Prostitution, Polygamy, Incest and Bestiality. I would argue that all of them should be legal. That is for the same reason that the state has very little interest controlling what people do in their own private lives in their own bedrooms unless it directly and negatively affects other people in a tangible way.
I’m not convinced that any of those particular items, whether it’s bestiality, polygamy, incest do have that affect on consenting adults or between human beings, or animals where consent is not really a meaningful question.
I think you have to assess each of these phenomena on its own terms, though. And I’ve written fairly extensively on each. I think the concerns about polygamy are structural. While it is entirely not my concern if people want to have three or four wives, or 30 or 40 husbands – some cultures they do, and those cultures survive quite well.
My one concern would be, for example, the person who decides they’re going to have 40 wives and will let social Security pay benefits to all of them after their demise. And we have to set up a system to balance the rights of people to marry who and however many people they choose with one that controls funding of this in a way so that the rest of society can function.
In the same manner, while I think bestiality, per se, should be legal, I think there may be forms of bestiality that transcends into animal cruelty and there the government might want to step in. I think the important distinction to make is, it is not inherently clear that sex between animals and humans is unpleasurable for the animals, and in fact there are documented cases where clearly it is the opposite.
There is a man who, off the coast of England masturbates with the Dolphins. Not something I would particularly choose to do, but he seems to find it fulfilling. And we know the Dolphins find it fulfilling because they keep coming back for more. I think you’re hard pressed to argue that this is fundamentally unethical. People talk about animals not being able to consent. Your dog can’t consent when you play Frisbee with it either. Nobody evaluates the question in that term.
Prostitution, we often hear the objection here is this leads to vice, this leads to crime, and we’d be undermining the social fabric of the community. In places that have legalized or decriminalize prostitution – Amsterdam comes to mind, Sweden comes to mind – crime rates have actually gone down. The prostitutes, rather than being victims, can lead stable middle-class lives and they are protected.
The objections to all of these phenomena are really not what people say they are. People say they are concerned about the welfare of the individuals, but what they are really interested in doing is imposing their own social values, or their own religious values on other people. And that’s what really concerns me.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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