by Justice William W. Bedsworth
I am not a scientist. When I was a high school sophomore, I talked the dean into letting me amend my curriculum by replacing biology with business law, so I stopped amassing scientific credentials in the eighth grade.1 I am only slightly more qualified to discuss science than your golden retriever.
So, of course, that is what I am going to do.2
I have decided evolution is a crock.
Well, not a crock, actually. Darwin and Mendel and Haeckl and all those folks tried hard and they made some good points, but they died too soon. They weren’t around long enough to see that their predictions for evolution were too ambitious.
I, on the other hand, live in Twenty-First Century America. I need only pick up the paper every morning to see that evolution is apparently a self-limiting phenomenon. As near as I can determine, evolution peaked on July 2, 1964.
That was the day the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Public Law 88-252, was passed. It’s been downhill ever since.
At least it has for humans. I don’t know, maybe frogs and birds and golden retrievers have gotten smarter. But humans, having crested the intelligence hill fifty-four summers ago, have been plunging down the other side like a Buick on an icy road.
We’re not only dumber, we’re orders of magnitude dumber. If we’re still ahead of dolphins and crows, it’s only because they don’t realize it’s a contest.
Those of you who took high school science courses3 and learned the scientific method are probably wondering what experiments I’ve conducted to verify my hypothesis. Here is how the scientific method has proven me correct:
Hypothesis: Evolution is a crock.
Experimentation: Reading newspapers since 1953.4
Conclusion: Hypothesis verified. Repeatedly. Almost hourly the last few years.
I am disappointed that science has not figured this out. But in fairness to the scientific community, they’ve been pretty busy with global warming and erupting volcanos and Ebola and the fact all the scientists have been busy getting rich by conducting phony research.5 They probably haven’t had time to read much beyond the box scores and the Kardashians.
So I am left to be the bearer of bad tidings. I’m truly sorry about that. I know you already feel bad enough just seeing that they’ve given me this page to fill again; I’m really sorry to make it more painful than usual.6
But there is a bright side. You and I and all the law-abiding folk out there may have been losing IQ points ever since the Super Bowl was invented, but so have all the criminals. They’re not getting smarter any more than we are.
That’s good news, right? At least Voldemort and Moriarty and the Hamburglar are still a few steps behind.
Exhibit A: When I was a young prosecutor in the early seventies, there were a couple of police officers in Laguna Beach whom we in the D. A.’s Office referred to as Batman and Robin because they always seemed to get involved in the kind of cases we only saw on television and in their police reports. Exciting, high-speed chase, thrill-a-minute, French Connection kinda cases. One of them, Neil Purcell, later became the Chief of Police in Laguna.
One night, Purcell and his partner chased a felon onto Main Beach. To their amazement, he shucked his shoes and dove into the Pacific. Pursell’s partner stripped down and went after him. Twenty minutes later he returned to the beach, dripping wet and dog-tired, but with the suspect in tow, only to find Purcell still standing on the beach in his suit.
“Why didn’t you help me?” the exasperated and exhausted partner demanded.
Purcell shrugged. “Where’s he gonna go? China? He was never out of sight; I figured it was easier to wait here for him to swim back.”
Well, it’s been almost fifty years since that night, and I just read in my friend Kevin Underhill’s blog that people are still trying to swim away from the police.
An Oregon suspect recently tried to elude apprehension by diving into the Hood River. Oregon troopers took the Purcell approach. They just walked along the river next to him until the cold water and the prospect of being dumped into the currents of the mighty Columbia convinced him to give up and come ashore. No smarter now than fifty years ago.
Exhibit B: In 1998, I wrote an opinion called People v. Foranyic, 64 Cal. App. 4th 186. Mr. Foranyic was observed by Huntington Beach police standing astride a bicycle—to which was attached a large axe—at 3:00 in the morning. Police detained him and found, unsurprisingly, that he was under the influence of illegal drugs.
Our court held that while we couldn’t point to a particular crime that might be suggested by riding a bicycle through town at 3:00 in the morning while carrying an axe, it nonetheless cried out for investigation and supported a detention.
But, because evolution is a crock and humans do not get smarter, I read today that a man in upstate New York has been convicted of a laundry list of crimes growing out of his detention by police who found him driving his car through the countryside with an axe embedded in its roof.
When, oh when, will people learn that axes make cops suspicious? If you aren’t a firefighter, a lumberjack, or within fifty feet of a woodpile, you’re gonna get questioned about why you have an axe.
Our language has no word for someone who kills with a crowbar or a baseball bat or a hammer. But the term “axe-murderer” was part of our vocabulary long before Lizzie Borden. Our fight-or-flight instincts go all atwitter7 when we see an axe.
So, the upstate New York guy might have gotten away with the fact his car had no doors, no windshield, and no license plates.8 But when there is an axe sticking out of the roof of your car, you’re gonna get stopped. Count on it. Crooks no smarter.
I was trying to cheer myself up with this silver lining. As unhappy as I was that I and my fellow humans were devolving into lower-order hominids and would soon be losing Family Feud matches to chimpanzees, at least I could reassure myself that it might mean we law-abiders could continue to outwit the law-breakers most of the time.
Then I read that the Chicago Cubs have had to put one of their pitchers—a professional athlete paid millions of dollars—on the disabled list because he injured himself taking off his pants.
Then I read that a Minnesota woman got her head stuck in the exhaust pipe of a truck.
Then I read that a South Carolina bakery censored a graduation cake and printed its message as “Summa - - - Laude” because it thought the middle word was “dirty.”
There is no silver lining, folks. Humans are getting dumber at a frightening rate. If I tried to describe that rate in musical notation, I could use only eighth-notes and grace notes. We may have forgotten how to use fire by Labor Day.
Evolution is something to look back on fondly. Devolution is our present and future. To paraphrase Gandhi’s response to the question of what he thought of Western civilization, “It would have been a good idea.”
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at email@example.com. And look for his new book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon and Vandeplas Publishing.