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The rich and the poor alike are forbidden to stand on dogs

On New Year’s Day, a group of photos showed up in my Facebook news feed. It turned out to be a
holiday greeting from Sarah Palin. “Happy New Year!” she said. “May 2015 see every stumbling block turned into a stepping stone on the path forward. Trig just reminded me. He, determined to help wash dishes with an oblivious mama not acknowledging his signs for ‘up!,’ found me and a lazy dog blocking his way. He made his stepping stone.”

No, I’m not Facebook friends with Sarah Palin– I don’t even follow her. The post showed up in my feed because one of my friends had commented on it. I clicked over without any real expectation of finding their comment, but rather to skim the comments the other several thousand people, already by that point, had made. Because if there’s one thing the internet hates, it’s cruelty to animals. I wanted to see if that hatred could be counterbalanced by political and/or religious affiliation, and my answer was…yes, apparently. At least, for some.

Didn’t bother commenting, and didn’t think any more about it until I saw this article this morning by Sarah Palin, TODAY contributor (hey, it’s what the byline says):

PETA needs to chill. At least Trig didn’t eat the dog. Where have they been all these years? Maybe enjoying a good steak when their Woman of the Year, Ellen DeGeneres, posted the exact same sweet image of a child with her dog. Or maybe they were off moose hunting when their Man of the Year, Mayor Bill de Blasio, dropped and killed a critter at a political photo op? Who knows what they were doing when their Man of All Time, Barack Obama, admitted to actually EATING dog, and enjoying it! C’mon PETA — where’s the beef? . . . Again, I’m thankful these double standard bearers proved my entire point in that post: do they think their threats and efforts to shut me down are a stumbling block? Nah, this is a stepping stone for any American with common sense and love for kids and dogs — we just proved the haters’ double standard nonsense, and, thus, their irrelevance. — Sarah Palin P.S. Should Jill Hadassah [Palin’s dog] have not enjoyed Trig’s playing with her, guess it would have reminded us another important lesson – sometimes life jumps up and bites you in the okole, but you don’t stop moving and baby you just Shake It Off.

“Okole” apparently is a Hawaiian word for “ass” or “butt.” I had a moment of wondering why on earth Palin would use a Hawaiian word before realizing– oh, of course. It’s a way for someone who
thinks even “butt” is a bad word to avoid saying it, but be able to express exactly the same sentiments generally expressed using the word, by borrowing it from another language. I guess God doesn’t understand Hawaiian.

So I looked up what Ellen Degeneres did, and found myself looking at a site called Conservatives 4 Palin, which was kind enough to host a photo which supposedly appeared on the Facebook account for The Ellen DeGeneres Show six months ago. It shows what appears to be a three (?) year old girl brushing her teeth while standing on top of a large adult labrador, accompanied by the caption “Well, that’s one way to reach the sink.” That little girl wasn’t Ellen’s daughter, btw, and the online appears to also have been largely negative.
response to the picture

Whitney Pitcher, author of this article entitled “PETA Woman of the Year Posts Photo of a Child Standing on a Dog,” has the grace to note, “My post is neither a condemnation or an approval of the photos shared by Governor Palin or Ellen Degeneres.” Which is good, I suppose, because presumably it would be bad form for a web site called Conservatives 4 Palin to say anything that would amount to a “condemnation” of her, even for something so obviously stupid and abusive as allowing a child to stand on the back of the family dog– a special needs dog, who is “lazy” according to Palin (what, for not getting up when a toddler tries to use her as a stepstool?) — and then share the photos with the world as part of an exhortation to enjoy their new year.

If Jill Hadassah the dog had in fact objected to a boy (who is now seven years old, according to Wikipedia) standing on her back, stood up, and bitten him in the “okole,” what do you think the response would’ve been? Do you think everyone involved would have learned a lesson that sometimes “life” jumps up and bites you, but you don’t stop moving and just Shake It Off? You know, “life.” (Hey, they say life’s a bitch…) Yeah, me neither.

So I have a few conclusions on this subject:

  • Sarah Palin, and the parents of that little anonymous blonde girl, need step stools. Many of them. In the kitchen, the bathroom, and any other place there’s a counter that a small child might need to reach. Maybe a charitable organization can supply them with a couple.
  • PETA needs to stop being the banner organization for giving a damn about animal suffering. They do not speak for everyone with concerns on the subject. They’re not even good at representing the cause, themselves. I seriously doubt most of the people expressing concern about the welfare of Jill Hadassah the dog on Facebook had or have any affiliation whatsoever with PETA. The internet, perhaps, is guilty of caring way, way, way too much about animal cruelty, but PETA doesn’t speak for the internet in that regard. 
  • Tu quoque, also known as an “appeal to hypocrisy,” is a logical fallacy. It refers to an attempt to legitimize, or at least distract from, a critique aimed at yourself by pointing out a similar crime (or endorsement of such) made by the person or group making the criticism.

    Not one word of Palin’s essay on Today: Pets amounted to anything like an apology or an acknowledgment of wrong-doing. On the contrary, her standpoint is made abundantly clear: “we just proved the haters’ double standard nonsense, and, thus, their irrelevance.” She honestly thinks that the arguments of critics (excuse me, “haters”) are proven irrelevant by her pointing out the presumed acceptance of said critics haters of a similar crime perpetrated by someone they approve of.

    Of course, we don’t even know whether PETA even saw, much less approves of, the photo posted on The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s Facebook wall. We don’t know whether the people who criticized Palin’s New Years wishes post on Facebook ever saw it, much less approve of it. Or de Blasio supposedly shooting a dog. Or Obama supposedly eating one. We certainly don’t know whether everybody who thinks it’s wrong to allow a seven year old boy to stand on a dog’s bag and post “cute” photos of it on Facebook has seen and approve of those things. 

    And if we did, that still wouldn’t make it okay. That’s what tu quoque means. 

Sarah Palin, take a logic class. Everybody else, class dismissed. 

“Screw PETA”

“Be very, very quiet…I’m hunting squirrels.”

This made my day:

Jennifer Lawrence is about to learn what it’s like to have every little comment said in passing scrutinized — yes, she’s a bona fide star. The actress was dubbed “the coolest chick in Hollywood” by Rolling Stone, and in the magazine’s latest issue she recounts her on-screen squirrel-skinning scene in the 2010 movie “Winter’s Bone.” “I should say it wasn’t real, for PETA. But screw PETA,” she told the magazine. Lawrence’s interview has been on newsstands since March 30, but the comment went unnoticed until it was picked up by a hunting magazine, which praised Lawrence for the comment. In response to the actress’s comment, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told Gothamist, “[Lawrence] is young and the plight of animals somehow hasn’t yet touched her heart. As Henry David Thoreau said, ‘The squirrel you kill in jest, dies in earnest.’ We are told that this squirrel was hit by a car, but when people kill animals, it is the animals who are ‘screwed,’ not PETA, and one day I hope she will try to make up for any pain she might have caused any animal who did nothing but try to eke out a humble existence in nature.” Regardless, it doesn’t sound as if Lawrence is going to be a PETA spokesperson anytime soon. The actress, who spent a month in Missouri with a rural family learning to shoot rifles and chop wood in preparation for “Winter’s Bone,” and was trained by four-time Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig for her role as Katniss in “The Hunger Games,” also told Rolling Stone, that when she is done with her next movie she is “thinking about buying a house. And a big dog. And a shotgun.”

1. We could do with a lot more celebrities saying “Screw PETA,” couldn’t we? Maybe Lawrence could sit down and have a chat with these people.

2. I somehow doubt that Lawrence’s youth is the reason her heart hasn’t been touched by the plight of animals. Young female actresses and singers seem like PETA’s bread and butter, all too ready and willing to support a disingenuous and vapid group that equates broiler hens to Holocaust victims and has tarnished the cause of animal rights so much by its antics that they should get kickbacks from ConAgra and shout-outs from Ted Nugent. Young women who have not so much as seen a farm in person seem like the best candidates to view all animals as cast members from Bambi, and to think that posing nude accompanied by the slogan “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” somehow draws attention and sympathy to the pathos of minks, foxes, rabbits, etc. bound for coat-dom rather than a mixture of eye-rolling, leering, and condescending chuckles.

3. I haven’t seen “Winter’s Bone” or “The Hunger Games,” but am pretty sure that Lawrence’s role in both films has something to do with…you know, hunger. That her character is herself trying to “eke out a humble existence in nature,” and would be either an idiot or a masochist to turn down a nice bit of squirrel for dinner when it’s offered. Ever watch one of those survival shows, like Out of Alaska or Man vs. Wild? The people on those shows try to shoot, snare, or catch animals for meat first and foremost for a reason, and it isn’t because killing animals is fun or they don’t care about their “plight.” It’s because meat is the best kind of food you can have if your goal is avoiding starvation most efficiently. Now, to be fair Newkirk’s quote was reacting to Lawrence saying “Screw PETA” concerning the question of whether any animals were actually hurt in filming (at least, that’s my impression). But Newkirk did toss out an unqualified statement condemning killing animals in general, so I feel comfortable calling it absurd and mindless without qualification.

4. In case it needs to be reiterated, I am concerned about animal rights. I think causing unnecessary suffering is wrong and should be avoided, which leads to a revulsion for all sorts of very common practices in the food industry that make many animals’ lives torture from beginning to unfortunate end. But PETA is possibly the worst organization claiming to battle this suffering, and ridiculous hand-wringing over the death of any animal by Newkirk and patronizing denouncement of anyone who supports such a thing under any circumstances certainly earns the dismissal “Screw PETA.”

Wow

 That’s all I can say at the moment– just, wow. 

From Casaubon’s Book, an excerpt from a post entitled “On Sentiment…And Against Sentimentality“:

 Sentiment officially has no place in agriculture, but I’ve met precious few smaller farmers who don’t have a spot of it. Indeed, I’ve come to suspect that a sentimental attachment to things is in fact a requirement for good small scale farming – and that equally, keeping sentiment in check is a requirement for the transition from “a few pet chickens” to “agriculture.”  Keeping the sentiment in check is obvious – if you chickens are pets, it doesn’t matter if they stop laying – you feed them and hope they start up again. If you make your living on your chickens, if they stop laying, your bottom line probably doesn’t allow for extended periods of feeding chickens that don’t provide any return. The sensible thing is to eat them or sell them and get some chickens that will lay – going bankrupt and seeing the farm turned into developments isn’t worth the trade offs, no matter how much you care for any given chicken . . .

Here I would make a distinction between “sentiment” which is simply “emotion” and “sentimentality” – which is cheap emotion, the substitution of a weak thing for something deeper. I don’t think sentimentality has any place in agriculture – in fact, I don’t think it has much place in life. Sentimentality prevents you from experiencing real sentiment.

Sentimentality in agriculture would be the refusal to put an animal that is suffering and has no future down, because you love it so much or don’t feel you can kill something. Sentimentality in agriculture is the dairy-drinking vegetarian who expresses hostitility to someone who dares to butcher a cute little calf – not realizing that that calf will grow up to be a large bull, that there is no retirement home for bulls, and that it is their milk habit that caused that calf to be born. These are sentimental emotions because they are cheap and weak – they don’t require knowledge or love for specific animals, or a real understanding of the animals and their needs. Sentimentality is the meat eater who doesn’t want to know anything about the animals their meat came from, because it is just too hard to think about – and thus enables factory agriculture because they don’t want to know. . .

Sentimentality creates the CAFO farm – the sentimentality that says we are too weak to bear the pain of knowing animals and watching them die. This is what turns our food into styrofoam packages and allows CAFO agriculture, where animals are carefully hidden from our view, and the relationship of our purchases carefully concealed. Sentimentality allows us to care about the extinction of the preferred charismatic megafauna of our choice, ideally something with big eyes, but that we see no connection between our purchases, our acts and the habitat destruction of the animals in question. Sentimentality enables us to care about the child Pakistani-flood victim on nightly tv enough to send some money – but not enough to try and reduce the number of climate-related natural disasters by giving up some of our priveleges. Sentimentality enables the patriotic fervor that allows us to not know how many Iraqi or Afghani civilians die in the interest of our national “greater goods.” Sentimentality is the emotion that emerges from the condition of not knowing – and it is what you have left in a society that conceals at every level real knowledge. It too is both cause and effect – it permits great evil, and it facilitates lack of knowledge of the real.Sentiment – love, anger, attachment, affection – real emotions – these derive from knowledge, and they can’t be faked. And when you know things, the choices you make get more complex. The realities you live in get harder and greyer. Sometimes love means you have to kill something. Sometimes one love means that another loved thing get sacrificed. Sometimes you have to go against your feelings. But the only way that never happens is when you substitute sentimentality for real feeling.

Some thoughts on “opting out.”

To return to a Michael Pollen note for a bit (sorry), I came across a section of Omnivore’s Dilemma today that devoted some discussion to “opting out.”  The context was home-schooling parents who also decide to buy their food from local farmers rather than from the grocery store, and Pollan described them as having “opted out once already.”  By this, Pollan meant that they had already once said “no” to a segment of American culture to which the vast majority of people say “yes.” 

I think most people underestimate the effect that opting out can have.  As much as I personally dislike being told that I’m opposed to some sort of behavior simply because it’s “different” when I think that it’s actually because I have a good reason for opposing it, it’s true that people often regard things with suspicion because they’re not normal. 

Having read Dan Savage’s sex advice column Savage Love for– gosh– fourteen years now, I would estimate that at least half of the letters submitted are from people concerned about whether their sexual proclivities are normal.  And his answer is always some variant on the same sentiment– who cares, so long as it makes you happy and it doesn’t hurt anyone?  But clearly people do care.  If they’re going to be strange and do things differently, it’s like they want permission to do it.  They want to know that their desires are legitimate, and they acknowledge that having to explain themselves to interested parties for deviating from the norm is taxing, which is why they want assurance that what they’re doing is in fact normal…even though it isn’t.

Yes, I did just compare having weird sexual kinks to home-schooling. 

Sure, the two things are different in a lot of ways, but I’d suggest that the relevant difference here is mainly about taste vs. ideology.  There’s not much you can do about taste– you can either hide it or be open about it, feel ashamed or feel confident, but it’s going to be there regardless.  With ideology, on the other hand, it’s about trying to be a different person than you would be if you were “normal.”  Some people are born into weird ideologies while others convert to them, but there’s often a moral dimension involved either way. 

Opting out is a conscious decision– it requires recognizing that one can choose not to do things the way most people are, and making that choice.  My understanding of homosexuality is that it definitely does not feel like a conscious choice, but deciding to be “out” is.  Even people who can look back and see their homosexuality written on the wall, so to speak, before they even realized it seem to have to go through a period of either going into the closet and/or (if they’re lucky enough to be in an accepting environment) make a deliberate choice to embrace that aspect of who they are and live as openly gay. 

Does having opted out in one dimension of your life make it easier to opt out in others?  Maybe.  At Skepticon 3 philosophy professor John Corvino gave a talk comparing coming out as gay to coming out as a skeptic/atheist, and it certainly sounded like the first experience made the second one a lot easier.   And it’s not necessarily a positive thing– in her book True Porn Clerk Stories, former video store clerk Ali Davis writers about certain customers who have reached the point of renting six or more porn movies per day, the people she’s no longer afraid to label “porn addicts,” having rejected society’s norms in other ways before reaching that point.  Sometimes opting out means taking control; sometimes it means giving up. 

Opting out has costs.  It might mean having fewer things to talk to your family about at Christmas.  It might mean being passed over for a job.  It might, as in the case of ethical choices, mean that people believe you are implicitly judging them for not joining them in your decision, and come to resent you for it.  It might mean that people conclude that you’re being different just for the sake of being different, and mock you because others are being different in a very similar way, as if it’s ever possibly to be truly unique.  It might, in some circumstances, mean that your rights are not acknowledged, or that life is made harder to live in some other way because most people simply do not have the same interests.  Can it suck?  Yes, very much.   It will always be mind-boggling to me to hear or read people say outright– in conversation, in letters to the editor, in debates– that they’re not concerned about the interests of minorities if their own aren’t affected.  Sure, let’s ban tattooing, ferret ownership, strip clubs, Islamic mosques, urban farmingI don’t want any part in any of those things, so screw people who do!

Back to the taste vs. ideology thing.  People who opt out for moral reasons may be offended by having their choices compared to opting out for matters of taste because it seems to negate the seriousness of their committment, but you can’t force others to take your interests as seriously as you do.  To them, it may as well be a matter of taste that you want to wear a burqa, raise your own chickens because you object to factory farming, or make sure your children receive their sex education from you and no one else.  What counts as being in the moral dimension for one person might well just look like a quirk or a hobby to someone else.   And conversely, what looks like a hobby or quirk for the person who wants to opt out to take part in it– getting tattoos, going to strip clubs, smoking marijuana– may have a moral dimension for others who are strongly opposed to it. 

Ultimately, I think that having a lot of people around who are openly “weird” in some way or another is a good thing, because it raises our level of cultural tolerance for weirdness.  The more homogeneous a society is, the more dangerous it seems (and probably is) to be different.  I have no particular desire to wear my hair in a mohawk, join a swinger’s club, or homeschool children, but am grateful to live in a culture where those things are tolerated if not warmly accepted.  It’s clear to me that the pursuit of happiness in a country can take as many different forms are there are members of its population, and it is therefore crucial that we protect each individual’s ability to pursue happiness to the maximal extent possible.  That’s clearly not to say that anything which makes a person happy must be allowed, but that the onus of proof for justifying standing in the way of such pursuit always rests on the person  who wants to do so– not one whose pursuit it is.  Diversity of species on a farm makes the organisms raised on it stronger and better defended from attacks by parasites.  Diversity of interests and lifestyles amongst the population of a society makes individuals in it stronger and better defended from attacks on their own happiness.

Dog botherers

Quoth Tucker Carlson on Tuesday:

“I’m Christian. I’ve made mistakes. I believe fervently in second chances. Michael Vick killed dogs in a heartless and cruel way. I think, personally, he should have been executed for that. The idea the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs is beyond the pale.”

So far, the most common reaction I’ve seen from people to this comment is that Carlson must be joking– as heinous as Vick’s acts were, we don’t usually execute people for killing people, let alone dogs.  Maybe some of us would prefer that the death penalty be applied more often, but no one would seriously suggest that it be applied for the killing of animals, however heartlessly and cruelly it is done.  Would they? NBC’s Al Roker tweeted yesterday that ‘Tucker Carlson’s bowtie has finally cut off oxygen to his brain. Only explanation for odious Michael Vick comment. Or maybe he’s an idiot.”  Others are wondering whether Carlson’s comments are truly Christian at all, and even suggesting that he is a racist.  At Black Voices, Dr. Boyce Watkins remarks

First of all, I think that most decent Christians would not believe that Tucker Carlson is a Christian. But then again, most of the original members of the KKK also considered themselves to be Christians, so perhaps Carlson’s delusional behavior actually makes sense. I’d be curious to see if Carlson believes that the hundreds of thousands of deer hunters and members of the National Rifle Association should also be executed for killing animals themselves. After all, killing an animal is the same no matter what, right?

Secondly, Carlson’s insinuation that the life of this black man is worth less than that of a dog is a telling reminder of how the Right Wing is nothing more than a modern-day manifestation of those who’ve profited from slavery and the execution of black men for the past 400 years (they continue to profit from slavery within the prison system – the only place where the United States Constitution allows slavery to take place). If this were 1840, Tucker Carlson would surely be part of the lynch mob that would have dragged Michael Vick out of jail in the middle of the night and murdered him in front of his family. So, as much as ‘Tucker the Christian’ might want to deny this, he is a direct descendant of those who’ve been responsible for the Black American Holocaust that we have yet to fully understand in our country.

Wow. Was Carlson really saying that the life of a black man is worth less than that of a dog?  There’s really no way to tell unless he elaborates further.  It’s possible that Michael Vick’s race is relevant, and also possible that it isn’t.  It could be that Carlson would have said the same thing had Vick been white, and my suspicion is that he would have.  My guess is actually that Carlson wouldn’t have said anything on the subject at all, had President Obama not called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to praise the team for giving Vick another chance.  Call me a cynic, but I think what this was really about was Carlson seeing an opportunity to criticize the president for being soft on crime.  Just as the ACLU routinely comes under fire for protecting the rights of people who say the most heinous things and perform the most disgusting acts, Carlson saw the chance to claim that the president was “getting behind someone who murdered dogs” because Obama felt that Vick had paid his debt to society after serving nineteen months in prison and should be given another shot.  Whether you agree with the president on that or not, it’s dishonest to interpret such a position as an endorsement of the acts which caused Vick to be arrested and imprisoned in the first place. 

And what to make of Carlson prefacing his remarks by mentioning his Christianity?  It seems a little odd to start out by noting that you’re a Christian and you believe in second chances, and then finish by effectively saying “…but not for this guy.”  Execution is, for all intents and purposes, the elimination of any second chance.  Not only does Carlson apparently disapprove of the president’s policy of forgiveness, but he has come down firmly against making any effort to turn the other cheek.  It’s not hard to see why that would lead Watkins to conclude that “most decent Christians” would not count Carlson among their ranks.  I wouldn’t say that the Bible articulates a coherent theory of animal rights, but the fact that it includes stories of Jesus giving people fish to eat and casting demons into pigs who were then driven off a cliff leads me to at least conclude that he didn’t regard animals as equal to humans. 

Nevertheless, stories of animals being mistreated– dogs in particular– do spark a particular kind of furor in people.  People who own dogs commonly regard them as members of the family, but definitely as more analogous to children than adults.   A dog-owner himself, journalist Radley Balko pays particular attention to cases of “puppycide” when describing incidents of police malfeasance, such as when a video of a Missouri drug raid, in which a family’s pit bull and corgi were killed and injured respectively, went viral.  We have a long, complex history of interaction with canines, and it’s not at all unusual for people to react passionately at the thought of them being killed, much less tortured and killed gratuitously.  That explains why so many were angry at Michael Vick when it was first discovered that he was involved in dog-fighting, but not why such cases occasionally draw more attention than those involving crimes against humans.

The answer, I think, lies in our conceptions of moral responsibility.  We grant to dogs the capacity to be loyal, loving, dedicated, and even angry, jealous, and spiteful, but not evil.  When we find it necessary to put a dog to death, it is for the pragmatic reason of preventing it from attacking anyone again, or the compassionate motive to ease the suffering it experiences from injury or illness.  Not because it “deserves to die.”  Humans, on the other hand, can deserve to die.  They aren’t innocents.  I think that’s why stories of humans killing other humans don’t seem to provoke quite the same kind of outrage that we see when humans kill animals.  Not any animal, of course– as Watkins alludes, our compassion for animals is by no means consistent.  If dogs are regarded as half-people, pigs (for example) aren’t regarded as people at all.  Or maybe it would be better to say that they just aren’t regarded.  I don’t want to get too far off-topic by elaborating on why I think that is, but suffice to say that the gentle, panting, tail-wagging creatures we share our lives with tend to have a special place in our moral estimation.  When humans are killed it is generally by other humans, which makes obvious the fact that humans are capable of being both victims and perpetrators, and often the two categories aren’t necessarily so clear.  With dogs it’s always innocent victims, and harm to innocents is what makes tragedy so tragic. 

Again, I think Carlson’s comments were primarily a façade. I don’t think he is an idiot, rather that he went overboard in trying to make the president look bad.  But had he tempered his rhetoric a bit, he would have tapped into a common thread among average Americans, people who don’t see dog-killing as equivalent to person-killing but as a heinous act nevertheless, and find no conflict in their faith or moral reasoning in sharing Carlson’s opposition to Obama’s statements on the matter.  Me, I side with the president on this one.  But I can understand why others do not.

Dog botherers

Cross-posted from State of Formation.

Quoth Tucker Carlson on Tuesday:

“I’m Christian. I’ve made mistakes. I believe fervently in second chances. Michael Vick killed dogs in a heartless and cruel way. I think, personally, he should have been executed for that. The idea the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs is beyond the pale.”

So far, the most common reaction I’ve seen from people to this comment is that Carlson must be joking– as heinous as Vick’s acts were, we don’t usually execute people for killing people, let alone dogs. Maybe some of us would prefer that the death penalty be applied more often, but no one would seriously suggest that it be applied for the killing of animals, however heartlessly and cruelly it is done. Would they? NBC’s Al Roker tweeted yesterday that ‘Tucker Carlson’s bowtie has finally cut off oxygen to his brain. Only explanation for odious Michael Vick comment. Or maybe he’s an idiot.” Others are wondering whether Carlson’s comments are truly Christian at all, and even suggesting that he is a racist. At Black Voices, Dr. Boyce Watkins remarks

“First of all, I think that most decent Christians would not believe that Tucker Carlson is a Christian. But then again, most of the original members of the KKK also considered themselves to be Christians, so perhaps Carlson’s delusional behavior actually makes sense. I’d be curious to see if Carlson believes that the hundreds of thousands of deer hunters and members of the National Rifle Association should also be executed for killing animals themselves. After all, killing an animal is the same no matter what, right?

Secondly, Carlson’s insinuation that the life of this black man is worth less than that of a dog is a telling reminder of how the Right Wing is nothing more than a modern-day manifestation of those who’ve profited from slavery and the execution of black men for the past 400 years (they continue to profit from slavery within the prison system – the only place where the United States Constitution allows slavery to take place). If this were 1840, Tucker Carlson would surely be part of the lynch mob that would have dragged Michael Vick out of jail in the middle of the night and murdered him in front of his family. So, as much as ‘Tucker the Christian’ might want to deny this, he is a direct descendant of those who’ve been responsible for the Black American Holocaust that we have yet to fully understand in our country.”

Wow. Was Carlson really saying that the life of a black man is worth less than that of a dog? There’s really no way to tell unless he elaborates further. It’s possible that Michael Vick’s race is relevant, and also possible that it isn’t. It could be that Carlson would have said the same thing had Vick been white, and my suspicion is that he would have. My guess is actually that Carlson wouldn’t have said anything on the subject at all, had President Obama not called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to praise the team for giving Vick another chance. Call me a cynic, but I think what this was really about was Carlson seeing an opportunity to criticize the president for being soft on crime. Just as the ACLU routinely comes under fire for protecting the rights of people who say the most heinous things and perform the most disgusting acts, Carlson saw the chance to claim that the president was “getting behind someone who murdered dogs” because Obama felt that Vick had paid his debt to society after serving nineteen months in prison and should be given another shot. Whether you agree with the president on that or not, it’s dishonest to interpret such a position as an endorsement of the acts which caused Vick to be arrested and imprisoned in the first place.

And what to make of Carlson prefacing his remarks by mentioning his Christianity? It seems a little odd to start out by noting that you’re a Christian and you believe in second chances, and then finish by effectively saying “…but not for this guy.” Execution is, for all intents and purposes, the elimination of any second chance. Not only does Carlson apparently disapprove of the president’s policy of forgiveness, but he has come down firmly against making any effort to turn the other cheek. It’s not hard to see why that would lead Watkins to conclude that “most decent Christians” would not count Carlson among their ranks. I wouldn’t say that the Bible articulates a coherent theory of animal rights, but the fact that it includes stories of Jesus giving people fish to eat and casting demons into pigs who were then driven off a cliff leads me to at least conclude that he didn’t regard animals as equal to humans.

Nevertheless, stories of animals being mistreated– dogs in particular– do spark a particular kind of furor in people. People who own dogs commonly regard them as members of the family, but definitely as more analogous to children than adults. A dog-owner himself, journalist Radley Balko pays particular attention to cases of “puppycide” when describing incidents of police malfeasance, such as when a video of a Missouri drug raid, in which a family’s pit bull and corgi were killed and injured respectively, went viral. We have a long, complex history of interaction with canines, and it’s not at all unusual for people to react passionately at the thought of them being killed, much less tortured and killed gratuitously. That explains why so many were angry at Michael Vick when it was first discovered that he was involved in dog-fighting, but not why such cases occasionally draw more attention than those involving crimes against humans.

The answer, I think, lies in our conceptions of moral responsibility. We grant to dogs the capacity to be loyal, loving, dedicated, and even angry, jealous, and spiteful, but not evil. When we find it necessary to put a dog to death, it is for the pragmatic reason of preventing it from attacking anyone again, or the compassionate motive to ease the suffering it experiences from injury or illness. Not because it “deserves to die.” Humans, on the other hand, can deserve to die. They aren’t innocents. I think that’s why stories of humans killing other humans don’t seem to provoke quite the same kind of outrage that we see when humans kill animals. Not any animal, of course– as Watkins alludes, our compassion for animals is by no means consistent. If dogs are regarded as half-people, pigs (for example) aren’t regarded as people at all. Or maybe it would be better to say that they just aren’t regarded. I don’t want to get too far off-topic by elaborating on why I think that is, but suffice to say that the gentle, panting, tail-wagging creatures we share our lives with tend to have a special place in our moral estimation. When humans are killed it is generally by other humans, which makes obvious the fact that humans are capable of being both victims and perpetrators, and often the two categories aren’t necessarily so clear. With dogs it’s always innocent victims, and harm to innocents is what makes tragedy so tragic.

Again, I think Carlson’s comments were primarily a façade. I don’t think he is an idiot, rather that he went overboard in trying to make the president look bad. But had he tempered his rhetoric a bit, he would have tapped into a common thread among average Americans, people who don’t see dog-killing as equivalent to person-killing but as a heinous act nevertheless, and find no conflict in their faith or moral reasoning in sharing Carlson’s opposition to Obama’s statements on the matter. Me, I side with the president on this one. But I can understand why others do not.

 

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