Would you have sex with an alien?
A clever quiz question exposes an important ideological divide
Online quizzes that try to place you on a political spectrum are fun, but also frustrating. Biased and badly-worded questions can make it impossible to provide meaningful answers.
A new quiz is currently doing the rounds which does a pretty good job of avoiding these pitfalls. Tens of thousands of people have already had a go.
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There’s been a lot of chat on social media too, mostly about Question 33 — which, like the rest, is a statement to which one may express agreement or disagreement. It is: “I would have sex with an attractive alien”.
If this was intended as an attention-grabber, then it certainly worked. Obviously, it’s a hypothetical question and, some might say, a silly one. And yet it’s really quite clever. It collapses, into one lurid scenario, an important ideological divide — between those who base their ethical judgements on liberal morality alone and those who still heed older, deeper moral instincts.
Liberal morality is primarily concerned with individual autonomy. Very crudely, it can be summed-up as: “if it makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt anyone else, then what’s the problem?” The immediate problem, of course, is that the desires of different individuals come into conflict — hence the philosophical effort to construct frameworks to adjudicate between competing claims. However, liberalism is also challenged by other systems of morality — whether political, traditional or religious — that hold to alternative or additional ethical standards.
The Moral Foundations theory developed by Jonathan Haidt and colleagues is all about this challenge. Their research shows how conservatives aren’t just motivated by the care and fairness concerns that are central to the liberal worldview, but also care about things like loyalty, authority and sanctity.
Which brings us back to Question 33. If one modifies the statement to read “I would have sex with an attractive animal”, the overwhelming majority of liberals and conservatives alike would be united in strong disagreement — and not just because they’re not themselves attracted to animals. Their yuck reaction would go much further — regarding bestiality as morally wrong regardless of sexual proclivity.
If they had to philosophically justify their revulsion, the liberals would probably say something about consent — animals being unable to give it. The conservatives, however, might point out that animals don’t consent to being killed and eaten; therefore, if eating meat is morally acceptable, then the taboo against bestiality must be based on something else — a moral imperative that goes beyond the issues of individual rights and autonomy.
This is why the question about the attractive alien is such a clever and revealing one. The alien is presumably sentient and therefore able to give his/her/its consent; but, like an animal, is of a different species — having sex with him/her/it would therefore cross a line. While liberals would regard discomfort with such transgression as irrelevant, or perhaps evidence of bigotry, conservatives would see it as both relevant and legitimate.
Some conservatives might argue that our yuck reactions are an important cultural or evolutionary phenomenon that we shouldn’t casually dismiss. Indeed, they may well serve an important purpose. Other conservatives look to metaphysical explanations — perhaps with reference to a divinely created order. Either way, it is clear that as individuals and societies human beings have moral instincts that liberalism has no good explanation for.
Opposition to sex with aliens may not be the most pressing of political issues, but there are other moral instincts — feelings of patriotism, for instance — where liberal disregard (and disrespect) have done great harm. To ignore — or suppress — things that our fellow humans really care about is to make ourselves aliens to one another. Albeit unattractive ones.
We’re told to assume the alien is attractive – the one in the photo isn’t that, at least not to my (doubtless narrow) tastes. But why does the writer presuppose that the alien is an ‘animal’? From my recollection of Captain James T Kirk’s adventures, he had quite a lot of success with beautiful aliens of decidedly human form (or did I dream that?) Puts me in mind of Alan Partridge’s reaction to Bangkok ladyboys: ‘I don’t find them attractive, it’s just confusing’.
If you’d illustrated this article with an image of the blonde alien from Battlestar Galactica it would have made your point better.
It would be interesting to know whether women and men respond differently to this question.
I found this very interesting. The issues arising from the quiz question are well laid out by Mr Franklin. I followed the link, tried the quizz, and got a result far closer than any other quiz to the way I think.
The way the article distinguishes between liberal and conservative thought is persuasive in most respects. For example, Mr Franklin is right in the following, crudely broad-brush as it is:
Liberal morality is primarily concerned with individual autonomy. Very crudely, it can be summed-up as: “if it makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt anyone else, then what’s the problem?”
This is exactly what I was taught in the early 1950s; but then my family was, as a fellow-Christian friend put it, “New Age before the New Age had even started.”
The trouble is that these old labels of opposites ” left and right, liberal and conservative ” have lost most of their relevance. For example, I felt that the quiz was right to place me only just into the right side on the Left”“Right scale, but well into the conservative area on the Conservative”“Woke scale. That reflects a political and social position that I have found quite common among Christians ” a tendency towards social conservatism, but with strong inclinations towards a liberal view of economics and some areas social policy. But even there, the inclination is far more towards classic liberalism than towards woke’s faux-liberalism.
In this world where old boundaries seem to have become blurred, Mr Franklin is right that the question about having sex with an alien is especially clever, subtle and revealing. But the discussion in these UnHerd comments and in many other places shows that the conservative tendency to answer “No” is based on matters even more fundamental than those outlined in Mr Franklin’s article.
The widespread attention given to the philosophies of Peter Singer, the widespread adoption of veganism, and the growth of cancel culture, are just three outworkings of woke liberalism’s presuppositions that the world and human nature are mendable via human effort.
The conservative position is different at the most fundamental level. It tends to accept that the word and human nature need mending, but it also accepts that human nature cannot cure itself. The degree of melioration conservatives believe should be attempted, or even will care enough for them to attempt, can vary widely. That is one of the sources of the hatred found in woke liberalism for conservative stances of almost any kind. Because conservatism is essentially pragmatic, woke liberals tend to see it as unprincipled, as fundamentally opposed to modern liberalism’s black-and-white vision of perfectibility.
As sex is fundamentally about procreation, then a key piece of information for somebody applying a more traditional or classical moral framework would be whether the union could be considered of a general type capable of producing children (e.g Vulcan – human relationships in Star Trek).
I was thinking the same thing – in Doctor Who, Susan Foreman (a Gallifreyan, the Doctor’s granddaughter) leaves the TARDIS to marry a human being, while Leela (a human being) leaves the TARDIS to marry a Gallifreyan. Although we are not told (in the original TV series; spin-offs may have explored it) whether either couple has children, it’s never suggested that not being able to do so is an obstacle to these unions, so we may assume that humans and Gallifreyans are interfertile.
Of course, other questions about the compatibility of humans and aliens also might come to the fore. Gallifreyans live much longer than humans, so poor Susan is likely destined to premature widowhood. I understand that the spin-offs clarify that Leela, settling on Gallifrey, had her life span artificially extended so as not to leave her husband a widower at an early stage.
My reaction tool. What about Mr. Spock, the product of a human and a Vulcan? Who objects to that, conservative or liberal?
There is also the issue of what one considers attractive, just saying that they are evades the issue.
These days the “woke” demands everyone be considered attractive, or else you are racist, lookist, body shaming, ableist, transphobic, etc.
I suspect attraction would have more to do with how human the alien looks. A Vulcan looks quite human.
I also know extreme liberals who consider brother-sister incest quite ok since it is consensual between equals, and the taboo against it another prejudice…
The Ptolemaic (Macedonian) Dynasty of Egypt was rather keen on incest during its two hundred and seventy five year rule, without, it must be said, too many disasters.
The final member, Cleopatra seems to have been an extremely talented woman, in more ways than one.
I always thought love had something to do with it
In the words of Tina Turner,
“What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion” 🙂
Well obvs I wouldn’t want to have sex with a violent and abusive alien ( or Ike for that matter)
Not being intellectuals prone to overthinking things, my friends and I started with Deanna Troi – an obvious Yes – but considered the discussion closed at Jadzia Dax – case closed. This is, of course, a male viewpoint and we are apparently visual creatures, but the question did stipulate “attractive.”
Another aspect is that, as a male, my interaction with said attractive alien (visions of Jadzia) is probably risk-free. A female worried about conception might take a different stance no matter her political inclinations.
If the alien is so biologically similar that conception is possible, then that’s not an alien.
Well done for not falling into obvious trap of forgetting that Seven of Nine was in fact human.
Depends which film star was playing her.
Ya kinda lost me at “” regarding bestiality as morally wrong regardless of sexual proclivity.”
Who’s to say that ‘aliens’ would be ‘beasts’?
An ugly alien who drooled would not turn me on.
A rapidly increasing number of liberals would disagree that eating meat is morally acceptable, wouldn’t they? See Peter Singer’s writings on the ethics of eating meat and also the rapidly increasing trend of veganism, especially in liberal hubs, like Cambridge and London.
Where an inconsistency remains, it is not an inconsistency within the liberal framework so much as an inconsistency in the application of the liberal framework. Similar to the way liberals took the side of the Southern states in the US Civil War, rather than recognise the bigger issue was freedom for the slaves (and not sovereignty for the South).
Also similar to the flood of recent articles on this website attempting to deploy the liberal lens against an ill-defined wokism, rather than recognise the bigger issue for liberalism: the legitimate grievances of the BLM movement, the Trump administration’s response, the militarisation of US police, the widespread attacks on journalists and protestors. These should have been the focus for liberals, but no. Apparently, a fraction of JK Rowling’s 15 million Twitter followers exercising their right to reply and disagree constitutes an attack on free speech!
It isn’t fans “exercising their right to reply and disagree” that is the problem, on the contrary, it is the impulse to “cancel” and label the “offender”as persona non grata, trying to prevent her from publishing, trying to get people fired, etc., rather than just replying, rebutting, or just ignoring them, that is the problem. But you knew that.
Your first paragraph is correct, though. Not sure what you mean in the second.
“Similar to the way liberals took the side of the Southern states in the US Civil War, rather than recognise the bigger issue was freedom for the slaves (and not sovereignty for the South).” Of course, even Abraham Lincoln (a convinced abolitionist) appears to have thought that the biggest issue was the preservation of the Union. Here he is, responding to Horace Greeley in 1862:
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
I’ve often wondered how the later history of America might have looked, had the occupant of the White House taken the opposite tack: defeating the southern states militarily in order to expel them from the Union, while offering safe passage to the North and automatic citizenship to every black citizen of the South. Of course, this would have destroyed the southern economy, and serve ’em right!
A perfect opportunity was lost in 1814, with the conclusion of the so called War of 1812.
Had we continued the war, we stood a very good chance of destroying the nascent USA and slavery with it, but the opportunity was lost.
Wellington, an ‘India man’ wasn’t keen
and the electorate were fed up with the cost of more than twenty years of war with France, and the homicidal Corsican pygmy.
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