mating patterns and the individual

from “Mafia and Blood Symbolism” by anton blok [pg. 120]:

“[Buscetta, a mafia guy] compares the ‘mentality’ of mafiosi in the United States with his own attitudes finding the younger generation more Americanized:

‘They always talked about the rights and obligations of the individual. It was almost an obsession. At home in Sicily this ‘individual’ did not exist. The ‘family’ came first before everything else. Also before the real family, that of blood.'”

sicilians, and southern italians in general, are quite inbred — especially compared to anglo-americans who have a long history of outbreeding and are the originators of these ideas about the “rights and obligations of the individual.” mating patterns — whether a population is inbred or outbred — affect the genetic relatedness between members of a population, strongly impacting on the prominence — or not — of the individual within a population.

bear with me a sec … this will feel a little weird seem a bit fanciful, but i’m going to attempt to illustrate what i mean.

here are two unrelated individuals, mr. blue and miss pink, come together randomly to mate (click on images for LARGER view):

and here is a representation of them with their offspring, mr. deep-blue, who has inherited half of his father’s chromosomes and half of his mother’s chromosomes. as you can see, he is a square just like each of his parents:

now, here are mr. blue and miss pink again come together to mate, but this time they are first-cousins, meaning they probably share (approximately) 1/8th of their genes in common. see? they overlap:

and now here they are with their son, mr. deep-blue. mr. deep-blue has still inherited one half of his chromosomes from each of his parents, but this time he has inherited some duplicate genes from both of his parents, i.e. the area where the two parental squares overlap:

notice that in the inbred scenario, mr. deep-blue square has shrunk in size. (actually, he’s not even a square anymore, is he?) he is not as large as mr. outbred deep-blue, who has inherited a greater number of unique genes since his parents are unrelated.

in a way, you could say that mr. inbred deep-blue is less of an individual than mr. outbred deep-blue — he is less of a unique individual, anyway.

now imagine what happens in a society where inbreeding is the norm and has occurred generation after generation after generation. you’re gonna have to imagine it, i’m afraid, ’cause i can’t draw it!

it’s not strange that the “‘individual’ did not exist” in sicily the way it does in the u.s. because the individual really doesn’t exist there. at least, not so much anyway.

previously: english individualism

(note: comments do not require an email. i’m an individual.)


  1. I think I can almost imagine what it would be like. We family/cousins/uncles/aunts are people, them others are not. What I don’t understand is how “The ‘family’ came first before everything else. Also before the real family, that of blood.”

    Maybe Wanda Sykes explains it here?


  2. @luke – “We family/cousins/uncles/aunts are people, them others are not. What I don’t understand is how ‘The “family” came first before everything else. Also before the real family, that of blood.'”

    yeah, i don’t fully get that either, but i’m working on it. (^_^)

    the main point i wanted to get across, tho, was not just the “them vs. us” thing, but that inbred individuals should be — or feel — less individualistic than non-inbred persons because they (the inbred individuals) are, in fact, less unique individuals. that’s my working theory, anyway.


  3. right. solidarity. the individual merged in the group. sort of like some cults I’ve read about. or maybe playing on a team. never been there myself, except for being on a team, and that was always for fun not for keeps. Maybe a better analogy would be a member of a platoon on a real battlefield. The mafia is certainly for keeps. Maybe belonging to a clan in a lawless Hobbesian world made up of teams (families, close kinship groups) would come closest. Is it like that in places like Afghanistan, say? Here is a passage (written around 1870) about the British experience in Afghanistan 40 years previous (1838):

    “The British troops were gradually reduced, partly in order to save expense and also to allow the king to manage his own subjects. But British and Afghan ideas of government differed so radically that no accord could be reached. The latter were well described by one of their own chiefs, when he told Elphinstone, “We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood, but we will never be content with a master


  4. Yes. You can feel this if you go among very inbred groups like gypsies. They are much more of an “us” i.e. one part of a collective organism.


  5. @g.w. – “They are much more of an ‘us’ i.e. one part of a collective organism.”

    approaching an ant-like condition. (no offense meant either to ants or gypsies.)


  6. “approaching an ant-like condition”

    yes. i think humans are more ant-like in design than we’d like to admit.


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