Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 10, 2018

My Neanderthal Genes

It’s a trendy thing now to mail some sample of yourself (no, I don’t want to know what part) to one of numerous companies who will (allegedly) use DNA analysis to determine where your ancestors came from.

The results supposedly tell you from what general part of the world your ancestors came, and in what percentages. Thus, you might find out that your ancestry is 50% northern European, 40% western European and 10% southeast Asian. Or whatever.

This practice has a great deal of appeal in our highly mobile, blended society in the United States. Our “melting pot” tradition has resulted in a country comprised of millions of immigrants from almost every part of the world. European colonists rapaciously eliminated an estimated 90% of our native inhabitants, then shoved those remaining aside in order to occupy the land. Everyone else moved in. The 21st century American population represents a stewpot of ethnicities, including descendants of slaves and indentured servants brought here against their will.

Then, as humans do, everyone started pairing up with everyone else, and in the course of just a few generations, any individual might have antecedents from anywhere in the world.

Some of us have reasonably clear records of who married whom and who begat whom unto the nth generation, but probably the minority.

Many people didn’t grow up with families who told them their history, or other circumstances made it so that they really don’t know “where they came from.”

Genealogy vs. Genetic Science

Does this business of tracing X-per cent of your ancestors to some region bounded by rivers or mountains or ancient nomadic patterns seem satisfying to you?

I once spent time investigating my genealogy. Fortunate to have some memory of talking to one great-grandparent, I had three grandparents living to talk to. A handful of relatives had family records of one sort or another. For my paternal family heritage on the male side, I had access to a detailed genealogy self-published by a distant relative who tirelessly pursued every member of a widespread family. That took my last name back to something like my paternal great-great-great grandparents.

I even spent a few hours in the National Archive in Washington, D.C. looking through microfilm versions of old, handwritten census forms. I believe I got back to 1830, and found some of my forebears there, too.

I learned something important: I’m not just the descendant of people with my parents’ last names. To some degree, those two names are accidents of custom and gender. By the time I worked back to my great-grandparents, I was related to people with eight different family names from several European countries. In the end, it was only mildly interesting that one of those families had come to New Amsterdam from the Netherlands in the 1600s.

Why wasn’t it more interesting? There were no stories. I had names, but could learn little else about the people: nothing about how they got here — why they left Holland or Scotland or anywhere else. What were their lives like before and after?

I think it would be even less satisfying to take the DNA test and discover that my mix of English, Scottish-Irish, Dutch and whatever other ancestry equaled certain percentages. What would I do with that information? Start celebrating Dutch holidays? If I’m more than 50% Scottish do I take up wearing a kilt?

More Useful Information

What I think would be really neat would be to find out to what degree I’m walking around with Neanderthal genes. According to current DNA research, most individuals with European heritage have a genetic makeup that includes one or two per cent Neanderthal genes.

I think we should all do that. Especially people running for public office.

Neanderthals have a certain stereotypical reputation — and it’s not positive. Recent research is proving those stereotypes wrong, but they die hard. Not only that, since no Neanderthals — so far as we know— are still around, they represent the sole human group we can abuse without being accused of prejudice. Who will defend them?

Just imagine the heated campaign when full disclosure rules require Candidate X to reveal that he has 2.9% Neanderthal genes — a relatively high percentage. His opponent, Candidate Y — perhaps of Asian heritage, possessing none — immediately takes to the stump, asking her constituents, “Do you really trust a Neanderthal to vote on public health or nuclear weapons?”

What fun we’d have.

Dangerous Silliness

It only took about five minutes of developing this silly blog post before I recognized what a seriously dangerous line of thought it reflects. We in the United States are engaged in a perilous public debate about whether certain people should be excluded from the nation — both physically and in terms of full citizenship participation — simply because of which country they or their parents came from, or what ethnic heritage they possess.

Remember: Except for 2.9 million Native Americans — 0.9% of the total population — we ALL came from somewhere else. All.

Joking about imaginary limitations of Neanderthals to hold office or be effective citizens risks amplifying — in a bizarre fashion — arguments for abrogating the Constitution. That document states — unequivocally — that everyone possesses the same inherent rights. Everyone. The notion of using genetic testing — along with checking passports, family records or birth certificates — to determine who’s in/who’s out is no joking matter. If having a Neanderthal gene is one proof of European heritage, before you know it, there’ll be those who demand that we have public servants with as much Neanderthal as possible in their makeup.

If we don’t already have our share.

© Brad Nixon 2018

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Responses

  1. Excellent post! I loved the humor, but also the deeper message. Two unincluded thoughts struck me: !. Don’t forget that some people were sent here to decrease prison populations (looking at Australia). Georgia was literally started by criminals. 2. Thought number two is a bit more serious-all of the genetic markers could open the door for some unethical decisions…This person has a gene which predisposes them to a disease which will render them useless to society therefore medical attention will be denied….It’s a slippery slope if/when people start making decisions like that and untold others. Technology is used for good and evil…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with your points. It’s a complex and trying topic. There are innumerable risks and dangers that lurk right near the surface of this issue. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ever since the Enlightenment, various human rights documents created for the benefit of particular societies have been trampled and rendered irrelevant when the wrong leader gains power. Documents don’t save or protect societies. Only an engaged and aware populace can do that. What is past is prologue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well and articulately stated. I may err in waving the Constitution too boldly as a flag, for precisely the reason you state, because it has no finite meaning, and relies on context, intent and innumerable other ineffable qualities. The devil can (and does) quote the Constitution — or any charter — for his or her own purposes. Our school curricula, libraries and bookshops are replete with historical context from which all of us should’ve derived some worthwhile perspective we could bring to bear. Ignorance is the enemy, and lies are the enemy’s weapons. Now playing daily on Twitter, the White House briefing room and countless other channels.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Washington Post has a slogan “Democracy dies in darkness.” I disagree. It dies right out in the bright light of day. Little by little, maybe. But the signs are there for all to see, if eyes are open.

        Like

  3. lol. I’d be very surprised if I wasn’t 3% Neanderthal. Everyone with Western European Ancestry has a lot of Neanderthal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Could be! Me too. Any of us westerners.

      Like


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