The damndest essays ignite furious debates here. I raised CNN’s mid-day quiz about parents walking children on a leash-–did I mention it featured a video of one mother dragging her prone harnessed child through a store like the kid was a sack of potatoes? I should have—-primarily because 1) it reminded me of “The Simpsons,” 2) because I was struck by the fact that ethics was never brought into a conversation that I would deem as concerning an ethics issue, and 3) because it was notable that CNN wasn’t talking about sunken Malaysian airplanes.
Still, I have been enlightened by the unexpectedly lively discussion, if not encouraged. In particular, this never struck me as an ideological issue, but it certainly seems to be one. Upon reflection, I should have predicted it, though this is not flattering to liberals.
I’ll return to this in a bit.
The defenses of the demeaning practice have been mostly pragmatic, which involves a utilitarian argument: “It works, and the ethical violations either don’t exist, or are too small to care about.” The most annoying defense so far has required intentionally taking a statement in my post literally that also has an important figurative message, as well as misstating even the literal meaning, all to make it easier to dismiss the intended point. That’s some kind of record for straw men. Or would that be straw dogs? No, I think that’s something else.
The phrase in question was “whether it was fair, kind, respectful or right to treat your child like a cocker spaniel…” To make it easier to attack, my critic has changed that to “…to treat your child in a manner associated with the treatment of dogs.” Sneaky. It is true that dogs are typically kept on a leash, but that is only half the message, as fair readers will acknowledge. The term “treated him-her-them like a dogs/dogs” means, and has meant for a very long time, treating a human being in an inhuman, demeaning, humiliating, unkind, unfair fashion showing a lack of respect and making the human being in question miserable. The description has been used to describe both treatment that is seen in the treatment of actual dogs—such as substandard living conditions, lack of autonomy, domineering oversight, feeding of food not fit for human consumption, and in this case, use of a leash in public, as well as used to describe treatment that would never be literally possible with real dogs, such as too many typing assignments, refusal to give credit or bonuses for effective research, not allowing a family member a sufficient allowance, forcing a child to dress in old, outdated or unattractive clothes, etc. In the current case, both meanings apply, and focusing on just one is intentionally misrepresenting the issue.
As to whether the use of leashes on human children is demeaning, try this thought experiment: Would any white nanny dare to walk in public with two black children on a leash? How about the mother in a mixed marriage, in which the mother is blonde and the children are black? Would not the imagery of whites leashing blacks be inherently distasteful, regardless of the age of the African-Americans involved?
I think the answer to that is “of course it would,” and for a simple reason: it IS distasteful. For in addition to representing the treatment of human beings like dogs, it is also redolent of treating humans like slaves, who were, as we know, treated like dogs, but worse—and it was because they were regarded as less than human. If there is not a visceral revulsion attached to putting humans on leashes, what does that mean? In”The Walking Dead,” Mishone puts zombies she has captured, de-jawed and relieved of their arms on leashes, even zombies who she knew and loved before they were zombified. Why? Because they aren’t human any more.
Do a lot of women, mothers, and liberals regard children as less than human? It pains me to say so, but boy, that’s how the comments read to me. One mother writes, “My child loved it!,” which sounds like the “happy slaves singing in the fields” rationalization. If those who are treated unethically don’t mind or even like the treatment, is the treatment still unethical? I believe the answer is yes. Totalitarians believe otherwise. To them, the fact that Winston ended up loving Big Brother gave “1984” a happy ending.
The rationale of the pro-leash lobby, which is predominantly, though not entirely, female and liberal, is that safety and welfare always trumps dignity. There are many analogies here for considering more substantive issues, but I now believe this position is telling. These were the people, after all, who protested during the Cold War, while calling for unilateral disarmament, that “better red than dead.” They are largely the ones now who view no human suffering or breaches of liberty around the world as worth placing American lives at risk. They believe that taking choices and autonomy away from citizens in matters of their own health care “for their own good” is responsible governing, and that allowing, or causing, nearly 50 per cent of the population to be dependent on the government for the costs of living, thus placing them on a metaphorical financial leash, is a good thing, rather than soul-killing, initiative destroying, domination.
And, of course, many of them don’t believe unborn children are even human enough to care about killing them.
I am not certain that this is correct or even fair, but it explains a lot. Leashing one’s child can be just a lazy choice made with no ideological content at all, of course, but I am beginning to think it may be signature significance for those who defend it by saying that safety justifies treating children like dogs. Dogs, after all, still love the superior being on the other end of the leash. It may be that the child on the leash will also grow up to love not just the parent, but Big Brother as well.
Graphic: Cafe Mom