Monday, 16 January 2012

Incest - Part 1

I've waited a long time to write this post. In retrospect, I'm not quite sure why - possibly because I was hoping for a bigger following before I got my arguments down, or maybe because I was just lazy. Both are possibilities. Regardless, this is going to be less of a post and more of an essay. So I'll begin it thus:

In this essay, I'm going to talk about a subject that society would sooner sweep under the carpet than be forced to acknowledge: incest.

First, one thing ought to be clarified. When I'm talking about "Incest" here, I'm talking about consensual incest, i.e. a relationship between family members where both parties fully consent to the relationship. This must be distinguished from forced incest, where one family member tries to have sex or otherwise with another family member without their consent, i.e. rape. This is a distinction many people don't care to make, and so when people hear "Incest" they think "OHMIGOD fathers raping their daughters brothers raping their sisters LORD THE DEPRAVITY" etc. etc. (Can you grammatically use etc. twice? I'm not sure.)

Forced incest is morally wrong. I argue this because it breaks consent, and will likely cause physical and emotional trauma that could last throughout someone's life. It violates basic human rights, and therefore shouldn't be allowed.

But. What about consensual incest? Those of you who know me, or those of you who don't know me and gathered the gist of this post anyway will probably already realise that I'm a supporter of consensual incest. I should clarify again: I have no romantic, sexual or otherwise feelings towards any member of my family. So my arguments for incest don't come from any desire to be able to express feelings of my own, but rather out of a desire for other people to be able to.

Here are my arguments in the simplest form:

My arguments


  • Consensual incest should be fully legal, with the exception of allowing incestuous couples to genetically reproduce (I'll get onto this later.)
  • Family members should be allowed to practise safe sex, or to have a child through a surrogate if they so wish.
  • We should work to remove the societal taboo around incest.
  • Discrimination against incest is no different from any other type of discrimination, and is made no more valid for the fact that many people believe incest is wrong.
The Yuck factor

First and foremost I want to talk about the number one reason that almost everybody thinks incest is wrong: "EWWWW." In other less tasteful words: "It's fucking disgusting."

It goes under a few different names, such as the "Ick factor", the "Yuck factor", or the "wisdom of repugnance," which is a pretty ironic title. It's the idea that, if you feel so deep-down disgusted at the thought of something, well, there just can't be anything of worth in it. Even if you can't put reason to your disgust. Essentially: if it makes you go "Eww" then it's probably bad. And sometimes, this is a fair policy: you smell a revolting pile of manure, you can probably safely assume it wouldn't be good to eat. But the fact is that human beans are - at the heart of it - irrational creatures. We are disgusted by many things, and not even the majority of them make good sense. For instance, rewind a few decades, where almost everybody would see two men kissing on the street and shudder in abject horror. Rewind over half a century, where a white person might react similarly upon seeing a black person. So it's really not that difficult to debunk the idea that "If I don't like it, it ain't right."

The fact is that, the majority of arguments against incest essentially derive down to this argument. "I don't like it." "It's disgusting." "It's morally wrong." "It's not natural" (I'll get into those last two gems later.) Most humans are repulsed by incest as a deep-seated evolutionary thing. The popular idea is that because incestuous mating would lead to genetic birth defects, it's written into our DNA that "Incest is bad". It's not a bad theory, and it would certainly explain why incest is illegal in almost every culture there is, and why humans have such a hard time rationally introspecting the various issues associated with incest. But again, it's a piss-poor excuse. Almost every new development in any major field you care to name has been met with criticism, and a lot of it the same deep-rooted inexplicable disgust that people feel towards incest. In vitro fertilisation, animal/human cloning, abortion, euthanasia, these have all met violent protesters, so often with so little to give in the way of anything intelligent, because they're reacting with their stomachs, and not with their heads.

Pregnancy

The issue of the genetic risks is the primary reason besides disgust that people oppose incest: there's strong evidence proving that a child born from inbreeding could face possibly serious birth defects. This isn't something I take lightly in my view of the area of incest, and so I don't plan to treat it like it isn't a serious issue. However. As I've already said in the Arguments section, I don't think family members should be allowed to have a child genetically, but this shouldn't stop them from being able to have a relationship. Take a straight couple who both have a genetic condition that has a high probability of being passed onto the child. That they shouldn't have a child would generally be agreed upon, but would that be any reason to say that they should split up, never see each other again and be threatened with jail if they continue their relationship?

I think that an incestuous couple should still be able to adopt or surrogate. Why? Because they are one of the few people who cannot in almost all of developed society, and I see no reason for this. If the entirety of the arguments against the couples having children are the genetic risks, and the genetic risks are eliminated entirely, then wherein lies the problem? Some will of course argue that family members are not suited to raise children, that their children will face discrimination, bullying, ostracism from society, and so on. But I don't see why family members are any less suited to raise a child than the next person - plenty of people have a habit of viewing incestuous couples as some kind of freak of nature with a psychological abnormality. Not the case, and I'll come onto this later.

And as for the bullying issue? Yes, it's true, the child of an incestuous couple could face discrimination. But I'd like you to think about this one for a second. Why would they face discrimination? What would cause a child of an incestuous couple to be bullied? Because society views incest as morally wrong? Correct. But... if children could face bullying for being the child of an incestuous couple, surely the solution is to break away the taboo around incest?

Let me put this into perspective. Gay couples who adopt or have surrogate children often face the problem of their kids getting bullied, because their parents are gay, and society views this as wrong. What is the solution here? Get back in the closet, never have children, stay away from society and hope that society will change? No. It will achieve nothing, society won't change on its own. If you want progress, you've got to fight for the change, push for what you believe in. If incestuous couples hide away in the recesses of society and don't do what I'm doing: bringing the issue to light and showing why there's nothing wrong with it, then they may never reach understanding within society, incest might never be accepted or legalised.

So if an incestuous couple wants to have a child... yes, they should be aware of the risks and the discrimination, and they should do everything in their power to protect their family, but societal discrimination shouldn't be a reason to stop a couple from enjoying the same right to have a child as any other couple. (Let me remind you that I am only supporting adoption or surrogacy, not family members directly conceiving a child.)

- This concludes Part 1. I'm splitting this essay into two posts due to the length, I encourage you to read the second part below. -

Click to go to Part 2

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