Longstanding social norms on matters like gay rights are no longer presumed to be correct. For better and worse, our current era requires actual reasoned debate.
As surely as the sun rises and sets and the waves crash and recede, gay-rights advocates insist that laws against sodomy and same-sex marriage unjustly transgress against liberty, and a subset of social conservatives invariably respond with hypotheticals about the practice of bestiality. Relations with animals comes up less frequently in mass media than they once did. But it's hardly unusual, even now, to hear some version of this argument: If the Constitution really forbade us from restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, if justice really militated against outlawing sodomy, under what authority could we stop people from marrying or having sex with their dogs?
In Rod Dreher's writing on same-sex marriage, the arguments "against" are generally far more sophisticated and free of bigotry. I mention his name here because he's drawn the attention of his loyal readers, myself among them, to an unusual court case involving a man and his affection for a mini-donkey. It is, he quips, "on the vanguard of the fight for sexual liberation and autonomy."
Lawyers representing a
Marion County man accused of sexual activity with a miniature donkey
have filed a motion asking a judge to declare the Florida statute
banning sexual activities with animals unconstitutional. Carlos R. Romero, 32,
declared last week that he wanted to take his case to trial. He is
accused of sexual activities involving animals, a first-degree
misdemeanor, after he allegedly was found in a compromising position in
August with a female miniature donkey named Doodle .... The attorneys claim that the
statute deprives Romero of his "personal liberty and autonomy when it
comes to private intimate activities."
... The attorneys add that the
statute doesn't require that the state prove any harm or injury to the
animal "or any proof of the sexual activity being non-consensual. Therefore,
the only possible rational basis for the statute is a moral objection
to sexual acts considered deviant or downright 'disgusting,'" they
wrote. Using religion or
the overall consensus of the public that sexual activity with an animal
is wrong as the basis of a law is unjustified and bars Romero's personal
liberties, the attorneys argued.
personal morals of the majority, whether based on religion or
traditions, cannot be used as a reason to deprive a person of their
personal liberties," the attorneys wrote. "If the statute were to
require sexual conduct with animals to be nonconsensual or to cause
injury in order to be a crime, then perhaps the State would have a
rational basis and legitimate state interest in enforcement."
Now, why does the state have the right to tell young Romero that he
may not pleasure himself in the presence of his miniature donkey? It
appears that he never actually violated Doodle's, uh, person: "Romero admitted that he gets sexually aroused around
animals more so than humans and allegedly masturbated with Doodle in his
room. He claimed that he would have had sex with the miniature donkey
eventually, but that she wasn't ready and was 'blooming into maturity.'" The stable swain never laid a hand on that donkey, yet the state is prosecuting him for his amour impropre.
According to liberal and libertarian ideas of sexual autonomy and the
law, why should Romero and Doodle's outlaw love be illegal?
The defendant's own attorney all but provided the answer. "If the statute were to require sexual conduct with animals to be nonconsensual or to cause injury in order to be a crime," he noted, "then perhaps the State would have a rational basis and legitimate state interest in enforcement." I'd insist, along with a lot of libertarians, that any sex with animals is in fact nonconsensual, and that outlawing it should be entirely unobjectionable to right-thinking liberals and libertarians. (I'd add that if self-pleasure in the mere presence of animals is a crime, we'd better start building prisons to house all the dog and cat owners whose pets witness their otherwise private moments.)
It seems to me that Dreher isn't really troubled by an inability to come up with a rational argument for outlawing bestiality so much as he's troubled by the notion that doing so is now necessary. I may be presuming too much. But whatever his individual feelings, his reaction here reminds me of all the people who argued, during the gay-marriage debate, that marriage just is between a man and a woman. The mere notion of being asked to provide any more argument troubled them. And in a way, I understand why. I imagine they feel the same way that I do sometimes when the subject of torture or killing innocents with drones come up in public discourse.
A part of me is troubled by the sudden need to offer rational arguments for propositions that, by my lights, ought to be settled. Forced to articulate my half-formed interior monologue, it might go something like this: For generations our social and legal norms have held torture to be self-evidently abhorrent, and now John Yoo comes along with his Dick Cheney-directed sophistries on executive power and his unapologetic testicle-crushing apologia! I fear for my country if questions as basic as "Is testicle crushing permissible?" are suddenly matters of partisan debate, for long-established norms on subjects like these, solidified over decades, are far better safeguards in any discrete historical moment than our ability to reach rational conclusions via national debate.
Of course, I simultaneously accept the reality that there's no escaping these arguments. Social norms are a bulwark against change, not a guarantee that it won't happen, and for good reason. All manner of terrible evils were once regarded as self-evident propositions. If social conservatives are to wield any influence at all in American culture, they'd do well to accept the fact that they no longer possess the clout to enforce their notions of what is right via mere norms. As liberals begin to shape norms in more areas, they might even find themselves regularly frustrated by antagonists who don't feel the need to answer critiques with reasoned arguments.
It can be hard to make the transition from assumption to argument.
Long before gay marriage became a mainstream cause, Andrew Sullivan debated the subject with conservative Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield, an exchange he revisited Thursday at The Dish:
At one point, Harvey simply said (I'm paraphrasing), "If we cannot disapprove of homosexuality, then what can we disapprove of?" The huge student crowd -- over a thousand in Sanders Theater -- audibly gasped. The assumption that homosexuality was obviously a profoundly immoral and disgusting thing was what separated the generations. I asked Harvey to make an argument that wasn't based on a mere assumption, that could show why non-procreative sex for a gay couple was somehow obviously abhorrent, while non-procreative sex for a straight couple was completely accepted (i.e. through contraception). He couldn't. And since that moment, I think it's fair to say, his position has softened a little.
In the space of a generation, homosexual acts were indeed transformed (in the eyes of mainstream culture) from abhorrent, disgusting acts of perversion to acts treated just like non-procreative straight sex. I've long been persuaded that the mainstreaming of homosexuality is a happy development indeed. I worry not at all that human-animal trysts and marriages are at the end of a slippery slope onto which we've stepped. But I am nevertheless capable of making persuasive arguments against sex with animals and all manner of other practices I regard as properly prohibited.
With all due respect, I insist that my practiced arguments are going to prove a far more effective safeguard than fretting social conservatives who keep insisting, though I can't believe they really think so, that Americans have moved beyond any rational arguments that would prevent widespread sexual relationships with dogs, goats, mini-donkeys, siblings, and who knows what else, to cite just one of the slippery slopes about which many of them say they worry.
All manner of social norms are eroding, and no doubt some of them are valuable. If we're to preserve even them, it is more urgent than ever to refine rational arguments for doing so. The fear that no such persuasive arguments remainis as self-defeating a notion as there is in politics today.
Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.
A rock structure, built deep underground, is one of the earliest hominin constructions ever found.
In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.
The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through. They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).
Washington voters handed Hillary Clinton a primary win, symbolically reversing the result of the state caucus where Bernie Sanders prevailed.
Washington voters delivered a bit of bad news for Bernie Sanders’s political revolution on Tuesday. Hillary Clinton won the state’s Democratic primary, symbolically reversing the outcome of the state’s Democratic caucus in March where Sanders prevailed as the victor. The primary result won’t count for much since delegates have already been awarded based on the caucus. (Sanders won 74 delegates, while Clinton won only 27.) But Clinton’s victory nevertheless puts Sanders in an awkward position.
Sanders has styled himself as a populist candidate intent on giving a voice to voters in a political system in which, as he describes it, party elites and wealthy special-interest groups exert too much control. As the primary election nears its end, Sanders has railed against Democratic leaders for unfairly intervening in the process, a claim he made in the aftermath of the contentious Nevada Democratic convention earlier this month. He has also criticized superdelegates—elected officials and party leaders who can support whichever candidate they chose—for effectively coronating Clinton.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Americans persist in thinking that Adam Smith's rules for free trade are the only legitimate ones. But today's fastest-growing economies are using a very different set of rules. Once, we knew them—knew them so well that we played by them, and won. Now we seem to have forgotten
IN Japan in the springtime of 1992 a trip to Hitotsubashi University, famous for its economics and business faculties, brought me unexpected good luck. Like
several other Japanese universities, Hitotsubashi is almost heartbreaking in
its cuteness. The road from the station to the main campus is lined with cherry
trees, and my feet stirred up little puffs of white petals. Students glided
along on their bicycles, looking as if they were enjoying the one stress-free
moment of their lives.
They probably were. In surveys huge majorities of students say that they study
"never" or "hardly at all" during their university careers. They had enough of
that in high school.
I had gone to Hitotsubashi to interview a professor who was making waves. Since
the end of the Second World War, Japanese diplomats and businessmen have acted
as if the American economy should be the model for Japan's own industrial
growth. Not only should Japanese industries try to catch up with America's lead
in technology and production but also the nation should evolve toward a
standard of economic maturity set by the United States. Where Japan's economy
differed from the American model—for instance, in close alliances between
corporations which U.S. antitrust laws would forbid—the difference should be
considered temporary, until Japan caught up.
The day—a celebration of corporate conformity disguised as a celebration of individuality—helped to bring about the current dominance of “business casual.”
The New York Times ran a story Wednesday announcing “The End of the Office Dress Code.” The suit and its varied strains, the article argues—corporate uniforms that celebrate, well, corporate uniformity—are giving way to more individualized interpretations of “office attire.” As the writer Vanessa Friedman puts it, “We live in a moment in which the notion of a uniform is increasingly out of fashion, at least when it comes to the implicit codes of professional and public life.”
It’s true. We live in a time in which our moguls dress in hoodies and t-shirts, and in which more and more workers are telecommuting—working not just from home, but from PJs. It’s a time, too, when the lines between “work” and “everything else” are increasingly—and sometimes frustratingly—fluid. And so: It’s also a time when many of us are trying to figure out, together, what “work clothes” actually means, and the extent to which the term might vary across professions. As Emma McClendon, who curated a new exhibit on uniforms for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, summed it up: “We are in a very murky period.”
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
What’s harder to believe: that it took a year for Andrea Constand to accuse the star of sexual assault, or that it’s taken 11 years and dozens more women coming forward for those accusations to be heard in court?
To date, more than 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct. Constand was the first. In January of 2005 she told police that a year earlier, Cosby had touched and penetrated her after drugging her. A prosecutor decided against proceeding with the case, and Constand followed up with a civil suit that resulted in a 2006 settlement. After that came an accelerating drip of women making allegations about incidents spanning a wide swath of Cosby’s career, from Kristina Ruehli (1965) to Chloe Goins (2008).
A Brexit advocate says U.S. support for the EU fundamentally misreads what the institution has become.
With less than a month until British citizens vote on whether the U.K. should stay in or leave the European Union, Americans could be forgiven for being preoccupied with their ownpoliticaldramas. Still, President Obama conspicuously weighed in on the British debate in April, writing in The Daily Telegraph “with the candour of a friend” that the vote’s outcome would be “of deep interest to the United States.” Specifically: “The U.S. and the world need your outsized influence to continue—in Europe.”
British voters themselves aren’t so convinced. Polls currently show the “Remain” side in the lead, but the outcome is by no means assured. Advocates of continued U.K. membership in the 28-member political and economic bloc have argued that exiting the organization would severely damage the British economy; diminish the U.K.’s international influence; and destabilize a European continent already wracked by a refugee crisis and economic problems. Those advocating for a so-called Brexit—the “Leave” camp—argue that it would liberate the U.K. from onerous regulations devised and enforced by non-representative foreign bodies based in Brussels. (EU bodies set policy for member states on, among other things, trade, agriculture, and some fiscal matters; member states generally retain control over their own foreign and defense policies. Britain specifically has negotiated the ability to opt out of certain EU-wide policies, particularly on immigration and further political integration.) With its sovereignty thus restored, the U.K. would be better able to handle its own economic, immigration, and other challenges.
Speculation about how Ramsay Bolton might die reveals the challenges of devising a cathartic TV death—and illuminates a larger issue facing the series.
Warning: Season 6 spoilers abound.
Ever since Ramsay Bolton revealed himself as Westeros’s villain-in-chief, Game of Thrones fans have wanted him dead. He first appeared in season three disguised as a Northern ally sent to help Theon Greyjoy but quickly turned out to be a lunatic whose appetite for cruelty only grew as the series progressed. (Last year, Atlantic readers voted him the actual worst character on television.) After several colorful and nauseating years of rape, torture, murder, and bad visual puns, speculation about the Bolton bastard’s looming death has reached its peak this sixth season. But “Will Ramsay die this season?” also gives way to a slightly more complicated question: “How should Ramsay die?”
While fish are disappearing from the oceans, squid, octopus, and cuttlefish populations have been rising since the 1960s. Why?
Every winter in Spencer Gulf, a large inlet intruding into Australia’s south coast, hundreds of thousands of giant cuttlefish gather to breed. They’re about the size and weight of a corgi, with ever-changing displays of shadow and colour rippling across their dynamic skins. At the height of the breeding season, these amorous, multi-armed, living rainbows can get so numerous that there’s one of them in every square meter of water.
But lately, these mating swarms have dwindled to a small fraction of their former glory, and no one knows why. Pollution, warming waters, and a dearth of prey are all possibilities. But Bronwyn Gillanders from the University of Adelaide suspected that the decline might just be part of a natural cycle, a downward trend stuck between upward ones. She couldn’t test that idea, since no one had any long-term data on giant cuttlefish numbers. But such data did exist for other cephalopods—octopuses, squid, and other species of cuttlefish. Gillanders’s team member Zoe Doubleday pulled it all together, by scouring earlier studies and contacting other scientists.