November 28, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)


I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule.

W.S. Gilbert The Mikado, 1885

Have you ever wondered how you got to be here? Sure, your parents engaged in that secret act and you were the result. Before that, their parents did the same, and their parents, and so on. Some people can trace their ancestry back a number of generations. But no matter how many generations they trace their ancestry, it is just a tiny drop in the vast ocean of time. Your ancestry goes back many billions of years to some primordial bit of microscopic ooze in an ocean. While that bit of protoplasm that is now you made it, a number of living things, too large to count, didn't make it. Does that make you feel that you are something very very special? It should.

We know very little about what people did before the advent of writing, which happened just a short while ago. Just like today, much of what was written is baloney and it is hard to distinguish fact from fantasy. The best that those who study ancient peoples and their culture can do is to speculate, based on pitifully little real data. And that really doesn't go very far back in the scale of time since life first began on Earth.

Any undamaged human being has a brain that is smarter than the smartest of chimpanzees. The difference between a person of ordinary intelligence and a genius is very small by comparison. Alexander the Great wasn't a hellofalot smarter than his slave. Perhaps the people who stayed out of the way of his rapacious army were smarter than Alexander himself. Alexander the Great became king at 20, conquered the world, they say, and died at 33. Before he died, he probably put his genes into a lot of women and had lots of descendants who had no idea who their father was, nor did their descendants. Not that it matters at all. Much of the fuss over marital fidelity probably originated with kings who wanted their sons to take over the job and wanted to be sure that the offspring of their wives was a result of their activities. So-called primitive people don't care.

There is an old saying that the only thing that you can be sure of is who your mother was. This is true even with cultures that claim to be traceable back a large number of generations. The culture that I am most familiar with is that of the Jews which forbids marriage to anyone but another Jew. Yet, Polish Jews look Polish, Russian Jews look Russian, German Jews look German, native Israelis look like Palestinian Arabs and the Falashas look like most other black Africans. I have heard this explained as resulting from the rapes that occurred during pogroms, but I have my doubts.

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