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General Davis Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. (AP)
General Davis Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. (AP)


Why did Petraeus do it? Maybe humans are evolving to be dumber Add to ...

American sex scandals mostly seem to involve way too many people and not nearly enough sex. Think of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair, or Anthony Weiner’s troubles.

The David Petraeus/Paula Broadwell scandal is like a Russian novel in that regard: It just goes on and on, with more and more names, and no one seems happy, and it gets to the point where you would almost welcome a long treatise on the modernization of Russian farming practices just to break things up a bit.

Without sex, and with very little wit, it’s impossible to understand why any of these people liked each other in the first place. And then suddenly there are more unlikeable people, some of whom have titles that seem invented, such as “unpaid social liaison,” which does sound as if it could comfortably accommodate a “princess” in front of it or at the very least “countess.”

Perhaps it was news of the General Petraeus affair breaking and crashing in ceaseless, though barely salty (they went jogging together – is there anything less sexy in the world?) waves this week that made me pause to consider a recent study on the diminished intellectual prowess of modern humans.

In an article in the journal Trends in Genetics, Stanford University geneticist Gerald Crabtree has argued that were a man from the year 1000 BC or even earlier to find his way to modern times, he would be the brightest one among us.

Unlike hunter-gatherers of yore, for whom an ill-considered decision often meant death for both self and progeny, Prof. Crabtree writes, modern humans pay no great penalty for stupidity, and thus our intellectual evolution has been stymied.

Sitting with a group of men shortly after reading of Prof. Crabtree’s ideas, I assessed my companions in a way I hadn’t before. And yes, I was forced to acknowledge that – while these men were successful people, shaping the world around them, excelling in their chosen fields – if a sabre-toothed tiger were to attack our table, they would be pretty much useless.

Were bears able to use Google Maps to find the bar in which we were seated, the evening would no doubt have been ruined.

We were just sitting there, laughing and talking, relying on the bears not being able to do that.

And while bears are kind of a long shot as far as urban bar threats go, I was also forced to admit as I watched my friends that in all likelihood, if that platter of oysters on ice in the centre of table were a nest of rattlesnakes, they would all just keep reaching their hand in there anyway, much as I imagine their wheel-inventing ancestors did with ancient hazards.

I’ll bet there were cavemen whose job it was to stop other cavemen from walking too close to the edge of the cliff while they contemplated the mysteries of fire. Some caveman would probably say, “Watch Thorg for me, will you? Just wallop any large predators that clomp his way. He’s working on some cave drawings that I think are going to turn out to be some of his best work yet.”

This more nuanced, communal approach to survival is quite possibly why we have Google Maps and the bears don’t. (Looks over shoulder.)

Ultimately, I would dispute Prof. Crabtree’s claim that modern man is less intelligent, or that he is protected from his own errors in any way that genetically holds humanity back. He also claims an ancient Greek would be more emotionally stable than we are now. Has he read any of their literature?

An ancient Greek’s only advantage today would be that it would take the poor bastard ages to get his e-mail set up, and thus longer for the FBI to start reading it.

In any case, this week’s now-familiar but still-bizarre juxtaposition of old puritanism and new technology suggests that one of the two elements ought to be put to rest, lest civilization collapse beneath a tide of resignations.

At this point, we must either disassemble the Internet or decide that sex between consenting adults is often an excellent idea, always a private matter, and mostly not that entertaining to anyone not in the bed.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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