Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's the state ideology

Via Laura Wood a story about how moral issues are decided in Germany. A German man who married his biological sister and had children with her has been punished under existing incest laws. However, a government committee (the German Ethics Council) has decided that incest should be permitted. On what grounds? The expected ones:
Incest between siblings appears to be very rare in Western societies according to the available data but those affected describe how difficult their situation is in light of the threat of punishment. They feel their fundamental freedoms have been violated and are forced into secrecy or to deny their love. The majority of the German Ethics Council is of the opinion that it is not appropriate for a criminal law to preserve a social taboo. In the case of consensual incest among adult siblings, neither the fear of negative consequences for the family, nor the possibility of the birth of children from such incestuous relationships can justify a criminal prohibition. The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination has more weight in such cases than the abstract protection of the family.

So incest is now considered to be a "fundamental freedom" - the language of freedom is being invoked once again. And what is meant by freedom? It is the "fundamental right" to "self-determination" - and it is this right to self-determination which is thought to trump all other considerations, such as negative consequences for the family or the problems that arise for the children born to such relationships.

Here again we have a problem doing great harm to Western societies. Freedom is held to be the sole, overriding good and freedom is understood in a limited way as individual autonomy. Other goods in society are sacrificed to this one reductive understanding of morality - which means inevitably that people don't even end up feeling free or autonomous.

The better option is for a community of people to try to get as close as possible to an understanding of an "order of being" - in which a range of goods are harmonised as far as possible. That is not only the best way to uphold more than one good, it's also the best way to maximise freedom and to make freedom meaningful. (Is it really a meaningful understanding of freedom when incest starts to be considered a "fundamental freedom"? What's next?)


  1. If freedom is what you hold most dear, then no negative consequences will suffice to diminish your desire for it.

    It's related logically to the idea I mentioned in an earlier post about those who would take a universalist morality to its logical conclusion even though that path will destroy us all.

  2. What's next is to say that children are capable of being sexually autonomous, or possibly bestiality before that

  3. Freedom isn't that powerful. If people want to live in an all-white area or have all-white schools and companies, it's no trouble for the state to recite any tenuous and dubious rationale and crush that freedom flat, along with ostracizing those people for daring to talk back, and setting up for punitive lawsuits any company that doesn't punish and preferably fire those people.

    (There are lots of other examples of free and peaceful choices that strongly affect people's communal lives that they are not allowed to make, but those are particularly clear ones where you can be confident that people would be punished for asking let alone pushing for their freedom, and punished not just for exercising a "freedom of speech" that they are not in truth allowed to have, but for revealing that they are the kinds of people that think those dissident thoughts. You're not allowed to be that kind of person. So: freedom? Really??)

    Freedom is only talked about and treated as a sacred and the top value when it is useful for attacking traditional societies.

    A rule that is trumped by an exception in 90% of cases isn't a rule, it's a thin pretext for targeting the 10% of people who aren't exempted. A supreme value that is over-ruled by exceptions nearly all the time isn't a supreme value, it's a pretext for doing otherwise inexcusable things (like legally flattening all resistance to incest) in the minority of cases where an exception isn't made to apply.

    I do agree though that "[t]he better option is for a community of people to try to get as close as possible to an understanding of an "order of being" - in which a range of goods are harmonised as far as possible."

  4. There's another reason (besides the obvious one, that incest is bad) why this is a harmful idea. It weakens the idea of freedom.

    If you appeal to your freedom politically, the idea will be most effective (in a democracy) if "freedom" is associated with a range of concretely understood goods that are universally or at least very widely respected and desired by serious men of good character.

    If "freedom" is universally understood to mean you should have the right to own property, not be subject to arbitrary arrest and not be punished for politely expressing your opinion, and everyone agrees that these are morally correct ideas, the idea of making a negative exception in your case will not appeal. People will also be reluctant to strike down for others the same "freedoms" they want to enjoy themselves.

    If "freedom" is made to include things that no decent person wants to "enjoy" (like incest) and that no decent person really approves, and if freedom is made not to include goods that people really do want (like the right to discuss important topics without the fear of punishment and employment discrimination), and if the idea of "freedom" is made so unnatural and extreme (where "freedom" is not trumped by exceptions) that for practicality it has to be trumped often by arbitrary exceptions, then why should people not find an "exception" to this "freedom" whenever they are dealing with someone they don't like or would find it convenient to plunder or crush? They can't preserve any valuable rights for themselves by refraining, nor would they be following a good rule with few exceptions; genuine rules are out the window in this scenario.

  5. I'm guessing the real, long-term, political goal is to pander to "diverse" groups fond of marrying their blood relations.

  6. There are sound biological reasons against incest. If there is a recessive gene in the siblings then the child will certainly suffer. I personally know of a case when cousins married.The son died before his father of the same affliction, which had been known in the common ancestors Everybody in animal breeding knows that too much interlinking leads to inferior stock.
    The Australian Aborigines had complicated rules abut who you could marry, which boiled down to preventing nbreeding