Friday, December 26, 2014

Thoughts on Bestiality

OK, first of all, I'd like to make it clear that the thought of bestiality grosses me out, and I have absolutely no desire to do it myself. However, I've learnt from the example of homophobia, that just because something grosses you out is not a sufficient justification for banning it. So, I've been taking a look at bestiality lately, to see if I think it can ever be morally justified.

The most common argument against bestiality, that I see, is the idea that animals, like children, can't consent to sex. It does have a certain amount of appeal, I admit. In some ways, animals are like children. For example, my cat Lilly understands physics about as well as 8-12 month old human baby.

But there's an important difference between a cat and a human baby. If we hadn't spayed Lilly, by now, she'd almost certainly have lost her virginity and raised at least one litter of kittens. And this would have been healthy and normal for her species. Not only that, but if she'd grown up without contact with humans, she'd be living independently by now, as well as raising her kittens all by herself. She may understand physics like a human baby, but a 1 year old cat is an adult, just like a 21-year-old human. Meanwhile, her house mate Katrina is very much an elderly lady, and makes this very clear. I often feel as if she's older than me, even though I remember getting her as a kitten, simply because she's so much more mature.

Not only are adult animals adults, rather than children, but they clearly can consent to sex. Many animals will actively seek out sexual partners, and chose which ones they want, communicating their choice with various species specific signals. (For example, many female animals request sex by waving their genital region in the male's face.) Some animals are even sexual predators, who will force themselves on unwilling partners. They may not see the world the way humans do, but they certainly have their own sexuality.

Of course, under normal circumstances, animals only have sex with members of the same species. But this isn't always the case. Mules, jennies, and other interspecies hybrids are testament to the fact that some animals will happily mate with members of closely related species. More distant interspecies sexual behaviour occurs at times, though it doesn't produce offspring. Unneutered male dogs, for example, are notorious for trying to mate with human legs while the humans are sitting. Peter, a dolphin involved in an experiment to teach him how to speak, was sexually interested in the human researcher working with him, and made frequent advances towards her. I've heard a few different versions of Peter's story, arguing different levels of cooperation from the human involved, but in all of them, it's clear that Peter gave clear indications of his desire.

I would even argue that it's possible for an animal to rape a human. In this Youtube video, an amorous donkey pursues a man, who I gather was trying to poop in the field. The guy is clearly unwilling, but the donkey persistently tries to mount him. I would argue that this is a case of attempted (or maybe successful, hard to tell) interspecies rape with a human victim.

But what if the man had been willing? There is a segment of the human population who are sexually attracted to animals. If one of these people found an animal who was sexually interested in them, and both clearly indicated consent in a way that the other could accurately interpret, then what?

Personally, my litmus test for whether a sexual act is wrong is whether it causes harm. A human forcing themselves on an animal probably harms the animal, and an animal forcing themselves on a human could very well harm the human. But if we've established that both parties are able to consent, and they both do, then it seems unlikely that either is harmed by the experience.

It's also interesting to point out, from a sociological perspective, that our society thinks humans having sex with animals is disgusting, but thinks it's just fine for a human to sexually stimulate a male animal in order to collect semen, and then implant that semen in a female of the same species, which sometimes involves sexually stimulating the female as well. It seems like kind of a strange distinction to me.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

'But It's Not Healthy!' Why Fat-Shaming Cannot Be Excused Based on the Health Effects of Fat

A few years ago, my brother was a regular soccer player, liked to go swimming, and was starting to get interested in karate. He's always been a big boy, tall for his age, with broad shoulders and lots of muscle, but back then, his weight was fine. He liked to eat, but he didn't eat more than he needed. Although he wasn't super-athletic, he was healthy.

Since then, he's had a couple moves and some bullying, with kids calling him 'fat' - a label that was initially inaccurate. He's had a gym teacher shame him for not being able to run as many laps as other kids, and his high school forced him to do a calorie-counting assignment.

And now, he's noticeably overweight. He's quit soccer, rarely goes swimming, and never goes to karate. He spends most of his time inside, playing video games, and tells me he often feels like he can't go outside because he doesn't want people seeing him. He eats not only out of actual hunger, but also to comfort himself when he's feeling down - and he's been feeling down a lot.

I would like him to lose weight - not because I think he looks bad, but because his doctor says he has high cholesterol and may be at risk for heart disease. But whenever I make the slightest reference to his weight, his diet, or his level of exercise, he gets depressed. I can look at the cholesterol levels of my own snacks and substitute a high-cholesterol snack for a low-cholesterol one without getting upset. He can't. Merely thinking about cholesterol sends him in a downward spiral.

So, when I hear people say that fat acceptance is bad because fat is unhealthy, I get really upset. If being 'fat' wasn't worthy of insults and humiliation, then, ironically, my brother may never have become fat. And even if he did, I could get him to make changes to help him lose weight, just like I've done with myself.

Depression is not conducive to eating healthy or getting plenty of exercise. Depression saps your energy, makes you want to hide inside. Depression messes up your ability to regulate eating, making you eat more or less than you should. Depression makes you want to go for comfort foods, foods that taste good and make you feel a bit better, instead of the food you know is healthy.

If you hate your body, any reminder of how you look will trigger depression - an emotional state associated with lack of motivation and energy, comfort eating, and poor regulation of eating. This makes it harder, not easier, to make a positive change in your eating and exercise habits. Sure, some people do it anyway, but those people are exceptions, just like the former alcoholics who can sit in a bar with friends and not drink. It's not a tactic that will work for most people.

So if you think making fun of someone for being fat, or rejecting them because of their weight is in any way justified, think again. You're not helping them, you're hurting them. You're making it harder for them to lose weight, and you're making their life miserable.

So stop being an asshole, and try being nice instead. Leave comments about weight to doctors, who (hopefully) actually know what they're talking about, and give them a compliment instead. If you want to help them lose weight, invite them to go swimming with you or something else fun and active. Tell them not to worry about how they look or how well they can do the activity - the point is to just move around and enjoy doing it.