Whether or not Meryl Streep deserves to win Best Actress for her turn as the deranged matriarch in August: Osage County is up for debate, but everyone who’s seen Tracy Letts’s play or the film adaptation should be able to agree on at least one thing: It makes for some uncomfortable viewing. And of all the disturbing elements that make up this saga—alcoholism, suicide, adultery—there’s one plotline that stands out as truly disturbing: the incestuous romance between Ivy and Little Charles, who believe they’re first cousins but—spoiler alert—turn out to be half-siblings.
Why is that disturbing?
Disgust seems like a pretty appropriate response to an affair between cousins, but historically, in societies around the world, marriage between cousins has been accepted and even encouraged.
And yet she calls it disgusting anyway, insulting hundreds of millions of people, including her own ancestors. Then she gets into that big question...
Is the taboo against incest a biological universal, or is it culturally derived? And if it’s a cultural construct, why is it so widespread?
Ultimately, when it comes to whether or not consenting adults should have their rights, the answer to that question isn't relevant.
“I’m not saying that it’s fine, but I think the genetic risks of incest are probably overestimated,” said Diane Paul, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston whose research focuses on the history of evolution and genetics.
It certainly is.
“It’s assumed it would be higher, but there’s a huge bias of ascertainment,” she explains. “If you have a baby [that’s the product of incest] with a problem, people say, ‘Oh, that’s why,’ but if the baby is healthy, no one says, ‘Look at that healthy baby’ [that’s the product of incest].”
DING! We have a winner.
“In terms of genetic distance, a half-sibling relationship is equivalent to an uncle-niece relationship or a double first cousin relationship” [double first cousins share both sets of grandparents], both of which are quite common in different societies,” says Alan Bittles, a researcher at the Centre for Comparative Genomics at Murdoch University in Australia.
Double first cousins can legally marry in some US states.
The article then gets into Westermarck.
It is very simple... if YOU are disgusted by something, don't do it. But it is rude, cruel, and unjust to try to stop consenting adults in love from being together.