Once an Ivy League professor is known to be a proponent of infanticide, perhaps nothing he says or writes should thereafter raise eyebrows. Still, Peter Singer’s latest writing is worth noting — if only so someone at Princeton University takes notice.
In the online magazine nerve.com, Peter Singer writes an opinion piece, “Heavy Petting” — part a review of Dearest Pet: On Bestiality by Midas Dekker, “a Dutch biologist and popular naturalist,” but really more of a statement about the last sexual taboo — sex with animals.
Not so long ago, any form of sexuality not leading to the conception of children was seen as, at best, wanton lust, or worse, a perversion. One by one, the taboos have fallen. The idea that it could be wrong to use contraception in order to separate sex from reproduction is now merely quaint. If some religions still teach that masturbation is “self-abuse,” that just shows how out of touch they have become. Sodomy? That’s all part of the joy of sex, recommended for couples seeking erotic variety. In many of the world’s great cities, gays and lesbians can be open about their sexual preferences to an extent unimaginable a century ago. You can even do it in the U.S. Armed Forces, as long as you don’t talk about it. Oral sex? Some objected to President Clinton’s choice of place and partner, and others thought he should have been more honest about what he had done, but no one dared suggest that he was unfit to be President simply because he had taken part in a sexual activity that was, in many jurisdictions, a crime. But not every taboo has crumbled …
In his latest belch, Singer reinforces his basic theory — the idea that humans ain’t nothing special. To make his point,
Singer proffers that sex with animals isn’t so strange, and recounts a story told to him by a woman at a conference on apes he attended last year. The woman had described a visit to an orangutan camp in Borneo. Walking with the camp director, Birute Galdikas — the “Jane Goodall of orangutans” — an orangutan made sexual advances toward the woman. Singer writes:
Galdikas called to her companion not to be concerned, because the orangutan would not harm her, and adding, as further reassurance, that “they have a very small penis.” As it happened, the orangutan lost interest before penetration took place, but the aspect of the story that struck me most forcefully was that in the eyes of someone who has lived much of her life with orangutans, to be seen by one of them as an object of sexual interest is not a cause for shock or horror. 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 Galdikas understands very well that we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes.
Much of Singer’s review is simply not fit to be reprinted on NRO, but rest assured that he gets graphically specific at times, trying to demonstrate just how widespread the sex-with-animals scene is — and has long been.
And while Singer explains that a human male who has sex with hens ultimately kills the hen, he wonders if it is any “worse than what egg producers do to their hens all the time.”
Peter Singer is not only a professor at Princeton, and acclaimed academic — an “ethicist” of all things — but he was appointed to his position at Princeton by President Harold Shapiro, chairman of President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission.
As Shapiro leaves Princeton’s helm in June and with his membership on the Bioethics Commission up at any time — as he serves at the pleasure of the president — (the commission’s charter expires in October and its very existence should be reconsidered by the new administration), an opportunity presents itself for rethinking the value of human life and the meaning of human sexuality. Maybe the rot in higher education is here to stay. But President Bush mustn’t let it seep into the rest of the country.