Presenting a punchy father’s day reflection for your weekend, I give you my [online] friend, Old Man Lance Brown…
Genealogy is a growth industry. There’s a good chance you know someone who has taken a DNA test to learn about their ethnic ancestry or created an online family tree. Amateur family historians spend millions of hours and billions of dollars on their hobby and many professionals make a nice living helping people explore their roots. Even as the family is undermined and denigrated, even as birth rates crash and marriage has become a perverted joke, the natural desire for kinship persists.
It’s an interesting contrast. In an age when basic biological truths are denied, the rapidly progressing science of genetics reconnects us to reality and to the past. For example, the Y chromosome is passed only from father to son, one generation to the next, tracing down the paternal line. As such, Y-DNA testing is available only to males. Biological males. Actual males. It doesn’t matter if you self-identify as an albino butterfly or transsexual artichoke. DNA doesn’t care. Similarly, mitochondrial DNA is inherited by all of us only from our mothers. We are made male and female. You have a paternal line of genetic inheritance and a maternal line. No amount of gender theorizing, cross-dressing, surgical mutilation, or performative protesting can change these facts. Another example, people who say things like ‘there’s only one race, the human race’ will, at the same time, often find themselves fascinated by what genetic genealogy can tell them about their racial/ethnic heritage. And we’ve all seen the amusing clips of racial purists confronted with their own impurity.
In addition to the explosion in genetic genealogy, more traditional forms of climbing up the branches on our family trees have also been aided by technological developments. Records once kept locked away are scanned and made available on the internet. Sophisticated algorithms and rudimentary AI make it possible to find familial needles in historical haystacks. You can see how immigrants assimilated and became American over time. How fortunes were made and lost in an era before cronyism at the top and welfare at the bottom shut down social mobility in what used to be the land of the free (free to succeed and also free to fail). Using your smartphone or tablet you can search through old newspapers (the social media of the past) to learn about the daily lives of the men and women you descend from.
One of the men whose blood flows in my veins was named David Brown. He was born in 1852, the youngest of nine boys. Several of his older brothers fought in the War Between the States. David lived most of his life in the town of Hollidaysburg, PA and had six children of his own. He died many years and several generations before I came along. But a while back, in the course of investigating my ancestry, I found some old newspaper articles about David. Among the things I learned about him, I discovered he would occasionally participate in public debates. I got a real kick out of these below from the 1890s….
David was no Luddite. He understood science and industry could be used to improve our lives. But he also recognized the potential dangers of the disruptions caused by technological advancement.
From April of 1890:
David was clearly on the right side of the prohibition question.
From December of 1894:
Great men from Jesus to Martin Luther to Lando Calrissian have appreciated a good drink.
As you can see here, David had a good sense of humor (that would not be received so well today….)
From April of 1895:
I guess back then a man needed a woman like a fish needs a bicycle. He clearly came of age before the 19th amendment started us down the slide to becoming a nation of soy boys.
I understand why he lost this next one, but even when he was wrong he was still right.
From March of 1896:
Some might say there’s a family resemblance.
From October of 1891:
See. I can’t help it. It’s genetic.
Looking at these snippets from long ago there’s much to appreciate. Notice how the church was at the center of community and culture. How the existence of different races, different groups of people, was acknowledged but not obsessed over. And not used as a weapon to divide and conquer. Notice how voluntary associations (mutual aid societies, etc) were a significant presence. Consider how informed men had real debates. Instead of today’s snark battles and flame wars (a form of discourse largely dominated by, and best suited to, tweenage girls and gays). And see how thoughtful men argued about the best ways to use new technology, weighing the costs and benefits to human flourishing.
The 20th century has often been referred to as ‘The American Century’. I’m not sure we should be so pleased with that. The 20th century was indisputably the bloodiest in all of human history. Chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and mechanized warfare stacked up corpses like mountains and poured out oceans of blood. Modern-day child sacrifice (a.k.a. abortion) doubled down on carnage. World War I smashed what remained of Christendom. Europe was battered by fascism, socialism, and now Islam seems poised to finish the job in the new millenium. Even as America rose to the status of Superpower so much of what made our country great in the first place was being compromised. The foundations eroding away. The sexual revolution became the reign of terror we now live with everyday. Government grew, faith faded, civil society crumbled, and our constitutional republic slid into soft despotism.
Why did a century of so much innovation, so much scientific and technological achievement, produce so much tyranny and so many horrors? Because too often those in positions of authority, those charged with preserving our civilization and passing on the patrimony entrusted to us by our forefathers failed. They failed to comprehend the nature of, prepare for the scale of, and keep up with the pace of so much change. Most of the social and cultural upheaval conservatives wrestle with flows from repeated and ongoing failures to adapt the institutions of civil society to deal with the disruption caused by wave after wave of technological change. Social conservatives generally, and defenders of orthodoxy and orthopraxy within the Church specifically, have been especially bad at this.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Sound science reveals and confirms truths about the world God created. And when technology is used wisely, in harmony with our biology and for God-pleasing purposes, it’s a great blessing. Genetics, like math, can be an enemy of the sexual revolutionaries and a friend to the proponents of patriarchy. The internet can be used to spread the Gospel. Nanotechnology can be used to deliver medical assistance to babies in the womb. It’s up to us how we choose to use the tools available.
The Progressive movement was self-consciously and explicitly an application of industrialization to politics. They conceived of civilization as one big factory administered by the elite progressive managerial class with help from their subordinate union bosses to enforce mediocrity and maintain conformity. Now their ideological descendants (on both Left and Right) treat human beings as mere economic units to be shuffled around across borders without regard to culture and they use modern telecommunications to trap us all in a prison of constant Orwellian surveillance. Political conservatism has a mixed record handling technological advancement. There have been some achievements but so far the the structural changes put in place by progressives have rarely, if ever, been reversed (universal suffrage, the welfare state, legalized abortion, etc). And the Church is, in some ways, still struggling with the early Industrial Revolution. To say nothing of hormonal contraception and the internet. Though the revival of Confessional Lutheranism and similar movements in other denominations of Christianity have done good, to be sure. But more change, more disruption is coming. Rather than try to hide from it, or allow ourselves to be ruled by it, we must apply wisdom and make technology work for us and our purposes. If not, there will be even greater destruction of life. In every sense.
Forget the 50s and put aside weak tea conservativism longing for the mid 20th century. As we move forward and face great challenges, let’s take some inspiration from small town America in the 19th century. Not a bad place to live.
Imagine that, people used to have a sense of humor. Huh.
For the record, David returned to the Burg. He was buried there.