Saturday, August 05, 2006

An Analysis of Descent

Both the word descendant and its root, descent, appear to be normal and unremarkable words. Yet, on closer inspection, we can uncover some interesting ideas behind the words.

When we descend, we move down, or we fall. Implicit in this word is weakness, darkness, and the loss of power. Surely, descend cannot be a word with a positive connotation. Yet, to descend from also means that one is connected by blood to a predecessor.

To interpret from a unique perspective, descent implies a certain structure of power. In one sense, it imposes a sort of hierarchical order to society based upon seniority and age. Later generations would, being descendants, by default be positioned below previous generations in the scheme of power, authority, and respect. In essence, descent reflects the society which coined the word.

Another possible intepretation has more religious overtones. The tale of Adam and Eve tells us of original sin. What this means, then, is that all descendants are literally descending into the darkness. Hence, the word descent refers symbolically to the original fall from grace since Adam and Eve.

A last point of interest comes from a decidedly more scientific point of view. According to evolution, later generations are more likely to be fit than predecessor generations. Thus, later organisms have ascended the evolutionary ladder, becoming better in the process. Then, perhaps it would be more appropriate to reverse the naming convention to better reflect the gradual improvements across the generations.

Descent - perhaps not such a unremarkable word after all.

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