Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Michael Vick Should Not be Executed

with 6 comments

By Wiz

This is a bit off subject for this blog, but I just noticed asshole bowtie model conservative commentator Tucker Carlson calling for the execution of Michael Vick because of his dog fighting past. This isn’t much of an original point, but as a vegetarian can I point out the insane hypocrisy in our society when it comes to these issues.

To me it’s a perfectly coherent and reasonable position to believe that animals, by and large, do not deserve moral consideration. This is Descartes’ position, and he wasn’t a stupid guy. There are a lot of very smart theories of ethics that privilege the human subject for one reason or another (reason, social compacts, language, etc…) and, though I disagree with them, I have no problem with people who hold these positions.

And it’s also perfectly coherent to say that animals, by and large, deserve moral consideration. For a couple of reasons, this is my position. And thus I don’t think we should eat, for instance, pigs, which might not be as cute as dogs but are just as smart, and cuteness is not a good reason for valuing something’s life.

But its incoherent to say that causing pain and death to certain animals is a capital offense, while causing pain and death to other animals is perfectly ok.

(And before anyone says it, the nutritional value of eating animals is not a good response. The vast majority of us can lead perfectly healthy, in fact probably healthier, lives without eating meat. In 99% of situations we eat meat for the pleasure it gives us, just as Michael Vick fought dogs for the pleasure it gave him.)

I would suggest that our anger at Michael Vick is actually evidence of our own self-centeredness when it comes to moral issues. Peter Singer calls this, in what is surely the worst neologism ever, speciesism, a belief that species, in itself, is a good ground for granting or denying moral consideration. Ultimately, most Americans are distressed by dog fighting because we are used to dogs in our everyday life. They’re cute and pleasant and snuggle up with us. So when we think about dogs dying we get upset, because we imagine the dogs we know. Their moral worth, then, is not intrinsic, but tied to our feelings about them. Michael Vick’s real crime wasn’t killing animals but indirectly making us sad and upset, because we were forced to imagine the death of animals that we like. For whatever cultural and personal reasons, most of us don’t become upset when we think about pigs dying, even if factory farm regimes almost certainly subject them to greater suffering than Michael Vick’s dogs ever experienced.

Now it actually isn’t crazy to say that it should be illegal to do something that causes mental pain to people. Ancient art has no inherent moral value (a statue of Buddha or a Renaissance painting does not feel pain, has no hopes for its future, etc…) but we understand that destroying it would cause mental suffering to people who get emotional or artistic comfort from the art. But surely this is a lower crime than actually killing a person. After all, Darwin caused a lot of mental pain to some Christians. Surely biology should not therefore be illegal. And, if the indirect mental pain caused to humans was Vick’s real crime, than the true villains were those in the media who advertised what Vick did, since had people not known about Vick’s dog-fighting they never would have gotten upset about it.

Which is all to say, I suggest most people dial down the self-righteousness against Michael Vick, unless it forces them into an intellectual position they weren’t prepared for.

Oh… and Tucker Carlson is a moron. That’s the other point.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

December 29, 2010 at 12:43

6 Responses

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  1. Great post.

    I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of dietary preferences: I have a goal to make my stomach a sort of Noah’s Arc and eat one of every species of animal. I certainly think that humans deserve greater moral consideration than non-human animals in all cases. At the same time, I think that animal cruelty is wrong.

    Or I sort of do. Because I have a hard time defending that position philosophically. And I often think that the only real way to be ideologically consistent here is to either be a Peter Singer-style vegan or to be a Cartesian carnivore and treat all animals as property. But if animals are property, why can’t you torture them, like you can trash your own couch? And then I get stuck.

    I would be repulsed if I saw someone beating a dog, or a bird, or a horse, on the side of the road. But I’m not really bothered by factory farming. And I have watched live bullfighting in Spain (I found it interesting, if a bit dull). I think I would balk if people pressed to have bullfighting, or cockfighting, eliminated, because I see those activities as having some sort of cultural importance. But then, some people could say the same about dogfighting. So again I’m stuck.

    So while I’m viscerally disgusted by wanton, needless cruelty to non-human animals, I am also sympathetic to the view that human interests should always come first, and first by a large margin. One could probably make a utilitarian case in favour of bullfighting and cockfighting but against dogfighting which I would support, however unprincipled it may be.

    But I certainly agree with your basic point that people are taking too harsh a stance on Michael Vick, considering how many athletes and other celebrities who have committed crimes against humans and don’t receive nearly the same degree of societal contempt.

    And I also agree that Tucker Carlson is a moron.


    December 30, 2010 at 18:18

  2. I’m not convinced that animals should be so starkly divided from humans– for evolutionary reasons, because children who torment animals seem more likely to torment humans, and because many a human has been be de-humanized and treated like a variety of animal species. Perhaps at the end of the day these are all human considerations, but nonetheless I’m willing to consider the animal’s material interests even if there’s no ready (or only an abstract) human interest. Although like Wiz, I’ll say I’m not very judgmental of meat-eaters–having been one myself until relatively recently and being surrounded by an Italian family who have a really hard time accepting the existence of someone who doesn’t like a slab of veal (“But fish, you’ll eat fish, right?”)

    Personally I think it is legitimate to follow David Foster Wallace in considering the suffering of the animal when deciding how animals should be treated. Hence no boiling alive of crustaceans, but also, if I could be assured that the life of that pig was decent and the death swift and relatively painless, I’d be much more willing to eat it.

    I think my problem with Weiner’s (and for that matter Jonathan Safran Foer’s) either/or of vegan it up or enjoy a Noah’s Ark of the stomach is that it suggests there’s no point in following ideals unless you can be perfect in them. I really should be a vegan given the issues I have with factory farm practices, but the fact that I’m not doesn’t make me think my efforts to not eat meat or fish are entirely pointless.

    But of course and rightly, the most important point here is the disproportionate anger and attention paid to Vick’s dog-fighting, while Ben Roethlisberger (quarterback for the Steelers)’s multiple accusations of rape are largely ignored by the media. I’m pretty sure a race and class analysis of Vick’s dog fighting (which has become associated with poorer urban populations–featured nicely in a few episodes of The Wire), could be done to partly explain it.


    December 30, 2010 at 20:44

  3. Oh right, also be-bow-tied Tucker Carlson is a complete moron.


    December 30, 2010 at 20:45

  4. Interesting post and discussion. Dave Zirin takes a different angle on the Moron Tucker Carlson’s latest stupidity:

    Andrew Hartman

    December 31, 2010 at 09:12

  5. Thanks Andrew! There is also a fascinating post by Melissa Harris-Perry about the history of civil rights and animal rights. Highly recommended.


    December 31, 2010 at 15:34

  6. […] height of stardom to serve a sentence for involvement in illegal dogfighting, which Wiz wrote about here.  Hopkins, was arrested at age 17 for nine different […]

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