Incest

March 3, 2007 at 1:02 pm (sex)

I am researching Family Values for a documentary film. I will be posting several threads that explore this subject. It would be helpful if you contribute to this research with your views on incest. If you could preface your view with a Y or an N to signify that you have personal experience, that would be even more helpful.

Incest is decreed by law as a crime. To most it is seen as a despicable sexual act. There is no census on how many children are the product of incest. But it surely is in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. While the problem lies as skeletons hiding in our cultural closet, all those thousands of young lives are lived in shame and as lies.

The question is: If incest is entirely natural, in fact the way human evolution began, and was once openly practiced by Royalty, and to some extent still, is, and is used by breeders to obtain highly pedigreed offspring – why is incest considered to be a social crime?

Can the children of incestuous family relationships be allowed to come out of the closet and reveal their family secret and lead a decent life without suffering from social stigma? Or shall we keep the closet locked and refuse to assess the damage?

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25 Comments

  1. rabeldin said,

    Incest demands a precise definition. In point of fact, we are all related. Only the law can pick an arbitrary level of relationship as a dividing line between the permitted and the taboo.

  2. soniarott said,

    All true. But the law is doing nothing to help the children who are victemized by the position the law is taking. So, if a child is hurting, do we just talk or do we do something?

  3. reformed nihilist said,

    soniarott wrote:
    But the law is doing nothing to help the children who are victemized by the position the law is taking. So, if a child is hurting, do we just talk or do we do something?

    The law is victimizing children? Aren’t child molestors victimizing children? In what way is the law hurting children?

  4. soniarott said,

    Both are. By not doing anything to recognize the problem children are having. We support the laws, so we are responsible

  5. rabeldin said,

    Are we our brother’s keeper? Are we obliged to protect children from the failures of their parents? If we do so, will we not encourage parents to abdicate their responsibility?

    I suggest that establishing a social means of undercutting the responsibility of parenthood may just encourage the misbehavior we deplore.

  6. cairo said,

    Well, the children are certainly not going to protect themselves.

    But this is incest, not necessarily child-molestation.

  7. milesteg said,

    \
    Yeah and that’s a big difference.

    Incest: Parent/Underage Child
    We hold child molestation to be the most horrible crimes because of the power and authority an adult has over a child. To take advantage of that for pure sexual gratification at the risk of not only physically injuring the child but perhaps psychologically too, especially in this day and age.

    Incest: Brother/Sister Cousins Otherwise consenting adults.
    Is it “wrong?” IF you’re christian or jewish or some other faith that specifically says “no” then yes, it’s wrong.
    However I’m an athiest so I have to look at it more ethically. Pro-creation is definently dangerous with relatives because of the shallow gene pool. Chances for Downs Syndrome, Hemophelia and other genetic diseases become much more prevalent.
    I cannot consider it inherantly unethical beause if a brother and sister were separated at birth, fell in love and had sex before they were made aware of their common heritage it would certainly be unseemly but which of them is guilty of an ethical violation?

    Now if I can’t condemn them then I can’t condemn someone who, for whatever reason, decides they like to have sex with their (of age and consenting) family members. I wouldn’t date or marry someone who had willfully engaged in incest…not in this society but that says more about Society than it does incest.
    If I went on some expidition to some remote village that had never been infultrated by the outside world and met some village girl named Bellasophia or something and fell in love with her but then found out that for whatever reason girls of this tribe as some rite of passage must sleep with their uncles on their 18th birthday and my love, Bellasophia had done it. I don’t think I could hold it against her. I’d definently be more hesitant to PROCREATE with her given the extreme possibility of inbreeding and genetic weakness in her.

    I personally don’t think it’s anyone’s business what happened to anyone whether they were molested or are the product of incest. Yeah, some things are personal and not meant for public consumption.If you’re going to engage in a behavior that’s ON IT’S FACE ammoral and evil to over 75% of your neighbors then you can hardly expect everyone to be accepting and hunky dory with your choices.

  8. universal axis said,

    What is important to note, is that in order for there to be incest, there must also be cosanguinity.

    Another distiction that must be made, in order to more clearly define what forms of behaviour we are discussing, is to limit our conversation to incest as it relates to procreation, and not to predatory, or recreational sex.

    Unless you object, those are the definitions I’d move to use in this thread.
    Yes, the examples of legal definitions are particular to one state in the U.S. I propose that we take them as representative of the concept of incest. If there arizes a particular issue within some specific example, I propose that these will be adequate untill such time.

  9. universal axis said,

    One quick jab at Sonia –
    You ask me (us) to reveal a detail wich you specificaly address as conoting a stigma, in public, and yet fail to disclose such of yourself – sorry, that seems entirely misguided. I’d suggest that if you want to gain “privileged” information from your audience/co-participators, that you be the first to act in the spirit of your proposal.

    That said:N

  10. universal axis said,

    Everything that has to do with procreation is inexorably tied to social power, wealth management, and social stability.

    Begetting offspring is a heady matter, and “society” has a vested interest that this important act operate whithin a structure that fosters social ties between members of the population, and that that structure offer ways of regulating population. If anyone could have children with anyone else, the order of social bonding would become amorphous, lines of obligations would collapse, and population would grow without means for regulation beyond violence (death).

    Ultimately, anthropology tells us that access to copulation is a political matter, and has everything to do with controlling resources: reproductory, land, and food. A byproduct of having rules as to who gets to copulate with who, the wellfare of the group at large is secured, and the social fabric is strengthened. Societal wellfare is “assured” by keeping the population whithin carrying capacity for the locale, and interpersonal relations are strengthened by creating consanguinity between groups of people*, as well as by virtue of the individual sexual dictums themselves – i.e. construction of, and reinforcement of identity (my parents, sister, uncles.. etc. all behave like this, I behave like this, and that helps us see each other as being in agreement about this.. solidarity).

    so NOT screwing your kids will:
    – increase the chances that they will mate with other people, and thereby increase your families social/political standing
    – keep you from having conflicts of interest as far as resource distribution whithin your own family unit
    – encourage childbearing whithin social units that are able to support those new members of the population

    * in some cultures, there are dichotomies of moieties (“clans”), and no member of a moiety may breed with another member of the same moiety- this ensures familial relations between large groups of people, and so encourages solidarity, and mutual reliance, while discouraging their opposites. A broad range of cultures follow these social norms, including many North American Indians, some Amazonian Nativesb (Yanomamo) as well as all Aborigines…. just as examples…

    I do not know any better than to believe that there is a universal taboo against a parent copulating with their offspring, but again, anthropology has suggested that this mechanism exists as it inherently creates conflicting obligations between members of the same family unit as to who receives material wealth, and access to privileged comodities… For ex.: if a man procreates with his daughter, who is he obliged to provide for: both the children of his wife, and the children of his daughter, would be relying on his resources. Who’s got priority? And to say that “they all do” is to ignore the simple fact that one cannot always feed as many mouths as they can beget. It’s a simple matter of social stability, and so, if a family unit develops that is more stable, and better able to cope with long term needs and changes, it invariably will come to dominate – social order by evolution.

    Can the children of incestuous family relationships be allowed to come out of the closet and reveal their family secret and lead a decent life without suffering from social stigma? Or shall we keep the closet locked and refuse to assess the damage?

    The above is not a question, it’s a affirmation and a plea for recognition of the role of society in how these people experience the consequences of their acts..

    I believe social norms DO have a role to play in describing and effecting the “trauma” that “victims” of incest experience. Case in point (of social stigma, sex, and how it changes with social norms) homosexual relations used to be highly stigmatized, and led to many of the same “symptoms” that incestuous relations lead to in it’s “victims”… currently, people are “comming out” more and more, thereby lowering the stigma associated with homosexuality, and so there are fewer people suffering adversity for being homosexual.

    Yes, I am saying that in a culture that does not stigmatize (and so does not “hide”) incestuous behaviour, that people are not “hurt” by these sexual acts. Likewise, in a society where it’s acceptable to be gay, people are not going to be stigmatized. Am I advocating that we re-arange our social norms? No. I, like most readers here, find the idea repulsive. I am, after all, a product of my culture. However, after undressing my attitudes toward incest, I would certainly expect not to look at the offspring of incestuous behaviour as “sullied” or “unfortunates”… my personal distastes for the practicioners thereof.. well, those are as rooted in me as my teeth, and there are other more pressing issues as hand than changing my feelings towards them…

    I’m no anthropologist, but, in my opinion if you want to have a comprehensive philosophical discussion on the matter, you’d better feed the minds discussing some broad human behavioural facts, as the less the philosophers know about the topic, the less likely they will be to arrive at significant results.
    If, as may well be the case, all you are interested in is the Western Perspective on the subject, then the audience/participants may already have enough data by virtue of being “native” to the culture in question.

    OH!! BTW- the argument that “inbreeding” strengthens genetic aberations is true, but it only comes into consideration after many, many generations of inbreeding… your family would have to be screwing itself exclusively, for centuries, before you started to see significant rizes in genetic problems…
    Look at the Egyptian royal blood lines.. it offers a long history of (parent x child) procreation, and no genetic problems there…
    The issue of the european Nobles that all passed hemophelia around is not a case of “inbreeding made them sick”, it’s that inbreeding prevented them from breaking out of that recessive genetic disorder.. inbreeding did not “create” hemophelia, it prevented them from getting “good” blood clotting genes.. somewhere, that recessive gene was introduced to the gene pool, not created spontaneously by who screwed who.

  11. elaine garett said,

    I have been personally exposed to untimely parental death. divorce. incest. polygamy and abortion. Please, mind your comments, you are tending to be pathetic in your assumptions.

  12. universal axis said,

    ahh..
    well… not that it makes me feel any better knowing…
    but thank you for being forthright with the same kind of information you seek of us, the audience/discussion pannel.

    so that was the personal part..
    any thoughts on the concepts floated as a whole?

  13. cairo said,

    I think the problem today with defining the morality of incest is that, more than other proclaimed vices, it is taboo mostly for two reason: A. Because it is impractical for social (sometimes) and biological reasons, and B. the fact that it is taboo creates more reasons for its impracticality. But morality can’t simply be defined as immorality being impracticality and morality being common sense. If this were so, then crossing a busy highway wearing a blindfold could be called immoral. Likewise, we can’t say that incest is immoral because of the psychological repercussions for the practitioners without having to admit that those repercussions are a direct cause of the social laws set against it. This is, of course, very circular. Because of this, I don’t find incest between consenting adults to be immoral. Inadvisable, yes. But not immoral.

  14. milesteg said,

    Universal Axis wrote:
    so NOT screwing your kids will:
    – increase the chances that they will mate with other people, and thereby increase your families social/political standing

    Sadly I have not observed that to be true. I was never incested or molested but I know MANY girls and some guys who were, or at least claim to be. I hate to address it in such a glib manner right here but it’s been my experience that people in this society who’ve been exposed to sex by a family memember tend to have MORE sexual parters than those who haven’t. They also tend(probably more do to the stigmas and reprocussions of this society, I grant) but they tend to engaged in a lot more promiscuous and even sexually destructive behavior (without condoms, violent parters, unsafe situations).
    Without getting into a heady psychological discussion about why that is the case I think it’s safe to modify your statement to this.
    – increase the chances that they will be able to engage less distractedly and in safer mating practises, thereby increase your family’s social political standing.
    OH!! BTW- the argument that “inbreeding” strengthens genetic aberations is true, but it only comes into consideration after many, many generations of inbreeding… your family would have to be screwing itself exclusively, for centuries, before you started to see significant rizes in genetic problems…

    Yeah that’s true. There is no inherant weakness in inbreeding, short term. I pretty much agree with most of the reasons you have given long before I’ll agree to the genetic problems, I just couldn’t find the words, thank you.

  15. universal axis said,

    well…. I think we are almost on the same line on the same page…
    The things I think need to be kept in mind are:
    – We are not discussing any act that is predatory or purely recreational.
    – Anything termed “molestation” is, in my book, predatory, so that’s out.

    The kind of behaviour you are describing seems to me (a non-psychologist) to be the symptoms of someone who’s been predated upon..
    I believe that stigma (from involvement in incest) causes a bunch of “symptoms” too… but I’d not guess promiscuity would be one of them… I could be wrong, I have no data.

    Again, it sounds to me like you are describing some of the symptoms of people who’ve been sexualy abused, which is not the case in point with this particular thread… where we are limiting our discussion to people who’ve engaged in concentual, adult, sex, with someone to who they have a close blood relation, and what role does society have in creating the adverse effects felt by these individuals.

    I definetly agree that sexually abused people are .. sexual “deviants” afterwards, untill they get “treatment”… whatever that is..

  16. do it in the road said,

    There is the issue of having malformed children- but what if there is protective sex: wouldn’t that be ok?

  17. universal axis said,

    No..
    read further up…
    the last paragraph of my first post…
    there is no issue of genetic malformation whithin A FEW generations of incestuous behaviour. It’s a myth that having kids with your Ma/Pa/Son/Daughter will lead to genetic mutations… it takes longer than that..

    “protective”? as in – I’m having sex with you to protect you?
    What’s being discussed of people who are blood related, who are adults and willing to have sex together…is what’s the role of society in “husting” them for doing something “taboo” . . .

    and we’ve already stipulated that the purpose must be procreation, not recreation or predation…

    something tells me you have not read the thread

  18. milesteg said,

    Universal Axis wrote:

    well…. I think we are almost on the same line on the same page…
    The things I think need to be kept in mind are:
    – We are not discussing any act that is predatory or purely recreational.
    – Anything termed “molestation” is, in my book, predatory, so that’s out.

    True, I was not making the distinction between consensual/non-consensual behavior when I made that comment. We’re pretty much in agreement as I’m not sure(and certainly can’t prove) how someone who’d had an incestuous family would react or live their life if there wasn’t the predatory element. There could probably be an arguement FOR incest given (in a non predatory environment) it’d be safer to keep recreational sex in the family rather than risk strangers, outsiders and the unknown violence they could commit. NO I’m not making that arguement just saying that we really don’t have much evidence of how incest would effect a person later on because it’s such a predatory(even if just stigma) behavior and practise here

  19. applecider said,

    Universal Axis wrote:
    “protective”? as in – I’m having sex with you to protect you?

    “Protective” as in wearing a condom. DUHHHHHH!

  20. universal axis said,

    then it’s recreational sex, which again falls outside the scope of the concept.. as (I think) we are primarially interested in incest as it relates to procreation. DUHHHHHHHHHHHH!

  21. soniarott said,

    Nobody has yet directly addressed the main questions. Since there is no biological basis for it, why have we stigmatized incest? Who first outlawed it and for what reason? Will we ever allow millions of familes to come out of the closet and be allowed to think of themselves as normal? Will not having it out in the open be a more healthy way to examine it?

  22. applecider said,

    Parents are supposed to be loving and caring when it comes to their children. They must raise, feed them, teach them, and help them. The idea of a parent using their child for sex is not only disturbing in most societies, but a blatent contradiction of what a parents role is. So while this is only one incident of incest, it is the one that sticks out most in peoples minds when they hear the word “incest”. Although consenting adults (who are relatives) may feel perfectly comfortable having children together, the same stigma is applied to them because they are in an incestual relationship.
    Will we ever allow millions of familes to come out of the closet and be allowed to think of themselves as normal? Will not having it out in the open be a more healthy way to examine it?

    Like with civil rights, womens suffrage, and gay marriage, this sort of thing takes time. It’s not going to help if all those families suddenly “come out of the closet”, rather it’s going to take years of cultural change and an increase in tolerance.

  23. no soul said,

    I think it’s impractical to separate “predatory” incest from legally (ethically?) consensual incest. My hunch is that incest is taboo largely because the taboo is believed to be the best, most probable rule or ethic that can prevent predatory molestation of underage family members by older, power-wielding family members. If 30-year-old fathers hold the conviction that having sex with their 11-year-old daughters is simply wrong, they might be (and probably usually are) less likely to actually attempt it.

    The effectiveness of moral rules often lies in their ability to get people to behave in manners which legal authorities, because of their absence at the time, can’t enforce. Lawful authorities can prosecute offenders only after the act has occurred, and even then only if evidence of the offense is available, if the victim tells authorities, or so on. Social mores which people believe with emotional conviction, however, can & often do prevent people from behaving unethically, in the first place.

  24. no soul said,

    Perhaps the desire to prevent predatory incest, that consisting of older, more-powerful family members coercing or tricking naive, younger, more dependent family members into sex — Perhaps the seemingly quite eminently practical reasoning behind this taboo has been confused or conflated with other, more ethically consensual forms of incest, such as that between 2 adult cousins or siblings.

    Nonetheless, I think it’s unhelpful to try to separate predatory incest from consensual incest in a discussion about the ethical reasoning behind the incest taboo.

  25. swstephe said,

    i used to study chickens in 4H with my kids. i was told that the closer the relationship between the chickens, (siblings or cousins), the better the results when breeding.

    in many countries, (for example, middle eastern or south asian), it is often “preferred” for cousins, up to first cousins to marry. i heard it evolved as a way of keeping the family wealth and culture/ideals intact. in fact, there is no restriction against cousins marrying … in fact, god orders it on a few occasions. in most countries around the world, except the americas, cousins may marry. modern statistics show that the risk of birth defect increases from 3% to about 7%.

    i’ve thought that, if incest is bad, the closer the relationship, the worse, then shouldn’t people be encouraged to procreate with people of the most distant relationship? say, of different race? if birth defects are so terrible that the relationship itself is banned, then couldn’t such logic be extended to say you should be banned from having relationships with people with birth defects: say, being required to report any corrective surgery or even, at some future date, doing dna testing on prospective couples to prevent “disfunctional” genes with a higher than normal probability of being expressed? let’s say two people want to get married, but dna testing shows they are both carriers of the recessive genes for some genetic defect. by the same logic, we should prohibit those people from marrying or having children, regardless of their relationship. if a couple has been verified as sterile, (surgically or otherwise), then should the be prevented from marrying whoever they want? unfortunately, it is a taboo with very strong influence in most western cultures. americans like to joke about certain “backwards” people where cousins marry, while many from other countries are more accepting of such marriages.

    i’m not talking about any relationship where children are involved. that is primarily a form of rape under consensual laws.

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