What’s the ethical argument against incest?

A recent news article has been going around about a father-daughter incestuous relationship:

An 18-year-old woman from the Great Lakes region told New York magazine she planned to marry her formerly estranged, biological father and move to New Jersey, where she said there is no legal prohibition against adult incest.

“We plan to move to New Jersey where we can be safe under the law, since adult incest isn’t illegal there, and once I’m there I’ll tell everyone,” the woman, whose name was not published, told the magazine for its “What’s It Like” column, which explores unusual and taboo topics.

It turns out the two had been estranged since the girl was 5. Other articles I’ve read portrayed the two as having no contact until she was 17, but this one says they had minor (non-sexual) interactions from when the girl was 5 to 15. This article also indicates they’ve been dating since she was 16, but it doesn’t say the age of the father; another source indicates he was about 34. At any rate, whatever the specifics here, it’s pretty clear their relationship isn’t okay. There’s a power dynamic at play that makes it wrong. Moreover, most people would simply point out that incest is wrong. I’m wondering, though, why we consider that latter point a good enough argument.

We tend to reject incestuous relationships for two primary reasons. First, they often are not consensual. Second, they can result in genetic abnormalities in offspring. But hang on. Those aren’t arguments against incest in and of itself – those are arguments against non-consensual sex and incestuous reproduction. What if we have two sisters or two brothers? At best we may have a power dynamic at play. What if they’re twins? Or they were estranged their entire lives and only met as adults? What’s the argument then?

There tends to be an “ick” factor when we talk about incest, but that isn’t an ethical argument. It’s a feeling, and no matter how strong it may be, it isn’t a very good basis to reject an idea. Indeed, it’s actually the same reason same-sex marriage still isn’t a thing everywhere.

The article that got me thinking about this topic isn’t a good case study for talking about what makes incest in and of itself wrong, so I don’t particularly want to discuss it. It was merely a jumping-off point: What makes incest wrong? Is it that incest has higher odds of leading to genetic abnormalities? Again, that’s an argument against incestuous reproduction, not incest itself. But let’s pretend that argument does address incest itself. It also addresses people with Huntington’s disease. A person with that disease will die a painful death around middle age while also having a 50% chance of passing it onto his/her children. Those are far greater odds than any incestuous relationship produces. Who is ready to lobby for laws barring people with Huntington’s disease from sexual activity that has any chance of producing children? I’m not.

Let’s be clear, then: The genetic argument against incest is out. It’s not even on point, and even it was, it’s an argument against a lot of other types of reproduction. Moreover, it entirely fails to address relationships where children aren’t possible/would be aborted.

I’m not about to go lobby for new laws regarding incest, but it strikes me that there isn’t a good ethical argument against incest in and of itself. If, at the end of the day, we’re talking about two consenting adults who don’t have an asymmetrical power dynamic at hand, there just isn’t an argument to be had. Society would certainly ostracize anyone who made it public that their relationship was incestuous, and I can’t imagine a healthy relationship would be at all easy as a result, but the same has historically been true of interracial and homosexual relationships.

EDIT: Given some other discussions I’ve had around the Interwebs, I’ve once again had it reaffirmed that some people are genuinely too dumb to have conversations above the most remedial, superficial levels.

Advertisements

Thought of the day

Those who fight against free speech in any way stand with the attackers of Charlie Hebdo in some way.

Stuart Scott

Every so often an icon emerges in the media. Usually, these people were never meant to be the story. We simply expected them to report the stories. If they did that, we would find ourselves discussing what they had told us, not giving a second thought to where we heard it. That is always good enough. That’s the job. But every so often one of these personalities will shine through the morass. Stuart Scott was one of those people. And now he has died at the age of 49.

Scott had been fighting cancer for the past 7 years. I had no idea this was his third bout with the disease. Hell, I had no idea he was ever even sick. Insofar as this was well-known news (and it was), I managed to miss it. Part of that is sheer chance. I simply didn’t happen to see the news stories. But most of that is because Scott never let it show. Looking back I can see some of the weight fluctuations now, but the strength of his personality always hid whatever physical weakness he may have been experiencing at a given time. He always said to keep fighting – fight, fight, fight – and he lived that. The images and tributes over the past day have made it wildly clear that he was speaking more than mere platitudes. He meant what he said and he lived it entirely.

I only ever mention a celebrity death here once in a great while. Sometimes it’s because I feel bad for the odd life the person had (such as when I mentioned Gary Coleman). Most times, though, it’s because I deeply respected the person (such as with Christopher Hitchens). This is like most times. Stuart Scott stood out as one of the good guys. There are a lot of sportscasters I like and I’ll be sad to hear if any of them die, but Scott’s passing is especially heartbreaking. I wish his family the best.

Here are two videos. One is of Rich Eisen giving his on-air farewell only 10 minutes after hearing of his friend’s death. The other is of Stuart Scott delivering one of the best speeches I’ve heard in a long time.

Thought of the year

I’ve made it something of a New Year’s tradition to point out that there still isn’t any good evidence for God, but I can’t help but feel that debate has become overwhelmingly stale. I don’t know if it’s the self-destruction of a portion of the atheist movement that doesn’t seem to know what “atheism” means or if the debate itself is simply boring, but there’s just something unappealing about the whole thing.