Homo Sapiens. That’s us, the humans. Translated from Latin, it means “Wise Man.”
Do we deserve this title? Or is “Killer Ape” more appropriate?
The Neanderthals, the race of humans preceding us—we, the descendants of the Cro-Magnon—have been depicted as peaceful. When I was a kid, my readings on this indicated that the Cro-Magnon wiped out the Neanderthals, thus the name, the Killer Ape.
Curious, because the Neanderthals had as large or larger brains, and were stronger. What could compensate for these advantages except that our prehistoric ancestors had a wild killer instinct in abundance and in contrast to the relatively peaceful Neanderthals?
Historical fiction about the conflict between the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnon include Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel and The Inheritors by William Golding (who also wrote Lord of the Flies, among others). All of these are interesting, particularly Golding’s idea of Neanderthal communications being aided by a sort of telepathy.
Of course, who can forget The Naked Ape, non-fiction by Desmond Morris? Morris took flak for attributing to prehistoric humans characteristics that appeared to be sexist. I believe he too suggested that the Neanderthals were exterminated by the Cro-Magnon.
Why does the theme of the Cro-Magnon committing genocide on the Neanderthals recur, I wonder? Surely it isn’t because we are thrilled by the idea of being innate killers, is it? Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that we have never stopped making war. Perhaps we need some sort of justification for our violent tendencies to explain why we continue to war.
What seems clear to me, above all, is that though have proven we are able to think and think abstractly too, we still, after all this time, haven’t been able to see our way clear to settling our differences peacefully, resorting instead to despised organized violence.
I once was going to read The Art of War by Sun Tzu until I found out that he had large numbers of females executed for failing to exactly comply with some stupid military parade practice or some such ridiculous thing. I didn’t want to see what other miserable misogyny was waiting to be discovered in the book’s pages.
Discussions of the—to say the very least—questionable need for war with modern warriors have led to famous condemnations:
Aren’t we humans better than this? Aren’t we able to earn our soi-disant name, “Wise Man”? Can we not apply ourselves intellectually and solve our differences peacefully? Must we forever lend credence to primitive, atavistic, and anachronistic prehistoric tendencies to resolve our differences? Why are we spending so much money—with which we could easily solve all of the entire world’s problems (potable water for all, food for all, shelter for all, education for all, etc.)—pursuing self-destructive nihilism? What is wrong with us that we don’t en masse object to violent conflict being our pro forma method of circumventing thinking our way through peaceful negotiations? Why do we always take “the easy way out”?
Does the following cartoon accurately sum up man’s fate?