NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I'm as cynical as the next guy, probably a great deal more so, but we've had so much horrific news in just the past couple of weeks that it has demolished what limited faith I've had in human nature.Why were Rupert Murdoch and his fellow News Corp. ( NWS - Get Report) executives quite so lacking in basic human feelings, so clueless about the consequences of their actions? After all, whatever else you might think of the man, he is a veteran journalist and an accomplished businessman. His deputies are all smart people. Whatever happened to their humanity? Do Republicans really want to destroy social programs, and if failing to get that, cause government checks to bounce? Must they be so gosh-darned inhumane? I was pondering all this the other day when I stumbled upon a science news item in Discovery News on Monday, just as we emerged with a hot, sticky weekend, when the bad news was piling up like cordwood. When I read that, I realized that my faith in humanity has been unwarranted. We are approximately 9% Neanderthal. So says Discovery, quoting Molecular Biology and Evolution, a scientific journal that originally published this fascinating nugget of anthropological insight. >>Are all CEOs Neanderthals? Add your comment. So it isn't that any of the people involved in our ongoing nightmares are necessarily bad. It's just that they can't help themselves. If there's a lack of humanity in their actions, the reason is that they're not totally human. When that insight is kept in mind, all that has gone on in recent weeks makes a great deal more sense. Viewed through the Neanderthal prism, in fact, it's hard to believe that we all behave quite as well as we do and don't club each other over the heads more often. What distinguished Neanderthals from later varieties of apes? Among other things, it was an inability to completely comprehend the consequences of their actions, to realize that no, taunting a woolly mammoth is not necessarily the best thing in the world. It took a great many gored Neanderthals to establish that principle.
Knowing about our Neanderthal heritage makes it more understandable to comprehend that banks are continuing to employ robo-signers. On Tuesday, in the midst of an effort by the banks to make their robo-signing/fugazy foreclosure woes go away, The Associated Press reported that banks are still engaged in that monstrous, inhumane practice. "County officials in at least three states say they have received thousands of mortgage documents with questionable signatures since last fall, suggesting that the practices, known collectively as 'robo-signing,' remain widespread in the industry," said the AP. In the fall, all of the nation's major banks -- JPMorgan Chase ( JPM - Get Report), Wells Fargo ( WFC - Get Report), Bank of America ( BAC - Get Report) and Goldman Sachs ( GS - Get Report) -- suspended their foreclosures because of previous instances of robo-signing. These and other major banks have made great strides over the past nine months to make this public relations and legal debacle recede into history. Yet one of the new generations of robo-signers was traced back to a Bank of America subsidiary. The bank didn't respond to the AP's questions "about why
one official's name has been signed in different ways or why her signature appeared on documents that investigators in at least two states have deemed invalid." They may not have an explanation for this less-than-human conduct, but I do, thanks to Molecular Biology and Evolution. In his column on Sunday, Paul Krugman of The New York Times described how letting the banks off the hook on robo-signing does not help the economy. It's all pretty obvious. Yet rather than conducting a serious investigation of how it happened, and punish the transgressors, federal officials are pushing for a settlement that would broadly absolve the banks of wrongdoing. Why? Because of fear that getting tough with banks would undermine the so-called economic recovery we're all enjoying and also concern that doing so would keep the housing market from recovering. "Neither of these arguments makes much sense," says Krugman. Of course they don't. Lamentably, the public officials who are tasked with dealing with Corporate Neanderthals are lacking in the powers of deductive reasoning that we've presumably developed since emerging from the caves. Since we are hard-wired to not understand that doing bad stuff is bad, it stands to reason that we are poised on the brink of destroying the fiscal reputation of the U.S. government. It's not a Republican-Democrat issue but a byproduct of constant struggle within our blood corpuscles, the 9% share of our DNA that is solid, strong but dense Neanderthal stuff. Eric Cantor and his fellow slash-and-burners should be forgiven. They are, evolutionarywise, little advanced from the days when the entrée of a Sunday brunch was raw sabertooth tiger. It's all scientific fact, folks. If you don't believe me, just grab a book. Which reminds me: You won't be able to do that at Borders anymore. The New Yorker's Ian Crouch mused yesterday that the principal question was whether Borders' travails are "the story of an overzealous company that has failed or a harbinger of industrywide doom." I'd posit a third possibility: Evolution just isn't all it's cracked up to be.