Monday, 16 January 2012

Incest - Part 2

Before reading, I highly encourage you to first read Part 1 of this post here: The post has been split into two due to length.

The Moral issues

I said in an earlier section about the yuck factor that people commonly say "Incest is morally wrong" or "Incest isn't natural." I want to touch upon this, because this applies to all ethical situations, and it really pisses me off when people say this.

Humans are creatures that fear change. We stick to what we're familiar with most of the time, and when we're outside of our comfort zone we're, well... uncomfortable. So it's only natural that we should think of the world in what's "natural" and "unnatural". Sometimes it refers to nature, if something is "natural" it happens out in the wild, in the animal kingdom, in the deep, dark forests and the vast mountains and the... stuff. But the meaning has been abused to the point where it's gained a new meaning: anything that is commonly accepted by society and generally practised by humans is "natural", anything not is "unnatural".

I hope that the problems with this are apparent. If not: here goes.

First, let me return to something that I'll admit I've been discussing a lot in this essay, and that's homosexuality. One of the most common arguments that was heard only a few years ago (still crops up today, but one likes to think less often,) is "Homosexuality isn't natural." Opponents tell us determinedly about just how unnatural homosexuality is, as if this on its own is supposed to make us turn around and go "Ohmaigawd, what HAVE I been doing all this time in a loving, committed relationship with Steve, this is COMPLETELY UN-NATURE-AL, I must praise Jesus, repent and throw away my homosexual sins!"

Well, no. The fact is that, this argument just doesn't hold up when making any allusion to nature. Look at how often homosexuality crops up in the animal kingdom.

But the whole thing is completely irrelevant in the first place! Calls to nature are just distractions from the issue of homosexuality: telling us that being gay goes against nature is just to try and weasel your way out of addressing the more important arguments in favour: the benefits that come from a loving, committed homosexual relationship, for instance. Plus the lack of any real arguments against.

Back to incest. Similarly, when people tell us that "incest is not natural", they're not working with any decent tools, they're simply referring to the fact that few people practise incest, and that there's a strong taboo around the subject (often asserted, again, as if this would change everything and suddenly justify the taboo. It doesn't.)

People also often argue that "Incest is morally wrong." Though slightly different, it still belongs within the same kettle of fish (say, why do people always talk about kettles of fish when mentioning differences, never similarities?) But whenever challenged on this, and they try to actually identify what makes incest morally wrong, without calling on their instinctive reactions of disgust, they never seem to be able to. The honest ones will say that they can't find a reason outside of disgust; others will grab at straws and call on flaky reasoning that usually comes under "I find it disgusting" anyway. This is my experience of debates about incest so far - believe it or not, I've actually had quite a few debates where people have been on my side that there is nothing wrong with the relationship aspect of consensual incest.

The fact is that people never seem to be able to hold a good case for "Incest is morally wrong." Where does the moral infraction lie? What genuine harm does an incestuous relationship cause, excluding - for the sake of brevity and the fact that it's already been dealt with in this post - the pregnancy issue? We've already separated consensual from forced incest - no consent is being broken in this case. No involuntary harm - physical or emotional - is being caused by either party, and no abuse is taking place. And the only likely problems that will come out of an incestuous relationship, e.g. discrimination, ostracism, and awkward social dynamics, are all caused by the very taboo around incest. If it weren't viewed negatively by society, then these problems wouldn't exist. So to argue that incest is wrong on the basis that it could cause people to be discriminated against/ostracised is just patently ridiculous.

The slippery slope fallacy

One thing I often hear raised against... well, anything is "The moment we start allowing W, the next thing we'll be allowing X, Y and Z. Therefore, no." Usually, incest isn't on the left side, it's one of the X, Y, Z, because it's apparently common understanding that incest is so completely unacceptable that it marks the degradation of society as a result of some other bad thing. E.g. "If we allow gay marriage, next thing we know we'll be allowing incest, pedophilia and bestiality." The problem is with slippery slopes, is that sometimes you've got to go down them. People take it for granted that whatever lies at the bottom is bad, but they don't take into account what happens if you reach the bottom and find "Well, actually, this isn't hurting anyone at all..."

We don't decide what's right based on what works out for us or what we believe. Or we shouldn't, certainly. So if we go down the route of self-discovery and find "Okay, so I don't think there's really anything wrong with incest," we can't well just go and say "Yes, but, incest is wrong, so, stfu." Fact is, people do that anyway. It needs to stop. People have got to stop pointing out slippery slopes and saying "Don't go down that route or we might end up collapsing as a society." We must go wherever the truth leads us, and have faith in society that we will act in people's best interests. We don't always, but then, that's the point of this essay.


Once upon a time, I had never even considered this issue, like most. It's just not something you think about. Like "I exist", that "Incest is wrong" is just something you assume to be true and don't question because it never comes up. But it was probably over a year or so ago that my views first started to be challenged. I read this case about a man and his grandmother who fell in love, and at first, I thought "Ewwh, that's just... weird... why...?" But then, I started to read the comments.

I read furious diatribes towards the couple, making all kinds of comments about the state of society, saying these people should be imprisoned and god-knows-what-else, but the general gist was: I read all these responses and thought "Okay, so it's weird and all, but... you guys are sounding like hateful bastards." I'm not an avid follower of the "the lady doth protest too much" philosophy, but nonetheless, the strength of these responses was what first got me questioning the incest taboo.

But the real shattering blow to my beliefs, and probably the main reason I whole-heartedly support the right for incestuous couples to sustain a loving relationship, was a book. I've already written a post about this book so I won't spend ages on it, but Forbidden is the story of Lochan and Maya Whitely, a brother and sister who lead such difficult lives looking after their family, that they find solace in each other, and eventually love. It's all around my favourite book, and reviews just go to show that I was one of countless others whose views were challenged by this book. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

But, as awesome a book as it is, this is a fictional example. Allow me to return to non-fiction.

This article tells the story of Danielle Heaney and Nick Cameron, two people who fell in love, only to find out later in life that they were brother and sister. I don't much like using sob stories to strenghten an argument, but I won't deny that this is a really sad story. They were put on probation, given nine months enforced separation and warned that if they have sex ever again, they'll be put into jail. These are not aberrant creatures from another planet. They're not evil criminals. They're normal, fully functioning members of society, two people in love who want nothing more than for society to allow them to love each other freely, and be together as can any other couple.

There's more, too. Take a look at this, an article about a German couple, a brother and sister who continue to fight for their rights to love. This time, there was no threat of jail, the man, Patrick, has already served a two year jail sentence, and could face another year. The more I think about it, the more unjust it is. Patrick and his partner Susan are, like Danielle and Nick, normal members of society, and don't deserve to have this awful hate towards them, to be treated like criminals. Patrick Stuebing does not deserve to have been thrown into jail, to be deprived of his partner, for his children to be deprived of their father. That people don't think about this issue is expected - it's not a thing that society likes to throw up a lot. But that people can take an honest look at cases like these and say that the archaic laws against these couples are justified, that the hatred towards them is justified, that society's attitude towards incest is right... it borders on inhumanity.

Borders? What am I talking about: it's completely inhumane.


In this... I'm not sure if you could really call it a post. Essay? Article? In this article I've argued that consensual incest should be made legal bar incestuous couples having a genetic child, that we should as a society work to remove the stigma around incest, and that discrimination against incest is just as unjustified as discrimination against any other cause, belief, orientation, skin colour, etc. Society's view is clouded by disgust: we react instinctively against the idea of incest and therefore conclude that it is wrong with no further thought, or we give poor reasoning to support our repugnance. Claims are made that incest is "unnatural" or "morally wrong": these are reflections of the kind of bigotry caused by the taboo around incest, and they are unjustified. Arguments against incest don't take into account the considerations of an incestuous couple, their rights to have a loving, committed and faithful relationship like anyone else, and I believe that the laws forbidding incest are a breach of these couples' civil rights. An incestuous relationship does not cause harm to anyone, and on the principle that an action is made morally wrong if it causes harm to another person, then how can we make the claim that incest is wrong and allow society to continue this way?

We are all (fairly) intelligent human beings. We got past racism, theocracy, marriage discrimination, homosexuality, and transsexuaity is a work in progress. So what's stopping us here? What's stopping us from - just like any other issue - leading with our heads, and not our stomachs?

Nothing, that's what.

I think I've made my case pretty clear. Thank you for reading! This has been Leonidas on consensual incest.

~Over and out.

P.S. This is probably the longest post I've written on Ruminidas, so, to those of you who read it all, you're an angel <3. What I'd really appreciate is honest feedback, your thoughts on my arguments and if you have any counterarguments, I'd love to discuss it further. I really believe it's one thing that needs to be discussed more.


  1. Great essay, Leo.

    Your style is very engaging and personable - great writing.

    Concerning content, I have only one quibble. Would you really support something like a legal prohibition against genetic reproduction for incestuous couples?

    The reason I ask is because there are some non-incestuous couples out there who (as I think you pointed out in Part 1) have a very high chance of passing some nefarious gene or other onto their potential offspring.

    While such couples should obviously be forewarned of the implications of reproducing, and even be discouraged by their doctors from doing so, I'm not sure it's the state's place to step in and make such reproduction illegal.

    Perhaps if it could be shown that the vast majority of children born of incestuous unions suffer significantly from genetic defects, then a legal prohibition might be warranted. But I'm not sure the data support this.

    Perhaps you could delve into this issue a little more, with some stats to support your argument (if such stats are available of course).

    1. I agree! Especially considering our medical knowledge is so advanced that incestuous couples can simply go to a Genetic Councilor and, before pregnancy happens, see if the child would be alright. This is something every couple should do, just to be on the safe side. That said, there is higher risk of a smoking parent, or simply a teenager to have a deformed child than there is first cousins, although I am not sure what the risk increase is for siblings vs non related couples. So even to make the argument of birth defects in the child, if the couple even wishes to have one, is hardly valid. Apart from that, I very much enjoyed and agree almost completely with this article!

    2. I forgot to mention that it is only through long periods of inbreeding does any really severe deformities or problems occur.

  2. Greetings Leo,

    First of all: what an inspiring read! It's sometimes hard to appreciate the difficulty in writing about a controversial- or as you aptly put it, taboo- topic without leaning overly into bias, or appearing contentious; you, however, seemed to have no qualms in presenting the truth as you see it, without the possible addition of the conjecture, surmising, and general belligerence with which many articles are, unfortunately, written. Nice one ^^.

    The post-article-essay-discourse, aside from being a refreshing read, was, well... interesting. Incest isn't a subject I've ever thought that deeply on, or even broached with someone else; it takes no stretch of the mind, however, to know that, in general, society does condemn incest, consensual or otherwise, and suffer from the ubiquitous 'eww' factor so many debaters are blighted with. Because of this aversion, topics are- and this topic is- shunned, frowned upon, not encouraged in general discussion. And how can we as a society come to understand or justify our ways if we do not discuss them openly, do not allow the freedom of thought or speech we purport? So I can certainly see the bias you're identifying in society.

    But does society's bias nullify society's arguments? In a sweeping statement: nope. The fact that the vast majority of an argument's supporters are incapable of defining and explaining their beliefs does not mean that the reasons for the beliefs are non-existent or false: that's the supporters' problem, not the argument's, if I am permitted the luxury of separating an argument in its true, logical form from whatever supporters it may entertain. After all, its the reasons that make the argument, not the manner in which the argument's followers portray them.

    But that's just semantics. Well, likely not, I am to linguistics what height, width and depth are to actual motion (I'd like to explore it further, I just don't have the... time?)- but the gist is clear. Now, anon, stop waffling and start presenting the argument!

    To save time, I shall document my argument in a list format, expanding upon each point when I feel it is necessary, or I have the inclination. I'd like to make it clear that while I do not support incest for the reasons outlined below, I am in no way unwilling to accept other views, take other viewpoints into perspective. There's always room to accommodate another theory: after all, if all arguments were stagnant, the world would be perfect. And it's not. (Tbc- the blog won't let publish anything over a certain number of characters.)

  3. (continued!)
    My reasoning is thus:
    - Incest, as with all relations, extends way beyond the couple in love- anything done by them is likely to have repercussions for all those with a stake or interest in the relationship, including whatever child may or may not be accidentally conceived between them. I don't think incest could really be justified if, because of the bond, a family was torn apart: whatever acts are taken to prevent it, a pregnancy could result in a malformed, potentially severely disabled child, and no matter what is said about preventative measures and even legislation, the chances of a genetically, sexually contrived child suffering are too high to justify a couple's love. Whatever measures are taken to prevent the suffering, it is almost definite that a few lives would be ruined, loves turned sour, because of a genetic abnormality seen as a result of incest. Certainly, sacrifice is a part of any step forward, but is this one we'd really be willing to take? That's not for me to say.
    - And even if the genetics issue was overcome, what would remain for the children bullied in school, ridiculed unjustly for their difference? Indeed, if the taboo seen alongside incest was dampened down, this discrimination would be decreased, but not wholly alleviated. You mentioned issues in your article such as homosexuality and its growing acceptance in today's society- animosity has been diminished, but that still leaves the staunch, potentially abusive minority who would make those children's lives misery. And can that be justified, that a child or children suffer because of their parent's love? In no way meaning to be defeatist, the fact remains that society never truly bend itself around an idea, is never really and wholly taken by the ideal revolution. There will always be those not willing to accept the change, but willing to persecute others because they do. That's horrible, but it's perhaps a sad fact of life.
    The above reasons, I know, we could overcome- they're just contingencies, after all, and with sufficient care could be nullified, nipped at the bud. But why do we view incest as wrong: why is the act abhorrent, even if its repercussions certainly can be? That's a difficult one to answer, and I'm not sure I know myself, but here goes (nothing!):
    - Incest, however consensual at the time, may result in severe ramifications for all parties, indirectly as I have explained above, and directly: can we fully justify the act of incest if it scars either of the participants, regardless of their feelings at the time? I know you are fully against forces incest, and I whole-heartedly agree with you. But if we explore the main argument for that further- that scarring and injury, both psychological and physical, are inevitable parts of the act- we may find that at the bottom of that initially appealing slippery slope are not gambolling rabbits and rainbows, but rather mental defects and, at worst, a lifelong incapacity for any other relations, and at best, deep regrets about an act committed without due thought. I'm in no way suggesting this is what incest is- a casual fling, a banal experience- certainly not. But often we find that our acts mature, make themselves known in our memories, over time, and we don't fully know the repercussions of incest. It's not merely a physical relationship, after all, and I'll go no further than that.
    I don't fully believe- or believe at all- that incest is justifiable- from my perspective, it seems it has the propensity to harm as much as it does to do whatever it does for the participants. An act as volatile as this- which may well lead on down the slippery slope to the ravine of bestiality, etc., can't really be justified. And what if we do slip down the slope, and find the bunnies gone and the rainbows in the other proverbial valley? Can we climb up this slippery slope? Well, as the name suggests, I think not.

  4. And that's my argument, diluted though it may be. I'm not for incest, but neither do I condemn those who would want to practise it. How could they help it- are they any worse than us? Nope. But I don't think accepting incest as a viable alternative to a lost love is justifiable- it could hurt people, could lead onto other things that are undeniably terrible, and thus isn't sustainable or moral. but how does 'could' lead onto 'isn't'? It all boils down to what sacrifices we're willing to make to achieve a step forward.

    Well, that's it- I'm not criticising your views, just presenting my own, incidentally the converse. I don't even feel particularly strongly about the matter- as I said before, I've never really devoted much thought to it. But I thought it would be interesting to see what I could come up with to define that typical and illogical 'eww' factor. I'd be interested to see whatever rebuttal you have for my argument.

    Keep up the good work! I love your posts, you're a brilliant blogger, and you raise some interesting issues. Sometimes it's good to explore something we just take for granted further. All the best!

  5. Leo! I just thought, why be an anon? It's actually Daniel M. from school- I just thought this'd be an interesting subject to dispute, although I didn't visualise it as long as this... Anyway, have fun reading it, it's not very good, as I said I just wrote it spontaneously, to define why I really am not supportive of against incest. I thought I'd throw my opinion into the fray, though I was too embarrassed at first to identify myself :3. Pretty odd, but that's me. (YLTG :P)


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