Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fate of my fathers

Last year, I remarked to a FB thread that the Irish might have suffered trauma in surviving An Gorta Mór. A recent study verified this epigenetic transfer to children born to parents who had endured the Holocaust, after all. I was mocked immediately as if I was trying to support white privilege, and as if I was discounting somehow the experience of the Middle Passage and black slavery and abuse.

Not sure how all this equates in the victimhood sweepstakes, but it wasn't my intent to enter that contest. I merely wondered, as Séan de Fréine did half a century ago in his little book The Great Silence, how the impact of the sudden and dramatic loss of one's identity rooted in language, culture, and family might be shattered so its effects were transferred by mores and habits from those effected.

In de Fréine's account, he focused on the nationalist legacy, but I recall hearing Garrett O'Connor speak of this in nature as well as nurture terms twenty-odd years ago. His chapter on this topic in Tom Hayden's The Great Famine collection of essays suggested from O'Connor's treatment of we Irish how this might have come down 150 years later, and left imprints on dynamics and complexes.

My ancestral region has lost 80% of its population since that mass death and emigration crippled its economy, its coping mechanisms, and its people's prospects. How might that have emanated in my forebears? How, huddled in a farmhouse rebuilt around 1851, might they have dealt with this--or not?

Psychoanalyst Michael O'Loughlin explores this, and he lists some of the research advanced. It's no longer apparently a fringe idea, despite my FB deniers. As genetics progresses, so do explanations.

Now, I write this short entry far from my expertise, but I raise it anew as I happened to see one pundit fear how this upsetting behavior undergone by millions now might echo down the DNA so to speak. The shakeup among half the nation in terms of their expectations for the election leaves many around me self-medicating with more pot, more booze, and more indulgences. I lack this reaction, but it may be indeed my inherited detachment from emotion from my own clan, who knows? An useful article in Discover Magazine in March 2013 elaborates discoveries of Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf.

Apparently I am vindicated. While my own family history is left for discretion off this day's reflections, I can see evidence for supporting patterns I have inherited from stress and separation very early on. While this does not ease my challenges directly, it does offer me explanations for why I am at least in part--is it nature and nurture?-- the way I perplexingly am, facing a topsy-turvy New Year.

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