I was in Barcelona recently, in the Museu Blau, a wonderfully modern building designed to house the Natural History Museum. It was full of stuffed bears, giant spiders and meteorites but I was mesmerised by a small glass cabinet lit from above. It contained a replica of Lucy. Standing at three feet tall and covered in soft hair she’s an alright, upright kinda chimp. She loped across the Ethiopian planes three million years ago and may well have been our earliest human ancestor.
I was wondering if we’ve really changed all that much, if the trappings of progress and civilisation are just an illusion, when I heard a child screaming blue murder. My 3-year-old daughter had wrestled down a small Spanish boy in her quest to get her plastic dinosaur back. That pretty much answered my question.
Back on the front line in general practice and I’m amazed at the inventive ways that patients harm both themselves and others. From stabbings and sexual assaults to glassings and grievous bodily harm, from shooting up and self-discharge to forgetting to take their insulin. But of course these destructive carryings-on only really make sense if you’re brave enough to dispense with the idea that our species is somehow progressing.
Sure, science and technology hurries forward, it promises great progress and reward and yet as a species we haven’t really caught up, the human animal is still in its bawling infancy. We can give a young man powerful pain-relieving drugs and we can send him to sleep intubated whilst wheeling him into a scanner but we shouldn’t forget what put him there: a drunken brawl in which a rival smashed his skull apart with a monkey wrench.
As I recovered the plastic dinosaur and offered my apologies to the boy’s mother, Lucy looked on impassively. When all said and done our motives are just the same as hers. We love our young, groom our superiors and try to harm one another in frightening ways.
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen