Peter Singer Offers Moral Justification for Bestiality

One of the major underpinnings of much animal rights thought is the notion of speciesism — this is the claim, advanced by animal rights philosophers such as Peter Singer, that there is no rational basis for commonly held moral distinctions between human beings and non-human animals. Singer, and many others in the animal rights movement, maintain that the impetus behind such distinctions is based on an irrational attachment to the importance of human beings above all other species, which is deplorable in much the same way that arguing in favor of special moral distinctions for whites vs. non-whites or men vs. women is deplorable.

Critics of such views have maintained that not only is speciesism morally justifiable in ways that racism or sexism are not, but that animal rights advocates do not apply the concept of speciesism in ways that are internally consistent. In fact, most animal rights activists seem to veer away from the genuinely radical implications of speciesism.

But not Singer. In an article published in the online magazine, Nerve, the philosopher takes the speciesism idea to its logical extreme and argues that there is no rational reason to deplore sexual relations between human beings and non-human animals. The condemnation of inter-species sexuality, according to Singer, is just another example of a speciesist distinction.

In reviewing Midas Dekker’s book, Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, Singer explicitly defends the morality of inter-species sex. First, Singer argues that although the origin of the taboo against bestiality probably originated in the general taboos on non-reproductive sex (a questionable hypothesis in my opinion), this doesn’t explain the basic revulsion that most people have toward the practice. “But the vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held,” Singer writes, “its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals.”

In other words, the bestiality taboo is just another way that human beings reinforce speciesism and cast themselves as completely separate and distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Singer then launches into a lengthy discussion to make it clear that he doesn’t think sexual acts that involve violence with animals are permissible, but seems to leave the door wide open for non-violent sexual acts between humans and non-human animals. Describing a woman who live with Orangutans and was almost sexually attacked by one of the animals, Singer writes,

The potential violence of the orangutan’s come-on may have been disturbing, but the fact that it was an orangutan making the advances was not. That may be because [Birute] Galdikas understands very well that we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes. This does not make sex across the species barrier normal, or natural, whatever those much-misused words may mean, but it does imply that it ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.

This doesn’t come right out and say that bestiality is okay, but it is hard to imagine what Singer is getting at if he still thinks such contact is immoral. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Debra Saunders contacted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to get its take on the Singer piece, and Ingrid Newkirk carefully hedged her words, telling Saunders, “It’s daring and honest and it does not do what some people read into it, which is condone any violent acts involving an animal, sexual or otherwise.”

I’m not sure how daring it is for a man who has previously said that retarded infants and Alzheimer’s patients can be killed because it is for the greater good is exactly making a “daring” statement by endorsing bestiality, provided it doesn’t include violence against the animal involved. That Newkirk is apparently willing to stomach this nonsense (going so far as to talk about the philosophical issue surrounding animals and the concept of consent) demonstrates just how radical and far reaching the animal rights view is at its core.

If Singer’s claims about animals and pain are true, this conclusion about bestiality does seem completely consistent with that view, and represents another example of just how incoherent the animal rights philosophy is.

Source:

Heavy Petting. Peter Singer, Nerve.Com, 2001.

Award Winning Journalism By Yours Truly

I finally found time this afternoon to type in a newspaper article I wrote back in 1994 about a student who spends his summer vacations trekking across some of the more remote parts of the world.

This won a second place award in a state journalism competition, though that always seemed weird to me since I wasn’t the one who almost gotten eaten by bears.

Anyway, the story is here:

‘I was not just going to be eaten without doing anything about it’.

CIA Was Driving Force Behind Soviet Germ Warfare Program

One of the revelations that came out after the end of the Cold War was that the Soviet Union had pretty much ignored a treaty with the United States that banned bioweapons research. Scientists who ran the program said they were certain that the United States was violating the treaty as well, and were surprised that they could find no serious violations when they conducted inspections required under the treaty. Where did they get the idea that the United States was actively engaged in developing germ warfare? From the Central Intelligence Agency.

Apparently by the time the United States signed the bioweapons treaty the Pentagon had already concluded that germ warfare research was likely a dead-end alley. Although occasionally there are media-driven stories about the horrific possibilities of germ warfare, designing an effective bioweapon turns out to be a lot more difficult than first imagined.

Convinced the Soviet Union would never be able to develop such weapons, former CIA officer and historian Raymond Garthoff contends that the in the 1960s the Central Intelligence Agency engaged in a disinformation campaign to convince the USSR that the United States was in fact spending billions of dollars to develop biological weapons.

The goal was to force the Soviets to waste billions of dollars on an ineffective biological weapons program. The Soviet military bought the disinformation campaign wholeheartedly and energetically pursued a bioweapons program. Unfortunately they made far better progress than the CIA and Pentagon imagined was possible.

According to Garthoff, the United States had failed in its attempts to create a drug-resistant strain of smallpox and concluded it was impossible. Spurred on by the CIA’s disinformation campaign, the Soviets succeeded in creating such a virus. “We cannot say for certain that these weapons would never have been developed without the American disinformation campaign,” Garthoff told The Daily Telegraph, “but I am sure it was the priming element to their programmes.”

The Soviet development of drug-resistant smallpox is bad enough, but at least the dynamics of the Cold War made it extremely unlikely that such an agent would ever be used (though, the risk of accidental release is always a real possibility). The collapse of the Soviet Union exacerbated the situation since now there are hundreds of unemployed former-Soviet scientists who are experts in germ warfare.

There have been reports in the Russian press that former Soviet scientists have been aiding Syria in its efforts to acquire biological and chemical weapons — scientists who might not have been engaged in developing germ warfare were it not for the CIA’s disinformation campaign. “A number of countries have made very serious efforts to get information and people from these programmes and those are exactly the kind of things that the FBI and the CIA are now so worried about today,” Garthoff said.

Source:

US blunder ‘trigger global germ bomb race.’ Ben Fenton, The Daily Telegraph (London), March 12, 2001.

Price Discrimination is A Good Thing

Probably because the word “discrimination” has become so closely associated with practices such as racial discrimination or sexual discrimination, the word has insidious connotations regardless of the adjective attached to it. A case in point is price discrimination. Here’s a quote from a recent Kuro5hin article about recent changes in the pricing schemes of some scientific journals (specifically Nature),

Copyright holders on digital media demand new rights and privileges constantly. They push laws like DMCA through the United States Congress, and enforce their privileges worldwide through such treaties as the Berne Convention. Perhaps they want a pay-per-view society where every reading of a book or playing of a song costs a fee, payable to them. They want to control, not only the copying of a book, movie, or song, but the use thereof – where and how many times it may be viewed, what persons may use it. This would enable what economists call price discrimination – they could charge each customer as much as they’re willing to pay.

Almost all of the time price discrimination is referred to, as in this case, it is implied that it is a nefarious tool of blood sucking capitalists looking to ring the very last dollar out of anyone. But, in fact, the average American reaps a great deal of economic benefits from price discrimination which in practice typically involves charging wealthy individuals and corporations more for goods and services.

One of the most widespread price discrimination schemes is the way airline tickets are sold. Airlines sell seats on planes at different prices to different customers based on those customers’ ability to pay. Airlines charge business fliers far more to travel than they do non-business travelers. They also charge people willing to book their flights far in advance far more than people who decided they need to fly in just a few days. Finally, of course, airlines charge huge premiums for traveling in first class.

Those people who pay a large premium for their tickets in effect subsidize lower ticket prices for people whom are more price conscious.

Another area where price discrimination commonly occurs in the publishing industry. A hardcover book doesn’t cost all that much more to produce than a paperback book ($1 to $2 more), and yet hardcover books are generally 2 to 3 times as expensive as paperback books. This seems to be a way to discriminate based on time preferences. Those people who need to read the new Stephen King novel the moment it hits bookstores are subsidizing the lower cost of his novels for those of us who wait for the paperback version.

Does e-commerce promise a brave new world of price discrimination as the Kuro5hin article suggests? I doubt it. Amazon.Com recently experimented with using a price discrimination system and users hated it. Electronic systems are a double-edged sword for sellers because while they can more easily target individual consumers, the same systems allow consumers to quickly obtain more accurate information about pricing schemes and coordinate buying decisions. If a book chain store in a wealthy neighborhood decides to sell its books at a 5 percent markup over the prices it sets at a store in a less wealthy neighborhood, the cost for consumers of a) obtaining such information and b) coordinating their buying habits with other consumers to drive down the price is very high. On the other hand, Amazon’s experiment was quickly publicized on the Internet and choosing to go to any of Amazon’s competitor’s takes only a few seconds.

Price discrimination will likely remain a very important tool, but it is likely to remain a blunt instrument confined to services and goods where part of the market has a very strong preference not shared by the rest of the market for which they are willing to pay a price premium.

United Nations to Seek Confirmation of Afghan Famine Deaths

The United Nations World Food Programme is sending a team to three Afghanistan districts to assess claims of widespread famine deaths in the northeastern province of Badakhshan.

Yaftal, Sharebuzarg and Ragh are controlled by an alliance of rebels opposing the ruling Taleban party. According to this group, hundreds of people have starved to death in the area in recent months with potentially thousands more at risk.

So far there has been no independent confirmation of the famine deaths, but Afghanistan is suffering a horrible drought. Combined with ongoing fighting and logistical problems getting food aid to the remote area, recent WFP predictions warned of a high possibility of famine in parts of Afghanistan.

The WFP is also appealing for at least $76 million in aid to target as many as 3.8 million people the organization believes are at serious risk of starvation in Afghanistan.

Girar Van Dijk, WFP representative in Afghanistan, summed up the dire problems facing Afghanistan,

We are going to step up our distributions in Afghanistan to prevent the crisis from getting worse than it is. We need to launch a new, and larger, emergency operation for Afghanistan in April because it is already evident that the upcoming wheat harvest, due in July, will not meet the food needs of the people. … We believe there will be a severe crop shortfall because of the shortage of good-quality seed in the country. … There have been three consecutive years of severe drought in Afghanistan and we can see that millions of people are at a real risk of starving to death.

Source:

UN to probe Afghan famine deaths. The BBC, March 16, 2001.

WFP Launches New Emergency Appeal For Afghans On Brink Of Starvation World Food Programme, Press Release, March 12, 2001.