Thursday, April 27, 2006

The guy is clearly nuts.

Anyone who places pedophilia higher on the agenda than bestiality (aka ISUA: Inter Species Ultra Affection) in the sexual civil rights struggle has gotta be out of his mind.

Raising consent as an issue in the case of animals is clearly hypocritical. Do you ask the pig's permission every time you eat a ham sandwich? Besides, what do you think he'd say if you did? I suppose it fits with your general philosophy that killing God's creature's against their will is better than having sex with them when they're screaming "oh, yeah!!!" (or meow, or woof, or baaa, as the case may be). It's like saying a little hanky panky is worse than cannibalism. I suppose you'll fall back on your usual argument: "I can feel it in my guts!" Well, dude, some people feel it in other places. Why is your feeling any more righteous than theirs?

The list is endless. It's okay to take Dolly's wool, but not her virginity. You can lure the mouse into the trap with cheese, but not with booty. You know what aggravates me most? That society allows you to take your dog to the vet and have him fixed, but it's a scandal to share a warm kennel with him on a cold night (if you know what I mean). You can fuck him figuratively any which way you want, but the sheriff wants to have a word if you take it too literally. I'm sure for most people who fix their pets, the subliminal reason is jealousy ("If I can't have him, neither can Spotty from next door!")

And if you really think that animals are incapable of genuine sexual consent, let me just put it this way. They're selective.

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You have a point, dude.

I see that you have been attacked from all sides, but if people bothered to read you closely, they'd see there is some truth to what you're saying. There is a tendency around this place to dwell too much on the disagreement areas.

The other night my wife called out to me, "Honey, I have a deadline on this report. Can you take care of the dishes in the sink?" I dunno, I just went with my guts as I always do. "Get me a beer from the fridge, bitch," I shot back, "That housework shit ain't for dudes."

In the ensuing conversation (if you can call it that), phrases were uttered that I didn't know existed in the dictionary. No, not the kind of phrases that came out of Joe's mouth when I pinched his wife's ass in harmless fun. Hegemonic patriarchy, gender dialectics, Kristeva's theory of roles -- that's just some of the shit I remember.

Imagine! All I asked for was a beer.

Anyhoo, to cut a long story short, here I am parked on my friend's couch for the past three days, with a pile of books I must read before she'll take me back. Man, wouldn't it have been better to just do the damn dishes and get it over with? There's only one in that pile that looks like it could be of any interest. The Second Sex by Simone's Beaver (pardon my French). I think I'll read that one and fake the rest.

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Anthropocentrism.

1.

A recurrent motif in Western society since at least the Enlightenment is the clash between religion and science. It is useful to think about why this is such a persistent tension. If one were to identify a single core of conflict, I suggest it doesn't lie in science's assault on the idea of divinity or teleology, but rather in its discrediting of anthropocentrism. Science hasn't undermined God so much as it has pulled man down from his pedestal.

Geocentric cosmology was a construction of pagan Greeks. To my knowledge, it occupies far from a central place in Christian theology, textually speaking. Faint echoes in Psalms, etc. can easily be reconciled with the Copernican model through metaphorical interpretations. The Catholic Church's determined persecution of Galileo seems paradoxical, therefore. The only good psychological explanation I can think of is that Galileo threatened to displace us from the center of God's creation (and therefore, perhaps, from His center of attention).

The reaction to Darwinism is no less a puzzle. Of course it contradicts the literal account of Genesis, but we have long abandoned Biblical literalism in law and social mores, and it would be impossible anyway due to the internal contradictions generated by a literal reading. Darwinism is eminently compatible with a deistic conception of God. Indeed, a creator operating through a Darwinian mechanism to infuse complex life forms into the universe seems more glorious. He possesses the aesthetic virtue of parsimony, and the elegant avoidance of micro-management. Once again, one is led to the conclusion that Darwin pricked a hole in our ego, not God's.

That brings me to the topic of bestiality or zoophilia, which is the topic I broached yesterday in a (partly) tongue-in-cheek response [above] to another poster. Leviticus forbids man to lie with beast right around where it forbids him to lie with other men. To be fair, the revulsion towards bestiality seems to go well beyond religious lines, and is very much a part of secular sensibilities too. Peter Singer earned widespread notoriety opining that the taboo on sex with animals (as long as physical injury is avoided) is questionable. Now I don't think a ban on sheep fucking ranks high on the list of injustices in the world, and on balance, I'm not too keen on decriminalizing it. But I think exploring the psychology behind this taboo is instructive.

For a PETA activist and principled vegetarian, opposing human-animal sex is a consistent stand, on grounds of power asymmetry and scope for exploitation or cruelty. For most people, it is not even a weak excuse, since it blatantly contradicts our treatment of animals in every other respect. We don't care about consent when we slaughter and eat them, raise them in oppressive squalor, do painful medical experiments, treat them like slaves as household pets, restraining, castrating and euthanizing them whenever convenient. Why the outcry when it comes to sex?

It seems transparent to me that the bestiality taboo is fundamentally different from that against pedophilia or rape, whose motivation is clearly sympathetic and protective. Laws against zoophilia are similar to those against miscegenation or inter-caste marriages, in that they are designed to protect the "purity" of a superior group. The focus is not the victim's suffering but the perpetrator's shame and disgrace for lowering himself to this association. The sentiment is intensely hubristic and parochial.

Now all this is probably fairly trite, but I suggest it can lend us an organizing principle for understanding many of our most polarized debates – abortion, stem cell research, capital punishment, euthanasia, immigration and wars, to name a few. It is interesting that people's positions on various issues has high statistical correlation even when it is not logically warranted in any obvious way, suggesting there are subtle common threads of thinking from which they are derived.
2.

The anthropocentric view puts humans in such an exalted position that excessive dependence on biology stands as a direct contradiction to that viewpoint. It is as if God deposits a wholly formed soul to the universe's bank the moment the first flicker of physical existence can be sensed, i.e. when a sperm fertilizes an egg. It is a vulgar, reductionist undermining of the anthropocentric perspective to view ourselves as no more than biological machines, who are not preordained to be special and eternal, but noteworthy only to the extent these machines have been conferred some unique properties by natural selection. In other words, the more we view our humanity as a function of our ephemeral biology, the more we slip from our anthropocentric mountain-top. This is why a blastocyst is not "just a clump of cells", nor Terry Schiavo a vegetable.

People like Singer define personhood in terms of mental properties such as sentience, capacity for pain and rational thinking. This is merely a step away from biological reductionism since, especially with the aid of modern medical technology, broad mental states can be mapped into physical brain states with some confidence. The ideas of afterlife and transcendental soul were designed precisely to escape such a conceptualization of weakness and fragility, to feed an insecure yet enormous ego.

Biological independence lessens the implication of biological destruction, and indeed it is a way in which the death penalty can be rationalized – it is merely banishment, after all, only a step above banishment from free society. However, since the soul is the owner of the body rather than the other way round, taking the body without just cause is akin to violation of an important principle like property right. It is in some ways still a serious crime for me to take your wallet even if all it has is some spare change. The crime isn't committed against the coins but the owner, so the effect is discontinuous in this framework of thinking.

An important ingredient of war or xenophobia is dehumanization of the enemy. It is what permits us to shed normal restraints and slit throats or blow human bodies to pieces. After all, we are only killing those who behave like animals. Funnily enough, this self destructive behavior (for the species) is highly reliant on our anthropocentric sensibilities. If we viewed ourselves as only one of God's many humble creations, even dehumanization wouldn't be a license to wantonly destroy. The trouble with the anthropocentric sensibilities of orthodox monotheism is that all it takes for it to become a destructive force is a slight redefinition of the boundaries.
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