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Social Taboos And Their Establishment

Updated on February 9, 2016

A social taboo is a habit widely perceived as wrong or prohibited in some manner, be it by the law, public opinion or simply the regular layman.

Social taboos are established when enough people in any sect or group decide that something is wrong in some manner, attempting to prevent the act or idea via many means, be they prosecution, condemnation or simple rejection.

There are many examples of social taboos in modern day society, from public nudity to the endorsement of violence all the way to such simple acts as swearing around children or offending someone's sensibilities in a certain way.

For many these taboos are ingrained into them from a young age, such acts earning them scorn by their peers or anger by their parental figure, resulting in the natural effect of refusal to recommit the act and disgust with the act as a whole.

Many social taboos form when groups, be they religious, regional, political or otherwise, decide to take offence at certain things, eventually becoming exacerbated to the point that any behavior even remotely resembling the act becomes condemned.

Frequently such opinions are voiced and created in order to take power from others, preventing groups from doing certain things to gain power themselves or stopping individuals from expressing themselves in a manner the creator themselves don't agree with.

The human condition is such that if an opinion is voiced confidently enough then people will begin to believe the opinion voiced, eventually snowballing into entire cults or parties formed around the specific goal of preventing such actions.

Such groups inevitably transcend simple disapproval and form a 'taboo', restricting the act in question completely and refusing to allow association with such an act in any way, shape or form.

Many times a social taboo will have a logical reason behind it; an example of such being the social taboo of smoking around children, as such behavior can cause them to develop bad habits and damage their bodies.

However, many times a social taboo will be created to oppress others, examples of this being inherent in many texts, such as books or groups against homosexuality, interracial marriage, gender equality, and much more.

Social taboos generally either start small, slowly growing to become an entire movement, or they grow quickly, forcefully maintaining their hold through either physical persuasion such as violence, or verbal, such as accusations and rejection.

Many groups that enforce such a taboo may forget the original reason for forming such taboos, leading to texts and word of mouth being the only possible way to ascertain even a grain of truth about why the taboo was formed. Such groups become peremptory, demanding attention for their beliefs in the hope that with others agreement they may ensure the taboo maintains a hold or at least prevent their ideals from becoming perceived as an untruth.

In these actions many other taboos may form; if a facet of an ideology is untrue then the rest may be as well, and so people begin to judge the ideals around that single fallacy, spiraling into wholehearted judgment of the entire belief and perception of such beliefs.

Many times in the past such taboos have lead to entire swathes of people being persecuted for their beliefs, religions dying out or disappearing from mainstream culture due to the concepts being deemed heretical or incorrect. Frequently the groups judging such people and ideals are also fallacious in nature, incapable of proving or disproving their own beliefs or the other groups beliefs; This leads to fanatical zeal towards their own belief and violence towards others.

Other times taboos have formed around what groups can and can't do, lying in the physical strength or mental prowess of the dominant faction, depending on either 'herd mentality' or weakness to ensure their own words are followed to the letter.

In a similar manner parents instill the concept of certain taboos into their own offspring, even in such simple things as not talking with their mouths full or doing certain things for no reason.

Social taboos oft lead to selfish or hypocritical behavior, alienating people from one another and preventing the people themselves from getting to know one another beyond their opinions on specific subjects.

Scientists theorize that cultural memes hold the potential to cause others to adopt certain thoughts and actions for the sole purpose of survival, similar to how genetics dictate that certain species yawn to show that no danger is nearby, this in turn offers further insight into fanatic beliefs passed down through generations and cultural adaptations, leading to further taboos formed around what may have been necessary for survival at one point, but now is wholly unnecessary.

Similarly, however, such taboos are also responsible for many cultural adaptations, leading to furthering themselves in certain subjects and disregarding others. Many times this can be used to explain why a culture that alienates others can be better at certain subjects developed outside of their own culture whereas a culture that embraces others cannot adapt as well.

The pressure formed by a taboo may lead the insular society to develop in a stricter sense and from then on cause others born into that culture to force themselves to become stronger or more intelligent, whereas a culture with lax rules and tolerant attitudes may become lazy with their lack of strife and an easy target to the less tolerant societies, leading to the accepting cultures downfall.

Likewise, however, many people raised with certain social taboos have expressed confusion and an inability to cope with such attitudes and differing opinions, leading to psychotic breaks or isolating themselves from others.

Social taboos can also lead to regressive or illogical behavior, such as a society fearing air travel or water travel, established due to past indiscretions or cautionary tales; this in turn can cause further evolution in a cultures qualified fields and allow other taboos to be breached in order to survive, many times even defying ingrained taboos and establishing individual taboos that seem just as illogical as their own fears.

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