Daniel Bitton on the Social Rationale of Cultural Taboos

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Contextual comment by Michel Bauwens:

Where do taboos come from . and how are cultural rules such as, 'it is forbidden to eat pigs', relate to, individual choices ?

This passage confirms my own intuition that things like religion and mythology, do not just represent 'fantastical imaginaries' that we have outgrown, but are forms of collective intelligence, that we cannot individually fathom on our own. This is not an argument to 'obey' them or find them unproblematic, just an argument to take them seriously and with respect:

Daniel Bitton writes:

"Contrary to the idea of conscious choice, the whole point of cultural rules is usually to avoid conscious choices, to avoid individuals making calculations that might seem like they’re in your short term interest, but that will doom you or the wider group in the long run.

Think about Kosher laws against eating swine. Marvin Harris noticed that laws against eating swine exist not in the middle east among Jews and Muslims, but also in other regions around the world. And what these cultures share in common is that in those areas, it’s only possible to feed pigs with the same foods that humans eat.

If only some people raise pigs, or if it’s a good harvest year, raising pigs is a great idea to improve your farmer diet. But but once everyone starts to do it, or when harvests are bad, suddenly you end up with massive food shortages, and starvation and class war between pig owners and non pig owners and chaos and social collapse.

If you depend on peoples’ individual rational choices, then everyone will want to raise pigs, even even they know that it might kill them in the long run. So it’s more effective to make it a deeply ingrained religious and social taboo where the actual cause is obscured and people just don’t even consider it in the first place because the whole idea of eating pigs just makes you supernaturally horrified.

So after a few rounds of pig caused famines, people in these areas developed these taboos."