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Prehistoric modern thinking

Posted: February 4, 2014 - 9:01pm

Why would anyone think it was a big deal when scientists announced a few days ago they had determined that humans carry genes of Neanderthals? Was there really any question? The evidence is everywhere. It’s certainly obvious when we observe the hunter-gatherer predators who run roughshod over each other in the political world.

It would be a mistake to stereotype Neanderthals as grunting lunklumps. In fact, some of them appear quite suave. Mike Huckabee, for example, was outfitted in knuckle-drag recently when, before a Republican audience, he derided women who needed “Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system.” Let’s give credit to these primitive beings. They are equal opportunity. Females are well-represented. For example, just about anything Michele Bachmann says hearkens to a time far back in our evolution, which she doesn’t want even taught in our schools. Obviously she would not be someone Gov. Huckabee would accuse of having libido or reproductive-system problems. But many have raised questions about issues she has using her brain and mouth at once.

Still, let’s face it: Most of today’s cave men are, uh, men. You know that famous “Ascent of Man” picture, which depicts the rise from ape to human, the one you’ll never see in a Creationism class? Well, Congressman Michael Grimm was here to remind us that the flow can move in both directions. He was definitely leading the descent when he grunted to a TV reporter that if he persisted in asking a question Grimm didn’t like, he would toss him over the balcony. That’s not a complete transcript, but it’s a family newspaper. This is a guy who’s in the U.S. House of Representatives. Clearly, though, when someone told him he was a member of the club, Grimm thought that meant he should carry a club.

He’s from a part of the country where politics can get pretty primal, although there was nothing pretty about the traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge, apparently ordered up by some of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aides. It’s still an open question how much Christie really knew about all of it, but those involved plainly had an abundance of Neanderthal DNA.

So much of our cultural debate is really about resistance to progress that is supposed to define modern times. When you reduce the arguments against gay marriage to basics, they really are about adhering to the belief that sex is strictly about the need for our species to procreate. What a shame it is that so many of us are still stuck in a period eons ago, when that impulse trumped all the human aspirations we’ve nurtured from then to modern times.

One has to wonder if back about 50,000 years ago, when some humans and Neanderthals were doing it — which is the explanation for why we carry their genetic traces — if there were busybodies sticking their nose in everyone’s business and raising a ruckus about what went on around the fire at night and with whom? Evidently, we haven’t evolved as much as they say. Critics of President Barack Obama tell us that in cobbling together the Affordable Care Act, all he really was trying to do was reinvent the wheel, and badly.

The scientists who have conducted the genetic study have determined that the fragments of Neanderthal DNA seem to have had the most impact on our hair, skin and immune system. They concluded that it had little impact on speech and communication, which leads one to wonder if they should have taken more samples from those who inhabit the world of politics. Interestingly, these cave couplings apparently produced offspring who were much less fertile. Given what we see these days, that’s probably a good thing.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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