Sapiens, Neanderthal And The Potential Covid-19 Split / Switch

First, I know you’re tired of this pandemic shit. Me too. Last year was brutal, from many points of view, and the main cause is obviously the Covid-19 effect. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I know the virus is real, and it killed people. It’s certainly not “just another flu”. But it’s not HIV or Ebola either. If you catch it, it’s not a death sentence, there are way more chances to recover from it, than to day because of it. It’s a disease just dangerously enough to put a strain on us, as a species, but not deadly enough to wipe use entirely from the face of the Earth. Knowing that, and seeing how last year unfolded and turned our lives upside down, it’s natural to ask: “what would happen to us, as a species, when we face that kind of pressure?” That’s the “70,000 years of evolution” question.

Second, about the definitions in this article. No, not about Neanderthal and Sapiens, I’m sure you have at least some idea about those (you may not know how they interacted, but fear not, I will give you a brief heads up a bit later), but about Covid-19 Maximalists versus Covid-19 Flexitarians. These are words that I adapted from other areas, to convey two major opinion currents and approaches towards this pandemic. Simply put: “maximalists” are authoritarian, supporting immobility and strict control, avoiding interaction and aiming to suppress the threat completely. On the other side, “flexitarians” (countries like Sweden, Mexic, Maldive, etc) are more or less open to travel, don’t impose as many restrictions and aim to obtain herd immunity (accepting you can’t eliminate the threat completely, but try to live with it). There are many nuances between these extremes, but the main thought currents these days are in these two directions.

Surprisingly enough, this dynamic has a few similarities with another period in our history. When it became clear to me that humanity sees only two ways to manage this threat, my thoughts instantly flew to the Sapiens versus Neanderthal evolutionary saga.

A Small Heads Up About Sapiens And Neanderthal

If you didn’t read “Sapiens”, by Yuval Noah Harari, I highly recommend it. The brief exposure I’m making below is way more detailed in this book (and probably more exact). But I’ll give it a try, anyway.

Sapiens is a human genome, displayed by a population which lived in the Easter Africa, at the same time with Neanderthal, which lived in current Europe. Sometimes around 70,000 years ago, Sapiens started a migration and, eventually, took over the areal in which Neanderthal lived. We’re overwhelmingly more Sapiens than Neanderthal now. There are a few theories about how this happened, but I’m not going there. What I’m trying to focus on is the differences in markup and lifestyle between these two.

Neanderthal was stronger, physically, with better resistance to cold, but also more fixed, reluctant to travel.

Sapiens was weaker, physically, less resistant to cold, but way more mobile.

Neanderthal was very well adapted to a certain fixed context.

Sapiens wasn’t very well adapted to a certain fixed context, but adjustable enough to many different contexts.

I guess now you’re starting to see where I’m going with this.

Covid-19 Maximalists versus Covid-19 Flexitarians

The lifestyle displayed by Neanderthal has quite a few similarities with the one adopted by Covid-19 Maximalists. They are well adapted to a certain fixed context (countries imposing stricter restrictions are usually rich), they value safety quite high, sometimes over freedom, and they are reluctant to travel. On the other side, Covid-19 Flexitarians are less adjusted to a certain country, yearning to travel, valuing freedom more than safety, and aiming to adapt, rather than reject. I also think there are a lot of Flexitarians living in Maximalist predominant countries and viceversa, these tendencies are manifesting everywhere. Because the political restrictions are still quite heavy, we don’t see it very clear yet, at a territorial level. But it’s getting there.

I see a potential overlap in these two dynamics. I see a potential evolution similar with the historical encounter between nomadic Sapiens and fixed Neanderthal.

And the fixed paradigm was clearly obsoleted by the mobile paradigm. Even if we reduce this mathematically, at the lowest common denominator, it will be clear that Flexitarians / Sapiens will always have an edge. You simply have more chances, as a collective, if you adapt, rather than isolate.

I know, the question is “at what price?”. “How many Flexitarians have to die until we reach heard immunity?”. I do not know the answer to this question. Even more, I think it’s an evolutionary question, rather than a political one. In the sense that this problem is untractable at our current level of skills, as a species. It was just imposed on us, just like the unknown event that made Sapiens migrate from East Africa all over the world.

Even more, I think this problem is way more profound than just some travel restrictions.

The Biological Hazard

I wrote about this many times: it’s the first time in history when humanity faces a threat so big, yet completely decoupled from humanity-generated causes. It’s not a world wide war, this time. It’s not ideological, we’re not fighting burgeoisie over aristocracy, communism over capitalism. It’s not economical either, we’re not exterminating entire continents because we may find gold there.

This huge change, all this disruption creeping it at an evolutionary scale, is happening outside of our own actions.

This is biological.

Which means we my mutate our entire DNA.

I know it sounds really far fetched. And I’m not thinking about some sort of Zombie Apocalypse. I’m thinking about small mutations, the kind that separated, at the genome level, Sapiens from Neanderthal. The mRNA vaccine is already using a genetic engineering approach. So does the virus, I know, so we must fight on the same ground. But that’s exactly my point, we’re fighting on a terrain we don’t know very well, yet.

It may be that Flexitarians will develop some sort of immunity that will result in their entire genome being modified. It may also be that the same mutation will be achieved first by those vaccinated, the Maximalists, and they will take the lead, so to speak.

It may even mean that the genetical mutation will give birth to a completely new species, similar on the outside with Sapiens, but very different at the immune system level.

I’m sure this will happen during my lifetime, I’m just not sure I will live enough to see it unfolding completely, or at scale.

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