Philadelphia Zoo: Red-shanked Douc Langur / Kitsch to Wisdom

Philadelphia Zoo: Red-shanked Douc Langur - Kitsch to Wisdom

The Philadelphia Zoo, opened in 1874, is the first zoo in the United States. It is home to over 1,300 animals, some of them rare and endangered, like the Red-shanked Douc pictured above.

The Red-shanked Douc Langur is an Old World monkey, native to Southeast Asia, specifically Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam. It is among the most colorful of all primates. It is diurnal and feeds mostly on leaves. A social animal, Doucs feed together without quarreling, and they can be observed serving each other food. Their main predator is humans and they are hunted for food and for body parts used in traditional medicine! The Douc Langur is threatened throughout its range by habitat destruction and hunting. It is on the IUCN Red List of endangered species.

After posting a photograph of a primate, I am impelled to write about the Theory of Evolution. An earlier post pointed out that only about 40% of Americans believe that evolution is plausible. When asked about evolution, most skeptics often reply: "I don't believe that I'm a descendant of a monkey". Of course, evolution does not claim that we are descendants of monkeys, but rather that "monkeys and humans shared a common ancestor about 6 million years ago". But the real challenge in convincing people that evolution is a fact, lies in the complexity of its explanation; natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, gene flow, etc. are just too complicated for many to conceive. The creationist explanation is much more straightforward: "human beings are special creatures put to earth by God". Evolution inadvertently deemphasizes the special role of human beings on earth and challenges the meaning assigned to our lives. Additionally, by stripping us of our special role on earth, evolution puts us in conflict with our communities which are bonded through a shared meaning we derive from "being special"; No one wants to be the black sheep of their community...

From a cultural and evolutionary point of view, I'm not sure that human beings are "special". We slaughter the Douc Langur to manufacture medicines we do not know to work. We slaughter birds with beautiful plumes to make hats. We slaughter each other because we have different beliefs, or because the color of our skins differ. Some of the same beliefs that give us the meaning of our lives, also diminish the meaning in our lives. Unless we overcome the kitsch and achieve wisdom, we will never be "special" - we will continue to be primates.

Song of the Day: One Country - Midnight Oil (1990)
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