26 August 2007

The Vick Thing

So we come at last to discussing Michael Vick.

I think we probably already know the Official Bad Dog Position on whole thing, right? Vick oughta be shot. No kidding. I'll do it - if you're a federal prosecutor with the power to set that up, the email link is on the left side of the page.

So the disgust is a given. But some folks seemed a little perplexed - why are so many people so hung up on this vileness?

Well, here you go.

We are people who believe in mercy. Our culture (is it American culture? Western Anglo culture? Midwestern culture? Military culture?) believe that is is not merely wrong to harm those weaker than us, but that it is a sign of moral bankruptcy to do so.

We are men who do not abuse women, we are women who do not harm children and old folks. We do our best to raise children who do not throw rocks at kittens.

There is a basic concept of decency in this culture we have been raised in that tells us it is our duty to not harm those weaker than us - although we may well be able to do so with few or no repercussions.

We can simply think of it as Spiderman Morality. Remember the line? With great power comes great responsibility.

We can take the word "great" out and the line makes even more sense for day-to-day living. With power comes responsibility.

Thus our varying levels of disgust when we find people betraying this gentleman's understanding of how our society should run. A man abuses his wife? That is reprehensible - but on some level, we understand she is a grown woman, with the physical ability to leave. An adult abuses a child? That is more reprehensible - children cannot really leave. They cannot drive, they cannot have jobs. They are entirely dependent, and have no recourse other than to muster the understanding and bravery to ask for help.

And animals. Why the obsession with animals? We know that animals are less than humans, on whatever grand cosmic measuring scheme tracks such things. But there is an implied trust in our relationship with our pet animals that many of us take quite seriously. We have created the domestic dog and cat, and they cannot survive on their own. We, as humans, have arranged things so that these are beasts that exist in our homes and lives with no avenue of escape, entirely dependent on our goodwill for their quality of life.

And there it is. The dog in your house cannot leave, and he will not grow up and move out and take charge of his own life. From puppy to being planted in the flower bed out back, his quality of life is entirely dependent on the kindness of his master.

That's something many "critter people" enjoy. Each of my dogs was plucked from some unhappy situation, and it makes me happy that they will live out their lives with decent veterinary care, regular feedings and soft places to sleep. I could shoot them or starve them, but I know that would be wrong. And so I treat them well, and it makes me feel as if I am doing right.

Which bring us to Vick. Vick is a grown man, with money and power, and had some dogs. Not only did he allow terrible things to happen to them, he did terrible things to them. Worse yet, he did not do these terrible things "accidentally." He did not fail to feed his dogs because he had no money, nor did he beat his dogs with a stick in a fit of rage.

No - he did worse. He subjected a totaly powerless yet sentient being to pain and suffering, repeatedly - habitually - for his own amusement.

That's worse. Allowing or causing pain or damage to those below us on the power/dependence scale is vile. Doing so for our own amusement is utterly repulsive.

That's the difference between thumping your kid a little too hard for talking back, and burning her with cigarettes and giggling when she cries.

It demonstrates a horrifying lack of empathy. A horrifying lack of humanity. A horrifying lack of mercy.

Mercy, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates us from the savages. The concept of a merciful society is what keeps our Army on its posts, drinking in bars and getting tattoos rather than looting and pillaging. Mercy is what keeps our young men working rather than raping and robbing. Mercy keeps us putting up with our Grandfather's chatter at the Thanksgiving table rather than leaving him out to freeze in the backyard when he's no longer useful.

Mercy, coupled with eternal vigilance, is what allows us to live free of fear and desperation.

A society without mercy looks like the dark corners of the New Orleans Kingdome during Hurricane Katrina. It looks like a Central American banana republic where people "disappear" at the hands of gangs and death squads. A society utterly without mercy looks like Rwanda, or the Sudan.

We look at someone like this shitbag football hero, and we see someone drunk on his position in the world, and utterly without regard for anything living that he might consider "below" him. We look at that smirk when confronted with the details of brutal killings of pet animals, and we wonder how such a man might be with his women (because we know the women in his life were always "his"). We wonder how he would be with the elderly, the young.

And on some level, we know. We see that cruel smirk at the idea of strangling a dog, and we have a pretty good idea about Vick at home. About Vick in bed, Vick with elderly relatives and about Vick with children.

Cruelty is evil, and that's all there is to it. There is no cultural excuse for cruelty - this sort of behavior is uncivilized, and I think it's the fact that everyone knows it that makes folks uncomfortable.

Cruelty is uncivilized, and any defense of cruelty is a defense of savagery. Any culture which condones or enjoys cruelty for amusement is a savage culture. And there is no room left for those cultures.

That's why people are high and to the right about this. We see defenses of Vick's behavior, and we know the truth. Those defending Vick, or making light of his acts, are simply defending savagery, and there is no excuse for that.