Thursday, September 06, 2007

Was Micheal Vick's dogfighting a cultural thing?

Whoopi Goldberg says it was.

I have no idea what to do with this information. Because I kinda believe her. I did a story on the local animal shelter in South Carolina when I was a reporter there. This being rural South Carolina, the county animal shelter was a room full of cages at the county landfill. The landfill manager was a good guy, though, and seemed to really care about the animals. He told me that people came by all the time asking if he had any pit bulls, and that a fair number of the dogs that ended up in his shelter showed signs that they had been fought.

Of course, bars that require memberships but won't sell them to black people are also a part of Michael Vick's culture, or at least the southern culture he grew up around.

It's very hard to know where to draw the line. I value kindness to domestic animals. (TheCSO and I have five of them, all from shelters except for the cat our last housemates abandoned at our house.) Our most recent acquisition, a Basset Hound named Rebecca, is a daily reminder of how abuse can scar a dog.

Even if dogfighting is a cultural practice, I feel safe in saying that it's wrong. (FWIW, a Jain is perfectly free to tell me that the fact that I eat meat and swat flies is wrong. I see distinctions there and won't necessarily agree, but I get that my view of these things isn't the only correct one.)

I do consider dogfighting wrong and at conflict with my values.

I've mentioned that I really like Jewish culture, partially because Jewish culture values a lot of the same things I value.

I never know what to do with culures that don't. Dogfighting is a glaring example. I want to be tolerant of other cultures, but I can't tolerate that.

For an even more subtle distinction, I really don't know what to think when I see cultures where education isn't valued and indeed, people who do value it and try to go to college are viewed as "trying to be white" or some such.

Mainstream upper-middle-class culture (I find it hard to call it "white culture" because there are sufficient numbers of successful people of all colors in my area that the term seems weird to me. I intuitively understood it more when I lived in the south.) does have its drawbacks. We're isolated from our neighbors, we like money, etc, etc and soforth.

But my sympathies are still with the kid of another race who likes science, or reads novels, and gets a lot of crap for it from his or her peers. Hell, it's hard enough to be the geeky kid in WHITE culture. I can't imagine what it must be like to be considered a traitor to your friends for wanting to be a doctor and being willing to do the work to get there. Historically, education has been shown to be the way to wealth and power. I want there to be people of all races who are wealthy and powerful.

The white, male faces of the Georgetown Law class of 1920-something stare out from a picture on a wall next to one of my classrooms. My classes don't look like that, and in my opinion, that's a wonderful thing.

TheCSO says that the non-white kids who took honors classes at his high school in Charlotte were shunned by their peers of the same color when they weren't being openly harassed. It depresses me to think that some of my peers in law school might have gone through that.

I don't like it, I would even say I think it's wrong. But I wonder at what point I am, albeit in my own head, imposing my culture on somebody else. I don't want to do that.

But again, my sympathies are with the geeky kids and the dogs.

It's a question I've been chewing on for a long time in various forms, and Goldberg's defense of Michael Vick has me thinking about it all over again.



Joel Monka said...

I simply don't buy it, not in michael Vick's case. We aren't talking about some poor sharecropper or truck farmer getting together with friends, drawing a circle in the dirt, and turning their dogs loose. Vick was treated as a demigod from puberty on, and was privy to rarified strata where even in the deep south, dog fighting is part of the embarrassing past like slavery.

I believe that the culture he learned the joys of dogfighting from is the urban drug culture, where dealers use the dogs normally meant to guard their stash. I would wager that if we had access to the raw police files, we'd find his dogfighting arena also had dedicated spaces for dealing drugs and using drugs, just like the dogfighting rings in any major city, even here in Indianapolis.

Lilylou said...

I understand and sympathize with your reluctance to criticize another person's culture and also with your concern for upholding life-enhancing values and behavior.

Female circumcision is another "cultural" value that bothers me a lot; I think it's similar in its violence to mistreating an animal by training it to fight to the death. It is an act of cruelty that overrides the identity of the being, whether child or dog, and does so for life-damaging reasons-----"propriety", "greed", "blood".

I guess that's my criterion: does the cultural act give life or diminish it? And I'm talking about at its most biological level, not its cultural level.

Anonymous said...

I think you read too much into what Whoopi said. I read the link to the article you posted and it sounds to me as though Whoopi is saying that dogfighting was part of Vick's culture, where he grew up, and that for the people he was around, this was acceptable behavior. I don't think she suggested he shouldn't be punished, but was trying to explain why he wouldn't think it was a big deal initially.

Chalicechick said...

I didn't mean to suggest that she said he shouldn't be punished and I don't think I said that.
I agree with you that her point was that the acceptability of dogfighting in Vick's culture would be a reason Vick would see dogfighting as a reasonable way to spend one's time.

I meant to suggest that the idea that Vick's dogfighting could be a product of his culture started me musing on to what degree I am justified in saying a culture is wrong for accepting something I condemn or vice versa.


Anonymous said...

I'm suggesting that Vick's dogfighting culture is much smaller than, say "Jewish culture," or even "black culture." It was very unclear to me whether you interpreted Whoopi's words about Vick's "culture" to be about dogfighting in particular or something bigger.

Also, I would say that striving for wealth and power is a cultural value that, as you know, not everyone shares. In my family, for example, self-education and self-knowledge were praised, as was finding meaningful wor. There was virtually zero value placed on becoming upper class or being in charge of other people. I say this because I want to be clear that there is a huge spectrum between being beating people up because they "act white" and attempting to become a member of the ruling elite.

Chalicechick said...

Dogfighting is a part of southern culture, a point I meant to make with:

"Of course, bars that require memberships but won't sell them to black people are also a part of Michael Vick's culture, or at least the southern culture he grew up around. "

I don't have an objection to self-education at all. Heck, most successful education is self-education on one level or another.

The assumption that a kid studying a subject he/she likes is doing it because he/she wants to be a member of the ruling elite is one I question, however.

Can't a kid just be smart and take honors classes without the assumption being that his ultimate motive is to lord power over people?

Of course, if he had more power, he could use it to make a better world. It's a lot easier to work for change effectively when you have power. Martin Luther King, for one example, had quite a bit of money and a PhD and used those things to do some good. So I don't think there's anything wrong with him wanting power either.

But going back to our kid who wants to be a Doctor, the mere fact that he likes school doesn't mean that power is his motive.

If it helps, nobody in my family really cared about lording things over people or becoming upper class anyway.

To the extent my Dad cares about anything, he cared about music and to a lesser degree Christianity. My mother has worked in low income housing for decades because she believes that Jesus wants her to help the less fortunate.

My dad believed in finding your passion in theory, though he never really understood passions that weren't musical or theological. My mother believes in taking care of other people.

One could argue that our being upper middle class in the first place allowed us to have the luxury of thinking like that.

But the point is, power and money weren't the goal for us.

That said, for people who are really looking to change the world and make things suck less for other people, power and money are an excellent start.


PG said...

ms. kitty,
I think the problem with the female circumcision comparison is that, as CC seems to be aware with her Jain reference, mainstream culture that disdains dogfighting is perfectly OK with the equally-if-not-more cruel treatment of animals that are being raised for slaughter. Thus we are not showing a consistent interest in upholding life-enhancing values and behavior with regard to the treatment of animals. Instead, we privilege the animals that are pets and abuse the animals that are food. Had Vick been the owner of a chicken farm where the beaks were snipped, chickens crowded tightly together and doped with antibiotics because of how ill their environment made them, no one would care. He'd just be a diversified businessman.

I think dogfighting should be illegal, but I also think the animal cruelty statutes should be enforced without regard for whether the animal is a companion or dinner.

Anonymous said...

PG - Excellent, excellent point!

CC - It doesn't sound like we're disagreeing on anything, except your last paragraph. I disagree that having money and power are an excellent place to start for making the world suck less for "other" people. In fact, I find that belief very harmful.

Chalicechick said...

One could argue back and forth about whether education giving one greater power is a good thing. My impression is that it basically is.

I think that most people who read this blog would admit that more money giving one greater power is not a good thing, though I will admit a correlation between having money and having education.

But whether or not one agrees that these are good things, it seems only reasonable to accept that a professor is in a better position to make positive change in the world than a ditchdigger is and a minister is in a better position than a waiter. Oprah is in a better position as a TV star than she would be if she were a secretary.

Like it or not, history is more often than not made by people who are in a position of influence on the world. That’s just reality.

That reality, if it changes, will change VERY slowly given that the rich and educated being in charge is how things have worked in all of human history. Seems easier to me to work with it.


Comrade Kevin said...

I'm reminded of one of the warning signs of a serial killer: the killing of animals. Usually one such specimen kills animals before he/she starts killing people.

Culture may explain why Michael Vick participated in dog fighting rings, but it doesn't excuse it.

David Oliver Kling said...

Cultural relativism is not, by itself, a good thing. The same argument that can be used to defend the actions of Michael Vick can also be used to justify genocide by stating, "Oh, the Arabs and the Africans have always fought..." Or "Jews have always been subject to pogroms by the countries they lived in." "Female genital mutilation is a cultural practice." Adherence to cultural relativism can be used to justify atrocious practices in the name of culture.

The actions of the white kids who hung a noose from a tree that ultimately lead to the Jena 6 has been argued to be cultural and just a prank. Some practices are simply bad and no measure of cultural relativism can or should be used to justify them.

Just my thoughts.

Bill Baar said...

Vick knew dog fighting illegal but his culture persauded him he was above the law.

That's not an African-American, southern, or any other sort of particular culture.

It's just another powerful guy who thinks he can play by his own rules.

So I have no problem with the People of Virgiania imposing their cultural values on a guy who thinks he's above the law.

Our culture in Chicago tells us if you can't do the time, don't do the crime.

I've found that saying a universal value.

PG said...

Illegality doesn't precisely explain why people do things that are illegal, or why they don't go ahead and do things that aren't illegal. For example, dowry demands are illegal in India, yet people continue to make them and rarely are prosecuted. (It's difficult just to nail the families who burn their daughter-in-law alive if she fails to get them enough money.) I know of no law in the U.S. banning dowry demands (I'm trying to imagine a judge in this country allowing an extortion/blackmail prosecution to go forward when the threat was, "Pay me, or I refuse to marry you!"), yet they don't seem to occur much here.


For an intra-national comparison, I think it would be worthwhile to survey the incidence of first-cousin incest in states that have gone to the trouble of banning first-cousin incest (such as Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi) and those that haven't (such as NY and CA). I bet that the ones that banned it tended to do so because it's a frequent occurrence there, relatives to the rate of it in non-banning states. First-cousin marriage only turns out funny-lookin' kids if you keep it up over multiple generations.

Robin Edgar said...

What was it that Goebbels said about cultural things?

I wonder how Michael Vick would have fared if Goebbels` "culture" had gained the supremacy it was seeking? Probably not much better than those dogs. . .