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Cousin Marriage Conundrum
December 17, 2004 6:06 AM   Subscribe

Cousin Marriage Conundrum [...]By fostering intense family loyalties and strong nepotistic urges, inbreeding makes the development of civil society more difficult. Many Americans have heard by now that Iraq is composed of three ethnic groups -- the Kurds of the north, the Sunnis of the center, and the Shi'ites of the south. Clearly, these ethnic rivalries would complicate the task of ruling reforming Iraq. But that's just a top-down summary of Iraq's ethnic make-up. Each of those three ethnic groups is divisible into smaller and smaller tribes, clans, and inbred extended families -- each with their own alliances, rivals, and feuds. And the engine at the bottom of these bedeviling social divisions is the oft-ignored institution of cousin marriage[...]
posted by Postroad (36 comments total)

 
At least it is actually referred to as cousin marriage I know of a few communities in France and the UK where the same problem exists but on a strictly unofficial basis.
posted by Cancergiggles at 6:13 AM on December 17, 2004


About 20-30% of all marriages worldwide are between cousins. I think America is one of the few countries in the world where its illegal.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 6:14 AM on December 17, 2004


Cousin marriage is perfectly legal in Britain, Cancergiggles, as far as I know.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 6:15 AM on December 17, 2004


My apologies. I phrased that very badly and I believe that you are correct. I was actually pointing to the fact (somewhat too subtly) that relationships exist which are between couples who are far closer than "cousins" and they are absolutely illegal.
posted by Cancergiggles at 6:21 AM on December 17, 2004


Actually, I think I find this article fairly offensve.

Similarly, as Francis Fukuyama described in his 1995 book "Trust: The Social Virtues & the Creation of Prosperity," countries such as Italy with highly loyal extended families can generate dynamic family firms. Yet, their larger corporations tend to be rife with goldbricking, corruption, and nepotism, all because their employees don't trust each other to show their highest loyalty to the firm rather than their own extended families. Arab cultures are more family-focused than even Sicily, and thus their larger economic enterprises suffer even more.

Thats just bollocks, isn't it?
posted by ZippityBuddha at 6:22 AM on December 17, 2004


Marrying your cousin is legal in the UK according to this page. Apparently Henry VIII changed the law to allow it as he wanted to marry his own cousin.
posted by biffa at 6:31 AM on December 17, 2004


Good old Henry. Was there any law he wouldn't change for the sake of sex?
posted by ZippityBuddha at 6:33 AM on December 17, 2004


Marriage between first cousins is actually legal in 19 U.S. states, including California and New York.
posted by naomi at 6:55 AM on December 17, 2004


and does anyone know who those 19 recently voted for?
posted by Cancergiggles at 7:02 AM on December 17, 2004


FDR married his fifth cousin, Eleanor.

The occurence of genetic defects among the inbred is exaggerated in the United States, and the prevalence of marrying your cousin is understated. It's another one of those things that I personally think is a little bit icky, but hey, it's their life.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:10 AM on December 17, 2004


I think America is one of the few countries in the world where its illegal.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 2:14 PM GMT on December 17


BZZZT!!! Wrong - it's just not as widespread. (This is a good thing, of course).

It occurs to me that consanguinity has been the norm over time since humanity appeared - indeed, humanity may only have apeared because of consanguinity between apes, for all I know. Small, isolated groups of primates wouyld have had little choice, and little ethical restraint (if any...do apes have ethics?) not to do brothers, sisters, neices, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.

It's our appropriate squeamishness about genetic faults that makes 21st Century westerners marry outside the clan, but it was clearly the Church in the middle ages (if this essay is accurate) which, for it's own ends, effectively outlawed the practice. That, and the solid establishment of the nationstate, which hasn't occurred in the middle east outside of Israel 50-odd years ago (almost yesterday, historically speaking), is why westerners don't boink their cousins.

Plus - Jerry Lee was a great rocker, but really...he's not a model for me to exhort my kin to follow, is he? His cousin was 13, ffs!
posted by dash_slot- at 7:16 AM on December 17, 2004


Marriage between first cousins is actually legal in 19 U.S. states, including California and New York.

and does anyone know who those 19 recently voted for?

Here's a map of the states allowing cousin marriage. Some red, some blue. (And in case you are hopelessly smitten with your own cuz, the site on which the map appears is your support group.)
posted by beagle at 7:25 AM on December 17, 2004


If Henry allowed it, he re-allowed it. Marriages between royal cousins were common since at least the 11th or 12th century, and I'm guessing before as well.
posted by u.n. owen at 7:32 AM on December 17, 2004


There are many isolated areas in Western countries where marrying cousins happens almost by default due to the shallowness of the gene pool. Among some of these "civilized" locations are central London, Southwest Ireland, East Anglia in England, New Zealand, Kentucky and Washington State. That's not even counting all the polygamous activity in states like Utah and Arizona.

My personal philosophy is, it should be OK as long as they are consenting adults. Genetic testing has rendered the whole "inbreeding" argument moot.
posted by Leege at 7:52 AM on December 17, 2004


Riverbend had responded to a similar argument more than a year ago.

... and come on: " Muslim countries are usually known for warm, devoted extended family relationships, but also for weak patriotism"... I would think that taking into account the fact that the Arab countries are arbitrary lines in the sand, drawn by colonial rulers with little interest in the societies they would be forming, might go a longer way toward explaining this alleged "lack of patriotism", if such an attitude really exists - a claim which, of course, in Iraq's case is in practice debunked by the patriotic resistance's self-sacrifice and popularity...

This is mostly ideology-laden nonesense paraded as "scientific" studies. It could be a case study on how sociobiological explanations are indeed just-so stories that ignore any evidence that doesn't support their story.
posted by talos at 7:55 AM on December 17, 2004


If cousin marriage discourages democracy, why is it common (according to Leege) in New Zealand - the first democracy?

No, democracy was not invented in the U.S. - it was invented in ancient Greece, but New Zealand was the first nation with universal suffrage. Also, what talos said.
posted by spazzm at 8:37 AM on December 17, 2004


Point of clarification: the article--if you read it fully--does NOT say that marriage to cousins is only done in Arba countries but rather that the statistics show that is much more a reality in total marriages in Iraq, and that it was a system dating back to biblical times in the old testament etc. I know of cousins amrried in Amrica. But this is hardly what is being talked about in the article.
posted by Postroad at 8:40 AM on December 17, 2004


This issue in Muslim societies was touched on in Germaine Tillion's Republic of Cousins. In Muslim countries in the Mediterranean, marrying daughters to their paternal uncle's sons was a way of ensuring that family wealth stayed in the family. Under muslim law, daughters were owed a share of the inheritance. By marrying those daughters to their cousins, that inheritance didn't go outside the clan.

This also has the effect, as Tillion points out, of serving as a means of oppressing women, since this form of cousin marriage is meant to prevent them from having any social or financial identity outside of her father's family.

I also find it funny how while some liberals may be criticized for decrying "the market's" role in detaching us from our families and community connections, certain free-market-conservatives herald the breaking of close family connections and relationships as a means of promoting greater economic activity.
posted by deanc at 8:53 AM on December 17, 2004


Every time I read stuff written by US conservative scholars (or derived from their writings), I'm always reminded of the left-wing students of the 60s: smart people, who read a lot of facts and theories and therefore think that they can explain (sometimes nicely) any foreign culture until it fits their preformatted world wiew. And these people are still, basically, clueless.
posted by elgilito at 9:03 AM on December 17, 2004


Inbreeding without a conundrum is just wrong.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:14 AM on December 17, 2004


One of my cousins is hot!
posted by Cyrano at 9:27 AM on December 17, 2004


A little context regarding the author, Steve Sailer, might help -- see this article by Garance Franke-Ruta.
posted by sennoma at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2004


Yep, it goes back to the RC Church's attempt to consolidate power. One of the conditions of the Church's support of Henry II's invasion of Ireland was to crush the rival Irish churches and eliminate marriage between cousins closer than second degree (along with baptism with milk, and the tradition of the wake.) Given the population dynamics of rural Ireland at the time (its only city had been built by the Danes), this was less than successful.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:55 AM on December 17, 2004


There are many isolated areas in Western countries where marrying cousins happens almost by default due to the shallowness of the gene pool. Among some of these "civilized" locations are central London ...

Er, bad example, that; central London has rather low consanguinity rates by comparison to a lot of other places.
posted by Goedel at 11:42 AM on December 17, 2004


Anyone who read the linked garbage above really needs to learn more about this author.
Steve Sailer is low life scum.
posted by nofundy at 12:42 PM on December 17, 2004


Seems to me that the page you link to, nofundy, is more hate and rhetoric filled (or at least as much) as the original piece by Sailer. I'm not taking sides on the larger issue -- lots of facts to check before even beginning to get into the conclusions, but I gotta call it like I see it.
posted by incongruity at 2:11 PM on December 17, 2004


cousin marriage in the middle east is on the decline, just as it is pretty much everywhere. Modern economies discourage these types of marriage as urbanization increases and labor flow needs to be more fluid.
posted by chaz at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2004


furthermore, consanguious marraige is mostly practiced by those in rural and tribal areas, throughout Iraq and the middle east. They are not exactly the type of people who can be expected to be running the country or participating beyond the most superficial levels in democracy. So while I think there is a point to be made here, making it THE point is ridiculous and just another apology for American bungling.

I can picture my uncle reading this and saying "see, this is why we can't have democracy OVER THERe, these people arer marrying their damn cousins!"
posted by chaz at 2:19 PM on December 17, 2004


Anyone who read the linked garbage above really needs to learn more about this author.

The only "garbage" here is your dumb little rant. Just because Bad Person X has ever mentioned something doesn't automatically make it "garbage", and argumentum ad hominem is not a valid debating strategy. Your outburst ranks up there with "Hitler was a vegetarian!" for inanity.

The fact of the matter is that the numbers I linked to are correct, as anyone can ascertain by doing the legwork of looking up the references.
posted by Goedel at 3:14 PM on December 17, 2004


Let me add that I think Sailer's argument makes no sense, and not because he has his numbers wrong in this case; historically speaking, Japan has also had surprisingly high levels of consanguineous marriage - higher than that in countries like Lebanon, and comparable to many Gulf states - and yet it's managed to develop a stable government, a flourishing civil society, and a prosperous economy.

The big problem with Sailer in general is that he tends to take isolated facts and spin grand biologically deterministic theories out of them that are trivial to tear down for any thinking person with a twinge of scepticism.
posted by Goedel at 3:21 PM on December 17, 2004


Leege: There are many isolated areas in Western countries where marrying cousins happens almost by default due to the shallowness of the gene pool. Among some of these "civilized" locations are central London, Southwest Ireland, East Anglia in England, New Zealand, Kentucky and Washington State. That's not even counting all the polygamous activity in states like Utah and Arizona.

Are you absolutely sure about that? I'd query central London (a huge number of people living in London were born outside the city, or even the country, and with so many tourists, commuters and short-term residents it would seem that there's a large gene pool to choose from). And I'd certainly query New Zealand (OK, there are only four million of us, but that's still a reasonable number from which to choose a spouse, without having to resort to marrying one's cousin - I certainly don't know anyone who's done so).
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:53 PM on December 17, 2004


I got my information from the March 2003 issue of Bizarre Magazine, which had a special report on inbreeding. It cited central London as an example of having cases of severe mental and physical problems due to limited gene pools. (I think it was referring to longstanding communities of residents). In the case of New Zealand, Bizarre said it had the highest-ever verified level of inbreeding, with nine cases per million population per year.
posted by Leege at 11:07 PM on December 17, 2004


Well, good Lord....I guess I shouldn't be surprised that that didn't get a mention in the media down here - though 9/million isn't that many, right?

Interesting, thanks.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:18 AM on December 18, 2004


New Zealand was the first nation with universal suffrage.

If suffrage in New Zealand was so universal so early, why was it still making changes to expand voting rights up to the 1970's? As described at the bottom of this page.
posted by biffa at 4:29 AM on December 18, 2004


Biffa: what you're describing there is a lowering of the voting age (from 21 to 18) and allowing non-citizens to vote. I'd still say we had universal suffrage, even prior to those changes.

Further up that page it states that NZ had universal suffrage in 1893, which is the commonly accepted point (women were granted the vote in that year, and non-property owners had already gained the right to vote, in 1879).

We started off allowing property-owning males to vote; but realised that this was unfair to the Maori population (they owned land communally, so none of them owned enough land to vote). So seperate Maori seats were established. (Which still exist, and are the cause of some controversy - Maori can choose whether they want to vote in these electorates, or in General electorates). Bear in mind, this was prior to the US Civil War and you guys still had slavery at the time.

1879: the vote extended to all adult (over-21) males.
1893: the vote extended to all adults (first country in the world to grant women the vote).
1974: voting age lowered to 18 (note that it was 21 in most other countries as well).
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2004


I married my cousin

by marriage.
posted by Monday at 8:05 PM on December 23, 2004


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