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Opening Arguments

Brainless tolerance

If this isn't the most disturbing thing you've read this week, you may already be suffering from pathological nonjudgmentalism:

I have a very 2014 question for you: How would you respond if you found out that a man living down the street regularly has sexual intercourse with a horse?

Would you be morally disgusted? Consider him and his behavior an abomination? Turn him in to the police? (This would be an option in the roughly three-quarters of states that — for now — treat bestiality as a felony or misdemeanor.)

Or would you perhaps suppress your gag reflex and try hard to be tolerant, liberal, affirming, supportive? Maybe you'd even utter the slogan that deserves to be emblazoned over our age as its all-purpose motto and mantra: Who am I to judge?

Thanks to New York magazine, which recently ran a completely nonjudgmental 6,200-word interview with a "zoophile" who regularly enjoys sex with a mare — unironic headline: "What it's like to date a horse" — these questions have been much on my mind.

They should be on yours, too.

Because this is a very big deal, in cultural and moral terms.

No, not the fact of bestiality, which (like incest) has always been with us, but the fact of an acclaimed, mainstream publication treating it as a matter of complete moral indifference.

You've heard people described as having such an open mind their brains might fall out. I'm beginning to wonder if our whole society hasn't reached that level of brainless tolerance. "Who am I to judge?" may be looked back on as the harbinger of civilizaion's collapse.

The author argues, rightly, I think, that we are in the middle of a great experiment, unprecedented in history, to test what happens when a culture systematically purges all publicly affirmed standards of human flourishing, virtue and vice, elevation and degradation. And the "trads," as he calls conservatives aghast at the situation, are wrong to complain about "galloping toward Gomorrah."

This implies that they know exactly where the experiment is going to end up. The truth is that they — and we — have no idea at all. Because there has never been a human society built exclusively on a morality of rights (individual consent) and an ethic of niceness, with no overarching vision of a higher human good to override or compete with it.

"Live and let live" is fine, up to a point; it allows us all to pursue our own paths in peace as long as we aren't hurting others. But is seems reasonable to worry about what happens when we reach that point then go beyond it. Anybody think we haven't done that yet?

Very thought-provoking article, highly recommened.