Inordinately Fond of Beetles by mattsteinglass
May 25, 2007, 5:36 pm
Filed under: Asia, Environment

This is the only evidence I’m aware of that I find persuasive, as an argument for the existence of a Creator:


This critter was on the wall of my roof terrace the other day. Now the problem here has nothing to do with the beauty and sophistication of this beetle defying the notion of a random universe and ya di da di da. (I should throw in the possibly apocryphal 19th-century quote here. Cleric: “What can you infer about the Creator, based on your research of nature?” Biologist J.B.S. Haldane: “He must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles.”) No; the problem is, to my eye, this beetle looks distinctly Asian. And I find that hard to explain.

I often find that natural phenomena I encounter here have a distinctly “Asian” aesthetic quality. It’s one thing when these phenomena are things I might previously have seen represented in Asian art, like the shapes of mountains, flora (bamboo, frangipania trees), or a few famous local species of birds. But this is the second time I’ve encountered a type of beetle I’d never seen before, in my house, which immediately seemed to me to have a specifically East Asian or even Vietnamese “look”. The first time, it was a beetle that was grass-green on top and bronze-pink on the bottom — two precise shades which one comes upon, in combination, throughout Vietnamese decorative arts.

Now, one might have argued that this type of beetle might be common enough to have itself influenced the hues employed in Vietnamese decoration (though I’ve never seen that species since). Or that these two hues are common in other aspects of Vietnam’s ecology, so that the beetle might have them for camouflage. (Again, I find this unpersuasive.) But what about the case of the beetle above? Why should there be anything about this beetle’s appearance which is aesthetically more in sync with other Vietnamese beetles, other Vietnamese animals or plants, or with the hues or characteristic curves and shapes of Vietnamese decor, than with those of North America or West Africa?

I mean, let’s say you took your already existing sense of a “Vietnamese-looking” scene. That’s built up out of everything you’ve seen of Vietnam to date — the green of rice paddies, the grey of karst formations, yellow bamboo stalks, red tile pagoda roofs, and so forth. Now, let’s say you encounter this new beetle, which you’ve never seen before. Why on earth should there be anything particularly Vietnamese-looking, to you, about this beetle? It clearly hasn’t shaped your impression of “Vietnamese-ness” to date. It’s too rare to have significantly influenced the artists who created the art that has shaped your impression of Vietnamese-ness. And there’s no particularly reason why it should look like other Vietnamese beetles or insects; there are simply too many species of beetle for that to be true.

So what gives? Could there actually be some essence of East Asia-ness that shapes the appearances of everything in the zone? Could there be something about the aesthetics of a region that coherently influences breeding choices, even those of beetles, at a level far deeper and simpler than we suspect? Or could it be that all beetles just look kind of Asian, in a futuristic manga kind of way, and I’m making this all up? Oh. Hm.


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