Sunday, 19 August 2007

Incest and The Libertarian Question

Stanley Kurtz wrote a piece titled The Libertarian Question in which he attacks polygamy, incest, and homosexuality. His title refers to the question that libertarians ask about polygamy, homosexuality, and incest, that if these minority sexual practices are legalized, how does it harm those with normal sexual practices? There is no harm in a physical sense. A gay couple having sex in the house next door does not affect me in the same way that a murderer stabbing me in the chest with a knife does. Even though fringe consensual sex doesn't physically harm other people, Kurtz is still critical of the practices. He begins by looking at incest.
The deeper problem, of course, is the sexual abuse of children by older family members. The impossibility of real consent, as well as the potential psychological damage in cases of incestuous child abuse, are matters of very serious concern.
Even if a libertarian wants to spread freedom, the ability to consent is assumed to come about with sufficient maturity. This means that usually libertarians will not advocate total freedom for children simply because they are too young to make decisions for themselves. Most libertarians then would not advocate sex between children and adults even if both parties consent. However, if it can be argued that child sex does not harm children, as some pedophiles like Lindsay Ashford claim, then things may be different. If a father or mother decides to have consentual sex with his or her daughter or son who is above the age of consent, what is the problem? One argument that can be made is that incest increases the odds of genetic diseases in offspring, which can be seen as harmful to future generations. Kurtz doesn't use this argument though. He claims that if sex between fathers and mature daughters is allowed, this makes sex between adult and children more tempting.
To see the mechanism of our incest taboo at work, imagine a world in which consensual adult incest was legal. Once we see or hear of couples — even a relatively small number — who engage in legal, consensual, adult incestuous relationships, the whole idea of incest with minors becomes thinkable.
Pretty much, because you see the act happening around you, you are more likely to do it yourself. But if we are to take this idea and apply it to other aspects, then we would have to ban all violent movies because people might think it's okay to murder. We'd have to ban driving because driving under the speed limit might make it too tempting to drive over the speed limit. We'd have to ban mobile phones because their existence makes it too tempting to use these mobile phones as timing devices in bombs used for terrorist attacks. The list goes on. Any politician can claim this causes that causes this. In this complex world, just about everything causes everything.

Kurtz says the following: "The reason we need an incest taboo is because there is no effective way for the state to protect children from sexual abuse by family members. Children are essentially at the mercy of the adults who care for them." He is pretty much saying that a ban of incest is needed because if you don't ban sex between children and their parents, they will do it anyway. But if he thinks that a ban on child sex is insufficient to stop parents from abusing their children, what makes him think parents are going to stop having sex with their children after incest is banned?
[O]nly by building into adults a psychological mechanism of disgust and horror at incest can society protect children from the psychological harm of abuse by close relatives.
Why can't a psychological mechanism of disgust and horror at pedophilia be established to protect children from psychological harm? Why attack something more general and therefore forbid harmless and innocent acts? For example, let's take the act of having adult sex in general. Adult sex can be classified as consensual sex or non-consensual sex. Using Kurtz's arguments, I could argue that there needs to be a psychological mechanism of digust and horror at all sex (even consensual sex) so that victims of rape can be protected. Why not just condemn rape specifically in stead of targeting sex in general? By targeting sex in general you forbid both consensual adult sex as well as rape. If nobody can have sex then the human race will be extinct in the long run. Likewise, why forbid all incest when incest between father and mature daughter is harmless and incest between father and immature daughter is assumes to be harmful?

The rest of the article is very long and he talks about homosexuality, polygamy, as well as many other abnormal sexual practices. But I will restrict this post to the topic of incest.

What annoys me most about this piece is that the author Steven Kurtz is a member of the Hoover Institution, an institution that claims the following in its mission statement: "[T]he Institution itself must constantly and dynamically point the road to peace, to personal freedom, and to the safeguards of the American system."

Personal freedom? Why then does this guy condemn homosexuality, incest, and polygamy?

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