Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cross-posted from MNPP

Gone to the Dogs, Burying Katherine Kersten like an Old Bone

photo from “Dog saves Washington homeless man’s life” article
Katherine Kersten is one of the worst writers I have read in the STrib, EVER.  She is sloppy, mean, and incapable of writing a well-researched cogent opinion.  This morning’s opinion piece is a perfect example of failed reasoning, poor research, and invalid premise.

Her most recent example of epic fail conservative thinking attempts to correlate things, that do not correlate even remotely, in any legitimate way, much less in a causal connection.

She begins in what I am coming to think of as the classic conservative fallacy that is some variation of “I saw something/ I know a guy”, with the observation that there are more people out walking their dogs than playing with their kid outside in their front yards.  Apart from the fact that I would dispute that this is true, and that Kersten assumes way to much from her own impressions, that leaves out a wide range of other explanations, ranging from people doing things with their kids in the back yard, at a park or other location, playing with their kids indoors, at the family cabin, etc.  Not seeing kids and parents playing in the front yard doesn’t mean what Kersten tries to twist it to mean.

Just because Kersten doesn’t personally observe families behaving in this subjective way, it does not set a valid platform for the rest of her reasoning — but it is an example of how flawed by lack of objective fact and reality her thinking is.  But highly partisan leaps to false conclusions is what Kersten does, and apparently the ONLY thing she is capable of doing based on her body of consistently shoddy work.

From there, Kersten goes on to claim that we now treat dogs like people, as a new trend, a change, again without demonstrating that any actual change has taken place, much less a valid equation of dogs with people other than a fluff piece in the STrib.  Now I particularly object to the term that some people use for their pets, ‘fur babies’,  because I do think people often tend to anthropomorphize their attributions of what dogs feel and think by imposing human equivalents on them.  The problem with this is that they get those interpretations wrong; it reflects a self-centered view combined with false assumptions.  I prefer my understanding of dogs to be of the Turid Rugaas variety, the renowned Norwegian canine behaviorist who received her well-earned fame by applying scientific methods to interpreting dog behavior.

Kersten writes:
The trend toward treating dogs like people confirms the increasingly central role that pets play in our lives. But does it also point to a subtle shift in the way we view our fellow human beings?

No, not particularly.  What we do have is an evolving and developing way of understanding animals sharing qualities like altruism, sacrifice, and justice that we had previously believed to be uniquely human.  What we have is an expanding field of work in the area of ethics, like the work done by Australian Peter Singer:
Peter Albert David Singer, AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, preference utilitarian perspective. He is a major proponent of biocentrism.[1] He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory.

We are finding as our knowledge of ourselves and other organism grows that some of the distinctions we believed unique to ourselves are not so unique, ranging from tool using, to the perception of pain, to emotions like grief, to using conceptual language, and so on.  We now know that birds and people have similar language centers in their respective brains, relating to speech.  We know that primates like Koko the gorilla can learn and use American Sign Language, as well as use symbolic language like giving a name, and was capable of affectionate interspecies relationships in having a pet cat.

We are even learning more about aspects of plant life that we had previously believed inferior that shares some of those higher attributes, like altruism and communication capabilities.

So has our knowledge of the world expanded, which in turn blurs the earlier lines drawn between human beings and other species? Yes, and it should.  Does that mean this is an inferior development? No. It leads us to question the distinctions on which we base our arrogant assumptions of superiority versus the notion we are different from the rest of the species on this planet, and GOD made it that way, and told us to be as greedy and exploitive as we can.

In building her false argument, Kersten then goes on to write:
Consider a recent study by Richard Topolski of Georgia Regents University and his colleagues, which appeared in the journal Anthrozoos. Researchers asked respondents which they would save from a runaway bus: a dog (their own pet or someone else’s) or a human being. The conclusions were remarkable: Forty percent of respondents, including 46 percent of women, said they would save their dog over a foreign tourist.

Of course, what a read of the actual research shows is that is a simplistic and unrepresentative summary of the facts. The specifics of the scenario were quite vague, the differences in relationships resulted in different outcomes, and the explanation of WHY people answered the way they did had to do with comparative vulnerability – that a human being was better able to save themselves than a dog, because a human being had greater awareness and intelligence. This LITERALLY reflected a willingness to try to save the more vulnerable ‘under-dog’, than it did an undervaluing of human life. As noted in the Huff Po on the same research:
The research article, published in the journal Anthrozoos, also found that those who said they would choose their dog over the stranger had several disparate ways to defend their moral judgment. For example, just over 25 percent said that “the tourist should be smart enough to get out of the way,” while more than half simply said, “I love my pet.”

Note the words “MY pet”  (not just dog).  I doubt very much Kersten read the actual study, only a report of it — and probably a report from a right wing biased source.
From the abstract of the study:
Participants were also more likely to save their own pet over a human life than someone else’s pet over a human life.
That pretty much shoots down the generality that Kersten is attempting to generate.  I thought the part where she wails against diversity, which is all about accepting others as like ourselves, while accepting, even embracing the differences is key to viewing people who are foreign as people one would desire to save from an oncoming bus.  But those not-so-little contradictions don’t occur to Kersten.

What we really have is one of those horrible ‘who do you love best’ questions, like a child asking a parent if the child and a sibling fell out of the boat, which one would the parent save if they could save only one, ie – “Who do you like best”. People DO view pets as family members; heck, I have known a lot of dogs that, individually, I liked better than some individual people I could name. But that does not extrapolate to proof that I value dogs more, as a group or species, than human beings.
Then Kersten really wanders off into the primordial weeds of willful ignorance, bigotry, partisan hack ideology, and just plain stupidity, when she writes:
Would Americans have answered this question differently in the past? Most likely, yes. Why?
The answer lies embedded in words that used to be our nation’s common creed. Our founders held it self-evidently true that “all men” — unlike other animals — “are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The founders believed that human beings have a unique dignity and an elevated status over all other animals, because they are made in the image of God and are capable of choosing between good and evil. Our nation’s political system is founded on this view of human beings’ unique moral status.

Hold the phone here Kersten; this is a classic – and poorly used – authority argument.  The reality is that the Founding Fathers rejected earlier beliefs in favor of the more scientific thinking of the Enlightenment, and the leading minds of the American Revolution were frequently NOT Christian, but at best Deists.  The founders would NOT have rejected everything new that we have learned since the 1600s; they continually explored and questioned traditional assumptions.  So, unless you want to stop at 1776, and not accept the progress that SCIENCE has brought to us, you don’t get to selectively stop time at the founding fathers.  That is also cherry-picking, where you distort an argument by not fully presenting the facts.

There is NOTHING that indicates, had they had the information available to them that we have used to move forward with thinking, scientific thinking, philosophical thinking, moral and ethical thinking, that our Founding Fathers would think differently than we do now.

But heck, that plays well to the anti-intellectual, anti-science, simplistic, don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts /I want to believe what I want to believe no matter what reality shows thinking of the far right.
Kersten then goes on:
Our society still pays lip service to the Declaration of Independence and its vision of human rights and equality. But we increasingly reject the Judeo-Christian framework that undergirds it in favor of scientific materialism, which views the universe as a mindless swirl of matter and energy and reserves no special place for human beings.

Kersten, let’s back up your crazy-bus here, and  note that in the JUDEO part, the earliest roots of that Judeo-Christian thing you are yammering on about? In Judaism, dogs can go to heaven, just like people:
Religious texts hold that Yahweh, the god of Israel, did bestow the breath of life into the animals that flourished in the Garden of Eden, suggesting that each non-human animal too can become nephesh, or a “living soul.”
And of course, in Buddhism, one of the world’s great religions:
The doctrine of rebirth additionally holds that any human can be reborn as an animal, and any animal may be reborn as a human, reinforcing the inter-connectivity of all life.
Then we have Kersten now wandering beyond the weeds, deeper into the swamp and sinks into the quicksand or far right wing extremist stupidity:
As our belief in universal truth and a higher good wanes, “diversity” has become the central criterion by which we measure the quality of our social institutions, from workplaces to universities. For years, Americans in all walks of life have been exhorted to “celebrate” diversity, and to value mere differences above all else.
But the Topolski survey on dogs vs. people suggests how superficial this standard is, and how ineffective the campaign to instill it has been. The survey found that, in our brave new relativistic world, the foreigner — the one who differs most from us — falls to last place in the hierarchy of value, beneath our dogs.

First of all, there is no way to objectively compare thinking of ‘earlier Americans’ with modern ones, they are dead.  So we don’t know how they would respond, and Kersten’s rationale is a total failure.  We  ALSO don’t know if the people who were queried in any study were liberals, conservatives, or centrists, OR what their religious views were.  The Sapolsky piece  in the WSJ  observed:
We can extend empathy to another organism and feel its pain like no other species. But let’s not be too proud of ourselves. As this study and too much of our history show, we’re pretty selective about how we extend our humaneness to other human beings.

Yes, WORLD HISTORY shows we have been very selective in how we extend our humaneness to other human beings, not just recent developments in  philosophy and political thinking.  You know what else is well documented?  That people who are abusive to animals are more likely to be abusive to people, and that people who are kind to animals, empathetic to them, are more likely to be kind and empathetic to other human beings.   So it is a false dichotomy to pose and either /or choice between dogs and humans for decency and kindness, and compassion.

And as to the us versus them complaint of Ms. Kersten? Really? Has there been a political movement that has demonized others to the extent that conservatives do SO many in us-versus-them thinking?  Is there any comparison for the paranoia and conspiracy theories of the “those “Others” who are not like us are coming to get us” rationales?  I can’t think of any group that expends more time, energy and effort in hating other groups of people than the way conservatives demonize  people over sexual orientation, minority people, immigrants, people of religious beliefs different from their own, people based on jobs and job-related organizations like Unions, or who make derogatory assumptions based on a socioeconomic difference.

If Katherine Kersten were faced with saving a foreign person, dressed in ‘Muslim-appearing clothes’ quote from Juan Williams on Fox TV, the one that got him fired, I not only believe, based on her writing, that she would not save such a person — a foreigner — from an on-coming bus, I think she would have a hard time controlling the impulse to push him or he under it, as so many conservatives try to do.  What does that say about right wing thinking? It says it is full of prejudice and hate and fear of ‘foreigners’.
“…But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

I don’t get nervous. I don’t think of them as ‘other’.  I tend to think that a person, a human being who is dressed differently from the majority of those around them might be feeling isolated and even anxious.  I think of them as needing AND DESERVING of compassion and kindness.

Conservatives have NOT shown themselves to be willing to extend themselves to save anyone else, people OR dogs or other species.  They have made ZERO effort to combat the high death and rate of suffering in the United States do to our broken and failed health care system.  They have shown zero concern for the poor. They have shown they would rather award corporate welfare than keep children and old people from being hungry.  They have shown a willingness to exploit their fellow human beings without regard to life, liberty OR the pursuit of happiness.  And they have shown, possibly the worst of all, given their yammering lip service to our Constitution and Founding Fathers, that they respect neither, when they engage in election tampering and voter suppression.

Kersten just demonstrated again the failed logic that the right uses to try to avoid confronting their many failures as human beings, particularly the failure to be sapient, as in homo sapiens.  Shame shame shame on the STrib for giving this woman a platform for promoting willful ignorance, and for – presumably – paying her to do so.

1 comment:

  1. Damned liebruls. Why, when I was a kid, my parents and all of the other parents on the blog took their kids out on leashes to poop on the neighbors' lawn on a daily basis!