Should we, as a society, accept incest relationships?
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Incest is a term used to describe a sexual relationship between family members. I am assuming a couple where both participants are consenting adults. Incest couples are a pretty rare sight, but they do exist, and they are mostly hiding their relationship because our society would, upon finding out, immediately cast them out.
But why do we cast them out? Is it a genetic trait, embedded in our DNA? No, most scientists would disagree. So, what is it then? We know that incest kids have a high probability of mental and physical deformations, but is that why we are disgusted by incest? I don't think that's a good enough reason, considering that no one can know if those kids will actually be deformed, and if the couple even wants kids.
I have to admit, I am not a sociology expert. But I do remember that incest 'separates a tribe from a civilization' from my sociology classes. But who are we, what gives anyone the right to forbid and be disgusted by two people loving each other?
It's unnatural because they're family? Well, some people would say that two penises in one relationship is "unnatural", and yet society is OK with that. Who decides what is natural and what isn't?
It's yucky? A lot of people find homosexuality yucky, and yet when they say it, they are ridiculed as bigots.
They are not really in love, they are just sick? How can anyone decide who is in love and who isn't? If we are talking about two consenting, functioning adults, then there should be no problem. And remember, not so long ago gay people were also considered to be 'sick' and treated with electroshock therapy and all sorts of nasty stuff. Why are incest people 'sick', but gay people are 'in love'?
Finally, I just want to repeat that I am not trying to diminish gay rights, even though it might sound like that. I am just trying to figure out why we shouldn't allow incest, if we allow homosexuality. I am aware that no one can forbid gays being together, and the same goes for incest couples, but still, when a gay says he is gay in public, he gets a mostly positive response, and when an incest person declares his incest, he is almost always met with disgust and even violence. I am wondering why is there such a difference. And just to clarify one more thing, I'm not referring to family rape or pedophilia. I am talking about a consensual relationship between, say, first cousins, or a long lost brother and sister, which does happen.
And yes, my position is FOR, because I don't see a reason not to, and I don't think we should forbid two people from loving each other, by scaring them with potential societal repercussions. I don't think anyone gets to decide what love is, and where love stops and mental disease begins. I don't think anyone should dismiss anyone just because they might be different, or not fit into their worldview.
Incest, as defined in the Merriam-Webster, is the "sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related," and will be the foundation for my arguments and logic. Based on the previous definition, we must consider relationships not only between two cousins, but also sibling to sibling, or offspring to parent. It is within these relationships that I will show the validity of society to condemn such behaviors.
In essence, societal norms are complex, but they are very influenced by tradition, biological or evolutionary factors, and a sense of morality. In light of this, society is based off an agreement amongst a majority of people, whether an individual agrees or not, and is not subject to what should or ought to be, but what people perceive is the norm.
In addition to the complexity of society, many opposing arguments to the condemnation of incest is subject to semantically hypothetical relationships that are invalidly deemed harmless. I pose that the general act of incest is harmful for several reasons:
1. Health risk are high and relevant for societal backlash
2. Consent between two adults is not a sole justification for all incest relationships
3. There are psychological and social status repercussions for such behavior
4. Historically incest was a means of power oppression and segregation
In summary, in comparison to other taboos, incest has a history of causing health and societal harm which disrupts the very functionality of society. Acceptance of incest by society would allow for abusive, heinous, and potentially fatally harmful actions. Thus, we as a society should not accept incest.
The main idea behind my position on not being disgusted by incest is this: we, as a society, have no right to deny someone a choice what to do with their life, if those choices don't bring harm to themselves or others. It shouldn't matter what those choices are, or how many people agree or disagree with them.
Now, I'm sure everyone would agree that no one can forbid someone from doing anything. No one can forbid a rapist from raping someone; we can merely say :"If you rape someone, you will go to jail", but that doesn't stop him from going out and assaulting someone. The basis for this is that we are counting on the peoples ability to predict the consequences; that the impending doom of being imprisoned is keeping the rapists in check, that maybe the threat is making them think twice about committing a crime.
Societal pressure does the same thing; a couple of decades ago, the societal pressure on homosexuals was so strong that almost every gay person "stayed in the closet" for a lot longer than they maybe should have. Societal pressure on incest is the same, and for that reason it should be abolished. Because, even though we can't stop anyone from doing anything, our pressure is making them do something that they don't want to do, and could even be harmful to their well being. (as was the case with some gay people, back when societal pressure on homosexuality was strong ).
People fall in love all the time, and love is supposedly blind. A brother and sister, cousins, even mothers and sons, aunts and nephews, etc., there have been a lot of examples of incest in our society. Now, when I talk to people about this issue, the first thing I hear is "But that's not real love, they are just confusing strong family connection for a romantic affection". But how can anyone make that claim? How can anyone know what love is to someone else? I can also say "Two men cannot truly love each other, so gay relationships make no sense and shouldn't be accepted". But the problem here is this: even if it's not real love (and we have no basis to claim this), we can't pretend that we should be able to tell someone who they should have sex with or live with or kiss with. Even though a lot of people may find it unnatural, unlikely, or simply disgusting. There is, in my opinion, no reasonable argument to be made, in regard to love between closely related people, to forbid incest, the same being the case with two people of the same sex.
The children of incestuous couples are more likely to develop physical and mental deformities, and that is a fact which I am not even going to try to dispute. But the happiness of the participants of the relationship is not contingent on them necessarily having a child together. A relationship between two people is not dependent on them having children in the end, which means we can't just forbid them from having a relationship just because they may have a child and that child may develop physical or mental deformities. Now, of course, there are incest couples who really want a child, and are therefore consciously risking that future childs health, but I don't see this as a good enough reason to forbid incest. If they want the child, they will have it, and no one can stop them. That doesn't mean we should destroy someone elses wishes in the process of trying to prevent potential endangerment of a hypothetical child.
The society creates pressure on incest, and therefore any mental health drawbacks on incest are the responsibility of society, and not of incest itself. I can't see doing something you want somehow destroying your health and mind.
I tried to make real arguments for my case, and save rebuttals to most common arguments against incest for the next round, but the truth is I only have one real argument, which I stated already, on the start of my post. I can't see how anyone can refute it, and one of the reasons I proposed this debate is to see which arguments Con will use. I thought about this a lot, but I simply cannot come up with arguments against my position. So Con, please, give it your best shot! :)
As stated before it is difficult to pinpoint a specific factor for the establishment of a societal law or taboo, however, those that are well established are robust against generational change and are enforced with legal or social ramifications. In the case of incest, the following rationale and examples justify, as well as reinforce, the disdainful societal stigma towards incest.
A. Incest is historically and naturally harmful to society
A1. Incest contributed to the ruling and abuse of power by “purebred” families
Since the time of ancient civilizations human beings have used inbreeding (incest relationships) to “purify” their family bloodline and remain in power . This allowed for tyranny and corrupt rule of successors in history due to their family’s incestuous practices; for example, kings in Zimbabwe would kill anyone that slept with their 3,000 wives, many of whom were sisters or daughters . However, there was a drawback to this method as many of the offspring were born with mental and physical defects that harmed their survival . Indeed the cost of being “pure” comes at biological expense, which I shall explain further in another section.
A2. Nature avoids inbreeding/incest in higher level organisms
One of the main hypotheses for the theory of evolution is that a species will gravitate to genetic diversity through natural selection. Simply, species have a higher affinity for those in their species that have a genetic difference (i.e. not a close family member). This is due to the barriers in life that lead to a more fit evolution .
In the case of inbreeding, continued production of offspring from closely related parents will cause a decrease in the genetic diversity of a species, which can lead to extinction or gene depletion (removal of genetic variants in the gene pool) . In fact, scientist have shown that “outbreeding” will increase survival and limit the complications of genetic disease associated with inbred offspring [6-7].
Furthermore, Debra Lieberman et al. has shown that human beings have an innate disconnection with family members based on kin-recognition systems . Briefly, the study found that “kin–relevant behaviours are non–conscious,” and are dependent on co-residence and relative degree of relatedness . In summary, nature, and by extension humans, has an affinity toward outbreeding to non-related partners. One could argue that: one, human beings differ from nature on their mating; and two, the individuals are not harmed and society is not as affected anymore by incest. However, I propose in the following that incest can be just as harmful to individuals as it is to society, if not more extreme.
B. Incest is harmful to an individual
B1. Offspring are knowingly born with increased risk of complication
Briefly, it is understood that there are ramifications for having a family member for partner in the case of having children. This is due to the genetic disparities that can arise from parents carrying a recessive disease, or the decrease in immunity due to lack of genes encoding for certain receptors . In addition, it has been shown that inbreeding correlates strongly with decreased cognitive ability and development in children . Clearly, there are couples that can live without offspring, but a majority of relationships are based on raising families in their future, which begs the question, what would an incest family dynamic look like?
B2. Parental-child incest relationships cannot be established with true consent
Parents have a very strong influence on the social-psychological development of children. The parental relationship with their offspring is based off of authoritarian power, where the child will internalize the beliefs and practices of their parent . Thus, incest would have to be an internalized ideal from the parents for the child to accept this as non-taboo; this leads to grooming of the child during their youthful development and transformation into adults .
While grooming is mostly associated with predators (i.e. pedophiles), a parent could subconsciously (if not on purpose) influence the affinity of the child to seek a romantic relationship. Effectively the parent will always have a psychological and social dominance over their offspring, and this unequal power is both harmful and illegal in certain circumstances of the law (e.g. Inmate-Prison Guard). We cannot therefore say that the child consented on their own, as their tailored upbringing influenced their decision.
B3. Sibling-Sibling incest is highly associated with psychological disorders.
Sibling-sibling incest is thought to be the most common, and harmless, forms of incest due to the similarity in age of the children. This is mainly because, unlike parent-child relationships, there is lack of a large age gap, decreasing the power difference; in addition, it is believed that children will experiment with each other during puberty . However, this is accepted only when repeated exposure is minimal. Otherwise, repeated sexual advances have been linked to psychological disorders; in one study, 74% had one or more psychiatric disorders including ADD, PTSD, drug abuse, or social disorders . Also, they found that in 52% of sibling incest couples, one of the siblings was previously abused by other family members.
Margaret M. Canavan et al., found that sibling-sibling sexual encounters occurred at early ages, and that while consent may have initially been reciprocal, change in the relationship quickly turned abusive, leading to psychological disorders that affected the women for years . It is clear that, if incest were to occur, it starts young and can lead to great psychological harm (e.g. depression, drug abuse, suicide). Furthermore, as easy as it is for people to fall in love, they can fall out of love, however, when one is in a romantic relationship with a family member this could cause drastic shift and conflict within the family.
I have shown that there is a misconception that incest is a harmless practice, when in fact it has historical and evolutionary harm to society. In fact, nature avoids inbreeding as it decreases survival of a species. Additionally, the grooming of incest starts at an early developmental stage for children and can cause psychological harm for many years down the road. I have also shown how parental-offspring relationships are unbalanced and cannot fully contain consent. In addition, the most common of incest relationships is associated with child abuse and adverse mental health.
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