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Fear of a Bland Planet

Darwin’s Arch, the magnificent rock formation near the Galápagos Islands, collapsed last month. It took millions of years of erosion, and then gravity finished the work instantly. It was witnessed by a handful of divers on a nearby ship, Galapagos Aggressor III. What’s left over is being renamed “the Pillars of Evolution.” Why not “Darwin’s pillars”? Probably because Darwin is problematic now. Far safer to name things after the pitiless laws of nature, which cause every poorly adapted beast to disappear from the face of the earth forever.

Hitchens was right to worry about the effects of television. Now, Bhutanese youth are crowding in the capital city, Thimphu. They have smartphones. The traditional culture of Bhutan — its sports, music, and folklore — competes directly with the Bollywood hits that are beamed in to their Motorola phones. Elements of land reform that other nations completed in the 19th century are still part of active debate. And yet, the young King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck just this year abolished the last laws criminalizing same-sex relations and was congratulated by a native identity lobby group, Queer Voices of Bhutan. Such a development was literally unthinkable three decades ago, and yet also inevitable once Facebook arrived.

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