Before we packed up the raingear under Seattle's beautiful, asphyxiating skies, I'd started looking into our family history and, more specifically, my own genetic origins. I suppose I'd always thought of people who did this kind of thing as altruistic in a way, or at least honoring their ancestors. To be honest, though, I initially started looking into it because I was curious what my diet should be. My body is obviously forged by thousands of years of evolution into the statuesqueness you have before you now, and obviously much of that evolution happened among natural conditions that included food sources, so obviously my body is adapted to whatever foods my ascendants were eating back in the day. I want to find those food sources to maximize my statuesqueness.*
Anyway, I found out that parts of my family have been in the US (Pennsylvania) since the 1660s. Cool. Many were from Germany, originally, which puts my German genetic makeup at between 0.25 and 0.125.
At the same time, because we were traveling to South America I started reading "Guns, Germs and Steel" since it talks about how different populations developed at different rates. Reading this book here is striking because South America is the first place we've traveled where the original population isn't the dominant culture.**
When I read about the horrors that happened here I find myself rooting for the indigenous people and for a split second I forget the present and wonder what will happen in the story – will they finally pick up arms and fight back? Will they organize themselves and find a way to defeat the Europeans? I have hope that the innocent can win, that the next sentence will reveal the strategy that worked.
The split second goes by too fast and I look up from my book to see the tall, whitish people of Argentina buzzing around the city. I get angry about the awful things done by the Spanish (in this case) and wonder how the current population of Chile and Argentina can live with itself knowing what it took to get here! These buzzing people must know that their ancestors were ruthless murderers! I look at them and wonder what right they imagine themselves to have to continue to be here, still, now, in the place they stole.
My ancestors, the ones from Germany in the 1660s, would never have done that.
* One stumbling point is that my genetic origins in Central Europe don't extend back further than 11,000 years, probably. Not really enough time for a ton of natural selection to do its work. I might be better off finding out where the peoples of those European regions came from after the last Ice Age.
** Obviously that's not exactly true, as many many cultures around the world consist of the agricultural crew that slaughtered the hunter-gatherers who didn't go along with the hoarding of food plan… but it is different, somehow, in the case of indigenous Americans.