Did you hear that over 15,000 people voted for Harambe in the presidential election?

This claim, which has been making the rounds on social media for weeks, is unsubstantiated, but it may just be the most plausible thing we've heard all election season. Six months after the western lowland gorilla was fatally shot when a toddler fell into the enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, Harambe remains one of the Internet's best-loved tragic icons. Straddling the thin line between irony and poignancy, Harambe has been exalted as a symbol of grief and loss; a hero cut down in the prime of life; a sacrificial lamb; the epitome of futility and nihilism, representative of vulnerability to chaos and unfairness; he’s the butt of our jokes and our patron saint. Harambe has spurred a bizarre social phenomenon, half satire and half tragedy, that has thousands of people projecting a wealth of human experience onto a gorilla.

Humans can scarcely resist the compulsion to anthropomorphize other animals, which begs the question whether Harambe’s wild success as an enduring meme is attributable, in part, to his species. The humanness of his face and his hands makes him a tenable martyr, but his genetic proximity to humans is not quite close enough to render his pop culture canonization crass and profane.

It’s easy to attach human traits to our primate cousins, because the breadth of our similarities makes imposing a human soul on a gorilla so easy, it quickly caught on as one of the Internet’s most viral and persistent obsessions yet.

So why is it still controversial to demonstrate the science behind this? Last Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the 157th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species. And 157 year later, we’re still arguing about it. What, precisely, do deniers of evolution find so distasteful about a definitive link between humans and the majestic, powerful gorilla?

When we confront the obstacles to majority acceptance of evolutionary theory in the United States, we sometimes wonder – what’s the point? When Pew reports that only 33% of American adults reject creationism and intelligent design; when Ken Ham can build his multimillion dollar creationist theme parks tax-exempt; and when the United States hands the keys to our youth’s educations to the likes of Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos, is it worth the fight?

Yes.

Evolution is the incredible story of our past, but we can’t forget that it isn’t simply how we got here – it’s also where we’re headed next. It is vital that all people understand as fully as possible the process of evolution, because our species has gained unprecedented influence over the trajectory of that process.

Human health, mass extinction events, global habitability, resource preservation – is there any foreseeable crisis that is not inextricably bound up with genetics, mutations, and selective pressures? Come to Freethinkers this Wednesday, November 30 in Miller Hall 239 from 4-5pm to join the discussion!

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