In the 1990s, we routinely heard that we are just 1 or 2% different from chimpanzees genetically, and therefore . . . what? Should we accord the chimpanzees human rights, as some activists have suggested? Should we acknowledge and accept as natural the promiscuity and genocidal violence that lurks just underneath the veneer of humanity and occasionally surfaces, as some biologists have implied? Or should we perhaps all simply go naked and sleep in trees as the chimpanzees do?
None of these suggestions, of course, necessarily follows from the genetic similarity of humans to apes, although the first two have been proposed within the academic community and promoted in the popular media over the past few years. (Mercifully, the third has not.)
But all of them sound as though they might well proceed from that genetic similarity.
Molecular anthropology acts as mediator between reductive genetics and holistic anthropology; between formal knowledge and ideology; between facts of nature and facts produced by authorities; between what science can do and what scientists ought to do; and most fundamentally, between human and animal.
All of these terms are, of course, laden with meanings, and none of them can be taken at face value.
That’s the fun of it.