It is a part of my being sick that I get obsessed with the stupidest things. This time, and thanks to a friend who also went down that rabbit hole, I spent days reading about the earliest traces of civilization and the oldest signs of humanity on the land.
Since I also recently started reading Campbell’s comparative religion books, what struck me most was how much the “history of becoming human” has changed. We seem — now — to be talking of fully human creatures, or as human as any, far older than we expected.
And Gobeleki Tepe has pushed back our “could build impressive stuff” scale too, and there are murmurings of yet older and more impressive stuff.
Some of this is that we have the technology to scan land masses and to study our own genes such as never before.
There’s other interesting stuff lurking in the genes of the animals that are almost symbiotic with humans: dogs appear to have been domesticated at least twice. Horses, also, are shadowy as to when precisely they were domesticated. And as for cows, I was highly amused to learn they’re of relatively recent domestication and all domesticated cows come from populations in two neighboring villages in the middle East. This doesn’t mean of course that they weren’t domesticated elsewhere. Lineages might have died out.
There’s that shadowy part to this whole thing. The thing you can see is so much smaller than what might be there.
Or let’s put it another way: if a discovery like Gobleki Tepe can upend all our ideas of ourselves, we really don’t know that much about our past, do we?
Now that we’re talking a full 400k years of modern humans, the idea of past civilizations isn’t risible. It is perhaps inevitable. And things like the study of the evolution of the last 10k years or the divergence of human races seems in turn risible.
Because really, what is ten thousand years? And what are the present races. There have almost certainly be others going back to the dawn of … to wherever we came from, which seems to recede in the fog the closer we get.
I presume most of our “civilizations” as such have been maybe Egypt/Rome level. I could be totally wrong, of course. There has been a recent paper about possible industrial past civilizations, even if it seemed to me that the men doing it put too much reliance on “global warming” as a mark of an industrial civilization. However, even on skimming, they also seemed to study the dispersal of metals and such which are more reliable. Of course, they weren’t looking for civilizations in what could be human times. These would have to involve some other species. Or we came from elsewhere altogether.
Then again they say something about how everything humans are and we’ve done, if we disappeared tomorrow, we might be missed completely in the fossil record by a future civilization a million years hence. Which again means we know very little about who we are and where we came from.
We do know some things, looking back: there is a lot of human sacrifice and cannibalism as far back as we can go, and cruel inhuman religions. Like all babies left with no trace of where they came from, Humans have a tendency to alternately revile and exalt themselves.
OTOH there is the valid question of how much of our present civilization and what we are now came from Judeo Christianity. We know that it is possible to have a very high degree of civilization without it: India, China, the meso-American civilizations, but none of them seem to conquer nature/develop science as a useful thing the way the US has.
Which in turn leads to all sorts of plot bunnies about humans being “cultivated” — by G-d if you believe or by something at any rate — through 40 rises and falls of civilization or so, and trying to engineer the software in the mind to make it “stick” this time, to shepherd us to the stars, maybe.
But of course you can’t go wade through human evolution and ancient civilizations without coming across racialists.
No, not necessarily racists. just very invested in some races being better than others and everything being defined by race.
Like most such obsessions, they’re fed by two things: the fact that it’s forbidden to even mention differences between races/groups of people in any scientific group, even when it’s bloody obvious; and the Marxist lens that has infused the last 100 years.
Even people who think they’re anti-Marxists see the world through that lens. Which means they not only think in terms of widgets with every member of the group being the same as every other one,b ut they also believe in hierarchies of groups. Some groups are better than others.
This nonsense on the left feeds the idea that if every group isn’t precisely represented in the right “proportions” in every field of human endeavor, it’s discrimination. On the right it feeds into crazyness about how some groups are “inferior” or “unfit for civilization.”
Except here’s the thing: we don’t know what high IQ is good for, other than working in scientific disciplines, but I’m here to tell you that high IQ by itself is not the greatest determinant of… well… anything.
Older son who has always been fascinated by the human brain and how it works says IQ above a certain amount is a handicap. The same thing that establishes a lot of connections also makes simple things get lost in those connections. Which explains why the most likely place to find a genius is working a menial job with no future. Or in a mad house. There is also a certain amount of neuroticism inhering to high IQ.
For instance, I can write books in a couple of weeks, but I spend most of my time spinning my wheels and lost in my mental underwear. If one could pare down some of the uneeded connections…
Perhaps it is not a coincidence I only became regularly published once I’d had major concussion.
There is a lot to be said for intelligence. I’m not knocking it down, me. It could be said in my case, a certain quickness of thinking and a boundless intellectual curiosity might be the one thing I can contribute to the world, (the Petersonian highest good I can pursue.)
But even in a scientific, western society, it’s not the be all end all. Older son and I joke that our ancestors must always have been odds in normal tribes. They couldn’t be just a tribe of their own, because it would die out, between the fact no one would do as told, the fact that we find say new forms of basket weaving far more fascinating than having babies, or the fact that we can get lost in completely unproductive side lines for years. One or two people with our obsessive nature in the middle of normal people would help, sure. We come up with a new perspective or really strange stuff, but ah… a lot of us becomes counterproductive.
And the same goes for every level of IQ. Look, guys, I’d go boogaboo if I were forced to do a lot of the things that people do for fun. I have a very short patience for repetitive work, and my manual hobbies either are things I can do while watching a movie, or things I do while listening to audio books. This is not a brag. It leaves a ton of unfinished things in my wake, as I get bored. Also, once I really master a skill, I get bored doing it.
It’s not a recipe for civilization, and I’m not the worst of my kind. I can stay with things long enough to have a career.
Are races different? Sure. In the aggregate — which tells us nothing about the individual, btw — they are. They have different abilities, and yeah, IQ is a part of the picture. Though it’s almost impossible to extract the shadings of ability from the culture.
Take me, for instance. I have the greatest trouble with organization. I come from a culture that values haste (despacho) over planning. My kids, too, have the same problem. Which could be because it’s genetic. Or it could be because they grew up with me, where meals happened when there was a break in the writing, and projects wold strike suddenly.
I noted that my older son, when he won most of the departmental prizes for chemistry at graduation, was up there with people with MOSTLY German last names. And yeah, chemistry tends to be a German thing, as does btw, grammar in my field. (Philology tends to be a thing of Latin breeds, though.) But note that if my son has German ancestry it is minuscule on my husband’s side, and on mine it would go back to the wild tribes who descended on the Roman peninsula, and I’m not even sure how genetically related they are to present day Germans.
Again — culture? genes? Who cares? Who is deciding that a race, a purpose, an idea is inferior.
My guess is that if we’ve climbed the civilizational slope again and again, the secret to perhaps staying on top, perhaps getting to the stars, is the variety of us, not everyone fitting the same narrow niche.
And if you think a technological/scientific civilization doesn’t have any room for non-abstract thinkers you’ve been drinking the elitist leftist koolaid again.
Humans are clever apes. This means we make niches that fit our abilities.
We should be more concerned with cultures holding people back than with genetic abilities.
And as for you — and yeah, me also — as fascinating as all this “where did we come from?” and “what is human?” is, the important thing is to make the best we can of what we have.
Note that older son, for his rabbity Latin disposition, chasing off after enthusiasms, and forgetting odd little things, and not organizing (note this goes back very far. Romans built to last but they seem to have sucked at the fundamental maintenance of things built which requires the daily, mundane stuff. Of course they were slave owners, so application to daily tasks was not needed. Did they not select for it? Or was it just culture? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? You lay down your money and you take your winnings) still beat the pants off a few hundred people in the chemistry department and won all the honors. Now, he was probably doing it on “passion” not obsessive organization. (We always give birth to strangers. I have no clue what he loves so much about fussy, minutious chemistry. I hated the stuff myself. Physics was my meat.) Sufficiently advanced insanity can replace any kind of carefully planned sanity.
Are we races? Are there differences between the races?
Sure, but in most cases to observe real non-physical differences you have to define races as cultures, and then it all goes murky.
Back when we considered adopting, our pediatrician told us any kid we adopted would become — if not be — high IQ, and he told us of families he knew. I suppose that fails at the extremes. But again humans are plastic, adaptable apes.
What we need is for the right and the left to stop obsessing about genetics. There’s a good chance that the races and cultures we see now are a minuscule part of what existed before, an echo of far more massive differences/ideas/cultures.
Make the best of who you are. Plot a course for where you want to be. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as dispassionately as humans can. And then work towards what you want.
And as for other races? Let each person pursue what he/she wants. Fight against dysfunctional culture, your own and others. And let humans be human and climb, their dysfunctional, multitudinous way towards the stars.
This time maybe we’ll make it.