World O’ Words: Atavism, and other words starting with A

World O’ Words: Atavism, and other words starting with A

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess on the birth of their third child — a bouncing baby princeling, born Monday to Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and her husband Prince William.

The young prince, fifth in line to the throne, who was named Louis Arthur Charles on Friday, was one of an estimated 360,000 human births on April 23, 2018, the vast, vast majority of whom were born into poverty.

There were also 15,000 humans born at the same hour as the young prince.* Taureans all, not only do these thousands of babies share the same zodiacal sun sign (Taurus), they also share the same rising sign (Leo, at that hour of 11 a.m.). So whatever traits of personality or accidents of destiny are influenced by these astrological configurations, that means the young prince may share them with a young pauper born in, say, the mean streets of Brixton at 11 a.m., April 23. Makes as much sense as anything else, innit?

But out of these thousands of babies, all who have an equal claim to dignity, the birth of the young prince is the one which caused not only the most headlines, but the most joy.

I know what you’re thinking, Reader. “Here comes another anti-monarchial rant,” is what you’re thinking. “You’ve read one of those you’ve read them all,” is what you’re thinking. Wrong! I’m using the birth of the young prince to segue into our Word of the Week — Atavism — which is the reversion to something remotely ancestral in us, a thrill that comes from primitive source from generations ago.

Why is it that the birth of a new member of the royal family causes such excitement and joy, whereas the birth of our neighbour’s child causes us hardly any? Maybe a perfunctory card of congratulations. Our prime ministers, country music stars whom we admire, cabinet ministers, hockey players — all become parents, but the birth of a boy who’s fifth in line to the throne trumps all in terms of fascination among strangers.

I think that there is atavism at play. Especially among us of Anglo-Saxon descent, whose ancestors were subjects of the British Monarchy. Four hundred years ago, the birth of an heir to the throne was a bona fide occasion for great joy, and for good reasons — ensuring the stability of the Crown, and thus peace, prosperity and good government, etc. We the peasants would light bonfires in the streets, the government would make sure the fountains flowed with wine for a day, and there would be fiddlin’, aye, and dancin’, on the day the babe was born!

I think there is a holdover of this in our modern, more cynical times. When the son (or grandson) of king (or queen) is born, we feel somehow compelled to celebrate. We are feeling an atavistic charge — the same feeling our ancestors felt. Very cool, when you contemplate it.

So, is atavism a concept divorced from scientific reality, like astrology? It more belongs to the realm of psychology. We are all influenced by patterns of behavior, thought, or society — archetypes — that recur over and over again. Archetypes are collectively inherited unconscious ideas, according to Carl Jung. When we feel the joy of the birth of a future king, those archetypes in our psyche come to life, and we feel the joys our ancestors felt, as though they were genetically passed on.

Fooled you, Reader — this is an anti-monarchial rant. As Christopher Hitchens said, having hereditary monarchs make as much sense as hereditary mathematicians, or hereditary doctors. Except they cost Canadian taxpayers so much more when they visit. Here are some other words that begin with A:

Anachronism — a custom or institution appropriate to a period other than the one in which is exists.

Archaic — obsolete, out-of-date, no longer useful.

Antediluvian (before the biblical flood) — something that is ridiculously old-fashioned and behind the times.

“We have another A-word we can use to describe you,” I hear readers saying to me. “Rhymes with ‘glass bowl.”

I really can hear you saying that, as if some paranormal function were at work in my brain — like absent healing, or alphabiotics.

But all atavism aside, although I’m happy for the parents of the young prince and the prince himself, I am happy for the birth of any child, and automatically wish him or her future prosperity, health and happiness. And besides, the young prince is only fifth in line to the throne, even bumping my personal favorite royal — Prince Harry — further down the line of succession.

The young prince isn’t the heir; he isn’t the “spare,” he’s the remittance man. A remittance man is the younger child for whom there wasn’t enough land for him to inherit, so he was shipped off to Canada with a few pounds to make do. My family tree is full of them.

* Although there were no babies at all born at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital on Monday, April 23, there are generally one or two a day born there, according to Interior Health. 460 a year is the average.