As many of you know, I have a soft spot for losers. Even when a clear serial killer is on trial, I feel bad for them. And as a result, I’ve long felt somewhat protective of the Neanderthals. Over three years ago, I wrote, Are Humans Better than Neanderthals? That was about how documentaries, which are usually quite objective when it comes to all other species, became really bigoted when it came to this close relative. Well, now I’ve learned a little bit more about Neanderthals, and it too is presented in a biased way.
The Economist published, A Parthian Shot. Okay, first: enough with the pun headlines! I know it sucks to have to work for a bunch of libertarian idiots (even if you are one yourself), but this pun barely even makes sense! And then the subtitle of the article is, “Neanderthals’ parting gifts to Homo sapiens were disease-causing genes.” But this is distinctly not what the article says!
Neanderthals “Gifted” Us Various Things
The article itself says that they did gift us some disease-causing genes, but some of those very same genes may be responsible for our surviving as a species. For example:
But there’s an obvious response to this: what about the diseases that come from our ancient Homo sapiens ancestors? Humans are between 1% and 4% Neanderthal. That means that all those genetic diseases that don’t come from them comes from ancient humans and later mutations. Obviously, we need to ask, “Who exactly is ‘us’?”
We Aren’t Neanderthals; Nor Are We Ancient Humans
When a donkey and a horse mate, we call the offspring a mule or hinny. In almost all cases, they are infertile. But what if they were like humans and Neanderthals? Suppose you get a half breed that then mates with a human? Okay: one-quarter Neanderthal, but certainly not “human.” We are not the humans of 40,000 years ago. Around that time, the two species and a couple of other related ones interbred and created what we are today. And doubtless that increase in genetic diversity was really helpful to us.
Two years ago, I wrote, You Are a Neanderthal! which pointed out that part of our DNA was strictly from them. But the truth is that we aren’t Neanderthals — I was just writing for effect. We are what we are. And that’s part Neanderthal, part ancient human, and parts unknown. We should embrace this!
Neanderthals Could Save Us from Trump
And here’s something to think about. Given that we modern humans are a lot more related to the ancient humans than we are Neanderthals, that means that the ancient humans out competed them — more of the specific ancient human genes survived. And that makes me think that the best of what we are might be Neanderthal. When you watch Donald Trump accept the Republican nomination for President, think: that’s what separates us from the Neanderthals; Donald Trump is why we needed those Neanderthal genes.