This past week was a testament to both human genius and human frailty. In a single news cycle, we got compelling evidence that Lucy, our oldest intact hominid relative, died from…drum roll… falling out of a tree. Meanwhile, a few million years later, Anthony Weiner’s career died, once again, from falling for a busty woman on the internet and getting caught on a few technical branches on the way down.
Lucy On The Ground With Fractures
Lucy is our oldest link in the evolutionary timeline, and the subject of hundreds of documentaries and news stories. With such an important role in our human ancestry, it was hard to hear that she went the way many grandparents go (if more trees were “accessible”): by falling and not being able to get up.
The forensic investigation into Lucy’s death began in earnest in 2007 at the University of Texas. Scientists made an extensive 3D model out of the bones, and enlisted orthopedic surgeons to examine some of the compressive fractures. They released their findings last week, concluding that Lucy probably died from falling and trying to catch herself. Here’s a helpful drawing to show exactly how depressing it would have looked:
I got to visit Lucy last year, long after her bones had been returned to Ethiopia—the cradle of humanity, where all of the earliest hominids have been found. I remember staring in the black case in Addis Ababa thinking, “Wow…you are me, and I am you,” albeit of much disparate heights. I wasn’t thinking about her anticlimactic demise when I said that, but I should have been. If human-like creatures universally share anything, it’s our ignorance, our impulsiveness, and “the overconfidence effect” that leads us to overestimate our abilities. Often, that’s why we fall out of trees. And out of grace.
It’s Not Whether You Weiner Lose, It’s How You Play The Game
The dark comedy that Lucy kicked off continues all the way through to Anthony’s Weiner’s legacy. Like Lucy, Weiner denied us a glorious downfall, preferring an all-too-human ending to what could have been an illustrious existence. Anthony Weiner simply did the same thing he always did, on the exact same medium he always did it: he sent his very particular brand of boxer-brief-bulge pic on Twitter to a woman he barely knew.
The first time around, back in 2011, it was a woman who saw him on the Daily Show. I read the transcripts in the Sex Museum in New York, and there was plenty of flirting and baiting going both ways. You could easily see how an insecure guy who didn’t grow up with the internet might fall for her flattery. It’s difficult, however, to understand why he decided to send a bulge shot, and how he accidentally disseminated that bulge shot to his thousands of Twitter followers. It was one of this country’s greatest face palms, and it took years for him to build up some credibility again. Until he just had to go tree-climbing again.
His latest gaffe involved a photo sent to a Trump Supporter (a.k.a., not his wife). And the cherry of dumb he added on top that may seal his legacy as one of our greatest imbeciles to ever use Twitter? The photo involved his bulge within close proximity to his baby son…
This time he did send a “private” message, but how he assumed it would stay private is beyond anyone. The recipient of the picture obviously leaked the correspondence to the NY Post. She was also quick to point out the obvious: “You do realize you can see you[r] Weiner in that pic??”
New Science, Same Species
Is Weiner’s plight any dumber than falling out of a tree to your death? Big time. Simultaneous evo-devolution has had 3.2 million years to act in the time since Lucy’s fall and we have earned ourselves a much higher standard of “you should know better.” There’s also the addition of highly-connective technologies which, I suppose, could be perplexing to the human brain and ego. But at the end of the day, the same kinds of mistakes that were being made in Lucy’s time are now perpetuated every day through social platforms and communication channels; the channels are vastly more complex in design than Lucy’s grunts and stone tools, but relatively aligned in their allowance for common sense.
Twitter, the same technology that can foment revolution in the Middle East, can spell political suicide. Cameras in the wrong hands have led to 49 selfie-related deaths since 2014. People die playing Pokemon: Go. There’s a glamour in all of this technology, but it also exposes the lack of glamour in our daily judgment. Their discovery and exploitation make us feel superhuman, and then quickly remind us of our fragile mortality.
Coming face to face with our own limitations is a tough pill to swallow in the age of nukes and artificial intelligence. Our overconfidence could easily extinguish the human race, because we still have essentially the same brain that led Lucy up that tree with no plan for how to get down.
Lucy’s death may not be as exciting as we hoped, but it is fitting that this whole mess started with a single fall from grace. How very Biblical of her. She ate from the tree of knowledge, and now we’re doomed to repeat the mistake. Anthony’s weiner, meanwhile, would be the ancient serpent in this metaphor, trying to convince people to pay attention to him for reasons that are never properly explained. May God have mercy on us all.
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