in defense of dogs (and assholes)

Valentin: You say that all the world’s religions share common truths, it’s exciting…
Tolstoy: No, no, one truth, one single organizing principle. And can you guess what that is?
Valentin: Ah…
Tolstoy: Love. Love. Simple.
~ The Last Station (2009)

I haven’t finished watching it. I tend to not finish watching stuff or reading stuff until the right moment comes along. Which makes me a creature of feeling and whim, I guess.

*

A friend took exception today over the hypocrisy of “condemning dog meat eaters while eating other meat like a glutton and thus killing a thousand of those animals” and said it’s “ignorance not to understand the history, cultural and traditional relevance of dog meat eating.”

He also asks, “Isn’t it inhumane to rally for animal welfare while lifting no finger for those hungry poor and helpless children around?… And isn’t it worse crying in protest for animals’ rights and ignoring the plight of the hungry, the dying, the suffering, the helpless and the victims of injustice, torture and the sick?”

This friend of mine is a funny one. De-stabilizer, he’s been called. Repeatedly.

In this instance, he raises valid questions, but I have to admit that I do not share them, at least not wholesale.

To start with, I accept the contradiction that we do prioritize and we do apply “favoritism.” We do compartmentalize.

Most people would value people over animals. Pets over cattle. Animals over plants. You name it. (Or: You name it, you don’t kill it.)

The closer to one’s own situation, the easier to empathize.

There’s also the priority of blood – family over friends, friends over strangers. It gets jumbled up as there are also personal reasons for choosing non-relations over blood. Every choice is an assertion of value, a judgment call.

There is very little reason in emotion.

You defend and protect what you value and/or love. And to be honest, I don’t — I hope I don’t — judge people by what they choose to love. I can only ask them to extend that love.

*

I remember a conversation I had with someone a while back. He said he wanted to try dog meat. He also defended, tongue-in-cheek, that it’s a cultural tradition. I told him that in some cultures, cannibalism is also acceptable, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to eat human flesh anytime soon. I’ll wait until the Zombie Apocalypse for that particular treat.

Me, I condemn dogeaters simply because I do like dogs, and I do not subscribe to the notion that all cultural practices should be sacred. I try to respect tradition, I try to respect religion, but some things I just don’t subscribe to… even in the religion I was born into.

I condemn dogeaters when they steal pets from homes. My parents’ dogs were stolen from home. I condemn dogeaters because I have heard how they kill dogs — and the cattle have it so much better.

Then again, does this mean that I should condemn kids who are not taught any different? (Cue young Obama in Indonesia episode.) Also, can I really condemn someone, hungry and desperate, who kills the nearest source of food?

Alas, context.

And will I suddenly turn vegan at some point? Likely not.

As for compassion for an animal’s plight but none spared for the poor and the needy, well, yes. It’s a failing.

Sometimes it’s easier to love the defenseless. Sometimes, it’s not so easy. Sometimes it’s more convenient to think of people as being better able to care for themselves. Sometimes we’re kidding ourselves. Most of the time we do have very little sympathy to go around.

Again, the closer you are, the more compelling.

Empathy is stronger than sympathy, because sympathy implies a little distance whereas empathy means fellow-feeling. Compassion is being conscious of another’s suffering whereas passion speaks of strong emotion, but whether passion stays self-centered or self-indulgent and whether it becomes a driver for action is different. Whether compassion stirs action is also a question.

All fall under the heading of love.

*

Sometimes we even hurt the ones we claim to love. Another quote from a movie (indulge me):

“Every asshole in the world says he loves somebody. It means nothing. It still doesn’t mean anything. What you feel only matters to you. It’s what you do to the people you say you love, that’s what matters. It’s the only thing that counts. (The Last Kiss, 2006)”

So. Yes, even assholes can love. Sometimes not very well, but still… it kinda gives us hope for this sorry world, eh?

Religion tries to tell us whom to love.

Love our neighbor (figuratively). Love all living things. Love the defenseless. Love the sick. Love the needy. Love the poor. Love your enemy. Love God. Love your spouse. Love the children. Love all God’s children. Love all God’s creatures.

Cue Sting’s “Love Is The Seventh Wave.” (Concert’s coming up, he’s on the brain, yeah.)

It’s funny how religion preaches love but religion also puts limitations on love. (A man must not love another man.) It’s funny how religion has also been used as an excuse for hate. (Fight the infidel.)

Assholes that we are, well, we love where we will. As much as we are able. (But please, lay off the poor dog. And the cat. Snakes are fair game. Ha!)

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