September 23, 2007
morality shifts, but is it rational?
In a post discussing the changing standards of morality, Clayton Cramer points out (correctly) that crimes against dogs are taken more seriously than crimes involving sexual solicitation:
If only Michael Vick had solicited sex in a men's room, instead of organizing dogfights!OK, I somewhat disagree with Cramer for a couple of reasons. First, while I'm not about to ask him, I'm not at all sure that Michael Vick would prefer being thought of as a "T-room queen" than a dogfighter. Sure, he'd prefer Larry Craig's judicial slap-on-the-wrist to the prison term he's facing, but is that really the issue here? These men are both public figures, and I think the real punishment is the notoriety and career damage that their actions carried. I may be wrong, but I think a good argument can be made that Larry Craig is more disgraced than Michael Vick. To really follow this out, I guess we'd have to imagine a reversal of the roles. Michael Vick is arrested for soliciting an officer in a men's room, while Larry Craig is arrested for dogfighting.
Who would rather be arrested for what? I honestly don't know, but I just can't make these assumptions. Society would have freaked out along the following lines:
"MICHAEL VICK IS A CLOSET HOMO!"
"LARRY CRAIG IS AN EVIL DOGFIGHTER!"
I think either man would have faced serious career consequences either way, because of the important positions they occupied. However, I am not sure that standards of morality can be judged simply by reference to celebrities and politicians, because such people are demographic outliers. I think it is more fair to look at the consequence to an ordinary citizen.
What is worse? A dogfighting charge, or a solicitation charge? If I had to select one or the other of these charges to face, I'd probably go with sexual solicitation. Not that I'm into that (for the record, I am neither a dogfighter nor a T-room sex-seeker), but I do think that it is far likelier to face major criminal charges in a dogfight case. Dogfighting is a federal crime and a major felony in most states, while sexual solicitation is usually a misdemeanor. Also, there's the sympathy factor; dogfighters are despised and considered evil, while men who seek sex in bathrooms are more likely to be either pitied or maybe laughed at. As dogfighters are considered morally worse than men's room sex seekers, the former is probably a worse thing to have on your record. Whether this means morality has changed, I'm not sure.
In Vick's case, what he did was far worse than dogfighting, as he tortured dogs to death for refusing to fight. This makes him (in my view) a cruel and vicious man, certainly more morally opprobrious than Craig, who strikes me as most likely in a pathetic state of denial. I realize others will disagree with me, but I would have thought the same thing thirty years ago, and I think a lot of people would. Sure, society goes easier on bathroom solicitors and harder on dogfighters than they used to. This reflects increased tolerance for homosexuals, and decreased tolerance for animal cruelty. To that extent, Cramer is right. Whether this is good or bad can be debated. I think the animal rights stuff has become maniacal, although I'm not sympathetic to public sex. But I have seen no proof that Craig intended to have sex in public. (Had he done that or exposed himself, the charges would have been much more serious.)
There is no question that from a moral standpoint, crimes against animals are often being taken more seriously than crimes against people. I think that this account of a Philadelphia robbery made it into the Inquirer mainly because the victim's dog was shot -- notwithstanding the fact that the man was severely pistol whipped. It's a pretty sickening story, headlined "Robber beats victim, kills his dog":
A robber who held up a West Mount Airy man who was walking his dog late Thursday became so incensed when he found out that his mark was carrying little of value that he took it out on his victim and the animal.It's a good argument for having a tougher dog, as well as for being armed. (Your average robber who took one look at Coco tugging me down the street would probably cross the street not to come near her.)
But I think the main reason the story appeared in print is because the dog was shot. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that many of the Inquirer readers were a lot more outraged reading about the dog being killed by a robber than had they read an account of a man being killed by a robber. Why? After all, armed robbery and aggravated assault are much more serious legal charges than shooting a dog. But it's not the law that's the issue here; it's morality. In moral terms, the dog is seen as totally innocent, while the man is seen as, well, maybe he shouldn't have tempted fate by walking down the street not carrying his "mugger money." Or maybe the robber had a chip on his shoulder and had an unhappy life, or believed his victim "owed him" over some imaginary cosmic debt. No one is allowed to feel hostility towards a dog, and no one would defend the robber for it. Shooting a dog is completely beyond the pale, whereas shooting a man is often seen as at least partially excusable by the apologist classes. Anyway, the dog owner here was beaten, and beating a man, even severely, is not necessarily always seen as a major crime. The Jena 6 is a good example, for the beating victim seems to have been singled out not for anything he did, but for acts committed by others of the same race.
But had the accused suspects in Jena killed someone's dog, I somehow doubt as much sympathy would have been generated for them. Why? Because dogs are innocent, and people are guilty (at least in someone's eyes).
This is not rational stuff, but morality rarely is.
posted by Eric on 09.23.07 at 05:45 PM
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