Psychology is full of wholesome fun. One particular experiment from the University of Virginia asked a group of students some hardcore moral questions. The one that stumped most people was this: Is it immoral to let a dog willingly lick your genitals while you masturbate? Many answered yes, but became morally dumbfounded when asked to explain why.
Let’s imagine you spread a little jam on your lower parts. Or quince paste if you’re a hipster. You close your eyes. The dog does its thing. You do your thing. Assuming this is not bestiality by sexualising the dog, from any universal moral standard, no force or suffering is taking place. Hey, the dog even gets a treat.
Now listen. Yes this is gross. Yes this is uncomfortable. But immoral? Every fibre of my being wants to say yes but I’m yet to hear a convincing argument to justify that answer. Many still declare that it doesn’t need an argument for being immoral, ‘it just is’. In my view, that’s not a helpful approach to morality; right and wrong would then become arbitrary.
What distracts us from the essential moral question in the dog example, I think, is a ‘yuck factor’. This is a mental reflex reaction that makes it hard for us to rationalise a situation. The reason I think it is important to be aware of this reflex is because it has implications for more relevant issues. Yuck doesn’t automatically equal wrong, so we can’t just trust our gut feelings.
Many people still think gay sex is immoral, or furthermore, gay marriage. As exciting as it is for our dear homo friends in New York that gay marriage just became legal there, the legislation only passed by 3% of votes. This says to me that the yuck factor still lingers with some, despite the fact that most of the legislators were objective enough to acknowledge the need for equal rights. If you asked those opposed to the legalisation why gay marriage is wrong, if not a religious answer, some might say that the idea makes them uncomfortable or ‘it just is’.
I’m not suggesting that we would be better at answering moral question if we just let a few more dogs lick our balls. I’m trying to highlight that morality is best established objectively, not on what makes us personally uncomfortable. Logic and rationality can be compromised when the yuck factor gets in the way.
P.S. I’ve never had a dog.