Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tropic Snow

We live in an age of identity politics. We are concerned with the “rights” of groups – whether based on ethnicity, sect, sexual orientation, economic class, or what-have-you – rather than the rights of individual human beings. We bemoan “cultural appropriation,” uneasiness about which prompted the University of Ottawa to cancel yoga classes last year; meanwhile we fret about cultural imperialism whenever a McDonalds opens outside of North America. The old Enlightenment notion that rights are natural to people (rather than peoples) has faded. Sorry, Teddy Roosevelt, we’re embracing that hyphen: in fact, the more hyphens the merrier.

Personally, I’m a fan of cultural appropriation. I think it’s a grand way to expand one’s experiences as a non-parochial person. I don’t have a problem with granfalloons per se, but how many examples do we need of the ease with which the rivalries of such groups can turn deadly? While sites like do a roaring business analyzing customers’ DNA to reveal the details of their ethnic heritage, it is well to remember just how recently (in the scheme of things) those ancestries converge to a single one.

Genetic studies show that 60,000 years ago the entire population of modern humans from whom we all descend numbered no more than 5000 people, a population smaller than that of the suburban fringe municipality where I live today. This alone makes it silly to take our modern granfalloons very seriously. From a location in East Africa they radiated across the African continent while a few hundred (yes, hundred) crossed to Arabia and populated the rest of the world, at first hugging the southern Eurasian coastline and hopping to Australia before infiltrating the chilly north and crossing to the Americas.

Strangely enough, the real point of this blog is their turn north. With a blizzard about to envelop the region where I live, that ancient push north looks to have been a bad move. I’ve dug out too many sidewalks and endured too many stabbing pains in frozen toes over too many years for snow and freezing temperatures still to be fun. Modern humans are tropical creatures from our gangly heat-shedding frames to our (largely) hairless skins. We are not suited to cold. What were our ancestors thinking when they saw snow and ice at the northern horizon and walked toward it? What am I thinking for staying at this latitude? Maybe they should have left those northerly territories to the Neandertals and Denisovans already occupying them. The early modern human migrants practiced cultural appropriation -- or just plain appropriation. True, had they stayed south they’d have missed out on some marvelous Wooly Mammoth steak barbecues, but all our toes would be a heck of a lot warmer today. 


  1. I think they went to Florida in the winter and back to New England in the summer. Sometimes they'd trek across to Arizona in the winter, then back up to Canada in the summers. Sometimes they'd take a spring break on Padre Island and say Yabba Dabba Doo when the quitting time horn sounded. I have no scientific evidence to back this up.

    1. Maybe the Florida resort was Wongo. In "The Wild Women of Wongo" (1958, filmed at the Coral Castle in FL) the ugly and beautiful men and women were in separate villages. I won't speculate as to where my ancestors resided.

    2. Oh man... that movie... that movie. Painful and yet hilarious all at the same time. Hope you were able to stay mostly warm by the time snowzilla struck.

    3. During casting, did actors compete for the roles of the ugly people?