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Bestiality, Vegetarianism, And Consent

I don't mean to turn this into an animal rights blog, but in his latest column, Dan Savage raises an interesting argument for vegetarianism (or bestiality), but then gives a nonsensical rebuttal.

However, it needs to be said that if zoophilia is wrong because animals can't consent to sexual acts, then hamburgers, lamb chops, and Jell-O brand gelatin, along with leather shoes, belts, pants, slings, and hoods, are all equally wrong. It's possible that meat and leather are, you know, wronger. If we could talk to the animals, I'm pretty sure they would tell us they would rather be screwed than stewed. But until we can talk to the animals, I fully support eating them and wearing them, not fucking them.

The standard argument against bestiality -- animals can't consent to it -- seems to apply equally to carnivory. Savage tries to weasel out of it by invoking a strong notion of consent (it must be verbal), and applying the burden of proof inconsistently. With regard to sex, he says we should assume (just like we do with humans) that it's forbidden unless animals explicitly tell us we may. But with regard to eating, we should assume that it's permitted unless animals explicitly tell us we may not. I see no reason for this. After all, Savage himself admits that insofar as animals can communicate nonverbally, and insofar as we can guess their thoughts by analogy to our own, they refuse to consent to being killed for food in stronger terms than they refuse their consent to sex.

It's interesting that with regard to sex, we happily elevate animals to moral agency -- after all, nobody would think of asking whether a vibrator consents to being used for a person's sexual gratification. Yet with respect to food, we deny animals that moral status.


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