At the intersection of Fathers’ Day and Independence Day, aka Founding Fathers’ Day, consider how we got the way we are.
Revisit your biology course of yesteryear and recall the pre-Darwinian theory of inheriting acquired traits known as Lamarckism. The French zoologist made the following observation: if a giraffe regularly stretches its neck to reach leaves, its children will be born with longer necks. Origin of the Species concluded, to the contrary, that evolutionary changes take place over many generations and through millions of years of natural selection. In the realm of pseudo-scientific causality, Lamarckism was filed away along with bad air as the cause of malaria.
Or so it seemed. Turns out DNA predestination ain’t necessarily so. While DNA shapes who we are, epigenetic mechanisms can shape DNA. Epigenetics evaluates changes in gene activity. The epigenome has been called software to the genome’s hardware. Good and bad behavior, it is now believed, can be passed along to successive generations. Body builders who take steroids, for example, may bequeath their shrunken testicles. It is as the Bible told us: iniquities of the father are visited upon the son.
Last fall Forbes ran a cover story entitled “How Obama Thinks,” moshed from a book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Dinesh D’Souza which deems that the President is channeling his absentee Kenyan father in Mau-Mauing American exceptionalism. In Dreams from My Father, D’Souza contends, “Obama isn’t writing about his father’s dreams; he is writing about the dreams he received from his father…. To his son, the elder Obama represented a great and noble cause, the cause of anticolonialism…. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America…. Colonialism today is a dead issue. No one cares about it except the man in the White House. He is the last anticolonial…. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.”
“I know a great deal about anticolonialism, because I am a native of Mumbai, India,” D’Souza contends. Following the strand of D’Souza’s legacy DNA, reveals that his parents are Roman Catholic Brahmins from the small west coast state of Goa, which was colonized by the Portuguese. Many Goan Christians were distressed when their state was decolonized and annexed by India in 1961, the year D’Souza was born. Though converted three centuries earlier, Catholic Brahmins retained the Hindu caste system that discriminates against so-called “untouchables” even if they too were Catholic converts. Indian bishops were rebuked by Pope John Paul II for these practices on his visit to Goa in 2003. By D’Souza standards, Dinesh extends a family tradition of currying favor with the ruling class by wielding his poison pen for Forbes heir, Steve, whose self-professed, most traumatic life experience was the day big daddy Malcolm packed him off to boarding school. Best not to delve too deeply into the way Forbes may be channeling the appetites of his old man.
Another intriguing trek down the legacy DNA strand leads to the forbearers of Rush Limbaugh. It might surprise “dittohead” followers of the arch-enemy of Big, Bad Federal government that there is a Limbaugh Federal Courthouse named for his grandfather in Ft. Girardeau, MO, Rush’s hometown on the Mason-Dixon line. Less surprising, is that the Limbaugh family website cites six ancestors who fought in the Civil War, all for the Confederacy. Lamarck might have observed that rednecks get more crimson through successive generations. It provides a cause-and-effect for what one journalist characterizes as “the southernization of American politics.” The South has risen again, ya’ll. The conflict continues to course through the true blue veins of red-blooded America; today we call it culture wars.
The epigenomic source for our continental divide can be traced back to the Founding Fathers, Federalists v Anti-Federalists. James Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist Paper No. 10, sounds off like the anti-colonial caricature of Obama: “the most common and durable source of factions (read special interests) has been the various and unequal distribution of property…. The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” Weighing in for the Antis, the pseudonymous, equally anti-colonial, Cato warned that, “In a large republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation,” that can lead to “a house divided against itself.” So factionalism proved out in the dirty presidential election of 1800, when Adams was branded a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” and Jefferson, “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
Of more recent vintage one might ask how is it that the Greatest Generation begat a Generation of Whining Juveniles? Men who prevailed through the Great Depression and World War II, not to mention the 91% top income tax rate in the ‘50s without weeping in public sired kids who tuned-in, dropped out then either Oprified into support groups or Rushed into tea baggers, victims all.
In the lead-up to Fathers’ Day, I asked contemporaries what they learned about fathering from their fathers. While some overhauled and others merely fine-tuned, all imparted the sense that fatherly influence is more art than science. So it is with the dynamic legacy bequeathed us by the Founding Fathers. Our nation is a work-in-progress, open to interpretation. The Founding Fathers guaranteed the right to claim so-called ‘original intent’, but never etched it stone.