Neanderthals, the extinct species of our early human ancestors, populated the Earth for about 400,000 years… only to disappear around 30 to 40,000 years ago.

How come the powerfully built brutes who successfully survived even the harshest conditions of ice-age disappear so quickly and suddenly?

Various intriguing theories abound, on reasons that could’ve triggered their extinction… climate change, natural catastrophes, parasites & pathogens, violence and many more. One of them, however, stands tall in its credence.

Neanderthals lived in ‘less numerous and socially more isolated groups than contemporary Homo Sapiens‘ and that did them in. They couldn’t withstand the pressure from their modern cousins who thrived on their inter-personal communications and robust social norms that strengthened them as a social group. By that reason, Homo Sapiens became a more intelligent foe whom Neanderthals just couldn’t outwit and so lost out completely.

Cut to the current scene.

We, modern humans, are beginning to re-imbibe the Neanderthal characteristics… of isolating ourselves by ‘winning over others’.

“I’m so much better than you”, “Oh! You don’t stand a chance with me” kind of self-righteous ideologies are taking us backward than forward.

Interestingly, it’s the very education system that’s supposed to groom children into cultivating the sense of teamwork and togetherness, that’s fanning the ‘me-first’ syndrome. The beauty of sharing, learning together and enjoying working as a team seems to be ebbing out of our current generation’s psyche. Every child is made to race to ‘get there’. And, the sensible one that refuses to fall in line, gets stigmatized. “Oh! You’re no good anymore! You aren’t topping the class anymore.” “Looks like you’re a goner, ’cause, you just don’t seem to have the competitive spirit.”

The development economist Jean Drèze articulates, “…unfortunately, the schooling system, the economic system, and social norms tend to give more emphasis to self-interest as a motive, and that is a problem. If we want the human race to survive, we need to go beyond self-interest and foster different kinds of values and social norms. How to do that is a difficult question, but a good place to start would be the education system. If you look at the Indian education system, there is a huge pressure to compete and come out on top, so obviously you are reinforcing the self-interest motive.”

It’s quite interesting to see the way Jean is fusing Economics into this discussion. The collective spirit that leads to societal flourish – he says – helps in the progress of the country and not just its success.

I thought it was amazing and want to know if you think the same.









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