Searching for the Other

Human beings are monotypic: we’re the only species within our taxonomic genus. Monotypic genera are relatively rare—it’s unusual for there to be no other species within a genus, especially among higher level complex organisms. (*)

We weren’t always monotypic. We shared Ice Age Europe with Homo neanderthalensis for tens of thousands of years. We shared parts of the planet with H. erectus for much of our early existence. It’s possible we even overlapped somewhat with H. heidelbergensis (I don’t know what the scholarly consensus is on this—recent discoveries have complicated the origins of H. sapiens. There were also many more coexistent relatives during our early evolution.)

For well over half of our existence on this planet as H. sapiens, there were other people out there who were within our taxonomic genus but who weren’t our species.

People who were recognizably related to us but who weren’t us. People who were probably self-aware, people who had some form of verbal and gestural communication qualitatively more complex than other animals, people who controlled fire and made sophisticated tools and clothing.

People with whom we interbred and fought. But people who were not us.

We weren’t alone for most of our existence.

I can’t help but wonder if our insistence on racism and xenophobia is a form of displacement. We keep looking for the Other but they’re not there.


* In a previous post, I stated that human beings are the only genus with only one species. That statement is egregiously incorrect. I now can’t recall if I was woefully misinformed at the time or if I was indulging in unneccessary hyperbole.

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