Michael Vick's crimes, in perspective
I'm glad that the National Football League has reinstated quarterback Michael Vick and allowed him to join the Philadelphia Eagles this season. Not that he particularly deserves it. He was convicted of a despicable crime, a deep involvement in a ...
I'm glad that the National Football League has reinstated quarterback Michael Vick and allowed him to join the Philadelphia Eagles this season.
Not that he particularly deserves it. He was convicted of a despicable crime, a deep involvement in a dogfighting and gambling operation, and it appears he brutally executed a number of low-performing dogs himself. It's probably unnecessary, but a quick trip to YouTube will confirm for you just how vile a practice dogfighting really is.
Nevertheless, Vick spent 18 months in prison, and I still retain a modest faith in the possibility of human redemption. He has discharged the obligation imposed on him for the very bad things that he did; he should have a second chance. Besides, too much phony self-righteousness about his crime begins to smack of hypocrisy and sanctimony.
Every crime calls for a context: Our culture's treatment of animals can be pictured as a long continuum that ranges from humane to sadistic. Clearly, dogfighting is far down on the sadistic end.
But consider this recent news report on egg production in Iowa. A group called Mercy for Animals has produced a video that exposes one of the darker sides of our pervasive system of industrialized farming. Egg producers have no use for male chicks; they're culled from chick-filled conveyor belts by chicken "sexers" and dumped alive into a literal grinding machine, at the rate of many millions per year.
That's correct: Live chicks tossed into the kind of grinder that produces hamburger. But the males could be the lucky ones. In the meantime, the female chicks are clamped into a machine that automatically lasers off their beaks, the first step on the way to the confinement of the egg-laying cages in which they will spend their short lives.
This isn't the only way to produce eggs, of course. But more humane ways are more expensive, and our reluctance to pay more for eggs and meat encourages large-scale and inevitably cruel methods of production, as well as our willingness to turn a blind eye to them.
Of course, we consume animals in many ways besides at the dinner table. We experiment on them extensively. We shoot them for sport, and sometimes we wear their hides and feathers. We breed them for pets and then regularly abandon them to fend for themselves; eventually many are euthanized. We race them and bet on them. We systematically deplete their natural environments and drive them into extinction.
For our amusement, we confine them in zoos, circuses and marine-mammal parks and force them to perform bizarre anthropomorphic behaviors, often at the expense of their longevity and health. The cruelties that support these industries have been well documented, most recently in a film titled "The Cove," which reports on the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Pods of dolphins are driven into a shallow bay and killed in a gruesome manner, mostly for meat.
But some of the dolphins wind up in dolphinariums around the world. The American dolphin entertainment industry disavows any connection to this bloody business, but the fact that most dolphins in American aquariums were born in captivity merely reflects the maturity of the industry and doesn't particularly mitigate the cruelty of the dolphins' unnatural confinement. The dolphin entertainment industry's profits will continue to encourage dolphin capture by other countries.
So, are grinding up baby chicks and restricting wild dolphins to what amounts to solitary confinement really the moral equivalents of dogfighting? Probably not. But the difference is a matter of degree and nothing to feel too self-righteous about. All of these practices consume animals in ways that are often inhumane, and many of them include cruelties that make the straightforwardly honest brutality of dogfighting almost refreshing. Or at least morally confusing to a guy like Michael Vick.
-- John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail him at email@example.com