Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to answer a question of great stupidity

I know, not a very popular opinion that humans are more important that pets... but THEY ARE. We live in an insular, privileged society where we have the luxury of obessing over pets and buying them designer collars. The reality is that there are many places around the world where children are living much less humainely, starving to death, dying in war. But we shudder, donate a couple of bucks and go play fetch with Rover. Of course, now the party's over and reality is hitting us all now that money is tight. I'm sorry, but $1,200 for shots for your dog is excessive no matter what income bracket you fall into. You can feed a family in Africa for like a year with that money.

Submitted by jmysk
, from the comments section of a recent Toronto Star article called Shelters fear flood of pets as times get tough

Remember when your politically correct, kindhearted teachers told you there are no stupid questions? Well, they were wrong. There are stupid questions. Lots of them. Worse yet, it's not the questions that are stupid. It's the person asking. I'm not talking about someone asking a sincere question in hopes of obtaining a sincere answer. No, those questions are always good. Those questions are valuable. Those questions help to shed light onto things which may need illuminating.

I'm talking about the questions posed by the self-righteous, by the hypocritical stone throwers, by those who hope to disparage anyone who is even the least bit concerned about the well being of living creatures other than ourselves. I'm talking about the number one stupid question that is so commonly asked of anyone who expresses an interest in helping animals.

I'm talking about this question:

How can you possibly justify helping animals when there are so many needy people in the world?

Yep, that's the one. I'm sure you've come across it somewhere (if not, please tell me where you live 'cause I'm moving there), maybe in the comments section of a newspaper article dealing with animal welfare, maybe at work over lunch, maybe over casual conversation in the checkout line at the grocery store.

That's Grand Daddy Stupid but it's got many spawn. Here are some of them:

How can you spend (so much) money on a pet when there are starving kids out there?

How can you justify keeping all those animals when there are homeless people on the street?

How can you possibly care so much about dogs when they're just dumb animals?

The majority of the time, anyone who throws up these questions does it in a context where the discussion involves the relative worth of "animals" vs "people". Asking any of these questions implies that the person asking considers animals to have little or no intrinsic value, or possibly, at best, a value based on its worth as a commodity with respect to being a food item or an article of clothing. The questions imply that deep down the person asking really couldn't give a shit if the planet was completely depopulated of every other living creature as long as humans managed to get something out of it.

Immediately, you know the following about the person asking any of these questions:

1. The person is self-righteous, calling you immoral based on a fallacy.

2. The person is a hypocrite for being no better, most likely worse, with regards to compassion.

3. The person is morally lazy and thus prone to accepting without question, bigotry and intolerance of all sorts.

4. The person is most likely trying to assuage their own guilt for being stingy at helping other living creatures.

Holy crap where am I getting this from? Well, let's deconstruct the question and see where it leads us.

When someone questions your involvement with helping animals over helping, say hungry kids in Africa, he's essentially criticizing you for how you spend your free time and money. In essence, he is saying, that anything you do outside of helping those hungry kids in Africa is immoral because helping those kids or helping the homeless or helping the poor are the top priorities everyone should have. Okay, let's say that moral assumption is true. Fine, then that morality judgment would have to apply to everyone including the person asking.

And this is where the self righteous, hypocritical, morally retarded nature of this question becomes as apparent as a pile of shit on a white living room carpet.

Ask him this:

Does he have a TV? How can he waste any time watching TV when there are so many needy people in the world?

Does he go out to restaurants? How can he splurge on going out to eat when there are so many hungry children in the world?

Does he own any CDs, any jewelery, a car, a house? How can he waste so much money when there are homeless people on the streets?

You see what I'm getting at, right? He's basically judging you for wasting your free time and money on something he feels is worthless while allowing himself the moral luxury of wasting time doing whatever the fuck he pleases. He's basically saying that it's morally superior for him to, say, go out and get pisspants drunk on Friday night than it is for you to volunteer with a dog rescue. He's saying that it's morally superior for him to spend a few thousand dollars on his junk-in-five-years home entertainment system than it is for you donate some cash to the local animal shelter. He's telling you it's okay for him to spend tens of thousands of dollars tarting up his house but it's morally repugnant for you to spend a few hundred dollars on vet bills.

He tries to twist around the argument by comparing someone who volunteers with animal care against someone who works with hungry kids in Africa but that's not the real comparison. The real comparison is between the animal care volunteer and the vast vast majority of guys who spend their free time playing Grand Theft Auto or the women who obsess over the latest episode of The Hills or the guys who are getting ripped at the gym or the women who spend hours on their make-up. I'm not saying those things are bad. I'm saying that's reality. And in all likelihood, it's the reality of the person asking.

So, not only is his internal moral logic faulty, thus making him prone to all sorts of illogical prejudices, he also goes a step further by trying to make you feel bad about yourself for having a better moral compass. What reason would he have for doing something like that? Why take that extra step of going out of his way to berate the compassionate for taking action? Why not just shut up and live happily in his own self indulgent world? Why? Because he needs to assuage his own guilt. Even though his conscious moral compass is wrong, deep down, he still knows he's a selfish prick and in order to feel better about himself, he needs to try to bring everyone else down to his level or at least diminish the worth of everyone else's charity.

So the question you should be asking him is what right does he have to tell people what they should do with their free time and money especially when those people are spending it on compassion and not selfish consumerism?

What right does he have to inflict his moronic, medieval, self serving moral code upon others?

What right does he have to be such an asshole?

He doesn't have that right. And now you can tell him why and then tell him to shut the fuck up and stop wasting your time.

Oh, and you can also ask him this:

What good is a person if he does no good? What use is a person if he only helps himself?

Continued here sort of.


Social Mange said...

Straight up and dead on. I love it. Skewer those self-righteous hypocrites.

Caveat said...


You have to stand for something, or what's the point? Having lunch? Caring what B actress is dating which B actor this week?

Screw these people with their shopworn schtick. I always ask them how much they donate to charity each year - in both time and money.

They are small, shallow, bitter people who I think envy those of us who love living things more than a bunch of mass-produced garbage that doesn't have any real or lasting value.

Anonymous said...

An excellent analysis, Fred! But you missed an important point: the assumption that one can only give one's energy/time/money to one cause at a time.

What makes anyone so sure that we work with animals exclusively? This says more about the attacker than about the attacked.

In fact, while working with animals, I have also worked to help adult survivors of abuse, funded the education of poor children, served actively on the board of a 100% volunteer organisation that raised and distributed about $C250,000 a year to individuals and groups that could get funding nowhere else, and that was just one typical year.

Rather than attack when asked this stupid question, I politely ask the person how they are so sure what I do with my life. This usually leads to some spluttered generalisation about animal lovers not caring about people.

The conversation almost always ends when I ask "Aren't people also animals?"

Fred said...

Anonymous, very true about not being restricted to only one cause at a time and it's fantastic that you're an example of just that. But, I would go so far as to say even if the one and only cause a person committed herself to was with regard to animals, that is still better by far than what most people do with most of their free time and money.

There's also the argument that by helping animals, especially pets, you are helping people because pets bring such an incredible amount of emotional well being into people's lives. It's funny that if you said you fixed other people's cars for free, everyone would automatically understand that you're doing a charitable thing for people. But if you tell them you're rescuing dogs so that they can become great pets for people, some just can't make the connection that what you're doing will also, in the end, benefit people.

Jan said...

You have more patience than I have with assholes like this. I just slowly back off and walk away. There is no way to reason with them.

Unknown said...

That was...actually quite beautiful. I've been asked that question before because I part-time volunteer at two animal shelters, hold two jobs, and foster at least one dog at a time, sometimes with a litter of kittens and/or a mother queen. All the while, the other person I live with has terrible allergies.

"Why do you subject her to that?"

Well, she doesn't mind. Why do you? *hem hem*

It's the only thing I ever felt I could really say to justify myself, not even comprehending the question. Why did they ask that? It catches me off-guard every damn time. Then the next time it's asked, I still haven't an answer because I -still- wasn't expecting such a peculiar, almost insulting question.

Now I have an idea as to why it bothered me so much; because -they- bothered me -personally-.

Thanks for posting this.

onequarterdal said...

Well said Fred. I'm so tired of being judged by what I do for my own animals and animals in need. My wallet spring open on its own when I see a Salvation Army kettle in the distance, yet every (well except folks in rescue) think all I do and care about is saving strays...thank you for writing the article, its rather healing actually to read it. Dot

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head as usual, Fred.

Count me in with those who just scroll by when we read those "Comments" after news articles. Those and "A dog story? Didn't they have any REAL news to report like starving kids in Africa?"

That is right up there for me, along with ubiquitous german shepherd and raccoon dog parkas on the TTC.

For those of us who are compassionate enough to support animal causes, some heartbreaking but beautiful reading is James Orbinski's "An Imperfect Offering" which talks thoughtfully about his experience with Doctors Without Borders in Rwanda during the genocide. I'm sure we can all relate, even those of us who imprinted on animals very early on.

Fred said...

redstarcafe, thanks for the book recommendation. I'll check it out. I'm warning you, though, it better not make me cry.

Anonymous said...

Fred, I'm halfway through it. It's hard to put down. Orbinski has worked in most trouble spots of the world and risked his life to witness what people do to each other.

If it were about animals, we probably wouldn't be able to read it.

Anonymous said...

My boss who is a veterinarian of all things is one of those "why help animals when there are starving children?" types. I cannot even begin to try to make sense of his irrationality.

Fred said...

Wow, sounds like your boss might be a bit conflicted.

Suzi Riot said...

What a wonderful post! Spot on!

Anonymous said...

My answer to that stupid, stupid question is: "Well, each one of us lucky people has a duty to help. We have to do so with respect to our attitudes and skills. I am good with cats and dogs; what are you good at?".
They usually change topic.

Kat said...

BRILLIANT! Thank you for putting into words how I have felt my entire life!