Saturday, December 4, 2010

Australopithecine Mushroom Eaters

I wonder which of our human ancestors first consumed mushrooms. Australopithecines maybe?

I wonder this because I used to think that the first humanish creature to consciously consume a new species of mushroom, knowing full well it may be poisonous, was the definition of a brave person. He was willing to throw himself on a grenade for the good of the tribe.

But now I realize that’s not at all how hominids emerged through the treacherous era of trial and error. The first mushroom eaters were probably not the brave warriors at all. They were probably the tribe psychos and retards.

(Okay I know I’m asking for trouble here by using the “r” and “p” words instead of more dignified acronyms. But we are talking about Australopithecines here, creatures with brains too tiny to grasp the concept of dignified acronyms. I’m sure the fossil record will bear me out on this. Australopithecines probably identified their “r” and “p” tribe members with a snide, dismissive grunt or hand gesture, or maybe even a fart. But so as not to distract from the point I’m trying to make, we’ll pretend Australopithecines were sensitive and astute enough to promulgate appropriate acronyms. Henceforth, these acronyms shall be AWID (Australopithecines with Intellectual Disabilities) and AWED (Australopithecines with Emotional Disabilities).

The scenario:

Australopithecines are in their prime. They’re happy and well fed. They’ve just discovered delicious and nutritious fungi known as mushrooms. But then one overzealous Australopithecine eats a different variety of mushroom and drops dead. The other Australopithecines are grief-stricken and confused. Which mushrooms are safe for consumption and which are not? Civilization is at a crossroads.

In the fairy tale version, a noble Australopithecine steps forward, plucks a mushroom and swallows. Live or die, he’s celebrated as a hero.

But in the real version, an Australopithecine says, “Hey, I got a great idea! Why don’t we get one of those AWIDs or AWEDs to eat it? We can get them to eat anything!”

That’s the more plausible plot line because modern Homo sapiens have applied similar logic. Just a few months ago, Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama apologized to the people of Guatemala for the syphilis experiments of the 1940s. U.S. government medical researchers secretly infected Guatemalan inmates in prisons and mental institutions with syphilis and gonorrhea so as to test the effectiveness of penicillin as a treatment.

And in the 1960s there was the Willowbrook experiment. Residents of Willowbrook, the hellhole New York state institution for all manner of gimps, were deliberately infected with hepatitis and treatments were tested on them. This experiment was so uncontroversial that it wasn’t even secret.

So it’s clear that some poor sucker AWIDs and AWEDs were coaxed out into the woods by their Australopithecine brethren and offered a nice juicy mushroom. This is assuming that Australopithecines allowed their AWIDs and AWEDS to run around free, which is a big if. If the AWIDs and AWEDS were institutionalized, as their homo sapiens descendents would be, then there were probably special days where AWIDs and AWEDS were treated to mushroom casseroles and souffl├ęs prepared and delivered by the “normal” Australopithecines. As the AWIDs and AWEDS happily devoured their mushrooms, the other Australopithecines watched on intently and recorded the aftermath for posterity.

Live or die, whoever had this great idea of using AWIDs and AWEDS as human shields was celebrated as a hero.