Neanderthals Might Have Stopped Us All from Being Donald Trump

NeanderthalsAs 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:

Some genes might put their bearers at risk of obesity in the modern world of fatty, sugary snacks. But in a world where food is scarce (as it presumably was in the northern latitudes where modern humans and Neanderthals mixed), those same genes might help their owners through lean periods.

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.

3 thoughts on “Neanderthals Might Have Stopped Us All from Being Donald Trump

  1. It’s funny to me that people often say things like “the two species interbred” when referring to AMH and Neanderthals because the definition of biological species is the ability of organisms to interbreed and produce fertile offspring in the wild. For this reason, many paleoanthropologists (and myself) taxonomically designate Neanderthals as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. I think treating them as a separate species has a lot to do with the tendency to treat anatomically modern humans as special and unique, like we stand atop some kind of mythical evolutionary pedestal. You see the same thing with chimps when someone is writing about new discoveries regarding their cognitive capabilities. They talk about how similar chimps seem to be, and how much smarter they are than previously recognized, but they always need to point out that chimps are a long way from being as smart and special as we are.

    • I’m not that clear on the difference between species and genus and all that. This is despite the fact that I’ve written quite a lot about it. But I’m good at forgetting stuff after I write it. But I understand the confusion because Neanderthals are generally listed as part of the Homo genus but not the same species. But I do think you are right: what defines a species if not its ability to breed? I like Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, but that doesn’t mean I won’t forget it.

      I do think you are right about this pro-modern-human bigotry. I’ve written about this a few times. I remember seeing a documentary that stated that Neanderthals died out because they lacked imagination. I was so offended by that. If species have a goal, it is to exist, thus all existing species are successful. We way over-value intelligence. There’s no doubt in my mind that mice will live on this planet long after we go extinct.

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