United Poultry Concerns March 15, 2001
UPC Letter to National Review Online re:Bestiality
Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
12325 Seaside Road PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405

Letters to the Editor
National Review Online
215 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Dear Editor:

Kathryn Jean Lopez is disturbed by Peter Singer's review of Dearest Pet: On Bestiality by Midas Dekkers (" Peter Singer Strikes Again," March 8, 2001). She is not alone is wondering where Singer's approach to bestiality could lead and what it means. Since the 1970s, Singer has been urging our society to take another look at some of the beliefs we hold dear, which is what a philosopher should do. Offended as many may be for various reasons by Singer's latest outrage, at least, thanks to it, we're looking at a subject that is usually ignored, that of humans having sex with other species, which raises broader questions about our relationship with other species in areas seemingly remote from bestiality.

If bestiality as a subject or behavior seems marginal and impertinent, consider the fact that, from animal agriculture to zoos, the core of our relationship with the animals in these systems is our invasion of their sexual privacy and our physical manipulation of their sex, reproductive, and family lives. Animals we are used to seeing in isolation or in same sex, same age agribusiness warehouses all have, or had, mothers and fathers somewhere, or else they themselves are parents of young who were taken away from them at birth or even before they were born, and who often were never permitted to meet. The majority of animals we hold in captivity were designed for a family life that our species has intentionally torn apart. Maybe that's obscene.

Consider the manual milking and artificial insemination of parent turkeys in modern food production. When you see a man pushing a tube into a turkey hen's vagina, and massaging a male turkey's genitals to get him to ejaculate into the tube that will thus be used, you quickly enlarge your notion of what constitutes obscenity, and illusions about some of the things you were brought up to regard as wholesome and upright, like Thanksgiving dinner, dissolve into a black hole. There's a lot more involved in this particular example of bestiality than economics alone, and it is just one, though a very important, example of humanity's bestial behavior, in areas we normally consider necessary, sexless, and innocuous. One of the things that disturbs me about Lopez's essay is that she seems to be more offended by Peter Singer's use of four-letter words than by what he has to say about what hens are put through by the egg industry and about the sexual assaults some hens have been forced to endure from an animal whose hands are as big as a hen's entire body. She mentions the egg industry's cruelty and the human sexual assault on hens that Singer uses for illustration, and then moves on. Indeed she comes across as unfazed by and uninterested in these matters and doesn't even represent Singer's example of hen rape accurately. He said that, in a certain kind of rape, the hen is decapitated and forced to endure intercourse by her decapitator as she dies. Why does Lopez brush by this scene with bland language about how such sex, which she doesn't clarify, "ultimately kills the hen." Perhaps evasive language where straight talk is called for constitutes a kind of obscenity more profound than the philosopher's use of four-letter words.

Lopez obviously sees red at anything suggesting that "humans ain't nothing special." Thus her essay suppresses any ideas or information that might invite second thoughts about "special" = Supreme. Maybe human speciality needs to be redefined to reflect a more generous and less threatened view of the world. Actually, Peter Singer's "antispeciesist" philosophy includes a very elite and hierarchical view of "personhood" and entitlement that I and many others in the animal advocacy movement disagree with completely, much as we value his many positive contributions.

In considering any situation in which nonhuman animals have been alleged or been shown to have initiated some sort of sex with humans, it is important to know whether such overtures occurred under circumstances in which the animal's normal sexual interests and behavior were distorted or frustrated. For instance, the orangutan who allegedly grabbed a female researcher in order to have sex with her did so in an orangutan camp in Borneo. What examples are there of animals in nature having or trying to have sex with members of other species? Is the idea that nonhuman animals want to have sex with US another act of egotism on our part? These are some of the questions that I think Peter Singer's essay and Midas Dekkers' book should encourage us to think about.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,
Karen Davis, PhD
President
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
March 15, 2001


United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
757-678-7875
FAX: 757-678-5070
www.upc-online.org

(UPC Letter to National Review Online re:Bestiality)