Saturday, January 12, 2008
The twins who married suggest the human mind is a blank slate. They were attracted to each other, not knowing they were twins. Therefore, blank slaters would argue, the incest taboo is culturally determined, not pre-programmed. On the other hand, the anti-slaters would point to the Westermarck Effect. Children raised together acquire an aversion to sexual contact with each other. This happens even if they are not biologically related. The incest taboo is thus pre-programmed in that, from birth, we are inclined to reject sexual contact with those with whom we are raised. This would explain the universality of the taboo - always a problem for the blank slaters. On the face of it, the blank slaters, having been in the ascendancy since Hitler discredited old hereditarian views, are now on the run. Both on the left and the right people accept there is such a thing as 'human nature', an idea that the old left found repugnant since it seemed to compromise the possibility of progress. However, in the course of the fallout from my Edward O.Wilson interview, I noticed some resurgence both on the right and the left of blank slateism. There seems to be a new revulsion at the idea of any pre-programming. I don't share this revulsion; in fact, I find it distinctly odd. But explaining exactly why would take another post and it's Saturday and I need a swim.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:10 am