Incest is one of society’s oldest, and most well-known, taboos; having sex with close family members is generally frowned upon (that’s a BIG frown). And with good reason – genetics being what it is, children born of incestuous relationships have a good chance of being born (or not born, in some cases) with mild to severe genetic defects. The closer the relationship between the parents, the more likely and more severe the defects.
I won’t attempt a detailed explanation – it’s dull and complicated unless you have a fetish for genetics (with or without an accompanying fetish for studying combinations of genetics under the conditions of inbreeding), but feel free to look it up here. I’ve carefully done the (suitable for work) research for you in case you’d like to avoid the unfiltered set of results that a search for the term ‘incest’ returns. Incidentally, I can definitely recommend that you DO NOT search Google Images at work with the term ‘incest’, as I did searching for a suitable featured image for this post.
The gist of it is that bad genetic patterns, which are rare across the human population in totality, are concentrated among relatives. This increases the chances that they will be present in a child whose parents are closely related.
Some research even suggests that there may be a psychological aversion to our family members as potential mates, although cursory research into the matter suggests there is not complete consensus on the when’s and why’s (Freud certainly disagreed that sexual attraction between siblings is unusual, but then Freud was always one for as many forms of sexual attraction as possible). It makes an awful lot of sense from a Darwinian perspective – inbreeding is bad for the population, so populations in which it is natural or common are unlikely to survive to pass on that trait.
Do it for the children
Amusingly, depressingly, or both, there have been occasions where groups of individuals have considered “keeping it in the family” to be the preferable option. Isolated communities don’t always have a choice, of course, but royal families throughout history have frequently preferred to risk a little (and then some) genetic inferiority to ensure their assets and territories remain unsullied by foreign hands. Game of Thrones merely copied that plotline – but we knew that, right?
The principle is simple – if children are allowed to marry for love (or lust, or arguably on the basis of subconscious genetic attraction for the purposes of optimal population health), then family lands risk being inherited by someone uncool. The ultimate “Daddy doesn’t approve”, if you will. If all else fails, marry the kids off to a cousin who’s dad can be trusted to toe the royal line. If people were sensible, they would at least consider taking extra-marital babies off the taboo list in the interests of their offspring’s genetic well being. But no.
I can even refer you to an entire Wikipedia article on “Royal Intermarriage”, from which I quote this little gem: “As a result of dynastic intra-marriage all of Europe’s 10 currently reigning hereditary monarchs since 1939 descend from a common ancestor, Johan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange.” Nice. It puts a bit of a damper on the royalism fad, though, when you overlay it with the mental images one normally associates with inbreeding.
DON’T do it, for the children
Today, of course, politics has mostly changed, and there are wilier ways of keeping outsiders away. Except not much has changed. As I observe the growing trend of isolationism – manifesting as nationalism, patriotism and wall-building – I cannot help but draw an analogy to royal members fucking the family (literally and figuratively) to keep the outsiders where they belong – on the outside.
Ideas are like genes. They benefit from being exposed to outside influences. Incest is not good for the population, genetically, and isolation is not good for the philosophical health of a population. The more tightly we hang on to ideals – philosophical, cultural, religious, nationalistic – the more we lose perspective and the ability to improve ourselves. The more we shut out things that are unfamiliar to us, the more mentally and culturally inbred we make ourselves, and the less we LEARN.
Consider: things that inherently have value have no need of special protection. Things that need to be protected to survive, arguably, are not worth hanging onto. (I must clarify, here, that there is a difference between protecting something from deliberately destructive external forces, and from natural outside influences. Invading armies, in fairness, should be kept from crossing borders. Not so for ‘invading’ information from the internet.)
Across international waters, half the citizens of the UK feel that there is something inherently superior about their ‘Britishness’ – something that outside influences will water down and ruin somehow. In America, perhaps a third (I hope no more) of people want to keep Mexicans and Muslims out. In France – the home of freedom – some freedoms are too scary to be free.
The list goes on.
Our own little incest
Today, in South Africa, there is a strong drive to protect Afrikaans as the medium of education, and as a cultural identity, in some Universities such as Stellenbosch. This is somewhat akin (akin, haha!!!) to royal inbreeding, as if keeping external influences out by force will preserve a language in a way that its people speaking it by choice will not. Universities are places of learning, first – not just places where students go to learn, but places in which society learns. Learning does not prosper in places which restrict the flow of ideas. Universities are bastions of culture, too, of course, but must always be places in which the new carries more weight than the old.
Perhaps the idea is to turn such institutions into museums of Afrikaans culture? But museums, for the all the wonder they inspire, are places for dead things. Likewise, people who close themselves off from the rest of the world become effectively dead. Stagnant. Stale.
The preservation of Afrikaans (and American culture, and British culture, and French culture), if it succeeds, will not come through protectionism, nationalism, or from the rejection of outside and supposedly inferior influences, but by the language and its people opening itself up to change, and challenge, as all living languages and people must do.