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Which Is Worse: Sex or Death?

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Which Is Worse: Sex or Death?

From Earth in Transition
October 2012

And that probably takes us to the heart of what this whole issue is really about. It's not really about abuse of animals; it's about upholding our status as human beings.

A farmhand in Marion County – known as Central Florida's horse country – is on trial for having sex with a donkey. So far, the man has turned down a plea deal that would have included a year's probation, a $200 fine, HIV and STD testing, a psychosexual evaluation, and a ban on being near children or other animals.

At around the same time this man was arrested, a few weeks ago, a museum in Lubbock, Texas, bought two mules, killed them, had them stuffed, and, as we noted, put them on display in an exhibition from which the museum will make money.

Which is worse?

Don't get me wrong. The farmhand in Florida is doubtless creepy and sick, and could use some serious psychiatric help. And from an ethical point of view, it's just another case of exploitation and abuse. But since there was apparently no evidence of pain or suffering, we can't help but ask what this man did that's so much worse than what was done to the mules in Texas.

Or, indeed, to the billions of other animals we torture and abuse in countless different ways on a daily basis?

The philosopher Peter Singer managed to upset a lot of people when he proposed, in a 2001 article, Heavy Petting, that zoosexual activity is not necessarily abusive and should not be automatically illegal. If such activities result in harm to the animal, he said, they should remain illegal, but he argued that "sex with animals does not always involve cruelty."

Other animal rights ethicists don't see it that way, and I'd agree with Tom Regan, who writes in Animal Rights, Human Wrongs that Singer's utilitarian philosophy leads him to take a number of wrong positions and that it cannot be right to have sex with an unconsenting animal of any kind.

Coming at it simply from the point of view of the victims, I'd have to say that I'd rather be at the mercy of the farmhand in Florida than at the mercy of those museum board members.

When asked about his views on "The Colbert Report" (December 2006), Singer told Colbert that while sex between species is not normal or natural, it does not transgress our status as human beings. After all, he explained, we human beings are animals, too. Specifically, "we are great apes."

And that probably takes us to the heart of what this whole issue is really about. It's not really about abuse of animals; it's about upholding our status as human beings.

Killing two mules and putting them on display in a museum demonstrates our superiority over other animals. So does killing them and eating them, putting them in zoos and circuses, and conducting medical experiments on them.

But having sex with other animals – more specifically, being able to have sex with other animals – demonstrates that we, too, are animals.

And to reveal one's own animal nature in this way is to transgress a sacred, but desperately fragile, human belief system. 


Museum in Texas Kills Mules for an Exhibit

When the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, TX, wanted a diorama that would illustrate how mules have played a part in agriculture, they could have made a fiberglass model.

Instead, they bought two mules, killed them, and had them stuffed. The museum said they'd looked at other options:

After an exhaustive but fruitless search for preserved, exhibit-quality animals, one of our board members learned that an area horse and mule trader had purchased a pair of mules that would fit our needs. According to the owner, the animals had reached the advanced ages of about 28 and 32, respectively, and were no longer sound or strong enough for normal use.

The two mules they killed must have been delighted to know they were "exhibit quality" and that they'd be giving up their lives so that they would serve some higher purpose. As the museum board put it:

"The reason that you use a real animal is to most accurately show the way the activity was done at the time. A fiberglass replica just doesn't convey the same message."

Executive Director Lacee Hoeltling explained that when mules like these have reached the end of their working life, they are generally sent to Mexico to be turned into dog food.

"When we can find animals that were scheduled to be destroyed anyway and then immortalize them in an exhibit we can really show their importance in the development of agriculture."

But while these two mules may no longer have been "useful" to some rancher, their quality of life was far from over. The museum board repeated that they were looking for "exhibit-quality" animals, which doesn't sound like some poor creature who's on her last legs.

One person who works with rescued mules had offered to give these animals a home herself.

"I said please don't do this, you know there's got to be a better way. I can give them a home," Ramona Foxworth of Gypsy Heart Rescue told local media. "They could have lived out the end of their days under an apple tree which is probably what they deserved anyway."

To which the museum simply replied: "Our board did consider the use of fiberglass replicas but were advised that the impact of the exhibit would be substantially diminished."

Well, they've certainly managed to make an impact. But what's been seriously diminished is not the exhibit but the lives of two gentle creatures and the moral standing of these dreadful people.