Seal-Humans

What are humans? Humans haven’t changed much in a few million years. We are bipedal, with front-facing eyes and comparatively hairless bodies compared to our ape cousins. We cook our food, create societies, make art and make war. This is humanity, and this is what humanity has been for a very, very, very long time.

The narrator of Galapagos, Leon Trout, posits that a million years in the future (present being 1986), we are closer to seals. So what makes us still human? He refers to seal-humans as humans still, not batting an eye at the giant evolutionary step we took to bring us from hairless bipeds to furry water-dwellers. “As for human beings making a comeback, of starting to use tools and build houses and play musical instruments and so on again: They would have to do it with their beaks this time. Their arms have become flippers in which the hand bones are almost entirely imprisoned and immobilized.” (202)

Another difference, Leon states, between us and modern humans (being the humans of a million years in the future)– is that modern humans have much smaller brains than the humans of 1986. These brains don’t allow them to overthink things, to make mistakes, or to convince their owner’s of untruths. These brains don’t allow them to kill one another, to make war, or to participate in exercises of creativity or the imagination. But isn’t that what humanity is? When we often think of the divide between humans vs. animals, what sets us apart is not our bipedalism or our front-facing eyes, but our brains and what our brains have constructed. We have created vast empires, magnificent works of art, and slaughtered one another thoughtlessly and carelessly. All of this is considered supremely human. This is why the argument exists that humans are the superior species on Earth– because we hold the capacity to create and to imagine and to think. When that is taken away from us, along with most of our signifying traits– are we still human? What is humanity if not our big brains?

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