The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sitting On Daddy's Lap

The hideous McKenzie Phillips incest revelation started a debate in the blogosphere about whether or not parent-child incest is always rape. My thought is that it is always just about the sickest thing in the world, a violation of every imaginable social rule in 99.9% of the world's societies through most of time. Children enter the world so damned helpless, and need desperately to bond to their parents, the source of love, food, shelter, education, and so much more. There is just no way that that bond, once formed, could possibly be expected to magically transform into a mature, non-abusive sexual relationship. And what if the parent didn't raise the child? And neither of them wish to have children? Separate from the genetic component (tribes encourage exogamy to provide genetic variation) there is the question of social good. In other words, I wouldn't doubt that there might be some extraordinary circumstances in which such relationships are not evil. But creating a context in which they are accepted opens the door to an abuse potential in other relationships that is simply not worth even considering changing our social attitudes.

Can an adult woman make the decision to have sex with her father? Well, obviously. And what should we think about it? The only safe conclusion, if we wish to protect the little girls who are looking at their Daddies as god-creatures and wish desperately to please no. Can an adult man make the decision to have sex with his mother? Well, obviously. But again, in whatever grotesquely rarified atmosphere such unions would be considered "healthy", the door has opened to an horrific violation of the basic protections of children. I see no way that it could ever be in a society's interests to do other than look upon such relationships as ghastly.

And looking at McKenzie Phillips' sad life, I'd say that she isn't exactly a poster child for the health of incestuous relationships. I think that, in the abstract, most parents find their children sexually attractive. After all, they exemplify (hopefully) the best qualities of you and the person you fell in love with. They are younger versions of you, and when they ask "Am I pretty?" "Am I handsome?" the only real way to answer that honestly is to ask whether you yourself would find them attractive, were they not your children. I remember the first time I watched Nicki and some of her five-year-old girlfriends dancing around my living room in their underwear. It reminded me of a bunch of Sorority girls partying, in, ahem, an incident back at college. Cough. And I saw how child molesters can use the "she was a seductive little girl" excuse. They ARE seductive. They need our approval to a depth of emotion probably beyond the conscious access of adults. We just don't remember that level of need, hope, love. Little kids jump on your lap and wiggle in a way that would be blatantly seductive in an older person. That energy is just there, and it's there from the beginning.

Mistaking it for something to be used for your pleasure is transforming a living, breathing human being into an instrument of your pleasure. In no way, by no definition, under no circumstance do those children NEED you to "play" with them in such a manner. There is simply no circumstance, and whatever justifications Phillips' father used are beneath contempt.

Rape it may not be, by the ordinary definitions. But it is a betrayal of trust so profound that I have difficulty typing these words.


Let me make it clear why I find any argument about smoking, obesity, or whatever to be an argument FOR UHC rather than against it.

What have I said from the beginning? That behaviors are the result of emotions, beliefs, positive and negative emotional anchors. "Timeline" theory is an extraordinarily elegant view of the action process, a way of seeing if you have aligned yourself to accomplish a given goal.

1) Is the goal clear? Meaningful to you? Time-bound?

2) Does your goal match your hierarchy of values? Does it represent a conflict on any level? For instance, intimacy versus freedom is a core conflict that causes infidelity every damn day of the week.

3) Do your beliefs conflict with the desired goal?

4) Do you have negative emotional associations with any of the actions necessary to accomplish your goal?

If all of these things are aligned, you can consider yourself to have the best possible chance to reach your dreams. Problems in any of these arenas should be cleared up.

Let's add another one: in drug rehab school programs, the big problem I see is that they lie. And I think they lie because the programs are created by people who drink and feel guilty about it. They can't tell the truth about an associated problem (drugs) without touching their own damaged wiring. What is the truth? That people use drugs because they like the way those drugs make them feel. If they didn't like it, if that state wasn't more pleasurable than their state without those drugs, they wouldn't use them. Talking about peer pressure, experimentation or rebellion is entirely secondary to this core biological drive: to avoid pain and seek pleasure.

Now, given these positions, the big argument that voluntary behaviors drop the American health stats, and that therefore we shouldn't pay attention to WHO stats, is just blind. It displays a profound 180-degree difference between the way we see human behavior. I remember a lady I know who had a terrible relationship, smoked, and was obese. And insisted, up down and sideways, that she knew the answers, that people get what they want in life, and that whatever position they are in in life, that's where they intended to go.

She was a textbook case of confusion of conscious and unconscious drives. Textbook. Most of the bad things we do are confusions of these two things, a belief that somehow "we" are in control of ourselves, that our conscious minds are stronger than the millions of years of evolutionary wiring that can spin us in some very bizarre directions indeed. We've done experiment after experiment showing that our CONSCIOUS beliefs about race (Kumbahya!) is very different than our unconscious tribal wiring. To my knowledge, the very best way of combatting racism is to demonstrate to people this incongruence--that pain, in and of itself, affects behavior for the positive.

I see nothing, absolutely nothing in the use of drugs, lack of exercise, stress-related or diet-related problems that do not yield to consciousness, education, aligning the conscious and unconscious mind, becoming more deeply aware of the consequences of our actions on those around us. It seems child's play to me.

What possible effective disagreement with this idea can there be? That those Americans who smoke more than the international average do it because they WANT, really truely want, to die? That would be the only thing that would be unassailable by a proper network of social support, counseling, and education. You KNOW this would have to be my attitude: look at the way I get criticized when I suggest that human bodies do not disobey the laws of physics. Those who have a need for protective shells, or an aversion to exercising their bodies, are both, in my mind, reacting to faulty and conflicted beliefs, buried emotional pain, fear, and culturally promoted ignorance. (And I sure as hell blame commercial industry for selling sugar and crap, claiming it is 'healthy' in the way tobacco companies used to claim cigarettes actually soothed your throat. Right here in America. You want me to trust people who profit by selling me poison? Are you kidding?) And when they do not fear, discovered they've been lied to about how much exercise it takes to change their bodies, and have resolved the emotional conflicts...the weight drops off.

This isn't a magic bullet. It is simply that we have a difficult time adapting human energies to a changing environment.

None of this suggests that there shouldn't be a vigorous debate about the proper role of government. Or fears that government will grow too large. Or the excellent, and heartfelt defence of a cancer-prone family struggling to survive, which has found health care that works--and therefore is concerned about change. God, I feel that one.

But I'm afraid that those who believe our behaviors cannot be positively affected by outside agency are going to have to go on the other side of the line. My side says that the fact that we smoke more, are fatter, and so forth can be attributed to ignorance, fear, lack of clarity, and lack of support. Things that the rest of the industrialized world has decided should be dealt with in the Commons. And those who look at those statistics otherwise...well, again, we have a very serious difference in what we think human beings are, and what we believe the obligations between people to be, and the proper role of government.

And I honestly believe that the core difference lies in questions of What Are We, as individuals, as a culture. What is the future we want? I'll tell you bluntly: basic education and basic health care is part of the commons. There will be private schools and private medical plans for those who wish more, and I would fight against anything outlawing same. That future looks pretty damned good to me. I'm sorry if you don't want to live in my world, I really am.


Christian Lindke said...

Your comments on incest are truly insightful, but I do have one quibble. The violation of trust that the parent commits is what makes this rape. Regardless of any physical violence, or lack thereof, involved in a sexual relationship, it is the violation of trust (social trust, friendship trust, parental trust) that makes rape so heinous. You touch on this strongly, but then back away a little.

I don't think you have to back away.

As to your positions on behavioral choices and UHC. I have been following them for a while and have been reading your reactions to the lifestyle choice criticisms with some interest. I haven't commented because I wanted to see your full response and not your response to the 10% or so of people who would use lifestyle choice as a way to say minorities are choosing to live unhealthily and thus don't "deserve" health care.

It was well worth the wait to read your full thoughts, rather than those directed at a real, but small, group of people who make up only a fraction for whom taking into account lifestyle decisions in life expectancy studies matter.

I am one who believes strongly that one needs to compare all data when comparing health care -- especially when saying one system is "deficient" in some regard.

It is one thing to say, "we have a moral obligation to provide health care for all people." It is quite another to say, "America's health care system is worse than that of other countries."

I believe the first, but find those who articulate the second to be overly influenced by studies that leave out inconvenient data (or that don't notice how same events can be quantified differently by different cultures).

As someone who lived in Crenshaw for 7 years, I don't think that the behaviors some might attribute to "racial" causes are racial at all. I do believe that some are poverty related. There is a nice feedback loop with regard to the natural human tendency to value "short term" gain without measuring "long term" costs, combined with the fact that it appears to be cheaper to have an unhealthy diet than a healthy one.

It is very easy for one to get caught up in the pleasures of the moment without thinking of their consequences. This is what is addressed in your post today.

My question is the following, "Is it necessary to have UHC in order to create conditions that help educate people accurately to the cost/benefit of their behavior?"

Could that variable be solved without UHC?

Can smoking be reduced without UHC? Too much fast food? Too little exercise?

I think that they can, and would likely be better solved with programs/institutions outside of a UHC program.

Christian Lindke said...

My largest opposition to UHC is as follows. If I find out I have cancer tomorrow and I have no coverage, I will still receive treatment in the US. I might become indigent from the process, but I will receive treatment.

My personal experience with health care has been positive. My wife had her thyroid removed and we received massive aid from a non-profit to assist with the complications involved in the birth of our twins. We had to prove need, but we received the aid none the less.

We were able to get this aid because we had certain social advantages, as people who have advanced education we know to look for these kinds of things. Information is a huge barrier to many who need help, and one that isn't easily overcome.

Under a UHC system, if the health care is refused -- or delayed as is far more often the case -- then I have almost no alternatives under most UHC systems other than to go somewhere else for care.

Given the unique economic nature of health care, which is the only common economic decision where the supply vs. demand decision is a choice between payment and suffering/death, it is definitely something that needs to be treated differently than xboxs and tvs when looking for just systems. I don't know about you, but the economic decision if I were suffering a heart attack would always be "yes, I'd like the care -- no, I don't care how much it costs." That isn't a typical economic transaction.

I just hope we are able to find a system that takes the best of the American system -- the innovation and "guarantee" of emergency treatment -- with the best of other countries health care -- that no one needs to go destitute or without basic treatments.

Given that taxes in the US are already approaching those of nations with UHC, without providing most of the benefits of those nations, and given the unique tendency for our Representatives to create "pork" that inflates the costs of most things, I think that this will be a hard thing to accomplish.

Marty S said...

Steve: A major cause of death is motor vehicle accidents. So one can clearly increase their probability of survival by avoiding traveling in motor vehiles. So I ask you Steve do you minimize the amount of car travel to only what is absolutely necessary or do you sometimes use your car for pleasure trips or for other purposes which could be performed more safely by not using your car. If the answer is you sometimes use your car for pleasure or convenience why do you do this when it lowers your survival chances. Could others be making choices about diet, exercise, etc. for the same reason you use your car.
On the subject of UHC providing a social safety net and psychological support that will reduce non-disease related deaths, if you compare suicide rates between the U.S. and Canada the suicide rate in Canada is actually slightly higher than in the U.S. How do you square that data with your belief.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sorry if you don't want to live in my world, I really am."

Neither you nor I are God. We both live in a world that just is, and that exists independently of our wishes, our feelings, or even our continued physical existence. Rational political debates are necessarily imperfect efforts to discuss that external world's nature.

I'm sure that if the external world really did match what you want in your mind, life would be wonderful. Really, I do. My only worry is that, just maybe, it doesn't.

--Erich Schwarz

suzanne said...

having seen around 68 women
in therapy who were incest victims
overwhelmingly by their fathers
one from the age of 3 forward
and all diagnosed as borderline personality and many also with secondary diagnoses of substance abuse
I can tell you
the effects of incest on a person
are devastingly horrific.
I came to believe that the incest
was symbolic of even greater violation in the whole of that person's family history (and out beyond the family, the making
of relationship choices that were a continuation of abuse)
attendent to the actual incest the mother's refusal to believe
her daughter or her saying
"but what can I do; I can't leave him."
these women were exceedingly strong
to have survived and I loved them all dearly and over time they dealt with their histories, cast out most of their demons and went forth to have lives free of the diagnostic category.
it waas the most significant therapuetic work I did;
acoomplished using metaphor and story-telling and deep caring for and loving of the women. All power to all of them

Pagan Topologist said...

The only scenario in which familial incest would be hypothetically acceptable, I think, would be a science-fictional one where the people involved are the last people alive on Earth, and the human species will go extinct if they do not reproduce.

Even in such a situation, I doubt whether I could do such a thing; my taboo against responding erotically to my daughters is too strong.

Steven Barnes said...

Well thought. Of course, the question of whether you and/or I are God is another one altogether, and different cultures and religions have different opinions about that.

Steven Barnes said...

Deciding to drive on vacation is a cost-benefit relationship: vacations are healthy, and needed to release stress and broaden perspective. The act of driving is not damaging: it's those sudden stops. That's pretty different from cigarette smoking, or overeating. You can't be a "good" smoker or a "cautious" overeater, now, can you? Life is definitely risk, but most of us seek to diminish non-essential risks unless we make a calculated decision to play an "extreme" sport--there are definitely high-risk individuals. But if, for instance, Americans were dying in such numbers to impact our mortality statistics significantly, I'd think this was something to look at.

Steven Barnes said...

I don't know about the increase in suicides in Canada. I'd look at the overall picture: UHC countries across the board as opposed to non. Also, those stats before and after implementation. After all, the increase in suicide might have to do with fewer winter hours of sunlight or something. Now, if the stats went UP after UHC, man oh man, I'd pay careful attention to that.

Steven Barnes said...

I'm quite sure there are other ways to effect positive change. But I tend to look at successful systems and model them, and we have a lot of examples of that. I am also suspicious of insurance companies that are fighting to maintain obscene profits, and pouring over a million dollars a day into propaganda to convince customers that they are advantaged by profit margins and huge salaries. I like the idea of a public option because it will FORCE the insurance companies to clean up their act. Anything else demands government regulations--which of course they'll try to whittle away over time. Not because they are evil, but because it is the nature of a profit-making creature to try to make a profit.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

What Susan Said.

There are lines that should not be crossed. Generational lines are in the list, and it's not a blood issue, it's a time and authority issue. You have a parental relationship with a child, you can't have informed, adult consent, and I don't really care how old the child gets to be; a part of his/her brain always says mommy, daddy....

Woody Allen deserves his own private circle of hell.

Anonymous said...

>You can't be a "good" smoker or a "cautious" overeater, now, can you?<

IF could be described as cautious overeating; you overeat on day 1, but make up for it on day 2, then repeat.

Unknown said...

"But it is a betrayal of trust so profound that I have difficulty typing these words."

I think this is, pretty much, the basic definition of rape.

Steve Perry said...

"'But it is a betrayal of trust so profound that I have difficulty typing these words.'

I think this is, pretty much, the basic definition of rape."

Not to be horsey, but it's not even close:

"Rape is the crime, committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them."

If some sicko breaks into your house and rapes you, the issue of trust isn't involved.

Incest is an ugly thing, but with two adults who elect it, it's not rape, even if it might be worse than that.

Marty S said...

I think a good deal of the problem at least for me is not overeating as much as what you eat. Today, I drove a half hour to get to our bridge game. After the game we went to the mall to do some shopping and hit Barnes@Noble. We ate at Quizznos and I had a regular size Baja Chicken sub for supper. I don't consider that an exceptionally large supper, but it probably was all that good for me. However I really enjoyed it.We then drove home a half hour. So the question in my mind is which was the greater risk to my mortality the sub or the hour drive. I don't really know and I don't really care. I'm not going to sit home because I might die in an auto accident and I'm not going to give up the food I enjoy, because I might live few years less.

Marty S said...

oops! That should have been probably wasn't all that good. said...

The dude is completely just, and there is no suspicion.

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