Every culture on the planet has an origin story, a way they describe how things came from not-being to being. In this, they often have a mythic narrative that also discusses how the first man and woman came into existence. Equally as often these progenitors are presumed to be just like us. If you were to transport the First Ones through time, they might be surprised by the use of modern tools or new cultural taboos but they would still fundamentally be recognizable to us and even, over time, become acceptable (even revered!) in our modern culture.
For almost 1,800 years, the dominant narrative has been of only two people—an Adam and an Eve—instead of a first tribe or a pair of couples or a set of hermaphrodites separated by the gods. This formed a very distinct starting point. Before Adam & Eve, there was nothing like them and after them, nothing different was ever conceived (at least by the gods).
A mere two-hundred years ago, Charles Darwin was wandering the world and observing things (and just as often meddling with them). In contrast to the prevailing thought at the time (”God made everything. Deal with it”), he discovered that life exists as a series of discrete relationships that can change slowly over time. It wasn’t the first time folks had noticed it, but its presentation was well-timed and shook up the world at the time.
Much to Darwin’s horror, a number of people (including members of his family), choose to focus on the ‘discrete’ instead of the ‘relationship’ part of his theory. From this particularly loathsome attention came the fields of eugenics and genetic determinism. Now, people had a ‘scientific’ way to justify prejudices. Poor people? Poor genes. Criminal tendencies? Must have passed from father to son. The god-blessed positions of royalty and their sycophants? Now blessed by Reason.
The absolute experts on this became the German Reich scientists, who produced outstanding work on the different genetic branches of mankind. Time and time again, they came up with clear definitions of how the blue-eyed, blond-haired ubermen of their homeland were definitely the end-result of Darwin’s evolutionary claims. All of their work was mad nonsense, of course; the results of overwhelming confirmation bias thanks to a horrific political climate and pressure to succeed under ridiculous circumstances.
Their work, idiotic and as cleverly worded as it was, leaked into modern day. A drive for which ‘race’ started where, for where the origin of ‘humanity’ came from. Scientists, in all seriousness, argued that their findings marked the humble beginnings of the species as here or there and that this was some sort of discovery or achievement.
In essence, the scientists were looking for a myth. So wrapped up in Christian theology, they were searching for an Adam and an Eve.
Do you remember how Darwin was studying discrete relationships? Once you start focusing on the relationships part instead of the discrete, a far more realistic pattern emerges. An astonishing ‘bush’ of life instead of a tree. Species that may appear different can successfully mate if they have the chance, or not. Time and distance do change things, sometimes on the surface, sometimes underneath. The ‘missing link’ that was ‘never to be found’ a mere century has been found over and over again. Suddenly, there are dozens of different types of Genus Homo, some of which we know, definitively, that we have bred with. Those branches that vanished didn’t just vanish; they just sexed their way into what was up and around at the time. What was new based on the environmental conditions that favored them.
You might think this is avoiding the question — where did humans come from? The answer, of course, is another question. What is a human? Is it when we started walking on two legs? Fire? Tools? That was all millions of years ago. Gathering in small tribal units (still millions)? Art? A million or so. Hunting? Gathering? Funerals?
We tend to think that Genus Homo from about 3/4 - 1/2 million years ago looked pretty much like us. But like us does not mean us. Were they still having sex with Homo Neanderthalis at that time? Or the Denisovans? Or something we haven’t found yet? Culture as we like to recognize it can into play around 250-50 thousand years ago but that just means there was a lot of it shared out there. Civilizations came in about 12-10 thousand years ago. Was that ‘human’?
Let’s take a step back. We know humans succeeded because they were persistence hunters, which is basically running down animals to death. To be a successful persistence hunter you have to have a strong sense of curiosity and time. You have to be able to assemble stories. This plus this plus this means that the deer ran through here.
What does it mean to be human?
Not our genetics, not our form. If this was our sole measure of success then we would have died out in places where persistence hunting failed. Instead, our success comes from being a storied people. Instead of a genetic shift over time, a storied people relies on memetic changes and the epigenetic changes that result from those memetics.
Epigenetics, which is a relatively new field, hypothesizes that a chunk of DNA is expressed only in relation to an environmental stress or benefit. Epigenetics speaks to the physical changes that occur that allow humans to adapt to an environment, causing variation in their appearance, though they are fundamentally the same. The same… well… the same kind of being that can choose to mate with their neighbors, to build relationships and nurture them.
What does it mean to be a storied people? A people who use culture to alter themselves?
It means there is no such thing as a human race. It means there is no such thing as an “Adam” and an “Eve”. A case in point, sometime before we ‘matured’ into homo sapiens sapiens, we started hanging out with wolves. Any biologist can point out the sudden shift in ‘human’ attitude and ‘wolf’ attitude that resulted in a co-evolutionary path. The two species couldn’t mate genetically, but epigenetically and memetically, they were on-fire.
Homo lupus gave way to tribes. Tribes gave birth to an impossible variety of humans. Homo Lakota. Homo Cymmru, Homo Taino, Homo Gunwinggu. Ultimately, the cancer that is Homo Civis. It’s that which is our strength. It’s also why the ‘origin of the species’ will consistently be wrong. It’s chasing after a myth which has never been the reality of our species.
We are all Adams and Eves.