One Man's Animal Husbandry

by Debra J. Saunders

PETER SINGER, whose opposition to "speciesism" made him the father of the modern animal rights movement, once again is in the thick of controversy. Readers may remember Singer because publisher Steve Forbes withdrew financial support for Princeton when the university gave Singer an ethics professorship. Singer, you see, advocates killing disabled babies because babies are not yet "persons."

Now, Singer has written an online book review for a pornographic Web site in which he defends bestiality. You could say Singer's take on animal rights is: You can have sex with them, but don't eat them.

How does PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, feel about its ideological father endorsing six-legged sex? PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said of the piece, "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." Newkirk wants America to know that Singer does not advocate sex that kills or damages animals or requires them to be restrained. Indeed, Singer condemns sex between men and hens because it is "usually fatal to the hen."

But can an animal consent to sex?

Newkirk answered, "It sounds like this is an attempt to make this so narrow and so unintellectual in its focus. You know, Peter Singer is an intellectual, and he looks at all nuances of an issue." And: "The whole concept of consent with animals is very different."

Singer is away from Princeton for the week, so he was not able to answer the question. But to know Singer's work is to understand how his "persons" ideology inevitably led to his acceptance (in principle) of fornicating with animals.

In his 1979 book "Practical Ethics," Singer wrote, "Because people are human does not mean that their lives are more valuable than animals." He has argued that it is more ethical to conduct medical experiments on comatose people than primates.

To Singer, "when the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Often, it is not wrong at all."

From determining that babies aren't persons, but some other animals are, it's just a short step for Singer to assert that there should be no taboo against sex with animals that are fellow "persons."

Telling the story of a woman who was attacked by a priapic orangutan (which lost interest), Singer writes that "we are all 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 offense to our status and dignity as human beings."

If you ask me, advocating killing disabled babies is an offense to Singer's status as a human being. But for such opinions, Princeton gave him a job.

So Singer takes on Kant for arguing that "humans have an inherent dignity that makes them ends in themselves, whereas animals are mere means to our ends."

Thus, it's wrong for animals to be a means to an end when it comes to food, but somehow this scholar finds a loophole for sex. That's taking on the taboos -- man-style. (San Francisco Chronicle, 20. März 2001)

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