In “Air Bud” the movie, we get yet another exposition about the relationship between a dog and humans. What I learned from this movie is that it kind of showed me that there is a different way to look at dogs and humans as far as relationships go.
You have to understand that the main reason why dogs are not eaten in Western culture is because of their utility as companions, as well as being rescue dogs. The closer people get to a certain type of animal, the more they’re likely to read into that animal their range of emotions and other so-called human traits.
With this proximity, whether on an intellectual, practical or emotional level, it is no surprise that dogs and cats are near and dear to our hearts. Accordingly, we are shocked, and outraged even, when other cultures don’t share that affinity.
Please understand that in certain cultures like Indonesia or Korea, there is no shortage of people who love dogs. There is no shortage of people who buy doggie diapers, doggie mittens, doggie clothing, and who love their dogs to death.
On the other hand, they also don’t have any reservations with ordering a dog stew the next time they go to a special restaurant that caters to dog eaters and doggie cuisine. How do you bridge the two?
This is the big difference between the dynamic portrayed in “Air Bud” the movie and the rest of the world.
In the rest of the world, there is a firm hierarchy between humans and everything else. And a lot of this hierarchy is essentially hard set. You can have a pet, you can love it to death, but you can also eat your pet’s species.
There’s no dichotomy there. There’s no hypocrisy. There’s no conflict.
In the West, we agonize over this. We try to draw firm lines. But really, when you analyze “Air Bud” the movie, the main reason why dogs are put up on a pedestal is because of their utility. That’s really the bottom line.
But if you talk to the most hardcore animal liberation fanatic, they would tell you that this is unfair. And they have a lot going for their argument because if they’re going to say that if the only reason why you are protecting dogs is because they are useful to you, then the center of your moral universe is essentially the human being.
In other words, it’s all about use value. This is going to be very dangerous because we could easily apply this philosophy to other fellow human beings.
If somebody is, for example, disabled and can only feed themselves through a tube or needs assistance to go on living, what happens then? If utility is the end all and be all determinant of human value and who gets to live or die, then we’re left with a very sticky situation.
According to this line of thinking, there has to be some sort of fixed line as to value. In other words, we value dogs not because they do something for us.
It’s not because they make us smile. It’s not because they wag their tails so hard that it seems that their tails are about to fall off when they see us after a long absence. Instead, the conversation or the analysis is not about us, but actually about the dog itself.
In other words, we’re supposed to apply some sort of universalist morality very similar to the one championed by the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant. A lot of people are excited about this philosophy because this is a counter to the underlying philosophy or underlying attitudes behind “Air Bud” the movie and other feel-good pet movies.
The issue is not utility. The issue is whether there is a firm line between life, protection, and honor and dignity. And the idea is, to a lot of people in the West, that this should be applied across the board.
You should be as outraged when people eat a chicken as you would when somebody eats a puppy. There is really no big difference because they both feel pain. They both have similar nerve systems.
This is a very interesting approach to the ethics of how we should view animals and what animals mean to us.
Of course, this is very sensitive as well because a lot of us are practical in nature. In fact, even though what I just described is a typical Western European and American philosophical trend, please understand that there are countervailing trends as well.
The most countervailing, of course, is the long standing Judeo-Christian idea that human beings were put on this planet to exercise dominion over them. In other words, there is a fixed hierarchy of being.
And this is not just a Christian thing. Remember, the Greek philosopher Plato also had an order of being.
And as much as people like to cry and dispute and rail against some sort of a priori fixed hierarchy of things and how seemingly oppressive, arbitrary and capricious it is, a lot of people believe it.
And a lot of people think that the rest of the world supports that kind of thinking because there is some sort of order, whether we like it or not. According to this view, it’s better to look at the world the way it is, instead of trying to imagine it the way we want it to be.
Interestingly enough, the rise in New Age beliefs have added something to the mix as far as we look at animals go. Whether you’re talking about The Law of Attraction or the whole “name it and claim it’ school of New Age wish fulfillment, a lot of this ‘new thinking’ taking hold of the USA are based on the idea that there is an internal power uniting all people and all creation.
According to this mindset, this unity of origin and power cuts across species line and requires some level of empathy. Sounds Hindu? It is. Expect the way people look at animals to go through a sea change.