Our (Mostly Imaginary) Aryan Ancestry

How the Racists get it Backward: The Aryans were a Mongrel ‘Race’

Discussions about ‘race’ are hopeless, for one fundamental and inescapable reason: In the human species, there are no races. We are one, closely related family. A ‘race’ is a population of a species that has, for any of many reasons, become separate from the rest of that species for long enough, or in a sufficiently different environment to speed up evolution enough, that the process of genetic divergence has left them still able to mate with members of the greater population but less able to successfully raise the results of that mating. This is known as ‘fecundity’ and its loss is the only characteristic of any importance in deciding whether or not that population is separate enough from the rest to be called a race while not separate enough to be a new species.

For which reason, the human species has no races, or any populations displaying any loss of fecundity and thus even on the road to becoming a race. We have absolutely nothing even remotely like races; our species suffered a near-extinction event 75,000 years ago that reduced our population to so few members that we had only somewhere between seven and thirty-five breeding females left. That’s why, even as our numbers on the planet reach seven billions, spread over the whole planet, we are all more closely related to each other than the litter-mates of purebred dogs are, by some seven times.

If you presented to a geneticist the genes of an Inuit and those of a South African, or any other two examples of populations no matter how separated in time or space, that geneticist would say, if he had no other information to go on, that the species sampled had insufficient genetic variation to survive as a species.

This is so hard for people to believe because so much of our brainpower is dedicated to detecting patterns, to organizing what we see into groups of similar characteristics.

We’re fooled by our own assumptions. We take the kind of adaptations that one group of fully human beings make to their local conditions, like the need for dark skins in the presence of direct solar radiation and light skin in more angled, muted sunlight, as if they had some larger genetic meaning. They don’t. Populations of cultural animals will create a local culture among themselves, which will unavoidably be different from that in other places; we take that, too, to mean something larger than it does. We are driven to judge others by how much like us they are or aren’t, as if that has some larger meaning.

It doesn’t. The use of the word ‘race’ in speaking of humans is incorrect and even dangerous.

White supremacists and Trump supporters – forgive the redundancy – believe above all else in the superiority of ‘Euro-Americans’, and cling desperately to their ideas of a ‘white civilization.’ They base this delusion on a group of people called Aryans who brought advancement and civilization first to India, then east to the Mediterranean and into Europe some eight to six thousand years ago; this group is supposed to have been a blond-haired, blue-eyed race of superior super-beings that we need to somehow selective-breed our way back to.

Which is garbage. Yes, there were Aryans; yes, some of them were light-complected; but no, no, no. They did exist. They did bring great advancements in cultures they encountered. But they were never a ‘race’, they had no genetic ‘purity’ at all, and this great sweep of Indo-European culture owed its vitality and inventiveness to all the other cultures of the prehistoric world.

They were everybody from everywhere. They were not a ‘race’ at all; they were mongrels.

This is the simple, complex truth that turns the very core of the racial supremacist argument inside out. If people did but know, their shining claim to genetic greatness is the world’s best argument for inclusion.

Between 10 and 15 millennia ago, a group of people started moving into ‘The Roof of the World’ from the populations already established in ice-free areas of China, Africa, the Middle East and around the Mediterranean, and moving into the Caucuses and Russia as the ice receded. The Himalayans were right in the middle of an explosion of growing civilizations in the lowlands in almost every direction.

People were moving into valleys and along passes throughout the range, primarily, in that unforgiving, unproductive place, as passageways between those developing civilizations for travel and trade. They were there to help, hinder, house, rob, care for and kill the many travelers traversing this land with their goods. It wasn’t a mass movement of peoples, but a slow trickle of individuals there for their own interests. It was a demanding, and often deadly, place to be; but the growing trade between these cultures made these dangerous passes yet the easiest path between these centers.

Over the early millennia of the interglacial period that began about 10,000 years ago and is now ending, this disparate group was so advantaged by their cut of the exchange that they became powerful, and eventually their culture and gene pool swept down to the south and west, transforming cultures in a huge sweep whose influence is still being felt.

It’s clear from what we know of this nascent culture that their growing power was not just from the wealth pouring through their hands. Not being a specific culture growing out of a population’s adaptations to some specific environment with all the superstitions and prejudices inherent to such tribal groups, but an ad-hoc assembly of cut-throats and pirates, the culture that very gradually developed was able to take materials and ideas from every civilization it encountered and apply those as needed, helpfully bereft of all that local cultural garbage. Thus it was strongly pragmatic; stories of magical beings resident in a tree had no appeal for people with a vital, essential need for using that tree, and any other asset, to survive a very hostile, dangerous environment. And by being central to all these diverse cultures around it, it was able to use anything anyone on the planet had learned about that tree, stripped of religious connotations.

And so these people gradually developed an amazing powerful culture out of all those around it, and open to use every resource available in the Eastern Hemisphere – because the Aryans were themselves built out of people from all areas of the populated world. Even natives from North America made it into this group, which is not as surprising as it seems; before it receded, the ocean-facing front of the vast fields of ice covering northern continents was a highway rather than barrier to prehistoric native groups who knew how to make and use boats that gave them access to the animals that feed along these glacial fronts as they dump nutrients from the land into the sea.

So how do we know all this? Some of it is from modern genetic studies. We can see the genetic footprint of the path the Aryan civilization took as it influenced the Indian and Mediterranean cultures it blended with. Before this intrusion, Europeans were largely inter-related, a genetic stock that now shows its purest manifestations in the people of Sardinia, where the incoming populations had least effect.

But that doesn’t mean one distinct gene pool being blended into or replacing another. The way we can use gene studies to see the influence of the Aryan outmigration is that, in place after place, a specific genetic stock is replaced by one that blends all the genetic material from Europe, Asia and Africa. So the genetic picture is clear; in location after location as they moved South and West, relatively consistent genetic stocks were replaced not by one other but by all the gene pools on the planet – purity replaced by variety.

The most direct evidence we have is from art. We have almost nothing that reveals who these people were or what they thought of the world, or how they organized themselves. We don’t know what they called themselves; since it was a constantly changing group, continually taking in people from all the cultures of the world, it has been suggested our failure to discover what language they spoke or what name they gave themselves may well be because they had no consistent language, and didn’t give themselves a name. Maybe they didn’t even see themselves as a ‘people’ in the modern sense at all, and so the only name that comes down to us, ‘Aryan’, is that given to them by the people they encountered.  Aryan is simply a word in a Northern Indian dialect meaning ‘The People’ as a term of admiration, sometimes interpreted as The Right or The Good People, the people who had it all figured out.

But we have their art.

People traveling through this amazing culture would have been astounded at what they saw. From any place they would have come out of, their culture would have found all the natural dyes available to them in that place, and so their eyes would have gotten used to that fairly limited palette. But the Aryans had every dye from every culture available to them, and flaunted it.  They would have used them everywhere they could to impress others with their power and reach. It must have been astounding to see brilliant and subtle colors and fine shading such as they could see nowhere else.

Apparently for this reason, the Aryans developed a style of art we would almost call ‘photo-realism.’ So precise and vivid were these portrayals and the colors they used that scientists have been able to study the flora and fauna of the time by them; animals in exquisite detail from all over the hemisphere are shown. And they made pictures and mosaics that have come down to us as the primary way we study who they were. Prominent citizens covered their walls and decorated their houses with very realistic portrayals of themselves; thus we can say with certainty that they were white, yellow, black and even red, wearing what we know were traditional costumes of the time from China, the powerful trading cultures of the east coast of Africa, from Middle Eastern cultures developing in the Fertile Crescent, and from Europe. One picture fascinates; a family we can be sure by the extensive domicile it was found were important people, that showed them as short, stocky individuals with kinky red hair, ruddy complexions, and looking for all the world like Scotsmen.

This band of savvy conquerers never were a consistent, self-contained genetic stock. Confused and prejudiced early researchers assumed these Aryans were out of the Caucasus Mountains, and so we honkeys became ‘Caucasians’ in their honor. Some of them doubtless were, but more often Chinese, African, everyone from everywhere, many faces, many cultures, greedily using whatever worked best from all the world’s peoples.

That’s the point. And it’s not accidental, but pivotal to the growth and power of these people, and why their influence spread across India, North Africa, around the Mediterranean and into Europe. People from everywhere, living in challenging conditions to take advantage of the flow of communications, over time developed their own culture from the best – in those conditions, defined as the most useful – of all the cultures they were composed of. They were stronger exactly because they weren’t homogeneous. Having all that genetic material, and samples from every culture on the planet – that variation, that ‘mongrel-ness’, was the very core of their success as they spread through the Mediterranean world and beyond. Not an accident; the whole point. You can say many things about these people. ‘Pure’, whether genetically, racially, or morally, isn’t one of them. In the face not only of their blended genetic and cultural advantages but also how fundamentally important this ‘mongrel’ condition was to their success, imagining a genetically pure Aryan ‘race’ is a sick joke.

The association between the Aryans and some theoretical pure Northern European is thus shown to be pointless. Blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes is a local development, among a consort of characteristics common to populations in the far north, having nothing to do with the Aryan spread, which would on any account have been pretty watered down by the time it got to Germany.

But what fascinates me is the perfectness of it. The people who racists hold high as an ideal of genetic superiority is in fact the best argument for all of us from everywhere getting back together to build a culture strong and brave enough to heal and restore the planet and reach for the stars.

And of course for me, a dirty-minded old white man who’s been in favor for his entire life of everybody everywhere coming together in the holy pursuit of having more sex, a delight. So this is my advice, which I’m so happy to see is increasingly being listened to even while entirely unheard:  Everybody from every place should get together and fuck.

Though probably they’re doing it for their own reasons, and not listening to me at all. Which is good: Instead of reading this, who could you be screwing?