Against Ancestry

You know that show Who Do You Think You Are? It’s very popular, and will always get renewed.
I’m sure it’s pretty interesting, but I can’t bring myself to watch it, because they always
give away the answer in the episode’s title. But the gist is: Someone more famous than
you researches their ancestors, and is humbled by stories of their struggles. And, sure,
history’s worth knowing, but why prioritise your own relatives, or, as the viewer, the
relatives of a famous person? It’s a strange self-interest. Once you’ve figured out what
hereditary diseases they carried, they’re just strangers. In fact, we should probably
replace our surnames with our diseases. We have so many ancestors that it’s hard to think
of them as individually relevant; they are equally relevant to you as to each of their
hundred thousand descendants. I mean, if an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? went
on long enough they would end up on the Tiktaalik. I’m looking forward to the show’s 34th season
when the children of the current stars go on and just watch their parents’ two episodes. Occasionally, someone finds out they’re descended
from royalty, and ooh, isn’t that special? No. Royals are just people misplaced on a
hierarchy, just like the rest of us. Sometimes someone might discover, to their
shock, an ancestor who was, like, non-white, or poor or female, and they might learn to
respect that person’s experience. And that’s good! It’s kinda sad if that’s what it took,
though. It’s, like, backward daughtruism. Caring about people more because you’re biologically
related to them is natural, apparently. It’s, a thing. And this can seem innocuous on a
one-to-one level amongst the living ’cause, like, nearly everyone’s in on it, but writ
larger, it’s the reason that rich families stay rich, at the expense of everyone else,
and writ even larger, with plenty of pseudoscience along the way, it’s the grounds for racism,
a really harmful myth that overstates our aesthetic differences. An Us and Them mentality,
and kinda the main political divide outside of sexism and its offshoots. If you study
your ancestry, you’re looking into the Us bit, finding out who your gang are. But if
you follow it through, if you keep studying, there is no Them. We are a macro-Us. Those
who see it as Us and Them are underinformed, and it’s up to Us to educate Them. Wait. No,
that literally works. Paradox of tolerance, bitches! History, much like Les Miserables, is written
by the victor. Unlike Les Miserables, though, it doesn’t stop enough to think about the
many victims. The minorities, the workers, the women. Ancestry teaches a very good lesson
in this respect, to find out about others’ lives, to empathise with them, ‘cause they’re
like us!, but the lesson is neither complete nor pertinent until we roll it out to include
everyone. Because they ARE like us. Our ancestors, yes, but also their cousins, and their other
descendants – our 7.7 billion human cousins in the present day. Sheesh, guys, take a break. We should respect the plight of all human
beings, all beings, whether or not we’re related to them. ’cause, here’s the bigger spoiler:
We are.


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