Sunday, April 18, 2010

Legislating morality


My sleepy little village has been in the news lately (google Sumner and donkey) and while I've been doing my best to lay low, a number of people have called and asked me to comment on the recent events. It seems that my forthright views on the right for parliament to legislate morality have been remembered from the dark and distant past. I have declined the opportunity to share those views in the wider media (who wants to be known as the animal sex lady?) but for those who care about the rights of every oppressed individual or group of people here are the risks as I see them of continuing to have a law that prohibits sexual acts between animals and people.

To set the scene, imagine this. It is the Civil Liberties class of 1997 and we are grappling with the issue of balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of the state and of community interest. Young, sharp minds, excited to be away from home, take up arms against the perceived interference of the state and almost without exception everyone agrees that the state should have very little to say about how people spend their spare time in the privacy of their own homes. Provided there is no physical harm to others, this room full of tomorrow's leaders would loosen restrictions on pornography, allow unfettered access to recreational drugs and remove the hate speech restrictions on freedom of expression. The prevailing view was that parliament shouldn't legislate morality. Healthcare and roading = good. Dictating what you could and couldn't do on a Friday night = bad.

And so I presented a compelling case for the decriminalisation of having sex with animals. There are no valid reasons for these acts to be illegal. Lack of consent? Often the animals do consent and we certainly don't ask their permission before we kill them and eat them. They might prefer to be sex slaves than tomorrow night's dinner. Cruelty? The existing laws are sufficient to deal with anyone who hurts an animal. Indecency laws cover those who like to be seen out and about. What about the fact that it's really gross? That's the best point my classmates could come up with. 'We think it's sick and should therefore be illegal'. The class were adamant that bestiality should remain a criminal offence because it was such perverted behaviour. I felt very clever. I had tricked them into exposing the fallacy of their liberal views. My classmates could not see that many freedoms we now take for granted had in their time been thought perverse. Women vote? Maori play rugby in South Africa? Gay kindy teachers? The class were certain that parliament shouldn't legislate morality - but only when it suited their moral compass. I had won the argument hands-down. I firmly believed back in 1997 that parliament should legislate morality. Banning sex with animals was a great idea. If parliament also banned sex for the first three months after childbirth that would be okay with me too. In fact, after 10pm, anytime my mother is visiting, whenever I'm reading a good book.....politicians ought to be servants of the prevailing wisdom of the times.

But now I realise I was wrong. After years of listening to Winston Peters and George W. Bush you realise the awful truth about democracy. The system is inherently flawed because everyone gets a vote. Even morons. I'm not the first to notice this. But knowing that bigoted, red-neck, women-hating, homophobes can provide a mandate to a government to turn back the clock on the hard fought concessions that have essentially disseminated power away from white, middle-class men - well, that's a much scarier thought than the idea that someone, somewhere is expressing their animal instincts differently to the way you and I might choose to express ours. In New Zealand we have no written constitution that guarantees equality under the law, our Bill of Rights can be legislated into oblivion by the government of the day, and so if there is a trend to leave matters of morality up to an individual, I'm all for it.

In the Netherlands, that bizarre mix of totally conservative regions with the capital for the 'free world' smack in the middle, sex with animals that causes no harm has been legal for years. In February this year this freedom has been overturned. While that sits fine with my personal views on the matter I'm nervous about other inroads they may seek to make. Islamic rule shows only too clearly how the insidious creep of state intervention in private affairs can destroy societies.

I know there are no easy answers, and most of us wouldn't want our children to become zoophiles but consider the much greater harm caused by legal activities - smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol (there's no law against getting absolutely smashed), gambling, overeating, free credit card offers, and ask yourself whether we might not be criminalising the wrong things.

What does this have to do with cancer? Nothing, but the fact that I've got the energy to explore this topic once more, and the presence of pimples on my face, means that mentally and physically, I'm on my way back. Look out.


Anonymous said...

Man, you, Lula and the rest! Once again us white middle class men get it in the neck ;). Wonderful piece Sach. Wasn't aware the rules in NL had changed (I don't read so much... but it seems the image of a guy romancing a goat in front of a stalled NS passenger train has not yet left the dutch collective memory...), but having moved to the Steppes I'm no longer exposed (..) - any idea re the Kazakh take on this? (cue borat jokes)

Anonymous said...

Contemporary secularism espouses the view that 'morality' is only relative to any given situation. Good and evil are in the eye of the beholder, there is no higher moral authority than the state. Conscience, shame, guilt are dispositions of our Judea-Christian heritage and we'll have none of it. Being a slightly more evolved species than apes, the strongest of the species rule. So bestiality is cool. Whoever is the most dominant can shag a sheep or bonk a donkey as long as they don't hurt them. Having dispensed with this higher moral authority rubbish, does this give pedophiles a moral licence as long as they don't hurt children? Ok - so there is a difference between contact with animals and humans. Maybe it's because humans are moral beings after all and codes of conduct exist whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. Animals are governed by instinct and not by some kind of external or internal moral code. As long as morality exists, then moral codes of conduct also exist, just depends on who defines them. Higher infinite authority or a lower finite authority e.g the State. As individuals and as a society we walk a fine line between form and freedom and how we behave collectively will ultimate define whose authority we end up choosing to serve. Who knows, maybe some time in the future there will be those protesting the right to legally marry their pets.