It has come to my attention in recent years that we are the stupid ones. Homo sapiens, as we so arrogantly call ourselves, might be the least intelligent of the surviving genii of hominids. Our species won out over Homo neanderthalensis because we were more competitive and selfish than they. Neandethals have larger brains than us, and of course it is a matter of debate as to whether that necessarily makes them smarter. And since we value smarts, we would look on suspicion when calling a species smarter than us, especially if they’re all dead.
But look around you, folks. We may value intelligence, but is it really a distinguishing survival skill? You might need it, but your survival arsenal must also include aggression, competitiveness, and selfishness if you are to claw and kick your way to the top. While I am not a Republican supporter (indeed, I am a socialist), I still must admit that Republican candidate Ron Paul has cornered the market on depth of thought, and committment to traditional conservative values (which includes staying out of foreign conflicts — a position, incidentally, which places him solidly to the left of Obama). When I listen to him, I can’t help but think that he has given his positions on the issues lots of thought. Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, such as eliminating the US Department of Education, eliminating the Federal Reserve, or abolishing income tax, or his other Libertarian views, you have to at least give his views a once-over to see what he is about.
But the press seemed to treat him as if he was invisible, ignoring that he came in second in a straw poll. The ones getting the attention are not quite as smart, but are more aggressive and attention-seeking. It mirrors the evolution of Homo sapiens quite nicely. But the Democrats have been equally burned by this media-generated survival of the fittest: anyone remember Larry Agran? In the Democratic convetion of 1992, he was frozen out by the media, though he had early leads in the polls. That convention got us Bill Clinton instead.
The tragic flaw may be that both Agran and Paul were anti-war; but of course to be anti-war, at least in the traditional sense of the U.S. staying out of foreign conflicts, that takes thought that is at least deep enough to see past the media-generated rhetoric. If you are a brainless and agressive opportunist, you don’t need to trouble yourself with thoughts of peace. Ron Paul dies that the Sarah Palins of the world may live.
My writing about politics here is more than just a digression. I am trying to point out here that on a grand scale, our culture, and maybe all cultures and our species generally, seems to shun altruism. Politicians, for example, who hold policies on the far right (such as Ron Paul), yet who have policies that are lock-step in line with the most leftists (Paul’s anti-war stance) are seen as altruistic and unelectable. People who stay within the party platform and adhere unthinkingly to a formula for “what is conservative” make themselves more electable and get themselves less media flak. This is a kind of selecting out of “less selfish” people in favour of the “more selfish” people of the kind we seem to be attracted to as a species. It is possible that Neanderthal Man is … us.
The Max Planck Institute sequenced the neanderthal genome in 2010 or so, and found differences on the order of only a few thousand base pairs per chromosome, and only 200 or so in mitochondrial DNA. One begins to think that perhaps Neanderthals are not even a separate species, but reflect a genetic diversity between humans, and that the genetic lineages that made Neanderthal Man different from the rest of us are simply lost. The stereotype that Neanderthals are lesser beings than us, somehow have now come under question.