Friday, September 23, 2005

the truth about timothy noah

i don't like to get serious about many things. i take my food seriously. i take the ineptitude of the nebraska offense seriously. and i take my role as park regulator seriously. the rest of life i just enjoy. but sometimes you naked apes force me to be serious. timothy noah's latest column in slate is one of those times. last week he published a column called the truth about cats and dogs in which he makes the argument that rescuing naked apes ought to take priority over rescuing pets. further, the fireman who rescued the small boy but left snowball behind, much to the consternation of the boy, did the right thing. i don't have too much of a beef with that. i know rescuing people is important and i know that rescue crews had to make tough decisions. i had some quibbles about some of what he had to say but for the most part i didn't really care

however, his column today takes a much snottier tone that says much more about his actual attitudes.

take for instance this statement implying that you can either be for dogs or for black people but not both:

This is not, apparently, a popular view, at least among the sort of people inclined to send e-mails to this column. The hate mail is still pouring in. It was impossible to read them all, but many of the e-mails didn't even pretend to offer a coherent contrary argument. They merely hurled obscenities my way and branded me a heartless monster. I came away from the experience wondering whether the American public found it easier to feel sympathy for dogs and cats than for low-income black people. I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

and he spills much ink making fun of the recently proposed Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards act that says this:

STANDARDS FOR STATE AND LOCAL EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS OPERATIONAL PLANS.—in approving standards for State and local emergency preparedness operational plans … the Director shall ensure that such plans take into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.

He mocks it with the following:

The phrase "individuals with" is superfluous, and perhaps an attempt to avoid even more savage mockery than this bill is likely to generate. In plain English, the bill forbids the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make any grants to states or cities that haven't got a plan to rescue household pets. Congress could still appropriate money to said states or cities, and this wouldn't affect money spent after a disaster occurs. But the money FEMA hands out to boost disaster preparedness would be withheld if a given state or city lacked a game plan for rescuing anything a particular individual might choose to call a household pet—pit bull, snakehead, Gaboon viper, whatever. Presumably some local governments would try to exempt poisonous or otherwise dangerous animals, and presumably animal-rights groups would immediately file lawsuits arguing that the statutory language didn't allow for exemptions, or that the exemptions were "too broadly worded."

since mr. noah claims he got few intelligible responses, i--a little dog--will do my best. here's the problem i have with his column today:

1. the false dilemma. far too often arguments against animal rights fall into a trap that helping animals is always at the expense of naked apes. this is highly problemmatic. my mawma, who has been a vegetarian more than half her life, often gets comments like this. i've often seen naked apes in social situations upon hearing that she won't eat meat because she thinks it is gross and wrong, will ask her "if you were in a boat and could save a baby or a dog, which would you save?" thinking they've caught her in a logical trap. either she will answer the baby, thereby revealing that she recognizes the superiority of naked apes and her position is nonsensical or she will say the dog and reveal that she is nothing but a crackpot. in addition to this being an unrealistic hypothetical (it didn't even happen in new orleans--the question wasn't whether to save naked apes but whether to save them AND their pets) it also misses an incredibly important point. perhaps in that situation you might want to save the baby (my solution: take us both. then we'll eat the baby.) but the bigger issue is that you should do everything in your power to prevent being in a situation where you are forced to make a choice that ends the life of another being. in failing to have an evacuation plan that considered domestic pets, you have played a role in placing yourself in that ethical dilemma. just as there was inadequate consideration of what to do about people without cars, what to do about people who were unable to evacuate (such as the elderly), there was inadequate consideration of people with pets and those pets themselves. obviously the disaster plan was not thought through by anyone on any level. does that mean that questioning the animal policies now is wrong because the naked apes were not cared for either? he describes an imaginary noah's ark departing new orleans with a menagerie of beasts aboard as if this is the only possible outcome of caring about the fate of pets. animal rescue organizations such as the human society in fact have developed extensive suggestions for dealing with these situations--provide animal shelters separate from the people where animals can be safely crated, plan transportation for pets and owners, and so on. there are loads of nice folks who will volunteer to do this and they don't all hate black people, mr. noah.

it is ridiculous in this situation to imply that if you care about the fate of the animals too much you clearly don't care about the fate of the naked apes enough. this is not an either/or proposition. i can worry about both. does the fact that i gave (my mawma's) money to help animal rescue organizations as well as the naked ape organizations mean that i somehow don't care about black people, poor people, or rescue workers? must we do a moral calculation and say that if and only if all the human needs are taken care of will we turn to care for the animals? mr. noah admits he owns a dog. is he a selfish bastard because that dog surely takes resources that might otherwise go to his children, his family, or poor people? pointing out the plight of animals does not mean we have to ignore the plight of naked apes nor does planning to avoid this problem in the future imply an insensitivity to the fact that we neglect naked apes.

2. pets are for people. mr. noah implies that caring about the fate of animals is fundamentally different than (and maybe even opposed to) caring about people. he seems to miss the point of why the story of snowball and his owner touched so many people. the boy was so upset about losing his pet that he became physically ill. that says a lot about what we beasts do for you ungrateful bastards. pets are more than just material possessions that can be replaced should they be damaged in a storm. we are living things and many naked apes relate to us as such. naked apes have affectional ties with their pets, a bond that may be heightened in a time of emergency. caring about animals is not neglecting naked apes. failing to care about animals may be, though.

3. a pragmatic point. the bill asks that emergency plans consider the needs of pet owners. i don't think his claim that the inclusion of "individuals with" is superfluous is at all accurate. clearly, some people will not leave their pets behind whether because they need them (service dogs) or whether they feel a sense of responsibility (we didn't ask to live in a disaster zone, you know). it seems rather pragmatic to remind emergency planners to prepare for this in the case of storms. whether you think this is irrational or ridiculous it is a fact that some people will not leave their pets in a situation where they are likely to die. failing to recognize was clearly an error made in new orleans. had people had a place to leave their pets for safekeeping or had they been assured that they would have a place to leave them in evacuation sites (like the shelter the humane society opened outside the astrodome), more people would have left voluntarily. seems like a sensible plan. also, the stray animals now roaming the streets of new orleans are causing problems for the rescue and clean-up teams. even if you don't give a rat's ass about the pets, evacuations would clearly be more successful if you took care of the problem before the disaster. it would save a lot of naked apes' lives.

this article made me barking mad not just for myself but also for my mawma. the tone, frequently mocking animal rights advocates and those touched by stories of abandoned animals, speaks volumes about his discomfort with the idea that naked apes might have an ethical responsibility to animals--and a discomfort with the naked apes who do feel responsible. i understand this. it is uncomfortable because you are mean bastards to us on a regular basis and it's hard enough to make sure you're taking care of the naked apes (and as recent events have shown, you're doing a piss poor job of it) let alone making sure you're doing right by the rest of the planet. that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. i hope they do a better job of it this time around. for the sake of my fellow beasts. and that includes you naked apes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love you, Wally! I don't have a dogfriend of my very own, but I take lots of other people's dogfriends on walks and hikes, and sometimes I stay over at their houses to keep the dogfriends company.

I love my friends Zoie, Bodie, Rocky and Teddy, Waldo and Truman, Blue, Sophie, Thor.... I mean it. I love them. I couldn't ever leave them behind.

Maybe it's a little easier for me, because I don't have baby humans who depend on me, or even old humans. So if I couldn't bring my dogfriends along with me, I wouldn't leave. We'd figure out some way of surviving together.

That reminds me: although I don't live in a hurricane zone, I live in earthquake country, so I'm going to update my earthquake kit to include emergency things for my dogfriends.

And I think Timothy Noah should sleep by himself in the garage for a few nights. With no cookies.


7:51 PM  

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