Some men by ancestry are only the shadow of a mighty name
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (Lucan)
Every animal alive today descended from ancestors. When we talk of an individual’s ancestors, we mean all the individuals, men and women, and most of them dead, who through the ages paired off and mated, bringing forth offspring after offspring, generation after generation, until, finally, by his or her parents, that individual was birthed. The awareness and appreciation of one’s ancestry, like most intellectual and emotional cognitive processes, seems to be an exclusive human trait.
Our past is important to us. Our future, more so. Of course, an individual’s present and future is the product of decisions made in the past and present. However, every once a while, a man becomes interested in not only his own past, but his genealogy as well. To some people, the possibility that their parents, and predecessors for that matter, have some influence on their lives is absurd, even offensive to their individualistic sensibilities. Yet, if that were the case, cultures of royalty and inheritance by lineage would be just as ridiculous, tracing one’s ancestry would be a futile, laughable endeavour, and familial intimacy would lose their sacred meaning. Who you are as an individual may very well be the product of a thousand dead men and women, since personal traits like race, physicality (height, complexion, etc.), intelligence, and even some psychological characteristics are indeed inheritable. It is not strange to make every effort to discover the identity of one’s ancestors. It is just as prudent to revere one’s ancestors, for they certainly thought about their progeny.
The inherent rationality of humans, by virtue of a larger brain, affords us the ability to plan and act contrary to our instincts, or at least have an awareness of them. This rationality, combined with extraordinary imagination, allows a man – no, compels him to look beyond his current surroundings and needs, towards the past to evaluate why he is what he is. He contemplates life in the shoes of another individual, imaginary of course, who has a different father or mother, from a different race, and even perhaps in a different time in the past or future. Could he have been better or worse if he were such an individual? Obviously, many imagine they could have been better men and women, were they not restricted by their current circumstances, and in some cases, they would be right. They forget a crucial point nonetheless: Some of their ancestors had it worse. Much worse.
From Instinct to Innovation
To put the spirit and vigour of one’s ancestors into perspective, it is important to understand and accept how weaker the modern man has become. There is a reason why tenets of morality, peace, love, and decency have gained ground in the last hundred years. After all, in a prosperous global civilisation where an individual’s most pressing aspirations and most potent hinderances are no longer physical or spiritual, but mostly socio-economic in nature, these tenets have become the social and legal standards and religious philosophies intended to keep the masses in line for the benefit of civilisation. Our ancestors had little need for such restrictions. A moral, amiable man can still die from heat, cold, starvation, thirst, strange infections, wild beasts, poisonous plants, and natural disasters. A rival village, even an empire, will attack, plunder, and enslave another, if its leaders are not dangerous and cunning enough, or its warriors are not watchful, skilled, ferocious, and numerous; the religious, peace-loving, sophisticated ideals of its citizens will not matter. This is how people acquired, built, and protected homes and civilisations in the past. Indeed, even current international borders that exist today were carved with the sweat, blood, and money of leaders, soldiers, and civilians alike.
However, these days, the average child does not need to endure gruelling training from childhood to defend his tribe one day. Instead, from early on, society teaches a child to be respectful, friendly, pliable, and empathic to all, to not stir up trouble, not agitate others, politely ignore bullies, and mercifully forgive offenders. Doctrines like this, seemingly benevolent guidelines to keep people safe, only serves to stifle healthy physical aggression, verbal assertiveness, mental power and true grit. They are taught to supress instincts that, when permitted, give rise to stronger, audacious individuals. Rather they are encouraged to adhere to the status quo, to not ask questions, and accept what society offers them. Forced to draw on existing sources and references, school systems inadvertently discourage original, critical thinking: whenever a professor criticises the lack of abundant citations in a student’s work, he is essentially saying to him, ‘You are not permitted to have or write about your own ideas,’ and ‘You are not capable of discovering this on your own. From where did you learn this?’ Children entrenched in a culture of weakness and impotency may survive in the 21st century. Such comical ideals, however, had no place in hostile medieval or feudal societies past, or in the ancient and unforgiving prehistoric world. Perhaps we believe we are in a better, safer world – a world in which we can safely abandon our strength and indulge in orgies without repercussions. We can pay no mind to incompetent leaders and radical dissenters because there is no immediate threat of conflicts and societal degeneration. We can trust education systems that undermine the scientific method, and rational, objective thinking, and shoves misinformation, falsified histories, erroneous statistics, brainwashing ideologies, and politically correct garbage into the minds of unsuspecting students. We can belittle the essence of family and community, and raise our children to be weak imbeciles who jump and roll at the command of their hormones, instead of wilful, practical individuals bent on thriving by any means possible. How can we not? We are no longer plagued by the hardships and dangers our ancestors constantly braved. We have moved past just survival – it is now a certainty and a privilege in this era. Perhaps if men of old did not have the foresight and the eagerness to toil on our behalf, laying the foundation on which our so-called better world stands today, we would all be dead. The point is not to speak ill of our society. Many brilliant and hardworking men and women contributed to its present grandeur, despite its shortcomings. The point is to emphasize the courage and tenacity of our predecessors that many modern people so often lack, regardless of our sophistication – or rather, because of it. That we are here today gives testament to their hardiness, the result of the driving force of a basic and urgent need of survival – a need that is foreign, even silly to many people today.
The need for survival is the fundamental instinct of every creature. It is especially true of humans. We can announce our biological dominance, superior intelligence, and ability to master the planet as much as we like. However, the fact cannot be understated. This instinct has driven us to seek ingenuous, safer, and comfortable ways of living. Our ancestors engaged in dangerous hunting, tedious gathering, and small-scale sustenance farming. We have plantations, orchards, animal farms, slaughterhouses, cold stores, food markets, coffee shops, restaurants, and extravagant kitchens, not to mention developments in medicine and pharmacy, advancements in technology and transportation. In the past, people travelled great distances on horseback or on foot. Today, kids cannot go around the block without riding a taxi.
Some people may find my argument novel, even strange that all human endeavours of modernisation originates from a primitive survival instinct. (Or perhaps I have given our ancestors too much credit. After all, they are probably responsible for inciting more wars, suffering, and death than we have so far.) But is my argument truly senseless? Does not survival necessitates becoming better than one’s environment? I cannot think of a better way to do so other than persistently controlling and shaping the environment to suite our own liking, claiming it from the wild, and carving territory. Perhaps, our ancestors understood this when they decided to hunt, farm, build, and go to war.
Mortality and Legacy
If humans could live forever, would that not be the ultimate satisfaction of this instinct to survive? What is the point of surviving, if we are going die anyway? Some plants, by virtue of their age and resilience, are practically immortal, able to live for hundreds or thousands of years. Even their seeds may, after years of dormancy, sprout into younglings when exposed to air and water. Some taxonomic groups of animals, such as the hydra, jellyfish, and bacteria, are biologically immortal – they do not age, that is, undergo physical deterioration, not like the manner in which humans and many other life forms begin to deteriorate physically after maturity and reproduction. After forty to sixty years, the average person’s bones get weaker and hollower, heart and blood vessels become less elastic, liver and lungs become less efficient, muscles atrophy, his eyes and brain begin to lose their youthful power. He knows his end is near. For many men who are fortunate enough to have lived long to see the arrival of the next generation after their children, the concern – or fear – is not of death, but of legacy. He wants to know whether there was some purpose to his life, some work of note, some heroic deed, or inheritance he can pass on, through which his name might live on. Unlike those extraordinary plants and animals whose formative years span a millennium, each man will meet his demise all too soon.
It is superfluous to talk about legacy in terms of only material inheritance. A very wealthy family, by virtue of being wealthy, can claim a genealogy of industrious people. Nevertheless, their wealth in truth could have less to do with influence and industry, and more to do with corruption and murder. Although, a person who wields any degree of influence in a society in all probability possess significant wealth as well. Besides, there have always been a social hierarchy in any civilisation, where there exists the rich and the poor, the rulers and the subjects, the generals and the infantry, the masters and the slaves, the privileged and the disadvantaged, the favourites and underdogs, the cunning and the gullible. In such social dynamics, the strong will dominate the weak in every way that they can be. Usually, it is not because the strong can or want to, but because the weak allow it. It is important to seek to determine one’s place in this world with utmost realism, to know whether they are strong or weak, because the strong and the weak usually tend to remain so for generations. In any case, people who wield power, if their demise inevitably comes around, would rather relinquish it to one of their own blood.
Traditions of Inheritance
Have you ever wondered how and why royal families came about? I have. In most historic kingdoms and empires, ongoing rule of a kingdom is usually the birthright of the ruler’s children, and after his death, the oldest son must succeed him as king or emperor. What about the times when there were no kings? Judges ruled ancient Israel, before its first king, Saul. Seven kings ruled England before William the Conqueror. Genghis, born Temujin to peasant families, rose to power through a life of volunteering, making alliances, warmongering, and vengeance. Perhaps kings really are made, not born. Whether by brutality or by divine will does not seem to make any difference. Yet, when a king dies, it seems only natural that his son should take his place. After all, he is his father’s son.
To discuss the history of every emperor, king, earl, duke, judge, and nobleman would be problematic, not to mention a bit long for a mere blog. Moreover, by giving too much attention to royalty, I run the risk of overlooking the strength, nobility, and bravery of the common people in history and alive today, whom I intend to appraise with this essay. For it seems to me that what made the institution of monarchy by lineage indisputable is also true of those who had to prove their worth in the world not by ruling a kingdom, but by surviving. A legendary warrior has as much legacy in his blood as a beloved king. And in times past, a man who dares to survive long enough to see his children survive as well must be no less than legendary. As a king teaches his sons how to be a king by word and deed, so a warrior does the same for his sons, as do the artist, the philosopher, the fisherman, and the farmer. When you look upon a strong, wise, beloved king, it is not outlandish that his subjects expect his heir to turn out just as majestic, if not more. It is, therefore, sensible that the descendants of a man of valour become just as heroic, if not more.
It is not difficult to find documented lineages of notable people today who belong to royal families and such; so unlike the average person, who can only trace his lineage to three, maybe four generations. It appears that the genealogy of royalty is more important because the stakes are higher: royalty, even without the mantle of king, prince, or duke, still confers an array of immense power and privilege in this modern society; thus, any moron should be unable to claim to be of noble blood without unquestionable evidence. But you, what honours or privileges can you bestow on a stranger who said to you, ‘I am your father’s son?’ Or rather, what possible use can you have of a man who claims to be a descendant of your great grandfather? You probably would laugh at him, unless he were a sultan, the owner of an international oil company, or a celebrity. I know I would. Even though I am not any of those, yet if he is not at all worthy of note, I find his claim questionable – amusing at best, insulting at worst. Having said that, is it truly terrible to discover that one may possibly have familial ties with a stranger? Are not your own brothers and sisters, strangers who happen to share the same parents as you? We certainly do not think of it that way. Perhaps we feel that our own families are special. We may not have blue blood, but no matter how low or destitute we are, we feel prideful, entitled, and better than any other family. This familial pride often finds subtle or overt manifestations in social unions such as friendships, marriages, sometimes even business. Although an old-fashioned practice these days, parents are still likely to scrutinise, disapprove of, and be hostile to a friend or lover solely because he or she comes from a certain family or tribe.
Yet it is interesting how this sensation is largely unconscious, one we express only in times when an outsider invades our household to threaten its ancestral supremacy and integrity, even if we ourselves have no idea what that entails. Many people live with lack of pride or motivation, and it is hard to say whether they care if it bothers them or their families. At the end of the day, it seems not knowing where one’s family resides in the hierarchy of society is a great determinant of the degree of importance and urgency with which they conduct their own lives. There is a reversal to this assumption, however. There are people who knew neither father nor mother, and still decided to make something of themselves. These individuals have more in common with many great kings of old who were made, not born.
If you learned nothing from this essay, at least learn this: You are the product of a thousand generations of men who survived. Who knows, there have been both great and terrible men and women in your ancestry: rulers, tyrants, generals, warriors, raiders, thieves, builders, artists, farmers, slaves, traders, entrepreneurs… the possibilities are many. It is naïve to assume that one’s ancestry is full of good, brave, cultured, and harmless people. It is just as presumptuous to assume that there could have been no unscrupulous, lazy, gullible, corrupt, immoral, oppressed, or ruthless characters in your lineage. If there were, can you honestly rebuke or hate any one of them for their way of life? They are dead, after all. In all probability, you should be grateful. They did what they had to do to survive and plunder their share of the world in which they lived. Otherwise, you may not be here. The dangers of the world have changed, but the fact remains, you still have to survive. Compared to their hardships, you can possibly thrive.
You should emulate your ancestors. Do what you have to do to thrive, as your ancestors did. Their capacity for strength, courage, knowledge, skill, leadership, cunning, brutality, and industry, and most essential, the instinct to survive, to be better, are in your blood. The social dynamics of success, power, and mating in this century has become even more complicated. It is unfortunate that many men today have neither the resources nor the social skills to seduce a suitable mate with whom they can procreate; their lineage will die out before the middle of this century. That fate invariably is their choice, the result of their own carelessness. The end of one’s lineage is considered a dreadful curse in many religions. Whether or not you subscribe to religion, it is not hard to understand why that is. Do not willingly partake in such a curse. The time to safeguard your posterity must start now. Begin with yourself, and then your children. Make sure you live in such a way that you shall have descendants long after you are gone. Become an ancestor they will be proud of, even if they will never know your name.