Wednesday, March 23, 2005

inC'est l'amour

Take somebody who's smart, professes generally Good Liberal values, believes themselves to be nontheistic (or at least wholly secular) in how they approach social issues, and wishes to be rational in their political beliefs. Tell them, genuinely, that you believe that, so long as they're consenting adults, blood relatives should be allowed to legally marry. Watch them freak out.

See people who otherwise profess a deep committment to reproductive freedom tell you that blood relatives shouldn't be allowed to marry because of the genetic consequences should they breed. See people who would otherwise oppose the idea that the purpose of marriage is procreation suddenly embrace the idea that procreative consequences should determine who has the right to marry. Do not expect them to be swayed when you point out that marriage is not a license to procreate and that unmarried people have babies all the time.

Let me be clear: there are, to be sure, all sorts people I know who are romantically involved who I would prefer not breed. In some of these cases, I could muster arguments for why their breeding would be, at least from a probabilistic standpoint, genetically undesirable, and these arguments would have a good deal more scientific validity than any abstract claim about what is genetically bad about procreation among blood relatives. And yet, crazy me, I think it would be wrong for me to have laws prohibiting other people who want to get married from doing so just because I don't want them to have children or because I think science says they shouldn't have children.

Check out Drek's post from yesterday about cousin marriage. He gets all the way to acknowledging that letting first cousins marry wouldn't be a gene pool disaster, but yet he's still against cousin marriage. Why? Because he can come up with some narrative about how, over some protracted period of time, allowing cousins to marry would cause the unraveling of Society.

One might note that cousins have long had the right to marry in all sorts of societies that are older than American society and not, as yet, unraveled. Or one could note the ample evidence that, generally speaking, people don't want to date/marry/have-babies-with their cousins, so it's not like it would result in some massive society-unraveling upturn in such marriages. But, more importantly: just because we can come up with some speculative narrative about how preventing two people from getting married might be in the very-long-term interests of society, are we justified in denying people the right to do so? I would have to be pretty confident in the validity of the narrative and the severity of the disaster before I would be comfortable with that.

A newer and deliciously twisted argument against believing that relatives should be allowed to marry is that, in debates about same-sex marriage, conservatives sometimes make the argument that if you give gays the right to marry, people are going to want to allow every conceivable configuration of people, including pairs of blood relatives, the right to marry. So if you say that relatives should be allowed to marry, you would be allowing conservatives to gain rhetorical points by saying "I told you so!", and thereby you would be contributing to the harming the cause of gay rights in America. Or something like that. As if the prevention of cousin marriage is a genuine part of the reason that anybody who opposes same-sex marriage does so. Anyway, don't get me wrong: I am completely fine with a change in laws that just allow same-sex marriage without extending marriage to any-pair-of-consenting-adults, but that doesn't mean that prohibiting people who happen to be genetically related from marrying isn't still ultimately wrong.

Besides which, various arguments just seem like rationalizations for the real reason otherwise-good-liberals don't want to allow blood relatives to marry: they think it is gross. I understand it's gross. I feel I need to issue a disclaimer that I have never wanted to marry and/or procreate with any relatives of mine. Still, I just don't really think "Ew. Ick." is a valid argument for imposing restrictions on the rights other people have regarding the ways in which they can share their lives.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I grew up knowing that if you went swimming within 3 hours of eating, you would succumb to horrid stomach cramps that would literally double you over, followed by drowning. I also knew that if you drank milk while eating fish of any kind, you would become very, very ill. The creme de la creme was that if we ever so much as set foot in a non Catholic church, let alone particiapte in any way, we would be damned to eternal suffering in hell. It was also known that you never wore red around any bull at any time, that toads did cause warts and carp should never be eaten in warm weather. The biggest mystery of all however is how we all knew without ever being told that one did not marry a cousin, let alone express any interest in a cousin. It was so taboo that it was not even spoken of. I mean, to do so would have been like wanting to run naked and masturbate in the vatican, or from another perspective, to eat pork rinds at Mecca. It was that powerful. Though you do put a turd in the punch bowl, you have also provided an impetus to reflect on myths and morality of a culture.

tina said...

Jeremy, would you please consider making some variation of the phrase "putting a turd in the punchbowl" the motto of this blog?

Anonymous said...

Please don't get LDM started on this, turds in punchbowls or masturbating in the Vatican. Good grief! We will never hear the end of it. Hopefully he is in the Library or off to parts unknown for a while.

shakha said...

Well, I gotta say I'm with you Jeremy. But that might because I come from a long line of people who married their first cousins. Seriously. You see, my dad is from a village in Pakistan where the DESIRABLE form of marriage is cousin marriage. And this has been going on as long as we know (since the British started keeping records in the early 18th century). In fact, my cousins who still live in Pakistan still marry their first cousins (two of my first cousins just to married this December). Contrary to what Drek suggests, this social system has not crumbled because of these marriage patterns. And my dad's family isn't filled with people who are genetic freaks or people who are incapable of thinking their way out of a wet paper bag. I'm not sure I buy the genetic argument - and this recent paper in Nature that shows that a plant was able to "fix" its flawed gene provides some very preliminary (and tenuous) hints that it may really be of little concern at all. And granted that this is an anecdote, but Anthropology is filled with examples of societies that have different incest taboos than we, in fact societies like my father's where desirable forms of marriage or exactly against our incest taboos. And these societies are stable, and in fact have been around a lot longer than our own. To take my father's example - to run with this anecdote, how long is the long-run for society? Two hundred + years is a pretty damn long time for a society to have a practice that doesn't seem to have terrible effects.

I'm not saying people are wrong for having aversioins to incest - but it would be nice if folks realized that their own incests taboos are not the "right" ones or the ones that create "better" societies (more stable, etc.).

shakha said...

Well, I gotta say I'm with you Jeremy. But that might because I come from a long line of people who married their first cousins. Seriously. You see, my dad is from a village in Pakistan where the DESIRABLE form of marriage is cousin marriage. And this has been going on as long as we know (since the British started keeping records in the early 18th century). In fact, my cousins who still live in Pakistan still marry their first cousins (two of my first cousins just to married this December). Contrary to what Drek suggests, this social system has not crumbled because of these marriage patterns. And my dad's family isn't filled with people who are genetic freaks or people who are incapable of thinking their way out of a wet paper bag. I'm not sure I buy the genetic argument - and this recent paper in Nature that shows that a plant was able to "fix" its flawed gene provides some very preliminary (and tenuous) hints that it may really be of little concern at all. And granted that this is an anecdote, but Anthropology is filled with examples of societies that have different incest taboos than we, in fact societies like my father's where desirable forms of marriage or exactly against our incest taboos. And these societies are stable, and in fact have been around a lot longer than our own. To take my father's example - to run with this anecdote, how long is the long-run for society? Two hundred + years is a pretty damn long time for a society to have a practice that doesn't seem to have terrible effects.

I'm not saying people are wrong for having aversioins to incest - but it would be nice if folks realized that their own incests taboos are not the "right" ones or the ones that create "better" societies (more stable, etc.).

Anonymous said...

I don't think there should be any regulations on a legal marriage. If churches want to regulate this sort of thing, fine, who cares? But no government should be able to decide that these two people deserve a legal union (and therefore legal protections) that any other two consenting adults can't have. You wanna marry your brother or the life of your life, or your grandma? Fine with me! (This does not, of course, in any way, mean I want to have sex with my sibings.)

nina said...

Do you know,Wisconsin pushes the absurdity button even further by having a law that says you CAN marry your first cousin if you are over fifty-five or if one of you offers proof of infertility (impotence would do, I suppose, if you want to go that route -- how awkward though). This, of course, eliminates any idea of social prohibitions, focusing out and out on the gene problem. But the statistical probability of producing offspring with the obnoxious gene issue is very small (somewhere between 3 and 7% depending on several definitional matters). At the same time, we place absolutely no other limits on marriage or procreation for those with high probabilities of passing on anything from two heads to no gray matter at all.
There are all sorts of tantalizing Qs that arise with this topic (of what legally pushes you into the category of incest): should you be able to marry your biologically unrelated stepchild? With whom you lived only the last year of her childhood? What if she was the adopted daughter of your wife? Of your girlfriend? Of Mia Farrow? And you’re Woody Allen?

I actually think the reason the laws are the way they are, is that in the past, we knew very little about the genetic issues. Now we know, but tell me what legislator is going to author a bill to permit cousin marriage?

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to allow cousins to marry, but I don't think the government should sanction marriages involving a parent and his or her child (or involving any pair where one half of the couple is descended from the other). I'm also a little hesitant on the issue of sibling marriages, though I admit my bias may be the result of my utter disdain for my own sisters, who have become sorostitutes in the last few years.

Drek said...

What the hell? I offer people prizes for responding to chauvanistic websites and, with the notable exception of Tom Bozzo, get no response.


Then I write a post criticizing cousin marriage and that gets the response?


Not that I mind being disagreed with, y'all make some interesting points. It's just all so damned inconsistent!

Anonymous said...

Thou would'st give'th naught to thy cousin but to her cheek a peck?
what the heck, Drek
go for it, thy gene pool already be'th a wreck
hence thy dependence on high tech
verily do'th I deal from a stacked DNA deck
Grandpa and Mom did more than just neck
and I really don't give a feck
-LDM

phillywalker said...

You don't have to look as far as Pakistan to find perfectly acceptable cousin marriage. You just have to read a Victorian novel to realize that marriage between first cousins was preferred by most of the British upper class. (It helped keep land, houses, and money in the family.)

You may or may not think that the English upper class is a good example of breeding, of course. But they don't seem to have problems with genetically based illnesses, as far as I know (unlike the Amish communities in the States, where inbreeding really is a medical problem.)

Anonymous said...

Pretty sure that cousin marriage is legal in New York. (Domestic relations is a subject on the NY Bar. That's how I know!)

Anonymous said...

Whoa, this is an interesting thread of discussion. There are many issues here I wanted to address, and I wrote a whole long comment to do that, right before I deleted it because it got way too involved (and I do not have time to do the research to adequately back up my opinions).

My opinion: relatives within a certain degree of relationship should not marry, for a host of reasons, not all genetics related. Look at the underground arranged marriage thing in Utah, for starters. And, as much as we like to think we have learned enough about genetics and heredity, we do not know everything yet. Someone made the point about how we all used to know certain things that have later been found to be false. That is the evolution of science. However, the door swings both ways. Doctors no longer tell women to start smoking to lose weight. Eleven years ago, when my son was born, we were told to have him sleep on his side, never his back or stomach. A generation before, they were told to have babies sleep on their backs. Well, we are back to having babies sleep on their backs again with my new nephew and niece. Just a simple example.

And on the waiting an hour after eating before swimming - beyond the whole digestive thing, it was probably invented by mothers who wanted a chance to clean up the lunch or dinner dishes, and have a rest from the exhaustive meal preparation process, before taking a bunch of kids to the local swimming pool. I know that's exactly why I say that when my son wants to eat a huge meal then go jump in the pool. 30 minutes is probably good enough.
-jnsys

Anonymous said...

Maybe ol' punch-em'-in-the-gut Freese can get some funerary discussion going. Why shouldn't Uncle George be dried, ground, boxed and fed to the cats after he croaks?? Huh?

Drek said...

Thou would'st give'th naught to thy cousin but to her cheek a peck?

Actually, one of my cousins IS pretty hot. And I have to admit, getting involved with her certainly would keep the guest list for the wedding under control.

what the heck, Drek
go for it, thy gene pool already be'th a wreck


Largely correct, actually, as I do possess a number of genetic abnormalities. I like to think of them in more of a "Childhood's End" sort of way, though.

hence thy dependence on high tech

That has more to do with my society, although my vision is fairly bad without corrective measures. I suppose in that case my poor genes do lead directly to my reliance on technology- even if it is more of the 19th century variety.

verily do'th I deal from a stacked DNA deck

I... don't even know what that means, exactly.

Grandpa and Mom did more than just neck
and I really don't give a feck
-LDM


Bully for you! You tell 'em... uh... me, Lonely Donut Man!

Anonymous said...

N'er can'st I engage, for Jeremy would'st delete if I fight
-t'is a Poet's worst fright -
O! but that I could'st, with all my might!
in French with thee would'st I be most contrite
in this language, quite polite
in Russian, with gutteral spite
verily to show'th thee who is right
that thy methodology be'th light
thy theory soar'th to no height
and thy data loose, n'er tight
but Lo! with mere verse do'th I shoo thee now from my sight
and bid'th thee a good night
-LDM

Anonymous said...

Does not LDM's most recent hatchet job on the English language provide sufficient evidence that he is the poster child for the anti-incest movement?

Anonymous said...

Me think'th, madame/sir, thou a'rt troll bait
tsk! tsk! t'is such a melancholy fate
e'r to worry o'er some half-baked Poet's spate
thy acrimony do'th not abate
nyah! nyah! it could'st for class make'th thee late!
or cause ye to bicker with thy mate
O! such a tizzy, such a state
am I a Quasimodo Poet with hunch-backed gait
that thee my lovely verse do'th so lowly rate?
thou slay'th me with thy hate
Woe! t'is bad enough I n'er have a date
but thou even wish'th me a balding pate!
-LDM