Nobody could ever accuse Tom Delay, former congressman from Texas, of humility. When he was House Majority Leader, he was called “The Hammer” because he used political pressure to get all Republicans to vote the same way. This made the Democrats in the House of Representatives pretty much irrelevant, even though they had a larger number of members than the Republican minority currently has. When he was asked to not smoke his cigar in a Washington, D.C. restaurant, because it was against federal law, he answered, “I am the federal government.” For a list of his other breathtakingly arrogant quotes, see his Wikipedia quote page. When Delay resigned over revelations of illegal campaign finance contributions, one would think that he would be a little contrite. But no. He decided that he was still such a celebrity that he could be the hero of Dancing with the Stars. Fractured feet prevented this arrogant dream from coming true.
Delay holds no esteem for anyone who disagrees with him. Despite his ethical lapses, he still holds himself up as a great beacon of morality. In this, he contrasts himself most sharply with those who accept an evolutionary explanation for the history of life on Earth. In 1999, he opined that one of the causes of school violence (such as the Columbine shootings) was that children are being taught in school that they “evolutionized” from slime. He made this statement with full confidence even though he knows practically nothing about evolutionary science or sociology. Truth, to Delay, is something to make up as you go along.
Delay considers that the human species is too noble to have evolved from slime. This is incorrect in two ways.
First, humans (especially those who act as Delay has) are not particularly noble.
Second, slime is not such a bad thing. Most slime consists of bacteria. There is an amazing diversity of bacteria all over the world and even deep into the Earth, and all of life is dependent upon what they do. Slime is one of the things that keep the Earth alive.
Not only that, but slime has something to teach us. A visible layer of slime (“biofilm” in science talk) is not just bacteria; it is bacteria that have produced a sticky material that holds them together. It is an example, in fact, of altruistic cooperation. Larger organisms that might eat individual bacteria cannot eat the ones that are protected inside of the slime. The bacteria produce, at considerable metabolic expense, a material that provides for their common defense. Even though bacteria are single, simple cells, they can form multi-cellular cooperative structures. Slime is, sometimes, more internally cooperative than groups of humans.
Slime, therefore, is a living critique of human arrogance.
A version of this essay appeared on my website on December 20, 2009.