There is an assumption in this piece that the great minds of humanity, the people who lead to giant leaps forward (or back) for our species as a whole, were only motivated by a few strands of DNA. These chunks of genetic information were what fundamentally separated these minds from the common characteristics of our ape ancestors, and sent them towards a new evolutionary direction, different than the rest of the human population. Where’s the account for the sociological impact on these great minds?
It even begins with a sociological conundrum and then veers into genetics: “There are two kinds of sufferers in this world: those who suffer from a lack of life, and those who suffer from an abundance of life.” The narrator claims to be in the latter of these categories. Then he only uses the direction of human evolution, in terms of our genetic similarities and progressions (or lack thereof) to explain these sufferings. He points out that the average human probably shares more characteristics with a chimpanzee than with the great minds who create change, and that no significant progressions of thought have occurred since the Greeks three thousand years ago. It ends with a rhetorical question: “What is the most universal human characteristic, fear or laziness?” as an explanation for why world history is a repetitive story of people never reaching their full potential, but never attempts a social rationale for a very social dilemma.
Admittedly a significant amount of our behavior is no different than the behavior of most animals. We get angry, territorial, and jealous. We mourn, grieve our losses, and feel lonely. Human beings still primarily operate out of the reptilian parts of their brains. To fight or flee is our initial response to stressful situations. Fear and anger garner the quickest reaction in groups. In his article published by National Geographic in 2005, Stefan Lovgren reported the astounding similarities between apes and humans. Ninety six percent of the human genome is still similar to our chimpanzee predecessors. This accounts for an incredible number of human characteristics that we see in the ape genus, more than previously suspected in earlier evolutionary theories. We don’t just share our physical attributes- bilateral symmetry, opposable thumbs, and extraordinary resemblance in facial features- but our emotional reactions, personality, and interaction with each other as well.
But we still have a social connection that is incomparable to anything else in the animal kingdom, and therefore could arguably be used as the very definition of humanity. We have cities, countries, and complex systems of economics, criminal justice, health care, and welfare. For hundreds of thousands of years, human society has evolved into an entity that rivals biology for the reigns to our future. We are rapidly advancing into a species that can control, manipulate, and even engineer our genetic, biological selves as we see fit.
Perhaps that measly differentiating four percent is what gave birth to Mozart, Einstein, and Isaac Newton. And likewise it may have also created Jeffrey Dahmer, Jack the Ripper, and Adolf Hitler. But would Mozart have accomplished anything if he’d never seen a piano? Someone had to teach Mozart a scale, and someone had to teach Jack how to eviscerate a prostitute. Genes are doorways, society opens the doors, and I don’t see anything in this piece to account that.
It also doesn’t help to explain the people who seem to be completely average humans, those who are closer to chimps than Einstein, who have at times changed the world and the way we think. Rosa Parks refused to get out of a bus seat and played a fundamental role in the Civil Rights movement. Erin Brockovich took on a multimillion dollar corporation and changed our views on environmental ethics. There is nothing extraordinarily different about these women from the rest of the human population, but they didn’t need to be biologically endowed to step up to a social opportunity.