Journey of Man: Commentary

In this video, geneticist Spencer Wells strives to prove that humans left their home in Africa literally searching for greener pastures after being battered by famine and drought about 60,000 years ago. He traces the genetic lineage of mankind from the Aborigines of Australia, the Bushmen of Nambia, and the Native Peoples of North America. It is a very intellectual, inspiring and entertaining documentary. Throughout the video, Wells explains how he traced the exodus of modern humans from Africa by analysing genetic changes in DNA from the Y-chromosome. However, I personally feel that there are a few issues that Spencer Wells had conspicuously evaded.

Firstly, Wells suggests that severe climate change that happened in Africa some 50,000 years ago caused a ‘quantum leap’ in the intellectual abilities of homo sapiens. As such, how come there is no other mention about literature on the effects of climate change on mental capabilities? By principle, iven that the weather affected our intellectual prowess 50,000 years ago, climatic changes should have affected other peoples’ brain development at a later stage and time in human history.

Secondly, I find it uncanny that all the scientists in the documentary are ‘Caucasian’ (One must not generalise race!), except for the one novel Indian. It is ironically condescending that the ‘whites’ seem to be praising the advancedness and uniqueness of all other non-white peoples but they fail to praise the developments of their own culture; it is as if it is understood. After all, the science that Wells practices were developed by his kind!
Next, Wells seems to endeavour to explain the ancestral beginnings of every other major ‘race’ but the Negro Africans. In fact, I feel that he seems to blur the distinction between the Negro Africans and the Bushmen. It seems to be assumed that the Negro origins date as far back as the Bushmen. It is so unclear in that aspect.

Finally, at the end of the documentary, Wells asserts that “we are all Africans under the skin”. This statement very curiously contradicts the laborious two-hour narrative that Wells dictated on the evolution of man. I say that instead of arguing against the scientific notion of ‘race’, this video actually shows that race is the effect of Man’s amazing ability of evolving and adapting so quickly to new environments. Moreover, it illustrates that race must be an important aspect in the scientific study of anthropology and the human condition because of the different ways biological change happens in humans, and so quickly to add.
In conclusion, I am generally convinced by Wells’ research findings and his eloquent way of putting his views across. However, I believe that there are certain issues that he deliberately leaves out to prove his point and I am not so impressed by the loopholes and vagueness in some of his material. I think that Spencer Wells fails to recognise that although humans have only two of three percent genetic diversity, as opposed to twenty-five percent in primates, it is still two or three percent too many. Also, sometimes I feel that the documentary was crafted too much in a way as a sales pitch for National Geographic’s Genographic Project…

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