I was just catching up on podcasts, and listening to an old Science Friday episode about hominid fossils. I've always been somewhat interested in anthropology, and someday I'd like to have a decent grasp of the scope of human evolution (that is, how long have we actually been here?). It seems like it's a straightforward fact that I should be able to just learn, but it's slippery, and I can't conceptualize it.
This podcast actually helped me a bit to put into context all the "x million" and "x-ty thousand years ago" numbers that get attached to Lucy and Artie, and all the other fossil remnants of our ancestors. The guest expert mentioned (casually, as if it were an obvious point) that there have been many hominid species: Neanderthals, homo erectus, australopithecus, and plenty more. First little zing of an aperçu: Oh. Homo sapiens is a species like golden eagles and redtails are species. I love reminders that we people are just animals. And I like that we (homo sapiens, that is) aren't solitary or unique; we're part of a big family, and we used to have a lot of relatives.
As the interview continues, the expert describes how homo sapiens moved into territories and extirpated the other hominid species wherever they migrated to. Then the full realization dawns on me: Homo sapiens is an invasive species, like cowbirds and mitten crabs and thistles. We aren't the chosen species—we just won, a long time ago.
It's kind of obvious once yout think about it. I just appreciate that we are no better, or necessarily worse, than any other species. We do have unequaled power to wreak havoc, which is very unfortunate. It's good that we also have the power to control our environment-destroying tendencies, if we will.
And nature lovers tend to get all judgey and hostile about invasive species like house sparrows and starlings, but we're no better. I really like that idea.