Reaction comes in many forms… February 5, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
… is the thought that strikes reading this recent piece about Danny Dyers recent appearance on Who Do We Think We Are? Apparently Dyer was chuffed to discover that he was distantly related not just to Cromwell (!) but also ‘a couple of kings’. Though as the writer notes:
But there is a problem. In part it’s because this is an industry built on hopes and dreams and shaky data. Another BBC show, Radio 4’s More or Less, did a brutal debunk job on Dyer’s discoveries, exposing the flaws of this sort of pick-and-mix selectivity (bottom line: it’s quite rare to not be related to Edward III). Earlier this week science writer Adam Rutherford told BuzzFeed that the findings of one genetic testing company, BritainsDNA, were “mostly total bollocks”. Such outfits request phlegm and a cheque, and in return post back a gratifyingly exciting ancestry. One client was told their forebears “almost certainly brought to Britain a technology that changed society profoundly”. This technology was porridge.
Is it more or less meaningful to discover we all share common ancestors if one goes far enough back? I’ve an ancestor from the last century who stole a chicken and was transported to Tasmania. I’m suspicious of how much or how little that means. It’s definitely interesting, but I’m not him and he’s not me. I sympathise hugely with his plight, but the distance is such that I only know a handful of facts about him. And the gulf of time – even a hundred year or so – is still a gulf of time.
But the broader point made is that its dubious to place so much weight upon ‘bloodlines’. I like the quote from Wilde in the following:
If you maintain your bloodline has conditioned aspects of your personality and performance, you must also be open to theories about inherited characteristics that are today deemed extremely dubious. Investment in our backstories is bad news for anyone who believes that, say, a lack of social mobility is more attributable to wealth inequality and government policy than the ways in which traits might be passed on through the generations. Murkier waters aren’t far off. Our culture risks steering us in a wholly different direction to that which even the limpest progressives must hope. In A Woman of No Importance, Oscar Wilde called Burke’s Peerage “the best thing in fiction the English have ever done”. We need to heed that description, lest we turn back the clock and make it a set text.
Do bloodlines even do that? Are relatively trivial personality traits distinguishable across extended periods of time? I’m very dubious. A lot, I tend to think, is direct emulation or response or reaction to parents or grandparents. We see ourselves in our kids? Of course we do. We helped form some of the more obvious and overt aspects of their outward personality, but it’s comical to ascribe much more than that to it.