Monday, March 11, 2013

Morality and Incest

This is a recent 'hot topic' on twitter so I thought I would write a "brief" description of my thoughts. This is going to cover a wide array of topics so some expertise on the part of the reader is assumed, you might need to research some topics on your own (*gasp*) as I just don't have time to do a deeper dive at this time.

(1) Atheism is a position about ones disbelief in the deity conjecture. Period. Atheism says absolutely nothing more than that. There is NO 'atheist' position on incest nor on ice cream. So my position on this topic is exactly that, ONLY my position. Other atheists can and will give different opinions, at the end of the day what matters is the evidence supporting a given position. Pointing to some book and claiming it as an authority doesn't pass muster, it is NOT evidence, sorry. If you believe otherwise please come talk to me about it when you have a degree in epistemology, otherwise I'm not really interested in your uneducated rambling.

(2) the superiority of non-revealed (or 'secular') morality is that it assumes our ignorance on matters not established by facts. It is willing to admit error in the face of contradictory evidence. Meanwhile the Judaic/Christian/Islamic religious are left making poor excuses for why their God commands slavery or trying to justify old men raping young women on the poor justification that the girl had reached menses (never mind the well-established psychological damage this does, that's just too bad because god willed it so - or so they claim). So I am willing to admit I could be wrong, but I think my position is very conservative to allow for a margin of error.

(3) religious adherents are profoundly hypocritical in their demand for evidence against all other claims but are unable to produce the same for their own. Keep that in mind when responding based on an appeal to authority or other fallacies

When I look at the 'morality' of human interactions I try to be both universal and consistent. I try to avoid special cases unless they are unavoidable (most likely out of our ignorance). But on consideration of the matter I see no reason to special case 'incest', it seems to fit into universal patterns of human behavior. Let's look at a few facts related to incest:

  • there is evidence for a natural aversion to close-kin relations, and inbreeding avoidance in animals
  • There are well-established psychological dangers associated with close-kin relationships, most actual instances are abusive in nature
  • The closer the relationship the greater chance of serious deformities, with first-cousins being about the same risk level as a 40 year old woman having children; but closer relationships have exponentially higher risks
  • There is scientific evidence supporting modern age of consent laws, this is why younger children CANNOT give consent, they lack the capacity

Now let's look at some universals. In the human sphere, moral interactions have a common thread requiring all participants being Informed, Consenting, and Empowered. To be uninformed is to be exploited. To be nonconsenting is to be forced. To be unempowered is slavery.

  • Informed (including but not limited to: STDs, pregnancy, intimacy, feelings, real risks, appropriateness, expectations during and after)
  • Consenting (doesn't need to be forms signed in triplicate but it DOES need to be explicit and all parties have a burden to ensure the willing consent of all others, not just assume it, NOT force it, NOT put it under stress or pressure or to account for such stress and pressures where they do exist)
  • Empowered (empowered to say NO, and have NO mean NO - and have it recognized and respected by the law)

If a relationship is between TRULY Informed, Consenting, and Empowered adults then I would say it should not be against the law, which does NOT mean it necessarily has to be the social standard either.

But if you look at just the known psychological implications I think a very close sexual relationship could almost never be described as truly consenting, so that would be deeply problematical for me. I would already like to see a much higher standard for Informed, Consenting, and Empowered than we have today - I don't see how you could reasonably establish it for close-kin individuals.

Beyond the relationship itself there is also the question of procreation. Again, I would argue there are universal principles here that should guide us. I do NOT argue we know exactly where the magical line is that shall not be crossed, I argue for a conservative position that we are willing to adjust as our knowledge increases.

Once genetic sequencing becomes cheap enough (exactly how cheap? this one of those things that because of our ignorance we have to accept is a fuzzy line), I think that ALL couples will have a responsibility to get sequenced and ensure their offspring will have a REASONABLE chance of at least not having profound deformities and genetic problems. Until then, we do know something about the risks as they related to kinship.

So, what percent chance is "worth" the risk? Again, this is a fuzzy line that each couple should be allowed to decide on their own. There isn't an absolute answer, nor any guarantees, even with genetic testing. But if you KNEW that if you had children they were going suffer horrifically would you abstain from procreative sex? I know I would. What if it was a 90% chance? 80%? Where would you draw the line? Again, I think the key here is to be INFORMED, Consenting, and Empowered.

But, to forbid 'incestual' relationships on the basis of genetic risk but ALLOW the same level of risk between other couples is hypocritical and needlessly inconsistent.

So, if we wrap all this up into practical terms I would say that parent-(*ADULT*)child or (*ADULT*)sibling relationships would have such an extremely high burden of proof as to be impractical, if there is any hint of an abusive relationship (or that it began before the age of consent) then society would have an interest in intervening and procreation would be well beyond reasonable risk levels (even trying to be extremely conservative in honoring personal rights). More distant relationships progressively less so, first-cousins... I just don't know, I admit I am not well-enough informed to be making that decision but I would bring all the tools of science to bear on the question. I think that in the absence of clear direction one-way or the other it should be left up to the Informed, Consenting, and Empowered ADULTS.

What I would absolutely not allow, under any circumstances are abusive relationships, incestual or otherwise, and there is a plenitude of 'otherwise' abusive relationships in existence that I'm more concerned about than hypothetical kin relations. Like selling young women off into marriages against their CONSENT when they are still children who cannot consent - just because they have had their first menses is no excuse for trading them off to be raped. THAT is something that we KNOW causes great harm and psychological damage, it isn't just theoretical.

More distant relationships seem to have very little genetic risk and carry only the same psychological risks as distant relationships.

Again, I stress these can only be relationships between *ADULTS*, not between Children because children CANNOT consent.

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