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The Utilitarian Ethicist Part One

By Kevin Guilfoile


With my parents out of the house for the night, my brother and I decided to order takeout. We didnft have any money because our parents had forgotten to give us our allowance for the past three weeks. When the food arrived, we paid with one of my parentsf checks, which I signed with my motherfs name. What do you think? --Anonymous, Ann Arbor, Mich.


In this situation, your parents ended up with no more or less money than they would have, had they paid your allowance on time, and you and your brother got the pizza you wanted. On the surface, that all sounds jake to me.

However, I think this whole exercise misses an important point. Your parents have lots of money, no? I assume so, if theyfre partying at fancy night spots and think nothing of leaving their checkbook where just anyone can grab it and order up a pepperoni pie, a privilege the natives donft enjoy along the flood-ravaged Bengali coast. No, the question is not what your parents owe you, but rather what they owe the hungry and bloated orphans of Bangladesh -- bipedal WHO contaminant labs who arenft likely to stumble across your parents' kitten-decorated vanity checks floating in the ankle-deep tributaries of sewage they call the streets of Dhaka. The next time your parents leave the house, why don't you settle for a bowl of Minute Rice and then sign your mother's name to a $10,000 banknote addressed to Oxfam, 26 West Street, Boston MA 02111-1206. Your upper-middle class existence will still be selfish, pathetic, and sad, only slightly less so.

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Our mother, a recent widow in her mid-70's, wants to start driving again. She hasn't driven in years, had many accidents when she did, is hard of hearing and arthritic and has a history of alcoholism. While we (her children) object, her therapist has told her that she should make her own decision and has encouraged us to be supportive. What's the right thing to do? -- Name Withheld


Good Lord, does the Department of Motor Vehicles flunk anybody these days? I only got seven-out-of-ten on the written exam, and I hold a prestigious chair at the third-best university in America. Your mother, however, is a boozing menace who weaves aimlessly about town in an ozone-depleting bumper car, her air bag gleefully coiled in anticipation. How many innocent lives could be saved by keeping this drunk, deaf, and crippled old crone off the public roads? Dozens, perhaps? Now, having agreed this is the case, we must also agree that many more lives could be saved if you smothered her with a pillow. You could then collect the insurance money and send it, with your inheritance, to Oxfam (26 West Street, Boston MA 02111-1206). African kids don't need brand-name prescriptions and orthopedic shoes. In fact, a 32-ounce box of Ritz Bitz will sustain a Sudanese male from the age of two until the age of six. Euthanizing your mother is not only justified, it's an ethical obligation, like shooting a horse who has broken his leg, or drowning a baby because she's retarded.

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A few months after we had our cat spayed, she started behaving like she was in heat. She went back to the vet, who billed us $181 for the second surgery. My husband says we owe the vet nothing, since he just completed the job he was supposed to do originally. But the vet says the first surgery was performed to normal veterinary standards. -- J.F., Athens, GA.


It's an ethical fallacy that homo sapienses have the right to neuter animals in the first place. We need to stop thinking in terms of "humans" and "cats" and start thinking in terms of "persons" and "non-persons." All persons should have equal access to what we now think of as "human rights," and here I define a "person" as any entity that can experience pleasure and pain. This would include cats, other mammals, Tickle-Me Elmos, and Operation by Milton Bradley. The real issue is this: Do you know how many boxes of Ritz Bitz Oxfam could buy with the $181 you paid an incompetent and sadistic DVM to mutilate your cat? I donft know either, but I'm sure it's peanuts compared to what practitioners of ritual human sacrifice will pay for an adult male castrato. Neutering your pet provided no tangible benefits for anyone, cat or man, but having your husband gelded, sacrificed, and entombed as a tribute to the Theban deity Amen-Ra could prove a windfall for the international campaign to end world hunger. Getting on the good side of a falcon-headed sun god never hurts either.

This essay originally appeared on the website dezmin.com.

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