These notes are the third in a series of fifteen lectures for my class Dynamics of the Family.

  1. Getting it together

    In the spirit of our emphasis with "dynamics," let us start with the classic questions about sexual attraction, sexual reproduction, and the development of infants

    1. All discussions of "the family" in America, both popular and social (psychological) scientific eventually comes back to a concern with how adults get together sexually ("love") and how children are produced and raised (sex & love, again). Perhaps precisely because at no point in history was this completely settled, heated conversations, personal, with one's closest consociates, political, etc., have involved searches for rationalizations of one's choices, or of why one's conditions are intolerable.
    2. Thus continuing searches for the foundations of
      1. satisfying sexuality
      2. the proper rules and regulations of marriage
      3. the proper process of bringing children into the world (including the decision not to bring fetuses to term)
      4. the proper arrangements for child rearing
    3. and perhaps above all the minimally acceptable ways of dealing with the contradictions arising in everyday life as the requirements of one response to the search interfere with the requirements of another response.
  2. A classic and ongoing dispute between
    1. those who argue that any arrangement of any one of these matters (sexuality, child care, etc.) can be explained in term of biological necessity and that they are thus "natural" or "best" or "necessary" or "inescapable". Any attempt to go against these evolutionary constraints is bound to failure, tell us nothing about humanity, and should be resisted by the state.
      1. e.g. the attempts to achieve celibacy, chastity, monogamy, etc.

      In that perspective family is matter of nature.

      1. The basic principle is a further specification of Darwinian evolutionary theories that focus on natural selection. Modern versions emphasize the activity of individuals maximizing the chance that their genes will be passed along to their offsprings. This is the theory of the "selfish gene" that is used to explain anything that has to do with sexuality
    2. and those who argue that what human beings experience and must deal with in their lives, including intimate personal lives with one's most significant others, was made by other human beings, most of whom are dead, in a history that keeps producing new ways of being human--including, for example:
      1. the calls to celibacy and chastity--here but not there, then but not now;
      2. the transformations of bodies--from scarification to male or female circumsition, the production of eunuchs, transgered bodies, etc.

      In that perspective family is matter of culture.

    For reasons that bear investigation, the "culture" argument that was dominant for a long time in the 60s and 70s is being eclipsed in the popular press at least by the "nature" argument as sociobiology is entering the main stream. For example, in the New York Times

    1. Polygamy (May 20, 2001)
    2. Female agression (November 18, 2013)

  3. The sociobiology of sexual reproduction, two approaches and methodologies to discover the natural as against various misconceptions grounded in various ideologies
    1. Hrdy: comparative primatology (a form of anthropology) and step-parenting.
    2. Daly and Wilson: demographics and public health (forms of sociology)
  4. In New York State:
    Sec. 5. Incestuous and void marriages. A marriage is incestuous and void whether the relatives are legitimate or illegitimate between either: 1. An ancestor and a descendant; 2. A brother and sister of either the whole or the half blood; 3. An uncle and niece or an aunt and nephew. If a marriage prohibited by the foregoing provisions of this section be solemnized it shall be void, and the parties thereto shall each be fined not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars and may, in the discretion of the court in addition to said fine, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding six months. Any person who shall knowingly and wilfully solemnize such marriage, or procure or aid in the solemnization of the same, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined or imprisoned in like manner.
    S 255.25 Incest. A person is guilty of incest when he or she marries or engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse with a person whom he or she knows to be related to him or her, either legitimately or out of wedlock, as an ancestor, descendant, brother or sister of either the whole or the half blood, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece. Incest is a class E felony.

  5. One examplary issue in this argumentation: violence against children

    This is a particular challenge against most of our common sense, including much common sense bostered by earlier psychologies and the social sciences. Families can be violent, and that may be natural.

    1. as perpetrated my females who do not take care of their children, or neglect (even kill) other people's children (see also Scheper-Hugues on mothering in Brazilian favelas)
      1. infanticide and female competition
    2. as perpetrated by males: child abuse and step parenting
      1. the "incest" statistics (particularly for "father-daughter" incest) in the United States: genetics, in loco parentis, marriage, "fatherhood."
      2. [compare and contrast with Whitehead's research on the psychological risks of divorce on small children]
  6. Incest in America: nature or culture?
    1. multiplicity of laws often copied without much changes from earlier statutes going back to British medieval law
    2. common sense generalization: genetic damage through in-breeding
    3. incest as frown against and incest as horror: child-abuse and consent
      1. abortion laws and the incest exception (or not).
    4. An uncommon restatement of the common-sense: Schneider on American Kinship as cultural fact
    5. and so, incest in American may not convern "what Americans believe or have learned" but rather what no one caught by American discourses and institutions can escape (here or abroad) -- when they find themselves caught with them.
      1. It is probably the case that most people in the United States know very little about the laws and regulations concerning incest, and will never be caught with them.
Some questions in the context of this lesson
  • what is the main theoretical argument in Daly and Wilson? What flaws can you identify?
  • what does Darwinian evolutionary theories as summarized in Daly and Wilson explain? what does it ignore? (give one or two examples of each)
  • what is the place of horror, crimininalization, repugnance, depravation, etc. in Hrdy's argument? What is the source of what she is fighting against? How might she explain the reluctance to study what she studies?