I just have to get something off of my chest that bugs me every time I hear it and, seeing as blogs are the accepted new format for spouting ichor at the world, here goes...
Do you know what I hate and what makes me furious every time I hear it?
When people refer to their pets as their "children."
I hate, hate, hate, hate this.
Why does this piss me off so much? It's actually quite simple.
These people are, in their minds and actions, equating human beings to property.
To put it another way, a child is a person while a pet is a possession.
But Will, you say, people consider their pets to be companions, members of the family and should be accorded the same level of respect, love and deference as the human members of a family.
I could not disagree more.
Let's engage in some thinking here, shall we? If I were to steal, injure, or kill your child, I would be guilty of a felony. If I were to steal, injure, or kill your pet, in most places I would be guilty of a misdemeanor in the same lines as those for the destruction or forced alienation of property. For one, I would go to jail and possibly be sentenced to die; for the other, I would most likely pay a fine, restitution and lose you as a friend.
This distinction, however, goes beyond the mere strictures of criminal and civil law. Think about this: is a child the possession of its parents in the same way that a pet is the possession of its owner? I think not.
Parents are regarded, whether the children are born to the parents or adopted, as custodians of these children. That means that they are responsible for a reasonable level of care and caution, but this does not imply ownership. For, unless you have forgotten this, most countries in the West decided in the nineteenth century that allowing people to own other people was a bad idea.
(Incidentally, I believe that you should be able to sell yourself into slavery, be a prostitute or sell your organs on an open market, but that discussion is for another day).
So, where does that leave us? Some may say that people become attached emotionally to pets and this is reason that some consider them as their children. Give me a break. People become emotionally attached to all kinds of property. Have you ever seen how some people treat their cars?
But Will, you protest, cars, video game systems, baseball card collections, model train sets and barbecue grills, while possibly being the targets of people's affection, are not living, sentient life forms. Well, it would be hard to argue with you there. I have yet to see a PlayStation get up off of the table and fetch a cartridge.
To make that argument, however, I think that you must also agree that all life forms are equal in stature; that the rights of animals are no different from the rights of people. In this case, you should not eat, ride, own, wear, kill (intentionally or otherwise) any form of life whatsoever. If this is your stance, fine. Act like it. Free your pets, don't eat meat or meat derivatives and watch where you walk at all times. Same should, naturally, go for plants.
If you disagree with this, then you must agree to some hierarchy of life forms. How you define this is, I guess, up to you, but most people would put, well, people at the top, no? If people are not, then what is...I would be interested to know.
Do I agree that it is O.K. to torture or harm animals? In many ways, no, but not for the reason you might think. If I own a dog, and that dog gives me some benefit, then I should do my best to protect that dog so that it continues to give me that benefit. It would be wasteful and ineffecient for me to do otherwise. So, if I consider that dog's life to be worth preserving, I will take steps to see that that happens.
This is no different that any other form of property I might have. I own a DVD player. If I want it to continue to provide the service that it does, I will not bring it in the pool with me.
In the end, however, the dog and the DVD player are both my property and you have no right to tell me how I may dispose of my property, nor do you have the right to use coercion, laws and the state to do the same in your stead.
Just because my motivation and incentive for owning a certain sort of property (and the type of benefit I derive from it) are different from yours does not mean that I must make my behavior coincide with yours. Far from it. You should keep your laws and opinions to yourself where my property is concerned.
Does this mean, incidentally, that I think that dogfighting and cockfighting should be legal? Absolutely.
In closing, i might mention a historical note about pet ownership. Pets, until quite recently (certainly within 100 years) were an expensive status symbol. Pets are a non-productive animal. Yes, people kept animals that are now pets but for wildly different reasons (think of dogs herding and cats catching rodents). Having a pet used to say to the world "I am so wealthy that I can afford to feed and keep an animal that serves no practical purpose." This is somewhat less so today, but the origins are worth noting.
Are my positions cruel? To some, perhaps. To me, they are just a logical extension of property rights. Things tend to turn out better when people own things rather than through some notion of communal ownership. Will I roam the neighborhood looking for animals to harm? Certainly not; those animals don't belong to me. If I come to your house, will I kick your dog? No, for the same reason.
But, do be aware that if you refer to your dog, cat, ferret, fish, iguana, pot-bellied pig or other pet as "your child" or "a real member of the family," I might just kick you.
Year in review
4 months ago