When you think about it, the idea of gangsters emerging from the ghetto to steal “our” innocent pets is really absurd; what’s more, it bespeaks all kinds of race and class anxieties. These sensitive issues also saturate the discourse around pit bull “rescue” campaigns, in which dogs are taken from young black men in the city’s run-down neighborhoods, inoculated, bathed, “altered,” given friendly names, adopted by middle class families, and taken to live in the suburbs. We do to the dogs what really want to do to the barbarians who breed them: make them submit.
— Mikita Brottman, The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical, and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals
Jordan Peterson, in his criticism of the social-justice left, often notes their inability to distinguish between legitimate authority and capricious tyranny. For a culture downstream of Foucault, all authority is inherently suspect. There may be several dozen genders now, but power is always binary — you’re either the oppressor or the oppressed. I had to laugh while reading this paragraph, seeing a near-parody of progressivism in miniature — the guilty conscience, the performative hand-wringing, the bad-faith ambivalence toward the comfort and compassion of middle-class life.
A couple pages earlier, Brottman wrote about the mixed results of her French bulldog Grisby’s attendance at obedience school. She admits that she’s inconsistent with discipline, and as a result, Grisby doesn’t respect or obey her as readily as he does her partner, David, who has no problem being properly authoritative. Brottman is leery, though, of the techniques promoted by celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan, “who insists that we assert dominance over our dogs instead of treating them like babies.” She mistakenly seems to think that this precludes affection or rewards; “dominance,” to her, can apparently only ever be callous and unjust. On his television shows, Millan, like Peterson, has to constantly teach people the difference between authority and tyranny. Whether among pets or people, the indulgence of bad behavior doesn’t result in gratitude for one’s permissiveness, it results in contempt and disregard.
I spent many years involved in pit bull rescue. One of my own dogs was removed from the inner city, where he had already been tried and found wanting as a fighting dog. I’m not conflicted at all about this. I have no patience with the shallow relativism that vacillates over whether a life of comfort and affection can truly be said to be “better” than the nasty, short and brutish life of an animal seen only as cheap property or a macho accoutrement. Somehow I had no problem exercising my judgment that “This is wrong, I can do something about it, and I will” without reenacting King Leopold in the Congo. Too many people think angsty self-flagellation and asking “Who are we to judge?” makes them look nuanced and enlightened. In reality, it just makes them look weak. Dogs can instantly tell the difference. Only humans can rationalize themselves into knots.