Made by Man

Earlier this week, most newspapers ran a story about an article in the current issue of Nature, which discussed genetic similarities and variations in Indians, The general thread of the “lay” coverage was that there are no pure “North Indians” or  “South Indians” and that all Indians share common genes from the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and the Ancestral South Indian (ASI) pools.
Which, as often happens with the lay press and scientific papers, was actually what the paper was not about. What David Reich and his colleagues actually found in the 19 groups that they included, was that though there was 39-71% ANI ancestry in all of them, the groups themselves didn’t show much variation internally, for over at least 30 generations and in the case of the Vysya group, for over 100 generations.
What does this mean? It means that virtually across the board, the caste system has been well and alive for a long period of time, without much change in the gene pool, essentially due to endogamy (inbreeding).
Why is this important? Because endogamy leads to an increased incidence of inherited diseases, for e.g. inherited heart disease, which is due to a gene mutation, found in 4% of all Indians and only in Indians. (It would also be fascinating to trace the way skin color has passed along groups and generations, given our completely illogical fetish for fairness).
Who created all these rigid hierarchies? God? Yeah, right!
When bad things happen to us humans, we seek answers. When there are none, we turn to non-rational sources. The hunter-gatherer tribes in the misty past used to blame the fire-spirit or the water-demon, while the agrarian societies would try and appease “beings”, who controlled the success of their crops. As humans however advanced and formed more complex groups, these pagan spirits and “Gods” eventually merged into monotheist religions with strict codes of conduct, rules and the “One” God.
Let’s face it! If there is nothing better to look forward to after death (heaven, hell, universal soul, rebirth), most humans will descend into a terrible spiral of questioning depression. Mencken, a philosopher, while defining religion, said it best, “It’s single function is to give man access to the powers that seem to control his destiny, and its single purpose is to induce those powers to be friendly with him…nothing else is essential.”
This is what Mr. Robert Wright attempts to answer in his fascinating new book, “The Evolution of God”. Starting from the pagan spirits of the hunter-gatherers, Mr. Wright traces a path to the monotheist religions of today (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), working on the basic premise that no religion or God is static and that all these concepts have evolved over time, depending on the prevailing social, economic and technological circumstances.
This is balm for the soul of all us atheists who believe that man has always shaped his own destiny. A friend (thanks Shimpa), has this to say “The only powers that control your destiny are the ones you allow to do so. Hence each has a different term for the powers. And each wants a different boon from the powers. I believe that is why religion, even within a religion is so personal and open to misunderstandings.”
We create illusions and rituals and structures and patterns based on what is most convenient to us given the prevailing conditions; those who are more charismatic and convincing land up being more powerful and influential. In short, whether it be religion or God or caste systems, eventually they are all just “Made by Man”.

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