Reader Request Week 2018 #2: Our Pets and How We Treat Them

Bill asks:

Given the attachment we humans tend to have with our pets, how do we rationalize the treating them as commodities, food, or things (rather than beings)?

I mean, Bill, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but have you seen the way humans treat other humans? On balance I’m not entirely convinced that humans in fact treat our pets any differently than we treat humans, who we have both historically and, yes, currently, often treat as commodities, food and things.

I’m going to argue to you that what really matters to humans in terms of how we treat others is not species, per se, but otherness — that is, whether we see someone (human or otherwise) as part of our in-group or tribe or family or however you want to call it. Or more simply, if you’re in, you’re in, and you’re one of us — but if you’re not in, then it doesn’t matter what you are, because you’re not one of us, and therefore you can be a thing, or a commodity, or a thing.

Mind you, it doesn’t have to go that far. On a more prosaic level, you can simply attach more meaning and emotion to one’s pets than you do to humans. To use a personal example, I can say I’ve been more torn up about the death of a pet than the deaths of humans I knew tangentially, even if I liked them as people — because my pet was family, a daily presence in my life, whilst the humans were on the periphery of my daily experience. Arguably those humans were more valuable to the world than my cat or dog, but it doesn’t change the fact that my pet’s death hit me harder emotionally.

(Or for an even less emotionally-charged example, think about movies and animals — you can kill people left and right and no one blinks, but if you kill a dog in a movie then there’s no coming back for you in terms of audience sympathy. Hell, the movie John Wick had the main character slaughtering people left and right because the bad guy stomped a puppy, and while the film gave some backstory to justify that, honestly if they hadn’t people wouldn’t have cared. You stomped an adorable beagle puppy? Prepare to fuckin’ die, dude, we would all say, and then munch happily on our popcorn as Keanu double-taps an entire legion of Russian mafia.)

I should note that not everyone treats their pets the same way. Some people aren’t especially attached to pets if, for example, they don’t consider pets in their household as theirs, but merely as something their kids wanted, and why not. Likewise, people can be fond of their pets but have a certain line past which they are willing to let pets go — say, if the pet’s medical upkeep gets too expensive or if they have to move and the only place they can go is someplace that doesn’t accept pets, etc. And generally speaking people do have a dividing line within the family with regard to pets. If the house is on fire and you can save either your kid or your cat, but not both, then it’s curtains for Whiskers, and no one is going to blame you for it.

On the other hand, if it came to, say, Whiskers or the guy who was trying to rob your house who inadvertently set fire to your house in the first place? Maaaaybe you’d go for Whiskers and then lie about trying to save the robber. Maybe you wouldn’t lie about it! “Damn right I saved my cat!” you’d say, defiantly. And no one would blame you. That dude was trying to rob your house. He deserved to fry, the thieving bastard. There are any number of scenarios where one might decided to value a pet over a human, many if not most of them at least somewhat morally defensible.

And it doesn’t have to be pets — If you had to choose between an elephant or its poacher, which would you choose? If a tiger was one of the last remaining members of its species, would you shoot it to save a human it had decided to hunt? There are more than seven billion humans, after all. Alternately, if a human decided against all sense and reason to go swimming in a bayou filled with alligators, would you hold it against the alligators who then killed and almost certainly consumed him (this actually happened; the man’s last recorded words were “fuck the alligators”)?

The point here is that there are times and places where we might value a non-human life over a human one (or at least, not blame the non-human life for negative action against humans), and that’s not even getting to the philosophical place where we consider the issues of otherness — of the human being an outlander with respect to our tribe — and where that places that human with respect to animals within our tribe.

So, in sum, Bill, I think in point of fact we treat our pets like we treat humans — some of them, anyway. And in certain, not-especially-rare cases, we treat them even better. That being the case, I’m not sure your original question is on point. Because, frankly, just because humans are “beings” doesn’t mean we don’t do terrible things to them. Things, as the proverbial saying goes, we wouldn’t even do to a dog.

(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week! Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)

Reader Request Week 2018 #1: Incels and Other Misogynists

Let’s start off the 2018 Reader Request Week with a topic that several of you were interested in because of recent news, although I’m using Laura’s question to get us started:

What are your thoughts on Incels? While I think the type of guy has been around for always, their organizing and magnifying seems different and concerning.

For those of you not up on the recent news on these folks, “incel” is a term that means “involuntary celebate” and is used as a self-identifier by a certain subset of whiny misogynist man-child who believes he is owed sex by “hot” women, pretty much because he is a man and wants sex with a hot woman. When the sex with a hot woman is somehow not in the offing, he gets pissy about it.

And, unfortunately, sometimes murderous about it too — the recent surfacing of the term in the public consciousness occurred when one of these self-identified incels drove a van into a bunch of pedestrians in Toronto, killing several. This action, along with this fellow’s self-association with “incels,” prompted several deeply regrettable hand-wringing articles from conservative commentators, more or less along the line of “well, shouldn’t we be redistributing sex, or at least sex robots, to these angry, congested men?” This prompted some well-deserved dragging of said commentators on social media and elsewhere, which in turn prompted some of them to attempt to qualify their previous statements, which in turn led them to digging their own holes deeper. At this point, for example, someone should gently lead the New York Times’ Ross Douthat away from his keyboard and the internet, set him in a dandelion patch and leave him there until just about forever.

As you might be able to surmise from the previous two paragraphs, I’m not notably sympathetic either to the “incels” or to the gormlessly dim sort of straight white male commentator who rends his garments wondering how to get them sex while their victims are still fresh in their graves. As many, many, many people have already noted, no one has a “right” to sex, the way these fellows think about sex reduces women to objects at best and objects of contempt at worst, and all the bloviating about the abstract concept of “redistributing sex” that these oh-so-serious commentators engage in is once more objectifying women as sex-gratifying objects, just one rhetorical step removed (and as for “sex robots”: dudes, if “incels” already don’t want to fuck women they don’t consider “9s” at the minimum, the idea they’re going to be satisfied with an oversized silicone sleeve for their johnson is optimistic at best. They might consider women to be objects, but it’s important to the incels that their objects are, in fact, women).

I don’t tend to think of incels as a group in isolation. Rather they lay on the general misogynist scatter plot, along with “men’s rights” activists, pick up artists, “men going their own away” and the sort of person who just simply believes women are inferior to men and uses their own personal set of scripture (whether based on religion or politics or “science” or some combination thereof) to justify their sexism. Gross, unapologetic misogyny has been having a moment thanks to a president who has delighted in treating women the way incels wish they could treat women, if only they had millions of dollars to get into the room with them in the first place, and then a lawyer to make them go away when they were done. It’s also been helped by a shift in the sexism Overton window that, for example, allows a man who was for women being hanged for having abortions to get a plum job in a mainstream media publication until the convenient fig leaf of him lying to his editor about how serious he was in that opinion got him fired (yes, I’m aware Mr. Williamson has attempted, wailing of the chilling unfairness of it all the while, to qualify his position after the fact. Set him in the same dandelion patch as Mr. Douthat, please). So it’s not exactly surprising that in this particular environment, the incels may feel their moment has come around at last, if not to get laid, then at least to be taken seriously.

I’d take incels seriously as a threat to women in particular and to people in general (the victims in Toronto were not just women), and it’s important to know their pathology in order to deal with them when they’re inspired to criminality. I don’t in the least take them seriously as a social movement. For one thing, it’s incorrectly labeled. There’s very little involuntary about their celibacy; they’re making the affirmative choice to be so by being childish misogynist assbags. Strange how women don’t want to have anything to do with jerks who see them solely as a warm hole to stick their dicks into! Who could have foreseen this might be the case! Surely it’s a mystery of the ages that such a thing would come to pass. And these fellows are only making their situation worse by loitering around online with others who validate their anti-social women-hating bullshit by suggesting its neither right nor fair that they, as men, should not be able to have sex on demand from hot women. Are we not Nice Men? they cry, if not in unison, then in threaded harmony.

Well, no. You’re not nice men. Nice men recognize the fundamental humanity and agency of women. Nice men work on themselves to become better people. Nice men understand they’re not owed sex by anyone. Nice men learn to recognize that grading people on a scale based on appearance is childish and reductive and will keep you from discovering the amazingness of people as they are. Nice men are nice not as a way to get sex, but because they recognize the value of being nice in itself, for themselves. Nice men realize that “nice” means nothing if it’s not attached to an actual core of kindness and decency and principle — and that kindness and decency and principle are virtues, not weaknesses. Nice men don’t tally up every action they make as if they’re accruing points redeemable for sticking their penis into a moist orifice. Nice men don’t go whining about it when their “orifice” scheme doesn’t work out as they wanted it to, and they don’t blame others who neither consented to the scheme nor go along with it when it’s sprung on them. Nice guys don’t think consent is an impediment. Nice guys don’t have to declare themselves to be “nice guys.” But nice guys don’t mind noting there are always ways for them to keep improving themselves and being better to and for other people.

(Mind you, I don’t expect anyone who identifies as an “incel” to be swayed by anything here — it’s much easier to believe the problem lies with the “Chads” and “Stacies” and “Beckys” of the world, and that I’m a beta cuck in any event, then it is to undertake a critical examination of self and work to improve one’s self as a human being, and as a result perhaps be seen as someone whom someone else might wish to spend time with and affection on, and be a better person in any event. C’est la vie. This is, of course, their own karma.)

What should anyone else do with regard to incels? Remember they are actually “volcels” — voluntarily celibate, because they’ve chosen to be crap human beings no sensible woman (or anyone else) would want to spend time with — and then leave them to their own chosen lifestyle, because apparently they would rather do that than put in the work to be attractive, engaging people. If they really do want to have sex with other people, they should make the effort and then take their chances like the rest of us, and it should be noted that a lot of the rest of us, having made the effort, have seen it pay off, in ways both obvious (Yay! Sex! Possibly!) and less obvious (being content with ourselves and our lives, even if and when no sex partner is in the offing).

And if they don’t want to do that, well. I guess then they can just go fuck themselves.

(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week! Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)