President Biden’s “Neanderthal” comment about the lifting of mask mandates by Texas and Mississippi Governors Abbott and Reeves has raised eyebrows and voices of Homo sapiens all over the political and cultural map.
Referring to the multiple vaccines which are being deployed nationwide, “the last thing you need,” Biden told reporters on March 4th, “is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything is fine, take off your mask.”
If there were sufficient Neanderthals to form a political constituency they would likely be massing in protest throughout the nation, echoing the sentiments of those Geico commercials a few years back, where sadly put-upon Neanderthals struggled under a comical twist on discrimination.
White House Press Secretary Jean Psaki downplayed the President’s disparaging reference by noting that it “was a reflection of his frustration and exasperation.” Seems there’s enough frustration to go around —
Governor Abbott called the President “hypocritical” for chastising Texans but condoning the broaching of Texas’ southern border by illegal immigrants, some testing positive for Covid-19.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Patrick hurled the presumed insult back, calling not only Biden’s thinking Neanderthal, but also that of New York Governor Cuomo and California Governor Newsom.
Others rushed to support the beleaguered Neanderthals. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) recommended Biden enroll in “unconscious bias training.” The Neanderthal Museum in Germany even offered to illuminate Biden on the kinder, gentler Neanderthals. Randy Quaid, no stranger to fighting fictional alien invasions, took to Twitter to remind us that “Neanderthal Lives Matter.”
But it was Senator Marcia Blackburn (R-TN) who hit the mark when she gave her “thumb up” to lifting the Texas mask mandates, referred to Neanderthals as “resilient.” The senator may not know how true her comment was.
It has long been acknowledged that despite their lowly status in long-standing depictions Neanderthals have proven to be not nearly so low-brow, having survived their colder climes well enough to have invented a number of primitive tools unknown to the “Home Improvement”-Tim Allens of prehistoric times.
More importantly, researchers have found evidence that ancestors of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbred some 70,000 to 100,000 years ago. In The Epoch Times, Bonner Cohen, Ph.D., senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, cites research showing that “on their migration path from east Africa, Homo sapiens had three interbreeding events with Neanderthals and other hominids who inhabited Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.”
But wait; there’s more. According to another article in Smithsonian Magazine citing similar research, “Some of this DNA left over from liaisons with Neanderthals … plays a big role in strengthening our immune systems to fight off infection and disease.”
Which raises a question — by calling Texans “Neanderthals,” did President Biden inadvertently give a begrudging compliment to Lone Star inhabitants, crediting them with stronger, Neanderthal-influenced immune systems and thereby possibly obviating the need for masks altogether?
And here’s where it gets interesting. Because, according to Cohen, along with an enhanced immune system, Neanderthals brought us something else quite unexpected — allergies!
And in the current pandemic of Covid-19, the aspect of the disease which causes the most adverse outcomes, the most hospitalizations, the most deaths, is in fact, you guessed it — the immune system overreaction that contributes to that Cytokine Storm we’ve all heard about. Allergies, put simply, are symptomatic of an overactive immune system.
But what are we to make of those two somewhat-opposing discoveries? Functional immune system? Check. But increased susceptibility to an adverse outcome (and possible death) from Covid-19? That could mean “checking” out prematurely. In a phone interview with Cohen, I posed this thorny dichotomy. Cohen mused briefly then answered, “both could be true.”
He’s right, of course. The key to the conundrum lies in the meaning of “susceptibility.” Merriam-Webster has two special medical definitions of the word, the first of which is “lacking the ability to resist something.” I take this to mean that simple infection is possible. The second definition is “the state of being predisposed to, sensitive to,” which to my reading could define an “adverse response.”
I believe it is this second definition of “susceptible” that researchers are referring to. After all, many presumably-Neanderthal gene-carrying contemporary populations have clearly been able to fend off the disease, some asymptomatically or with few or mild symptoms. It’s the others who were presumably “susceptible,” meaning “sensitive to,” and so requiring hospitalization and breathing support. They would also be among the tragic death toll.
It will be interesting to learn how many of those suffering adverse outcomes previously had overactive immune systems, that is, “allergies,” prior to contracting Covid-19.
But back to Biden and Texas, and one final plot twist. It turns out Biden was out of line in his disparagement of Texas after all, but not due to paleobiology. Rather it’s due to some ordinary run-of-the-mill present-day science — remember that stuff we’re supposed to be following?
Another article in The American Spectator points out the following discordant fact — based on a study by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 in what the article refers to as “knuckle-dragger” states like Texas and Mississippi are averaging 156, while Covid-19 deaths in mask-mandate states, like California and New York, stand at about twice that, averaging 308.
Why isn’t this on the “news?” I’m afraid the answer to that isn’t found by following the “science,” but rather the “politics.” TAS even noted that this salient data were buried by the CDC in “paragraphs of bureaucratic argle-bargle,” that last phrase oddly similar to a Neanderthal love call.
But we are still left to cope with the “Neanderthal” term itself. Just as Dr. Seuss has been brought under the yoke of the “woke,” perhaps it’s time to retire the disparaging appellative altogether. After all, turns out most of us have a little bit of Neanderthal stashed among our designer genes.
Kirby Timmons writes on a variety of psychological, organizational science and historical topics, with articles appearing in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, The L.A. HERALD-EXAMINER and The L.A. DAILY NEWS among others. He is a long-standing member of The Writers Guild of America and his TV scripts have aired on all major networks.