From John Mooallem at New York Times:
Neanderthals Were People, Too
“New research shows they shared many behaviors that we long believed to be uniquely human. Why did science get them so wrong?”
Friends have noted that the piece is a refreshing change from the snark or (worse) odious virtue signaling that infests science writing today.
Mooallem really does want to know why we might have got it wrong.
The real surprise of these discoveries may not be the competence of Neanderthals but how obnoxiously low our expectations for them have been—the bias with which too many scientists approached that other Us. One archaeologist called these researchers “modern human supremacists.”
The correct answer, which no one gives with complete honesty yet, is that Darwinism requires inferior races, untermenschen, etc., by the very nature of its approach to evolution (natural selction acting on random mutation produces speciation).
So we had to either find those elusive imbeciles or force some dead people into the role. The latter is, of course, the preferred strategy because the subjects of our production, Imbecile Times, did exist. We only needed to provide them a script for good box office.
Ultimately, a bottomless relativism can creep in: tenuous interpretations held up by webs of other interpretations, each strung from still more interpretations. Almost every archaeologist I interviewed complained that the field has become “overinterpreted” — that the ratio of physical evidence to speculation about that evidence is out of whack. Good stories can generate their own momentum. More.
Yeah but the Neanderthals were too stupid to cooperate in their own victimization, hence the mess we are now in!
Here’s a thought: Suppose we think that horizontal gene transfer, epigenetics, hybridization, chromosome doubling, convergence on solutions, etc., mainly account for the ways life forms develop and that there is no Special Magic in natural selection. We don’t really need a parade of dull-witted ancestors, Ascent of Man-style. The story may have happened without all or most or any of them. We don’t know, but for now, we can afford not to know. We are not trying to prop up a theory Our theory then is that there is no theory, there is only a history.
* Note, for example, the phenomenon of evolution through stealing genes (kleptoplasty). Just think of the Darwinian stories that could be told to show how, little by little, Nature was hourly adding things up and slowly moving the life form in some direction—when it in fact just incorporated the characteristic by “borrowing” the genes, so there is no reproductive history, no “Ascent of… whatever” at all.
One hopes for a book to follow from Mooallem…
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?
What the fossils told us in their own words
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