Last of the Neanderthals

June 18, 2020

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.

–W.B. Yeats

The negative test result came Monday afternoon to Carol’s great relief. She didn’t show it (she’s always sunshine on a cloudy day), but the prospect of contracting coronavirus weighed heavily on her. Margaritas all around Monday evening!

Of course, a negative test, even if it were just the first in either of our families, does not end the crisis. The virus frolics merrily along. Though not a living thing, I have to believe Covid-19 is experiencing a viral joy in having found as receptive a country as ours. This weekend in the middle of a region that is already spiking in cases, a superspreader convention is being planned to welcome in its second wave. Call it Covidicon.

There’s no limit to the expanse of human ignorance and arrogance. It’s our Achilles heel, foot, leg, arm and neck. Maybe it’s what we inherited from our cousins the Neanderthals.

“I wonder where childhood infections and Johnson & Johnson would be today, if the population felt Band-Aids were a restriction of personal freedom.”

Neanderthals no doubt saw themselves as supreme over homo erectus and all earlier ancestors. What with fire and stone tools, they had to see themselves the veritable kings of upright walking. The only thing they had to do was to stay out of the way of migrating wooly mammoths. Just acknowledge their power and strength, stand aside and let them pass through.

And Neanderthals couldn’t bring themselves to do it. They weren’t about to play second fiddle to a bunch of woolly four-footers. So they ignored those thundering herds, who mowed them down as if they were mere twigs in their path. What did the mammoths care about Neanderthals and their fire and tools and caves.They were out to eradicate mammoths anyway.

As the Neanderthal numbers dwindled, they did move back into their caves for a while. All went well at first, especially since Neanderthals didn’t require haircuts. But soon, many began to resent the stay-in-cave orders with predictable results. With no one left to trample or hunt them down the mammoths, too, soon exceeded their optimum population and succumbed to climate change due to their increased global flatulence. (Don’t look any of this up.)

Is it possible to view our response to a pandemic any more simplistically, or worse, idiotically? I wonder where childhood infections and Johnson & Johnson would be today, if the population felt Band-Aids were a restriction of personal freedom.

I was once in a car with a complete fool who insisted none of his passengers fasten his seat belts, because we were only driving a short distance. Why did it matter to him what we did for safety in his car?

This madcap mayhem over mask wearing suggests a perverse conformity to a way of belief, rather than an act of public health. It’s become an emblem of loyalty and faith, a flag, even an item of fashion.

It leaves you wondering what the days, weeks, months or years prior to Apocalypse might look like. Science denied. Criticism denigrated. Language emptied of even Orwellian meaning: “if you stop testing, cases go away.” We crowd together to defy contagion. And we laugh at how dumb the first responses to the Black Death were.

That last Neanderthal stood proud and defiant in the face of the thundering herd bearing down on him, confident the more enlightened species must prevail.


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