Raising awareness. Has there ever been an activity more utterly fucking pointless? If you want to do something to fix, say, breast cancer, you could become a doctor or a biochemist or something. You could give money to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Or, you know, ask your mom if she’s had a breast exam lately (go on. She’s bound to be really touched by your thoughtfulness instead of totally creeped out and a little scared). But surely there is no one on the whole fucking planet stupid enough to believe that simply being aware of the existence of breast cancer is going to help in any way.
Ho ho. Never underestimate the reach, the breadth, the staying power, the sheer heart-stopping stupidity of a thirty-year-old brain-dead New Age hippie idea.
Once upon a time — some time in the ’50s, in fact — Japanese monkey scientists (primatologists, not apes in lab coats) were studying Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) on the island of Koshima. They did this by dumping yams on the beach. Because the best way to study animal behavior in the wild is to introduce something foreign and unnatural.
When yams were dumped on the beach, they got covered in sand. The monkeys loved them some yams, but hated the sand. I mean, sure. Who likes sandy yams? So one day, this one girl genius monkey figured out how to wash her yams in the sea. Wooo! Clean yams! She taught her peers, who taught their peers, and the idea slowly spread across the island.
The story so far is true.
Now enter Lyall Watson, Ph.D, botanist, zoologist, biologist, anthropologist, ethologist, dipstick. He read this research and discovered the following thing in it that was not there. Monkeys taught one another to wash yams, yes, up until a certain hypothetical number of monkeys had learned in this way. Ninety nine, let us say. When the 100th monkey learned to wash its yams, something wonderful happened: suddenly, instantly, every monkey on the island knew how to wash yams! And on the nearby islands! Hell, we can’t be sure, but maybe every monkey in the world got voodoo intelligenced, bang — like that — with the magic monkey yam-washing mojo, already!
And there you have it. The Hundredth Monkey Effect. The birth of a monster. Awareness as a commodity. Patient Zero for the infectious belief that sitting around on your fat ass being aware of something is helping in any way — and, hey — if you make other people aware of something, it’s like the Amway of voodoo monkey yam-washing mojo!
Ken Keyes, founder of the the Living Love Center in Berkeley (so, you know, he’s got some credibility there), picked it up next and wrote a book called The Hundredth Monkey that you — you lucky macaca — can read for free on the internet. It’s about how we’ll save ourselves from flaming eyeball-melting nuclear catastrophe by being aware of the possibility of it. I shit you not.
Rupert Sheldrake, who took a first class honors degree in biochemistry at the University of Cambridge but then switched to pseudoscience because there weren’t enough unicorns and goblins in regular science, used the 100th Monkeys thing to support his notion of morphic resonance. Which is “the idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species” plus I think there are vibrating monkey voodoo yam-washing unicorns in there somewhere.
It never happened, of course. The hundred monkey thing. It’s not in the original research. Watson claimed it was based on conversations with the scientists, who were embarrassed to report such a thing, but none of the scientists have backed him up. Then he said it was an original metaphor.
Y’uh-huh. I’ve used the “metaphor” gambit, too.
So? It’s a nice metaphor, so what’s the problem? Well, the problem is, it’s NOT TRUE. It’s happy clappy hippie bullshit. Bullshit is like the carbon monoxide of ideas; it lethally elbows truth out of the way. In comes bullshit, out goes information. True things are always more useful and important to know than bullshit, because decisions made on facts have a chance of doing what you want them to.
Because while you’re sitting around congratulating yourself on the fabulous contribution you’re making with your mind, you’re doing absolutely nothing to fix breast cancer or AIDS or domestic abuse or whatever problem is stuck in the leftist hive mind this week.
Understand now, Moonbeam?