Breaking taboos could lead to harm reduction

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Taboos have existed throughout history and across cultures. They are forbidden behaviours, whose perpetrators fear the most extreme form of social exclusion if they get caught. What if society could benefit from breaking the culture of taboo? Wendy Zukerman investigates.

How much money would you accept to sell your child? 'The right answer is not, "How much are you offering?"' says Harvard's Professor Steven Pinker. 'It'd be, "I'm offended that you would ask; I refuse to even consider that question."' According to Pinker, the idea of a parent who does not assign infinite value to the life of their child is the perfect example of a taboo - it's a topic that may not be discussed, considered, or even thought about. Throughout history and across cultures, taboos have emerged. They are forbidden behaviours, discouraged with fear of the most extreme form of social exclusion. In Australia today, those who engage in paedophilia, bestiality, infanticide or incest are shunned. [...]

Taboos, however, have changed over the course of history. Pederasty was the norm in the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome. [...]

According to Pinker, answering these questions will help prevent further abuse. 'Unless you understand why people do something, you're not going to be very effective in getting them to stop,' he says. 'You've got to be clear that the morality and the science are two different things; we can understand what makes paedophiles do their thing, and still condemn it as exploitation of the child.' [...]

Some may find it disappointing that taboos persist, not to protect people, but to bind the majority. Still, perhaps we'll find a time in the future where we start talking about these dark corners, as uncomfortable as they may be.

source: Article 'Breaking taboos could lead to harm reduction' by Wendy Zukerman;; ABC Radio National; 18 June 2015