“Hotheads”, the chapter on game theory (though I forget if Pinker actually uses the phrase) in How the Mind Works is really good stuff. It reminds me a bit of this from Mike Munger. I’ve discussed related issues with regard to contractarianism, but I don’t think I’ve done so in depth anywhere I can link to. I’m not going to quote anything from it though, you’ll just have to read it yourself. Instead I’ll quote from “Family Values”.

“Another surprising consequence of kin solidarity is that the family is a subversive organization. That conclusion flies in the face of the right-wing view that the church and the state have always been steadfast upholders of the family and of the left-wing view that the family is a bourgeois, patriarchal institution designed to suppress women, weaken class solidarity, and manufacture docile consumers. The jounalist Ferdinand Mount has documented how ever political and religious movement in history has sought to undermine the family. The reasons are obvious. Not only is the family a rival coalition competing for a person’s loyalties, but it is a rival with an unfair advantage: relatives innately care for one another more than comrades do. They bestow nepotistic benefits, forgive the daily frictions that strain other organizations, and stop at nothing to avenge wrongs against a member. Leninism, Nazism, and other totalitarian ideologies always demand a new loyalty “higher” than, and contrary to, family ties. So have religions from early Christianity to the Moonies […]

Successful religions and states eventually realize they have to coexist with families, but they do what they can to contain them, particularly the most threatening ones. The anthropologist Nancy Thornhill has found that the incest laws of most cultures are not created to deal with the problem of borther-sister marriages; brothers and sisters don’t want to marry to begin with. Although brother-sister incest may be included in the prohibition and may help to legitimize it, the real targets of the laws are marriages that threaten the interests of the lawmakers. The rules ban marriages among more distant relatives like cousins, and are promulgated by the rulers of stratified societies to prevent wealth and poewr from accumulating in families, which could be future rivals. The anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown that the medieval church’s rules on sex and marriage were also weapons against familial dynasties. In feudal Europe, parents did not bequeath their estates in equal parts to all of their children. Plots of land could not be subdivided every generation or they would become uselessly small, and a title can fall on only one heir. The custome of primogeniture arose, in which everything went to the oldest son and the other sons hit the road to seek their fortunes, often joining armies or the church. The church filled up with disnherited younger sons, who then manipulated marriage rules to make it harder for owners and title-holders to bear legitimate heirs. If they died without sons, the properties and titles passed back to the disinherited brothers or the church they served. According to their laws, a man could not divorce a childless wife, remarry while she was alive, adopt an heir, bear an heir with a woman closer than a seventh cousin, or have sex on various special days that added up to more than half the year. The story of Henry VIII reminds us that much of European history revolves around battles between powerful individuals tyring to leverage family feelings for political gain – marrying strategically, striving for heirs – and other powerful individuals trying to foil them.”

Of course there is always the question of what is healthy tissue and what is cancerous growth. As families pre-exist religion and the state I say it is the latter that are subversive. Lawrence Auster thought I was crazy when I made that claim, and I would say “Who’s crazy now!? Goo goo gajoob!” except that he rejects Darwinism and so Pinker’s reasoning would fall on deaf ears.

Off-topic: Michael Moynihan often rubs me the wrong way (too friendly to AIPAC/neo-cons and more interested in being anti-left than anti-state), but this double review of Naomi Wolf and Jonah Goldberg’s books on fascism hits the spot.