Thursday, May 20, 2004

dogs and katz

another day another dogblog. (The recent post entitled "dogs" was an accident btw - a working title that I forgot to rebuild into something more specific and not a sign that content has gone to the wall.)

Barista links to a Jon Katz Slate story and refers to another about the semantic debate over guardian vs owner. Jon Katz is an owner:
I'm not convinced there will be concrete benefits from this metaphoric, even Orwellian revolution...

The guardian campaign is a vivid example of the growing tendency to blur the boundaries between us and our pets. Many Americans have already stopped seeing their dogs and cats as animals. They're family members, emotional support systems, metaphors for issues from our own pasts, aids for healing and growth, children with fur...

Katz quotes another Katz who endorses the change:
Eliot Katz, president of IDA, says change is crucial to elevating the public's perception of animals. "I know the importance of language, and how action follows language,"says Katz. "The change in this terminology [indicates] a change in the paradigm—to think of animals differently and think of one's relationship to them differently. It's terribly important because it's a major step in ending a great deal of animal pain and suffering

I can't see anything offensive or dangerous in the preferred word, and am happy to call myself both guardian and companion of three dogs.
I do flinch when casual speciests refer to my dog, or any dog, as it. It galls as it chases its ball or chases the old term/newspeak tail.

The anthropomorphic sins of pet owners that Jon Katz refers to, the indulgences of the pet industry, may indeed be challenged if animals are regarded less as possessions to be mistreated by neglect or indulgence and more as sentient beings to be cared for. And my dogs, in all their manifest non-human otherness and chance association are my companions. They share my space. Doesn't mean I mistake them for humans, or children with fur, or that I have to trade-off any human rights in the process.

Comments: dogs and katz

Just in passing last night I caught a clip from "Bambi". It's where the cute little Indian boy with his cute little bow-and-arrow has the cute little bunny (Thumper?) in his notch-sites, and he's all grown-up serious and just about to shoot, and the little Thumper-bunny is just so cute he outcutes the little Indian boy, who leaves without his prey. His food.
That that is a travesty beyond monstrous is lost now isn't it? While we read of beef cattle skinned alive, and chickens in Abu Ghraib factories, and veal calves and all the other atrocities that contribute to the diverse meats of the family table.
But no shooting cute little bunnies. That's a Morlock's job, down in the dark under the Eloi park. Where the food comes from.
Guardians are precious, and their companions are precious. And they live in a nice landscape that has gone nine degrees too far into the unreal.
Cat lovers who because their companions never bring them more than three or four dead birds insist the impact on songbirds must be minimal. But the studies done say hundreds of millions. And that's actual kills, think of the non-breeding because of no safe place. And the habitat gone. Having a serious argument about the terminology of animal/human relationships seems almost demonic under the circumstances.
Like that image of the cute little Indian boy, refusing to do something that was paramount in importance to young boys for millenia, absolutely healthy and vital to native cultures, and not doing it because of the blinding cuteness of his prey. For all its light, it's a very dark thing.
Posted by Lance Boyle at May 21, 2004 07:33 AM

"Having a serious argument about the terminology of animal/human relationships seems almost demonic under the circumstances"
Totally disagree. Obviously.

I agree with Eliot Katz (at the coalface):
"action follows language"

'Cute' is a word that goes with my idea of the worst excesses of 'ownership', the dark sentimentality that distorts an animal's nature, pampers pets with things. An ideal guardian would keep their cats in at night; an 'owner'(in this sense) might see it as their right to let their cat 'prowl'.

"The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality"

"Boundless compassion for all living things is the surest and most certain guarantee of pure moral conduct. Whoever is filled with it will assuredly injure no one, do harm to no one, encroach on no man’s rights; he will rather have regard for everyone, forgive everyone, help everyone as far as he can, and all his actions will bear the stamp of justice and loving kindness"
Arthur Schopenhauer
Posted by boynton at May 21, 2004 10:21 AM

I should have made that statement less general, I meant moral argument, I enthusiastically support theoretical linguistic arguments of all kinds, on all subjects, at all times.
And now I regret the demonic thing because it means very different things to different people.
At some point these loyalties conflict.
Compassion for all living things means you don't get to eat without either some kind of moral code that puts you above your food source, or hypocrisy.
People feel righteous about loving animals while at the same time they drive cars, because they don't see the corpses at the side of the road, because they aren't there. But the ghosts are. The carnage is immense. It's like the slaughterhouse, the way most kids wouldn't eat burgers if they saw the cows getting butchered from start to finish.
I guess what I'm trying for is a hierarchical compassion that doesn't start with people, as they've become, at the top.
I had this same kind of argument with someone about eugenics and the disabled and advocating some kind of filter on the gene pool, and it occurred to me that of course we're already filtering people, we're already eugenically selecting, we're just not doing it around handicaps, in fact we're selecting out the most fit, the natural, the wilderness-dwellers, the jungle guys, the bushmen. It's almost a mirror-reversal of eugenic theory.
Don't misunderstand, but I'm wary of people who are sheltered from the bloody results of their way of life presenting themselves as innocent and gentle. That Disney cartoon just seemed so obvious, I'd just read somebody describing a meeting between a young colonial boy and a native about his own age, in the still relatively untouched woods of northern Georgia. The Indian was talking about being trained from toddler-hood to be stoic and silent, to endure physical discomfort, and to hunt. Then about twenty minutes later here's Thumper on the TV being all cute. Point being the Indian kid in the cartoon didn't get supper. That native from the first part would have not understood the Disney story at all, would have probably seen it as I do, as basically weird and wrong. Because it's a lie and it tricks people by playing on their desire for niceness.
Compassion for animals in most people stops at the highway, which is a river of steel and poison gas, and death to thousands of animals every day. But it's invisible. So it's like it doesn't happen. Because they don't intend it.
I'm speaking from compassion here. But it's for the animals that don't care about us, who don't need us, and who mostly would be better off without us around.
That's harder, I think, that kind of compassion. And it sure is less popular than Bambi.
A few years ago this guy at a state park got arrested for attacking a young black bear that had caught a fawn and was killing it. So this guy jumped in to save the deer. They had to haul him off the bear, which was a yearling cub.
That looks like compassion but I don't think it is, I think it's something else that isn't at all healthy or good.
Posted by Lance Boyle at May 21, 2004 11:44 AM

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