Sunday, January 04, 2015

What pit bull activism says about our culture

Last weekend in Saanich, B.C., a 16-day old baby was mauled by her family’s pit bull-Rottweiler mix on the same day as an elderly man was attacked by two pit bull dogs outside a Langley, B.C. dollar store. News like this is reported, but commentary-wise, dog-related public safety is virtually an orphan topic. Which is why I adopted it.
 
Public-safety regulation is usually linked to what is deemed a critical number of injuries or deaths. Between 1971 and 1980, for example, Ford produced three million Pintos. Due to a peculiarity in the Pinto’s structural design, its fuel tank was prone to puncture in rear-end collisions. Consequently, over Pinto’s 10 years in operation, 26 people died in fires that a better design could have prevented. Ford was forced to retire the model in the interest of public safety.

By coincidence, there are about three million pit bull type dogs in North America today, representing 6% of all breeds. But about 26 people die from pit bull type dogs in the U.S. every year (out of about 40 from all 400 breeds combined). Pit bull type dogs maul, maim, disfigure or dismember hundreds more. By no coincidence, when pit bulls were few in number — 200,00 before 1970, most clustered in marginal districts — dogbite-related fatalities in the general population were freakishly rare. In my youth, when middle-class neighbourhood dogs ran loose, and average families didn’t own fighting dogs, years went by without a single fatality. If pit bull type dogs were cars, they’d be long gone. But unlike car victims, pit bull tragedies don’t arouse public outrage.

Read the rest here.

6 comments:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Somebody came up with the saying somewhere, "When women are treated like men, dogs and cats are treated like children."

There is a worldview out there that likes to think virtue is attributable solely to the merit of the practitioner. The idea that your intelligence, time preference and impulse control are to a degree dependent on the DNA your parents gave you is repulsive to such a worldview. Anything which detracts from this categorical imperative must be denied. Thus, even with respect to the behavioral characteristics of dog breeds--which wouldn't have been a matter of debate 50 years ago--no ground can be ceded. Even pit bulls, with their short ears, compact bodies, front loaded musculature, oversized jaws, are just blank canvases waiting for owners to paint whatever they will. Pit bull = bichon frise = Labrador, etc.

Gregory DeLassus said...

Hm, a couple of responses:

(1) I carry no brief for pit bulls. I would be perfectly happy to see the breed regulated and limited by law.

(2) That said, I think that what pit-bull activism tells us about our culture is pretty much the same thing that gun-activism tells us about our culture, only less so. After all, far more people---including far more children---are killed each year by firearms (3.6 deaths per 100 thousand Americans) than by dog bites (0.01 deaths per 100 thousand Americans).

What both pit bull activism and gun activism show is that Americans value personal liberty to such an extent that they are willing to tolerate a rather heavy toll of morbidity and mortality as the price to be paid for this liberty. Personally, I would be content to curtail these liberties a bit in exchange for more physical health and safety, but I suspect that is largely a subjective preference, not an objectively and demonstrably superior moral truth.

Flambeaux said...

A people willing to trade liberty for security deserve, and will received, neither.

I don't ordinarily quote or paraphrase American Founding Fathers approvingly but in this I think they are correct, as even ancient Roman thinkers observed.

I'm no fan of pit bulls but I do think an armed society is a polite society and I think the social harm caused by increased government regulation (of dogs, guns, the environment, etc.) far outweighs whatever benefit we might experience giving so many knaves such power and authority.

Even in the most rigorous Scholastic calculus there is a preference for localized solutions rather than one-size-fits-all regulations and centralized power.

Gregory DeLassus said...

I think the social harm caused by increased government regulation (of dogs, guns, the environment, etc.) far outweighs whatever benefit we might experience giving so many knaves such power and authority.

I do not happen to agree, but this strikes me as a very intellectually defensible position to take. I am somewhat puzzled, however, about how it intersects with

[T]here is a preference for localized solutions rather than one-size-fits-all regulations and centralized power.

At least with regard to guns, nearly every aspect of the debate is governed by a one-size-fits-all rule, with no role for localized solutions, and the one-size-fits-all rule is the one favored by the NRA. After all, Chicago is a locality, but following the (centralized, all-pervading, Washington DC based) Supreme Court ruling in McDonald v. Chicago, there may be no laws limiting individual fire-arm rights except in very particular and narrow circumstances. This is about as one-size-fits-all, not-at-all-local a rule as one can get. And yet it is also a rule very much in keeping with our American preference for individual liberty.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

It's one-size-fits-all for the same reason people insist dog breeds are "one-size-fits-all."

You are actually talking about people, not localities. There are lots of guns floating around in New Hampshire, but we don't have nearly the problem we do with drive-by's in New Hampshire as we do in Chicago. For that matter, I've got a gun in my nightstand and in the years it has been there it has never opened the drawer and shot anybody. But no politician and certainly no judge is ever going to point out that people in New Hampshire are different from people in Chicago. The government's charter actually prohibits any such finding.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think we need to be careful about making comparisons between inanimate objects like firearms and animals. The former are incapable of harming anyone without human intervention. The latter have a will of their own and are perfectly capable of acting for good or ill without any human intervention.