Genealogical Guff


This is probably not you.

The sheer lunacy that develops demand for products which markets always oblige to provide for always astounds me. The sense of emptiness and desperation which feeds that lunacy always leads me to despair. With the development of various technologies, newer and ever shinier products are revealed, paraded as exciting answers to whatever negatives ail the mind and body of the committed consumer.

One of the latest trends in consumable high-technology is that of genealogical testing and all that it claims to reveal. It is claimed that such testing will –for a price – enable the consumer to discover his or her ‘origins’, with origins being defined as the arbitrary genealogical category ascribed to an historical racial/cultural grouping.

“Are you a Viking?” asks iGenea, one company among many currently profiting from the genealogy boom. Ignoring the overall impossibility of someone being a noun, the question reveals so much about the surging interest in genealogy. The contemporary (read: ignorant and lazy) view of historical groups such as the Vikings is that they were all rumbustious rampaging ruffians who raped their way across Northern and Western Europe, slaughtering the males of other groups whilst planting their rugged seed into the wombs of (mostly) unwilling women. This ignorant, universalising and essentialist imagery – however based partially upon historical record – is ultimately exciting and therein is the crux of consumer interest in all of this. The lives that the majority of people lead today are boring, monotonous and depressing. By contrast, the imagined lives of these ancient peoples are far more thrilling and enriching. To search for a link to a past perceived as being authentic and thrilling is an action influenced by the static, standardised and sterilised state of modern ‘life’ which in turn creates this industry for reified genetics.

Ultimately, no, you’re not a Viking warrior. Most likely you’re a terribly bored and repressed office worker who seeks solace in subconscious pseudo-scientific-spiritualist beliefs in soul transfer through genetic lineage. This is not to say, however, that these desires for a connection to the past are entirely frivolous. Quite the contrary, it demonstrates – if anything – recognition of perceived positives in relation to ancient authentic lives and the accompanying romanticism. This behaviour is thus on one level a promising beginning, but lamentably one which is once again catered through product pacification. iGenea implores potential customers to “discover your history”, but whose history is this if anything but the customers? Are ‘we’ merely amorphous blobs of genes spread through time and space, traced along the drawn lines of musky old tomes? No, we’re not and what some or other ancestor may have done countless centuries before has no bearing on who we are and what we choose to do. It is a garbage industry fed by a nonsense which grasps for stale values from the past.

There is another, less fantastical element that influences interests in genealogy: a desire to find ‘distant’, currently living genetic relations. Perhaps this is a modern yearning for connections to extended kinship groups long disassembled in the West by the normalisation of the nuclear family? Whatever the case, the question is “So what?” So what if someone supposedly shares abstract biological categories with oneself? Do these purported facts provide any normative insight? Should I, by virtue of this supposed genealogical commonality seek out and associate with said individuals for that very fact? It would seem that those who wish to trace their ‘lineage’ answer this question with an emphatic yes, but with a paucity of reasoning accompanying their answer. Perhaps it is a purely emotional reaction derived from some deeply buried familial instinct? Either way it is all utterly absurd.

I care not for genealogical lineages and relations for they tell only a dead tale. I want to know the living story of those around me, and I choose to associate with others based on their living ideas and actions. Grounded in the present, rather than reading about ancient adventurous ancestors, may we craft adventures of our own, leaving the losers of lineage in the past, where they wish to belong.

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