Three Roots of Human Recency

Robert N. Proctor

in The Moral Authority of Nature

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2003 | ISBN: 9780226136806
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226136820 | DOI:
Three Roots of Human Recency

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This chapter explores some of the lines of evidence leading to the idea that humanness in the cultural sense is a relatively recent phenomenon—no more than 100,000 years old, and perhaps even more recent than this, since that is when you get the first clear signs of representational art, kindled fire, deliberate ritual, compound tools, and other things perceived as signs of human intelligence. Reporting on current research on human origins, it detects the lingering influence of the 1952 UNESCO Statement on Race in the reluctance of paleoanthropologists to admit the existence of multiple coexisting species of humans. On this view, the unity of human nature, tragically shattered by a now discredited racism, must be preserved at all costs—although the definition of humanness flits from criterion to criterion: upright posture, language, tool use. Each quiddity of the human becomes a standard to uphold, not only with respect to other species, but also within our own: that which is essentially human becomes the trait to promote, be it crafty intelligence or a handy thumb.

Keywords: human recency; human origins; Statement on Race; human nature; racism; humanness

Chapter.  10774 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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