Kilroy Was Here
April 24, 2003
The Immorality of Incest
William Saletan asks yesterday in his Slate column, "What is wrong with incest?"
I enjoy Saletan's columns immensely for exactly this type of question. In the end, it is important to critically examine our seemingly commonsense moral assumptions. Luckily, in this case, I feel I can come up with a compelling argument against incest beyond the old chestnut of three-eyed children.
Saletan, in his article, is really only considering "brother-sister" incest. It seems that even in Saletan's openminded examinations "parent-child" incest is right out. Why would that be?
Well, the state obviously has a reason to outlaw "parent-child" incest. The legalization of "parent-child" incest could provide cover to parental abuse.
We intuitively realize that a father or mother has tremendous influence over their children, even into adulthood. Furthermore, one of the fundamental tenets of the parent-child relaitonship is the protection and nurturing of the child.
To use that influence for sexual gratification of the parent would be immoral. Also, the influence that parents have over children would make it difficult to impossible for the state to determine true consenus from coercion.
Therefore, in order to protect children from a selfish parents who would ignore or social mores, we should ban the practice of 'parent-child' incest.
Now, let us turn our attention to 'brother-sister' incest. One of the things to realize is that, much like the relationship between parent and child (or boss and subordinate), the brother-sister relationship is, in many if not most cases, a hierachical one.
Older siblings, like parents, tend to have huge influence over their younger siblings. Also, like parents (in kind if not in degree), older siblings tend to be charged with the protection and nurturing of their younger siblings.
Ergo, the older sibling-younger sibling can be taken advantage of in the same way as the parent-child relationship. In her recently published book, Brothers & Sisters (St. Martins Press, 1991), Jane Mersky Leder estimates that some "23,000 [women] per million in this country may have been victimized by a sibling" before the age of 18.
Thus, the difficulties surrounding the judgement of consensual sex among parents and children exist in the case of brother-sister relations. To prevent the abuse of the special protective relationship between an older sibling and a younger sibling, it is in the state's interest to outlaw all such acts.
To drive this point home, which would you find more immoral, case A or case B.
In case A, an adopted brother aged 21 and an adopted sister age 17, who were raised together since infants, have sex one day.
In case B, two strangers meet, have a long courtship, and have sex, and then find out later that they were actually biological siblings who were given up for adoption.
I think we'd have more of a moral problem with case A than B.
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