Evolutionary Psychology

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Robert Kurzban

The Evolutionary Psychology Blog

By Robert Kurzban

Robert Kurzban is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite. Follow him on Twitter: @rkurzban

What Can A Sneetch Teach?

Published 22 May, 2011

With apologies to Dr. Seuss…

In a far off small village, the young ones were raised
To think making pictures was work to be praised.
They learned from the masters, the maestro’s, the greats
Inspir’d by beauty, by stories, by fates.

They’d paint all their pictures, and some weren’t bad
(Tho’ most of them follow’d some fashion or fad)
Now the village was empty of people like me
Instead there lived sneetches. Sneetches you see!

Each sneetch as they aged, they’d learn for a while
To draw their own pictures in particular style
Some sneetches used crayons, or brushes or pens
They draw with sharp angles or boxes or bends

Each sneetch when they’d mastered the style they thought best
Was granted a star, which they wore on their chest.
Some stars were yellow, some pink and some green.
Some sneetches had colors that seldom were seen.

One style of drawing was starting to brew
A way to make pictures that was novel and new
A new color was added when these sneetches drew
A new star was added; its color was blue!

Our story begins with Johnny the sneetch.
He earned his blue star at a school by a beach.
He painted some pictures of some shapes and some lines
He tried different colors, new methods, new finds

He tried to paint pictures as well as he could.
Some pictures were fair; a few were quite good.
He drew in the schoolhouse with sneetches his age
Each page had a picture; each picture a page

The sneetches around him all had their own stars
His star was blue; not so most of thars.
Their stars were green ones as green as the grass
Their pictures were hung at the front of the class

Their pictures were praised, their pictures were fine
Some pictures were good ones. (Much better than mine.)
The green-starred old sneetches had been ‘round for a while.
So lots of the sneetches would draw in that style.

One day a new sneetch rode into our town.
His star was, well… different. It looked sort of brown.
At first no one noticed, this sneetch who called himself Bill.
His drawings were drawings; he drew what he will.

But sneetches can change those stars on their chest.
Just as easy as changing your pants, or a vest.
One day you could see his star’d he’d erased.
The brown star on his chest he had replaced.

Instead of a brown star, his star was “blue!”
(I looked and I saw it. I know it was true.)
Bill made some more paintings, he painted some lines.
(Though his paintings, my goodness, looked nothing like mine.)

Bill painted and painted and painted some more.
His paintings were paintings, some good and some poor.
And then one day we happened to see.
The paper he drew on had expanded by three!

His paintings were big, his paintings were large.
His paintings were huge, just as big as a barge.
His paintings were viewed from here and from there
His painting were famous! His paintings, I swear!

Then some of his paintings, big as they were.
A few of his paintings, they caused quite a stir.
His paintings were ugly; his paintings were mean.
A few of his paintings had made quite a scene.

And would you believe it? His paintings just grew.
These paintings from Bill with his star that was “blue.”
Sneetches came calling, from near and from far,
To see his big paintings, by train and by car.

Then one day a painting, the biggest one still.
Emerged from the brush of our sneetch name of Bill
It was ugly and brutal; it was loathsome and curs’d.
It was meaner than mean. It was worser than worst.

The sneetches all stared at this painting he’d made.
They stamped and they screamed. They howled and brayed.
“This picture is awful!” They spewed and they spat.
“Your picture is shameful. No sneetch should paint that!”

The sneetches stomped floors and they pounded the ceilings.
“No sneetch should paint pictures that hurt people’s feelings!
A picture’s for sharing ideas that are warm.
It’s wrong to paint paintings that do any harm.”

The sneetches told Bill that he’d done something bad.
They yelled and they shouted. They said they were mad.
But that wasn’t enough for some sneetches, you see.
Sneetches are sneetches, like you and like me.

They thought of the star Bill wore on his chest.
A “blue” one, not brown. (“Just like changing a vest…”)
They turned ‘round to Johnny and pointed to him.
“Your fault!” said the sneetches, with vigor and vim.

“You should have done something!” The sneetches they said.
“That painting is your fault!” their faces all red.
You sneetches that live here with blue on your chest.
You’ll all say you’re sorry, if you know what’s best.

Johnny was scared; his allies were few.
Few sneetches had chests with stars colored blue.
The sneetches decided his color was tainted.
They thought it was his fault the painting was painted.

“But look,” he began, as he looked at the throng.
“I hate the bad picture, but I’ve done nothing wrong.
He painted the picture; the artist was he.
It’s not right to start pointing your finger at me.”

“We sneetches make pictures, some good and some bad.
I can’t steal his notebooks, his pens or his pad.
I can’t stop sneetches from painting at all.
We all paint our pictures, we all have our call.”

And as for the star, the one colored “blue,”
Why should that matter? What’s that go to do
With who should be blamed, with who’s mad at who?
A color’s a color; it’s only a hue.

But the sneetches around him; they were not convinced
They said it was his fault and no words were minced.
He must say he’s sorry, he must say it now!
Blue sneetches! Blue sneetches! It’s their fault (somehow).

“But wait,” he continued. “What are you saying?
Those paintings were purchased. Customers paying!
He painted his paintings, and money was made.
He painted his paintings. It was a trade!

The sneetches in cyberspace wanted a hoot!
The sneetches who hosted it wanted their loot!
The reason that paintings make a big splash.
Has something to do with money, with cash.

This painting, which all of you think was so lewd.
It’s not like the painting had been peer review’d!
No sneetch could control what others would see.
The speech in this context; the speech it was free.”

The sneetches stood firmly. They wanted their pound.
The sneetches were solid. They stood on their ground.
Johnny was guilty, with his star all of blue.
They hated the sneetches with stars of that hue.

Johnny considered what he should do next.
He looked at those sneetches, all of them vexed.
He hated the drawing; that much was true.
But he didn’t draw it. That was true, too.

“See here,” began Johnny, his voice somewhat lean.
“I hate that there painting. It’s hurtful and mean.
I hereby condemn it. It’s shameful and sad.
It’s ugly to see. It makes me feel mad.

But I didn’t paint it. Not even a whit.
I didn’t approve it. Not a byte or a bit.
I’m not the cops, and I’m not the host.
I hadn’t the chance to edit that post.

The story of sneetches is filled with bad acts.
We’re harmful and hurtful; those are just facts.
Sometimes we sneetches, we have some control.
As reviewers and editors, whatever our role.

But sneetches have freedom, for good or for ill.
Sneetches can paint whatever they will.
When sneetches get paid for the paintings they make.
Some sneetches make paintings to beef up their take.

Of course all us sneetches should sound the alarm.
When paintings are painted that do undue harm.
But asking which sneetches are responsible here.
It seems that I’m not. I’m in the clear.

I won’t say I’m sorry for what I didn’t do.
I won’t say I’m sorry, just ‘cause his star’s “blue.”
A color’s a color; a mark and a sign.
It doesn’t suggest that his acts are mine.

And since this is fiction, the words they sank in.
They towered above the noise and the din.
The sneetches they listened. They saw what they’d done.
They’d lumped all together a group for a one.

They’d gotten so angry, they’d forgotten a truth.
They’d forgotten a lesson they’d learned in their youth.
Each sneetch should be judged by looking at facts;
By their words and by deeds, by their speech and their acts.

And so now we come to the end of the fable.
As Johnny set up his easel and table.
Johnny got back to the drawings he drew.
Proud, not ashamed, of his star that was blue.

Copyright 2011 Robert Kurzban, all rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinions of the editorial staff of the journal.