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Snapshots of the 21st century

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, May 12, 2011 12:58 EDT
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I have a few things, none long enough for a proper post, so here's a compendium. I'm particularly pleased with the piece I have in the Guardian's CIF this morning on the Aaron Schock photo and the overall right wing obsession with masculinity that verges into camp.  A sample:

In 2011, most Americans get that the members of the Village People were not actually policemen and construction workers. Unfortunately, though, since that announcement wasn't made on "The 700 Club" with Pat Robertson, this kind of basic knowledge hasn't filtered into many corners of conservative America.

So, check it out.  Don't worry!  There are references to oily Spartan warriors galore.

Item #2 is Laura Miller's excellent defense of libraries in the face of unconscionable budget cuts.  People who claim that libraries are obsolete are telling us more about themselves than about libraries; I haven't walked into a library myself in the past decade that wasn't stuffed with people using its various services.  Even my sleepy local branch always has at least a dozen or more people hanging out at any point in time, and often way more during busy hours or when they've got children's storytelling.  I may be selfish, but seriously, I can't afford to buy all the books I read, particularly if I want to read them while they're still out in hardback.  And because there's a due date and a moral imperative to get the book back ASAP so someone else can enjoy it, you end up actually reading your books in a timely fashion when you get them from the library.  Some times when I buy books, the knowledge that they're always there can leave them to languish for months or years while I'm busy looking at something on Twitter.

But I was sad to see this, not because Miller is wrong, but because we as a society have put her in the spot of having to argue this:

Defenders of such cutbacks typically ask why, in the age of Google and e-reader devices, anybody needs libraries.

Let's set aside the obvious rejoinder that many citizens can't afford e-readers and, furthermore, can only access Google via a library computer.

We've really come to a place in our public discourse where the idea of a common good has been so eroded that we can't even defend libraries on those grounds.  Think about that.  We can't defend people wanting to better themselves through knowledge.  We suck. 

Instead of cutting library budgets, the federal government should be issuing large grants to the state to start charter programs where you can borrow library books on your e-readers.  I have no problem with e-readers, but this would dramatically improve their usability to the point where I might actually get one, since I'm sick of having to decide if it's worth it to haul a book onto the subway with me to pass the time, or if keeping track of it at my destination will be too  much work.  I can't imagine I'm alone in having concerns like this. 

My third item for today is picked up from Jill at Feministe.  There's a new journal for animal ethics, and if this is what they consider a well-reasoned enough piece for an inaugural article, they won't be long for this world:

Animal ethicists are calling for a new vocabulary about animals, shunning words such as “pets,” “wildlife,” and “vermin” as derogatory and even suggesting “animal” is a “term of abuse.”

Common language on fauna betrays an “anthropocentric bias” and impedes an understanding of our interaction with the non-human species sharing the planet, argue the editors of the first academic journal dedicated to animal ethics in their debut issue.

Instead of “pet,” the Journal of Animal Ethics suggests “companion animal.” Rather than “wildlife,” they are to be called “free-living.” “Differentiated beings” or “non-human animals” is preferred to simply “animals.”

Words such as “vermin,” “beasts” and “critters” are stricken completely, along with similes such as “sly as a fox,” “drunk as a skunk,” “eat like a pig,” “slippery as an eel,” “breeding like rabbits” and “stubborn as a mule.”

I'm generally skeptical of the idea we can censor words and the concepts will follow, which is why I got a real workout with the Slutwalk debate, particularly anyone who thinks as long as that word isn't used we can eradicate its meaning.  What actually happens is a process of euphemism.  Lots of people don't use "slut" because they think it's indecorous, but they believe in the concept (in fact, being caught up on "indecorous" makes it very likely you believe in the concept of promiscuity), and so they use euphemisms.  Concepts have a way of coming out in language.  People have the cause-and-effect relationship backwards here. I think there's an argument for avoiding certain slur words, but that's because they're mean-spirited. I know: quaint.

Which is why this is the stupidest shit I've ever read.  Also, self-contradictory—you can't say "animal", but you can say "companion animal"?  As I joked on Twitter, I'm all for retiring the word "pet" and have done so in my house to refer to my cats.  Instead, I refer to them as "shitbags", "assholes", "dumbasses", and "turd-filled money holes".  That is a new one, invented after discovering this week that Molly's mouth problems will set me back the sort of money that made my knees buckle a little when I saw the bill.

That's why I was also particularly incensed to see this shit and the inevitable holier-than-thou leftist preening in Feministe's comment thread of people trying to be all radical by denouncing the concept of owning pets.  The supposed ethicists here denounce an “anthropocentric bias”, but I can't think of anything more anthropocentric than conflating human desires and abilities with those of domesticated animals.  Let me put it this way: When I have a tooth that's rotting in my head and is really painful, I can pick myself up, go to the dentist, and will myself to sit in the chair so they can extract it.  Because I have foresight and know that I will feel better.  My cat, if she had her druthers, would never go into the vet's office again, which is why I have to deprive her of her freedom in order to get her tooth extracted.  Her inability to think this through is not her fault.  She is really stupid compared to me.  She is afraid to sit on the balcony because she doesn't believe the evidence before her that it can hold the weight of beings much larger than her.  Our relationship is fine the way it is.  If anything, she's the one getting the benefit out of it, because she can't make money to pay her own dental bills.  The problem with oppressing people in this way is that, unlike cats, they have functioning frontal lobes and you are depriving them of activities they have the brainspace to accomplish.  Big difference.

I also wrote about sex for the Good Men Project. I write about sexual politics a lot, but rarely about sex itself.  So that was surprisingly challenging.  Enjoy!

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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