John Mattingly: Home Land Security

When leaders and legislators use the word “homeland,” war is usually on the way. Putting the words “home” and “land” together commutes a national notion to one’s home and has been a reliable motivator for raising or deploying a fighting force. Young people in particular, the most able to fight, and who have been living at home for most of their lives, are easily tricked by this play on words. The prospect of defending the home of your parents, spouse, or children motivates the fighting spirit far more than the truth, which is that gutless, lard-bound leaders need young people to do their bidding and generate profits for the war machinery.

All U.S. soldiers who fought for their homeland since WWII may now wonder if that defense of their home might have been better achieved by staying home. It follows that these soldiers would have an understandable curiosity about what they have actually defended. Gay marriage? Bathroom privacy for transgenders? GMO corn and soybeans? Free pornography? For-profit health care? Expensive or dubious education? Hot dogs and fireworks? An unlivable minimum wage? Where is that homeland and what is it, exactly? What is a nation?

For perspective, a long, long time ago homo sapiens started gathering in tribes as they left Africa, so many years ago that whatever the exact number, it is difficult to reference, if not comprehend. It is a large number of years from the point of view of a human lifetime, but a small number when referenced to the degree of biome domination achieved by humans in such a short time, and it is an unimaginably small number when compared to the incunabular years of the universe, or birth of the Earth.

From proxy genetic data we know that some tribes went north and met the Neanderthals, interbreeding with them and eventually overwhelming their genes. Humans of northern European descent carry from two to twelve percent Neanderthal genes to this day, giving them resistances to certain diseases and a hardiness for surviving in cold climates. Other tribes went west into what is now the Mediterranean nations and England, and others went east into the Fertile Crescent and China. Still others continued east out of China, crossed the American continent and met up with the descendants of the tribes who, untold thousands of years earlier, had gone west out of Africa. What we now call Native Americans had no idea that the Europeans who arrived on the East Coast of what is now the U.S. were their distant relatives. They had no idea that they shared a common ancestral mother, Mitochondrial Eve in Africa. All humans now alive on the planet have the same mitochondrial DNA, meaning we are all descended from the same aboriginal mother.

This stirs inevitable curiosity about the incestuous breeding that had to occur among early homo sapiens. It may be that many of the qualities we hold dear and special about human beings, such as empathy, self consciousness, a large brain capable of extraordinary generalization are the result of line breeding, an intentional strategy now employed by breeders of other mammals, such as horses, dogs and rats, to accentuate certain characteristics, and a strategy that early humans embraced out of necessity. Only when double recessive genes began to manifest as aberrant offspring did human cultures make incest a taboo.

In any event, the long story short is that current genetic research now shows us that we really are related, and more closely related than we ever imagined, and we live at home: Earth. We started out as tribes, graduated to communities and collectives, and organized cultures into villages and, finally, city-states. When interactions between city-states reached a threshold of interactive complexity, nation-states developed and evolved through war and negotiation. That process of nation-building is still going on but is doing so in the midst of a rapid movement toward a sporadically developing global state.

Clearly, the interactive complexity of nations is on the verge of demanding more global structures: a global currency, legal system, and law enforcement. The time we dissipate in currency exchanges alone is remarkable, and a global currency could eventually be a boon to worldwide economic health. Legal issues often transcend national boundaries, and a world court is going to be a necessity in this century.

Of course, this sort of talk is anathema to homeland security, and all the arguments against global structures are the very same arguments offered against a federal government having some authorities over our fifty states, a debate that still rages today. And they are probably the same arguments made by those tribes that left Africa a long time ago when faced with collectives, and then collectives made these arguments against city-states and city-states against nation states. There will be wars and argument, but a global state is inevitable if humans survive. Speaking of which, it is high time we listened to E.O. Wilson rather than a pack of preachers: the Bible is interesting but gives scarce guidance for survival on Earth and actually stimulates conflict over whose theory of the world is better. The guidance we need as mammals on Earth is best sought from our fellow species who have been around for a long, long time – much longer than we have. The book of Biology is the real best seller, not the Bible, and offers security based on deeds and demonstration rather than belief and hope.

Security is, after all, ephemeral at best, and best known for its false sense. Earth is actually a dangerous place which has been relatively secure for the proliferation of mammals over the last 5,000 years. That is 5,000 years out of approximately 4,500,000 years of relative turmoil. Humans, who live longer than all other mammals, have contributed many wonderful things, but also many messes. Living in times of enormous transition confirms the old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” Blessing or curse?

John Mattingly cultivates prose, among other things, and was most recently seen near Poncha Springs.