There are times when the explanation for a misunderstanding reveals an offense much more appalling. The recent controversy regarding Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback Michael Vick and his cruelty to dogs, for which he was incarcerated, has provided such a moment.
The impetus for controversy was a comment by President Obama in support of the Eagle’s decision to let Vick play football following his incarceration. The presidential attention led commentator Tucker Carlson to assert that Vick ought to have been executed for his crimes. As we might expect, Carlson provoked a hardy response.
Among those chiming in was Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, who joined fill-in host Bill Wolff on The Rachel Maddow Show. Expecting more time to articulate her point, Harris-Perry’s comments were initially perceived as an attempt to justify Vick’s crimes as a product of America’s history of slavery and institutionalized racism. As it turns out, that was not her intended point. Eager to clarify, Harris-Perry crafted a blog post at The Nation to flesh out her argument.
Ironically, her correction is far more alarming than the initial misunderstanding. Along with Nation colleague Dave Zirin, Harris-Perry demonstrates the utter moral depravity which underlies leftist notions of animal rights, race relations, and the criminal justice system. Their worldview, carried to its logical conclusion, would inform a totalitarian state.
The first clue to piecing this worldview together is the last statement in Harris-Perry’s clarification.
My goal [on The Rachel Maddow Show] was not to defend Vick nor to condemn him, but to try to understand our very different national reactions to him.
Harris-Perry makes it clear her intention is not to apply any kind of moral judgment. This is consistent with the worldview she articulates, a paradigm which either rejects or ignores the reality of moral agency.
Consider how she explains the relationship between racial politics and animal rights.
By defining slaves as animals and then abusing them horribly the American slave system degraded both black people and animals. By equating black people to animals it both asserted the superiority of humans to animals, arrayed some humans (black people) as closer to animals and therefore less human, and implied that all subjugated persons and all animals could be used and abused at the will of those who were more powerful. The effects were pernicious for both black people and for animals(…)
When the abuse and oppression of an entire group of people is justified as acceptable because they are defined as animals, then it stands to reason the society is suggesting that abuse and oppression are acceptable ways to treat animals. Michael Vick committed horrendous acts of cruelty. I have had dogs as pets for my entire life. I am sickened by his actions. At the same time I recognize that he is one individual in a larger society that is profoundly complicit in the abuse and mistreatment of animals.
Harris-Perry does not expound with examples of society’s “abuse and mistreatment of animals.” However, we can deduce her meaning from some of the background she provides.
Last year I was teaching an introductory politics course at Princeton University when a campus animal rights group brought to campus a fascinating and provocative exhibit that linked animal cruelty to human degradation, imprisonment and slavery. The images in the exhibit were part of a larger international PETA effort. They were disturbing, but also very powerful.
The campus animal rights group is the Princeton Animal Welfare Society, which encourages people to “go vegan.” We all know how radical PETA’s stance on animal rights is. These are people who believe the milking of cows is abusive, to say nothing of eating them. It is fair to conclude that the “abuse and mistreatment of animals” to which Harris-Perry refers is the breeding, herding, and slaughtering of animals for food and other resources.