Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Libertarians, Michael Vick, and Dog Fighting (The Dog Whisperer Cries)

Seeing as though Michael Vick just took a plea deal, I figure it's time to finally get out this little post that's been percolating in my head for over a month now. (And no link to Vick stories, because, if you don't know anything about the Michael Vick story or where to find information about it, you're hopeless.)

I remember my personal reaction to the Vick dog fighting scandal when it first broke was the same as most other Americans- I was horrified. As the proud keeper of two pure bred Labrador Retrievers, I know I feel bad when I miss a walk or when I'm a few hours late feeding them. Executions and torture of dogs would be as unthinkable as, well, doing all that awful stuff to people. But as the case lingered in the news, I began to think about the issue from a libertarian perspective - how, as a libertarian, do I justify laws against animal cruelty? Where do those laws come from and how should they be determined?

The problem is, the law traditionally has treated animals as property - so therefore, killing someone else's dog would be a property crime, but killing your own dog was more akin to smashing your own car. While buying a car to smash it for no reason what so ever may be stupid, it doesn't hurt anyone- but to most of us, torture, abuse, and murder of dogs is just appalling.

Of course, any question of animal abuse raises the question of just what abuse is in the first place. Some animal rights folks will tell you that keeping pets and eating meat is animal abuse, but for most of us, that doesn't ring true any more than the animals as property argument does. Maybe conservatives, and some liberals, are happy just drawing a line, telling us that some things are just plain wrong, but as a libertarian I'd like more of a foundation. After all, the just plain wrong argument seems to reek of moral relativism, which raises the additional question of what to do about cultures where dog fighting (or cock fighting even) are socially acceptable. I think one of the points of libertarianism is that we believe in big rights and wrongs that apply cross-culturally, while leaving personal rights and wrongs up to the individual. So once again, how do I justify wanting to put Michel Vick in jail?

I think the answer is, at least in part, that we have to recognize that animals are more than property and may have some rights. And no, I don't mean animals have the right to vote, drive, and receive public assistance as PETA does. I only mean that animals are sentient beings and should therefore be entitled to more moral consideration than a car or a tree. Not only that, but we should consider animals on a relative scale, by species, rather than all together. After all, dogs, cats, pigs, and dolphins are a bit closer to humans than fish, lobsters, or insects.

And what should these animal rights mean? I'm still sort of working that out. Maybe rights isn't even the best term, as what we're really talking about what consideration animals should be given by humans. Our relationship with animals is probably the most important factor in determining what sort of consideration they should be given. Eating animals, and using their furs, skins, and feathers are all part of the natural order of things. The same goes for hunting. Maybe we're not talking about activities that are necessary for our survival today, but they are all activities that stem from the human drive to survive. Maybe furs are unnecessary in the modern world, but notions of rights shouldn't be based on our current state of relative luxury. I would contrast these uses of animals with those uses that are solely for our entertainment and pleasure that do not stem from our natural survival instincts. This would include the keeping of pets, but not the keeping of work animals.

Keeping pets, using animals for a circus, and whatever else you can think of in that category should require that we give animals more consideration. Dog fighting is cruel precisely because it isn't based upon our primitive survival behavior, but on more modern notions of entertainment. And sure, the circus is all about entertainment too, but wearing stupid outfits, jumping through hoops, and training to be gentle seems to be a far cry from drownings, torture, and training to be vicious.

I think this theory works, at least enough for me - although I'd be more than happy to hear about any holes this theory may have. I recognize that I haven't answered the big question - what if you want to eat your pet dog? But in reality I think that's so unlikely to happen that it's just not a serious issue. And what about raising dogs for the purposes of eating them - well, I find that disgusting, but I imagine we can all agree that doesn't rise to the same level as Michael Vick's actions. I've never heard of any underground black market for dog meat, so maybe that too is something we need not worry about. And from a legal perspective, is our discomfort with the idea of raising dogs for food any different with the Hindu discomfort with the idea of raising cows for food. Maybe that's just more of the price of living in a pluralistic society. Not dog fighting though - It's just plain wrong, and damn it, I've got a damn good reason. I for one am happy Michael Vick is going to jail- and maybe after being there the judge should require he spend a year working with the Dog Whisperer rehabilitating mistreated and neglected dogs.

4 Comments:

Blogger John said...

"I think the answer is, at least in part, that we have to recognize that animals are more than property and may have some rights. And no, I don't mean animals have the right to vote, drive, and receive public assistance as PETA does. I only mean that animals are sentient beings and should therefore be entitled to more moral consideration than a car or a tree. Not only that, but we should consider animals on a relative scale, by species, rather than all together. After all, dogs, cats, pigs, and dolphins are a bit closer to humans than fish, lobsters, or insects."

I think you're right and wrong. I do think all animals need to be separated by species and treated as such, but I don't think any animal deserves "rights" or anything that could be considered rights. Let's get one thing straight, in the animal kingdom, Man rules supreme. Human beings have separated themselves from other creatures through evolution, culture and technology, and because of that, we have created this idea of a "right". To say animals have rights would be saying animals our are equals when that just isn't true. The cutest dog in the world can still bite and maul a person and when that happens, we don't put the dog on trial because after all, it's just a dog. There's a double standard in saying animals have rights, because when we violate an animal's "rights", we can be punished but when an animal violates a persons rights, well, the animal just doesn't know any better.

Now you might be wondering if I'm about to defend Michael Vick. Quite the contrary. I believe what Vick and his constituents did is immoral, irresponsible and disgusting and here's why. As I said before, humans have separated themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom. Because of this, we have sort of inherited this responsibility. We have the power to destroy any creature on this Earth but that doesn't mean we have to. Since many, many animals provide a valuable service to humans and planet Earth, it is our responsibility to protect these animals even while we further our own advancement. Just as we have created this idea of a "right", we have created the idea of cruelty. Because animals are sentient beings and because as humans we can relate to anything that is being treated cruel, we need to protect against it. So what's cruel and what is not cruel?

It's not cruel to kill animals for food as long as the animals are killed in a painless manner. We need meat to survive and animals such as cows, chickens and pigs are perfect to eat because they taste good, they are bountiful and they aren't as cognitively advanced as other animals. Some cultures have to eat animals that we in America might not accept, such as dog, because they have no other choice and that's fine. In America though, that behavior needs to be cut out. Other issues are a little tougher to determine cruelty. Is it cruel to keep animals in zoos? On one hand, we're taking animals out of their own environment for our entertainment. On the other hand, these animals are fed regularly and kept safe from predators. It's just a matter of opinion. Other issues are more clear cut. When someone trains dogs to fight, electrocutes dogs and tortures dogs for entertainment, then that is extremely cruel and unnecessary. And let's get one thing straight, it's not cruel just because it's a dog. That kind of behavior would be cruel for any kind of animal. Since dogs are used as pets in America, it's that much worse, but it's bad regardless of the animal. Now if dog fighting is accepted in other cultures, well that just goes to show the state of that culture. But as I said earlier, this is America. We should know better. When someone disregards the idea of cruelty, no matter the animal, that person needs to be punished. Plain and simple.

10:15 PM  
Blogger QU 3L said...

You're right on about the whole concept of rights - I think I noted my discomfort with it as I was writing yesterday

"Maybe rights isn't even the best term, as what we're really talking about what consideration animals should be given by humans."

I think you're also right that I'm sort of skipping over the cruelty aspect of all of this. As a legal minded individual, intent is all important in criminal law, and it seems clear that amongst Vick and his cohorts there was an intent to physically injure the dogs and an intent to damage them psychologically in training them to be vicious fighting dogs. And this intent to be cruel differs from someone who kills animals to produce meat or fur, or even someone who just hunts for sport.

A question though, because it seems to me as though you're saying there should be laws against eating dogs (and I would imagine, cats and horses as well, along with all the other cute animals we just don't eat). How do you distinguish between the cute animals from the ones we eat, other than by cultural preferences?

I find the concept of eating dogs to be abhorrent, but I just can't find a good reason why it should be illegal.

And by the way, I do believe, even as a libertarian, in notions of community values - I wouldn't have a problem with a local government passings laws banning the raising of certain animals for food - But I think a state ban on the sale of dog meat is more problematic. After all, if a large group of Indian Hindu's immigrated to a less populous state and managed to become a political majority, I think most of us would have difficulty with them passing a law banning the sale of beef in the state.

I raise these issues because I love my dogs, I want Michael Vick to go to jail for a long time, and I want him to be there for a damn good reason.

2:29 PM  
Blogger John said...

I didn't say that eating dogs should be illegal. I'm just saying that American society should be above that because there are better, more reasonable alternatives. I understand some cultures eat dog and I believe that's because dog is more easily accessible. All I meant to suggest that eating dog in America is socially unacceptable, but understandable in the right circumstance.

Speaking of cultural differences, I find one aspect of this dog fighting story to be fascinating. A lot of people are playing the race card, and if you look at the defenders of Vick and other athletes who are calling for people to back off, they are predominantly black. Stephon Marbury compared dog fighting to hunting, Clinton Portis asked what the big deal is, Fred McCrary went nuts on ESPNews saying Vick is getting persecuted too much and the list goes on. A lot of the talk has me wondering how big dog fighting actually is. It's scary to think about but Vick could be the tip of the iceberg. And why is race becoming such a big issue? Needless to say, I'm going to be following this story very closely and it'll be very interesting to see what else comes about.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous RealLibertarian said...

"I think the answer is, at least in part, that we have to recognize that animals are more than property and may have some rights. "
Fuck you, idiot. Stop confusing your touchy-feely sissy moralizing with a proper philosophy of law. You cunts are a stain on libertarianism, and need to stop lying and identifying yourselves as one.

11:56 AM  

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