Will having a second child become Taboo?

When a group decides that a behavior is taboo, sometimes it is not because some genes are expressing themselves in the lower brain stem. Some taboos result from changing social conditions.   For example, when we were hunter and gatherers and were running through the woods and it was time to relieve ourselves; we deposited excrement on the ground wherever we were. Overtime, as humans grouped together in villages, leaving excrement on walking paths became taboo.

Over thousands of years, as villages became cities, additional behaviors, previously thought to be benign, became taboo. For example letting your domesticated animal eat someone’s garden or throwing your garbage over the fence, which is now your neighbor’s yard.

Recently adopted taboos include driving 50 MPH through a school zone, skiing out of control, and using DDT to improve crop yields.  

Some behaviors are in the process of becoming taboo. For example, harvesting decimated animal and fish species, or using fossil fuels in an SUV to pick up one’s mail.

As an individual’s behavior affects ever more people, either in distant places or distant times, that behavior changes from wonderful, to self-centered, to selfish, to politically incorrect, to taboo and eventually to a violation of law.

For example, personal procreative behaviors follow this trend. Before the turn of the century having 8 kids was wonderful. In the 40’s having four was wonderful. In the 60’s having three children was wonderful.  In the 80’s it became environmentally extravagant to have three children and 2 children became wonderful.  In China only one child is wonderful.  Having 2 children is taboo and in some instances against the law.

We in the United States feel the Chinese are wrong in making the “second-child-behavior” taboo or illegal.  However, are we being like the hunter and gather who could not understand the, “don’t excrete on the path” message?

As we learn that we are sharing one ocean, one atmosphere, one food chain, one forest, and one exhaustible oil supply, we should not be surprised by the brilliance and utility of a taboo against having a second child.

I just hope that our hunter and gather brains get the message before we destroy our civilization, our eco-system, and possibly the human experiment.


Jack Alpert (Bio)     mail to: Alpert@skil.org      (homepage) www.skil.org      Other position papers

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