I've been watching Michael Vick's legal troubles and two main thoughts keep rolling around in my head. The other point, since it is so disparate, is in another post. I also want to say that, while I do not know whether he's guilty or not, I think dog fighting is disgusting. I think it is cruel and despicable, but it is well worth pondering why it is illegal.
It should be no surprise to those who know me that I have strong anarchist tendencies, but animals are considered property under law. The law does nothing if I decided I want to burn up my car providing that I do not harm anybody else by doing so. That includes harm to lienholders. So if I pay cash for a new Ferrari, drive it to the middle of my property and then set it on fire, legally, what have I done wrong? Nothing.
So why are animals different? Because they're alive? Realistically, such activity is outlawed because of our collective moral outrage (more on that in the next post). Is that a sufficient reason to outlaw something? Why? I don't really have an answer. I just keep mulling it over in my head. If moral outrage is philosophically sufficient to outlaw something, where is the line between society's moral outrage and individual rights?
Robert Bork argued that moral outrage is sufficient to outlaw some behavior and, ironically, he used dog abuse as his example. I have some rather profound disagreements with Bork's political and constitutional philosophy (this disagreement is probably crystallized in his description of the Ninth Amendment as an 'ink blot'). Yet to dismiss an argument because of who makes it is a genetic fallacy and as such, logically insupportable.
It seems to me that if animals are merely property, then dog fighting should not be outlawed. It may be disgusting and immoral, but there are lots of things that are disgusting and immoral that are legal. I think that the moral approbrium directed at Vick should show that not all social regulation has to originate with the government. Consider that Vick has lost every single one of his major endorsements, effectively costing him more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. Further, Vick's employer has not yet decided whether it will allow him to keep his job. All of those are legitimate decisions between private parties and show that there are a lot of ways in which behavior can be regulated without any government rules.
If animals, though, are more than property, then there may be justification for such laws. But if animals are more than property, what would they be? To elevate them to the legal status of human beings, a la animal rights, is absurd. Its absurd because a brown bear, even in such a skewed legal system, will never be convicted for killing and eating a moose, even in the most brutal manner. Thus, animals would not ever be required to recognize and honor rights of other animals. Rather, it would only be humans who would be required to respect rights of animals. Such inconsistency demonstrates why animal rights is ultimately a philosophical dead end.
If animals are deemed to be legally more than property, what would that intermediate step be? What would it be based upon? I don't think the mere fact that animals are alive would be sufficient. Somehow, I do not think that the outrage against Vick would be as high if he went to see a demonstrate of a cobra and a mongoose fight. If it were snakes that were being destroyed, people might look askance at him but I doubt he would be facing federal charges or the loss of his endorsements and his job. This means that it is not merely an animals status as a living creature that generates the desire to protect animals.
So why the protection for dogs but not snakes? Is it because we find snakes repellant and dogs companionable? Is that a sufficient reason to distinguish? If so, how would we codify the distinction? Reptiles are deemed to be property and can safely be exhibited in fights, but displaying fights between mammals can result in jail time?
Maybe I am just a bit off by pondering this situation too much. Maybe I just think too much. I don't know. But I don't really have any good answers to the questions above, either.