Did the Neanderthals
die out because of universal health care?
We know that
Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens (i.e., us humans) overlapped
for tens of thousands of years. Neanderthals existed for about one
hundred thousand years before going extinct, and the bulk of the
evidence suggests they did not interbreed with us, though we did
share a common ancestor. They were our distant cousins.
have been some critical difference that let us flourish but killed
them off, but no one knows for sure what that difference is. We
both used sophisticated tools, hunted animals, built shelters, buried
our dead, sang and talked, and wore clothes. Our DNA is between
99.5 and 99.9 percent identical with theirs.
of Neanderthals as being short, hunched over, hairy, stupid, and
clumsy cavemen are wrong. It turns out some of the first fossils
found were of arthritic Neanderthals. In fact, they walked as upright
as we do today. Some lived in caves but some lived in huts. They
were about as tall and as big and as hairless as an average American
is today. They had the same physical capacity for speech. You wouldn't
do a double take if you saw a Neanderthal on the street.
some physical differences; they were a different species, after
all. They couldn't run as well as early humans — then again, with
the exception of a small percentage of athletes, how many Americans
can really run that well anymore either? But they were about as
smart and as well armed with weapons as our ancestors.
They also had
some social differences. Neanderthals lived in smaller communities
and took care of each other more. They used herbs to cure disease
and even buried their dead with medicines. Fossils have been found
that show individuals with life-threatening illnesses had been healed
and continued to live. And Neanderthals didn't specialize as much
as we did: both men and women hunted, and there didn't seem to be
as many class divisions.
they lived in communes. They were proto-socialists.
commitment to community have caused their downfall?
It's not surprising
that they cared more for their sick and shared their chores more
equally. The smaller the unit of government, the closer it can approximate
pure communism without crumbling. Think about your own family or
your circle of very close friends. Don't we all chip in to help
out? Don't we try to reach consensus on what movie to watch or where
But then think
about your world at large. You hire a taxi driver to take you exactly
where you want to go, his particular desires be damned. You pay
for a meal off the menu without regard to the personal tastes of
the waiter or the owner.
the unit of government, the closer it must be to pure libertarianism
to keep from collapsing. If there are infinitely many people, it
would take infinitely long to ask everybody's opinion, to vote,
or to redistribute income or wealth. The only practical solution
is local: every person talks to whichever other people he wants,
and others nearby only get involved in the event of a dispute. That's
pure libertarianism. It doesn't mean you don't care about your own
family — quite the contrary! It means you have hierarchies of caring.
It means you care more for your family than you do for a
stranger. A Neanderthal doesn't distinguish.
Will you help
someone who is sick? Will you do someone a favor? A Neanderthal
says yes, of course, no matter who, because to him, any other Neanderthal
is a part of his group. An early Homo sapiens asks, who is it, exactly,
and if it's not one of my closest relationships, what can I get
in return? The Homo sapiens learned to trade better because there
were more gains to his exchanges. The Neanderthals were just one
big happy family. From the perspective of a Neanderthal, if someone
asks you to pass the salt, you don't say, "Give me a nickel."
If someone asks you to save a life, you don't say, "Pay me
for my time."
Now, we are
likely to soon see a Neanderthal system of government applied to
hundreds of millions of Homo sapiens. Barack Obama's health plan
will force us all to pay for the life-threatening illnesses of strangers
while higher taxes and new regulations will continue to discourage
We will take
money from those that have it, pay a reasonable wage to the doctors,
and save the lives of everybody in our community. What kind of inconsiderate
person would balk at slightly higher taxes for more universal health
what the Neanderthals must have thought about those selfish, greedy,
grubbing new humans over there. Just look at them, each only caring
about a few particular people instead of everybody all at once.
How barbaric. They'll never last, those upstarts.
If they were
alive today, how would a Neanderthal participate in politics today?
They would always support more government, on all issues: they'd
support Bush's wars and invasions of privacy, and they'd support
Obama's health care plan and bailouts. Anything less, to them, would
be considered uncaring.
entire Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA has been mapped. Perhaps they
could eventually be cloned and brought back to life.
But what would
be the point? And how could we tell the difference?
appeared in the Fairfield
Maymin [send him mail] is an
Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic
Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free
Your Inner Yankee