Interview with the Neanderthal

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INTERVIEWER
Give examples. Their numbers multiplied, they ate everything, they were willing to break heads—the works. And anyhow aren’t there   other   activities that could yield just as much fun and glory without all the throwing up and bandages and blighted futures?” Neanderthals always try to look at the whole picture. It’s the only way to have the DNA line continue. And heaven knows, plenty of us were present…
What happened was the Chief called a meeting. Among the moderns, Homer and Tolstoy, you can tell, had a lot of Neanderthal DNA. We can start the interview right there on that note. There was language, which constantly misled them and kept them in a muddle; and single-mindedness, which made them easy to manipulate. Put it this way. It’s not really a merit, by the way, that Neanderthals were so much more interested in persuasion. Our feelings—and even their own—don’t mean shit to them, unless those feelings can be made to cooperate with their nasty little desires…”
 
INTERVIEWER
But the Chief thought that interbreeding would save the Neanderthal way of life? It’s not like my personality existed forty thousand years ago. Are you worried people are going to misunderstand, or …? And even the blend stuff wasn’t all bad. My intuition was that there’s a subtle but palpable distinction between, for example, the feeling of being rightly accused and the feeling of being   wrongly   accused. Holding a thought is pure Neanderthal. But it was the other way around. Half the time, trying to get through to their feelings was like trying to see a person waving on the other side of a mountain range. He thought we were cooked. There’s no use trying to persuade them of anything. But you also have to look at the cost in terms of tastelessness, self-deceit, waste of resources.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
It’s … I don’t even know where to begin. A lot of stuff we invented simply emerged intact in the next generation. We Neanderthals were much more devoted to it, because it worked for us. His second book of poems is   Try Never   (Canarium Books, 2017). The words I use to explain it to myself are fatally vague. And peace. I used to think having a really pronounced eyebrow ridge had to mean   something—after all, as you can see, I have this trait myself. But the kids we had with the Cro-Magnons picked up on it, no problem. Every living human being has the DNA; the question is how much. Here’s where things get deep.  
INTERVIEWER
But it didn’t work out that way. Chasing after every little puff of wind, that’s Cro-Magnon. There are feelings in there, not even in my mind but in the tissue of every one of my cells, that correspond to things that happened to my DNA—essentially, things that happened to my ancestors, not to me personally. Jindřich Štyrský, The Cave, 1926, oil on canvas
 
THE NEANDERTHAL
I’m already uncomfortable with this. I believe that many people would be able to remember this, if they did the listening down deep thing, because it’s a momentous memory, one ramjam with intense feelings. They couldn’t hold a thought. They only listen to words and arguments.  
INTERVIEWER
Listen, there’s nothing to worry about.  
INTERVIEWER
And some of your ancestors were Neanderthals. It’s nice.  
Anthony Madrid lives in Victoria, Texas.  
INTERVIEWER
Come to the Neanderthal stuff. You might think the author of the Iliad cannot have been a peacenik, but that’s ’cuz you’re thinking like a Cro-Magnon. Cro-Magnons always had language between them, getting in the way.  
INTERVIEWER
Okay, tell people what you told me. But I can access, I’m convinced, personalities and events that occurred at the time when the Neanderthal species—as a distinct thing—ceased to exist. Here’s another thing we had that they didn’t. Neanderthal thinks: “War is many things, including fun and glory for some of the people doing it. More “key fact” mongering. I just “listen down deep.” I know that expression is useless…
 
INTERVIEWER
Fine, then get to the Neanderthal stuff. or your daughter!” In other words, it’s against one’s self-interest. Both Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals had clothes, but   fashion   is pure Cro-Magnon.  
INTERVIEWER
Why?  
INTERVIEWER
But let’s not get distracted. We thought it was going to be like putting a drop of ink into a swimming pool. Objectivity was our strong suit. Pure Cro-Magnon. See, it would have been one thing if there were a million of us and a thousand of them.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
All right. On the other hand,   enterprise   is much more Cro-Magnon.  
INTERVIEWER
We have to stop this, but I wonder: do you ever think you can tell who has a lot of Neanderthal DNA by their appearance? It would have never occurred to any of the people at the big meeting I was describing to hang a bunch of significance on some outward trait like that.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
No! Money—Cro-Magnon. Cro-Magnon thinks: “War is bad because look at all these crying persons! From time out of mind, they had been harmless, but they had recently started to turn what had always been their biggest disadvantages to good account. Body language, facial expression—it was perfectly clear he wanted a meeting, and it was   pretty   clear what it was he was going to convey to us. Generally speaking, we Neanderthals were content with little. He is a correspondent for the   Daily.  
INTERVIEWER
Just tell everybody what you told me. I mean, that’s misleading to put it that way, because these “past lives” were not   me. It’s what happens when you mix their chatter with our music. Two key things I’ll mention. And we didn’t have any faith in the blend effect   at all. We think: when a person is persuaded by “one key point,” the person is a Cro-Magnon and moreover will reverse him- or herself in a heartbeat. One of ’em could be you! It’s the   objectivity   that’s the giveaway. So the Chief called a meeting. You know how a wine expert will take a little sip and all this great swarm of facts about weather and particular hills and families will flood into the expert’s mind? Remember: we had the advantage of dealing directly with each other’s feelings. Again, I can’t prove anything, but … I started to perceive that some of my feelings aren’t connected up to anything that happened to me personally. You gotta understand.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
The whole thing is misleading. The two feelings seemed identical for most of my life, which caused a lot of problems. About the meeting with the Chief. It turns out there’s just a lot more   information   in a feeling than people think. With his face he said: “As distasteful as it is, we’re going to have to intermingle with them. But then I started to see—
 
INTERVIEWER
But you have to explain the process…
 
THE NEANDERTHAL
Yes, but I don’t know how to explain it.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
Yes. Anybody could see we … were not gonna win this one. Well, years upon years of this “listening down deep” eventually paid off in a surprising way. And then of course everything that depends on music, poetry and especially epic poetry—that stuff arose from the blend. I’m not even a Neanderthal. Persuasion would have appealed to Cro-Magnons, too, if they had observed it working to their advantage. The difference being that Cro-Magnons   put   the mountain range there, thinking this would help you see ’em better.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
Yes, but that’s nothing special. Cro-Magnons never would have come up with that. But, see, all of a sudden, what had been perpetual bungling on their part transformed almost overnight into a kind of low cunning, very efficient and pernicious. Do it, don’t do it—same result. Some of   everyone’s   ancestors were Neanderthals. He didn’t say anything—we couldn’t talk—but he announced his desires just the same.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
No, no. I taught myself how to reproduce complex situations, simply working backward from feelings. My hypothesis is that I have more than most, because … how else am I able to do this. You’re essentially saying you can access memories from past lives. Kids, grandkids, it was fine. How you started “listening down into yourself,” your Neanderthal DNA, and all that. Feelings are like that, too, only way more so, if you have the training.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
[Sigh.] Yes, that.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
OK, well obviously we invented music. Is that correct?  
THE NEANDERTHAL
All right. My belief—and I fully admit I can’t prove any of this—is that the whole thing got started because I was working hard at getting a grip on the differences between nearly identical feelings. Palaces—Cro-Magnon. We could see how sad and disgusted he was.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
Yes.  
THE NEANDERTHAL
Ha. Go ahead and explain the situation. But see, that just goes to show I’m not a true throwback. Our kind was under threat from the Cro-Magnons, down the pike. So, we all left that meeting with our heads full of very somber colors.