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Close is Too Close: What is Wrong with Incest?
This paper outlines incest as a social taboo with reference to the Jewish, Native American, and Malagasy cultures and identifies what is wrong with the practice of incest. It has 7 sources.
Definition of Incest
Incest or the sexual relations between persons to whom marriage is prohibited by custom or law because of close kingship [Kottak 2002] is a social phenomenon that differ from culture to culture and by definition too they differentiate from one group to the next. The reason being that customs, traditions and cultures all vary due to the accepted norms as well as religion found in these groups and hence the prohibition or the allowance for people to marry siblings differs greatly. Inter-marriage to close relatives in the American culture for instance is considered taboo while in the Jewish it is considered compulsory. What triggers such social norms must therefore first be understood before one can come to the conclusion they are advantageous or disadvantageous for social progression.
Modern day society in western culture prohibits marriages within the inner group where the parents are considered to belong to the same genes night trigger genetic defects in their children. Most societies condemn incest or marriage within the same circle especially children from the same parents or brothers and sisters etc. This incest taboo is considered to be too close and might result in genetic deformity. There are few cultures in the world today that condone incest taboo the reason being that modern theories consider the psychological and the sociological effects of such unions are too great to be ignored. Social alliances among group members is imperative for carrying on racial genes as well as for preservation of the group but more importantly groups alliances are also important which is the reason why the legal aspects of incest has also become commonplace in modern society [Shepher 1983].
Furthermore, incest is considered a taboo in the modern society because of the biological consequence realization whereas in the olden days, such taboos were valued because of the kinship and its contribution to clans' progression. Today culture has become more universal and because of the biological capabilities like modern medicine and life prolonging techniques people are more conscious of the biological implications rather than racial preservation. But the same universality of cultures have also acted in the opposite direction where social exogamy and incest taboos are becoming the norms for group identity preservation, albeit most of them are still comparatively less in practice [Kottak 2002].
In light of the above observation of modern day societies and mediocre rigidity on the issue of incest taboo, one can thus deduce that incest taboo is a culture that has universal connotation. It is a norm that is either accepted or rejected by certain groups for the interest of their cultural identity and racial preservation. Incest therefore is a culture that is very much in practice in most ethnic groups for the purpose of their social progression even though they are much aware of the genetic consequences.
Perhaps the most important scholar in the field of psychology and sociology is Sigmund Freud and his theories on human social behavior. In his study on sibling behavior and childhood fantasies Freud projected his famous Oedipus complex which is basically a theory based on the Greek drama Oedipus the King who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. The resulting theory that Freud deduced is that a child have a natural tendency to fantasize and practice eroticism, undergoing various stages. This theory has also been studied by Hippolyte Bernheim who observed that the Jewish tradition of inter-group marriages is the reason why the Jews has among the highest rates of illnesses such as madness and psychological imbalances resulting in murder, rape or incest behavior. According to his observation incest often results in dysfunctional attitudes and madness and it has been linked with forensic behavior. Thus, the Jews demonstration of madness is genetic and it is the result of the traditional marriages within the groups. In their culture marriages outside the inner circle is considered taboo and forbidden but they encourage sibling incest [Gilman 1998].
Gunther in his observation project the argument that such practices within the Jewish circle have resulted in premature sexual maturity which in essence result in sexual deviance in which the individuals become obsessed with sex and contribution to malignant activities like prostitution, murder, rape and sibling sex. (Gunther, 1930, p. 134). Alternately, theorists also argue that the Jews promotion of incest is because of the preservation of the economic hegemony in the world. By inbreeding they conserve their resources and thereby rule over the other cultures.
Although the Jews violate the European and Christian orthodoxy in repudiating the incest taboo, their inner group circle remains strong. The incestuous inbreeding of generations of endogamy has been considered conservative by the liberals but they have been strong in their beliefs and cultures and hence been able to preserve the incestuous behavior within their communities. Hence for them incest is no longer a taboo but a norm [Gilman 1998].
Among the Native Americans sexuality is considered a means of reproduction. Relationship within the same sex is considered to be a norm and sexual pleasure part of their spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, viewership of sexual relations among children or adults is not prohibited. There is no limitation of sexual activities to one person but rather it is encouraged even outside the clan. For this purpose they allow the berdeches to play the role of the alternate sexual partners. They are allowed multiple sexual partners but the core marital duties remain within the circle of the wife and the husband. Yet one characteristics stands out from this social norm is the observance of incest taboo meaning the avoidance of sex with another berdeche. The berdeches must avoid sex with another berdeche. The philosophy behind this is that the sexual partner has to be by nature masculine and there is a prevalent belief that gender roles rather than the sexuality of the individuals are important. Homosexuality therefore is encouraged but not considered as part of the tradition of marriage as for this purpose they consider the importance of the wife and the husband for his domestic duties. Hence incest taboo has been institutionalized for the berdeche only and that too is to sanction same sex relationships [William 1986].
In the above context one feels that the Native Americans consider reproduction rather than sexuality at the center of their social interaction. To compensate they institutionalized incest taboo and hence to them incest taboo is basically a limitation placed on the berdeche to limit social deformity. Their culture thus demonstrates that they too understand the limitation and consequences of sexual relationships among siblings.
In another cultural observation by Bloch  identify the relationship of food as being the essence of traditions of sexual interaction. Bloch demonstrates this theoretical framework from the onset of kinship system of the Malagasy people. According to his study kinship has high importance in the Malagasy culture derived from the mode of family structure and kinship in their families. The nuclear family structure is pretty dominant among them and as a result there is closeness among the various family members like the father, mother, and child to parents as well as among young and older siblings. This is the reason why the remote relatives are considered significantly close to the family even though they are "relatively" distanced. First cousins as well as second cousins are considered siblings however remote. The sexual unification of such a tightly knit family is inevitable and therefore incest taboo becomes a relative term. There is no closeness without incest and without this it is not possible for the family to develop and grow. Hence from closeness in food consumption rituals to the bodily unification the Malagasy greatly believe in closeness and not sexual interaction as the essence of the gender sexual relationships.
Advantages and disadvantages
The above three cultural dimensions offer an insightful view of how incest taboos are crucial for the development and growth of their cultures. For Jews it is the economic benefit while for the Native Indians it is the preservation of the race and for the Malagasy it is the unification of their kinsmen. The reasons are clear: incest taboo is not really a taboo for these groups of ethnic people as they do not consider it a taboo as the modern day western cultures. For them it is a tradition handed down for generations to preserve their cultures, traditions and most of all their social group identity. The practice of sexual relations, even marriage among siblings is common for the Malagasy because it is the basis of their society and without this closeness they would disintegrate. Similarly, the value of husband and wife and their social gender roles are emphasized by the Native Americans as they would not survive in their…[continue]
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