In a recent edition of The Guardian’s recurring opinion column called (perhaps ironically) Utopian Thinking, a Mr. Jules Howard wistfully expounded on the failings of modern education in Britain. Knowing that the public is far too familiar with the reality that their youth are amongst the worst educated in the developed world, ranking last for literacy and second to last for numeracy, or perhaps finding it distasteful to beat upon a dead horse (his being a zoologist, after all), Mr. Howard took aim at a more insidious enemy of the cultivation of minds across the United Kingdom: British Values.
Now if I tell you that Mr. Howard is a good liberal, the sort of chap to protest a fox hunt or scoff at Brexiters, you may be struck with wonder; a sense of curiosity may overcome you, provoking the question, “what can Mr. Howard object to in our tolerant, inclusive, multicultural British Values?” Well, as someone who is interested in animals and evolution, Mr. Howard’s objection is really quite obvious, and you may have even guessed it already. No, it’s not that they’re British Values instead of Human Values. Such a point has its merits, of course, but it’s a touch trite. You see, Mr. Howard is a subtler thinker than that, profound one might even say. He’s a man, sure, but that needn’t cloud his vision of the truth. He boldly confronts the facts, looking at the problems of the world with the dispassionate eyes of a cultural anthropologist. So, what does he say? Well, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief: British Values aren’t Ape Values.
This may require some explaining, your not being as clever a reader as Howard is a thinker. The problem all begins when children get it into their heads that they’re part of this special class of animals called human beings. Unlike other animals, these “privileged” creatures have beliefs about the world, beliefs which orient and guide them. Such beliefs, though, are the very source of their unhappiness, for when people aren’t running around rubbing their human privilege in the faces of other animals, they’re often engaging in conflicts with their fellow men, disagreeing over whose worldview is correct. Such conflicts give rise to violence and all sorts of nastiness, and that’s just no good. It is now that one begins to see the energy-efficient lightbulb in Howard’s head flickering, and the resulting glow reveals a more ambitious version of the conclusions John Lennon implied in his famous song Imagine: stop taking seriously all the things human beings naturally take seriously, then we will be a brotherhood of man. Except in Howard’s version the “man” part is dropped, for he has seen the contradiction in Lennon’s masterpiece. With Howard as Headmaster, we shall henceforth be a brotherhood of apes.
So what are the benefits? I’m pleased to report they are many. Eager to disabuse children of their childish beliefs, Mr. Howard’s “school of hard rocks” will teach them that their teeth don’t fall out because of tooth fairy fetishes (though admittedly I had never heard this version of the myth), but rather because we humans are like other mammals who have two sets of teeth. This is hardly much of an explanation of the phenomenon, but it substitutes a falsehood for a fact, and thus Howard is satisfied. Other pressing questions which will be answered include why children have five fingers on each hand and why we can see colors. If that’s not enough, prepare yourselves, for Howard has plans to make sex education “more interesting”. His syllabus includes explanations about the pattern of human menstruation and the concealed ovulation of our species and is sure to arouse student interest.
Great as these facts about our biological constitution are, the new education of ape values has more to offer us. Howard tells us “we would become better, more caring, citizens of Earth if we were reminded each day of our animal heritage.” Now who could argue with that? But what about morality, you might ask. Not a problem, Howard says, for most people “are capable of goodness simply because it feels like the right thing to do.” One might wonder at this point what is to be done when two people have opposing views on what goodness is. To whom or what do they appeal? Though Howard doesn’t address this, I would guess that his recommendation would be for a third party to interject and remind both people that they are just apes. Recognizing their common ancestry, the conflict would end immediately. It’s all sort of like the way in which families never fight on account of their shared heritage.
Still not convinced? Well how about a testimonial? Howard says that “being an ape really isn’t so bad, I’m proud to be one in fact. So isn’t now the time that our children should be encouraged to be proud, too? Before it’s too late. Before we forget entirely. Before we lose ourselves, and our universal shared values, forever.”
Well, you’ve been warned. And really, if you’re honest with yourself, you know it’s nothing you hadn’t considered already. I think we’ve all been a bit worried lately that people have forgotten they descended from apes. I, for one, am just grateful The Guardian published this piece before its too late!