Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Steven Pinker's provocative screed against "conservative bioethics" has got me thinking, though perhaps not in a very serious way. (hat tip to our own Professor Rappaport.) Pinker damagingly quotes Leon Kass on one affront to human dignity:
Worst of all [Kass writes] from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street--even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat--displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.
Some people are really weird about eating. One of my best friends at Oxford would have sex with anything that moved, but would not endure my descriptions of escargot in a butter and garlic sauce, which he regarded as obscene. Not the snails either, but all that butter. Don't ask me. Melted butter may be indulgent, but it's a lot less icky in my view than sex with the usual representative of the minor nobility.
But that is not my point. My point rather is that as long as we are listing things that are inconsistent with human dignity, let us get a few other more important affronts than ice cream cone licking on the list. I intend to be candid here, so I advise the easily offended to stop reading and go back to your linguine in clam sauce (another offender) right now.
So then, to begin, Jack Nicholson running around without his shirt on is inconsistent with human dignity, as is showing one's manboobs generally. An ethical system that gives us some sort of argument to prohibit this sort of thing has something to be said for it, and this has to be weighed against Pinker's criticisms. Indeed, rare are the occasions when men should go around without their shirts on. If a man is buff, he is showing off, and if he isn't, he is affronting human dignity. Just by going to a place such as St. Bart's, you are taking risks with human dignity. Many years ago, when as an associate at a big law firm I thought I was making a lot of money, LWJ and I went to St. Bart's, a French island in the Caribbean where French people and some deluded Americans indulge in nude bathing. There were affronts to human dignity everywhere one turned practically. For example, old and presumably rich French men with their young and beautiful girlfriends, both on the beach, and both as naked as the considerably separate days on which they were born, and one of them affronting human dignity for all he was worth, which I hope for her sake was a lot. The wine there is really good though.
Many tattoos are affronts to human dignity.
I consider the goatee very often an affront to human dignity, especially if combined with a pickup truck. If you drive a pickup, please do not sport a goatee. Tattoos, goatees and pickup trucks together are a dangerous combination and almost certainly immoral.
Yammering vacantly on your cellphone within the hearing of others or while driving is an affront to human dignity. Locutions such as "I saw her at the mall and she was like so totally cute" are an affront to human dignity, especially if spoken on a cell phone.
I don't see what the big deal is with cats. Cats have feline dignity. I think the way they eat is fine. Kass needs to rethink his position on how cats eat.
Nearly everything gangsta is an affront to human dignity. Recently
my teenage boys and I ate at an In N Out burger in a poorer section of
San Diego. Some young gentlemen seated next to us were affecting a
gangsta style of dress and conversation. I asked my sons "So would you
say those guys are 'gansta'?" "Don't say that!" they hissed at me.
"What, 'gansta'?" I said. More wincing and hissing. "Yes, that!" I
was having so much fun I could barely stand it. If you want to see a
real gansta and get some really good food, check out Pete's BBQ on
Sports Arena. People of every sort eat there because the food is so
good. Do not make fun of the ganstas at
Pete Phil's BBQ, or you may find
your human dignity being affronted. Gangstas have human dignity and
you want to make sure you respect it. And their ho's too.