"Do you wonder why your little bundle of fluff has changed from your cute little cuddly bun to a moody, growly, sometimes aggressive bunny?" asks pet advice website BoingOnline. "Hormones I'm afraid!! Your bunny is now a teenager. This is the time when you might want to think about desexing. Desexing your bunny is something to really think about if you want to get to know your bunny's real personality."
It sounds so simple. Your baby bunny has his "real personality". Along comes a gremlin in the form of the extraneous "hormones" that appear as sexual maturity approaches. Solution: chop off the intruder in the form of your bunny's cojones. All will return to normal.
Being me, of course, I'm immediately suspicious. This notion of Baker's "real personality" being his childhood one (but which childhood personality? He seemed to go through dozens of distinct stages) strikes me as inherently rockist. What is normal? What is my real identity, and does it include my sexuality -- with all its chemicals, its Barneyesque testicular shenanigans -- or not? I'm sure my parents must have noticed how I, like Baker, became growly and aggressive when I passed through puberty. How would I feel (and how would I speak and sing?) if they'd desexed me to get "the real me" back? (It would have extended my lifespan, apparently.)
Being me -- being growly, hormonal, macho and sexed, that is -- I'm suspicious of the advice I've been reading on vet-sponsored websites. Naturally, these sites don't go into questions of what identity and free will actually are. But I can't help wondering whether the financial incentive for vets to recommend surgical procedures (bunny desexing can net them $250 a pop) skews their opinion a bit. What happens in the parallel world where the government obliges vets to perform bunny desexing free of charge on request? In that world, do we get vet-sponsored websites telling us how unnecessary the procedure is? It's not impossible. Glass half empty, glass half full.
I'm also worried by the model of sexuality proposed by these (mostly American) websites. Does it reflect cultural prejudices about the impact of gender and sexuality on identity? Americans love to think of gender as something they can rise above, as they love to rise above all determinisms and limitations. They love to see sexuality as a sort of rucksack they could leave at the cloakroom when they don't want to be burdened by it. They hate to think these things might limit their opportunity to be anything they choose to be. Does this anti-deterministic (but also anti-sexual) ideology come through even on American vet-pet websites?
Behind this debate lies the huge question of whether we have free will, of course, and what role our genes and hormones play in it. The experts at AllExperts at least exhibit some doubt. "It's hard to say if [your rabbit's] personality will change [after surgery]" they opine. "He will be calmer, and less sexually motivated. But how much of that is what you perceive as his "personality" is hard to say. Most of the rabbits I've known have not had major personality changes after neutering, though a very few have." It's a bit contradictory. How can being "less sexually motivated" fail to be a personality change?
Behind the reassuring tone of the vets looms a lot that disturbs us, a lot we still haven't worked out. Is it right to make a "surgical intervention" to alter an organism -- or a nation? Will it all go as smoothly as the experts assume? Is it really so simple to cut out the bad stuff and just leave the good stuff? Aren't good and bad -- aren't sexuality and personality, like culture and identity -- all tangled up in a warp and woof too complex for even the best surgeon's knife?
When we think of this stuff we can't help thinking of scary demagogues and cautionary tales. We think of "Chemical Sarkozy", with his recent proposal of chemical castration -- compulsory hormonal treatment -- for sex offenders. The unsettling scientist Craig Venter -- the Dr Frankenstein of the gentech age -- is there too, as is poor post-Ludovico Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Big Brother-loving Winston Smith from the end of 1984, and a crowd of moronic "epsilons" from Brave New World. Must our rabbit now become a character from these scary dystopian novels? Is carrying him to the vet the equivalent of sending in the Fahrenheit 451 fire engines?
Asked "Why do you burn books?", the fireman Montag in Truffault's film is as clear as our pet experts: Books "make people unhappy. Books disturb people, they make them antisocial". The world would be a much better place if books -- and bollocks -- were removed in one clean, surgical sweep. Wouldn't it?