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26.11.06

The Risks of the Unknown and Bestiality Necrophilia

While I'm on the subject of defending sexual practices that most people assume are bad, Pam Spaulding raises the case of a man who's trying to dodge a conviction for cruelty to animals by arguing that the deer he had sex with was dead, and therefore unable to suffer from his attentions. Spaulding is mostly interested in using this case as more anecdotal evidence that people from conservative regions are sick freaks, but numerous people in the comments point out that the guy does actually have a point. I don't see how it's "legal gymnastics" to think that animal cruelty laws are meant to protect the animal, and that since a dead animal can't be harmed, this isn't a crime.

In the comments, NYMOM brings out the Kantian argument against animal cruelty -- it's not the wellbeing of the animal that's at issue, it's that animal abuse causes future human abuse. This case is interesting because the Kantian argument is generally taken to be more modest than animal-welfare-based arguments. Yet (if we accept NYMOM's premise that whether the animal is living or dead doesn't matter in terms of encouraging future crimes against humans) here a Kantian would prohibit something that an animal welfarist would not*.

A bit further on, Samantha Vimes takes the Kantian argument a step further by coupling it with the precautionary principle:

I do think this guy needs psychiatric evaluation. He is killing for sexual gratification, although his victims are animals. As others have pointed out, we can’t be sure if this is *just* bestiality or if he may be inclined to move to human victims. When someone is that far out of normal behavior and combining sex and violence, even if he technically has done only misdemeanors (indecent exposure, for instance), expert opinion is a necessity.


I think this sort of precautionary response may underly a lot of "ick factor" objection to various behaviors. It's a variant on the "this particular order or chaos" viewpoint. Someone who commits a very strange act is an unknown quantity -- we don't know what makes them tick, because their brain certainly doesn't work the way normal people's -- including normal criminals' -- do. Such a person is thus seen as presenting a great risk, because we don't know what else they might do. Note, too, that our reportoire for understanding what actions might lead to other actions is extremely culturally-bound -- there's no logical reason why having sex with an animal corpse could lead to all sorts of chaos whereas eating an animal corpse is normal and predictable**, it's just that the latter is familiar in our culture. So we're inclined to take precautionary action, ranging from avoidance to social condemnation to criminalization or hospitalization. We don't trust that this guy is an otherwise law-abiding man who just happens to have a strong fetish for bestiality necrophilia.

*The welfarist may have a stronger objection to killing the animal in the first place, but we're talking about what happens once it's dead.
**Consider, as a contrast, our fairly similar reactions to doing those two things to a human corpse, or to a vegetable corpse.

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