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Happy (Inter)National Quirkyalone Day

Your score was 113. Very quirkyalone: Relatives may give you quizzical looks, and so may friends, but you know in your heart of hearts that you are following your inner voice. Though you may not be romancing a single person, you are romancing the world. Celebrate your freedom on National Quirkyalone Day, February 14th!

“Mi, a name I call myself ...”

I suspect that the folks behind the quirkyalone concept are using it as an excuse for a combination of antisocial behavior, unrealistically high standards, and a broken ability to connect with others. Having a designation for it, having a category, a box, into which a bunch of other people fit as well, probably makes them say, “Hey, there are others like me. See, I'm not broken.” Or perhaps they'll all broken. And then they go and quote Rilke as support for the position:

Since fellow quirkyalones are not abundant (we are probably less than 5 percent of the population), I recommend reading the patron saint of solitude: German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Even 100 years after its publication, Letters to a Young Poet still feels like it was written for us: “You should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to break out of it,” Rilke writes. “People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of easy, but it is clear that we must hold to that which is difficult.”

Patron saint. Okay.

In unrelated Valentine's Day news, CNN reports on a health study that “finds out why it's gross to kiss your sister.” I love the mature headline. gross

There are two relevant features of the story: a challenge to Freud(ianism) and an attempt to ascribe the behavior to instinct. “Researchers who wanted to find out why it is not only taboo to kiss your sister, but also disgusting, said Wednesday that they have discovered why in a discovery that challenges some basic tenets of Freudian theory,” they begin. The Freudian part only comes at the end, with a quote by Leda Cosmides: “He thought you are attracted to your relatives and your siblings and parents and it takes the force of culture and society to keep you from committing the incest that is in your heart.”

The Freudian position assumes a default orientation that is not altered by something within the individual but which is repressed through social norms. His super-ego is in that regard a super-structure; it is, after all, as an Überich something above or perhaps beyond the self.

The position advocated by Cosmides and her colleagues is not entirely new. The research was essentially psychological and sociological in nature, or so it appears in the rather limited article: “Cosmides and her colleagues tested 600 volunteers, asking them all sorts of questions jumbled together so they would not know what was being studied. ‘We asked them how many favors did you do for this particular sibling in a month. We asked if this sibling needed a kidney, how likely would you be to donate this sibling a kidney.’” What he have here is some nicely, relatively-controlled empirical data.

The conclusion based on observation can be stated as follows: “What determined incest disgust and altruism was the same—how much time an older sibling spent watching his or her mother care for a younger one, or how much time the two spent together in the same household.”

Studies of a more anthropological and observational or anecdotal nature have reached similar conclusions but not dealt with the same mechanisms. In particular I refer to the so-called Westermarck effect:

Reverse sexual imprinting is also seen: when two people live in close domestic proximity during the first few years in the life of either one, both are desensitized to later close sexual attraction and capture-bonding. This phenomenon, known as the Westermarck effect, was discovered by anthropologist Edvard Westermarck. The Westermarck effect has since been observed in many places and cultures, including in the Israeli kibbutz system, and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage customs, as well as in biological-related families.

The preceding Wikipedia passage reports on sexual imprinting, “the process by which a young animal learns the characteristics of a desirable mate. For example, male zebra finches appear to prefer mates with the appearance of the female bird that rears them, rather than mates of their own type (Immelmann, 1972). Sexual imprinting on inanimate objects is a popular theory concerning the development of sexual fetishism. For example, according to this theory, imprinting on shoes or boots (as with Lorenz' geese) would be the cause of shoe fetishism.”

Happy V-Day, indeed.

—February 14 2007