Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What I Want to See

He's suffered enough, right? He's sorry, right? Can he play now?

"HE MADE A MISTAKE." I'm not kidding. This isn't a satire piece. In the buildup to the new NFL season, we've had an ocean of discussion about Michael Vick at ESPN and on the air during the first pre-season game. What's clear is that absolutely everybody associated with the NFL, as sportswriter, player, former player, coach, and former coach wants Vick to play this season in the National Football League. There's no question that there's a racial angle to it all, since every black player and coach seems vaguely resentful that Vick, who has done prison time, might be less welcome in the league than other players who have been guilty of gun violations, domestic violence, and various other crimes ranging from assault to drug trafficking. You can read any of the abundant chat rooms about NFL topics, and it's clear that African-Americans in particular cannot understand why anyone would oppose the return of Michael Vick based on their opposition to what he did to "just dogs."

I'm convinced this is also the mentality that prevails throughout the professional sports world. I heard Tony Dungy spend 20 minutes (when we could have been watching the Hall of Fame game between Buffalo and Tennessee) explaining that Vick was remorseful and anxious "to be a role model" while ESPN announcer Chris Collingsworth expressed his disbelief that Vick had lost "two years of his career" and was still in danger of being rejected by an NFL team. Earlier, I heard Howie Long give an interview to Fox News in which he suggested that a lot of NFL teams were intereasted in Vick and one of them would probably sign him because he was such a box-office draw. Time to move on, they all protest. The past is the past, and all necessary atonement has been paid.

What is wrong with these people? Are we being shown something none of us wants to see about the nature of professional athletes in this country -- that they are, at base, the cruel, unfeeling monsters we'd like to think they are only between the sidelines and the end zone? How can they not know that there are certain crimes that ordinary people don't believe are expiated by two or even five years in a penitentiary? And how can they dare to suggest or imply or work the angles on an inference that there's something racist about continuing to repudiate a man who tortured dogs for fun?

So here's what I want. I want a fearless reporter to ask President Obama about Michael Vick. Has he paid his debt to society? Should he be permitted to sign a new multi-million dollar contract with an NFL team? Is it really possible to live down the deliberate murder of dogs with a prison term and a possibly self-serving avowal of regret and apology? Is the revulsion felt by animal lovers for this man truly racist and unjust? Are dogs really nothing, as all the NFL pundits, players, and pontificators appear to be suggesting?

I'd like to know what our president thinks. He certainly wasn't shy about his opinions regarding Professor Gates. And I, for one, would glean one hell of a lot of important insight about Barack Obama from his answer to this question.

For the record, I don't want Michael Vick on an NFL football field ever. I don't want him anywhere I might see him or otherwise encounter him. He -- and anyone who believes that killing defenseless dogs is a lesser crime than killing a human child -- is the lowest of the low. I can also assure you that everyone who defends him, apologizes for him, refers to his crimes as a "mistake," or otherwise argues for his reinstatement and a "second chance" is permanently reduced in my regard. With no exceptions.

Just so we're clear. Obama likes to be "clear." Let him be clear about this. I really really want to know.

UPDATE. All right. I'm going to respond to this bit of moral chicanery once and no more, because as you may have gathered, I'm sick of the easy evasion that is always used by those who are determined to split hairs about truly heinous acts. I won't change the mind of anyone who's incapable of moral reasoning above a bumper sticker level, but at least a few of you will think more deeply before you accept such pompously glib assertions again.

Billy Oblivion said:

Oh, and:

"anyone who believes that killing defenseless dogs is a lesser crime than killing a human child"

That is utterly stupid. Of COURSE murdering a child is worse than murdering a dog.

Just as Syphilis is worse than Gonorrhea, or Prostate Cancer is worse than Lung Cancer.

I've had dogs. And I've got kids, and while I'd fight to save my dogs, I'd *die* defending my children.

Dog's aren't just a mans best friend, we've evolved together, we are a team. But they aren't human.

If placing human life ahead of animal life makes me the lowest of the low, well, I'm comfortable down here. I can live with that.

Say hi to the nitwits at PETA for me.

Then Cocklebur said:

I think Billy has covered Locos' idiotic comment equating a dog's life with that of a child.

[And most recently, Steve said:

"He -- and anyone who believes that killing defenseless dogs is a lesser crime than killing a human child -- is the lowest of the low"

By far the most idiotic thing I've heard on ANY blog in several years.

Jaw-dropping. What ARE you?]

Idiotic? Depends on what moral universe you live in. Both Billy and Cocklebur make fundamental errors in their, er, arguments assertions. I'll start with Cocklebur's. In point of fact, I did not "equate a dog's life with that of a child." I said that killing dogs was not a lesser crime than killing a human child. There's a significant difference between the two statements. The specific, objective value of the life being taken is not the important part of the moral issue. It can't be determined by any objective measure except species identity, in which we are obviously biased, biologically, legally, and philosophically. Yet in western culture, by tradition and even law, we have created a distinction between the "animals" we bring into our homes and the animals we raise for food. We do not eat cats or dogs or horses in this country. We give them names. We communicate with them. We receive benefits from our relationships with them. In the case of dogs and horses, we frequently make life contracts with them to do work that assists or elevates us. And when we take "ownership" of such animals we accept personal responsibility for their well being, just as we do with children. We partner with them. It may be an unequal partnership, but so is that between a parent and a child, and ironically, it is often the case that the dominant human receives more in return from his partner animals than from his own children. In point of fact, our species has "adopted" these other species as human adjuncts, regardless of what limitations we conveniently place on our own responsibility to them.

So what is the real difference? Intelligence? Capacity for altruism? Lifespan? All of these are slippery slopes for the human who is seeking to assign value in such terms beyond the brute postulate that "they are not us." If intelligence is the measure, and lesser intelligence (however measured) is the less valuable, then is it also less of a crime to murder a Down Syndrome child than a normal child? In that instance, it might be less of a crime to kill a one-year-old child than a five-year-old police dog, seeing eye dog, or therapy dog. If capacity for altruism is the measure, many would plausibly argue that dogs win that contest hands down against the entire human species. If lifespan is the measure, it cuts two ways. Yes, the human has been robbed of more years of life, but the dog has a much shorter and therefore more temporally precious lifespan to begin with. And, again, we face the question, is it a lesser crime to kill a child with some life-truncating genetic defect than to kill a healthy child?

The fact is, when we try a human being for murdering another human being, we do not seek to mitigate the criminality of the act by trivializing the value of the victim. We do not say the convicted murderer should receive a reduced sentence because his victim was 80 or produced no income to speak of or had a low IQ or was handicapped in some way. Indeed, the latter two circumstances might actually serve to increase the contemplated punishment at sentencing. What does matter in assessing degree of guilt? The intent of the murderer, the deliberateness, the egregiousness, the coldness, the vulnerability of the victim, and the brutality of the act itself. Evidence, for example, that the murderer took physical pleasure in the crime could be the difference between life in prison and the death sentence.

Which returns us to the "they are not us" assertion that makes its exponents so proud of their moral discrimination. Which is not actually moral at all. (I won't even mention what "they are not us" would mean in a strictly human context.) Invariably the next thing out of their mouths when they proclaim the superiority of their position is a citation of what they would do for their kids, which is instantly no longer even a species-level argument. Yeah, you'd die for your kids. So? That's not morality. That's biology. Perpetuation of your seed, your genes, your bloodline. That makes you some kind of moral arbiter? I don't think so. There were quite a few residents of New Orleans who refused to leave their homes during the Katrina evacuation because they weren't going to abandon their cats and dogs. Who are these people in your moral universe? Inferior because they were willing to die for their dogs if need be, whom they had not sired and who contained no particle of their genetic identity? As opposed to you, who stand absolutely and unthinkingly ready to tell us that a dog is a dog and a human is a human, especially when the human looks just like you. Uh, maybe "they are not us" is a signpost of superiority most of us can't aspire to in the context of dogs who have risked or given their lives for humans and humans who have risked or given their lives for "just" dogs, cats, and horses.

While you're still screaming in mortal outrage, let me repeat something I've said before on this site, whether any of my scolds remembers it or not. I am NOT saying that some hypothetical "Sophie's Choice" in which one had to choose between killing a dog and killing a child represents some kind of a coin flip decision. As I've said before, I'd kill the dog and then never get over it entirely. But your implication that this incredibly unlikely thought experiment adequately encompasses the moral issues associated with human responsibility is shallow, self-serving, and absurd.

Michael Vick was not engaged in a thought experiment. What he did, what he chose to do, is morally equivalent to killing a child for fun. That he did the one and not the other is not some function of real moral discrimination on his part. Killing a child is much much more illegal and deterred by force of possible punishment than killing a dog. Also, one and two-year-old infants cannot provide for you the pleasure of fighting to the death in an arena and produce gambling profits in addition to the thrill of the violence and gore. He did have a human, moral contractual obligation to look out for the well being of the dogs he chose to acquire. That he regarded the torture and murder of helpless beings who possess at least the intelligence and consciousness of a two year old human child as sport is as much an indictment of his humanity as if he had electrocuted a Down Syndrome child nobody else wanted. If you can do the one, you can probably do the other. You just might not, because human law protects human beings more than the other creatures who share our intimate lives and hearts.

That's why it's not a lesser crime. People who possess moral sensibility beyond the level of custom and popular cultural tradition know this. It's not a PETA "cockroaches are people too" bullshit posturing.

I know some of you will be offended and be inclined to sharpshoot. Not much interested in your defenses. They're nonsense. (Speaking of nonsense, Billy, fascinated by your equally presumptuous declaration that prostate cancer is worse than lung cancer. Really? From your perspective, prostate cancer is probably worse than breast cancer too. I mean, you've got a prostate, don't you? And I suppose the lung cancer crowd "had it coming"? Cause the "objective" truth is that it's much worse to die without a hard-on than without being able to breathe.) Nobody's rational anymore on the subject of "the kids." It's our abiding masturbatory obsession. And it's crap. In the days of the Roman Republic, one of the most important allegorical fables concerned the Roman general who assigned his own son the suicide mission of guarding a bridge at the rear over which the enemy might try to follow his retreat. That's more the kind of father my father was. He loved me as much as you love all your children. But he would never have lied for me, or broken the law of the land to rescue me from the consequences of my own crimes. He saw two responsibilities where today's Nanny-Daddies see only one. He was responsible for protecting me to adulthood. And he was responsible for raising me in a way that did not represent a danger to others. He took both responsibilities equally seriously. And if I had failed him in the latter, he would still have loved me, but he would not have forgiven me or protected me.

We've lost our moral compass in this country. That's why I get so angry when people who should know better recite platitudes as if they were delivering the truth of the ages. And do so pridefully. Michael Vick is a murderer. The assertion, in whatever form and however cloaked in pious doubletalk, that his victims were "just dogs" is an insult to people who claim to believe in individual human moral responsibility. You don't really believe that. You're guarding your bloodline. And other kinds of moral stands and risks aren't worth taking, not to you anyway. Good for you. You're the survivors in a Darwinian world. Just don't preach at those of us who see things differently. Idiotic? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And I'm the gander in this particular discussion.

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