I was going to title this post “Fate, Genes, Obama, and the Rest of Us,” but decided that “Cousin Obama” might do more to pique curiosity. After all, am I claiming that President Obama and myself have some traceable genealogical link? (Well, sort of.) Am I referring to our President’s “white” half, and the fact that he is as racially related to whites as to blacks? (No.) Maybe I’m referring to his Kenyan family, members of whom could call him by the title in the title. (No.) What I’m referring to is, well, “Fate, Genes, Obama, and the Rest of Us.”

Fate: The genetic confluence of an obviously gifted left-leaning Kenyan (later) Harvard grad student in economics with a more subtly but similarly gifted woman of English and German descent in a Russian Language class at the University of Hawaii, followed by the rich culturally diverse and sense-of-wonder laden childhood that that mother provided to the immediate product of that genetic confluence, who then goes on to be a very socially conscious, academically brilliant, oratorically gifted politician, experiencing a meteoric rise in prominence, resulting in one of the most exhilarating and emotional presidential victories in the history of the nation.

Genes: We are dealt a hand from the same very large and complex deck, one which defines who we are at birth. Barack Obama clearly was dealt an exceptional hand. The person that Bruce L.R. Smith describes in his Washington Post Column on Barack Obama Sr., reprinted in the Denver Post (, is a father in whom one can see the son foreshadowed, though the father had virtually no hand in the creation of that son other than to contribute his sperm and his memory. And the mother President Obama has described is similarly but differently endowed, creating the kind of genetic and cultural complement that provides the best chance of producing off-spring which combines and transcends the gifts of both parents.

Obama: The dealing of a genetic hand to each new person born, from the constantly reshuffled deck, produces an endless variety of unique individuals. From the distinctly finite emanates the nearly infinite. President Barack Obama is a unique individual, complete with strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, natural endowments and flaws. He is not just the (more than) sum of his genes, but also of his experience, of how he was raised (by a mother who instilled in him his sense of both social responsibility and wonder about the world, and by grandparents who instilled in him traditional American values), and of the social contexts in which the narrative of his life spun itself out.

The Rest of Us: The description of President Obama above describes each and every one of us. And it does not describe us in mutual isolation, but as unique swirls and eddies in a shared stream, less “individual” than our hyper-individualistic ideology is wont to acknowledge, non-existent without the stream of which we are a part. The river of reproduction is a single flow of interwoven currents. We are all cousins, all related and interrelated, threads in a dynamic tapestry weaving itself as we weave our ways through our own interconnected lives.

We are indeed all genealogically related, all human beings on this Earth, all descendants of “Mitochondrial Eve” who lived between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago ( And the clusters and branches within that family, defined through the drama of human history, are generated by fascinating tales. According to one genetic study, 0.5% of the male population of the world is directly descended from Genghis Kahn, who, as is known to have had dozens of legitimate and illegitimate children ( How many more such tales exist, that have not been studied, and that don’t always involve historically famous personages?

Who we are genetically, the deck from which our genetic cards have been dealt, was determined most broadly by natural history (carving out the branch of primates that we are), broadly enough to encompass all living human beings in the interim period between natural history and recorded human history called “prehistory,” in broad swathes by both recorded and unrecorded real-life dramas throughout human history, and in most precise detail by the unique (and therefore statistically astronomically improbable) confluence of events which caused the genes of our respective parents to converge in and genetically define each of us.

But there is another, similar, pattern overlaid atop this one, faster, more superficial, but fleshing out the narrative, realizing the potential that the genetic story creates. As I’ve discussed in several essays now (The Politics of Consciousness , Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix), the underlying dynamics of human history echo natural history, the pattern of genetic (biological) evolution being quite closely repeated in memetic (cultural) evolution. The study of geographic and historic distributions and evolutions of languages, religions, technologies, political forms (and social institutional forms in general, including family, community, economy, military, and so on), the combined landscape of all such cultural-cognitive artifacts, maps out a dynamical pattern of how we speak, think, believe, wonder, act, and live that, like the genetic story beneath it, also reshuffles and deals from an ever-evolving deck (one evolving far more rapidly than the genetic one).

We are each instances of these multi-layered narratives, defined by currents both broad and specific, from the general to the particular, determining what kind of species we are, what range of variation we encompass, what developmental branches have been carved out from that range, what sub-branches and twigs have led to the context which produced us, and what combination of particular genes, and unique life experiences, in the end define us each as marginally unique, but deeply similar and tightly interconnected, human beings.

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