Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rodeo: on Michael Vick and Dog Fighting

Last night in my comp class, we discussed ideas/concepts that our society doesn't deem worthy of debate: we simply say they are wrong. I asked the class to come up with examples, which included many of the expected examples (e.g., child abuse). We then discuss each example further to explore whether, why, or how our society deems it beyond debate.

A student mentioned dog fighting. In discussion, I noted that while most of us agree that animal cruelty is always wrong, we certainly aren't in agreement on what constitutes animal cruelty. Another student brought up rodeos, which brought some defensiveness from other students.

But it's true, I noted: there are people (myself included) who believe rodeos are wrong, and are a form of animal cruelty. I made a flip statement that, on reflection, is perhaps not so flip: "One person's rodeo is another person's dogfight." Indeed, while there are differences between a rodeo and a dogfight (as far as I know, the animals in a rodeo are not required to participate in activities that lead to their imminent deaths), a rodeo and dogfight do fit in the same schema:

Animals are made to suffer in a contest for the sake of human entertainment.

This statement of course includes dogfights, and it includes rodeos too. Rodeos involve animals suffering for the sake of human entertainment. And yet rodeos are an acceptable and legal activity that many people openly participate in and enjoy.

And so we come to a summation on the Michael Vick dog fighting story, perhaps our last comment on the issue. I believe dog fighting is wrong, and that participation in dog fighting is unethical; dog fighting involves torturing animals for the sake of human entertainment. I've never defended Michael Vick's actions. But I haven't been able to freely join in the outrage over dog fighting, either; in a society that accepts and condones so many forms of animal cruelty, I've been slightly vexed by the outrage over one particular form. As an animal rights advocate, I'm both firmly opposed to dog fighting, and vexed over the public reaction to dog fighting.


  1. When did they add an Ethics course to your workload?

  2. When teaching reading and/or writing, you can't teach in a vacuum; you need content. The sub-chapter title for this unit is "Are all Ideas Created Equal?" Students read two essays on Creationism and Evolution (from science's perspective, creationism is just wrong) and two essays on Holocaust denial (from any reasonable perspective, Holocaust denial is just wrong); now they'll write an exam essay on the basic subject (how a free society should deal with "ideas" that don't appear to have validity or relevance).

    So, yeah, in comp class, we talk about a lot more than just how to read and how to write. But you have to.

  3. Anonymous1:14 PM

    Does your curriculum purposely put Creationism and Holocaust denial in the same camp, or is that a coincidence?

  4. "The Blair Reader" includes two essays on each subject in the same chapter--not as moral equivalents, but as conceptual equivalents.

    The two essays on Creationism (Krauss's "Equal Time for Nonsense" and Eldridge's "Creationism Isn't Science") argue that since from a scientific perspective, creationism has no validity, there is no reason to give equal time between creationism and evolution, in the media or in high school science classes. The essays on Holocaust denial focus on debate over an issue that really has no debate: Lipstradt's "Denying the Holocaust" argues that college newspapers do not have an obligation to publish Holocaust denial advertisements or op-eds, and Tremblay's "Revising Our Prejudices: the Holocaust and Free Speech" argues there should be no suppression of Holocaust denial, as ridiculous as it is.

    So, yes, the two subjects are deliberately included, but no, not to put Creationism and Holocaust Denial in the same moral camp.

  5. Anonymous1:51 PM

    I see. Thanks for answering.

    I'm not a Creationist myself, but I know plenty of intelligent, articulate people who are and so I get a little defensive if a hint of attack is present.

  6. Anonymous3:32 PM

    I'm no rodeo expert, and can see where an event like calf roping would inflict suffering on the animal, but I can also see where an event like barrel racing could be quite enjoyable for an animal which has evolved to run in an agile fashion. Heck, it appears to me that the bulls really enjoy stomping the hell out of creatures that they outweigh by more than a thousand pounds. Maybe the economic exploitation of battered cowboys should be examined.

    The dogfighting is bad enough, but the manner in which Vick chose to kill animals which he deemed insufficiently fierce takes the sadism to another realm. I mean, it would be bad enough for a mercenary dogfight operator to put on spectacles of gore for sadists, in pursuit of economic gain. When the operator kills his dogs by the most painful methods available, not because there aren't ways to do it which are just as cheap but less painful, but simply because the operator prefers the more painful methods, the operator may be more sadistic than his customers, if that seems possible.