I've had the privilege of knowing a certain Mediha Mahmood for many years - we debated together while in university. It was with great interest that i read her piece, "If The Neanderthal Came To Visit":http://www.promuda.com/?ch=12&pg=93&ac=286, appearing in the latest "Prodigy":http://www.promuda.com/?ch=12&pg=93&ac=274.
The following is my response to her thought provoking article. Prodigy is "PROMUDA's":http://www.promuda.com/ online magazine.
Perhaps the Neanderthal wouldn't understand us, perhaps he will scoff at our "hypocrisy", our "democracy", our need to use "violence under the guise of legal necessity".
But i submit to you, that we probably wouldn't understand the Neanderthal either. Why? Because we've come a long way since him; we have something that the early man did not have: civilization.
The symptoms of civilization are for all to see: the great religions, the wonders of the world, the rich histories, culture and diversities, the advances in technology, the hope that our mark can be made in a better future.
But, as a favoured professor of mine used to say, we cannot build a conclusion on symptoms alone. What truly makes us civilized? Don't look at the signs for confirmation - any monkey could have built the great pyramids, or discovered a cure for polio. There must be something deeper.
That something deeper is represented in our thoughts; your piece, "If The Neanderthal Came To Visit":http://www.promuda.com/?ch=12&pg=93&ac=286, is but one example of what i mean. That something deeper is our ability to think, to be critical and to build based on the outcome of those thoughts. This is the reason why we are civilized, this is the reason why we would not understand the Neanderthal any more than he would have understood us.
Being civilized is not a God-given right; i would be the first to submit that the human race is full of idiots who can't see beyond their greed, arrogance and sloth. Perhaps, even some of human history's most celebrated individuals have also been less-than-civilized at some point or another.
But the point is that we try - civilization is not an easy process, and it probably means a great deal of hurt and error have to be faced and overcome before a positive end result is found. The powers of the superpower (singular, nowadays), wars of injustice, acts of senseless violence, the loss of innocents, the reliance and objectifying of wealth, all that is wrong with us that you wrote in your piece - these too are only symptoms of the human weakness. Their existence does not necessarily follow an actual weakness of humankind at this stage of evolution.
In fact, i would argue that our symptoms of weakness is what actually makes us strong. Without going through the bad and the wrong, the experience of finding the right and the good will elude us. To understand what we want, its often necessary to know what we don't.
So, dear Mediha, i think the Neanderthal would understand one thing about us, once all is done and said. He would understand that we are far ahead, but he would probably be disappointed that, as you pointed out, we're still not THAT far ahead for all the thousands of years that separate us. But, i believe, he wouldn't be sad. He, like all of us should be, would probably be hopeful that the beauty of human civilization is that its not a snapshot in time. Its about what the next frame brings.