Eminem, Jonathan Haidt and the Blindspot in Liberal Morality

Eddie Ejjbair
3 min readSep 15, 2023

In the first verse of Eminem’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’, Eminem prefigured a thought experiment posed by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his 2012 book, The Righteous Mind. Consider, he says, if this is morally wrong:

A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it.

According to the responses in his study, most ‘well-educated’ and ‘politically liberal’ people reacted with an ‘initial flash of disgust’, but hesitated to say he did something morally wrong since he did not cause any harm.

In the Eminem verse, he (facetiously) expresses a similar sentiment:

We ain’t nothin’ but mammals —

Well, some of us cannibals who cut other people open like cantaloupes

But if we can hump dead animals and antelopes

Then there’s no reason that a man and another man can’t elope

Here, he reverses the slippery slope argument against gay relationships (“if we allow this, then…”), not because one necessarily leads to another, but because a morality based on the ‘no harm’ principle cannot object to acts that are intuitively wrong but cause no harm (such as having sex with a chicken carcasses).

Louise Perry, discussing Haidt’s thought experiments, asks, based on a real-life scenario, ‘is it OK for a man to consent to being eaten by another man for the purposes of sexual gratification?’ (a hypothetical also prefigured by Eminem).

As she explains ‘social conservatives generally give swift, confident answers, because they are able to appeal to values such as sanctity and authority’; however, ‘liberals have more difficulty: they want to say that the acts are wrong, because they are instinctively disgusted by them, but the scenarios are designed to prevent any appeal to J. S. Mill’s harm principle’, which states that ‘the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’.

Perry also mentions Belle Delphine’s use of pre-pubescent aesthetics in her pornography and points out that ‘it is difficult to invoke J. S. Mill’s harm principle when faced with a wide range of alarming sexual scenarios’, including ‘consensual incest, cannibalism, sex with dead chickens, and sex acts that are at the very least paedophilic-adjacent, if not outright paedophilic’.

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Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’