Why Not Have Sex With A Chicken?
A Mischievous Meditation on the Fowlness of Values
(Note 1 - An audio podcast version of this essay is available for paid subscribers. Writing that is imbued with a jocular and comical tone, such as pervades the current essay, may be significantly enhanced by the acoustic demonstration of the author’s tempo and emphases.)
(Note 2 - Today I am officially beginning a second Substack to focus on, or perhaps to quarantine, my new philosophical formulations of magical theory and praxis. You can find the introductory post here.)
Q: How do we get better at clarifying our own values?
This is an essential question.
It was sent in from someone in my recent course on “the occult”. We are not all interested in “magic,” of course, but most of us are interested in living a more magical life. That means that our various threads of embodied meaning can interweave in ways that give us an increased sense of agency in a world that we perceive as hypersalient, synchronistic, ancestral & deeply participatory. To move in this direction you need more clarity (and, later, I will argue that you also need more convergence) about your desires and values. Why? Because the better your compass can orient toward the North Pole, the more useful it becomes for navigation in general.
But you are thinking about the title of this article! How could the clarification and convergence of values possibly relate to having sex with chickens??? Well, consider the following attempt at comedy:
Tiger Woods claimed to be addicted to sex. That’s bullshit. These are hot women he was having sex with. If he was having sex with a dead chicken then I’d say, “Wow! This guy is ADDICTED to sex.”
Those playfully obscene remarks from the stand-up comedian Greg Rogell point toward a truth. Addiction is harder to distinguish when it is aligned with our personal or social values. It is much easier to see when it drives us into preposterous and clearly undesirable behaviors.
There is an informative polarity or tension between a positive social ideal and a ridiculously disgusting option. Sex with a dead chicken is not desirable. Sex even with a live chicken is not desirable. Does this seemingly inane fact conceal any useful information about its opposite? About our actual desires and values? Perhaps about the nature of value itself?
Let’s find out.
Biophilia means that you love life. Zoophilia means that you have sex with animals. That doesn’t seem right. In English, we normally call it bestiality. Oddly, the spelling of that term has the word “best” hidden inside it. It is clearly NOT the best. The English are sick.
Bestiality is both frowned upon & joked about. Many jokes have been made about my own Scottish ancestors — maudlin, damp, and whisky-drunk on the moonlit moors — engaging in grotesque attempts to “date rape” their sheep. Whether it was really happening or not, we feel quite entitled to make jokes about what it represents, namely: loneliness, sexual frustration, social isolation & people with deep-but-dubious feelings for animals. I say “people” but I mostly mean “men.” Not exclusively but mostly. I have been assured that it is okay to make fun of men because they do not really have feelings. And if they do, well, they have the wrong feelings…
Anyway: Don’t have sex with animals.
You heard it here first.
Modern human societies have a thing called “statutory rape” which means that we collectively count a sexual incident as rape even if both (or all the) people involved were willing. Their willingness does not matter because we think they are too sexually immature to enact their actual values. And perhaps sex with animals is inherently similar to statutory rape.
Maybe it does not matter whether your pig, your aardvark, or your ocelot seems to like it. That sounds reasonable. On the other hand, of course, human societies are weird about sex. Rightly or wrongly, we put it in a special category. We do not mind if you donate food or money to your local church but if you are donating sexual interactions then the authorities might need to get involved. This is interesting when it comes to animals. Most of us are pretty lenient about the fact that we torture, slaughter, and eat these poor creatures. That’s probably worse than sex. Copulation might be waaaaaaaaaaaay down on your ocelot’s list of atrocities.
If I was a pig I would probably rather get unceremoniously penetrated in the back of the swine pen than be shot in the face and ground up into sausage. When I was a young boy I had to shoot pigs in the face and grind them up into sausage. I lived on a farm. The pigs did not want to die. Cows were more ambivalent. It was hard for me to tell if they really cared about living as individuals. And as for the chickens? They did not even notice the distinction between life & death.
Chickens are sentient beings. In the wild, they do have families and do not have a pecking order. Our hearts should be open to them. Nonetheless, they are also stupid and funny from a primate’s perspective. That’s why I picked them for this article. We could just as easily be asking: Why not have sex with a chimpanzee? Or shark? Or horse?
When you are reading this article, please substitute any animal you like as long as it is gross. One time a friend showed me some videos of women seemingly being sexually penetrated by horses. She wanted to make the point that almost all this footage comes from Eastern Europe. No offense. The obscene underworld of the collective human psyche has its own special regions and dialects. Every institution abuses people in its own special way. I remember it looked very difficult to get a woman to get a horse inside her. It had a kind of wild insensitivity that reminded me of what it must have been like when people caught bears and tortured them into riding unicycles at the circus.
This all sounds bad. It is bad. And that’s good. We are building the emotional case for the use of vividly unpleasant things to help us clarify our values. Did you know that the famous author Graham Greene was so depressed when he was a child that he played Russian roulette? That’s where you put one bullet in a gun, spin the chamber and pull the trigger pointed at your head. He got lucky and did not die. Instead, he was launched into a peak experience that transformed his life. The awful possibility gave him clarity about his actual desire to live. Do not play Russian roulette but keep in mind that the examination of what you really do not want can clarify the direction and presence of what you do want.
But wait, Layman! (This is you talking.) Is there not some value in breaking social taboos like the Puritan emotional-moral rule about having sex with animals?
Admittedly I am not as much in favor of having sex with animals as you are, dear reader, but I certainly think there is some practical psychotechnology implied in the act of taboo violation. I will not deny it. The emancipation of developmental energy and the individuation of the Self from the uninspected ethnic and cultural assumptions of the “folk” is a venerable practice for trainee sages and artistic outsiders. Okay. But that’s a small number of people who are prepared in a special way. And they also still have to be careful.
Taboo violation is a bad art form to get involved in if you are depressed, traumatized or have an addictive personality. If — when the dark peak of the transgressive high wears off — you conclude that you must go further and more intensely in order to finally “breakthrough” into utter liberation, then you are on a self-narrowing track of diminishing returns that will stray, slowly or quickly, toward the nihilistic nullification of the soul.
By all means, though, let at least your imagination run wild (perhaps even as wild as the Great God Pan — pictured above with a goat) but do not assume that you can, through increasing acts of transgression, discover ever greater power & reality. Unlike the Greek gods, most of us do not want to have sex with animals. Especially chickens. In fact, the non-desire for sexual poultry is so glaringly obvious that almost no one ever articulates their reasons.
But what if we did articulate our reasons?
What if we made explicit to ourselves the logic of value that is implicitly embedded in our everyday avoidance of certain obviously undesirable scenarios?
If you come home to find that a foreign rocket has left scattered the body parts of your children across the front lawn, you may realize that you were always deeply committed to having their bodies in a particular arrangement. I hope that does not happen to you. But why are we not better at knowing, outside of tragedies, the self-clarifying values implied by our negative responses?
When I pensively fret that a crushed beer can & discarded potato chip bag have marred and scarred the visual perfection of the forest that I am walking through — why do I feel stuck in my suffering? Why do I not immediately grasp that this little misery is connected to the immanent presence of a meaningful positive quality? Why do I move not immediately and instinctively to recognize the clear and present obviousness of my appreciation for (and desire to protect) the clean, natural aesthetics of the park?
What would our lives be like if our feelings remembered to move much more rapidly from the foregrounded negative value to the implied background value (on which the negative evaluation depends)?
Perhaps if I speak your language — the language of bestiality — you will remember this shift more readily, you fiends!
II. THE ACTUAL REASONS WHY NOT
Okay, let’s get serious Why NOT have sex with a chicken? In fact, let’s get both serious and personal. Why do I (the author) not have sex with chickens? What’s your reasoning, Layman? Explain yourself! Here goes:
(A) Chickens have gross holes. Actually, they have just one gross hole called the cloaca. Sometimes called the “vent”. They use this orifice indiscriminately for feces, urine, sex & eggs. I subtly wince and experience a rolling wave of low-level revulsion, whenever I try to imagine copulating in that unwashed fecal nightmare of rough barnyard living. No doubt my doctor would recommend that I stop trying to imagine that. But look, I am not an OCD neat freak. I am not the enemy of the grotesque. Grossness has its appropriate role. I would even hazard a guess that our brains use a certain ratio of disgust-to-veneration to produce the hybrid experience that we refer to as “the transfiguring erotic allure of something in our perceptual field.”
We are aiming at a sweet spot between decency and indecency.
Seinfeld: I admire the hell out of her. You can’t have sex with someone you admire.
George: Where’s the depravity?
Seinfeld (agreeing sadly): No depravity.
So my problem here is not simply that chickens have gross holes but perhaps something a little more nuanced. The ratio is wrong. At any rate, chickens fall below a certain flexible range of gross-to-admirable that my own brain requires in order to perform the fascinating alchemical feat of achieving generalized arousal and its imaginal and perceptual coordinates. Below that threshold things are simply too fowl.
(B) Chickens are notably unwilling. I have noted it. That’s the proof. Yes, the legendary stuntman Gonzo on Jim Henson’s classic The Muppet Show appears to have been some kind of interspecies polygamist pervert with a deep attraction to those seemingly willing hens. Okay, but I never saw anything like that on the farm. In fact, as I write this, I am starting to suspect that chickens do not even want to have sex with other species. Maybe not even with other chickens. A lot of animal sex looks oddly like rape. Have you ever seen ducks doing it? It’s worrying.
I would have to catch the unwilling chicken and hold it down. Or possibly hypnotize it into quiescence. Yuck. I suppose I am reacting to an inadequately low supply of consent and mutuality. I would like to think my antipathy toward this is a sign of moral decency. (That’s probably what you should tell people about me.) However, it is also possible that I am simply too fragile to handle non-consensual bestiality. Too precious to sully my own privileged eros with the ickiness of an unpalatable power asymmetry.
Look at this picture of Gonzo staring lovingly into a chicken’s eyes. They used to indoctrinate children with this stuff.
(C) Unsatisfying communication. In the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke (later sampled in the 1990s Guns ‘n’ Roses song Civil War) the actor Strother Martin famously observes that, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” I feel the same way about chickens. We cannot get much across to each other. The amount of conscious and subconscious exchange is insufficient. Can a chicken speak to me in the language of embodied eros? Does it have inner informational riches to communicate with me? Not really.
Perhaps there is a deep well of existential profundity encoded in a chicken simply because it is a living being who is embedded within a cosmos of ineffable Becoming. However, that is also true of all other living beings and does not suggest any special reason to expect that a chicken and I will “get” each other. I need to get & be gotten. I find it highly unlikely that my organism will be able to communicate (to a hen) those various niceties of tempo, intent & bioenergetic flux that lead toward the establishment of a shared field of deepening intimacy and pleasure.
As a result, I would most likely be distracted during the sexual act by the sense of a yawning chasm of misunderstanding. The communication gap would be too stark.
(D) Chickens do not know how special I am. Perhaps not everyone needs to feel special all the time but, personally, I seem to have been raised with that expectation — at least when it comes to my most tender feelings of optimal flow.
I am not one of those folks who attend orgies or gangbangs. I do not place my phallus into anonymous “bathroom glory holes.” I am too selfish, too personal, too proud, for that kind of activity. And it is not that I have a strong moral stance, or sense of extreme squeamishness, about these things. People should explore and take risks in ways that entice them. Yet, for me, these things are dangerously generic.
For example, I am mostly indifferent to public advertising and allergic to election propaganda. “Issues” in the “news” often leave me unmoved because I am apparently expecting to receive a special, unique, and deeply personal communication about anything worth believing. Messages aimed at everyone do not seem to reach me. This is not a boast. It could be a serious character flaw. I am relatively unable to feel like an unspecified member of the public or a generic consumer citizen. My instinct is even to avoid large family events, ignore common advice & shrug off those people who wish to explain to me about “the people.”
So a chicken is even worse. This hen is not responding to me as a unique idiosyncratic being. If I feel my individuality at war even within niche communities of high-powered, leading-edge weirdos then imagine how intolerable it would be if I was treated as just a human being. Or even as some “random unspecified animal body” that just happens to be larger than a chicken.
No. I can’t get behind that.
(E) Social shunning is a real risk. It is not trivial to be shunned. Of course, we are not Medieval Catholics worried about symbolic excommunication and inquisitorial burnings but, still, who wants the hassle of being publically vilified, perhaps even imprisoned, as a chicken fucker? That is not a hill worth dying on.
In public, I wear clothing and even privately I avoid eating cats. These are not authentic personal conclusions. I did not ponder them into existence or decide them by experimentation. They are borrowed habits that I receive from my local cultural background.
Challenging cultural norms can be good but there must be a calculation of investment and reward. Such challenges are meant to improve my life — not to indefinitely increase the amount of obnoxious social interactions to which I am subjected. So sex with chickens is simply not something that “we” do & I am okay with that for some very practical social reasons.
(F) It could be physically dangerous. Now, admittedly, these dangers can be mitigated. A little cunning goes a long way. Some folks handle chickens on a daily basis! But if you have ever been scratched up by a foul, bacteria-infested hen’s claw or had an angry rooster scream while jumping suddenly toward your face, then you will take this risk seriously. Sex can be disorientingly intense and a little risky, okay, but it should not require a tetanus booster shot & stitches.
(G) It is a filthy scene, man. Not just the foul cloaca of the hen but also the general circumstances. Either I go out to the chicken coop to perform this awful deed or else I bring a chicken back to the bedroom. Both are bad options. The former fouls me by putting me, partially undressed and probably distracted, into an unkempt subhuman environment that is nowhere near as comfy, clean, and delightfully temperature-controlled as my bedroom. But bringing it back to the bedroom fouls my home and I will presumably be picking chicken shit and feathers out of my bedding for weeks!
(H) The last issue is sheer pleasure. Hedonic calculus. Sex with a chicken seems to promise minimal (at best) amounts of pleasure as a reward for all these inner, outer & social hardships.
A person who has never experienced any positive chemistry might, of course, jump at the chance to get just a tiny, adulterated drop of the Good Times. Unfortunately, I have had many happy events in my life. Therefore I have an indecently high set point for enjoyment. To perk my privileged interest, a situation would require a pretty competent and novel combination of appetite, skill, chemical resources, a quasi-sacred emotional context, a particular participation of attention, an artful oscillation between discipline and indulgence & more. So my guess is that — at least for me personally — the potential hedonic score resulting from ejaculating into a chicken is probably quite minimal.
The chicken and I are not going to enter into a complex and luxurious swoon of blissful mutual exploration. Dr. Wilhelm Reich would be frowning at us. The Neo-Tantric teachers would not be thrilled.
Advanced bio-electric conductivity? No. High levels of serotonin and dopamine? No. A variety of positions, intelligent touch & safe provocation? No. Transcendental ecstatic recognition of the Other as the Self? Unlikely.
Well, those are my answers. All THAT is why I do not have sex with a chicken. You’ll have to make your own list. But what does my list demonstrate about bringing background values into the foreground?
III. WHAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF ANTI-VALUES ?
Bad things & good things are reciprocally polarized but that does not mean that they are separated opposites. They are part of a single complex structure. For example, high and low use the same ruler. Hot and cold are measured on the same thermometer. Cold is simply a lesser but still positive amount of hotness. Even absolute zero on the Kelvin scale is still framed as a particular relationship to heat itself.
Even a negative evaluation is a location on a scale or gradient between positive and negative. And that scale includes its own highest possible positive evaluation. Even if you are very sad right now — that is still a certain degree of happiness. Even if you are disgusted by having sex with chickens, you are also in touch with your instinctive affirmation of less-disgusting sexuality.
The direction toward the South Pole immediately tells me which way is North. A North pole that currently exists and is implied by the magnetic field that is influencing my compass at this very moment. Expand this analogy and you will conclude that even in the depths of your despair, “God” is present. Even the act of doubting everything proves that you are in contact with the reality of validation — including the possibility of maximum validation. Thus Descartes asserted the proof of the Divine. I know that is an outlier interpretation of Descartes but, heck, we were already talking about sex with chickens. Give yourself permission to be intellectually outlandish. All your new discoveries are probably waiting in the outland.
All of this is to say that we typically ignore our implied positive values. We consign them to the relative background of our cognitive field even when they are currently active in our acts of evaluation. It simply requires that we relate differently to our negative evaluations.
There are many ways to think about how negative evaluations reveal underlying or background positive evaluations. When we are jealous of someone, we do not want them to have something. But when we are envious, then we WANT what they have. Or is that the other way around? Either way, you get the idea. Our telos of value, the orienting axis around which we can organize our inner coordination into outer actions, is exposed and clarified by a special way of paying attention to experiences of antipathy.
The gold is hidden in the muck of the chicken coop.
My own antipathy toward intimate physical contact with the unwashed cloaca of a barnyard hen should make it very obvious that I am pro-hygiene. At least to a certain degree. I am in relationship to the positive experience of a certain sweet spot or threshold of cleanliness. Likewise, looking back over my list of reasons not to copulate with chickens, I notice that I actually do value willingness, consent and mutuality. I do not just say that I do because that is socially useful and widely regarded as virtuous. I actually confirm to myself that I value it because of the very specifics of why I refuse sex with a chicken. I am also apparently in favor (or in need) of rich mutuality and responsive recognition. I want nuances to be conveyed. And I want my expressions of eros to provide plausibly high levels of psychophysical and chemical pleasure and leave me in situations where I have physical health and social ease.
These are not startling conclusions. Most people want these things. Most of the time, however, they are not in touch with the rational specifics of their values. Nor with the sheer valuableness of their values. It is quite useful to have your values be more clear and obvious. And it can be quite transformational to be able to feel the presence of positive value under the conditions that we react to negatively.
Every time that I recognize, with simplicity, my actual values, I get better at navigating back to the experience of value under all conditions. That means that I spend less time drifting. Less time wondering how or if I am connected to my values. Less time lamenting the distance between myself and my self-clarity.
But that is not the end of the story.
What if there was something more valuable than your values?
IV. THE VIRTUE OF CONVERGENT VALUES
“Thinkers,” whoever they are, often get in the habit of repeating little slogans of encoded insight. It is both lame & practical. On too many occasions, for example, I have opined that a virtue is a hybridization of two or more values.
Consider the following:
The virtue of being a good horserider involves holding on tightly — but not too tightly! Control and release must be mutually valued and coordinated.
I might value honesty in communication but if I do not also find a way to gracefully balance my statements in tandem with the value of your good feelings, then we will not have “excellent” conversations.
A martyr dies and a sociopath never really lives. So an actual virtuous life requires that we find a way to integrate self-oriented values together with other-oriented values.
You get the idea.
Virtue is a pathos that involves the simultaneous targeting and reciprocal balancing of multiple values. It is a more difficult trick.
Yes, I do not want to have sex with a chicken. However, what I really want is to attempt the simultaneous experience-and-enactment of all the opposites of the reasons that I do not have sex with a chicken. Or with a gorilla. Or with a random transexual on the unwashed floor of the McDonald’s bathroom. It could be anything. It does not even have to be about sex. We are just using “sex” because it is memorable and ludicrous and connected with most people’s vital concerns about themselves.
What we are really talking about is a two-step process intrinsic to the spirituality of civilization.
The first step is to locate your values as basic affective energies (and it can be helpful to do this in reverse by starting with a more detailed rational explanation of what you do not want). You honor and allow all the negative responses and then you honor and allow their opposites to be simple, obvious and particular.
The second step is to discipline these desires. Not through a simplistic social code but through the mutual tension that they exert upon each other as you try to maximize the number of them that can be brought into any given situation.
So this article is actually about exploring the logos of our pathos to help clarify and acknowledge the organic vitality of the pre-socialized roots of our desires AND undertaking the cultural and intentional weaving together of these semantic energy flows such that they reveal uniquely emergent, higher-order value convergences whose deeply felt enactment transfigures our way of being-in-the-world.
I know you know all that. Forgive my over-simplication.
We throw around this question, “What do you want?” as if it was the easiest thing in the world. As if all we had to do was check our internal corporate mission statement and make a declaration. However, it is a lot of work to discover the straightforwardness of our desires. Often they are veiled in ambiguity resulting from the inner turbulence of feeling disconnected. Often they are concealed by presumed social desires that we have internalized through subconscious mimicry. Perhaps we even reject the knowledge of our desires because they sound too obvious to take seriously.
But once we have some success, we become subject to a law of meta-desire. We are forced to figure out how our desires can work together more optimally.
Here’s a quote I love from Gurdjieff:
Only he will deserve the name of man, and can count upon anything prepared for him from Above, who has already acquired corresponding data for being able to preserve intact both the wolf and the sheep confided to his care.
To be a real human being such that your life has some magic to it — whether we call that spiritual or developmental or successful or “making-a-contribution” — we have to arrange for higher degrees of internal coordination between our values in a manner that results in actionable and excessive (i.e. transcendent) amounts of meaning and empowerment.
Most people do not have this opportunity. Most people are injured, impoverished & looking for a spirituality that heals their wounds or protects their children. If you happen to be in the lucky category of “doing okay” then it may be your responsibility to take up the challenge of attempting to access the further or deeper ranges of human experience.
The pathway to that is found in value-convergence. But remember, you cannot always perfectly satisfy all your values. It is foolish to let the cat and the canary out to play at the same time. Even if you love both of them. Be pragmatic. Do not torture yourself that you cannot get everything done at once.
On the other hand, why is that a torture?
Clearly, you do not want the cat to eat the canary. You want both the cat and the canary to be alive tomorrow. You are factoring in the value of tomorrow’s pleasures, long-range efficacy, and judiciousness.
So, it is still about optimizing the convergence of the opposites-of-your-antipathies in order to bring values together into virtues.
I don’t know if that’s a triumphant enough ending. But that unknowingness implies that I am already in contact with the possibility of the feeling of a triumphant ending. Maybe that can be enough for now.
And may you be worthy of the chickens you destroy: