Taboo and Genetics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 190 pages of information about Taboo and Genetics.

A study of the elaborate, standardized, and authoritative systems of social control found among all primitive peoples gives a vivid impression of the difficulty of the task of compelling man to die to himself, that is, to become a socius.  The rigors and rituals of initiation ceremonies at adolescence impressed the duties of sociality at that impressionable period.  The individual who refused to bow his head to the social yoke became a vagabond, an outcast, an excommunicate.  In view of the fierceness of the struggle for food and the attitude toward the stranger among all primitives, the outcast’s life chances were unenviable.  It was preferable to adapt one’s self to the social order.  “Bad” traits were the more easily suppressed in return for the re-enforcement of power which was the striking feature of group life; power over enemies, power over nature, and a re-enforcement of the emotional life of the individual which became the basis on which were built up the magico-religious ceremonies of institutionalized religion.

It is the purpose of this study to consider a phase of social life in which there can be traced a persistence into modern times of a primitive form of control which in a pre-rational stage of group life made possible the comparatively harmonious interplay of antagonistic forces.  This form of control is called Taboo.  A student of the phenomenon, a recognized authority on its ethnological interpretation, says of it:  “To illustrate the continuity of culture and the identity of the elementary human ideas in all ages, it is sufficient to point to the ease with which the Polynesian word tabu has passed into modern language."[1, p.16]

We shall attempt to show that at least one form of taboo, the Institutionalized Sex Taboo, is co-extensive with human social experience, and exists to-day at the base of family life, the socialized form of sex relationship.  The family as a social institution has been scarcely touched until a very recent historical period by the rationalizing process that has affected religious and political institutions.  Economic changes resultant upon the introduction of an industrial era which showed the importance of women in diverse social relations were causes of this new effort at adaptation to changing conditions.  It became apparent that taboos in the form of customs, ceremonials, beliefs, and conventions, all electrically charged with emotional content, have guarded the life of woman from change, and with her the functions peculiar to family life.  There has doubtless been present in some of these taboos “a good hard common-sense element.”  But there are also irrational elements whose persistence has resulted in hardship, blind cruelty, and over-standardization.

In order to comprehend the attitude of early man toward sex and womanhood, and to understand the system of taboo control which grew out of this attitude, it is only reasonable to suppose that the prehistoric races, like the uncivilized peoples of the present time, were inclined to explain all phenomena as the result of the action of spiritistic forces partaking of both a magical and religious nature.  This supernatural principle which the primitive mind conceived as an all-pervading, universal essence, is most widely known as mana, although it has been discussed under other names.[A]

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Taboo and Genetics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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