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

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 0804751412

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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blueprint also fails because it is too static, too suggestive that adult organisms are merely expanded versions of the fertilized egg. In reality, developing organisms are dynamic systems that play an active role in their own development. To some extent each individual chooses and shapes its own physical and social environment. This can have interesting consequences. People who differ in ways that relate to differences in their genes may also pick certain physical and social environments in which

0.0313 0.0156 ing on the nature and site of the mutation, thus contributing to the phenomenon of inbreeding depression. Attitudes Toward Consanguineous Marriage Within Different Religions Many examples of consanguineous unions are cited in the biblical texts, with Abraham and Sarah identified as half-brother and sister (Genesis 20: 12), and Amran and Jochebed, the parents of Aaron and Moses, related as nephew and aunt (Exodus 6: 20). At a later date the permitted degrees of marital

exiguous size of the sample, the significance of this deviation from the putative mean remains very weak (p<0.17, z-test). However, two qualifications are in order. The final divorce rate remains unknown even for these few couples. The lack of completed life histories means that the available data systematically underestimate the actual incidence of separation. This raises the possibility that complete life histories would reveal a more significant correlation between age difference and divorce.

motivation, which is richly available for Zoroastrian close-kin marriage, is lacking here.47 Concern about the preservation of family property and family privilege has been mooted as a possible motive but could equally well have been alleviated by the unexceptional custom of first-cousin marriage. (Unions of this type also appear in the census returns but can be identified only if a couple’s sibling parents resided in the same household.) Both status enhancement via religious devotion and status

(Amsterdam: N. V. Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers Maatschappij, 1951). English translation in Human Relations Area Files, Section OG11, “Toradja.” 44. Ibid., p. 284. 45. Ibid., p. 271. 46. See Lagace, Sixty Cultures, p. 411. 47. Adriani and Kruyt, The Bare’e-speaking Toradja, pp. 56–57. 48. Edward Westermarck, Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco (London, Macmillan, 1914), p. 55. 49. See, for example, Jack Goody on “The Letter of Gregory” behind the limits of the Catholic prohibition. Jack Goody, The

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