Re: Imagining Eden.

Posted on November 29, 2010


It seems uncontroversial to me that we are the descendants of freaks, outcasts, or both.

Take a look around.

Every other species on the planet seems quite capable of living directly in its environment more or less comfortably. Notably, our closest primate relatives don’t seem to need much in the way of clothing or elaborate accommodation to survive comfortably. How did we come to be so freakishly helpless in the natural world when so many other species are not?

Here is the first scenario I imagined.

A loving mother births a freakishly naked ape with a curiously large head. Rather than letting the little creature die, she adopts new habits to keep it warm and safe. Swaddling cloth, the very first incubator, is, um, born! Of course, the baby can’t cling to mom, like all the other babies normally do, and mom can’t attend to her normal activities as easily as she had before. Maybe, she builds a little safe structure for the baby. At any rate, she needs help to keep this baby alive.

The other female apes, the community she normally relies on for support, don’t help because the naked ape is too damn weird. Or maybe the mother is too damn weird and the freakishly naked ape is the result of her pairing with some other weirdo male who is comparably low on the status pole. Either way, the other female apes don’t help.

As a result, and uncharacteristically for the species, she is forced to enlist the aid of a male ape. A bargain is struck. She secures the food that matters most for the well being of the new social unit and she primarily looks after the child; he does the work that allows her to care for the child and he gives her some of the attention she no longer gets from the other females. In return, he gets food, sex, and access to this newfangled “shelter” that the female has invented. Thanks to their combined efforts, the little naked ape survives.

Nature takes its course. More and more of these naked apes are born. Thanks to the efforts of the parents, miraculously, they survive. Then, one the of freakishly naked female apes comes of age and realizes she is not like all the other female apes. In a fit of big-brained adolescent angst, she decides to flee the community. She convinces one, some, or all of her mostly naked kin to come with her by convincing them that they are not like the others. They too are naked.

This imagined narrative emerged because it occurred to me that at some point in human history, some primate must have looked down upon itself and thought, “Hmm, I’m naked. I need to cover myself.” From this, I jumped to the idea that, perhaps, there is a grain of truth in the Garden of Eden story.

For example, puberty is the time of life when females become hyper conscious of their ranking amongst other females and the fruit consumed by Eve could be a symbol of her first menstruation and the knowledge/hyper-awareness of her status in the community that comes with puberty. Furthermore, although the other female apes would have made it perfectly clear that the naked adolescent female was unwelcome in their clique, it might have taken a male to hammer home her isolation. From this perspective, the serpent could be a convenient stand-in for a horny male who makes it clear why he isn’t interested in the naked ape. If her nakedness is a turn-off for females and males alike, she really would have no choice but to flee and to convince someone to come with her. My imagined narrative even explains why women are said to be punished with painful child birthing thereafter. The big brain that discovered it was naked and that was able to convince others that they were also naked would need the big skull that causes labor pains.

The other stories I imagined are more plausible.

At some time in our evolution, our ancestors lived in an environment where clothing and elaborate shelter were unnecessary for survival. Eventually, the weakest and the weirdest were pushed into environments where clothing and shelter were necessary. Thanks to the technological innovations of clothing and shelter, these exiled apes were able to survive and reproduce. Over time, the technological innovations diminished the relevance of the environment with respect to reproductive success and some other trait because more important. Again, it’s easy for me to imagine a female first figuring out the solution of clothing and shelter because of her direct relationship with her very vulnerable child.

Similarly, if the environment abruptly changed, it would be the primates who were willing to adapt to these new conditions that would survive. A technological adaptation, insofar as it represents a deviance from the norm, would likely be frowned upon by the “cool kids” of the tribe. Accordingly, the early adapters would have to accept some level of social isolation until enough of the cool kids died or failed to reproduce. Again, I think it would be some freakish and socially alienated woman who would first figure out the solution of clothing and shelter because her offspring would be most threatened by the sudden change in weather.

So, anyway I look at it, the freaks inherited the earth, however, I’m not so sure they will inherit the earth now that yesterday’s freaks are today’s cool kids. In a world of wealth, security, and full communication, the creamy median will rule the roost. Without scarcity or crisis, the genes of the freaks and weirdos will be washed away in the long tide of homogeneity, however, they will I think live longer and happier lives.