The Human Network - Lessons from Evolution

Jane G

no picture Jane G
Member since September 2, 2015
  • 2 Posts
  • Age 19

I am usually not a big fan of mixing up politics and science. Especially when it comes to the theory of evolution, I tend to cringe when someone tries to explain today’s problems making use of what we know about the evolutionary development of the human species. Coming from a country that did exactly this in order to legitimize one of the most atrocious genocides in human history, I am generally skeptical towards arguments of this kind.

Yet, when I recently read an article about one very crucial period of our evolutionary development I could not help but come up with an argument like this myself. The article I am referring to presented a hypothesis explaining why we were able to survive when other hominids did not. Let me try to outline its core thesis:

When the Homo sapiens arrived in Europe it soon completely ousted the Neanderthal. At first, Scientists thought that the Homo sapiens simply had better tools, but when they discovered equally sophisticated tools and cultural artefacts in places where the Neanderthals used to live, this explanation seemed no longer sufficient. Nevertheless the findings provided key insights as they uncovered one big difference between Homo Neanderthalensis and us: the art and tools produced by the Neanderthals differed significantly depending on what part of Europe they were found in whereas our species’ art and tools were always similar, no matter where you would find them.

There were minor differences, but the overall resemblance of the Homo sapiens’ artefacts suggested one very revealing conclusion: the reason why we survived when others did not was our ability to build social networks overarching huge territories and to interact with other groups within this network. We were able to build up distinct identities and still interact with other members of our species even when they were different from us. We exchanged tools, art, know-how and resources, started working together and helping each other. And so, with every population that joined in the human network, we became stronger and more prosperous which might be the very reason why we are still here today.

Right now, there are a lot of people who believe that they have to decide between caring for others and caring for themselves. But if we look at our own history, it shows that caring for others is caring for ourselves. Cooperation, solidarity, empathy – they do not make us weak, they are one very important source of our strength. Including strangers into our community and empowering them means setting free the energy, ideas and abilities that had been caged inside of them when all they could care about was surviving. Even after 200,000 years, that has not changed.

So what does this mean for us today? It means that accepting refugees is not a liability, but a possibility, if we enable them to enrich our community. It means that helping to build schools, hospitals and inclusive institutions in Africa is not a waste of money, but an investment in the future of our species. It is not just being nice, we might actually be providing the resources needed for the next Einstein to realize his or her full potential and eventually find solutions for problems that would otherwise lead to the deaths of millions of people or even the extinction of our species.

In contrast to the Neanderthal man, we were spared from such a fatal event, but only because we did something others did not do: communicate, exchange goods, work together, empower each other to spur innovation by sharing our knowledge, care, help and save others even if they were not members of our group. This is what made us strong when we first started to conquer this world and I believe it is what still makes us strong today.

As said before, I am usually not a big fan of using evolutionary theories to make a political argument. But in this case, I think I am.

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