Peter Singer still has not made any comments about his book review for Nerve which, on the most friendly interpretation, offered a weak argument against bestiality. While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Ingrid Newkirk offered a defense of Singer, many animal rights activists were quick to pile on denunciations of Singer, many of which were posted to the Nerve web site as well as being distributed through Internet e-mail lists.
Friends of Animals president Priscillia Feral wrote,
Friends of Animals, an interntional non-profit organization with 200,000 members throughout the world dedicated to promoting the rights of animals and concern for wildlife and the environment, denounces Princeton philosophy professor Peter Singer, for an essay in which Singer maintains that under some circumstances, it is acceptable for humans and animals to have sex with each other. FoA finds Singer’s position shocking and disgusting. Bestiality is wrong in part because the animal cannot meaningfully consent to sex with a human. In this sense, bestiality is wrong for the same reason pedophilia is wrong. Children cannot consent to sexual contact and neither can animals. Contrary to a statement from a spokesperson for PETA, Singer’s essay isn’t an intellectual issue, and his thinking isn’t logical. It’s a moral issue. Singer and his apologists just need to stop repeating every annoying idea they’ve developed for shock value.
Megan Metzellar, program coordinator for Friends of Animals weighed in as well,
Singer is basically condoning rape and molestation as long as one (presumably he?) can find a way to interpret the situation as being “mutually satisfying.” I suppose Mr. Singer can find a way to justify any base behavior in his mind via his meaningless hypotheticals. Singer has been put on a pedestal by the animal rights movement for a very long time but this essay is a wake-up call to those who have blindly idolized him. Moreover, since women are often sexually abused and exploited in conjunction with acts of bestiality, feminists should be outraged by his position on this issue. Child advocates should also be alarmed since Singer is condoning sex acts in which one party is basically incapable of giving consent. Singer is in dangerous territory here and if he has any sense left he will realize the potential fallout from this essay and retract his position.
Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, was worried about the damage that Singer’s views will have on the animal rights movement.
As someone who has played and continues to play a high profile and influential role in the animal rights movement, I believe your responsibility changes. The success of animal liberation depends not only on the ideology, the legal arguments, and the philosophical reasoning but perhaps more importantly on the sophisticated strategies that will allow mainstream populations to hear the message, accept the message and act on the message. Heavy Petting will come back to haunt us and is a step backwards. Unchallenged, this essay will serve to further marginalize and, therefore, damage the animal rights movement. The consequences of it will push us back into the bubble-gum bottomed recess of prejudice that hell hole of ridicule that remains our greatest obstacle and enemy. Some people may care about your thoughts on bestiality from some perverse unconscious desires. More significantly, however, many others will study your every word not to better ground their arguments in support of animal rights but rather to find new ways to discredit our efforts. They have been given new ammunition and new accusations with which to boost their arguments about the absurdity of our beliefs. Heavy Petting will be used against us. Have no doubt.
Live by the sound bite, die by the sound bite.
Gary Francione, who seems to have laid low after shutting down his animal law center, reminded animal rights activists that Singer’s argument is beside the point since the existence of pets is an abomination itself, regardless of whether or not anyone is having sex with the animals.
Even if animals can desire to have sexual contact with humans, that does not mean that they are “consenting” to that contact any more than does a child who can have sexual desires (or who even initiates sexual contact) can be said to consent to sex. Moreover, Peter ignores completely that bestiality is a phenomenon that occurs largely within the unnatural relationship of domestication; a domestic animal can no more consent to sex than could a human slave. Therefore, since the threshold requirement–informed consent–cannot be met, sexual contact with animals cannot be morally justified….It is bad enough that Peter defends the killing or other exploitation of those humans whose lives he regards as not worth living, and, through his pop media image, he has succeeded in connecting the issue of animal rights with the very ideas that were promoted by some academics as part of the theoretical basis for Nazism. It is bad enough that the “father of the animal rights movement” regards PETA’s sell-out liaison with McDonalds as “the biggest step forward for farm animals in America in the past quarter of a century” (a direct quote from Peter) and that PETAphiles are pointing to Peter’s approval as justification for the sell-out. It is bad enough that Peter continues to support and promote those whose unethical actions have actually harmed animals. Bestiality merits nothing more or less than our outright and unequivocal condemnation. Peter’s disturbing view that humans and nonhumans may enjoy sexual contact as part of “mutually satisfying activities” will only further harm the cause of animal rights, and I can only hope that those who care will register their strong dissent.
Aside from the animal rights movement, it will be interesting to see how the Princeton community reacts to Singer’s newly found views on sex with animals.