Animal husbandry

Agitation for the lifting of the ban on bestiality has scarcely begun but it is safe to say that it is an idea whose hour will surely come, and soon.

The basic intellectual spadework has been done. The ludicrous notion, ingrained by centuries of superstition, that there is some essential difference between humans and animals, cannot of course withstand a moment’s scrutiny. What else is evolution but the recognition of the essential sameness of life in all its forms?

Of course the terminology of the theory needs cleaning up. The very word suggests some upward direction, as if man were the intended culmination of the process. Intelligent design? But of course man is an accident like any other species; differences are only skin or fur deep. What after all distinguishes an amoeba from Albert Einstein? No more than the difference between a tent and the Empire State building.

Barnyard jokes about sheep and sly references to ladies and their lap dogs send a tremor of disgust through the enlightened. Why must we denigrate things which are potentially ennobling?

The recent much photographed wedding of Ellen DeGeneres – surely a campy stage name – and her partner has been a tremendous breakthrough. Who has not thrilled to that white-clad couple smiling radiantly at America, including us all in this historic cultural breakthrough? There are hang-ups to be overcome of course. I heard a rustic from Iowa ask, “But what do they do?” I suggested that he keep a sharper eye on his herd of cows and he might learn a thing or two, but silly as the question seems, it deserves a serious answer, and it is this. Ellen and her beloved provide venereal pleasure to one another by any means they choose. What else is marriage?

That this glorious event took place within the octave of the fortieth anniversary of the benighted encyclical Humanae Vitae, a document that even Catholics have long since dismissed, is significant. Reading this incredible effort to call into question the legitimacy of contraception (!) is not without its rewards. Paul VI spoke of two meanings of the “marital act,” one unitive, the other procreative, and declared that there is something wrong about separating them.

Where to begin to explode such nonsense? No doubt there is a specious plausibility to the suggestion that the reproductive organs have something to do with reproduction, but again this is merely a matter of terminology and easily corrected. Sexual organs are the source of sexual pleasure. Is that too difficult to grasp? The “gender” of the partners introduces no important difference. The fact that there is no essential need for a partner makes this even clearer. One can give oneself one’s hand in marriage, nicht wahr?

In any case, same-sex marriage is now an established fact in advanced societies. And it is this that heartens those who want to push on to overcoming superstitions about bestiality. Their case is crystal clear.

Marriage is the provision of mutual venereal pleasure. Both animals and humans are capable of venereal pleasure and capable of providing it to one another. For them to do so constitutes marriage in any defensible sense of the term. There is, then, no intellectual obstacle to the union of man and beast.

The difficulty, as always in cultural breakthroughs, lies in the myths and obfuscations of the past. The taboo against cross-species romance is deeply ingrained, but this is merely the result of social conditioning. The remedy is counter-conditioning. And it is fortunate that there is another tradition that runs as deep. Proponents of lifting the ban on bestiality are collecting testimonials from the owners of pets who are notorious for recognizing a fundamental affinity with their cats and dogs and parakeets. The time has come to bring such affection out of the shadows. Here too is a love that dare not speak its name.

The Messalina Project ( [no longer extant]) will include bumper stickers. Have you hugged a bear today? Stop curbing your dog. Bareback riding is fun. None of these is quite what one wants, but we can confidently look forward to ever more effective ways to sweep away the prejudices of the past and open the way to widespread bestiality.

Inquiring minds will ask if this is the ultimate step and the answer of course is no. Vegetarians of the future will look back in horror at their predecessors who devoted themselves to the consumption of perfectly harmless vegetables. A moment’s reflection on the great chain of life indicates how barbaric this is. Research is well under way to provide artificial sustenance that can be injected or provided by IV. Vegetables of the future will not have to live in dread of human predators.

Then other vistas open. Who cannot imagine an awkward young man arriving at the marriage license bureau with his clinging vine?

Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) was a writer of philosophy, fiction, and cultural criticism, who taught at Notre Dame from 1955 until his death in 2010. He was among the founding contributors to The Catholic Thing.