Re: Mythology

carter pate (CPATE@UTCVM.UTC.EDU)
Wed, 19 Apr 1995 10:17:04 EDT

Thanks to Mike Salovesh and others for filling in the Lwevi-Straussian aspects
of alliance theories. It enhances my usual presentation about the question of
universality of the incest taboo.

Have I mentioned it recently? If so I don't remember getting much response.

Don't we often try too hard to force phenomenal data into single theories?
How about an alternative showing how several theories combining in varying
circumstances can produce borth similarities and differences in cultures?

Much data supports the idea that some sort of incest taboo is common to
most cultural traditions which have endured at least a few generations.
(Yes, I'm aware of a few quibbles about the extent to which this taboo gets
violated, and a few exceptions such as preferences for brother-sister
marriages in certain royal families--but aren't these examples where the taboo
is present in the culture, and some other value is considered important enough
to override the incest taboo?)

Now, philosophers, moralists and even anthropologists(?) seem to have struggled
for centuries to find a single theory which best explains this universality.
The major contenders are this:
1. instinctive abhorrence;
2. genetic dysfunctions;
3. Freud's Oedipal theory;
4. Westermarck's childhood familiarization theory;
5. alliance theories;
6. dysfunctions of sexual competition within the nuclear household.

Aren't there enough exceptions to each of these to question if any one is
acceptable as THE explanation?

But isn't the evidence strong enough to expect that several have noticeably
selective (adaptive) consequences, so that a combination might be even of
"overdetermining" impact? I see the genetic effects, alliance theory,
and dysfunctions of competition as strongest; in addition, childhood familiari-
zation although weak, may have some influence, and even the Freudian Oedipal
might apply in patrilineal societies (only, if we note Malinowski's position in
"Sex and Repression . . ."). Only the theory of "instinctive abhorrence" seems
completely invalid, if we consider that occasionally siblings separated
at very early ages have later met and fallen in love.

Of course our aching for simplicity or a firm formula, leaves us frustrated
here. But isn't there a value in pointing out that cultures are so variable
that few explanations are universally valid if posed in simple, deterministic
formulas? I use this as a model which may also apply to such questions as the
origins of states, and many major events and components of cultural history.

Incidentally, is this a reasonable extension of David Bidney's discussion of
Aristotle's types of causation in "Theoretical Anthropology"?

Strike a chord in anyone? If so, let's compare motes.