I have great news: you are a neanderthal! As you may know, I fancy myself a defender of the downtrodden and vilified. This makes me a big booster for rats, for example. But it has also made me something of a defender of our neanderthal relatives. For one thing: they had bigger brains than we do, so we have no right to run around putting them down. And we do. I discussed this in an article last year, Are Humans Better than Neanderthals? I love watching documentaries about human evolution, but I’ve noticed a tendency for these to cast aspersions at neanderthals, like they went extinct because they weren’t as good as humans. And given that the entire human population dropped down to just a thousand people, we came a hair’s breadth from going extinct ourselves. So I figured that the neanderthals were just unlucky.
But that appears not to be the case. It seems that neanderthals interbred so much with Homo sapiens that they didn’t go extinct but rather were just assimilated as humans. Think: the Borg, but without all the pancake makeup. We are, after all, 99.84% genetically identical to neanderthals. And there are reasons to think that the two groups had things to offer each other. The neanderthals had bigger brains and Homo sapiens had larger frontal lobes, which is associated with communication. Or not. I’m just guessing. But I can’t imagine that the greater genetic diversity wasn’t helpful to the species.
All of this comes from a short article in Ancient Origins, New Study Suggests Neanderthals Never Went Extinct. And I learned a number of other things about our neanderthal ancestors. For example, I always thought that humans managed to survive in tough times because of their varied diets—especially their use of fish as a food source. But it turns out that the neanderthals ate plants and fish as well. So there you go. Really, it all means that they really weren’t much different from us and so interbreeding isn’t a surprise at all.
Now I must admit to my own error. I have often used “neanderthal” as a pejorative. For example, I wrote, “The liberals on the court have become moderates and the conservatives have become neanderthals.” And: “The truth is that the economic conservatives don’t care about the neanderthal policies of the social conservatives, because when you’re rich, the law doesn’t really matter.” And in, Kansas Wants to Close All Minds, I really let go:
The bill specifically targets “teachers, librarians or school principals.” Because the only way to stop an intellectual with “bad” facts is a conservative neanderthal with an unconstitutional law.
I now feel very bad about this. I’m going to have to come up with another name to slander the supposed conservatives of this country. I was thinking Australopithecus afarensis, but that seems unfair to this great ape. Then I thought of the Cynognathus, but that only goes back 200 million years, and isn’t that a cruel comparison for these proto-dogs? So now I’m just thinking reptile. It’s simple, evocative, and indicates only lower brain functions like fear and anger. Still, alligators are a whole lot more civilized than most conservatives. If you have any ideas, please let me know!