A Tricky Question

Two gay men are in one of those rare places where they can get married, and they do. They want children, so they decide to have 2 kids by (different) surrogate mothers using in-vitro fertilization: one kid using each father’s sperm.Β  They have a boy and a girl. Twenty years later, the “brother and sister” decide that they are in love with each other and want to get married/live together, with all that that involves. Is this incest? Keep in mind that they share no genetic material whatsoever.

Does the answer depend on whether they grew up together as brother and sister, or whether they (more and more of a stretch, but it’s just a thought experiment) got split up at a young age when their parents decided they didn’t want to be together after all, got divorced, and never saw each other again?

ADDED: What about for adopted kids, who don’t have any link whatsoever, even to the respective parents?


12 thoughts on “A Tricky Question

  1. no it’s definitely not incest. am i correct in saying that incest became taboo because breeding within your own gene pool would be harmful for the offspring? based on that, there is no problem whatsoever in them getting married. might be a little weird thats all.

    adopted kids…hmmm…reminds me of emmett and rosalie, and alice and jasper…i watched twilight just now πŸ™‚ no problems there either.

  2. “am i correct in saying that incest became taboo because breeding within your own gene pool would be harmful for the offspring?”

    Yes, but another reason is that the church in the middle ages wanted to prevent the noble custom(i.e. of the nobles, not that it was good or anything πŸ™‚ ) of marrying within the family so as not to dilute the estate. And anyway, social taboos are always much firmer than the reasons they developed.

    And twilight is hardly the typical example of a family with adopted kids, is it? πŸ™‚

  3. well, yes you do have a point there πŸ™‚ it was just the first thing that came to mind.

    anyway, i’m what you would call a coldly logical person. as long as the two are totally in consent, and are aware of the issues, i think they should get on with it. see, incest being a taboo itself is the product of society. if you had grown up in, say, ancient egypt, you wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. this is all perfectly obvious, right?

    also, most of these myths and taboos are just long evolved practices that usually had a logical basis in the first place, only, people at the time didnt know the “scientific” explanation. like incest, for example.

  4. As a sister with adopted brothers, I can only say that it would completely freak me out. Totally. And yes, it would be incest in my head.

    Even if the taboo surrounding incest was created to prevent (genetical) sickness, it’s icky, even if your brother/sister isn’t your genetic brother/sister [I’d go as far as including cousins, even though that’s legal]. As you put it so very well – “social taboos are always much firmer than the reasons they developed”.

    As for your thought experiment – if the kids were seperated at an early age and did not grow up as brother and sister, I think, I could live with it. If not, I would have to work really hard to accept that relationship (if I had to accept it, that is).

    And no, you can’t bring Twilight into this. Completely different. πŸ™‚

  5. @Ashwin:

    Usually, I’m a logical person, too. And it’s true that there’s no objective reason that this incest thing should freak me out (as long as both consent). Alas, I’m a product of the society I live in. And while I can see and understand the logic behind your arguments, I can’t not be freaked out.

    Another thing that should not be disregarded in this discussion is that incest often happens against the will of one party involved. And in this abusive situation, it can happen that the rip in the personality of the abused person, is healed by belated consent to the abuse.
    [Does that make any sense?]

    What I mean is that for me to accept an incestuous relationship, I would have to look much closer at the beginnings of the relationship. Closer than I or the people in the relationship may be comfortable with.

    Also, I think that it’s just not “normal” when somebody falls in love with their siblings. By which I don’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad thing or that it should be outlawed. But, and that’s said with leaving all my ickyness at the thought aside, through the way we’re raised, if everything’s psychologically healthy, I think that siblings/family members are automatically off limits. This might be because of thousands of years of society shaping us, but the point is – if something makes you break this social law, something out of the normal must have happened. Can be a good thing, or a bad thing, either way, I’m back at the beginning by saying that I’d have to closely examine each incestuous relationship to be able to give my acceptance.

    God, I hope I make any sense at all.

  6. @kalafudra

    “And while I can see and understand the logic behind your arguments, I can’t not be freaked out”

    i’m sorry but in my book this is classed as irrationality. nothing personal πŸ™‚

    “…incest often happens against the will of one party involved”

    i’m walking thin ice here but, incest without consent would be closer to rape or sexual abuse than incest, wouldn’t it?

    “Also, I think that it’s just not β€œnormal” when somebody falls in love with their siblings”

    depends on how you define love doesn’t it? if love means cherishing someone and being protective of them, then sibling love would be normal. if you bring lust into it, then maybe you have a point (only maybe, mind!). i’m not in a position to say, being an only child πŸ™‚


    “social taboos are always much firmer than the reasons they developed”

    why? because we let it become so. people didn’t question the church (or any other institution) when they outlawed things like incest. and they didn’t bother later too, when explanations were given. it just evolved into what it is now. wiki says incest is outlawed differently in different regions of the world. i’d love to see these laws and tear apart the idiots who framed them.

    on a side note, consider this…suppose there is a holocaust, and the only survivors of the human race are you and your closely related family. also assume for argument’s sake that continuation of the human race is paramount. you cannot wiggle out by saying you’ll die…what would you do? (yes, i have read too much Heinlein lately) πŸ™‚

    note:- all religious comments are nothing personal. i’m not saying an atheist or agnostic society is going to be better.

  7. @Ashwin:
    Didn’t take it personal, I’m completely aware that I’m reacting irrational when it comes to incest. That’s what I was trying to say.

    “i’m walking thin ice here but, incest without consent would be closer to rape or sexual abuse than incest, wouldn’t it?”

    It would be both in my book – incest and abuse/rape. Just to clarify, I’m not saying that all incest is abuse/rape. But I think that it often starts that way. But as I don’t have any scientific evidence of that, it’s just a theory of mine.

    “depends on how you define love doesn’t it?”
    Love between siblings is perfectly normal. That’s why I said “falls in love”, which for me always implies romantic love, which in turn includes lust.

    Just to clarify again, if somebody wants to sleep with their sibling and they want to sleep with them, by all means, let them. As long as consent’s there, I don’t care at all what they do in their bedrooms.
    But if you want my acceptance of the relationship, or my approval even, I would have to look a little closer than that. And that’s not necessarily something I want to do. πŸ™‚

    As for the social taboo thing, I don’t know if “because we let it become so” is a satisfying explanation for me. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I think there’s more to it than that.
    Changing your stance on moral issues, which become ingrained in you more or less from the moment you perceive the outside world, is one of the hardest things to do. It’s not impossible, but it’s freaking hard. The problem is that these issues are so close to our core that we rarely, if ever question them at all. Questioning them means questioning the way we see the world and that can really screw you.

  8. @Ashwin: I think that, aside from being personally grossed out πŸ™‚ ,kalafudra’s major argument is that they might not be “totally in consent”, as you put it. Maybe one of the participants was abused but couldn’t avoid it, and later rationalized-even enjoyed- it to avoid both guilt and making his/her family member into a monster. Whether this is actually what happens in most cases is something I have no idea about, but most people seem to believe it, at any rate.

    @kalafudra: Exactly what implications does withholding your approval have? Marrying your first cousins is still outlawed in many countries(isn’t it, in Austria?), even though it’s been scientifically proven that it is no more unsafe than a woman in her early 40s bearing children.(As a matter of fact, 2 of my friends’-also my cousins πŸ™‚ – parents are first cousins, and both are doing perfectly fine).If there was a proposition to strike the law from the books, how would you vote? What about removing the law against incest entirely? (While leaving child/sexual abuse laws as strong as always, of course.)

    “Changing your stance on moral issues, which become ingrained in you more or less from the moment you perceive the outside world, is one of the hardest things to do. It’s not impossible, but it’s freaking hard. The problem is that these issues are so close to our core that we rarely, if ever question them at all. Questioning them means questioning the way we see the world and that can really screw you.”
    That was unexpected… what about issues considered by many to be very much in the domain of “core moral issues” such as outlawing homosexuality? Why do you think that your moral stance is ingrained in you from the very moment you perceive the outside world?

    Also, interested in your response to Aswin’s post-armageddon, repopulate the world with your family question. πŸ™‚

  9. @nikhil

    yes i couldn’t have put it better. but see, the problem is deeper than that. if incest wasn’t such a taboo in the first place, the person who is being abused (abusee? :-)) wouldn’t have to rationalise. if there is no consent on his/her part, he/she would simply have to rebuff the…shall we say abuser?…without any feelings of guilt. i might go so far as to say that the system is at fault here…

    i remember some dude from MA asking almost the same question during 2nd year (i think) in the mess at dinner. there were some 5 or 6 guys at the table, including aravind (tile) and prasanna (i dunno if you know him). most of them ganga dudes. we used to have these useless discussions for an hour or so almost everyday. so when this guy came along and started talking about this, everyone was like totally grossed out. i remember going back to room and researching in wiki πŸ™‚ i think the subject of inbreeding in animals might have come up so you can imagine πŸ™‚

    @kalafudra (you’re Austrian?? COOL! i checked your blog just now so didn’t know :-))

    exactly what ramblingperfectionist asked about the moral stance thingy. in other words, why does your world view influence your morals? i know a lot of people do the same but still…can’t pass up a chance to make someone think πŸ™‚

    ditto for the armageddon question.

    (nikhil, please please spell my name with an ‘h’ in the middle. long story…but please do)

  10. @nikhil
    Oh you guys make me type so much… πŸ˜›

    I couldn’t swear on it, but I do think that marrying first cousins is okay in Austria.

    As for my acceptance/approval – I meant that strictly on a personal basis, like if my own kids would want to be lovers or something.
    As for the law – if it were to fall completely, I wouldn’t have a problem with that – as long as the (child) abuse laws were good enough to really filter the consensual relationships from the non-consensual ones. [Right now, in Austria, I don’t think they are.]

    “what about issues considered by many to be very much in the domain of β€œcore moral issues” such as outlawing homosexuality?”

    I think the same goes for those core moral issues than for any other. [More on that, see below.]

    “Why do you think that your moral stance is ingrained in you from the very moment you perceive the outside world?”

    Because of how children learn (which is by watching and imitating), because morality is lived, because morality is prevalent in everyday-life, even if subconscious, because exactly this subconscious knowledge is the hardest to get rid off.
    What I mean is that we pick up on these things without noticing. While we’re still babies, we see things happen in a certain way [Daddy beats mommy] and we believe it to be the way of the world [Every daddy beats every mommy]. Before we notice that that might not really be the case, we’ve lived with this worldview and the underlying moral and ethical notions [like: women have to do what the men tell them (or they will be punished)] for years. And this knowledge is implicit – we don’t really know it’s there, but we act on it every single day.

    That’s what I meant when I said that “moral issues […] become ingrained in you more or less from the moment you perceive the outside world”.

    To change this morality, we have to a) make ourselves aware of it [because my daddy beat my mommy, I think women are inferior], then b) consciously change a (formerly) subconscious notion [my daddy was wrong, women are of equal worth as men] and then c) make the conscious changes subconscious again [I don’t have to think about it anymore, I now know and believe that women are of equal worth]. And that’s a lot of hard work – and work that changes our core, for better or worse.

    Which is not to say that we shouldn’t try to change it, or that we shouldn’t question exactly those subconscious notions that we have – which is what the LGBT community does with people, who think that LGBT is icky. Which is what feminism does with people, who think that women are inferior. And which is probably what someone should do with me regarding incest. πŸ™‚

    But don’t underestimate the tremendous amount of work (and time!) a process like this encompasses. Which is what I wanted to say.

    As for the Post-Armageddon thingy… Honestly, I don’t know. If it was absolutely imperative that the world was repopulated (as stated) and if me and my brother were really the last people on earth (as stated), I guess I would have to overcome my ickyness. I can’t promise that I’d enjoy it though.

    I don’t think that your world view influences your morals as much as your morals influence your world view. But the thing is that morals don’t come from a conscious effort, but from a subconscious one.
    You don’t say to yourself one day, “Oh, from now on, I will believe that hitting women is bad.” No, you’ve been raised with the way women were treated around you and you picked up the underlying notions – women are respected, women are of value, etc – and this formed the world view that you shouldn’t hit a woman.

    Which doesn’t mean that it can’t be influenced by conscious tries. But it’s hard to do. Which puts us at the beginning of the whole thing again. πŸ™‚

    As for the moral stance & the armageddon thingy, see above.

    Okay, I hope I have answered all your questions.

    Oh, and don’t worry about me and thinking. I do that a lot. πŸ˜‰
    Yes, I’m from Austria. The ways of the internet… πŸ™‚

  11. @Ashwin: Sorry. Changed. πŸ™‚

    @kalafudra: That’s surprising…I thought most of the west had very strict child abuse laws, especially compared to India.

    Of course, changing your mind about something is hard. My question was about whether you were a moral absolutist (=these things are good, these things are bad, there’s no way I could be wrong about this, and that will never change) or a moral relativist.

    On a tangential note, with ref to step a) of your process: our moral judgments are probably programmed into our subconscious, as you said, but aren’t most people already quite aware of them consciously as well? Isn’t that what religious teaching/bible class (for the vast majority who grow up with religious parents)/civics lessons (or explicit moral lessons, if your school has them) in school/pick the equivalent in your society supposed to do? Not to mention whatever reading you do on your own and the philosophy or politics that you pick up as you enter adulthood. At least in my case, it was all of the above, which is why I ask. I acknowledge that most people don’t really go into the details, but if they were asked to state their view on any specific question, I’m sure they could do an adequate job.

  12. @ramblingperfectionist:

    The problems with the child abuse laws are legion, for they are many… It’s not necessarily that they aren’t strict enough, but that they’re strict in the wrong places. But that’s another discussion and one I don’t have the in-depth knowledge for, to be honest.

    I’m definitely a moral relativist – I realise and recognise that there are many different moralities around, each as valuable and as true as my own, as much as I may disagree with them.
    Which doesn’t change the fact that I believe my morality to be absolutely true. I know, this sounds contradictory. I don’t know how to explain it better.
    Probably I have to go as far back as saying that I don’t believe that there is one “truth”.
    And, of course, I am convinced that morality changes with time and circumstances.

    Does that make sense?

    No, I don’t think that most people are well aware of their core values. I think that you can boil most moral stances down to ~4-6 core values. And these core values shape your morality, and with that your world view.
    If religious teachings et al. could actually be used to make you aware of your own morality that would be great. Instead what they’re good at is making you aware of the morality the church/the bible/philosopher xy proposes and then they hope that you adopt the values you’re supposed to adopt.

    Of course, confrontation with the values and moralities of other people can always help you to discover your own. But that requires thinking and thorough self-examination. And not all people are good at that.

    Giving a view on a certain topic – of course people can do that. But if they never thought about it or heard the topic ever before, what answers for them is the subconscious that wants to make the new information fit into the already existing set of worldviews the person has.

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