Monday, January 28, 2013

Adoption, Lineage, and Self from the Armchair

GTW: Hey, baby, you know I really want to get back into my blog. I was doing pretty good for a while there, but, like always, meatspace came between me and my internet time. The problem is, I don't have any inspiration yet, can you think of a good question for me to write about?

GF: Well, I can think of a few. How about this one: Is there a deep need for people who are adopted to find their biological parents and if so, what are they hoping to fulfill?

GTW: That's empirical.

GF: What?

GTW: That question can be measured, studied, and answered through the use of empirical data. You could interview adopted people, you could observe their behavior, and then definitively answer to what extent adopted people need to find their biological parents. 

GF: Oh, I see. Well I guess if your penis isn't big enough to answer that-

GTW: I'll do it!

Is there a deep need for people who are adopted to find their biological parents and if so, what are they hoping to fulfill?

On the one hand, this is a question that can be investigated empirically, on the other hand I don't do very much of that here. Instead I like to use questions like these as springboards into investigating staples of human experience - even if sometimes those experiences only come to a handful of people. It is my hope that my speculations, investigations, and explanations are accurate and illuminating, but if you are an adopted person and upon reading this you just shake your head and say, 'this guy has no idea what he's talking about,' well, yeah, no argument here. The value in this particular blog, if there is any value, is that hopefully someone can relate to the desires and needs described or will find the desires and needs described interesting and worth contemplating.

A few months back I wrote a kind of pretentious little number about the Self and the Other. The point of it being that something we see as Self in one comparative scheme could be Other in another. Self can be seen as a kind of gamut or gradient (more-Self; less-Self) instead of a binary (Self; not-Self). In that blog I was looking at the individual in relation to sensation and environment, but we can play out another scenario when we compare the individual to other members of society.

I am a man, so, I am mankind rather than, say, animals, rocks, and trees. I am an American, rather than European, African, or Asian, which are Other to me. I am a member of my family, which means I am a Wise and whatever you are is Other. 

For an adopted person, however, it is not clear which is Self and which is Other. You are raised according to the values, traditions, desires, and idiosyncrasies of one family, but your genetic material comes from another. So which one is Self? 

In fact, the one which is Self will depend on the particulars of your own nature. Maybe you do not care about genetics (although, that certainly will not stop genetics from having its say over your life), and consequently it does not matter to you who you birth parents are. Alternately, maybe you believe that your life is written in your DNA, so no matter how your new family raised you, you are not really theirs but rather belong with the people who put you up for adoption. In all likelihood, though, you will find that neither of these viewpoints encompass the whole picture.

The essence of the need to find ones biological parents is the need for a complete picture of oneself. This goes back to my gamut of the Self - in fact there is a great deal of what we consider to be in some way our selves that we are ignorant of. The need to find biological parents is about acquiring more information, finding out things about oneself that may have been previously overlooked.

It could be silly things like discovering that all members of one's adoptive family have to pee as soon as they wake up; it could be deeper matters like discovering a predisposition to addictive behavior in the biological family or finding inordinate bravery among the members of one's biological heritage. It could mean finding sources for known idiosyncrasies (say, finding out that everyone in your family has to unmix the mixed nuts before they can eat them), it could be finding out that you are a part of people groups that you never previously thought to identify with.

So, let me tell you about my birth family... the Goldbergs....
 We can argue about the exact proportions, but it is safe to say that both upbringing and genetics play significant roles in who we are and how we behave. For this reason, the adopted have a desire to know who supplied the genetics. Further, we (even those who are not adopted) desire to trace our ancestry, we feel pride when we find out about the heroic or monumental roles our ancestors played - pride like we somehow found out that we are in some way greater than we were previously. It is all about discovering Self.

And maybe there's just a twinge of hope that we'll find out that there is something awesome in us that we never knew about. Maybe we hope that we'll find some discovery that will give us a brand new vantage point from which to judge ourselves. Maybe we are better than we ever thought possible. We might have that hope, but then, discovering your heritage does not in any way alter your heritage. You still are who you always were, in all your glory and shame, all that would change is your perception of it. 

But then, maybe that perception makes all the difference.

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