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Archive for January 26th, 2012

I’d call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.  –  Woody Allen, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Humans are obsessed with assigning blame.  To a degree, this is understandable; when something bad happens, we want to know why it happened, and if somebody caused it we want to know who so we can keep that person from doing it again.  Unfortunately, the preferred way of stopping harmful behavior is by inflicting even more harmful behavior on the guilty party and any “accomplices”; though some people are satisfied with one scapegoat, others seem to feel that it’s a shame to waste a perfectly good opportunity for violence and therefore want to accuse as many people as possible.  And still others (of whom an inordinate number seek employment with the police) seem wholly unconcerned with whether the victim of such “punishment” is actually the guilty party; they just want to inflict violence on somebody, and after all a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Or as the ever-clever Philippa expressed it, “The State wants an eye for an eye, but it doesn’t care whose eye.”  It’s much easier for such troglodytes to torture somebody they don’t like (or whoever’s convenient) than to actually have to go out and figure out who might really be guilty.  And if there’s a convenient (and preferably helpless) target handy, why trouble themselves any further?  Best just to get to the fun part.  My column of one year ago today provides a perfect example of this syndrome; faced with an unknown serial killer, the newspapers blamed an established villain (namely, Craigslist) and district attorney Thomas Spota blamed the victims.

Another, much weirder example of this appeared in Slate on January 6th:

…I’ve written before about the fascinating research underway on the phenomenon of zoophilia and the reported 1 percent of the human population that feels a primary erotic attraction to other species.  Yet I’d absolutely no idea about the brutal oppression that not only zoophiles faced in centuries prior, but also the animals themselves that had been involved in their sordid affairs.  Today, I think, most people would feel sympathy for an animal that had been violated by a human being, but in the past, they were seen as being just as morally culpable as their sexual partners.  And while today’s zoophiles continue to face…jail time and fines…the “buggers” of the past were burned alive…Indeed, a panic over porking pigs grew so intense in Colonial New England that it became, for a time, the “other” witch-hunt.

…In 1646…a servant by the name of George Spencer…was executed for making love to his master’s pig.  He swore that he didn’t do it, but, unfortunately for Spencer, the sow happened to give birth to a deformed fetus (“a prodigious monster”) that resembled George a bit too closely for most people’s comfort…just like the pig fetus, this grumpy old man also had “butt one eye for use, the other hath (as itt is called) a pearle in itt, is whitish and deformed”…a fellow New Haven [Connecticut] citizen with the ridiculously unfortunate name of Thomas Hogg…found himself at the center of an intense buggery investigation when a neighborhood sow bore a deformed fetus with “a faire & white skinne & head, as Thomas Hogg is”…the governor and deputy governor personally frogmarched him out to the barnyard toward the sow in question and ordered him to “scratt” (fondle) the animal before their eyes.  This was done to gauge just how intimately familiar Hogg and hog might be.  “Immedyatly there appeared a working of lust in the sow,” the court records recount for us, “insomuch that she powred out seede before them.”  When Hogg reluctantly titillated the teats of a different sow, that animal showed no sign of returning his affections.

It wasn’t just pigs.  In the nearby colony of Plymouth…a 16-year-old boy named Thomas Granger…[was] indicted for taking indecent liberties with…“a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey”…There was little question in these righteous minds that the boy should be dispatched to the flames…but there was a lot of head-scratching…over which sheep, exactly, he’d been defiling.  This was vital to sort out, because if they executed the wrong sheep, they risked the unthinkable happening:  a monstrously bleating, hoofed prodigy might drop undetected onto Plymouth.  So, naturally, a line-up of busily masticating victims was staged for Granger.  With one trembling finger, the boy pointed out those five naïve, amber-eyed ruminants that had been targets of his secret woolly lust…

…the issue of animal consent has become central to the legal treatment of zoophilic behavior.  Injunctions against human-animal sex…now seem to derive from the question of whether a hog can ever really agree to make love to a Hogg…Can an animal be smart enough to give sexual consent to a human partner?  Even if it were smart enough, would it have means by which to express its desire?  The zoophiles themselves would say that it can…We no longer hold animals morally culpable for having sex with people, but we’ve now Bambi-fied domestic animals to the point that they’re regarded as sexless innocents…Disgust reactions aside, the challenge lies in teasing apart the animal’s actual consent to sex from the human partner’s mere perception of the animal’s giving consent—a perception that, like that of any erotically-charged mind, is prone to a dangerous confirmation bias.  Having said that, however…it’s not entirely clear that some animals, in some circumstances, cannot derive pleasure—even benefit—from sex with humans.  Anyway, it’s often the animals that are doing the penetrating…and in cases involving an erect horse penis the size of a small moped, exactly who’s being assaulted becomes difficult to sort out…

If you have time you may want to read the original, which is extremely funny.  But the portion I’ve quoted here is enough to make my point, which is that very little has changed; people and their governments are still sticking their noses into the private behavior of individuals and making a really big deal out of anything that involves sex.  Remember, the original reason for criminalizing bestiality had nothing to do with “cruelty” as it’s usually framed nowadays; nobody in the 17th century gave a damn if a man whipped his horse half to death or slaughtered his livestock in some unnecessarily cruel way.  But let him, um, know his nanny goat in the Biblical sense, and it was the stake for both of ‘em.  And just as in the 17th century, people still want to shift the blame (sometimes even to the victim) or spread it around to as many bystanders (innocent or otherwise) as possible.

Postscript

I have just a few more not-entirely-random thoughts on the bestiality thing I’d like to share.

First:  Yes, it’s icky, but someone doing something which is icky to most people  is insufficient grounds for sending armed thugs (who tend to behave in a pretty bestial manner themselves) to persecute him for doing it.

Second:  Readers with long memories may recall my writing that “…there are valid arguments for laws against adultery and bestiality that aren’t based in Christian morality, but we’ll leave that for another time.” The quoted essay makes the secular argument for prohibiting bestiality:  nonhuman animals, like children, are unable to give informed consent.  The secular argument for prohibiting adultery is simply that it’s a violation of a contract.

Third:  I’m highly doubtful that anything like 1% of the population is primarily attracted to other species, especially considering that only 2% of Furries admit to zoophilia.  I might believe that 1% of sexually broadminded people have had a cross-species sexual encounter, but primary attraction is (if you’ll pardon) a horse of a different color.

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