Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Throwing Marbury to the dogs

Posted by digglahhh on 1 September 2007

I want to address two comments about the Michael Vick incident that provoked much controversy and discussion. In reaction to the public’s response to Vick’s participation in a dogfighting ring, New York Knicks pointguard, Stephon Marbury made news by making the following statement.

“I think it’s tough, I think, you know, we don’t say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It’s just behind closed doors.”

First of all, the context of this quote was manipulated and many outlets just ran the “dogfighting is a sport” part. As a result, Marbury was portrayed as a supporter of Vick, or worse, of dogfighting. Given the media’s troubled relationship with Marbury, that was hardly a surprise. Marbury may not be the most eloquent speaker, but if you unpack his comments, there’s something that merits serious consideration.

It is important to note that Marbury did not claim that he believed that dogfighting is a sport. At least that’s not the way I interpreted his comment. If his intent was to proclaim dogfighitng as a sport, there would be no need to preface that opinion with the qualifier, “from what I hear.” Marbury was basically claiming that those involved in dogfighting see it as a sport. Assuredly, it is not, and as a defense for the Vick’s actions, claiming the participants view it as a sport is entirely irrelevant. Perhaps, gang members view drive-by shooting as a sport… I address this part of the quote only to establish that Marbury is not, as the media seemed to portray, supporting dogfighting or claiming it to be a “sport.”

The first part of the quote is interesting. One could interpret it as an implicit defense of Vick, or just as a general comment regarding society, double standards, and the context of Vick’s actions. As a defense of Vick, it would be the classic example of two wrongs not equaling a right, but on its own terms the comment has merit. There are many sets of standards by which society judges the infringement upon animal rights. Marbury’s example of hunting is probably the closest parallel to dogfighting. For one, a substantial segment of the population, even beyond hunters themselves, consider hunting to be a sport, or at least a sports-like activity. Assuredly, hunting is no more of a sport than dogfighting… or drive-by shooting. Still, there are hundreds of professional athletes who are avowed hunters, yet that hasn’t been seen as anything of a moral issue for professional sports leagues at all, despite strong efforts of anti-hunting activists in our country. One simple and logically consistent argument holds that the slaughter of animals for sport is immoral, period.

As you progress further along the spectrum of animal rights activism more issues arise. It might be easier to count the number of professional athletes who don’t own mink coats than the ones who do. At the fringes of the animal rights spectrum we encounter those who feel that a vegan diet is a moral responsibility, specifically for animal cruelty reasons. For society at large, some of these opinions seem to fall squarely in the arena of personal choice, as opposed to moral responsibility. It would be absurd for the NFL to mandate vegan diets for its players, but would it be inconceivable to voice a disapproval of hunting? Of, course, the fallback position is that hunting is legal, while dogfighting is illegal. Most people skirt these difficult debates by using legality as a moral loophole – as if our society has never legalized clearly immoral behavior…

At the very least, the isolation of and disproportionate public response to the Michael Vick situation, as compared to other animal rights issues, is evidence of the obvious tunnel vision through which we perceive the underlying morality issues of this case. And in that sense, Marbury’s point is correct.

The second comment I’d like to address was made by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, Paul Zeise. It was made on a sports roundtable discussion show, aired on a CBS affiliate, about a month ago – Zeise was not invited back to the show.

“It’s really a sad day in this country when somehow … Michael Vick would have been better off raping a woman if you look at the outcry of what happened. Had he done that, he probably would have been suspended for four games and he’d be back on the field. But because this has become a political issue, all of a sudden the commissioner has lost his stomach for it.”

I’m not going to defend this guy anymore than to say that it seemed as if he was speaking solely in terms of Vick’s football career. He did not say that rape was a less disgusting act than dogfighting. The fact is that Vick would have had a greater likelihood of settling out of court, or beating the case altogether were he to be accused of rape. That seems like a pretty grounded assessment of the situation given the outcry against Vick, compared with the record of athletes accused of various levels of sexual misconduct who have either walked or simply cut a check.

Zeise isn’t the only person to make this type of comment; this argument has been used in many slightly different forms, they all revolve around the claim that we are making too much of this because there are other, worse, evils going on in the world. That argument is terribly problematic.

Its initial hypocrisy is that there are always news stories that dominate the headlines, despite their scope being undeserving of the coverage. If these people are truly crying out for responsible news coverage that reflects the importance of the event, they’d be kicking and screaming everyday. Britney Spears has received exponentially more news coverage than Darfur. The selective application of this argument leads me to believe that it is disingenuous. But, let’s even assume for a second that it is not – there are several other grounds on which it fails.

The fact that other, more profound, wrongs exist does not preclude people from taking action and judging the said behavior as wrong. One can’t beat a misdemeanor by citing the extent of felonies committed. The perspective endorsed by the above argument ultimately leads to having to arbitrarily choose a specific degree of wrong at which the public, the authorities, or whoever, should begin to give a shit. Individually, one can certainly feel as if too much has been made of the case, but invoking a subjective, slippery slope argument as a standard to measure responsible collective behavior doesn’t seem like a legitimate criticism. In fact, ironically, it was this perspective that caused authorities to let dogfighting continue, virtually unabated, all this time.

Additionally, this is an apples to oranges comparison. There are many reasons why this issue pulls at people’s heartstrings, and galvanizes them to protest, making the dynamic of this scandal more complicated than an immorality pissing contest.. First and foremost, this is a type of scandal and depravity that is unfamiliar to the public; the shock-factor is huge. More subtlety, the comparison of “rape” is something of a strawman in this context. When a reporter says that Vick would have been better off raping a woman, the image we get is of a seedy character huddled in an alley waiting to snatch a victim and force sex upon her at the explicit threat of violence. This is not the “rape” that we are used to seeing athletes accused of.

Most cases involving rape and other forms of sexual misconduct involve aggressive coercion or fuzzy consent. We are less likely to vilify a celebrity who is accused of rape than we are of dogfighting because of the relative ambiguity of the nature of the indiscretion. We have seen money-hungry groupies disingenuously file lawsuits; we have seen people throw themselves at celebrities. We’ve seen the interminable confusion of the Duke athletes case. We’ve seen tell-all books by individuals whose identities were based around sleeping with as many athletes as possible. Simply put, it is conceivable and precedented that rape allegations could be false, disingenuous, or even a matter of miscommunication; one can understand how a celebrity may find him/herself in such a situation. Zeise’s critics are thinking of rape in the police sketch on the local news sense of the word, when he in fact meant that Michael Vick may have been better off, in strictly pragmatic terms, if he was accused of date-rape by a cheerleader.

You can kill a man in cold blood, so long as it’s done in a boxing ring. Rape is a code word for completely unacceptable conduct, and yet day-to-day life is not nearly so black-and-white. Dogfighitng, on the other hand, is a sadistic and foreign behavior; it is not something we civilized people can understand or fathom an appreciation of, or desire to participate in, even in the theoretical, or abstract. Dogs are cute and innocent; people can be cruel and manipulative. It’s pretty simple really. Of course, the blanket statement that human emotion need not follow some sort of linear reaction pattern that mirrors some sort of “objective reality” about what is reacting to, is also relevant to this discussion.

I find it hard to believe that arguments like Zeise’s can be taken as anything more than rhetorical or quizzical. And, I find it all too convenient to simply twist and dismiss comments like Marbury’s.

10 Responses to “Throwing Marbury to the dogs”

  1. ClaireDePlume said

    This comment triggers my internal “red alert” system;

    “It’s just behind closed doors.”

    And, for me, this is more telling than thousands of words, any straw man arguments, and all efforts at damage control. The best way to know ourselves is through our behaviour when we think no one is looking. Those of us regular folk do not suffer the bright light of public scrutiny. However, those who are in the spotlight are expected to have a moral responsibility to exhibit “good values”. We can discuss at great length what this might be however, when the lights go out and we are alone behind closed doors, we KNOW the difference between right and wrong.

    With that single phrase, our Mr. Marbury reveals much more about his own values (or lack thereof) than any other words he may have uttered.

  2. Swanny said

    You know, from what I hear, stringin’ up darkies is a sport. It’s just behind closed doors.

  3. JoAnne said

    One difference I see between dogfighting and hunting is that, in what I would call “real” hunting, ideally, one minute the animal is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, walking or running or eating or whatever in the wild. The next minute it’s dead. Dead is bad, yes, but the point in “real” hunting is not in making the animal suffer, or training it for its entire life to be a victim of a hunter. Its life is natural and normal.

    This is different from those hunting farms where animals are trapped and then released within gunshot of the hunter, of course, which is another level of bad.

    Dogfighting is probably more comparable to factory farming of animals. Which is a comparison you’re not likely to see outside animal-rights groups, because people mostly don’t see what’s wrong with factory farming.

    And of course if all else fails, as you say, it’s time to complain that “we” want to put Michael Vick in jail but let child rapist murderers run free.

  4. digglahhh said

    Okay, I’ll respond to all of you in this one post.

    Claire,

    If you take the “It’s just behind closed doors” as an acceptance of dogfighting, that’s reasonable. Marbury is a nice guy who propagated a ghetto image, and the media has embraced the thug persona he projects. Basically, he’s a wannabe who is willing to sully his reputation for the trade-off of somebody believing his thuggish image. Kinda sad, actually. So, perhaps, he wants to seem ambiguous because if dogfighting is something that is accepted in the streets, he doesn’t want to come out against it. Of course, the real Marubry is a charitable soul who seems to usually have good intentions at heart. I doubt he really accepts dogfighting, but he doesn’t want to risk losing any “street cred.” Marbury’s weird, he’s made cameo’s in numerous rap videos, and plays for rapper Fat Joe’s Terror Squad basketball team in the Rucker Park tourneys. But his image as this flashy gangsta-type, is undermined by the fact that he gets robbed like it’s going out of style – to the point that he’s even been the subject of jokes by rappers.

    “Don’t confuse me wit Marbury out this bitch
    Run up on me at the light, you could lose your life” -Jay-Z

    Marbury might insinuate some sort of acceptance, but I don’t believe him. He’s a softee whose thuggish fantasies have been responsible for so much of his scrutiny and so many of his problems.

    Swanny,

    It’s not the “sense of” that I have a problem with. My tastes know no bounds when it comes being crude, insensitive or offensive. It’s the “humor” part where you fail.

    JoAnne,

    I get your points. But, I’d stop short of using the word natural and normal, even in the sort of oblique sense that you did. It is all contextually driven. There is nothing normal or natural about hunting when done for sport. Of course, when done for survival the context changes. Similarly, two animals fighting in the wild is also natural. Factory farming is a good comparison for the raising of the dogs stage.

    Which of course begs the question, when are the self-righteous picket-wielders making their way over to the beef industry and their lobbyists? Yeah, not anytime soon, for most of them. But of course, that criticism is similar to the one I decried above.

  5. Swanny said

    You have taste? When did this happen? Why was I not informed?

  6. ClaireDePlume said

    Thank you Digglahhh for giving me some background on this person – I wouldn’t have known him if I met him in my soup.

    My reaction/red alert to his closed door comment was not one which seemed relevant only to this particular case though. I did and do think that his remark was a broad characterization of him – flippant and untrustworthy. Call it instinct, call it intuition, call it bullshit bottom-lining. Now though, thanks to your brief bio, I do believe my bullshit meter still lives.

    Dog fighting and hunting don’t seem quite a fair comparison. It’s similar to comparing our butcher stores to Philippine markets where they hang live dogs by their broken front legs waiting for customers to purchase the nightly meat for dinner.

  7. digglahhh said

    Maybe I’ll scrap my post slated for this weekend and just hold a dogfighting analogy contest…

    Seriously though, I compared the two only in the sense of killing/harming animals for sport. Both of which clearly register as unethical to me. The relative depravity of the two is not directly relevant to point I was making. A vegan who opposes the consumption of animal products on moral grounds would have to condemn both our butcher shops and the Philippine meat market, right… That’s where I was stopping the comparison, and I feel Marbury was too.

  8. ClaireDePlume said

    In all honesty, I have difficulty these days walking past the meat counter at my local grocery store. I don’t feel comfortable at BBQ’s, or listening to rednecks discuss their latest kill or sitting in their living rooms decorated with antlers and bear rugs. I’ve stopped reading the newspapers around here because there is always an animal abuse story…and more. If it weren’t for your objective, informative style, I wonder if I could have finished reading this article.

    It’s all cruel, no matter which way we slice it.

  9. JoAnne said

    Yeah, I wasn’t saying that the hunting itself was normal and natural. Just that, in some idealized form of hunting, one I have heard some hunters say is the only “fair” kind of hunting, the animal’s life in the wild is ideally normal and natural, no different than if it died of age or predation or disease or accident, except for what killed it.

    Still wrong, unless maybe it’s for your own subsistence, but different from making the animal’s whole mode of existence subject to your whim or indifference, which is what you get with factory farms or dogfighting.

  10. ClaireDePlume said

    Agreed Joanne, at least for the most part.

    About hunting: There was a time when people hunted for survival, much like the Inuit of today. Everything they trap or kill is used, nothing goes to waste. They live above the tree line and rely on what they can hunt in order to survive and they are possibly hunted too. Conversely, we here have our food provided for us, and hunting is mostly a hobby, with the benefit of eating what you catch.

    I think we all have a lot of free time on our hands in our “civilized world” and find it a sad testament to our integrity or lack thereof, that we play games, some extremely spiteful and lethal. Sad Sad Sad.

    Our Mr. Marbury, in my opinion, has his own agenda no matter what he says. He’s a bullshit artist, and drunk on his own false altruisms.

    “Some help others in order to receive blessings and admiration. This is simply meaningless. Some cultivate themselves in part to serve others, in part to serve their own pride. They will understand, at best, half of the truth. But those who improve themselves for the sake of the world — to these, the whole truth of the universe will be revealed.”
    –Lao Tzu (c.604-531 B.C.)

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