November 08, 2019

Kissing Cousins and Pluralism

Timothy Birdnow

So, it seems cousin loving isn't conducive to independence and a pluralistic society, according to new research.

According to Joseph Henrich, chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and his merry band:

"There's good evidence that Europe's kinship structure was not much different from the rest of the world," said Jonathan Schulz, an assistant professor of economics at George Mason University and another author of the paper. But then, from the Middle Ages to 1500 A.D., the Western Church (later known as the Roman Catholic Church) started banning marriages to cousins, step-relatives, in-laws, and even spiritual-kin, better known as godparents.

Why the church grew obsessed with incest is still unknown. Co-author Jonathan Beauchamp, assistant professor of economics at George Mason University, suggests that one possible reason may have been material gain. Religious leaders could benefit financially from shrinking family ties—without a tight extended network those without heirs often left their wealth to the church. Whatever the reasons, one thing seems clear: The Western Church's crusade coincides with a significant loosening in Europe's kin-based institutions.


Those policies first altered family structures and then the psychologies of members. Henrich and his colleagues think that individuals adapt cognition, emotions, perceptions, thinking styles, and motivations to fit their social networks. Kin-based institutions reward conformity, tradition, nepotism, and obedience to authority, traits that help protect assets—such as farms—from outsiders. But once familial barriers crumble, the team predicted that individualistic traits like independence, creativity, cooperation, and fairness with strangers would increase.

Using 24 psychological variables collected in surveys, experiments, and observations, they measured the global prevalence of traits that correspond or conflict with individualism. To test for willingness to help strangers, for example, they collected data on blood-donation rates across Italy, finding a correlation between high donation rates and low cousin-marriage rates. With their kinship intensity index, Schutz said, they can also predict which diplomats in New York City will or will not pay parking tickets: Those from countries with higher rates of cousin marriages are more likely to get a ticket and less likely to pay one.

And, although willingness to trust strangers, as opposed to family or neighbors, is associated with higher levels of innovation, greater national wealth, and faster economic growth, which factor causes which is not yet known.

So ending incest created the modern world, with an emphasis on individualism, pluralism, and creativity.


Maybe. Certainly the Islamic world, where many first cousins marry primarily because they are allowed to actually SEE their brides, is clannish, xenophobic, at odds with the world at large, and quite hostile outside of formal hospitality, which is required as a duty, not as a normal part of life.

If nothing else, cousin loving makes for inbreeding. We all know what happened to Ned Beatty as a result of that!

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 10:02 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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