Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century

Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century

Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century

Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century

Synopsis

Is inbreeding harmful? Are human beings and other primates naturally inclined to mate with their closest relatives? Why is incest widely prohibited? Why does the scope of the prohibition vary from society to society? Why does incest occur despite the prohibition? What are the consequences? After one hundred years of intense argument, a broad consensus has emerged on the first two questions, but the debate over the others continues.

That there is a biological basis for the avoidance of inbreeding seems incontrovertible, but just how injurious inbreeding really is for successive generations remains an open question. Nor has there been any conclusion to the debate over Freud's view that the incest taboo is necessary because humans are sexually attracted to their closest relatives- a claim countered by Westermarck's argument for the sexually inhibiting effects of early childhood association.

This book brings together contributions from the fields of genetics, behavioral biology, primatology, biological and social anthropology, philosophy, and psychiatry which reexamine these questions.

Excerpt

Neven Sesardic

Not in Our Genes?

Today the idea that an evolutionary approach may be fruitful for research in the social sciences is being passionately defended by some and no less passionately contested by others. the resistance to Darwinism comes mainly in two distinct varieties. the first type of criticism is based on empirical or methodological objections against the current attempts to use evolutionary considerations to throw some light on social science explananda. the other line of opposition, however, is much harder to pin down and discuss because it is fueled more by rhetoric than by argument. It defines itself, rather vaguely, as a fight against “biological reductionism” and “genetic determinism” and is often accompanied by slight (or not so slight) ideological overtones. in this chapter, I will deal only with the former (methodological) kind of criticism. But since I don't want to leave the latter, hazily antireductionist source of opposition to biology without comments, and since I don't know how to approach it in a serious way, let me wiggle out by presenting to you a rhymed parody, “Gene-mania, ” that captures some of the more ideological criticism's characteristic flavor:

GENE-MANIA

Who today is not sick and tired
Of all those guys so gene-inspired?
They find a gene for every this or that:
For being gay, smart, alcoholic, fat ...
We have to stop that madness. Take no offense,
But this approach doesn't make much sense.
True, some fools thought after Watson-Crick
That genes could really do the trick.
What they sought they did not find—
Those ill-fated biologists of the mind.

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