I happened to land on a blog that touches on the sensitive topic of incest. The title was ‘Is incest wrong?
The author Tauriq Moosa, dwells on two young, adult siblings in Britain, accused of incest. In his opinion, they should not be prosecuted under the country’s anti-incest “Section 1(1) Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995”, because they did nothing wrong. “.. just because something is right or wrong does not mean that the law follows suit. Something can be legal and be wrong by a moral standard, and vice versa,” he argues
He addresses the three arguments frequently made against incest: 1) ‘it creates deformed children’, 2) ‘people exclaim it’s just repugnant’, 3) ‘It’s not natural’, .
I disagree with the author; in my opinion, incest is Wrong.
However, I sympathize with his logic. The arguments he considered in his article are weak and easily refutable and these are not the reason incest came to be considered wrong, shameful and illegal. The logic he provides to counter these arguments does not include critical observation or empirical data, let’s take another look at these arguments.
As part of an English class during my college days in India, I researched sexual behaviors and practices prevalent among a number of small, isolated, remote societies that have lived in isolation for hundreds, if not thousands of years, in the remote parts of India. For our purpose here, I will point out three. One of these comprises only two small neighboring villages where marriages with those outside of the villages are considered insidious and not allowed. As a result, the two villages have, over the years, become just one big incestuous family. The second example is of another small isolated community where the concept of marriage does not even exist; the first husband/sexual partner of a woman, when she comes of age, is her father, then her brother(s) and eventually her son(s). As the third example, I’ll point to the Indian government’s protected Andaman island of North Sentinel. The indigenous people of the island are unwelcoming to outsiders and have killed people if they happen to land on their shore, their most recent victim being a British missionary. By all estimates, the entire population of the island is less than a dozen, making incest the only way for them to procreate.
Does incest lead to deformed children? Since the people in these societies are physically normal and able-bodied, the answer to this question should be a ‘no’. Is sex between family members repugnant? Repugnant is what you learn to be repugnant and since a lot of these cases involve voluntary, mutual consent, it must not be repugnant to those engaged in the behavior!
The third argument that incest is not natural, needs more exploration. The first interactions of a child are with her family and since she has not yet learned any apprehensions, these interactions come naturally. As she grows, fears and anxieties kick in and she needs encouragement, additional motivations or training to interact with the world outside. The new interactions don’t come as naturally to her as first when she had not developed concerns yet. If she were to be raised without any specific values or training on sexual matters, how will sex with a family member be unnatural, but with someone from outside natural, to her?
Then what makes incest so wrong? Well, the same element that makes it appear right – ‘it is natural’. It is way too natural a process for the society to accept!
We are social animals and just like our physical evolution, the societies also evolve, with ever emerging rules intended to keep their collective social fabrics strong, healthy and competitive. Ever wonder why incest is illegal and considered immoral (almost) all over the world? It is because it segregates families from the society, making the society weak. In evolutionary terms, incest is a weak trait that got eliminated from social acceptance, over the course of time. Imagine an incestuous family 10,000 year ago trying to survive next to a well-integrated large social group. Unless especially protected generation after generation, it would have disappeared a lot quicker than much larger and settled indigenous tribes that disappeared, as soon as they came into contact with better connected and organized, larger groups of people.
Incest is to a society as a tail or hemophilia is to a human body – a weak characteristic, which when discarded, makes its host stronger. Additionally, from the pure genetics’ point of view, random mating between individuals, far removed from their families, results in better selection of favorable bodily traits, allowing an easier evolutionary journey for the species.