Consanguinity

9 August 2003

As is so often the case, it’s a lot easier to preach than to practice.

I keep rediscovering this with our horses, and when I look back on the latest contest of will, I invariably realize that the horse has been right, and I have been wrong, even though I have won.

It’s happening far less than it used to. But the question is, why does it happen at all, especially since I preach a doctrine of respect, embedded within a modern version of the notion of consanguinity?

As the dictionary defines it, consanguinity is, « a relationship resulting from common ancestry. »

In mediaeval times, consanguinity was tremendously important because it referred to the arcane practice of tracing blood lines — and that determined who inherited land before King Henry VIII brought in the Statute of Wills during the mid-1500s.

There were degrees of consanguinity. A fourth degree, for instance, was higher on the scale of inheritance than a fifth degree. But the underlying notion was that blood lines could be traced back to their beginnings in the Garden of Eden.

Fast forward, now, to the scientific insights of 2003, and the world of photons, neutrons, and the sub-atomic organization of life, where every living thing is composed of recycled material.

An atom in your finger, thanks to a glass of milk, may have come from the grass of a nearby dairy farm. And before becoming grass, it could have been recycled through fish, fibre, root, or blossom back to the dinosaurs and far beyond.

Science, then, is proclaiming a common ancestry among all living things, traceable past the Garden of Eden to the beginnings of the universe.

So, to return to horses: What does this mean in everyday life? First of all, it means a shared inheritance among all things. It means relationships that should be recognized and honoured. It means respect for other forms of life.

It means seeking co-operation from a horse — which, to pick a number at random, may be 19th in degree of consanguinity among species — instead of seeing the horse as something to be summarily pushed around.

The encouraging part of this is, the more I seek co-operation from a horse — the more I demonstrate respect — the more the horse co-operates. Why, then, do I have these lapses into pushiness? Why do I seek domination instead of collaboration?

The answer, I’ve learned, is that I get impatient. There are always so many other things that need doing, and practising respect takes time. It means seeking the path of least interference.

Another thing I’ve learned is that the path of least interference has universal application. Once on it, you ask different questions, and get different answers.

For instance, if you’re concerned about hunger in the world. you might ask, « How do we supply more food? » If you’re following the path of least interference, you have to ask « Why is there hunger? » because you can’t avoid catastrophic meddling unless you know what’s causing the hunger.

Many who ask the first question say the way to supply more food is through genetic engineering. But cloning and introducing foreign genes are a massive interference, and have uncharted consequences over the long term.

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