Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Apr/09

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Romania to decriminalize incest

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Romania weighs decriminalizing consensual incest:

Three European Union nations — France, Spain and Portugal — do not prosecute consenting adults for incest, and Romania is considering following suit.

Laws exempting parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters from prosecution for incestuous acts if they are not forced upon adult family members are decades old in France, Spain and Portugal.

In Romania, decriminalizing incest among consenting adults is being considered as part of a wide range of reforms to the country’s criminal code. No date has been set yet for a parliament vote on the bill, and opposition to the proposal is fervent even among some lawmakers in the ruling coalition.

Before anyone makes the connection between godlessness & depravity, do note that only France is particularly secular in a European context (90% of Romanians aver a belief in God, and 8% a universal spirit). So why criminalize incest between consenting adults? From a rational individualist libertarian perspective this might fall under the “victimless crimes” category. But most humans have a reflexive repugnance to this sort of behavior, and there are plenty of evolutionary psychological theories & data which suggest that the sexual relations between first-order kin are unnatural (though to be fair, many things that modern humans engage in with gusto are unnatural). In any case, see Larry Arnhart on incest.

Note: I do not, as an empirical matter, believe that decriminalizing brother-sister sexual relations will result in an epidemic of incest, anymore than a removal of the taboo upon corprophilia would result in its widespread practice.

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13 comments

  • Alex · April 12, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Politically speaking, legalizing incest would be a tremendous advance, if only because it robs the Romanian Orthodox Church of a little bit of the power they enjoy in Romanian politics. But it’s more likely that the proposal will be rejected for just that reason. This should be interesting to watch.

  • Steel Phoenix · April 12, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I tend to agree with you. I don’t think this will lead to any widespread problems. Maybe a few creepy families will inbreed themselves out of existence, but I don’t think it is justifiably criminal. You would know better than me what the genetic ramifications of this would be, but it is my guess that a generation or two of incest would be unlikely to lead to serious genetic issues.

    I’ve heard of a few cases in the news where adopted children have grown up to unknowingly marry their sibling and have children, only to find out years later. It is sad what the stigma does to those families when it is made public.

    I don’t think it is the place of law to legislate what is distasteful. If a practice isn’t creating a far larger cost to society than enforcing its eradication, then I’d really rather not see it legislated.

  • Author comment by David Hume · April 12, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I don’t think it is the place of law to legislate what is distasteful. If a practice isn’t creating a far larger cost to society than enforcing its eradication, then I’d really rather not see it legislated.

    this is a liberal, broadly speaking, attitude. see jonathan haidt’s work.

  • alina · April 12, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Romania chooses interesting areas in which to prove its liberalism. Unfortunately, the market is not one of them given the Liberal Party’s distancing itself from free-markets during the current crisis.

    I’m glad incest won’t be criminalized in Romania anymore. It has always seemed ridiculous for government to determine the details of sexual contact between two consenting adults.

    Now if the Romanian government REALLY wanted to impress the world with its liberalism, they could do the unthinkable– legalize marriage between family members. That would rock.

  • Author comment by David Hume · April 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    but it is my guess that a generation or two of incest would be unlikely to lead to serious genetic issues.

    actually, brother-sister matings are very problematic genetically. grotesque as it may seem, you can think of the fritzl family as a natural experiment. one of the children died after birth, while several of the others have congenital heart defects. modern medicine can mitigate the mortality rate though. two generations would be really messed up, the inbreeding coefficient would crank up. in animal breeding you literally can’t push it further than 8-10 generations as a matter of biology (but you get a lot of problems further on in terms of difficult reproducing).

  • Steel Phoenix · April 12, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I really don’t put any thought at all into whether things are ‘liberal’ or not.

    Interesting about the quick genetic damage. Why is it so high so fast? If the offspring mix back into society, do their offspring have similar problems? Perhaps criminalization would make sense if they were reckless about it, but then I think they would need to criminalize anyone with strongly genetically transmissible disease which gets into a pretty slippery slope.

  • Author comment by David Hume · April 12, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I really don’t put any thought at all into whether things are ‘liberal’ or not.

    right, but my point is that people look at morality in different ways. that’s one reason that liberals & libertarians and traditionalist conservatives often talk past each other. in fact, the fact that people don’t think about their moral intuitions, but simply intuit, is part of the issue

    Why is it so high so fast? If the offspring mix back into society, do their offspring have similar problems?

    everyone carries a lot of bad broke genes. very few of these though are fully expressed in all their badness, and that’s because you carry two copies of genes, and there is usually one good copy that compensates for the bad one. this a “carrier” state in pedigrees. the problem with the offspring same number of bad copies as everyone else, but the copies are on the same genes so they express.

    to illustrate what’s going on, let’s say your mother has a good copy and bad copy. each one of her children has a 50% chance of getting a bad copy, but that doesn’t matter since the father will almost always have a good copy. so for this theoretical gene:

    50% of the children will have two good copies (non-carrier)
    50% of the children will have one good copy, one bad copy (carrier)

    there is a 1/2 chance that any given sibling is a carrier. if they mate, 1/2 X 1/2 = 1/4 chance of carriers getting together. other options are 1/2 X 1/2 = 1/4 non-carriers
    also 1/2 chance of a carrier + non-carrier

    the key is when carriers get together. there’s a 25% chance that their offspring will express the bad gene. now, think all all the really bad genes you carry, there’s a lot of ways that problems can blow up.

    and yes, if the children breed out, then the bad genes will immediately be masked. the problem isn’t that they have more bad genes, it’s just that the way the copies are concentrated (the genotypes).

  • Roger Hallman · April 12, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Were I a Romanian, paying taxes that went to a public health system, I’d probably oppose legalizing incest because of the possibility of the unnecessary burden on the public. We actually have this problem here in Arizona from Warren Jeffs’ FLDS. (Fundie Mormons, if you hadn’t heard of them.) Incest is fairly common among insular religious communities.

    Here in Az, the FLDS up in Colorado City practice polygamy and have multiple marriages amongst the same few families. (We know of granddaughters being married to their grandfathers, among other convoluted and forced relationships.) The state’s public health system covers the results. Here’s a piece of local investigative reporting on the matter: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2005-12-29/news/forbidden-fruit

    I went to high school at a Mennonite Church-run high school and knew people who were only a generation removed from Amish communities. We had one girl who was a dwarf as a result of Amish inbreeding.

  • Steel Phoenix · April 12, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    THanks for the explanation, that makes a lot of sense.

    I think the reason people talk past each other is because they identify the value of an idea based more upon its source ideology than its merit.

    Hallman: My first thought on this matter was of the very organizations you speak of. I think the root of the problem lies less within the incest than the near forced isolationism. In those who are integrated members of society, I doubt incest would be common or recurring. I don’t know that the government should force people to mingle, but these cults do get scary fast.

  • Roger Hallman · April 13, 2009 at 5:37 am

    It’s not closely related to this discussion, but some years ago my ex-wife walked in on my reading “Under the Banner of Heaven”, a book about the FLDS and she asked me if was converting. I told her that while the idea of multiple submissive wives was attractive, I couldn’t handle sacred long underwear in the Arizona summer.

    Much of the FLDS have moved to Texas, and those who have remained behind are under much closer scrutiny…I think. The last governor to really take on FLDS lost his reelection bid rather convincingly. (I’ve been of the opinion for a while that the Mormon Church, despite public rhetoric, is sympathetic to the polygamous sects. That’s my conspiracy theory for the day.)

  • Ron Guhname · April 13, 2009 at 6:10 am

    “The Mormon Church, despite public rhetoric, is sympathetic to the polygamous sects.”

    No it’s not. Mormons consider them apostates and messed up. It’s true that Mormons believe there will be polygamy in heaven, but they believe it is forbidden by God and thus evil at this time in history.

  • Roger Hallman · April 13, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I only said that it was my little conspiracy theory. As such it’s excused from the burden of evidence.

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