Memory, Alienation, History

The play Mnemonic begins with a monologue about the location of memory processes in the brain and continues on to contemplate the genealogy of humankind:

“Anyway, our job, the job of remembering, is to reassemble, to literally re-member, put the relevant members back together. But what I am getting at is that remembering is essentially not only an act of retrieval but a creative thing, it happens in the moment, an act, an act of the imagination. Of course if memory is this chaotic map it’s highly likely that you will lose your way and retrieve or imagine something you didn’t expect because you take a different route than the one you thought you should. For example as I stand here trying to remember my text, for some reason my father is coming to my mind.”

Culturally, we expend a lot of energy in the name of what is essentially a misunderstanding of memory.  Visiting “the old country,” taking on old religions, and more.  Memory is an act of creating the future.

To go all the way back, MIT’s human genome project concluded that except for the Basque region of Spain, all of Europe is descended from a group of about fifty people who left central Africa around 60,000 years ago and then inbred for the next 30 generations. Until, eventually, new blood was introduced.

The human genome sequence (a published book), serves as a common parts list for any human being because as a species, we’re 99.9 percent similar. But that 0.1 percent difference—one in every 1,000 letters of DNA—makes our individuality. One in a thousand. That 0.1 % is us.  So that’s who we are. Essentially we’re no different from anyone who has ever lived.

And those “one-in-a-thousand” single letter differences have all been mapped, too. Those little things determine everything different about you.  Anything different. Anything. There’s a map. Now we can study a particular gene that makes you susceptible to a certain disease, or used very simply, to trace ancestry.

I know many people like to think that all of history leads up to them. They’re the proud figurehead, leaning out over the sea, carved into the bow of S.S. Humanity. As if in medieval Europe there was some guy with your last name, who sat on his throne in a castle dreaming that in forty generations there would be you, and in you all his hopes lay.

Not true. The Population Science Bureau calculates that 17.6 billion people have been born. Our species is so inbred that if there was a single line going back to that medieval you, to get from you to him, just parental lineage, no siblings, it would require more people than who have ever been born. Seriously, two trillion people.

So how’s that possible? It’s not. Because there’s no such thing as that Rockwellian family tree. It’s a web that covers the planet. We’re all inbred, we’re all related. We can never be sure where our linage comes from, where it crosses paths with itself, where it doubles, and who else comes in and what makes us any different. Remembering is the creation of the web, not the listing of past events.

So, we are related to everyone who has ever lived and we’re all essentially the same. So, we should stop fighting, right? But we can’t. Here is the key for me. Why can’t we stop?  I think it comes down to fear; because certain personality types will always conflict in the same ways. Certain kinds people will have certain kinds of fears, and common behaviors based on those fears.

Our genetic dispositions, or our inherited wealth, or inherited poverty – whatever it is, brought on by nature or nurture, whatever… people have weaknesses.  The kind that would keep them from leaving Africa and going north, bravely following the Woolly Mammoth.

Sadly there are personality types, mixed with intelligence levels, which are self-aware just enough to see their own weakness but yet unable to act on it.

That’s tragedy.  Like an individual who wants to go hunt the large Mammoths of the unknown northland, he wants that thrill, he craves that meat, but he knows he can’t, because he’s afraid, and he knows he’s afraid simply because he can’t not be afraid. And this poor scared man watches the other fifty go up to settle Europe.  He’s fully aware of why.

That’s the weight I imagine in the Treppenworte.

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