Then the Woke Came for the Birds

Gillian Burke is a biologist, black and originally from Kenya, but now indigenous to BBC Television Centre in London, within whose back office burrows she currently writes op-eds for BBC Wildlife magazine with titles like ‘What We Call Living Things Matters’.

In this particular piece, Burke recalled being harangued by a “wonderfully neurodivergent” 11-year-old girl who was annoyed that, in a 2016 episode of the BBC wildlife series Springwatch, which Burke helps co-present, a newly-hatched golden eagle had been given the nickname ‘Freya’. “Why do you have to give them names?” demanded to know the delightful infant. “Why can’t you just allow them to be wild animals?” (The girl’s name was ‘Flora’, by the way, making her objection towards the naming of fauna after humans somewhat hypocritical in my opinion.)

Being a modern-day BBC presenter, Burke didn’t just tell the kid to shut up then slap her, but took her wholly unreasonable complaint seriously, using it as a platform to approvingly cite the work of Danish academic Sune Borkfelt, namely his “paradigm-shifting” view that “whether what is named is land, people or animals, the process of naming reflects the worldview of the one who names, rather than the view of what is named”. According to Burke, “this makes naming a powerful tool of control”, as “we are unwittingly wielding some form of control by naming wild animals such as Freya the golden eagle”.

Inevitably, all this ends up gaining some kind of racial aspect to it, as the common English-language names for various species of African wildlife were purportedly derived from old-time white imperialists, with their dreaded colonial mindset, not from native black Africans themselves:

The English names for East Africa’s iconic wildlife – so heavily featured in natural history films and in this magazine – jar, at least to my ear. In my own writing I prefer re-introducing these familiar animals by their Swahili names: ndovu (elephant), twiga (giraffe), fisi (hyena) and my personal favourite, because I used to love how my dad said it, kongoni (hartebeest).

Burke doesn’t specifically call for the animals in question to be renamed, but that seems the increasing trend in zoology these days. There are several animal species out there whose nomenclature has now been deemed irredeemably racist/sexist/homophobic/colonialist by today’s new woke Western scientific establishment, and therefore deemed fit candidates for immediate forcible relabelling. I have recently exposed elsewhere the attempts of some palaeontologists to pretentiously christen various sub-species of extinct trilobites after a range of prominent drag-queens.

Yet the desire to rename animals is not an entirely new phenomenon when totalitarian-style New Orders come to power, and begin trying to systematically reset everything around them back to a desired political Year Zero. In 1942, the German Society for Mammalogy passed a resolution to replace the common German name for a bat, Fledermaus, as the word literally meant ‘flying mouse’, and bats are not actually winged mice at all, they just look a bit like them, cosplaying. This thoroughly unnecessary decision drew the ire of no less a figure than Adolf Hitler, who issued the following warning via his secretary: “Should members of the Society for Mammalogy have nothing more essential to the war effort or smarter to do, perhaps an extended stint in the construction battalion on the Russian front could be arranged.”

If even Hitler could see that scientists spending ages pointlessly debating the renaming of random creatures in the name of ‘modernity’ was a complete waste of the time and resources of everyone involved, why can’t today’s ideologically blinkered biologists see likewise?

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