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 Ancestry.com 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.