There is, it has emerged, a touch of Neanderthal in our gene pool; contrary to earlier belief, that homo sapiens had branched off quite separately from our gloomy cousins, it turns out our genetic inheritance is not as ‘pure’ as we might wish.
Makes a lot of sense, come to think of it. I dare not, for reasons which will be obvious to my readers, offer any contemporary or geographically proximate allusions; but let me suggest, by way of example, there was probably more than a little Neanderthal in Adolf Hitler; or Joseph Stalin, for that matter. BJ Vorster also, if you want something closer to home, but not too unnervingly contemporary.
And here is another cherished myth gone bust: the notion, not merely that we are the only tool-makers – a notion long displaced, it seems, by contrary evidence ranging from birds to apes – but that we are the only users of tools for our sexual pleasure. Desmond Morris, as I recall, in his eye-opening ‘The Naked Ape’ revealed to my generation that amongst our distinctively human features was the fact that we were the only of god’s creatures to have sex for pleasure, and not merely for procreation. At twenty, that seemed a fabulous proposition, and I made it my business to express my unique humanity whenever and wherever and as often as possible. Oh, for the days of free love!
Of course, I never got nearly as much free love as I liked to make out, but still, you could give me an A (or was that an E?) for effort.
Anyhow, it turns out that this myth, too, is no longer tenable: gorillas have developed a sex toy of their own – and it is…wait for it: a leaf. Yes, that’s right – a leaf. In case your imagination proceeds at this point to run riot, refer to the news link, and find out for yourself.
What then, I wonder, is left us poor humans?
Language, perhaps, and imagination. Poetry. To abuse a cliche, creativity. Last Thursday, as I flew in to Durban, I was entranced by the barrier of high cloud that loomed into view as we approached the sea, and I wrote this ‘note to self’ as a reminder: ‘there, before us, was a city of cloud, as we came in towards the coast and Durban’s new King Shaka airport.’
A simple enough image, I guess; but one which, perhaps, conjures in your mind something of the sense of majesty and wonder that I felt, early that Thursday morning, on my way to a day’s work in another town. The magic here, is not in my words, but in your ability to respond. Something happens in one person’s mind, and kindles in the mind of another, an image, a sensation.
And language, I dare say, is a tool of seduction that gorillas have yet to master; while imagination, I submit, sits ill with the heavy club and knuckle-dragging strength of our Neanderthal cousins.