I published a news report yesterday with this headline:
I like dogs. I like dogs a lot, so much so that when I was a child I used to stroke and play with pretty much any dog that strayed into my path. I got bitten a lot for my gregariousness. One time someone saw me take a bite from a dog and they reported it. It was put down. I had to have a tetanus shot, but didn’t care one bit about the bite. My friend wasn’t too happy about it though. It was his dog.
There are probably a lot of kids out there who’ve heard these life-changing words:
“We’ve had to put him/her down.”
I was always suspicious that my zealous and overly-impassioned mother used to do the dogs in a little bit before it was their time. She seemed to embrace the drama it inflicted on everyone else. Peppi, for instance, my adored poodle whose eczematous, stinky ears could clear out a house full of smokers, was good for another year in my opinion.
“She’s in a lot of pain James,” my mother would say, and I would have a tantrum. As both of us didn’t speak poodle, and Peppi had never attempted jumping head first from the extension roof or swigging Mr. Clean, the argument was a non-starter. For many years I believed my mother to be cruel and unjust because of Peppi’s early demise.
I have to admit, and perhaps it’s to my detriment seeing as I reported the story, I couldn’t watch the video of the girls killing the puppy, not even a minute of it. Just finding the clip and translating comments about it was an absolutely shitty jaunt through the underworld of online horror. ‘The horror’, someone said, comparing it to Conrad’s reflection of the cruel acts humans inflict on each other… and on little puppies.
Reading more comments about the clip someone likened the cruelty to what Thomas Hobbes believed was the innate nastiness of human nature, a consequence of material life. I haven’t read much Hobbes, but I think he believed that all humans react to their material circumstances, and so they, I mean we, are merely survivalists, selfish at heart, and prone to violence if our material circumstances demand it. Get down from that high horse people, you’re all animals. The best we can hope for is creating lots of laws, and hoping nobody takes our bread away, because all breadless men and women will become killers.
Being an incipient Marxist I agree in part that our material circumstances affect every atom of our creation, and so at the heart of the dead dog matter lies a telling motive to the cruelty. There’s a much bigger story than the killing of a dog. It may start with who held the camera, or it might go back to the abuse of a child.
Sadism, squashing a puppy with your foot, might also be viewed as eccentric, or idiosyncratic behavior. The chemicals in your head, as Steven Pinker so obstinately points out for thousands of pages, are the fuel that feeds all human motion. But Pinker might take note that there were three people in the killing scene, which makes the act communicative as well as personal.
It was also pointed out by some people – and I’ve heard this many times before – that torture, acts of cruelty, are more common in The Orient, which makes them also cultural… if you agree with that. Japanese war camps became infamous for these acts of creative cruelty, and also in the prisons around Thailand some rather murky human behaviour occurs. I once asked a human rights worker who’d been working in Asia for a long time what he thought about this. It was his assumption that in cultures that have strict codes of conduct, cultures sometimes called repressive, that behind closed doors ill-treatment of people (or dogs) could be more common due to a kind of sudden outlet of repressed anger. We might be reminded at this point of the sadistic methods of torture in medieval England, or even everyone’s favourite corporation, Monsanto’s Agent Orange, but those dark acts are public, not private, and also political.
But I wouldn’t feel comfortable making the generalization that torture is mainly an Oriental predisposition. I do know that repression often begets bullying, for the reason that people strive to be in control, and hurting people gives folk that much needed autonomy, which we all seek. Take away a person’s freedom and you might create a monster. Modern society is in a master/slave dialectic, and therefore, I guess, killing dogs is unfortunately a mainstay on the cultural menu.
In the case of the dead dog we are not concerned about loss of life, because that dog’s life we couldn’t give a damn about. If I’d have published ‘Puppy Lives Normal Puppy Life’, you’d have been calling for the site to be closed down due to its poor, meaningless, tautologous content. Our concern is with the act itself, not the outcome.
I’m not sure what to think about the sadistic impulse, such as that of the girls who killed that dog. I once shot a bird when I was a child, and I felt bad for years after. Chemicals, Pinker would say. But my conclusion to killing dogs, I guess, is a bit of all of the above.
I’m not so vague and relativistic about one matter though, and that’s ‘moral outrage’. I’m dead against this eye-for-an-eye way of thinking that it seems most commentators on the piece advocated. The majority of people commenting (thousands of viewers) screamed that these girls if they should ever be apprehended should suffer a similar gruesome fate as the notorious regicide Damiens.
Our gritty emotional attachment, though perhaps humane, and understandable, likely only fosters and creates more negativity. A cold analysis of events is probably better for everyone in the long-run, including dogs. Dry those eyes, calm down, walk away.
Punishment is something I am completely stumped on. Ignoring the corruption of the prison system, the onset of a modern reestablishment of slavery, and the injustice of the justice system, how do we punish correctly, humanely, and intelligently, so that society is better for punishment’s existence? I don’t know, don’t ask me.
Michel Foucault explains in his book Discipline and Punish, The Birth of Prisons, that punishment evolves. 300 years ago it was a la mode (the French were maverick sadists) to exert excruciating pain on people, to let loose for the people the spectre of horrific acts, such as The Rack and pouring molten lead into open wounds. Later punishment took on meaningless Sisyphean work, like breaking rocks, and at present we just take someone’s freedom away – or enslave them to business.
Punishment doesn’t work, but many of us are too busy hating to see the wood for the trees.
I can’t really think of a good way to punish those girls if they are ever arrested. I’m not even sure they should be punished.
Hopefully one day we’ll transcend punishment. But maybe that’s too utopian for people to stomach, Hobbes included. But then some people believe in things like eternal love, mutual recognition (the end of master/slave) or the interconnectivity with each other and the cosmos.
If that’s too futuristic for you, then I’ll get historical and say that when Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them.’ I think he was thinking along the right lines. Jesus was alright, the Father was a bit of a dick.
And if Peppi really did get it prematurely, then mother I forgive you, you had a tough life. Anyway, Peppi is now in puppy heaven, frolicking with Toby and Lindy, my other dead dogs…