As Bill Murray said so wisely, in "What About Bob?":
There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him...
But I’m here to tell you about another dichotomy that may constitute a much greater cognitive divide:
- Really serious animal lovers.
- The rest of us.
Robert Ariail has been hearing today from some folks who love animals — horses, especially, I suppose — the way Bob Wiley’s life loved Neil Diamond. Maybe more so.
The category that consists of "the rest of us" is large and broad. I suspect it’s the majority, but I don’t know, and I’m certainly not going to claim that it is, much less imply that greater numbers have any moral significance, because I’ve noticed that members of the other group of people can get very indignant. I just know that this group of people includes Robert, and me, and lots of people who range all the way from folks who like animals just fine (which includes me, and probably Robert, although I don’t know, because I haven’t been interested enough to ask, which is probably proof positive that I’m not a member of that other group of people) to those who have outright hostility toward other life forms (include, quite often, other people).
I am often even fond of animals. I like dogs, in the aggregate. I don’t much like cats. I’m not actually hostile to cats; I’d just rather not be around them (and not just because I’m severely allergic to them). They just, for me, lack something that dogs have — let’s leave it at that.
Some of you may remember a column I wrote about a dog of which I was very fond. Some folks projected some of themselves onto that column, thinking that I, too, must be a really serious animal lover. But compared to the folks I mean when I say "really serious animal lovers," I definitely am not.
I do not consider this to be a moral failing on my part. I am not ashamed of it. I say this to draw a distinction between the way I may feel about myself with regard to other human beings. I frequently have occasion to chide, berate and even be ashamed of myself because I have failed to be insufficiently thoughtful of other people and their needs and wants and interests. But aside from feeling a little bad if I forget my dog’s dinner time until WAY late in the evening, I can’t say that I have such pangs with regard to animals. I just go ahead and feed him, and pat him on the head and say, "Sorry, boy," and leave it at that. This is of course facilitated by the fact that the dog forgives me COMPLETELY, which is one of the great things about dogs. Just try getting away with that with a cat, for instance.
I have also felt bad when I’ve lost my patience with my dog — hollering at him to "cut it out" on occasion when he scrabbles at the door with his claws. I feel bad about that because my wife tells me I should, so I do.
But that’s about it.
I don’t feel what one correspondent said I should feel about Robert’s cartoon today: "Shame, shame, shame." In fact, I was puzzled at the assertion.
I’ve had a busy day today. I didn’t see that message until this afternoon, but it immediately reminded me of something that Robert had said to me this morning as I was on my way into a meeting with a candidate: He said some folks were really getting on him about today’s cartoon, the way they had about that Obama cartoon recently. I sort of said, "Uh-huh" or something, but as I went into my meeting I tried thinking about it, and tried to imagine what the widely misinterpreted Obama cartoon and this one had in common, and I couldn’t. I just came up dry.
Several hours later, when I saw the messages I got from a couple of readers — including our regular Randy — about it, I was bewildered again. I had to ask, "OK, I give up — what is it that upsets you about the cartoon?"
Then I went and looked at Robert’s Web site and saw the comments and figured it out — but I don’t think I would have guessed otherwise. Then I came back to my blog, and saw that Randy had confirmed the impression I had just gained: "The cartoon makes light of the horrific pain and suffering of an animal."
Personally, I don’t think it makes anything of "the horrific pain and suffering of an animal" one way or the other. It basically just takes the "beating a dead horse" expression, links it to an event in the news, and uses it to say — very accurately, I believe — that that’s what Hillary Clinton’s doing with her insistence upon continuing to pursue a nomination that is out of her reach.
And I know this for sure — the cartoon itself does not do any harm to any horse or any other animal. It doesn’t even hurt their feelings, on account of — and I hope nobody thinks I’m stereotyping animals or anything here — they don’t read the paper.
All it does is upset some people — some of them very, very nice people (perhaps I should even say MOST of them are very nice people) — because the death of this horse the other day was apparently an event that was freighted with strong emotions for them. At least, that’s what I gather. Since it was not a particularly emotional event for me, I can only surmise this. It’s not that I don’t think it’s sad for a horse to be put down; it is sad. But that’s about as far as it goes with me. It was not a shocking event. If you put horses that have been bred for speed rather than durability under that kind of stress, this can happen. And when it does happen, as the saying goes, they DO shoot horses. Sad, but not what you’d call shocking, and not something I’m going to be brooding about the next day.
I’ve seen things in the news since that race that are a LOT more awful and tragic. Take, for instance, all the dead and displaced in the country formerly known as Burma. But you know what? Nobody — not one person, that I’ve seen — has criticized Robert for "making light of the horrific pain and suffering" of as many as 100,000 Burmese under the dual tragedy of the cyclone and their oppressive, uncaring dictatorship. And yet, one could as easily have drawn that conclusion from this cartoon as the animal lovers did with this one.
And I reflect on this, and there seems to be something wrong here, and it’s not with Robert…