Scientists allegedly found remains from a previously unknown branch of the human family in a dark South African cave. In the daylight of Central New England I regularly glimpse offshoot homo sapiens while walking through the city.
The South African scientists call their find homo naledi. I call mine schlomo sapiens.
These occasionally sub-linguistic, often morbidly obese schlomo sapiens — schlomo: Urban Dictionary for lazy person and not Hebrew dictionary for Solomon — represent about as long an evolutionary step from homo sapiens as homo sapiens do from homo naledi. The direction of that step remains up for science to determine.
In 1950 in the immediate aftermath of Americans first gazing upon screens in their living rooms, obesity afflicted less than one in ten. The proliferation of screens proliferated bellies; “obese” now describes more than a third of Americans. Beyond gravity dragging our posture downward, the Barney Fife slouch that computer screens straitjacket us into threatens to turn us into a pre-homo erectus atavism. Physical changes also came via a monkey-see-monkey-do popularization of tattoos, which marked just one in 17 Americans (though a higher ratio of bikers, sailors, and carnies) in 1936 to more than one in five today. We resemble our ancestors less and less.
As technology advances human intelligence regresses. Passive entertainment that strangles the imagination replacing books, radio, and other media that unleash wonder predictably resulted in drops in intelligence. Today’s college bound scored lower on the SAT than any class since the test’s revision more than a decade ago. A 2013 study published in the scientific journal Intelligence estimated a drop in IQ of 14 points since the Victorian era. Do we lack the smarts to grasp the stupidity?
Beyond profound intellectual and physical transformations, the evolution of homo sapiens witnesses socially stunted beings alien to both their homo sapiens ancestors and their schlomo sapiens contemporaries. In ostensibly social gatherings, schlomo sapiens fixate on gadgets and screens rather than the people surrounding. On Match.com, OK Cupid, and even Tinder, initiate relationships come via computer intermediaries, which generally denude the nudie relationships of intimacy. As one co-ed tells Vanity Fair of young guys in social settings, “Tinder has destroyed their game.”
Like devotees of Darwinian evolution, those who notice Zuckerbergian evolution face hostility.
Nicole Arbour’s viral “Dear Fat People” video, though harsh and intentionally provocative (“Fat shaming is not a thing — fat people made that up. That’s the race card with no race”), elicited a harsher response this past week in YouTube temporarily pulling her clip and a movie director cutting her out of a choreography job.
The growing chatter that the world’s oldest republic now picks a president based on the familiar family brand name, the popularity of the candidate’s television show, the money in the politician’s bank account, or all three strikes some as a slur against democracy rather than a plea to save it. One recalls Fahrenheit 451. A housewife describes the commander in chief as “one of the nicest-looking men [who] ever became president” but the candidate he vanquished as “small and homely and he didn’t shave too close or comb his hair very well.” Like flat-screen televisions and cell phones, this, too, served as Ray Bradbury fiction before it became our fact.
Chrissie Hynde calling pop singers “sex workers” grates on the ears of schlomo sapiens the way Miley Cyrus’s new single does to everyone else’s ears. But it correctly highlights the weirdness that makes popular music about the sights rather than the sounds.
It’s hard not to absorb the cultural idiocy by osmosis. But many sensible people tune out, and remain sensible people. It takes effort to remain human, at least human as we have known it.
In South Africa, scientists wonder how homo naledi found themselves deep inside an unlit cave, how they fit through crevices smaller than their bodies, and whether they eventually evolved into us. Two million years from now, scientists digging through our graves may similarly puzzle over what catalyzed the rapid changes in humanity in the 21st century.