Thursday, January 24, 2008

Children or Dogs?

Perhaps it is the bruising cold that sharpens the critical faculty, but I see around me a depressing lack of discriminating judgment in distinctions that aren't so fine or difficult to make. Let me offer two instances.

Case #1 -- Surgery for Pets

It seems the past few weeks have been the time for pets to get expensive surgery that society does not feel fit to grant to the 40 million Americans (many of them children) who simply cannot get any kind of preventive health care because they are uninsured.

One person is spending $1,400 on a cat's operation. Fellow-blogger Julie has had a dog diagnosed with cancer undergo surgery. Ever heard of putting an animal out of its misery with a shotgun? (Truth in advertising: I have never even touched a shotgun. But you get the idea.)

When I raised the question of a hierarchy of values -- among them, people before pets -- in a comment in Julie's blog, mommyblogger Dharmamama weighed in with an out-of-context biblical quote to propose that no one is facing a choice between pets and children. (This amid an ocean of there-theres and poor-yous.)

Julie, for her part, threatened to censor me. Never mind that child homelessness has not quite been eradicated driving distance from her cancer-operated dog. To Julie's credit, the next day she aptly called the dog-cancer post a "pity party."

We all feel our hangnails are worse than a famine in India. But they're not in fact, in truth and in reality.

Case #2 "He Crossed the Line"

Heard from a blonde, white capped pedestrian commuter on her cell phone: "Brian, he f*cking crossed the line."

A man other than the patient Brian, whom she "f*cking" did not know well at all, had apparently invited this pretty, well-dressed but potty-mouthed cell-phone-toting young woman to a "f*cking" strip club. Then, some prodigious (and presumably expensive) amount of "f*cking" drinking had taken place. All ending up at his or her "f*cking" place in the middle of the "f*cking" night, where alcoholic intoxication lowered inhibitions to the point that clothes were discarded amid "f*cking" amorous activities (which, one imagines, were headed toward f*cking). Finally, some "f*cking" Maginot Line was crossed.

And all downtown, or at least everyone within the radius of a city block, heard about it.

The cognitive dissonance in this conversation begins with the understanding that in 2008 everyone knows that yelling into cell phones does not improve communication, any more than loud, slow diction and adding an "o" at the end of every word translates English into Italian. Certainly, yelling out one's angst at a line "crossed" when one is crossing so many socially accepted lines concerning public comportment is internally self-contradicting.

As is almost everything else in this overheard conversation. What delicate sensibility belongs to a young woman who has to f*cking cuss every other word? Where's the common sense in going with a little-known man anywhere, let alone a strip club and a private residence where intimate behavior may ensue?

If one can be held legally liable for driving drunk, can't one be held at least morally responsible for drinking to the point that one disregards the normal inhibitions about placing oneself in a situation of nudity with a stranger?

None of this suggests that the male stranger was therefore authorized to treat the unnamed bodily territory in question the way Germany twice treated Belgium in the 20th century. However, it does suggest that the frontier crossing was a folie à deux, as in the number of people it takes to tango.

So, what's more important: children or dogs, morning-after rescuing of self-respect or circumspect civility the evening before leading to a better morning after? Some people seem not to know the difference.
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