Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prehistoric Prejudice



I don't think of myself as a bigot. I try not to pre-judge anyone or lump individuals into some negative category. I do these things not just because it's the right way to behave, but also because they lead to a fuller life. If I presumed that because someone is in a particular group he or she must be stupid, violent, or dishonest, then I might deprive myself of meeting a very interesting person. So I was disappointed in myself a few days after arriving in France when I learned that I had unwittingly been prejudiced against an entire group -- prehistoric men and women.


When our tour bus pulled into the area of France where many archeological discoveries have been made, one of the first things I saw beside the road was a sign that read, "Cro-Magnon Hotel." My reaction was, "Who would want to stay there?" I mean, when I'm staying in a hotel, I at least want the maids to walk upright. I don't want to stay in a place whose advertising slogan might be, "Our updated rooms come with fire."


But I was completely wrong, totally prejudiced in these opinions. The next day we had a guide take us to a museum and to some archeological sites. Christine was an anthropologist, archeologist, and a paleontologist. For all I know she might have also been a proctologist. So I had to assume that everything she told us about Prehistoric Man was true. First of all, she defined things for us. She said that "prehistoric" did not mean primitive, savage, or uncultured. It just refers to a time before things were written. In other words, the following might be considered a prehistoric paragraph.





Christine explained that Cro-Magnon and other prehistoric men and women were people -- just like you and me. They walked upright, they were about our size, and there is nothing to suggest that they were stupid. I guess I can no longer think of "The Flintstones" as a documentary.


Cro-Magnon man – who is named for the place where his bones were found -- was not a club-wielding caveman. They didn't even live in caves. They lived in shelters near caves. There is also no evidence that they were violent. There is evidence that they had a great deal of leisure time. However, there is no indication that they filled this leisure time by taking Princess Cruises.


In the museum that Christine took us to, there is a reproduced figure of a boy. The interesting thing to me was that even though the boy was between 10,000 and 15,000 years old, he still lived at home. Obviously, the Cro-Magnon man had not yet discovered tough love.


One thing these prehistoric people were experts at was art. I was humbled when I saw their sculptures, drawings, and paintings. Sometimes they were realistic, sometimes representative. They even used perspective which wouldn't be used so effectively again until the Renaissance. I guess I expected stick figures like I draw, but there was nothing unsophisticated about their work.


We were also a pretty sophisticated group. Nobody giggled at the mention of "Homo Erectus." And we acted like adults when we learned that not all of these prehistoric folks were uh, high brows. They enjoyed a little "bathroom humor" – which I had always thought began with Homo Catskillikus.


When I mentioned to Christine that many of the horses and bulls reminded me of Picasso, she said that Picasso had seen the cave art and had admired it. In fact, he said that he had met his masters and that there was nothing that could be invented that the Cro-Magnon man hadn't already invented. (Obviously, Picasso could not predict the advent of the toaster oven).


I hope I've learned my lesson. Now that I've seen how wrong I was about Prehistoric Man, perhaps my feelings about other groups are equally misguided. You can't judge someone by the accent they have or the clothes they wear or the car they drive. Maybe I shouldn't be so disdainful, for example, towards people who say, "between you and I," or those who sit behind me at the movies and talk, or even Republicans. Well, maybe my goals have to stay realistic.



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