Ancestry, Tradition, and the Self

About two weeks ago, I tweeted this remark on the idea of introducing yourself by means of “X, son of Y” format that we see in epic poems like The Odyssey.  Shortly afterward, I was treated to this gem by a fellow tweeting under the handle of C-LAR (you should follow him if you don’t already, by the way).  I had a reply all typed up, but yesterday, I realized I never actually sent it out.  Oops.  I also realized that it wouldn’t be too difficult to turn my thoughts into a blog post, so here you go.  Some quick thoughts on ancestry in slightly more than 140 characters.

On my father’s side of the family, each and every one of the eldest son’s has been bestowed a name that begins with the letter “J”. My real name begins with “J”, as does my father’s, and his father before him.  I believe my great-grandfather had a “J” name as well, although I know little of my family’s history from before my grandfather came over from the old country.

I don’t think this happened on purpose, but even so, I consider it a family tradition of sorts, and one that I believe I have a duty to maintain and uphold.  I intend for my eldest son to have a “J” name, and I very much hope that my eldest grandson will have a “J” name as well.  Is this perhaps a bit too much involvement on something that is ultimately meaningless?  I would expect that if you happen to be reading this right now, you recognize that this is an intellectually dishonest question because tradition, even in regards to something like this, does in fact have intrinsic meaning.

As reactionaries, we realize an important truth that seems to go over the heads of many in society today: Tradition is not an impediment to self-expression, but instead, a means of facilitating it.  Where you come from and who you descend from are both key parts of who you are.  In embracing these things, you develop a firmer sense of who you are and what your place in the world can be.  The question “Who am I?” becomes a less menacing conundrum to approach.  In rejecting the context and traditions into which you are born, you reject a part of yourself.

Now, there are some who take solace in the achievements of their forefathers and derive a sense of self from this.  While they have the right idea, I don’t find this to be the most optimal way of going about things.  Being descended from people who did great things should NOT be reason to sit on your ass and become complacent but should rather be an impetus to achieve greater things in life and live up to the glory of your ancestors.  My father’s lineage goes back to the legionnaires of the Roman Empire, and my mother’s to the Normans, the last group of non-natives to ever successfully invade and conquer England.  Is this sufficient reason to gloat and pat myself on the back?

Of course not.  To do so would be ridiculous.  I did not fight for Rome or defeat the Anglo-Saxon armies.  These things are certainly reasons to take pride in my ancestry, but why should I take personal pride in those achievements?  There’s no reasonable way of justifying that.  Instead, these accomplishments put upon me a standard of excellence that I must (at the very least) seek to equal.  I also truly believe that if I cannot find some way to at least equal these heroic efforts, I will dishonor my predecessors and bring shame upon myself.  A bit extreme?  Maybe, but thinking along this sort of line certainly helps light a fire under my ass that provides additional impetus to study hard, stuff my head full of knowledge, push myself in the gym, and get shit done in general.

So when it comes down to it, I won’t begrudge anyone a bit of pride in their ancestry and ethnicity, provided they have a healthy sense of the proper way to view those things.  The rejection of tradition that persists in our modern world is not an optimal paradigm to buy into.  Be aware of your lineage, honor your ancestors, and know where you came from.  If you want to revolt against the modern world, that’s a good place to start.

If you are interested in reading more about ancestry and heritage, I recommend poking around Archeofuturist.  He hasn’t posted anything in about a month, but he was on a roll for a while there, so the archives are pretty good.  Jack Donovan also has a few good things to say as well.  This post, for example, is particularly relevant.

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