Skip to comments.Incest and the Degradation of Our Vocabulary
Posted on 01/06/2011 5:17:20 AM PST by markomalley
The story of David Epstein, the Columbia University political scientist and Huffington Post blogger now facing criminal charges of incest, has launched a very interesting discussion. What is fascinating about it, and deeply disturbing, is the inability of some commentators to articulate what is morally wrong about the act of incest. It is almost equally disturbing that a legal argument for a right to engage in adult, consensual incest stands on surprisingly firm footing, thanks to precedents the United States Supreme Court has already established in other cases on the autonomy of the person under our Constitution.
Professor Epstein, 46, has been charged with third-degree incest for carrying on a sexual relationship over a three-year period with his daughter, now 24. From what little has emerged about the case, there are no charges that the relationship antedated the daughters eighteenth birthday, nor has it been alleged that the sexual relations were other than consensual. (The daughter herself has not so far been charged with a crime, however.) So powerful is the contemporary opinion that consenting adults may engage, in private, in any acts that commit no harm (narrowly understood in almost purely physical terms) to the parties in question or to others, that some observers have merely shrugged indifferently at the Epstein case, while others have striven to find grounds for condemning such incestuous acts but finally confessed their failure to find them.
After briefly describing the facts of the Epstein case, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh asked, Should it be illegal, and if so, exactly why? The comments from his readers were not, in the main, terribly edifying. Volokhs UCLA colleague Stephen Bainbridge cited the ethicist Leon Kasss phrase the wisdom of repugnance, and said there was definitely an ick factor at work in his judgment of the case. But beyond this instinctual support for an ancient taboo, Bainbridge had little else to offer. And such an ick factor may be all most people can summon upon learning of this case. The taboo being so ancient, so much a part of second nature in peoples moral make-up, it has gone unarticulated for so long that when the need arises to articulate it, we may find ourselves speechless.
William Saletan made perhaps the most successful attempt to articulate a reason for condemning even consensual adult incest. He rejected the oft-cited risk of hereditary birth defects as a reason to prohibit incest, because such a risk is not present in some incestuous relations and is easily obviated in others. And violence and exploitation could not be said to be at work in truly consensual cases of incest between adults. Saletan finally settled, without much further elaboration, on calling incest a cancer of the family because it perverts already-existing relationships between family members.
It does indeed. Saletan might have consulted the analysis offered in C.S. Lewiss 1960 book The Four Loves had he wished to develop the point. Lewiss four forms of love are affection (the Greek storgē), friendship (philia), sexual or romantic love (eros), and charity or Christian love (agapē). Here we may stick to the first threethe natural loves, Lewis calls themand observe that they are not so much variations of one thing as different species of love. Each has its own integrity, and is in an important way constitutive of human happiness. Some overlap among or progression through the various loves is possible, of course. Married couples, for instance, may begin as friends, become lovers, and finally find their relationship cemented in bonds of affection, that humblest love that as often as not involves a great deal of taking for granted.
But while such overlap is appropriate in some instances, in others it is inappropriateindeed, it can be an outrage to mix loves or for one to intrude upon another. The relations of children to parents, and of siblings to each other, the most basic of familial ties, are intense and lifelong relations of affection, in which great variations on storgē are visible. Such close kinship, grounded in nature or even only in law and custom (as with step-siblings, for instance), is often its own justification and support. Surely many of us have been heard to say something like, I dont much like him, but Im obliged to love him, because hes my brother. Introduce the element of eros, however, and affection is not reinforced; it is destroyed, and replaced by something unnatural to the relationship in its proper sense. The human good of parent-child love, or of sibling intimacy, is sacrificed to a misplaced passion that cannot achieve its own rightful end.
Much more could be said on this score, about the natural hierarchies, duties, and trusts that are shattered by incest, even between consenting adults. But the recent discussions of this matter reveal how decayed is our moral vocabulary for considering it, how nearly lost is any understanding that our various loves have their natures and purposes, which must be respected if those loves are to conduce to our happiness. Only such decay can account for the failure to grasp that a man cannot be a father to his lover, or a lover to his daughter.
The degradation of our moral sense about these things has been driven by the elevation of eros above all other loves, by the reduction of eros almost entirely to sexual behavior alone, and by a notion of untrammeled freedom to seek sexual satisfaction. In this development, the Supreme Court has played a pivotal destructive role. In its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, invalidating laws against homosexual sodomy, the Court referred to an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex. As Justice Anthony Kennedy went on to say:
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.
As I had occasion to write several years ago in the context of another case of incest, if this is sound constitutional reasoning about the liberty protected by the due process clause, then it is as sound for the invalidation of incest laws as it is for the invalidation of sodomy laws. By declaring that a law prohibiting a sex act between consenting adults could not even pass the rational basis test, the least stringent of the constitutional standards the Court applies, Justice Kennedy in fact invented a kind of super-fundamental right to the sexual satisfactions of ones choice, so long as one had a willing partner (or partners) past the age of majority. While a federal circuit court and a state supreme court have attempted to divert the reach of the Lawrence precedent from its obvious impact on incest statutes, their arguments unconvincingly deny the plain inferences to be drawn from Justice Kennedys reasoning.
Saletan insisted that there is a rational basis to forbid incest, even when it is the act of consenting adultsalthough he seemed also to want to leave his own moral strictures largely unenforced in such cases. The burden of his argument, however, was to distinguish between homosexual relations and incest, giving moral approval to the former while retaining condemnation of the latter. Indeed, as a supporter of same-sex marriage, Saletan argues that while incest is a cancer that eats away at the family, homosexuals should be encouraged to marry in order to form . . . stable famil[ies].
For our present purposes we can leave aside the question whether same-sex couples can form unions that deserve to be called marriages, or whether homosexual relations correspond to the nature or purposes of any of the natural loves, as Lewis called them. (On the nature of marriage, see the articles collected here on the debate begun recently by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson.) What we must notice is that Saletans strictures against incest rest on moral arguments of a kind that the Supreme Court has already rejected in the Lawrence case. Above all other considerations, the Court has elevated autonomy, choice, a freedom from being trammeled in ones private preferences regarding intimate matters of sexual partnering, and even a freedom from being demeaned by public disapproval in law or policy of ones choices in such matters. A majoritarian moral preference for the integrity of the family cannot, in this arena, claim a rational basis in the law as against the autonomous choices of free individuals to disregard that integrity if it suits them. There is no such thing, by the inexorable logic of Lawrence, as the family. There are only families, constituted by the choices of individuals to make them, unmake them, and bend their purposes to their own will.
Whatever the fate of Professor Epstein, his case forces us to choose between alternative courses of reasoning regarding the morality we embody in our law. Do we believe in the autonomy of the person, as a constitutionally protected freedom to live as though human relationships were clay in our hands, to be molded as our desires imperiously demand? Or do we believe that sexuality, love, and family are things that constitute us, possessing their own natures and purposes and calling us to answer to them? On our choice between these two understandings, much of our future happiness depends.
Once societal norms are broken??
They have been for many years in this liberal infested country.
None. Legal incest and polygamy are next.
From Gay Rights to Incest without passing Polygamy and collecting 200 dollars. Cool! I doubt I’ve ever seen a quicker descent into degradation by the chattering class.
I doubt I’ve ever seen a finer example of the moral bankruptcy of today’s “intellectual” class. Apparently “intellectual” actually means “the inability to tell right from wrong”.
Time for the torches and pitchforks.
I encourage the liberals to commit all the incest they wish
After a few generations of such inbreeding we sane people will triumph as they will be reduced to a sub-race slobbering retards. Inbreeding by nature is a sure way to introduce a world of ills to its practitioners
Liberals are not sane.
Not to be confused with normal people, these are liberal pukes to begin with and have no connection with American ideals of family. I expect the full range of deviance from Huffpo and Columbia staff.
That's two instances of mighty poor reasoning. "Unnatural" and "rightful" are just dropped there with their unexamined weight. Sure we all know what they mean and we all know why incest is wrong, but don't attempt to prove it logically by such circular reasoning.
I wouldn't be so sure of that. For many centuries, inbreeding was an essential qualification for becoming a monarch.
In one sense this is a good thing; otherwise we would run out of Senators, college professors, and Federal Judges.
Not trying to hijack this post, but I finally saw it ALL on the Today Show this week. Meredith Viera interviewed a mother and her little boy - who was wearing a pink tutu. She lets her kid dress as a little girl because it makes him “feel calm.” She’s on a campaign to let tiny little children dress in drag if they want to. Sick, sick, sick.
*Shrug* It would only assure they would continue to vote Democrat.
That's because the argument is correct. Once one extends the 'harm' argument beyond the physical or financial (force or fraud) one opens the door to government regulating every aspect of our behavior at the point of a gun.
If two adults want to engage in this behavior and no force or fraud is involved there's no reason for the State to criminalize the behavior.
It may be disgusting and worthy of societal opprobrium, and I think it is, but that doesn't mean it should be criminal.
Inbreeding is an essential quality of Islam. Over half of all Muslims are married to their first cousins. As were their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on for the past 50 or so generations. Now, do you wonder why the only thing that Islam has produced in 1400 years is war and murderers?
I read an interesting book years back (can not remember the tittle) about the Tory remnants remaining in the US after the revolution.
The practice of arranged marriages within families of domestic British descendants still holding land granted by the crown persists to this day.
The book was based on families in Hamilton Massachusetts.
Liberals truly fashion a world from the 'dark side' elements. . .they cannot help but avoid, decry. . .smear all that reps a Good, in their presence.
(No effort to small for assault. . .they use the foulest terms to degrade what is good and great - without being able to explain the hate behind their ideas - as easy a tactic as it is cheap. (i.e. the latest example that comes to mind; 'those who have a 'fetish' for our Constitution.") David Letterman positing that John Boehner's emotionalism as a 'drug induced' display. . .They MUST taint all and bring 'good' down to their level; where it is unrecognizable.)
All this stands as a direct assault upon the Moral Order of Life - and the Mind it unfolds from - while tapping into the fraudulent and inauthentic replacement of 'Good' while being authentically it's opposite.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creatorwho is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know Gods righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
You are correct, markomalley. One cannot rationally support a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy without also supporting a right to incest, polygamy, polyandry, and pretty much whatever else consenting adults want to do. Scalia and others pretty much wrote as much when they dissented in Lawrence v. Texas.
Scalia: “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by todays decision dissent.”
Without our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation, there is literally no limit to the depravity that man will do. Want to know what Lot felt like in Sodom? Prepare yourself, because that is coming, my FRiend.
There's another alternative. Human nature as observed empirically through the millennia. It has definitive characteristics. Among them, social behavior which is absolutely necessary to our existence. Social behavior has structure, roles, rules, imperatives, taboos. And most of them are there precisely because we're so imaginative and free; what is "unnatural" can always be imagined and performed.
You can make the case entirely without religion or the word "moral." In other words you can make the case so that even an atheist or a criminal understands it.
Mind the rules, you should thrive; disregard them, you will likely regret it.
And yet these same liberal elites who think it's ok to commit incest with your daughter, think you need to be formally forbidden to procure her a hamburger over 600 calories.