning in itself, has not benefited Man so much as instinct has benefited the lower animals. On the contrary, it has moved in the opposite direction" (my emphasis), and if Mr. Thurber would kindly allow me to add, probably in the direction of Diyawanna Oya. Other zoologists are more down-to-earth and clearly see an intimate link between humans and animals. This could be so because, for one thing, humans have at the bottom of their spine on their backside near the exit of their gas-works, a little set of bones called the coccyx that evolutionary biologists regard as the vestiges of a tail; this coccyx (pronounced koksiks, by virtue of its neighbourhood) is apparently concealed by human underwear to prevent embarrassment in case the coccyx causes any resemblance of the wearer to animals, (or more likely embarrassment to animals to have human compared with them), until medical students start dissecting their human corpses for the 2nd medical examination to expose and demonstrate the coccyx to their examiner. I can imagine the glee with which tailed-animals who will undoubtedly evolve, and will some day overtake humans at the rate humans are destroying themselves, and be able to dissect human bodies in their efforts to discover how Darwin got misled and Evolution got derailed on its grand multibillion-year journey, and discover the human coccyx that will be enough evidence to hang a cat, that humans have some resemblance to, and are really glorified animals. Here I tender my apologies to conventional animals.

But other zoologists doubt a human – animal link. They base their theory on baldness, that while some humans are bald on their heads and sometimes in their thinking, no animal has ever been discovered to be bald on their heads. The fact that there are degrees of baldness in humans won’t invalidate their theory. There is however a diversionary link between the degree of baldness and the sexuality cum intellect of the human, a feature that has not yet been established in animals, obviously because they have no baldness. Humans who are bald in front are the thinkers, those who are bald behind are the sexy ones while those who are totally bald are those who think they are sexy. This theorem is universally valid and has entered the Sinhala lexicon as when they say issarahin thattaya – kattaya [bald in front – brainy, shrewd], passen thattaya – mottya [bald behind – stupid]. But let that baldness-debate rest as the poor animals have no power of speech or the opportunity to write letters or articles competing with Suranimala, to the editor of The Island, explaining their status on the absence of baldness.

The view of a substantial human – animal link was identified some

years ago, by a Bambalapitiya teacher of zoology to repeatedly-failed A-level students, who even named the species of human – animal hybrid that he discovered, as Homo politicus, not to be confused with an entirely different species called Homo sapiens, because H. politicus has only one percent of human genes. Homo politicus is really a creature that wallows in the mud in Diyawanna Oya and periodically migrates to that august building on the banks of that oya, to collect its pay and hear its own voice, although the mud is where it rightly belongs.

For the uninitiated, let me explain the derivations of those two names Homo sapiens. Homo, has little to do with gay people; it comes from Latin, meaning Man. sapiens is what egg-head zoologists call the species name, which means wise (Latin sapio) Wise Man, which is almost extinct from the earth. Now, for Heaven’s sake, Homo sapiens has nothing to do with the Diyawanna Oya aquatic species of animal Homo politicus that has never been known to display Wisdom, and on which therefore this creature does not qualify or deserve to be named Homo sapiens. It is for that reason that the simple Bambalapitiya teacher of zoology to failed A-level students termed the Diyawanna species Homo politicus, in view of the game of politics that these animals play at the citizens’ expense.

There is another, more interesting sub-species or variant (as taxonomists call it) of H. politicus which also enters this building, popularly called the parliament, frequented by H. politicus itself. Unfortunately good old Charles Darwin is now on the other side so he cannot study and classify this sub-species, though if re-incarnationists are right and we are lucky, then he might soon be with us. This odd, aberrant creature has yet defied any zoological name being given to it; it is probably not Homo sapiens because sapiens (sapio Latin, be wise) denotes wisdom whereas this sub-species has no sapience. Will any reader please help out with an appropriate name? Or I could resort to the category of "anomalous creatures" that biologists place odd species that cannot be pigeon-holed into existing classifications. This sub-species is characterized by having the intriguing habit of tethering members of the species H. sapiens to trees and beating them, a habit that Head-Shrinks (also known as psychiatrists) call sadism, after the late Marquis de Sade; this sub-species (I mean of H. politicus) should be proud of itself to be named after royalty. Let me enlighten readers on Head-Shrinks, so-called affectionately by patients who have their bloated or neurotic and psychotic Ego-bearing heads shrunk by this category of medicine-men. Animals do not suffer bloated Ego’s, neuroses or psychoses, and thus have no animal psychiatrists, thank Heaven and bless their souls, so the term Head-Shrink refers only to the medicine man who tinkers with humans. The plot thickens when humans that have psychoses, neuroses and bloated egos are evolutionarily yet regarded as being higher than animals who do not have these ailments; could anyone resolve this taxonomical quandary for me? This sub-species of Homo politicus, also has a loud voice that conveys just foul air but no discernible meaning, especially when newscasters’ television cameras are focused on it for the entertainment of dumb citizens, and lots are being drawn for entry tickets to that large building on the Diyawanna Oya, and for teaching of zoology to school-kids. The reason, raison d’etre – (Suranimala just finished his French tuition class), for the existence of this sub-species (oops, I nearly wrote sub-human species is unknown and unfathomable; it is a clear example of where Darwin-Wallace’s Evolution got derailed during its multibillion-years journey.

There is another discrepancy in this zoological puzzle of the difference between Homo sapiens, Homo politicus, and its new sub-species and that is the absence of horns in this muddy creature of H. politicus, seen around the Diyawanna Oya. If it did possess horns, it could also have aligned itself on the evolutionary tree of zoological life to other species of animals, Bubalus bubalis the water buffalo, or the commonplace bull Bos taurus, both of which have horns, but it will not be possible to examine for horns, the head of H. politicus if it has one, because it might be so small that it might escape detection. It may on the other hand be that the parliament’s beauty salon is equipped to remove horns. This author probably won’t get the great zoological privilege of examining this sub-species for the sprouting of horns, as this author might also get tied to a tree. This zoological puzzle will deepen when one begins to wonder whether this new sub-species, if it has no horns, is even more closely and biologically related to the donkey, rather than only to the bullock and bull because the real donkey (Equus africanus asinus) has no horns. This sub-species, that I’d venture to name Equus zeylanicus asinus colloquially called the Ceylon ass (asinus), should be eternally grateful for being given a scientific name and pleased to have it’s new scientific name in the zoological literature, but I offer my apologies to the vintage ass. The technical zoological name E. z. asinus is the origin of the term ‘asinine’ ( = donkey-like, stubborn, stupid [Pocket Oxford Dictionary, OUP 1996] ) given to the behavior of some members of the species H. politicus and certainly of the new sub-species described in this technical report.

I think I must stop right here, or the Sri Lankan zoology syllabus for our failed-A-level students might get overloaded, other animals such as snakes and colour-changing chameleons that are also found in Diyawanna Oya might clamour for new names and, what’s more, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace might get restless in their graves; let them Rest In Peace.

But all this zoological mumbo-jumbo convinces me of two things, firstly that Ogden Nash said a mouthful about humans, perhaps of H. politicus and E. zeylanicus asinus, in his delightful little poem –

"My fellow man, I do not care for
I often ask me, what’s he there for
The only answer I can find
Is reproduction of his kind" - and Heaven help us

and secondly that only a little humour that Thurber and Nash have in plenty, can help us survive these species.