Thinking about Incest 11: Saving the Viennese Witchdoctor

If social conservatives bridle and high school students snicker at the sound of Freud’s name, the reaction of intellectuals is hardly more sophisticated. They almost divide into two exclusive and exhaustive groups: those who read “Freud” as “fraud” and those who read it as “joy” (its meaning in German). Patricia Kitcher, Freud’s Dream: A Complete Interdisciplinary Science of Mind (MIT Press, 1992), p.4.

One of the more simultaneously entertaining, puzzling, and frustrating parts of the anthropological literature on incest and the Westermarck Effect is the back-and-forth between those defending, and those attacking, Freud’s views of incest, childhood sexuality, and spelling out their relationship to the Westermarck Effect. Freud and Westermarck themselves were clearly at odds, and we have seen much to suggest the basis for that tension.

For Freud (like Levi-Strauss), incest taboos mark a firm line between animal nature and human civilization: animals, and our own animal side (aka “the id”, amongst other things), are incestuous, a nature whose tensions for family life gives rise to the need for incest taboos. This is part of a broader view of the pervasiveness of sexuality in the human condition, Continue reading

Thinking about Incest 10: Rules, rules, rules

One way in which the Westermarck Effect might be conceptualized is in terms of E.O. Wilson and Charles Lumsden’s idea of an epigenetic rule. Such rules are, in their words, “genetically determined procedures that direct the assembly of the mind …[that] comprise the restraints that the genes place on development (hence the name ‘epigenetic’)”. I’ve never taken this idea very serious, in part because they suggest that these are the bridge between human nature and morality in general, and in part because of the “genetically determined” bit. But let’s put that aside for now, and think about the Westermarck Effect as an innate constraint not on the mind per se but on how we direct our behavior. What we have so far is something like this:

if two individuals are intimate childhood associates, having been raised together for a number of years from early in life, then those two individuals will have a psychological aversion to sexual relations to one another and/or will lack erotic feelings for one another, and will, as a result, avoid incestual behaviors with one another when they are sexually mature.

  • offspring will show the same resulting aversion to any parent by whom they were raised via the same or a similar childhood association mechanism.
  • parents will show the same resulting aversion to any offspring they have raised via an attachment mechanism.

But we want to put this more simply. Maybe: Continue reading

Thinking about Incest 9: Avoidance and Taboo

Suppose that some version of the Westermarck Effect exists, so that intimate childhood association inhibits sexual attraction later in life. What is the relationship between such an effect, and the social rules and conventions in place constituting incest taboos? One of the in-house disputes amongst those adopting a biosocial approach to inbreeding, incest, and incest avoidance focuses on just this question. Continue reading

A lot of Enhancement

Two recent issues of Journal of Evolution and Technology (JET)
link here
Becoming More Than Human: Technology and the Post-Human Condition Special Issue (Volume 19 Issue 1)

Intro: Sky Marsen “Introduction”

1-2: Cory Doctorow: “Leaving Behind More Than a Knucklebone”

3-7: Patrick D. Hopkins: “A Moral Vision for Transhumanism”

8-16: William Sims Bainbridge: “Cognitive Expansion Technologies”

17-27: Samuel H. Kenyon: “Would You Still Love Me If I Was A Robot?”

28-34: Riccardo Campa: “Pure Science and the Posthuman Future”

35-41: Gregory E. Jordan: “The Invention of Man: A Response to C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man”

42-50: Joseph Jackson: “The Amorality of Preference: A Response to the Enemies of Enhancement”

51-61: PJ Manney: “Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy”

62-66: George Dvorsky: “Better Living through Transhumanism”

67-72: Nick Bostrom: “Letter from Utopia”
Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights (HETHR) Special Issue (Volume 18 Issue 1)

i-vi: James Hughes: “Introduction”

THE ETHICS OF ENHANCEMENT

1-9: Patrick Hopkins: “Is Enhancement Worthy of Being a Right?”

10-26: Fritz Allhoff: “Germ Line Genetic-Enhancement and Rawlsian Primary Goods”:

27-34: Martin Gunderson: “Enhancing Human Rights: How the Use of Human Rights Treaties to Prohibit Genetic Engineering Weakens Human Rights”

35-41: Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff: “Against Unrestricted Human Enhancement”

42-49: Fred Gifford: “Ethical Issues in Enhancement Research”

50-55: Aubrey de Grey: “Our Right to Life”

DEMOCRACY, DIVERSITY AND ENHANCEMENT

56-69: Gregory Fowler and Kirk Allison: “Technology and Citizenry: A Model for Public Consultation in Science Policy Formation”

70-78: Laura Colleton: “The Elusive Line Between Enhancement and Therapy and Its Effects on Health Care in the U.S.”

79-85: Anita Silvers: “The right not to be normal as the essence of freedom”

86-93: Martin Gunderson: “Genetic Engineering and the Consent of Future Persons”

COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT

94-107: Martine Rothblatt: “Are We Transbemans Yet?”

108-115: Mark Walker: “Cognitive Enhancement and the Identity Objection”

116-123: Eva Caldera: “Cognitive Enhancement and Theories of Justice: Contemplating the Malleability of Nature and Self”

124-128: Dawn Jakubowski: “Cognitive Enhancement and Liberatory Possibilities of Antidepressant Therapy”

129-142: George Dvorsky: “All Together Now: Considerations for biologically uplifting non-human animals”

New Rising Sun Production: The Ghost of Opposite Gulch

The good folk of Opposite Gulch, a tiny hamlet in the Badass Badlands of Southern Alberta, thought the sandstorm was bad– the worst sandstorm in 20 years, burying the crops and hayfields—but there’s worse. A ghost is haunting the town’s only remaining business, the Zappapalooza Saloon and Massage Studio, scaring staff and customers into hightailin’ it. And the worst fate of all has befallen the title character, a ghost with a curious connection to the town and great skill in optometry. Find out that fallen fate at The Ghost of Opposite Gulch!

Rising Sun Theatre is pleased to announce its world premiere production of The Ghost of Opposite Gulch on Friday May 29 @ 7 pm and Saturday May 30 @ 2 pm at SKILLS, 10408-124 St, Edmonton, SE corner entrance. Admission is pay-what-you-can.

The Ghost of Opposite Gulch is a new western spoof written by Gerry Potter and Cindy Burgess, assisted by the members of Rising Sun Theatre. Rising Sun is an Edmonton barrier-free theatre company known for its productions of The Giraffe Who Thought He Could Fly and Stories About Us, which recently garnered the group the Telus Courage to Innovate Award at The Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. Songs for Ghost are written by Burgess, Potter and musician Craig Buchert. Sam Varteniuk directs a cast which includes Geneva Auger, Barbie Cartier, Don Downie, Ron Hansen, Daniel Hughes, Liz Racko, Cindy Rego, Katie Saric, Joan Treleaven and Wes Treleaven. Music performed live by Craig Buchert. Set and props are designed by Stewart Burdett, costumes designed by Cindy Burgess, and stage management is by Stephanie Leaf. This new play is supported by the Lee Fund of the Edmonton Arts Council and SKILLS. The play runs about 30 minutes. It has some adult jokes and may not be suitable for young children.

Rising Sun Theatre Workshop is a barrier-free theatre group committed to providing opportunities for people with developmental and other disabilities to have their voices heard and stories shared. Continue reading

Health Care Reform and the Disability Community

from Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, Health Care Reform … at the Huffington Post

As we speak, Congress is deliberating on vast and important changes to the system of health care in the United States. This issue is one of crucial importance to all Americans, but of particular interest to those Americans who interact with public health insurance more than almost any other group — people with disabilities. Ranging from veterans with disabilities who receive care through the Veteran’s Administration health care system to the many low-income disabled adults who are eligible for Medicaid, the disability community interacts with the public health care infrastructure in the United States in a wide variety of ways. As we consider how to reform, streamline and expand that infrastructure through any of a variety of means, it is incumbent upon us to remember the key issues for making sure that health care reform doesn’t leave disabled adults and youth behind. Read the rest here .

Thinking about Incest 8: Primate Evidence and Anthropology

In the last post, I introduced a “Westermarckian cluster” of views about incest and its avoidance, the first two of which were:

  1. incest avoidance is widespread in the nonhuman animal world, including amongst nonhuman primates
  2. humans and their closest primate relatives alike have a natural psychological aversion to incest that plays a causal role in both incest avoidance and, in the case of humans, incest taboos

and which I want to take up in this post. In earlier posts (like Thinking about Incest 5), I have spelled out more precisely how I think 2. should be understood, and here I want to focus on 1. I draw chiefly on three recent reviews of the relevant primate literature: the comprehensive review of Andreas Paul and Jutta Kuester, “The Impact of Kinship on Mating and Reproduction” (in Chapais and Berman, Kinship and Behavior in Primates, 2004), and the more succinct summaries of Anne Pusey “Inbreeding Avoidance in Primates” (in Wolf and Durham, Inbreeding, Incest Avoidance, and Incest Taboos, 2005) and Bernard Chapais, Primeval Kinship: How Pair-Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society (2008).

Primatology is a relatively young discipline, with study of the nature and structure of primate societies being undertaken systematically only in the past 40 years. Since then, documentation of the rarity of reproductive sex and mating between at least some close relatives has provided strong evidence for the existence of one or more mechanisms facilitating this outcome. One of those mechanisms relates intimate association during the pre-reproductive years of at least one member of a dyad to later sexual preferences and behavior during the reproductive years of an individual, i.e., it is just the sort of mechanism posited by Westermarck. Continue reading

Thinking about Incest 7: A Westermarckian Cluster

In past few posts in this series, I have tried to stay close to the view of what the Westermarck Effect is that focuses on sexually mature sibling incest avoidance and the idea that intimate childhood association produces it, but that also suggests that Westermarck himself flips between that view and one that is much broader in its range, applying to other family dyads as well. Time now to step back from micro-details to take a look at the larger cluster of views of which this “effect” is a part.

There are at least five such views in play here. The first of these, a claim about certain kinds of rules and practices—taboos—has been long accepted. It says that Continue reading

Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers

out today
May 19, 2009

Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers
GAO-09-719T, May 19, 2009

Children, especially those with disabilities, are reportedly being restrained and secluded in public and private schools and other facilities, sometimes resulting in injury and death. The…..
more here
and here

Illinois Legislation on Sterilization Passed

from a press release from Equip for Equality, contacts below the fold; the organizing efforts that led to this change came out of work in response to the Ashley X case; congratulations to all involved! –raw

PASSAGE OF ILLINOIS HOUSE BILL 2290 ADDS CRUCIAL DUE PROCESS PROTECTION GOVERNING STERILIZATION OF ADULTS WITH DISABILITIES

Equip for Equality’s Judicial Victory Leads to Legislative Reform for Adults with Disabilities Under Guardianship CHICAGO (May 18, 2009)— Today, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to ban the sterilization of adults with disabilities under guardianship without due process. In so doing, the reproductive dignity of adults with disabilities under guardianship has been preserved. The bill, HB 2290, will now be sent to Governor Quinn.

Previously, there was no requirement that a guardian of an adult with a disability petition the court to authorize a ward’s sterilization. In recognition of the fundamental rights at stake, and the history of involuntary sterilization of people with disabilities, most states have enacted statutes to provide due process protection for wards facing this life-changing, and potentially traumatic, situation. Prior to today, Illinois was one of only 16 states failing to provide statutory protections.

Continue reading

Group sues UW Hospital over policy of withholding treatment from disabled patients

from the Wisconsin State Journal, by Jason Stein:

In a case that could have broad legal implications for when some patients are allowed to die, an advocacy group is alleging that doctors at UW Hospital broke the law by withholding treatment from two developmentally disabled patients with apparent cases of pneumonia.

The guardian of one patient, who survived, at first went along with and then later disagreed with the decision to withhold care, the lawsuit by Disability Rights Wisconsin alleges. The parents of the other patient, who died, pushed for the withdrawal of treatment, according to the group’s complaint filed Thursday in Dane County Circuit Court.

One medical ethicist said the case could help to clarify a difficult question in state law: How much power do families and guardians have to make medical decisions for vulnerable patients such as children and the developmentally disabled?
Disability Rights contends state law prevents parents and guardians from withholding treatment from patients who can’t make that decision for themselves unless they are in a “persistent vegetative state,” a condition the group says did not apply to the two patients in the lawsuit.

You can read the full story at the link above.

Kristina Chew on Eugenics, Fear and Pain

Kristina Chew on autism at change.org, writing in response to her son Charlie’s new neurologist’s request for genetic testing, in a post that begins:

The new neurologist has requested that my son have some genetic testing done, specifically for the PTEN and MECP2 genes, both of which have been connected to autism (and the latter to Rett Syndrome). Which means, there’s been some evidence linking these genes to individuals on the spectrum, but nothing definitive.

Here’s my comment: I’m sure that your neurologist will have an interesting response to the question: what’s the point FOR CHARLIE of genetic testing? Continue reading

Woodlands Provincial Lunatic Asylum

Matt Good has an interesting entry on his blog regarding the redevelopment of the Woodlands property in New Westminster, BC.

http://www.matthewgood.org/2009/05/a-cannon-in-my-chest/

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Thinking about Incest 6: Westermarck on Parental Love

In the last post on Thinking about Incest, I left off by introducing attachment as a possible mechanism for the Westermarck Effect. While so far as I know, Westermarck did not discuss attachment under that heading, in Chapter 17 (“The Killing of Parents, Sick Persons, Children, Feticide”) of volume 1 of The Origin and the Development of the Moral Ideas (1906), Westermarck says several interesting things about parental love, and the relationship between habit, custom, and morality. In discussing infanticide amongst “uncivilized races” and “the lower savages”—the language here a reminder of Westermarck’s immersion in the academic culture of his day—(p. 402), he says Continue reading

DisRespect Radio Broadcast: Barb Farlow and Rob Wilson

Many of you have likely been following the case of Annie Farlow (Here is a listing of all our Annie Farlow posts) and were looking forward to listening to yesterday’s radio interview of Barb Farlow and Rob Wilson by Geoff Langhorne. If you are unfamiliar with the case then this interview should provide a succinct introduction to the details of the case in an accessible form. The one thing perhaps unclear in the interview is that Annie was NOT a newborn, but 80 days old, and went in to the hospital 24 hours before her unexpected death.  You can also get more from the recently-formed Justice for Annie Facebook group, which you’re welcome to join (it’s an open group), and the Annie Farlow website linked there.

The interview was broadcast on the CFMU (McMaster Unversity Radio) program DisRespect (Here is a little about the show and the program’s host) and is available for listening/download by doing the following:

  1. Go to the CFMU website (http://cfmu.msumcmaster.ca/)
  2. Click the button near the top left side of the screen that says “PROGRAMMING”
  3. Click on “DisRespect” in the programming grid that appears; you’ll find it at 12pm in the Thursday column
  4. A pop-up window will appear. In the left column, just click “14.05.2009″ and the program will start playing. (If it doesn’t, you should be prompted to download some free software that takes less than a minute to download.) DisRespect starts a couple of minutes into the broadcast.
  5. If you would like to downoad the program to your own computer (useful for skipping past the intro and the compulsory musical interludes) then just click “14.05.2009″ and once the program starts playing there will be a new box in the bottom of the pop-up window with a download link that you can simply click (Note that the file is 60MB).

An unofficial transcript of the broadcast follows:

Unofficial transcript from DisRespect, with Geoff Langhorne, 14th May, 2009

Geoff: DisRespect welcomes Rob Wilson, who is a professor at the University of Alberta in philosophy is it Rob?,

Rob: ah, that’s right, Geoff.

Geoff: and coordinator with the What Sorts of People Network in Alberta, and Barb Farlow, who was a mechanical engineer and is now an advocate on behalf of people with disabilities in Ontario. Welcome to the show.

Barb: Thank you.

Rob: Thanks for having us.

Geoff: Ok. Barb, this concern that brought you together with Rob started with an incident in your life that our listeners might not be aware of. Do you want to give us the once over lightly?

Barb: Sure, I’ll give you the brief version, Geoff. My daughter died in August of 2005 within 24 hours of arrival at the Hospital for Sick Children. Annie had a genetic condition that was related to disability. Generally the condition comes with very serious anomalies that are considered lethal, such as severe brain defects. However, like all genetic conditions there are a wide range that exist, and my daughter was mildly afflicted. We knew that we would have difficult decisions to make before she was born and ironically we had many meetings at the hospital, specifically to discuss policies and eligibilities for surgery, and ethics and what would happen if this and what if that because we really needed to understand the medical system so that we could properly manage our daughter’s heath within its confines. Once we were assured of the policies, her rights, the ethics, the matter in which any ethical disputes or dilemmas would be resolved, we placed our entire trust in the system. Continue reading

Thinking about Incest 5: Just How Encompassing IS the Westermarck Effect?

As characterized so far in previous posts, the scope of the Westermarck Effect seems quite narrow in that it is directly concerned only with something like sibling incest, and then only with that for siblings raised together. However, there are a number of places where Westermarck himself suggests a much more general account of what the effect named in his honour covers. At the end of ch.14 of A History of Human Marriage (all reference here to the 3rd edition) Westermarck says:

The home is kept pure from incestuous defilement neither by laws, nor by customs, nor by education, but by an instinct which under normal circumstances makes sexual love between the nearest kin a psychical impossibility. An unwritten law, says Plato, defends “as sufficiently as possible”, parents from incestuous intercourse with their children, brothers from intercourse with their sisters … ‘nor does even the desire for this intercourse come at all upon the masses’”. (Westermarck, History, p.319; bold italics mine) Continue reading

Thinking about Incest 4: Getting more Explicit about the Westermarck Effect

In previous posts in this series, I talked about genetic sexual attraction, incest, and some current characterizations of the Westermarck Effect. In this post, I want to offer a preliminary sharpening of the Westermarck Effect, based just on those previous characterizations. The most natural reading of them might give us something like this as an expression of the effect named for Westermarck:

if two individuals are intimate childhood associates, having been raised together for a number of years from early in life, then those two individuals will have a psychological aversion to sexual relations to one another and/or will lack erotic feelings for one another, and will, as a result, avoid incestual behaviors with one another when they are sexually mature.

This formulation makes intimate childhood association, however it is spelt out precisely, a sufficient condition for a cluster of attitudes, feelings, and behavior avoidances. It can also be read as making both predictions—from childhood facts to claims about adulthood—and retrodictions—from adulthood facts to claims about childhood–about attitudes, feelings, and behavior avoidances in particular individuals, and to posit a causal chain linking early life experiences to those attitudes, feelings, and avoidances. Continue reading

Thinking about Incest 3: Westermarck, Fritzl, and Incest

The first pair of posts in this series looked at genetic sexual attraction, or what I suggested might be called adult reunion-mediated GSA, or ARMGSA. Simply lumping that together with other incest-related phenomena isn’t that productive, though I think that ARMGSA does tell us something important about incest, sexual attraction, and social taboos. To get to that, I want to go a bit slowly through a view that was mentioned in the previous posts, “the Westermarck Effect”. What is this, and what does it have to do with incest?

Edward Westermarck was a Finnish thinker whose 1891 tome The History of Human Marriage, published when he was in his late 20s, began a career of publishing long, wide-ranging books on marriage, sex, and the origins of morality. Westermarck is most often remembered for a particular view he held about the relationship between early childhood association and sexual attraction, a view often named the Westermarck Effect. There are various characterizations of this effect and its relationship to incest. Here are four taken from one recent collection that adopts a biosocial approach to incest, Arthur Wolf and William Durham’s Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century (Stanford University Press, 2004), a book whose core message is that despite the fact that Westermarck’s views have been widely dismissed until recently, he was more right than wrong about childhood association and sexual attraction: Continue reading