A thought about all these DNA/ancestry tests that’ve been popular for awhile now.
Now, it’s tempting to just write the whole thing off as being a faddish portal to popular-genetics in a manner that’s almost as fast-and-loose as Astrology or the Myers-Briggs personality assessments. You’ve got these gene-clusters, that means you’ve likely got X in your family tree. And plus, just to annoy some Hypothetical Internet Racists, we’re going to re-code some of the “unassigned” DNA as being African, or whatever, because hey why not. [seriously – this actually happened]
BUT … that would be to ignore three very important things.
First and foremost, there ARE actual, legitimate – and even quite literally life-saving uses for genetic testing and corresponding analysis. Great way to find out you’ve got an allergy or a heritable and hasn’t-shown-up-yet disease without finding out the hard way.
Second, actual academic-grade population-genetics and other genetic analysis can provide useful support for our advancing understandings of various questions of history. In our particular field – relating to Indo-European peoples – it’s nigh-on indispensable. Even though, as OIT advocates will tell you, the presence of gene-transfer, or other suggestions of migration, doesn’t necessarily indicate cultural exchange/transfer.
And third – and this is my straight-up main point for writing – what it actually speaks to is , for the most part, not people attempting to set up and then slot themselves into racialine hierarchies or something, in the manner that ‘racial classification’ “science” of previous decades …
… but rather, a genuine desire to reconnect with “heritage”, on the part of many people.
Now “Heritage” is a pretty nebulous concept [there’s a Proto-Indo-European pun going on there] – and as we can see with the competing understandings of a word like “Arya” [whether to read it in a more ‘strictly’ ethnic sense, a la its cognate term “Irmin” in “Irminsul” , for instance; or in the more ‘cultural’ sense as implied by more contemporary usage], there are a number of different pathways via which we link ourselves back to our collective .. not always directly “inherited” pasts.
It is my belief that here in the Anglosphere, for a variety of reasons ranging from the tumult of rather significant population upheaval and migration, the geographic distance from “where we come from” a lot of the time, the development of new [or at least .. newer-ish, particularly in combination / constellation of elements here in the Lands of the Southern Cross] and incorporation of “newly encountered” identities, and not least the general anti-“bones” identity tendencies inherent in (neoliberal) capitalism and the badly-done ‘post-modern’ spirit of the present age …
… many people do not have an authentic feeling of connection to their heritage. You ask somebody who or what they are, you occasionally even hear “Australian” cited as an ethnicity or race.
Yet both nature and men tend to abhor a vacuum; and so in addition to injecting these new , and occasionally rather invalid (imo) “heritages” into the gap thusly created [“WE WUZ ATLANTEANZ”, and so forth] … you get people wanting to see where they’ve come from.
And, since it’s not so simple these days, as asking our grandparents or our great grandparents because they’re quite likely either not around or not in possession of the full answers, we turn to these tests.
We turn to these tests, especially, because it’s far easier than … not even doing the genealogy (another suite of new online businesses) – far easier than attempting to learn the languages our grandparents spoke (I speak almost no French or Breton, even less Swedish, and absolutely no Apache), the customs they carried out, the ways in which they worshipped, who they hated, the mechanisms of preparation for the traditional foods they ate, the whats and whys and whens and wherefors of genuine Identity.
It’s “INSTANT IDENTITY ™” – a substitute, a simulacrum, a sibstitute [I am now making up words as I go along] for the Real Thing. Or, at least, the hard-worked towards, hard-gleaned reconstruction of our own, more authentic Heritage and Folk-Ways.
Now that doesn’t mean that Genetic Heredity is absolutely invalid as a source for Heritage, of course. Quite the contrary. Done right, it is a considerable augmentation of these other sources and tendences and lineages and elements.
Indeed, depending upon just which Heritage we are speaking of, you could even say that it is the Sine Qua Non Requirement for some of them .[ but more on the Jarnsaxa Scale , which I am occasionally flagrantly line-dancing through the Indian equivalent thereof from time to time, at some other juncture]
But in any case, while I have good reason to be a bit circumspect about some providers and results out there; and even better reason to be enthusiastic about the more serious-grade academic understandings and unearthings that have also emerged from time to time (or which may yet lie suppressed for “interesting reasons” in the case of a certain study we’re all aware of .. ) ..
The OVERALL TENDENCY to which these tests are an effective response to, in terms of their popularity [rather than their promulgation – which is uh … well, that’s the “capitalist motive” towards the commodification of anything and everything up to and including your DNA, and making you smile and fork over the cash to turn yourself into capital in such a process as a result .. ]
the OVERALL TENDENCY underpinning the sudden surge in popularity of such things, is to be welcomed
For at its core: it is the ever more loudly howling desire of people to be put back in touch with their Ancestors, their Heritage – to increasingly find their footing, their “place in the world” built upon a foundation solidly sourced from the Past.
In an age wherein the great evils are atomization, solipsization, and the exaltation of rootlessness tabula-rasa-hood as some sort of virtue [no doubt because it’s easier to sell to lost and alone people than to healthily ensconced elements of a COMMUNITY]
this active interest in Heritage is something to be actively encouraged.
Albeit with certain caveats and with appropriate redirection to the living [or, where necessary, partially reconstructive] Cultural Heritage to go along with.
[Author’s Note: I penned this two years ago today]