THE CONTINUITY OF HUMANS AND ANIMALS AND THE INCEST TABOO

 

1. The influence of the continuity of humans and animals on the value of human life began by seeing animals as lesser humans (from the Greeks to Monboddo).

a)  Even Linnaeus believed that humans and apes were sufficiently similar to humans in outward appearance that the difference must lie in our introspectible souls.

b) A Darwinian innovation was to see humans as a higher animal, just as Freud later saw sanity as a higher (more sublimated form of) neurosis.

c)  The continuity of humans and animals inspired medical scientists to use animal experiments to see how long animals could be kept alive under artificial conditions, with an eye toward extending human longevity (Pavlov).

d) In this context, ageing came to be seen as a reversible disease, largely by regarding the human body as consisting of replaceable parts.

e)  In short, analogies between animals and humans opened up the human imagination to the different material conditions under which ‘life’ and ‘mind’ may be conveyed.

 

2.   The significance of the Incest Taboo in the History of Anthropology

a)  This was just as much about dividing cultural from natural as animal from human

b) Lewis Henry Morgan and Edward Westermarck held Darwin-inspired views that the incest taboo was common among all animals because it served reproductive fitness

c)  However, Edward Tylor and Edward Frazer denied this explanation because it failed to explain the explicit rule against incest in human cultures (if it is supposed to be ‘natural’).

a.  Freud supported Tylor and Frazer because the son’s desire for the mother was crucial for the Oedipal Complex, on which social life was built via the superego

b.  Malinowski also supported this view, on the grounds that incest taboo enabled the formation of non-competitive family bonds, which provided the building blocks for more complex societies

c.   Levi-Strauss abstracted from all these explanations to say that the incest taboo enabled the construction of the kinship system, which would otherwise not exist.

d) However, animal ethology studies from the 1960s onward have shown that many animal species have incest taboos, probably for reproductive fitness reasons.

a.       Indeed, now ethologists argue that humans may be distinguished by their ability to engage in incest!