Activism and the internet

I joined twitter yesterday. I thought I’d hate it, but actually I love it – what a wonderful way to share a ton of links quickly and easily! Between twitter, facebook, wordpress, and my new tumblr, I have a lot of activist tools at my disposal.

But last night, I ran into a problem that I’ve had again and again – reading something online (this and this), being overwhelmed with rage and sadness, deciding to comment, and then not knowing what to say. Commenting in a meaningful way on such an anti-animal rights piece is tricky. And preventing myself from commenting until I’d cooled down and taken a step back was even trickier – I started writing how it made me sick to read this article, how it was so frustrating to see a feminist dismiss another marginalized group, and loading the comment with facts and statistics about pitbulls. But I realized it does no good to send an angry comment, especially to someone who thinks in such a starkly different way.

So I took a step back. And I called on that timeless core of activism – seek to understand, rather than to be understood. And so I started to think about it from her point of view. Sure, she cited mostly individual stories about pitbull attacks as her resource for pitbulls being violent, but she must have just started searching “pitbull attacks” and seen story after story in the same vein. One story certainly isn’t enough to justify the logic that pitbulls are violent, but if I were to see a pattern of story after story, then I would distrust professional statistics about pitbull temperament as well.

That, I think is the first difference in our approach to the issue. She holds personal testimony as paramount, where I would rely largely on statistics. But here is where I have to quibble – she only holds personal testimony paramount when it serves her case. She says multiple times things in this vein:

Advocates are so desperate to prove it to you and me that they do things like flood youtube with videos of their pit bulls being friendly with their kids, titling them things like “pit bull attacks child” or “vicious pit bull” so that it is difficult to find videos about actual attacks that occurred.

(emphasis mine)

I’m not actually sure what “it” refers to there, but I gather she’s talking about how pitbulls are a worthy cause and/or the kind temperament of pitbulls. She disregards individual accounts of kind pitbulls, even multiple accounts, but bases her argument around individual accounts of violent pitbulls.

She does use some statistical sources. One links to the Injury Prevention journal, but it’s not that useful of a source – the site talks about dog bites being a problem, but doesn’t list breeds. The site also says:

Controlled investigations of further risk and protective factors, and validated methods of breed identification, are needed.

(emphasis mine)

This seems to match what was said on the pitbull advocacy page I linked to before:

Rarely do the writers perform actual research. One obvious question they could investigate: Was the dog actually a Pit Bull? It’s impossible to determine breed by appearance alone. And given that the CDC non-fatal bite statistics come from counting newspaper reports of attacks claiming it was a “pit-bull type” dog, there are bound to be gross inaccuracies.

No DNA tests were ever done, which are required to determine breed.

(emphasis mine)

She also links to this and this – medical reports of dog bites which do list breeds. They’re pretty damning evidence for pitbulls, but only if you trust that the dog breed was reported correctly. If I saw a ton of personal accounts about violent pitbulls and then saw that a link like that one corroborated it, I would disregard what it said about “impossible to determine breed by appearance alone,” as propaganda. I get that. But at the bottom of the second link, it says this:

Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog’s breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues. Fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites.

(emphasis mine)

She also links to this study from Animal People (I guess it’s a magazine? Never heard of it). The statistics are troubling, but again, only if you assume that all the dogs are identified correctly.

Compiled by the editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE from press accounts since 1982,  this table covers only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry,  as designated by animal control officers or others with evident expertise,  who have been kept as pets.

(emphasis mine)

I would be wary of using media accounts as a source. And so is this author, but she must not have looked at the source of these statistics:

I agree, but the figures are supported by other studies which use non-media based methods of gathering data for both serious maulings and fatal attacks.

the “other” link is to that study I just cited. And her links in this sentence:

These dogs kill animals much larger than they are, including many horsesand cows.

are from pretty biased sources. Warning, the “and cows” link is really graphic. I would trust information on those as much as she would trust information from the link I looked at, pitbulls.org. The rest of the links in that paragraph are from dogsbite.org. Towards the end of the article, she links to something disproving the idea the pitbulls are “nanny dogs.” I’ve never heard this before, so I have no comment. In the final paragraph, she links to a couple of threads where pro-pitbull people don’t express any concern for the victim, and are more focused on proving it wasn’t a pitbull. I could only link to two of the three. Those two are web forums specifically aimed at pitbull lovers. Not that shocking that people commenting were anxious to disprove it was a pitbull in the attack. It is absolutely so sad that these people failed to mention any regard for the victim. As me, I understand that when you’re so deeply immersed in an issue regarding the suffering of one (pro-pitbull groups), you can forget to acknowledge the suffering of others (dog bite victims). That is single issue activism and it is my LEAST favorite thing in the world. But if I had come from a research session of reading accounts of multiple pitbull attacks, seeing statistics that proved pitbulls were dangerous and trusting those statistics as valid, and then saw these comment threads, I would be furious at pro-pitbull groups.

And that combination of stories, statistics, and actions of pro-pitbull groups is what I think could lead me to make the argument that pro-pitbull groups are prioritizing a dog breed over protecting human lives. That’s really what this post is about. If I were to believe that pitbulls are dangerous and to believe that pro-pitbull groups don’t care about human health and safety, it is logical to draw that conclusion. Again, as myself, I find any argument that people don’t care about other peoples’ health and safety suspicious, because we care about people more than we care about anything else. I assume that the pro-pitbull groups have family and friends whose health and safety concerns them.

I’ve never heard of this site before. I was linked to it through another blogger’s shared items through google reader. I don’t know how many people will see this blog. I don’t know how many people will be swayed by what it says. But in a larger picture view, there are probably hundreds of blogs out there with similar anti-animal rights sentiment. And because I read many things that don’t fall under the most obvious description of veganism (Really, race, class, and gender inequality are issues that vegans should care about as well – humans are animals, too), I’m sure to come across things like this again and again. If I were having a conversation with someone who expressed this view, I would ask questions. I would ask her to explain why she feels this way.

In other words, I would seek to understand. But on the internet, I can’t ask questions. I can only comment. I can only seek to be understood. And when I tried to put myself in her shoes, that me was so convinced I was right that nothing anyone told me would have made a difference. So where can you go from there?

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