Incest Tabu as a Universal Trait


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Defines incest tabu; Contrasts definition with rule of exogamy; Explains tabu in term of inbreeding, lack of sexual interest, sexual jealousy and explains the inadequacy of each explanation.

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  • This is not a serious study, or scientific fact. The Greeks only had one rule on sexual intercourse and that was that you couldn't have sex with your mother. Some of the greatest minds came from the Greeks, many that we still study and find what they have written is true. Plato writes that for brother and sister having children is to be chosen when those sibling are more intelligent or physically perfect. All purebred animals are from incest, that is siblings with the characteristics desired are bred with each other. Even humans are humans because of interbreeding. This conclusion that it is a worldwide tabu is completely false.
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Incest Tabu as a Universal Trait

  1. 1. The Incest Tabu as a Universal Cultural Trait Some Explanations and Their Shortcomings
  2. 2. Incest Tabu and Exogamy <ul><li>Definition: A rule that forbids copulation between two persons of defined relationships </li></ul><ul><li>There are two types of incest:: incest among primary kin , that is within the immediate family, and </li></ul><ul><li>Incest among secondary kin, that is, among kin outside the immediate family. </li></ul><ul><li>Incest is often confused with marriage </li></ul><ul><li>The incest tabu is a rule that forbids sexual behavior between kin. </li></ul><ul><li>Exogamy is a rule that forbids marriage between persons of defined relationships </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Emotional Power of the Incest Tabu: Lot and His Daughters <ul><li>In the biblical story of Lot’s family’s departure from Sodom/Gomorrah, which God has destroyed, the wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt (upper graphic). </li></ul><ul><li>Believing they are the only humans left in the world, Lot’s daughters induce him (with wine) to impregnate them (lower graphic). </li></ul><ul><li>Lot’s older daughter founds Moab, and his younger daughter founds the Ammonites. </li></ul><ul><li>Incest is one justification cited by the ancient Israelites to exterminate both the Moabites and the Ammonites. </li></ul><ul><li>The controversy includes the factuality of Lot’s incestuous act with his daughters, which Muslims and some Christians deny happening. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Incest Tabu: Primary Kin <ul><li>Incest tabu among primary kin exists within the nuclear family, that is, between father and daughter, mother and son, and brother and sister. (upper left) </li></ul><ul><li>Exceptions: Sibling incest (and marriage) was allowed in Egypt under the pharaohs (lower left), Inca in South American Andes and Hawaiians </li></ul><ul><li>Even then, such incest was allowed only within the royal lineage to ensure its “purity.” </li></ul><ul><li>Other exceptions included peasants in Egypt under the Romans </li></ul><ul><li>Otherwise, the incest tabu applied to nuclear families in the world’s cultures. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Incest Tabu: Secondary Kin <ul><li>Definition: All kin beyond that of the immediate family </li></ul><ul><li>Tabu among secondary kin varies by culture. </li></ul><ul><li>Among Anglo-Americans, the tabu applies to first cousins. </li></ul><ul><li>There are gray areas: in this scene from Ararat (upper left) these step-siblings do not have the same set of parents: a parent of one is not the parent of the other. </li></ul><ul><li>Among the Navajo, all people of the same clan may not mate (or marry) </li></ul><ul><li>On the other hand, a brother and sister within the same lineage may not mate, but a man is expected to marry a woman connected to him through his mother’s brother, father’s sister, or both (lower right) </li></ul>
  6. 6. Incest Tabu and Exogamy: Differences <ul><li>As already mentioned, the incest tabu prohibits sexual behavior between persons of defined relations </li></ul><ul><li>Exogamy prohibits marriage between persons of defined relations </li></ul><ul><li>For example, among the Arunta of Australia: </li></ul><ul><li>Marriage to mother mother’s brother’s son’s daughter alone is permitted; the marriage is exogamous involves 2 patrilineages </li></ul><ul><li>However, sexuality is allowed outside the primary kin, including couples not permitted to marry. </li></ul><ul><li>Hence the importance of the distinction between incest tabu and rule of exogamy. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Incest Tabu and Exogamy: Significance of Differences <ul><li>In additions, the explanations for the incest tabu tend to be biological or psychological: </li></ul><ul><li>Inbreeding theory, which posits that people fear the effects of inbreeding. </li></ul><ul><li>Lack-of-interest/revulsion theory, which posits that siblings who have grown up together are indifferent or disgusted with the idea (Westermarck originated that hypothesis). </li></ul><ul><li>Sexual competition theory, which posits that in-family sex would create jealousy (Freud is best known for this hypothesis) </li></ul><ul><li>Explanations for exogamy are sociological or political, namely that marriage creates alliances between groups or strengthens already existing ties. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Why Incest Tabus? <ul><li>The short answer is that no one really knows why incest tabus and are so widespread among cultures. </li></ul><ul><li>There are many explanations, but each explanation has its shortcomings. </li></ul><ul><li>We do know that animals of other species also avoid inbreeding: those that are large, slow to mature, long-lived, and intelligent. These need explanation but are beyond the scope of this course. </li></ul><ul><li>There are also counterexamples where incest is allowed, and sometimes mandated: royal incest and brother-sister marriage in Roman Egypt, already mentioned. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Inbreeding Explanations: Background <ul><li>The background to inbreeding theory is that in mating, each parent contributes half of the genes to their offspring. </li></ul><ul><li>Alleles are a variation to a genetic trait: blood cells, eye color, and billions of others. </li></ul><ul><li>Alleles are dominant or recessive </li></ul><ul><li>Deleterious genes are usually recessive, and become manifest (phenotypes) when two of them are inherited by the same individual </li></ul><ul><li>For example, hemophilia occurs when two genes for the condition are inherited. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Inbreeding Explanation: Basic Argument <ul><li>According to this hypothesis, fears of inbreeding deters incest </li></ul><ul><li>Birth defects: Mental and physical disabilities, which afflicted Charles II of Spain from the close breeding of royal families. </li></ul><ul><li>Inbreeding tends to lead to lower intelligence, such as Down syndrome. </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes, there are multiple anomalous characteristics, such as affected Mohammed Kalid, a Lebanese, here embraced by his grandmother.. </li></ul><ul><li>Parallel cousin marriage—marriage of the offspring of two brothers—is common throughout the Middle East </li></ul><ul><li>There are three problematic assumptions; that individuals of a culture have the sexual facts of life straight, that they attribute the defect to inbreeding, and that they do not copulate and/or marry close kin. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Inbreeding Hypothesis: Accuracy of People’s Knowledge of Reproduction <ul><li>For this theory to be valid, peoples of a culture must have accurate knowledge of reproduction; this is often not so. </li></ul><ul><li>To Rapan (Easter) Islanders: woman is fertile during menstruation when in fact, ovulation renders her fertile. </li></ul><ul><li>Among the Trobriand Islanders, males had no role in childbirth, only water spirits did. So women avoided water. </li></ul><ul><li>Other folk explanations may explain childbirth (witchcraft, evil spirit in womb) </li></ul><ul><li>For example, Tarahumara women avoided this man, a shaman thought to prevent births </li></ul><ul><li>The defect may not show up for generations, long after the incest has taken place. </li></ul><ul><li>Widespread cross-cousin marriage that also entail inbreeding: evidence is mixed. For example, Chagnon’s team did not report any birth defects despite generations of cross-cousin marriage. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Lack-of-Interest Explanation <ul><li>According to Edward Westermarck, close kin do not mate for lack of interest or revulsion against idea </li></ul><ul><li>Familiarity breeds contempt--or boredom </li></ul><ul><li>For example two ethnographers, Milford Spiro and Yonina Talmon studied independently the marriage pattern of the young at an Israeli kibbutz (collective farm) </li></ul><ul><li>Both observed that marriage rarely occurs within the same kibbutz </li></ul><ul><li>Both came to the same conclusion: growing up together makes for uninteresting company in the same farm (e.g., these children in 1936) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Lack of Interest Explanation: Shortcomings <ul><li>This is where alternative explanations need to be considered. </li></ul><ul><li>Most late teenagers leave kibbutz to join the army--both males and females are drafted. (left) </li></ul><ul><li>It is after they leave the kibbutz that the young adults start courting and thinking about marriage. </li></ul><ul><li>So it is hardly surprising that few young adults married within the kibbutz </li></ul><ul><li>Exceptions also need explanation: Why was there brother-sister marriage in Roman Egypt. </li></ul><ul><li>There is a logical question: If you are not going to marry a sibling or kibbutz mate anyway, why do you need a tabu against brother-sister copulation or marriage? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Sexual Competition Explanations <ul><li>Sexual jealousy disrupts family relations </li></ul><ul><li>According to Freud, children at five have a an Oedipus (boys) or Electra (girls) complex in which a child is sexually attracted to the opposite sex parent and develops a rivalry with the same-sex parent. </li></ul><ul><li>Others suggest jealousy occurs without all that Freudian baggage </li></ul><ul><li>But you have to explain marriages with multiple partners; are they jealous? </li></ul><ul><li>Polygyny (one man marries 2 or more women (as with these Nigerian women, upper left) is widespread in Africa and elsewhere. </li></ul><ul><li>Fraternal polyandry (as here at a wedding in Nepal—two brothers marry one woman, lower left) is less frequent but still significant. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Incest <ul><li>We have already seen that the first sociological constant is the incest tabu, which prohibits sexual relations between primary (nuclear family) and secondary kin. </li></ul><ul><li>We have also examined the distinction between incest tabus and rules of exogamy: one forbids sex within a kin group, the forbids marriage within the same group. </li></ul><ul><li>Every culture sets limits on sexuality in some way. </li></ul><ul><li>Biological or psychological factors are used to explain the incest tabu. </li></ul><ul><li>Alliance theories, as we will see, explain rules of exogamy. </li></ul><ul><li>Incest tabu explanations address inbreeding, lack of interest, and jealousy; all three explanations are deficient in some way. </li></ul>