In the issue dated tomorrow (which appeared awhile ago, obviously, or I wouldn't be talking about it now), The New Republic cast quite a bit of asparagus at the 577-page report of the President's Council on Bioethics entitled Human Dignity and Bioethics. There is certainly cause to cast asparagus. As TNR noted, a quick look at the list of contributors produces a list of people notable primarily for the fact that none of them, with one or two exceptions, actually works in bioethics or any related scientific field, while a preponderance of them are, wait for it, faculty members at Christian institutions of higher education (and mostly we're not talking about Notre Dame or Georgetown).
However, the big brouhaha that's come about on this report revolves around a quote that Steven Pinker attributes on page 4 to Leon Kass (University of Chicago, the American Enterprise Institute, and formerly a contributor to TNR), but which Pinker fails to source:
[Kass] is troubled by cosmetic surgery, by gender reassignment, and by women who postpone motherhood or choose to remain single in their twenties. Sometimes his fixation on dignity takes him right off the deep end:
Worst of all 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.
That second paragraph has had a huge airing around Left Blogistan in the last couple of days. And it is deservedly mocked, if for no other reason than that if we take it to its logical conclusion, the Hedgemony would have to shut down the entire restaurant sector, ban concessions at sporting events and other public venues, and mandate something along the lines of what Robert A. Heinlein described in his 1948 juvenile science fiction novel Space Cadet:
Tex wandered on into the second room. "Hey, Oz--come look at this."
Matt and Oscar joined him. There were rows of little closets down each side, ten in all, each with its own curtain. "Oh, yes, our eating booths."
"That reminds me," said Matt. "I thought you had wrecked everything, Oz, when you started talking about eating. But you pulled out of it beautifully."
"I didn't pull out of it; I did it on purpose."
"It was a squeeze play. I had to shock them with the idea that they were indecent, or looked that way to us. It established us as 'people,' from their point of view. After that it was easy." Oscar went on. "Now that we are accepted as people, we've got to be awfully careful not to undo it. I don't like to eat in one of these dark little cubbyholes any better than you do, but we don't dare take a chance of being seen eating--you don't dare even fail to draw the curtain, as one of them might come popping in. Remember, eating is the only sort of privacy they observe."
--Robert A. Heinlein, Space Cadet (New York: Ballantine Books, 1948, 1975, 1981), p. 188