Home > Education > A Spartan Family Tree – An essay on inbreeding and cultural evolution

A Spartan Family Tree – An essay on inbreeding and cultural evolution

Six whole weeks of bliss, a post week, like I promised myself and then… Oh dear, so two weeks ago I had my most successful post yet, most views and even before I’ve posted this one, then I go and miss a week due to being unprepared, and THEN, I go and leave it until now to finish this post from last week. I’m going to try to do a catch-up post before this week is out to make up for the lack of post last week. Any way, I’d been nursing a few thoughts for potential blog posts that I haven’t yet finished so I figured I’d put my thoughts into this one:

I thought I’d begin by prefacing the post with the statement that I was reading the Harry Potter series for the past couple of weeks, something which I started to do back in my early teens/late childhood (Note: I’ve finished them now and enjoyed them all, yes it did take me a couple of weeks, I’m bored okay?). Something I noticed is the amount of time given to the effects of cultural restrictions on breeding and the effects of inbreeding on populations and what happens when it is taken to extremes.

It is interesting to reflect on the wizarding world’s division into “purebloods”, “half-bloods” and “muggle-borns”, labelled “mudbloods” by purebloods who favour inbreeding. It is mentioned that few magical men and women aren’t halfblood or less. Why *must* this be so? Because genetics.

Well let’s begin with the assumption that the wizard population started small (I’ll cover what happens when a wizard population is large later), a reasonable assumption since populations have to begin and they don’t come into being as a fully formed population (Unless you believe certain ideas). In order for the population to be rebuilt with the genes of the surviving members, inbreeding between the wizarding families would have to happen, which inevitably creates the same problems as inbreeding does in other populations.

Small populations create problems such as the random loss of genetic information due to genetic drift. Basically, if a population is small, the chance that any particular gene does not make it through to the next generation is also small and so genetic variation in the population decreases. Think of it like this, you have a bunch of people, some blonde, some brunette and one ginger (I choose ginger because they *are* a rare allele, if you still don’t like it, I’ll change it the day that gingers outnumber any other hair colour).

If the chances of a child having their parents hair colour is 50-50, then to have a good chance of having a person in the next generation with ginger hair, then the ginger person needs to have at least two kids. But for the blondes and brunettes, it’s likely that some will have kids with their hair colour simply because of how many blondes and brunettes are in the population.

So back to the wizarding families, they’ll end up more genetically similar if they only breed within wizarding families resulting in oddities like the Weasleys (A bad example given their “Blood-traitor” status, but all that red hair, most likely they all carry only one copy of the genes which control hair colour) and Malfoys (Lucius and Draco are meant to be almost identical when compared adult with adult). But what happens if this is continued? There are numerous other problems: decreased fertility, increased risk of genetic disorders.

The continued inbreeding of the families creating greater and greater genetic similarity which would inevitably increase the sense of ‘otherness’ no doubt felt by the wizarding families. With the creation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, this isolation would be even more marked. This social and cultural separation would compound the problems caused by the genetics. We can begin to see the full scope of the problem.

But wait, there’s more: Do you think a Malfoy would marry a Weasley? What about a Black marrying a Dumbledore? Families not getting along makes the pool of potential pairings decrease still further, increasing again the problems of the social, cultural and genetic isolation. And when families are openly hostile? If we look at the Black family, it’s clear, the family is all but annihilated, the only survivors do not carry the Black name and they are few in number (Tonks and Malfoy are the only ones mentioned as being related to the Blacks). Obviously, extreme views in the wizarding world such as the “purebloods are best bloods” will generate animosity hence why there aren’t any Slytherins, Blacks or Gaunts left.

What applies to the wizarding families, applies quite well to the royal families of Europe, I am speaking of course about the haemophilia which plagued the descendants of Queen Victoria and also, the house of habsburg which shows how this sort of family ties thing works at the grandest of scales.

For the difficulties of socially imposed rules on marriage and conflict, take a look at the vast and poerful Spartan army which has dominated the world since the ancient greek city-state seized power… oh wait, yes, the Spartans were the elite forces in their day, but clearly they are no longer. The rules in Spartan society made it inflexible and the depletion of the families’ sons meant that the number of Spartan families gradually declined and inbreeding resulted in the extinction of all those family lines.

This is my loose bag of thoughts that I’ve emptied onto the blog. Hopefully something of import can be found in there by those willing to dig around.

  1. October 2, 2012 at 1:42 am

    It’s onerous to search out knowledgeable folks on this topic, however you sound like you already know what you’re talking about! Thanks

    • October 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Thanks for the comment, I find it best to understand something to put it into a context you enjoy. I enjoyed the Harry Potter books and saw an opportunity to enhance my own understanding of these concepts. The result was this blog post.

  2. October 2, 2012 at 9:17 am

    This is the suitable weblog for anybody who needs to search out out about this topic. You realize a lot its nearly arduous to argue with you (not that I really would want…HaHa). You positively put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, just nice!

    • October 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      I was once told I was “right about everything”. I immediately started trying to argue against it. This is not the first time I’ve been told of my ability. I prefer to think of it as a challenge to people. I would like to be proven wrong in things, my favourite teacher made me feel like a child stumbling along the path to wisdom. I enjoy the debate. Thanks for the comment. A little ego stroking is always good.

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