Crazy Genes

I’ve come to concur with my late friend, Peter Matthiessen’s dying observation about people (and he didn’t even live to see the current election) “We are a crazed species, destroying our habitat,” he said. And we must be crazy, to do the things we do. But here’s an interesting tidbit–our craziness could be genetic.

Recently, I watched a PBS show on Neanderthals. The Neanderthal species (whose DNA we all have, except for a tiny sliver of population in sub-Saharan Africa) were a peaceable, home-loving type, who kept to the turf they found most comfortable, eschewing adventurous exploration. A concurrent species–Homo sapiens–weren’t such homebodies. They were, well, wacky. They would set off to sea on some lashed-together log raft, with no land in sight, just to see if there was anything out there. That’s strange, destructive behavior for a species. But sometimes they got lucky, and there was something out there. The raft would lurch up on a foreign shore, and if it were a pleasant climate, generally someone else would be already living there and that someone may have been a Neanderthal. Birds and bees and DNA later…

As we all know, Homo sapiens survived and flourished in the new lands they had stumbled onto by being crazy and so the crazy gene was, like Darwin’s finches, replicated.

We haven’t got any habitat left, but we still have the crazy gene, and perhaps that’s what’s preventing (some of) us from being able to process the end game of our destructive behavior.

When Al Gore started talking about climate change forty or so years ago, I remember thinking, what are we even arguing about? It’s not like we hold any of the aces in this game. There’s nowhere else to live. There is no Planet B. But we’re still arguing.


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