Imagine Darwin on talk radio

Posted Feb. 10, 2009, at 7:58 p.m.

Tomorrow I’m going to bake a cake and write “Happy Birthday, Charlie” on it in honor of Charles Darwin. That little troublemaker is turning 200.

Darwin lived in heady times. Some of his contemporaries were Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Alfred Nobel and Karl Marx. A revolutionary and evolutionary scientist, he must have been impressed by how different and advanced these men were.

If they were all alive today, they could have had one heck of a radio show.

The inventor of dynamite could debate the merits of explosives with a rising star politico whose country increasingly resorted to violence to protest its domestic shortcomings. And the former workhouse inmate who wrote almost exclusively about the poor could discuss the economy with the political philosopher who invented the phrases “capitalism” and “communism.”

And the show’s host could be a guy who flouted 5,000 years of theology to state that the forces of nature had produced such discourse.

Maybe open and frank discussions about infant mortality and scientific discovery and economic disparity — with the opportunity for the whole world to listen — would have yielded a more humane century and a legacy of fairness in the world.

Certainly no such show existed and folks resorted to Nobel’s invention — blasting their opponents to smithereens. But one would hope that discussions of differing views, with each side able to represent its analysis, would help society find solutions that all parties could accept.

I’d most love to hear the discussion between Dickens and Marx. Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” the same year that “The Communist Manifesto” hit the streets.

Dickens’ tale made the case that greedy folks watching their neighbors starve or die for want of medical care actually were putting their mortal souls at risk. What if he had been sitting across a radio studio from Marx the week his book came out?

Picture Marx at another microphone and he predicts that a society where the rich get richer and the poor “had better die and decrease the surplus population” has more to worry about than their souls wandering the Earth for eternity dragging heavy chains. Marx retorts that if the worker doesn’t share in the fruits of his labors, there will be violence.

Our witty and pithy moderator Darwin then points out that Marx made that prediction at the same time that millions of slaves did the work of their owners in the United States.

And as sure as Marx’s words went unheeded, a great civil war broke out — sacrificing more U.S. lives than any other war. Darwin failed, too. It turns out that slave owners didn’t worry about their souls dragging chains through eternity any more than they minded the slaves dragging their chains on Earth.

Darwin got dismissed, Marx was right and Nobel — the dynamite guy — got loads of business.

Well, talk radio didn’t exist then. But it does now, and yet people still starve by the millions.

I can’t help but think that if you could get two worthy and differing adversaries debating each other — not only could we focus on solutions to our problems — but the broadcast ratings would go through the roof.

So in honor of Darwin’s 200th birthday tomorrow, let’s consider what sort of discourse we currently employ. We now have the opportunity to bring the great thinkers of our time together and let them discuss the ills that plague us.

But we don’t. Our modern-day political philosophers present only one side. Our commentators don’t face their opponents and let the listeners decide what’s right.

Some call equal exposure to all sides of an argument the “fairness doctrine.” I don’t; I call it the “no guts, no glory” doctrine.

Anti-Darwin Ann Coulter or anti-Muslim Mike Savage or anti-Obama Rush Limbaugh: They aren’t afraid of losing their lucrative broadcast deals by debating the other side. They’re afraid of losing their ability to manipulate the listener.

You don’t have to believe in evolution to know that you can’t prove that you’re the best at anything if you don’t face true adversity. It was the presence of Goliath that made David’s story so lasting.

Talk radio has no guts and it’s certainly not survival of the fittest.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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