Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roger Ebert the Darwinist?

While completing my Midterm Essay this afternoon, I decided to search the news for what kinds of information was available for Darwinism and came across this interesting article. In the article (link to it is at the bottom of the page) Roger Ebert is criticizing fellow critics Andrew O’Hehir of Salon of his view of the movie Secretariat (2010). This is the section of the article that I found most important in terms of this blog is as follows:
As an admirer of Darwin, I question O'Hehir's description of Secretariat as a "genetic freak." Secretariat was not a lucky roll of the dice by the blind watchmaker, but the outcome of many carefully recorded generations of selective breeding. The horse can be read as one more demonstration of the survival of the fittest -- a phrase that could apply to the winner of every race (Ebert, 2010, para 10).
Nor did Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner, "luck into" the horse. As the film spells out, she won the horse by losing a coin toss, which she wanted to lose, because her understanding of horse breeding led her to hope the millionaire betting against her would "win" the wrong mare. Her reasoning was correct (Ebert, 2010, para 11).
I question if a single American, right-thinking or left-thinking, thought even once of Secretariat as a Nietzschean Überhorse. Nor did many consider the Triple Crown victories as a demonstration of white superiority, because race horses (which seem to enjoy winning for reasons of their own) are happily unaware of race. Does a horse think of a human as belonging to another race? I speculate that a horse considers a human as a differently-abled horse. A cat, now, may belong to another race (Ebert, 2010, para 12).

This section actually plays into our class in a number of different ways. First of all, selective breeding is an interesting terms of Ebert’s view on Darwin. His view of “survival of the fittest” by winning the race is an issue as it is humans deciding what are the best traits to have for horses, not nature. This is not natural selection, as horses are designed by humans to run for a specific race not nature. Humans have handed these horses a task, not by nature in trying to compete for scarce resources. If the horse gets injured or loses it may not be a return to the field to graze, but instead likely a trip to a manufacturer to make goods for humans utilization.
The second interesting part is that who is right in terms of why these horses are the best of the best, Darwin or Samuel Butler. Could Ebert actually be a Butlerist (if that is even a term) as these horses that are able to run races faster then their competitors due to the fact that their parents were put into this lifestyle. It is a lot about habitat that these horses are able to benefit from, including proper feeding practices and training to get to the winners circle. This is not just about having the right genes to win, but also the correct situation in terms of the desire to win.
The other interesting part comes from the third paragraph.is the third part that talks about if horses see humans as an equal race. This is interesting in terms of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (2008) section titled “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhmns”, as the main character, Gulliver, comes across a land of horses called Houyhnhmn’s that he portrays as more intelligent and rational then human beings. In this section of the book Gulliver becomes very attracted to the civilization that the horses have created. Although Gulliver’s Master is very alarmed at the way that humans treat the Houyhnhmns or horses, in his homeland as they do brush them and treat them well, but is horrified at the way they ride on their backs for transportation or enjoyment, and put the animals down if they are harmed. The point of this is that Ebert talks about humans and horses not thinking of themselves as the same race, however it is not fair to say that humans are always smarter then other members of nature (Ebert, 2010). Does a horse enjoy winning a race, or does it enjoy the excitement that is around it after a victory including the recognition it gets. This is not clear. Due to its environment, the horse is taught that if it runs faster then the rest of the horses it will be rewarded, so of course it will be happy if it wins. However is this an appropriate way to handle horses? I am not going to go further into this debate as I have my own personal views after growing up in the country in Alberta. However it is an important issue to think about.
As shown, a few small paragraphs from an opinion piece on a movie about a horse can have a lot to do with Darwinism, but still has to be analyzed appropriately.
Ebert, R. (2010). Secretariat Was Not A Christian. Retrieved October 19th, 2010 from the Chicago Sun Times Website: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/10/secretariat_was_not_a_christia.html
Wallace, R. (Director) (2010). Secretariat.
(Motion Picture) United States of America: Walt Disney Pictures.

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