Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leon Kass wants you to drop that ice cream cone, NOW!

As a member, and former chairman, of the President's Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass has played an important role in determining the Bush administration's policy on matters such as funding of stem cell research, assisted suicide, and so forth.

Less well known than his views on these weighty matters are Dr. Kass's opinions concerning more mundane stuff. In his article "The Stupidity of Dignity," in the current New Republic, Steven Pinker serves up this juicy Kass quote:

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 the 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.
I just don't get it, Doc: "catlike" equals undignified? I guess you've never been owned by a cat.

Update: thanks to Eric of Classical Values, I now have the complete Kass quote, without ellipses, here. To be fair, Dr. Kass does admit:
I fear I may by this [ice cream] remark lose the sympathy of many reader[s], people who will condescendingly regard as quaint or even priggish the view that eating in the street is for dogs.
He then goes into a diatribe against uncovered yawning, which is one with which I heartily agree. But failing to stifle or cover a yawn yields no pleasure. Dr. Kass would have us believe that the only reason for licking an ice cream cone or eating anything "in public" is "enslavement to the belly." Not so. On a balmy day, it is quite rational, even when not driven by the press of business, to choose the al fresco frankfurter (or suitable vegan alternative) over the confines of table. As for the ice cream cone, I think it really does taste better than with dish and spoon.

(Thanks to Just Your Average Joggler for the perfect image.)


  1. this man sounds like he has a telephone pole jammed up his ass. holy crap! is he seriously that offended by other people eating in public? and is he the sort of person who eats a sandwich or slice of pizza with a fork and knife?

  2. I wonder how he feels about breastfeeding?

  3. @dawn: i'd venture to guess he feels it is undignified, unless done in private, with a wet nurse. a dignified woman would never feed her child herself. that's what servants are for.