notes, finds & fragments of research
A few days ago I was reminded about the life lasting presence of genes, and how they are possibly responsible (by inheritance) for our bad habits and flaws. We now have, hoorah!, scientific support for pushing our personal problems back to our ancestors: Apples and Trees! It’s their fault, not ours.
As it happens, this subject has been a long standing tradition in my family. We have ‘bloody excuses’ for almost anything: Depression – the dark melancholic moods which entered the family with a Russian ancestress in the 19th Century. Temperament – due to the vast amounts of Hungarian blood. Gluttony – the French ancestors at the court of Versailles, whom splurged their way through the 17th and 18th centuries. Emotional incompetence – all that English blood with thanks to one of my grandmothers. A slightly rebellious nature – the Irish blood that came along with the former. The tendency to bizarre punctuality – must be due to the fact that about a quarter of the entire bloodline is Austro-German. The opposite abhorrent lack of punctuality – because of a strong line of Italian ancestry in which several ancestors were apparently always terribly late at the battlefield. Being a night person – Transylvanian blood, according to popular history books there are alleged vampires to be found in the tree. Drinking – Let’s make that a combination of several bloodlines: Irish, Russian, Hungarian, Polish. And the list goes on…
The blogpost (in Dutch) which re-triggered my awareness of genes, referred to an article from Wired: Fat? Sick? Blame your grandparent’s bad habits, with quotes from the book Evolving Ourselves: How unnatural selection and non-random mutation are changing life on earth. Indeed an interesting subject as it claims that we are all considered to be genetical victims of the trauma’s, experiences, and bad habits of (at least) our own grandparents. The train of thought eventually leads to the conclusion that a lot of our bad habits can be traced back up the family tree, as it is part of our genes; and so we can blame our ancestors for them. Well, isn’t that just fine and dandy?
As can be concluded from the summary of ‘bloody excuses’ I was already quite aware of the oddly mixed gene pool that I may call my own. It is the result of hundreds of years of ancestors serving as military officers, court-dwellers, diplomats and also merchants in the various colonies; and sometimes a fresh bride was imported for the sake of new blood. It is not a constant awareness, of course, but my history-conscious upbringing has brought me a lot of passive and active knowledge of where I come from.
Having read the article I do wonder where the gene inheritance stops, with humans they have now reached two generations, on rats even four. Oddly and ironically enough this scientific research also provides a certain degree of validation to the Bible where it speaks of generational curses, as a result of the sins of our fathers – down to the third and fourth generation. In other words, now both scientifically and biblical: We can try to better ourselves but we are damned anyway because of actions done roughly a hundred years ago. And suddenly it puts new (spot?)light to the story of Job: Perhaps it was not just bad luck or his own mistakes he suffered from; he was the victim of either generational karma or his genes? – or, Heaven forbid, a combination of the two.
I find this kind of research wildly fascinating, as I have stated before with On Ancestry & History and Blood & Genes will always be ~ Research after the Descendants of ‘Count Dracula’. But at the same time it is also rather creepy: All the ancestral excuses we have made for our flaws, they could really be true. And I can tell you: Those are not yet the worst of all the mistakes, sins, and other mischief done by my forbearers. In my ancestry I find poisoners, tyrants, and ruthless warlords; followed by a few licentious bishops and duplicitous cardinals – with the rather worrisome accumulation to at least three Renaissance popes. Then, we can’t forget a well-known female serial killer, a pirate queen, and even a six-fingered hand-full of alleged witches. And also hardly to be overseen is the flock of greedy merchants, corrupt politicians, devious mistresses, conspirators, and spies; to end with an impressive amount of idiots whom together are representing about one-hundred-and-fifty shades of madness. I am most certainly and deeply grateful for the few writers, poets, composers, philosophers, a saint or two and a number of patrons of the arts – they do weigh up against the less charitable and less lovable figures, aforementioned; but they, as has been proven, are also doing less well in popular history books.
Just imagine carrying all this in your genes; people have turned to drinking for far less – oh wait, that actually does explain something.
Of course, with these new developments one only has to wait for the first criminal to plead in a Court of Justice that he couldn’t help himself; for it was not only his difficult childhood which brought him to this life – his ancestors had it even worse and paved this dark way for him. And so, to conclude, it appears one of my favourite poets, Philip Larkin (1922-1985), was right in his This be the verse: ‘Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, and don’t have any kids yourself.’