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Is Cousin Marriage Dangerous?

HOW CAN ONE FORGET THE DUELING BANJOS OF Deliverance? A group of urbanites goes deep into Georgia where they encounter hillbillies. One of the friendlier urbanites tries to establish a rapport with one hillbilly kid, whose countenance is creepy. He appears mentally retarded, suggested to be the result of inbreeding. Yet, he plays the banjo with great agility, to the point that he sets up a musical duel with the guitar playing urbanite. This is only a foreshadow of what will come later: the inbred hillbillies perform all sorts of sadistic acts against the urbanites.

The Ultimate Taboo

In this era of identity politics there is great concern for African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and other groups, but nobody seems to care much about the degradation of Appalachian mountaineers in media and cultural portrayals. As far as everyone else is concerned, their incestuous ways make them seemingly subhuman. Indeed, incest has been the easiest means of character assassination throughout history, as the cases of Oedipus, Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn and so many others seem to illustrate.

And there is the recurrent cultural trope that once relatives mate civilization collapses. Colombian novelist Garcia Marquez eloquently portrays this in his depiction of the Buendia family in One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which the Buendia family persists for centuries until two distant relatives have sexual intercourse leading to a child with a pig tail, and the disappearance of the ancestralMacondo village.

The incest taboo can be counted as one of the truly universal human institutions.1 Yet, there is disagreement about how far this prohibition should go. There is the universal prohibition for someone to have sex with his/her siblings, parents or grandparents, but there are variations regarding cousins, uncles, and others on the family tree. More important, there is also disagreement about what the rationale for the incest taboo is. This latter point was tested in a well-known experiment by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt in which he presented subjects with the following scenario: Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them.

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About Skeptic

THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL AND GOD COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Laser Therapy: Hope or Hype and Hokum?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Sisyphean Challenges of Skepticism or, Start by Disbelieving, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Pterosaur Thunderbird: The Origin of a Fake Native American Legend with an Anti- Evolution Agenda • Conversations with My Dead Mother: Why We See Signs and Omens in Everyday Events • Is Cousin Marriage Dangerous? • Therapeutic Touch Redux Twenty Years After the “Emily Event”: Energy Therapies Live on Through Bad Science • What Can Science Learn from Religion? Steven Pinker on Religious Beliefs and Rituals • Becoming Fantastic: Why People Embellish Already Accomplished Lives with Incredible Tales of UFOs and Other Phenomena • 1984 in 2019: The New Privacy Threat from China’s Social Credit Surveillance System SPECIAL DEBATE SECTION Michael Shermer v. Brian Huffling: Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence Against the Christian God? REVIEW Graham Hancock’s “America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization” reviewed by Jason Colavito JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Colossal Case of the Cardiff Giant: One of America’s Greatest Hoaxes