Monday, 12 January 2009

Where do you stay?

I’ve already mentioned in a previous posting the complexities around the links between genes and Jewishness. Sharing an ethnicity does not mean sharing an exclusive genepool. There can be more variation within shared ethnicities than between them. And the link between genes and nationalities is even more complex, although perhaps less so in a small country like Scotland which has had relatively little immigration. Perhaps nationalities are (becoming) more memetic than genetic – one can learn to be a different nationality through subconsciously, or consciously, adopting the mores of the people around you.

For example, when I was a child we drank coffee. We hardly ever drank tea. Although my parents were both born in England, one grew up in America and the other was the child of German and Austrian immigrants, and neither had a history of drinking tea. Even as a child I drank coffee for breakfast. Now (perhaps as a result of living in Yorkshire for several years and having a partner from there) I drink tea all the time, and so does my father. Has he learnt it from me?

But sometimes you can get stuck in the middle – for example, I never know what to reply when someone asks me where I ‘stay’. Scottish people use the word as a synonym for ‘live’ or ‘reside’. If I reply ‘I stay at…’ it feels artificial, as if I’m appropriating someone else’s language. But if I reply ‘I live at…’ it implies I’ve thought about using the word ‘stay’, have rejected it as being too Scottish for me, and have retreated to ‘standard’ English. Either alternative makes me feel self-conscious.

Perhaps I should make up my own word.

I’ve learnt that genes are influenced by their envronment, too. They get turned on, or ‘expressed’, by influences surrounding them. This environment stretches all the way from the neighbouring genes, through the rest of the cell, the host organism, and the wider environment. So, genes are not little bullet entities that whistle unperturbed through their host organisms, only randomly mutating. (This concept of ‘random mutations’ sounded so dangerous when I first read about it and I couldn’t figure out why until I realised that it’s a reminder of radioactivity.)

This adaptation to your surroundings can be reflected in laws on nationality. Different countries have different attitudes and laws on the conferring of nationality is conferred. Some use ‘blood’ (e.g. Germany before 2000) through which you can confer your nationality to your offspring even when they’re born outwith the country, others use ‘territory’(e.g. USA) through which your offspring automatically achieve that nationality by virtue of being born there. Those that use territory – do they place more emphasis on learning behaviours and attitudes, such as the desire to aspire to ‘American’ ideals? Because there are no genetic links to rely on to hold society together?

Notice that I used the Scots word ‘outwith’ in the previous paragraph. Perhaps I’m adapting my language after all.

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