Our DNA attests to our oneness – any two human beings have at least 99.6% of their DNA in common. However, that other 0.4% difference represents around 12 million molecular base pairs.
Our culture can play a big part in shaping our genetic variation. Even something as apparently simple as dialectical difference can shape our genetic differences. A recent (published June 2023) study out of Vanderbilt University explored these differences. The researchers examined high-density linguistic and genetic data from England, and found that the subtle linguistic markers affected the movement and mating preferences of individuals, ultimately leading to genetic differentiation.2
Yes, we are all one.
Except when we are not.
This is one of the paradoxes of life. We are the same and we are different, at the same time. The paper referred to above suggests that there are cultural differences, and that we are not all (culturally) the same or one.
We are rather like the paradox of light – it is both a wave, and a particle.
With light it is possible to measure its wave-like structure or its particle-like structure, but not both at the same time. So, it is with us humans. We can measure, describe, notice, and acknowledge our similarities. And, we can measure, describe, notice, and acknowledge our differences. Most of us though, have difficulty doing both at the same time.
Sadly, there are many who steadfastly hold to just one of these views.
Holding to the ‘we are all one’ view can lead to a dismissal, even to a condemnation of difference. Usually, such extreme views are held by those who, even if subconsciously, think that oneness is congruent with a same-as-me ideology. When a person, consciously or unconsciously, believes that oneness (read sameness) means that everyone is like them and is subject to the same cultural, historical, political, and judicial imperatives this can lead to racism, misogyny, homophobic and other judgemental formulations.3
On the other hand, too much emphasis on difference can lead to similar unhealthy beliefs. Such an emphasis can get displayed as ethnocentrism, cultural superiority, and ultimately a harmful display of toxic individuality.
Both conceptions need to be held; furthermore, both need to be held lightly.
Comparing Apples with Apples
An analogy may be helpful when trying to understand the sameness and difference paradox.
Consider the apple. Apples are the fruit of the genus Malus, and are the most widely distributed tree fruit in the world. Apples are one genus. We could say, Apples are all one.
But we wouldn’t want to apply that notion to the way in which we eat or bake with apples.
Apples vary widely. There is the Cox’s Orange variety, with its golden-yellow skin and semi-tart taste. The Ambrosia variety is mostly red, sweet and crisp. Gala apples have a distinctive red/yellow striped look to them and are sweet and aromatic. For a very tart variety then Granny Smith suits the bill, and has a bright green skin. A favourite amongst many for eating is the Pink Lady variety with its red/pinkish skin and a sweet, crisp taste.
Apples vary in taste, skin colour, and crispness of flesh. Apples come into season at different times of the year. Expert chefs amongst us know which varieties are best for different dishes – apple pie, apple crumble, stewed apple, or apple sauce.
Yet, apples are apples. Apples are one, except when they are not.
Think of a forest. It is one forest. Yet, the variety within that forest is almost limitless. What makes up that one forest? Trees, ferns, mushrooms, lichen, insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, ground-dwelling animals, tree-hugging animals, butterflies. That is just the species we think of as alive. Within the forest, and making up what is called forest, there are streams, rocks, sticks, stones, dead leaves, waterfalls, knolls, dales, mountains. Well, you get the picture.
A forest can only be a forest because of the variety of life forms and other forms that make it up. It is one, only because it is many.
So, beware the phrase ‘we are all one.’ It may hide an ideological belief of cultural superiority, or at least, a belief that my way of thinking and behaving is the norm.
As the old saying goes: No one size fits all.
We are all one, and we are not. We must acknowledge the former and respect the latter.
1. Other species of the genus Homo include: H. erectus, H. habilis, H. neanderthalensis, H. ergaster, H. naledi, H. denisova and up to perhaps 7 or 8 others.
2. Evolutionary biologists determine that culture shapes genetics within, not just between populations, Vanderbilt University Research News, 29 June 2023, https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2023/06/29/evolutionary-biologists-determine-that-culture-shapes-genetics-within-not-just-between-populations/ accessed 31 October 2023.3. Some politicians and political parties use such claims of ‘we are all one’ to spread ideologies of xenophobia and racism.