We Are All (or Mostly) Mike Vick

I had sworn that I wasn't really going to write on the whole sad Michael Vick thing. In part, that's my Hokie background. When I think Mike Vick, I still think of him putting the Hokie offense on his back in Morgantown and pretty much single-handedly saving the Hokie's undefeated season in 1999.

Indeed, the whole Vick family saga, which once seemed so inspiring (freakishly talented brothers escape poverty) turned into a sadly commonplace one (spoiled, self-indulgent athletes think that rules are for everyone else). But this post isn't really about Michael Vick. It's actually about hypocrisy. Plus, Patri sort of opened the door for this. So blame him.

You see, one need not look very hard to find all sorts of people calling for everything just short of drawing and quartering (in comments) Vick. I don't dispute the assertion that Vick's actions are wrong. But I do find the calls for Vick's punishment to be curious at best. Consider, if you will, what it is that makes Vick's dogfighting wrong in the first place. As I see it, there are two possible lines of argument:

Rights argument

  1. Animals have a moral right not to be tortured.
  2. Violating a moral right is morally wrong.
  3. Dogfighting necessarily involves the torture of animals.
  4. Therefore dogfighting is morally wrong.

Suffering argument

  1. It is wrong to cause animals needless suffering.
  2. Dogfighting necessarily involves needless suffering.
  3. Therefore dogfighting is morally wrong.

I am not going to try to argue for one of these arguments over the other (though I suppose that I might as well mention that I personally find the rights argument to be uncompelling, largely because I don't think that anything has moral rights). What I am going to point out is that both versions of the argument are pretty much parallel to some other sorts of arguments about animals. To wit:

  1. Animals have a moral right not to be tortured.
  2. Violating a moral right is morally wrong.
  3. Factory farming necessarily involves the torture of animals.
  4. Therefore factory farming is morally wrong.


  1. It is wrong to cause animals needless suffering.
  2. Factory farming necessarily involves needless suffering.
  3. Therefore factory farming is morally wrong.

I think that it's fairly clear that anyone who buys the argument that animals have moral rights really has to give up eating them. After all, if a thing does possess moral rights, then surely the right not to be killed for someone else's pleasure has to rank right up there among those rights. And, at the end of the day, what is eating an animal if not the killing of it for the pleasure of how it tastes (since one can, after all, get complete proteins from things like soybeans, quinoa, and spelt)?

The analogy between the suffering argument against dogfighting and the suffering argument agains factory farming, however, is a bit more complicated. After all, there are a couple of (I think superficial) differences. Let's consider the arguments in a bit more detail.

Here's an expanded version of the consequentialist argument against dogfighting

  1. Training a fighting dog requires depriving the dog of food and light and forcing it to exercise for hours at a time.
  2. The act of fighting results in significant (and often fatal) injuries to the dog.
  3. Dogs suffer when they are deprived of food and light, forced o exercise for hours at a time and subjected to significant (and often fatal) injuries.
  4. Some people receive enjoyment from watching dogs fight.
  5. The enjoyment that people get from watching dogs fight is not sufficient to outweigh the suffering that the dogs must endure as a necessary condition for fighting.
  6. Suffering that is not outweighed by enjoyment elsewhere is needless suffering.
  7. It is morally wrong to cause needless suffering.
  8. Dogfighting creates needless suffering.
  9. Therefore dogfighting is morally wrong.

Now let's compare that with the consequentialist argument against factory farming

  1. Factory farming cows requires depriving the cow of space, force feeding the cow an unnatural, protein-rich diet, and forcing it to spend its final days confined to a feedlot.
  2. Cows suffer when they are deprived of space, force-fed unnatural protein-rich diets, and confined to a feedlot.
  3. Some people receive enjoyment from eating inexpensive beef.
  4. The enjoyment that people get from eating inexpensive beef is not sufficient to outweigh the suffering that the cows must endure as a necessary condition for factory farming.
  5. Suffering that is not outweighed by enjoyment elsewhere is needless suffering.
  6. It is morally wrong to cause needless suffering.
  7. Factory farming creates needless suffering.
  8. Therefore factory farming is morally wrong.

Now the interesting thing here, I think, is that in the argument against factory farming, lots and lots of people object to premise (4), claiming things like, "Hey, I don't know about you, but I really get a lot of pleasure from my hamburger." I'm not entirely sure that I buy such a claim. I mean, a hamburger is good and all, but the cow spends a couple of years suffering so that you can eat that burger. Two years of cow-suffering for the 15 minutes you're going to spend scarfing a burger? Seems like a crappy deal. Still, I can hardly be in a position to know how much happiness you really get from eating a hamburger. But I submit that there's something slightly disturbing about claiming that my happiness makes someone (or something) else's suffering all okay. I mean, suppose that Michael Vick were to say something like, "Hey, I really enjoy watching dogs try to rip each other's throats out." Do we then just say, "Oh, well in that case, have at it?" No. I think that, in point of fact, what we say is something more like, "I don't care. It seems pretty obvious that the dog's suffering outweighs your pleasure. And if that isn't the case, well, then, that just makes you a sick fuck."

That doesn't seem a totally irrational reply to Vick. So why we don't say exactly the same thing to someone who eats a factory farmed cow?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not out to shill for PETA. I'm a vegetarian, but I'm not a particularly good one. Just last night, I cheated with a big plate of fish and chips. (I also tasted a cheeseburger, my first taste of beef in 5 years. Surprisingly, it wasn't nearly as delicious as I'd remembered.) At any rate, there's no high horse here. I'm just out for a bit of consistency. If you're going to jump all over Mike Vick for torturing dogs, then, by the same logic, you really ought to start clamoring for the folks at Smithfield to face some jail time for their treatment of pigs. And if you're okay with that BLT you had for lunch, you probably should break out the "Free Mike Vick" t-shirt campaign. At the end of the day, there's really very little to separate the two. Except for the fact that we all think dogs are cute and cuddly, whereas we all think of cows (to the extent that we do) as lunch. I'm pretty sure, however, that cuddliness isn't a morally relevant trait.

So either trade in the steak for some quinoa or lay off Michael Vick.

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No difference

I think you're trying to make the case that since opposing factory farming is "absurd," wanting Michael Vick to be punished is equally "absurd." But I think you're going to be surprised if you were to poll the public at large. Tell them about factory farming and they'll probably react as negatively to it as they are to Michael Vick. Look into a ballot referendum in Arizona last election cycle for evidence of that, people don't like knowing that their food was treated cruelly and tortured.


it's about the humans, not the animals

I think what matters here is Vick's character, not the rights/suffering of the animals. People are disgusted by Vick because he apparently pleasure in the suffering of the animals. Our society condemns him because he is a sadist, not because he hurt an animal.

P.S. I haven't been following this case, and I don't know anything about Vick. We could ascribe other motives to him (such as "power tripping"). But the point is that we are willing to tolerate "bad things" in the interest of achieving goals that are at least understandable, if not good. What we won't tolerate are "bad things" done for their own sake.

Our society does not condemn Vick

Some individuals condemn him. Others don't. The government condemns him, but the government is not society.

So you think it's hypocritical to criticize Vick while...

...eating meat.
But what about Vick's actions alone, without context? Do you think he should be locked up? I am a vegetarian. Should I believe he should be locked up?


Seems to me that while Vick's actions are immoral, they probably ought not be illegal. Or, at the very least, if one is going to have laws that require locking people up for being cruel to animals, then those laws ought to apply to all forms of animal cruelty. Instead, the law locks people up for acts of animal cruelty that most of us don't really like, while turning a blind eye to the forms that almost everyone practices (or at least sanctions by purchasing products that are produced by being cruel to animals).

So to answer the last part of your question, you should believe that Vick should be locked up only if you also believe that the CEO of Smithfield's should be locked up. If you think that factory farming ought to be legal (even if it may be immoral), then you probably ought also to think that Vick should be free to raise dogs for fighting.

As far as the without context part, I think that I'm with Patri on this one. In general, it's a bad idea to start trying to outlaw all the sorts of things that we think are immoral. Liberalism requires that we be neutral about the conception of the good. My belief that torturing animals is wrong is predicated upon my belief in consequentialism, which, of course, is a theory of the good. So to impose my views about animal cruelty upon others would count as imposing my view of the good on others. So no, I don't think he should go to jail for training dogs to fight.

Losing his endorsements and getting banned from the NFL do, however, strike me as perfectly justified. Depending, of course, on what exactly (if anything) the various contracts between Vick and the NFL actually say about grossly immoral behavior.

one more point. actually the

one more point. actually the dogs were given a chance at life, maybe slim or better, whereas a cow in the pen has no chance whatsoever of life. he's a dead cow walking.this the reason some places don't allow the death penalty. beings need achance, albiet a slim one. a fighting dog of quality would be prized and protected. maybe PETA should start Cow Fights to keep them out of the deep fryer. i thought of this disscussion immeadiately upon reading of the Vick case.

Cow fights... Mooo!? The

Cow fights...

The meat would become all muscular and dry. I want tender, fat marbled (and artery clogging) steaks !

Dog Fights and Cow Fights,Why Not?

Argument 4 and 5 is the weakness of your case. Eating is a lot of pleasure but you also have to eat to live. Why should I have to eat tasteless soybean paste in order to live when I can eat steak. If a cow dies, so what?
Actually cattle have a pretty good deal, specially the bull. The thing that is really cruel is to expect him to keep all those cows pregnant, but it is all for a good cause. Fighting cows are seen in at least one country, Okinawa. But the bulls don’t die. video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6153087598736105771

They need to establish some rules for dog fighting such as for human fighting. For example the fight could be broken up when one dog was defeated. They could have rounds and so on. If they would do this, it would be no worse than Ultimate Fighting you see on TV. The thing Vick did that pisses me off is the way he executed the puppies that didn’t fight well, like he enjoyed it. Why not do the same to football players who don’t play well. In my book he is washed up like Mike Tyson. I will never watch either one of them nor patronize their sponsors.


Fighting cows are seen in at least one country, Okinawa. But the bulls don’t die.

Eh? Cows are female, bulls are male. Of course if the cows fight, the bulls won't die. Now, if you're talking about bulls fighting bulls (if you mean "cow" in the nongender sense), then don't forget bullfights of Spain and Mexico - bulls fighting people. There the bulls die.

And then of course there's hunting.

The thing Vick did that pisses me off is the way he executed the puppies that didn’t fight well, like he enjoyed it.

And what about the thousands of cows and chickens that are slaughtered because they might have a disease? Is that bad?

Why not do the same to football players who don’t play well.

Why not simply slaughter humans who have infectious diseases? The moral parallel between humans and animals is unpersuasive in the case of slaughtering the infected, so by analogy we would expect it to be unpersuasive in the case of slaughtering the failures.

It makes sense to kill pups that don't measure up. First, if you're breeding dogs for fighting prowess, then you want to keep the relative failures out of the bloodline that you are breeding. But at the same time, you don't want to give your competitors a chance to catch up with you by using one of your relative failures to build a parallel line that might overtake yours. I don't know whether that is a realistic worry, but at first glance it seems plausible.

As to whether he "enjoyed" it, that's mindreading. If he did enjoy killing the puppies, the only problem here is that it's not sporting. People enjoy killing animals but generally in a sporting way - one that requires some skill and possibly (though not necessarily) some danger to the killer. Hunting and bullfighting are obvious examples. Animal fights are another (here the killing of one animal is by proxy - the victorious animal kills the defeated animal). In contrast, if someone likes killing helpless animals, all one has to do is find employment in a slaughterhouse. My limited observation suggests that the people who slit animals' throats or otherwise kill them on the farm do not derive any pleasure from the act.

If he enjoyed killing the puppies, the aspect that makes this bad is that it's not sporting. That is, it makes him a wimp. It's un-macho. So to ding him on that point is to ding him for being a wuss. The bad aspect here is not that he's evil, but that he's pathetic. However, the charge that he enjoyed killing the puppies seems to me to be questionable, since it requires knowing what was on his mind.

To change the subject slightly to the general question of blood sports. Everyone loves violence, or at least everyone male loves violence. We love witnessing it, and a lot of us love participating in it. The supposed difference between watching a violent movie or a slasher horror movie, and watching the real thing, is superficial. The immense popularity of violent movies proves that we love watching simulations of violence. And it really stretches credulity to think that the pleasure we gain from watching simulations in no way suggests any taste for watching the real thing. Yeah, right, and there's no relationship whatsoever between the popularity of pornography and the popularity of sex. Totally unrelated phenomena, right? Here's direct proof that we love learning about the real thing: it's what sells newspapers. We know it's what sells newspapers because it's what reporters report on, and they know their business.

Violence like sex is, however, too much for children. (Or so we tell ourselves.) And therefore Hollywood labels certain of its more violent movies "R" and "PG13". And indeed, children often are overwhelmed by the violence of movies. But at the same time, once they get into their teenage years they are drawn to it like moths to a flame.

We love mayhem. This love of it coexists uneasily with the perfectly understandable selfish desire not to be harmed. We prefer that others be harmed for our pleasure (even if we tell ourselves that our love of violent movies in no way means we love watching other people suffer). We prefer that the mayhem occur at a safe distance from us - close enough for us to get a good look, but far enough so that the debris doesn't hit us personally. We have some sympathy for the victims of violence, but that sympathy coexists uneasily with a fascination with the violence. Fiction gives us the excuse to indulge our fascination with violence.


Cattle not cows

OK. Cattle not cows, Mr. fussy English teacher. I don’t know if Vick enjoyed killing the puppies or not, but maybe he can go on TV and explain it so we can understand why he drowned, electrocuted and hung them. If you need to kill a dog shooting it is the usual way, or they could do it the way PETA does it, presumably in some more humane way.

“Why not simply slaughter humans who have infectious diseases?” Hay, can’t you take a joke?
I agree that violent imagery, struggle, competition, and conflict are springboards of human emotion and pleasure. They have to be modulated to prevent destructive consequences. What is football itself other than modulated hand to hand combat? The trend is toward minimizing actual suffering on the part of the participants, and this includes animals.


The trend is toward minimizing actual suffering on the part of the participants, and this includes animals.

Morality isn't about what's trendy.



the evolution of humans and

the evolution of humans and all animals is about battling to not be murdered. if that means killing others to survive vis a vis food, then so be it. its a natural function of animals on this particular planet.

think VERY CAREFULLY about this scenario. Mother jaguars ALWAYS wound prey so it can be mercilessly toyed with, played with ,bitten HUNDREDS of times, and generally completely molested until dead by thier young. HOW ELSE can a higher order feline mammal learn? it cannot. what can be extrapolated from this? i don't really know, but the more one looks around , the less evil and just downright stupid, BUT ...workman-like-efficient Vick looks.

Adult humans of a sound

Adult humans of a sound mind, can make choices if they want to become boxers, wrestlers, football players, etc. Animals cannot. We human beings, as the supposedly "superior species", have the responsibility to respect and protect, not torture, animals. What I'm reading are people who simply want to justify their sick, depraved behaviors. If we allowed all humans to engage in whatever sick fantasies some may have, I couldn't imagine a more dangerous, disgusting world for ourselves and our children. A civilized society demands that each human being be responsible, decent, self-controlled, and civil. Dog fighting (or any kind of human/animal torture) is for the depraved. Period.