(POLITICS OF ANIMALS) It is the 21st century. Most people no longer need to hunt for food. Yet political leaders still portray themselves as formidable hunters and providers while animal lovers are often stigmatized as neurotic. This sense of misguided machismo is still perpetuated in popular culture, where hunting and killing animals is seen as manly and strong, while compassion is seen as weak. Images of people in power hunting for sport is widely publicized in the media, such as vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons. Why is the attitude that humans must dominate other animal species still so prevalent? Read more on this interesting discussion about how animals are viewed in our culture today. — Global Animal

Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, walks through a field after goose hunting in Springfield Township, Ohio. The hunt was aimed at winning over undecided voters in the 2004 campaign. Photo credit: Brian Snyder, Reuters

New York Times, Kelly Oliver

In a 1991 interview titled “Eating Well,” Jacques Derrida wonders whether a head of state (chef d’Etat) could gain office by declaring himself or herself a vegetarian. He concludes, “The chief (chef) must be an eater of flesh.”

In the United States, we often see our political leaders hunting, particularly bird-hunting, which seems to demonstrate their manly fortitude and bloodlust — qualities intended to persuade us that they can keep us safe. Hunting has become a tool of sorts within the realm of political image making. With few exceptions, President Obama among them, most presidents and presidential hopefuls have been seen hunting. Meat eating, too, is an act used to portray strength. Obama is known to enjoy his burgers, a fact that has helped counter his image as a green-tea drinking elitist. Even Sarah Palin’s so-called new brand of feminism revolves around the image of a tough “mama grizzly,” as she calls herself, shooting and gutting moose to feed and protect her family. As she says in her memoir, “I always remind people from outside our state that there’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals — right next to the mashed potatoes.” But while politicians continue to channel “Joe Six-Pack” by hunting and killing animals to prove that they are tough providers, animal lovers are often infantilized, pathologized and derided. It is true that White House pets have often become celebrities, but they are usually there for the children, part of the pretty picture of the all-American family.

This is part of a complicated and often hypocritical view we hold toward animals.

Sarah Palin, former vice-presidential candidate, is shown shooting a Caribou. The photos caused a major backlash, lead by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the TV show West Wing, arguing that Palin shot an animal ‘for political gain’. Photo credit: Gilles Mingasson, Discovery

In popular culture, celebrities who take on animal causes are seen as a bit crazy — rich versions of the “crazy cat lady,” or dog-crazy Leona Helmsley. Not coincidentally, they are usually women. And, our relationships to the animals with whom (or rather which,to be grammatically correct) we live is given very little status in our society. Despite the proliferation of “cute” pet pictures and anecdotes on the Web, actual displays of affection toward one’s pet or companion animal, or grief expressed over their illness or death, is looked upon with ridicule.

To love animals is to be soft, childlike, or pathological. To admit dependence on animals — particularly emotional and psychological dependence, as pet owners often do — is seen as a type of neurosis.

One telling aspect of this manifests itself in our legal landscape, in which we bestow approval of non-food animal dependence only in cases of illness, handicap or severe need. Relatively new subcategories of “service” animals have been designated to provide humans with, not only physical assistance (as guide dogs do) but with therapy — emotional, psychiatric and therapeutic support. “Comfort dogs” are now being used in court rooms to provide emotional support to children called to testify in difficult cases. Doctors can write prescriptions for emotional and psychiatric service animals that allow patients to take their animals with them into public places where they are usually banned, including public transportation, public buildings, and even to work. My sister, a liver and kidney transplant patient, has three dachshunds who accompany her everywhere to help her cope with the post-traumatic stress of her medical ordeals.

The regulations are very clear: these animals are not pets. They are “serving” an essential therapeutic purpose. The fact that these relationships are circumscribed by laws relegate animals to the role of tools or medication, an act that also pathologizes the people who rely on them. Animals, then, can enter our intimate family units only as pets, which is to say property, or as a result of trauma, disease or disability. This cultural attitude suggests that people who are dependent upon their animals for anything other than amusement or entertainment are abnormal or unhealthy. Loving animals as friends and family is seen as quirky at best and at worst, crazy.

Vegan and vegetarian celebrities are taking their stance. Posing in PETA’s “Eat No Animal” shirt, Paul McCartney describes the first time it hit him that animals value their lives just as much as humans do. Photo credit: Peta.org

Within philosophy, as we know, animals and our own animality has been denigrated and disavowed. After all, philosophy is regarded as a flight from our animal natures and into the realm of intellectual activity, knowledge and enlightenment. Traditionally, man has been seen as having dominion over animals because of his superior capacity for reason, language, technology and other intellectual characteristics valued in philosophy. Some feminists, notably Genevieve Lloyd, Susan Bordo, and Alison Jaggar, among many others, have challenged philosophy’s privileging of mind over body and reason over emotion, issues that bear directly on the question of the status of animals. Philosophers have asked not whether animals think or speak but whether they suffer; but some within the animal rights movement have argued that animals are capable of many of the same intellectual feats as humans. The animal rights and animal welfare debates continue to be dominated by discussions of whether and how animals have minds or intentions like we do. This discourse continues to measure animals against human standards in order to judge whether or not they deserve legal rights. The animals closest too us, namely our so-called pets, are often dismissed from these discussions as yet another example of our exploitation of animals. Even as our human usage of animals gains more scientific credence, within mainstream philosophy, our psychological and emotional dependence upon them remains “ghettoized” along with feminism.

Although there are philosophers of mind, like Daniel Dennett and Thomas Nagel, who also consider whether animals are capable of emotions or reason, love and emotional dependence — most especially the love of animals — are still seen as too feminine, too lightweight, to be serious philosophical issues. Even prominent philosophers, who have taken on issues like love and philosophy of emotions, rarely mention emotional attachment to animals.

Within our philosophy and within our culture, we cannot take seriously our love and dependence on animals without turning them into medicine and making ourselves sick. We can accept our dependence upon animals only if sanctioned by the medical or legal establishment, circumscribed by the regulations of these institutions, through which we subject ourselves to pathologization and further objectify our animal friends and family.

Think about it? Can we imagine a head of state not only as a vegetarian but also as a crazy cat lady?

More New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/the-pathology-of-dependence-on-animals/?hp