Friday, September 07, 2007

Incest opinion

kw: opinion, incest

I've been reading a collection of "early greats" among Sci-Fi short stories. But one really annoyed me. It is well known that Theodore Sturgeon's later work (after '50s editorial self-censorship gradually ended) all had the premise "Sex solves everything." I hadn't realized how far he was willing to go. His story "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" not only explores incest, it strongly defends it.

I'll be short: Sturgeon has a strong character, from a planet that is a pariah because the people there practice the freest of free sex, make a case that humans are the only animal with an incest taboo. Yet his only analogy is with farmed cattle. Yes, on a ranch, the solitary bull will cover every heifer in the field, whether they are his daughters, grand-daughters, or whatever. But that is an artificial situation.

In wild bovine herds, there is an even mix of male and female, not one male plus lots of females and lots of steers (eunuchs), which are usually kept separately. In wild herds, though the dominant males will have lots of mates, all the males have a chance at mating. Yet wherever it has been studied, incest has not been recorded. The heifers seek out unrelated bulls. And so it is with vertebrates in general.

The second point the character makes is to denigrate the idea of recessive problems with inbreeding. The fact is, his facts are wrong. Only in late 20th Century (and later) human society has sex become more recreational than procreational. Once sex becomes divorced in people's minds from pregnancy, only then are larger numbers of people likely to seek relationships that were formerly too risky (in a genetic sense).

There are plenty of references on the Web; I won't bother gathering links here. The fact is, this story reveals Sturgeon at his most ignorantly wrong ever.

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