Should Near Kin Marry? Is Question Often Asked
( Originally Published 1936 )
At least twice a week the year round letters come to me asking a question which goes somewhat as follows:
"Should I marry my first cousin? Will the children of such a marriage be idiots?"
The answer is always the same: "It depends upon the hereditary traits of the family. Inbreeding tends to accentuate certain characteristics. If there is idiocy in the family it probably will come out in the offspring. On the other hand, if both cousins come from sound and wholesome stock, the result will probably be to accentuate those good qualities in the offspring."
It may be interesting to elaborate this answer and to give reasons and proof for the statements made.
First, where did the idea originate that the offspring of consanguineous marriages would be idiots? Undoubtedly from the observation of many such marriages. In hospitals for the insane many of the idiots are the children either of first cousins or of brothers and sisters. But that does not vitiate the validity of the statements made above. The parents were mentally weak. And since mental defectives are less conscientious and have less regard for the consequences of sexual relationships than normal persons, there is likely to be in any community a greater amount of interbreeding among mental defectives than among normals. The inevitable result is that in any group of mental defectives there will be a preponderance of offspring the result of consanguineous unions.
Incest, which has generally been considered to be abhorrent to normal individuals, has come in our day to be proclaimed by Freud as not only normal, but one of the strongest obsessions of the normal soul. This is quite as dogmatic and unsupported a statement as anything else in Freud. Freud has been so deified by his disciples, most of whom are themselves tarred by a peculiar brush, that any dissent from his statements is regarded by them as a sort of blasphemy. As a matter of fact, he is mostly gibberish, and the world is awakening to that fact very rapidly.
Westermarck and other anthropologists have stated after a study of many peoples, civilized and savage, that instead of a romantic attraction between brother and sister, mother and son, daughter and father, etc., the love that exists between such relatives is of an entirely different nature. It is partly gratitude, partly dependence, partly a sense of mutual protection. And commonsense; which is simply everybody's self-analyzed experience, fully bears this out.
The laws against incest were based on good breeding experience. They were designed to keep a small community from dying of dry rot. Intermarriage with strangers brought variety—new customs, new manners of thought—to a people.