Why do Taboos Exist?
If you've been following the news you've undoubtedly caught wind of Mackenzie Phillips' recent claim that she had been sexually involved with her father, John Phillips, for a decade. John is of course best known as lead songwriter and co-founder of the beloved '60s vocal group the Mamas and the Papas. In case you're in the dark, here's what's been going on:
In her tell-all memoir, "High on Arrival," Mackenzie described her first sexual experience with her father, during which she had come to after a drug-induced blackout. She was "17 or 18" when this happened, and, given her state at the time, had not consented. These encounters allegedly continued somewhat consistently for the next decade, gradually becoming consensual, but were halted after an aborted pregnancy (which had occurred when Mackenzie was in a committed relationship with somebody else).
In bringing this topic to a public forum, Mackenzie has challenged the culture to come to terms with one of its most feared taboos: incest. Even worse - its consensual? How are we meant to handle this?
Most readers are probably repulsed by the idea of a father and daughter having sex. But why do they feel that way? There's a simple answer: "because it's wrong," but what does that mean exactly? Why is it wrong?
A more comprehensive response is that it is wrong for the same reason all taboos are "wrong" - because abstaining from taboos protects social constructs. Society exists to maintain order, and taboos threaten that order.
A father and daughter engaging in consensual intercourse, for example, disrupts the socially accepted order of the family unit. The authority of parental figures is compromised and the development of the child may be irreparably damaged. Furthermore, we know that biologically, two people from the same blood line will produce genetically mutated offspring. Isn't this evidence enough?
Many would argue that it is, but bear in mind that taboos are not fixed. Homosexuality was once unspeakable - for many of the same reasons that adult incest is now - and continues to be in parts of the world. Transgenderism is threatening to many in the Western world, perhaps because it blurs the respective roles of men and women, though elsewhere on the planet - places like Samoa and India - androgyny is celebrated and revered. Then there's pedophilia, which is cause for alarm in most parts of the world (though its not without adamant supporters, such as NAMBLA).
Who knows, perhaps this recent
discourse is the first of many steps towards reinventing the family
unit. Maybe society will, in some strange way, benefit from it, or at
least remain in tact. Or maybe this is an indication of a severe
deficiency in our structure - a sort of red flag if you will - that may
ultimately prevent us from moving in a particularly harmful direction.
Whatever this could mean for the future, I hope we can, at the very least, think critically about what is right and wrong. When you condemn something, you should be aware of why it is you are condemning it. Your judgments should be the result of carefully considered observations and questioning. Just because the culture at large rejects it, doesn't mean its wrong, and universal acceptance also doesn't mean its right.
Now seems to be the time to make up our own minds.