Well, This Sucks

Oh boy. Incest will be a fun one to write about. It’s probably the least controversial of the Facets, and there are some good reasons for that. I was taught in school that incest is the only taboo that has been observed in every culture. I’m no anthropologist, but that passes my BS test. Don’t ask me why, though. I mean, I’m part of humanity, so I feel the ickiness (every time Jamie has a love scene with Cersei). But there are so many deviations I feel so strongly about and I wouldn’t list this one among the worst.

So why do we “all” agree on this? Is it diseases? Close family members having children can lead to an unusually high risk of genetic flaws. That part I agree to be pretty established science. Since it has to do with reproduction, then it doesn’t just affect the two deviants, but any offspring they might produce. The whole inbred, counting-to-12-on-only-fingers joke is well-worn. I get a mental image of Punnet squares overlapping and making several different squares, misshapen and erratic.

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Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash

But I have my doubts about this explanation. Its effects are self-evident, but limited in scope, I think. The fact that we have races at all is because people were so sequestered for so long. They may not have married siblings, but exaggerated traits like very dark or very light skin, almond eyes, very tall or very short stature are all results of inbreeding to some extent. Either that or I misunderstood most of 9th-grade biology, which I admit is entirely possible.

More Possible Genetic Explanations

And there’s a hypothesis from contemporary evolutionary research as well. Current dialogue, as I understand it, postulates that humans have developed a distaste for incest because it leads to weaker, more sickly offspring. And that widespread distaste has given us an evolutionary advantage that aided us in our superior advancement as a species. Now, I have strong doubts about this, and not because I have qualms with evolutionary theory (though I do). Psychology just seems to me to be far more complex than this particular just-so story. What are the exact processes that show how taboos as complex as avoiding sex with close relations can be passed down genetically? And again, aren’t there more important things to weed out than sexual attraction to relatives? Like murder? And if our evolution almost forces us to reject incest because it decreases our success of producing strong offspring, then isn’t marriage antithetical to our purpose? Maybe monogamy should be the taboo. And how then can we explain homosexuality? That practice doesn’t just decrease the odds of having strong children, it eliminates them entirely. There may be answers to those questions, and they might even be good ones.  I remain cautiously pessimistic.

If we branch out from biological attempts to explain, there are side effects from other deviations as well. In rape, there can be extreme psychological damage. With promiscuity, there is an alphabet soup of STD’s to go around. Torture seems self-explanatory. Yeah, it seems to be far from the worst in any category. So one last time: why is incest the most widely rejected practice? Seriously, why isn’t there a necrophilia taboo? I honestly have no idea. Neither my understanding of science (sociology, biology, psychology), nor theology, nor even Christianity can explain it. All I know is that it makes me feel gross, and apparently, almost everyone else feels the same. Or maybe the sociology research I got in high school wasn’t as thorough as they made it sound.

Cover Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

Consent

The Great Sexual Predator Purge of 2017

I just happen to be writing this blog in the midst of a firestorm of sexual assault/misconduct allegations and scandals. It’s overwhelming to hear about each new report of some well-liked celebrity or public figure being forceful or sexually crude. It’s sparked a national discussion about consent. On topic you’d think could bring some unity, we’ve instead seen more judgment and division.

With this deluge of victims coming forward, I see some themes that give me cause for pause. One of the first thoughts that pops into my head is one I’ve been conditioned to have. The culture expects me to pick a side between the jingoes who loathe political correctness and gender blurring, and the progressives who detest traditional gender roles and the patriarchy. And the large media companies have gone on an all-out, zero tolerance rampage against the accused sexual deviants. I daresay it’s led to a Hollywood blacklist not seen since Joe McCarthy.

I Have Some Thoughts About This

I have some thoughts about this. The first observation is to switch gears from the normal narrative and tell a little anecdote about what it might be like for a Christian trying to wrestle this issue. Imagine for a second that you’re a conservative Christian who’s been told by the culture that your take on modesty and sexual purity is radical and archaic, and c’mon, loosen up and have some fun! Then when the free sex culture comes back around to be harmful to women, and it turns out that we should probably have some stricter rules around this topic to curtail mischief, now there’s absolutely no flirting at work, mister. You get one strike and you’re canned. And don’t you dare disagree with my rant on Facebook or I will damn you to deletion as a misogynistic heretic. The culture somehow becomes more black-and-white than the contemporary Christian ethic.

Now, this outlook isn’t perfect. There are some obvious counterpoints I’d have to such rhetoric, and there are systems in place in many conservative churches that tolerate and even protect sexual miscreants. It’s complicated; I get it. All I ask is that you consider the allowance of other viewpoints. What I see is the potential for “opposite sides” to agree on the fact that women and children being sexually assaulted is awful and destructive. Begin with agreement rather than geared up for a public Facebook spat and you’ve already changed the game. Then you can begin to understand why a discussion on modesty might not automatically equate to slut-shaming, but a possible step toward a solution. Or maybe you’re a Trump supporter but you can commiserate with someone feeling uncomfortable with a president who’s said he likes that women let him touch them. Listen first. Ask questions. Find your parallel values, even if you can see where they go horribly awry. The understanding that a person is trying their hardest to make a better world is important. Even if they’re so obviously wrong.

Some Thoughts On Consent – Government

When I listen to the TV or radio or Facebook, I don’t hear a lot of disagreement with how we’ve legislated the consent norm. I find some of our laws to be even elegant in their structure. Sexual acts without consent are illegal, to varying degrees. But the idea that there are people who cannot provide legal consent, like children or inmates, I find to be wisely instituted.

HOWEVER, there is certainly room for improvement with how these laws are executed or judged. It is difficult for women to report rape and be taken seriously. Even if they are, unless it just happened and they can gather evidence from the “crime scene” or the victim herself, much of the evidence just becomes unusable. Rape prosecutions from the past quickly disintegrate to hearsay and circumstantial evidence. It’s an incredibly difficult job, and there are almost certainly cognitive, social, and political biases that muddy the waters of justice.

I think the crux of the issue is that consent is incredibly complex – read: unclear. This doesn’t just apply to criminal investigations. It plays out in social interactions as well. Sex is intimacy and play. Allure is delicate, and if it’s an expectation in a sexual partner, there may not be much allowance given for demanding an outright statement of consent. It can even change in the middle of the act. To sum up, it is a whole fog of grey area. I’m confident that we’ll become more effective at executing and judging the law with fewer biases, but it is by nature a tangled web.

Some More Thoughts on Consent – Ethics + Culture

In my opinion, the morality of our culture is more or less in line regarding sexual assault. It is stigmatized and that taboo is further legislated by placing the convicted offenders on a list to protect the public. What I doubt more and more is the propriety of making judgments about high-profile accusations. In some cases, the offenses are so numerous and so well-documented that passing judgment makes sense. And in these examples, I certainly feel the disdain for the perpetrator. But I think it’s wise to know that I’m reacting to a story being told to me by the news outlets. In it, the heroes are the victims and there is generally one male antagonist. All the same, the story might effectively mimic the true incidents, but they are oversimplified. We may see only one or two variables and think the aggressor a beast, but lives are complicated enough for most of us to fail with only one. But with a lot of issues, we’re very quick to blast the accused online – I call it “Twitter Justice”. 280 characters of only the most profound opinions available less than five minutes after a story breaks hardly inspire me. But then I don’t know, do I? Maybe I could learn from some of these Tweeters.

You see what I did there? I turned it back around on myself for your sake, gentle reader! Think critically; question constantly.

From what I can tell, the primary conflicts regarding consent are peripheral. Perhaps we differ on topics of victim-blaming or gender roles or politics surrounding how men treat women and vice versa. Since they are apparent bones of contention, I’ll try to give them each their own posts. But as I said before, I think this is something we generally agree on. We want to protect people from sexual assault and punish those who deviate from the norm. But also that the fuzzy areas are many and varied and there’s some level of willingness to at least turn a blind eye to the more undefined stuff.

But let none of that seeming agreement downplay the triggering danger surrounding rape. You bring it up on social media and everyone has some sociopolitical “reason” that rape is so prevalent and they will tell you about it at length. Therein lies the true danger of having an honest conversation about it. Don’t get me wrong, the stakes are high. The emotional trauma of being raped can be devastating. But when all the anger at the injustice and the wickedness of the wrongdoers is then projected onto someone who has different political or religious views, then the crusades start. And it’s hard when you’re convinced that one policy or another contributes to the problem, and that problem has a face – or several faces – in your life, and then some cocky douchebag romps all over the issue and won’t see reason. It’s enraging. Yet, there are others who might have other, good reasons to disagree. And they might not show it, but they hate rape just as much as you do. Their disagreement can be misinformed, illogical, or just annoying, but treating them with the same hatred that you have for sexual assault would be a mistake. In any longstanding conflict, demonizing the opponent means that you can be justified. And every lie has roots in the truth. The true path to peace isn’t usually as easy or rewarding. It often means putting your moral high ground aside and showing kindness to your enemy – indeed, examining whether you need to be enemies at all.

Weird Sex

Now that we’ve established some commonality and you know I’m after a sexual ethic that can better us all, let’s get into it. We have this environment for sex that everyone is on board with, barring a few crazies no one listens to anyway. Now what? What can we deduce from this “wholesome marriage” concept? If you take that as the only acceptable setting for sex, then deviancy must happen all the time in our culture, right? It does seem that way.

That’s why I want my first topic after the common ground post to venture out a little bit. Really, everything that deviates from a simple marriage model has probably been labeled “Deviancy” by someone or other. For example, an adult who marries a child is, in our culture, pretty widely labeled a pedophile, and a deviant. Someone who forces someone else into a sexual act without consent is labeled a deviant. There is big debate currently surrounding homosexuality and whether gay marriage is “deviant”.

But those will be topics for later posts. At this point, my biggest question would probably be: “Why are we quick to label some things ‘deviant’ and others not so much?” Sex without consent is illegal, but when a group of willing adults want to get together and have an orgy, we simply ask that they keep out of sight so no one has to witness that without providing consent. And this is where things get more complicated, because we don’t agree on where lines should be drawn. Homosexuality is one of those areas, but there are others. Incest is widely disdained, but what about masturbation? Even those who say that masturbation is normal and healthy likely still have some public decency rules that ride along in the subtext.

So, for my own purposes I have made a rule of judging sexual behavior based on the Tenets I discussed in the last blog. They make for a great starting point for believers in the Bible because they outline the most important factors of spiritual sexuality. But I believe they also give us a good foundation to talk about sex without relying on Scripture because they identify the framework that is most widely accepted as positive. Then as we branch out, we have something to compare to. So we can ask questions about whether sex outside of marriage should be considered “deviant” at all. Is the rubric broken or is the rule-breaker in the wrong?

From that basis we can then begin to decide “how bad” an act of sexual deviancy is. Is it “worse” to be attracted to children or to actually act on that urge? That answer seems pretty clear, but then we can ask more complex questions. Is it worse to sleep with someone when you’re both single or if you and/or your partner are already married? We might then touch on negative consequences of each action or norms that are violated in each, or how valuable or sound those norms are.

Another way we can branch out in our discussion of deviant behaviors is in what context we are to judge each action. With only the most primitive background in sociology, I’ve come up with 4 contexts that I find valuable to discuss regarding sexual behavior.

  • Government/Law
  • Spirituality/Religion
  • Morality/Ethics
  • Culture/Society

I don’t know why every one of those has two names; that’s just a happy coincidence. Anyway, you might start to see why I have these outlined. The example I used above about taking a sexual partner outside of wedlock can (and should) be referenced against any one of the above settings. Having an affair with someone you’re not married to goes against my religious beliefs, and I personally believe it to be pretty unethical. But it’s not illegal, to my knowledge. And while our culture might cast a disparaging eye to the adulterer for lacking self-control, it’s not considered to be as antisocial a behavior as pedophilia.

My point is that it matters which context you’re referring to. I hear a lot of banter about social issues to which I am sympathetic, but it’s a completely different topic to start legislating those feelings or judgments. Yet those distinctions are rarely brought up in the tweets about this and that hotbutton issue that’s in vogue on the socials. I intend to do better than that.

And let’s circle back to judgments to wrap up this intro to deviancy. While I think quick assessments can be helpful in rhetoric to make a point, I don’t think it’s beneficial if that spills over to how I treat people. Regardless of what I say on the blog, I always am more concerned with the legacy I leave behind for my friends. If I question the legitimacy of a claim or even a particular mindset or lifestyle, I want to always rely on goodwill. If I find myself tearing down my counterparts with my words and I’m not actively finding other ways to build them up, then what can I accomplish? Yes, I want to convince people that I’m incredibly wise and thoughtful, and yes, I want to learn from others as well. But if I can’t disagree with someone without deleting them from Facebook, then how can I expect to inspire others to extend goodwill to me and my ideas? In other words, I love a good controversy, but I want to love people more. It’s not just the Christian thing to do; it’s what the world needs to grow. And at the end of the day, I have found that just because someone disagrees with me on an issue, even sometimes in an extreme fashion, doesn’t make them a terrorist or worthy of my public condemnation. I hope you will too.