Human Exceptionalism

Shades of Sarah Palin: Earliest Humans Cared for Special Needs Children–Scientists Surprised

Fossil evidence has been found that the earliest humans cared for–rather than abandoned or killed–their disabled young. From the story:

The discovery of the oldest known infant born with a skull deformity hints that, contrary to popular belief, early humans might not have immediately abandoned or killed their abnormal offspring, a new study says. Many mammals are known to reject newborns with severe deformities. Scientists had therefore assumed that ancient humans behaved likewise…

But this child would likely have required “special need care” to have lived as long as it did, she said. Deliberately killing unwanted offspring “is not an uncommon practice among mammals, including great apes,” our closest genetic relatives, Gracia noted…But the new discovery shows that the fossil youngster’s condition “was not an impediment to [receiving] the same attention as any other Middle Pleistocene Homo child,” the study authors write (prehistoric time line).

The surprise comes because many scientists see us as just animals. But there is something–dare I say it, exceptional–about the human species, and apparently this distinction that makes such a huge difference has been part of us from the time we first began to emerge/evolve/were created (take your pick).

Yes, yes, I know: Human societies have killed or exposed disabled children. Heck, the Dutch do today in their neonatal units–indicating to me that Dutch society has experienced a serious ethical regression from the most ancient of times. But this story vividly illustrates that being human is something different in kind from any other known life form that has ever existed in the universe.

No, human exceptionalism is not arrogant. It is indisputable.

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