Unguarded tongues sink many a good man’s career
Published on October 31, 2007, 12:00 am
By Muthoni Thang’wa
Watch your idle thoughts, people, for what grows in your heart eventually finds its way to your tongue.
It is amazing how a word, an action or an expression can reveal a person’s innermost thoughts when they let their guard down for a moment.
Heroes are not made by the way it all begins, but by the way it all ends.
Mr James Watson, Nobel laureate turned racist dunce, is a sterling example of how a peek into your heart can reveal what you have been thinking all along, after years of playing the fair, just, aloof professional.
One day, something snaps and you reveal that innermost feeling that you may have had through the years, but couldn’t express freely because your position would not allow it.
I believe it is a peek into the heart since in the case of Watson it cannot be his mind. This is a guy who 45 years ago broke down the structure and properties of DNA, the hereditary material in humans and many other organisms. He is definitely not one of those racists that we can say has a hole in the head.
(When it is suspected that a racist has a hole in the head they are usually forgiven since filling up a void in nature is best left to nature, and what nature has been unable to fill, when it is so reputed to hate vacuums, humans can only labour in vain to fill.)
Watson retired in ignominy last week from the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, a New York think-tank that deals with genetic research, after a London newspaper reported him saying he can only foresee gloom and doom for Africa. Why? The reason he gave was something to the effect that all Western policies for advancement are drawn on the premise that the people of the world have equal intelligence, but according to him, that was just not true of Africans. To boost his honesty as a scientist he claimed “testing indicated so”.
This ‘testing’ remains unknown to his American peers and a good majority of the rest of world given that the Federation of American Scientists issued a statement indicating that the comments had no basis in science and, therefore, must have been a personal view.
Sad, really, considering that the world honoured the guy — along with two other scientists — with a Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962. Not that the award is the best judge of brains, human nature or character: it only points out outstanding human achievement in service to humanity.
The Nobel is an award that is supposed to go to the best of the best. We won’t go into whether this year’s winner, former US vice-president Mr Al Gore, deserved it, but it has in the past ignored deserving candidates. To imagine that Mahatma Gandhi was nominated five times (for the more prestigious Peace prize), but never won the award, can only go to make the rest of us see just how ‘excellent’ the awardees are supposed to be.
Ironically, Watson’s work on genetic makeup is an evolutionary milestone that indicates that humans are all the same biologically since they are all made of the same stuff.
His statement might as such be investigated under his other greatest achievements: his contribution to the understanding of mental illness.
Remembered for his racist comments
Now thanks to his comments, it might be that Watson will be best remembered for his racist comments. The guy is 79 and is unlikely to carry out any more shocking ‘tests’ for the world to reel at. In his final hours he will earn a very prominent place in the racist bible. What a crying shame!
Closer home our very own Dr Newton Kulundu, the Minister for Labour, may have been doing some ‘tests’ too and in them he discovered that America and the United Kingdom were the biggest abusers of human rights, democracy and transparency.
He did not hesitate to point out the same to a gathering that was hosted by, and included, the United States Ambassador to Kenya, Mr Michael Ranneberger.
Amazingly, Kulundu still extended his hand for a shake after his speech and got a real good snub for his efforts.
This was an interesting confrontation given the players: One is a politician, the other a diplomat. Politics I’m told doesn’t always attract honest types or people with an excess of integrity. Even if they are straight-shooting to start with, that is cured after a term in Parliament.
Diplomats, on the other hand, are supposed to be the polished lot, showing the utmost decorum even in the face of diplomatic adversity.
The politician and diplomat were at the function discussing an issue that, just like racism, should by now have been stamped out. The illicit trade and traffic in human beings, for one form or other of exploitation, is unfortunately still alive and well.
Research shows that Kenya is a source, transit and breeding point for trafficking humans, especially women and children. Our mega-earner tourist industry is also to blame for the thriving of this slavery.
Sadly, some idle thoughts nursed in Kulundu’s brain found way to his tongue and journalists promptly forgot the meeting’s agenda.
We seem to know the ills so well, slavery and racism, now we need a think tank to find the cure.
The writer (email@example.com) is a curator at the Karen Blixen Museum