I recently found myself in an episode of West Wing. You might remember it: it’s the one where Josh Lyman blunders into an internet war in response to comments he makes regarding the US political process. Before he knows it, he is plunged into an escalating conflict – this, because he has ignored the advice of his PA, the adorable Donnatella Moss. She had counselled against involvement, warning him that ‘some of those people haven’t taken their medication’. Typically, Josh dismisses her concerns and soon regrets it.
I too have a Donnatella Moss. Her name is Mary. I’m married to her which means she’s less of a PA and more of a CEO, but that’s a tale for another time. And now the real story begins…
A couple of days ago I saw on my news feed an appalling video of a pup that had been smeared with glue then covered with mud. The poor animal could barely stand or walk and was clearly distressed. Part of its face, including one eye was affected. It was acknowledged that the act had been performed by children. It was horrific and disturbing. But what really shocked me was the response of many who viewed it. With no indication of the age of the children involved, a torrent of invective was nevertheless rained down upon them. One woman suggested that the perpetrators deserved a slow and painful death. I disagreed. My opinion was informed by distant memories of my own childhood, where appreciation of consequences played very little part in my or any of my contemporaries’ decision-making. Of course it’s possible that children have evolved since then, but I doubt it. A possible scenario occurred to me: some boys (yes, sorry about the gender stereotyping) decided it might be fun to put glue and mud on a dog for a laugh, because wouldn’t that be hilarious? If, as a child, in one of my more malleable and idiotic moments, I had been persuaded to do such a thing, I am sure when confronted by the consequences of my act, I would have been mortified.
I decided to respond to this post and informed the CEO. Mary chewed her lip and looked off into the distance as she is wont to do when counselling against one of my hare-brained schemes. ‘There’s a lot of hate out there,’ she murmured. I took that as a yes and proceeded with my plan. I posted a response to ‘Death Lady’, reminding her that the perpetrators were children and the first step toward dealing with the problem might be to make them aware of the effect that it had on the dog. I suggested that ‘death to the children’ might be overreach.
Before long, I had my response – a number of them in fact, and some not entirely complimentary. One man suggested that do-gooders like me are the reason the world is in the state it is in. Another ‘called me out’. I’m not sure what this means. I’m hoping it’s something relatively benign like hot glue guns and mud pies at five paces, because I’ve seen High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and I know these confrontations don’t always end well.
The debate continued and after 24 hours my post had about 700 likes. ‘Death Lady’ was running at around 3,500. I was a bit surprised. I’m not unfamiliar with the minority position, but surely most people would agree with me if only I could make my position clear? I decided to have another crack at it and tapped out my response as Mary chewed her lip, stared into the distance and made strange noises in her throat. I would like to point out that my tone in this second post was, like that of the first, courteous and restrained. I had eschewed my usual shtick of insufferable smartarse and had kept it nice.
The responses continued. It was as though some people believed I had led the attack on the dog in person, egging on my juvenile charges like some deranged and murderous Pied Piper. Although initially disquieted by the vitriol I had attracted, it was now becoming hilarious. But I knew I would need to drag myself out of this vortex otherwise it would go on for ever and I would end up in a death spiral with animal lovers holding me responsible for every animal atrocity from the poisoning of Phar Lap to the murder of Bambi’s mother. I thought it might be wise to draw a line under this dispute. I composed some words and stopped to think, for I confess that this time, in my exasperation, I had farewelled Mr Nice and welcomed Mr Snarky. I decided to run it past Mary. She read it, chewed her lip and got that look again. But this time she said, ‘do it’. So I did. And because she thinks it all right and because it sums up my views and some of the views expressed in opposition, I’ll close with it now:
Well this has been fun, I have to say. I made what I thought was a reasonable point: that children who covered a dog with glue and mud did not deserve to die a slow and painful death. In return I appear to have drawn the ire of intellectuals and moral philosophers from across the globe. Some of them have mounted reasoned and balanced arguments against me. Some have contented themselves with an analysis of my character and intelligence (or lack of). Words such as: moron, idiot, grub, bleeding heart, do-gooder and twat have been given a good airing. Someone suggested that I am ‘missing a huge piece of (my) brain called logic’.
One woman invoked the case of James Bulger, the toddler beaten to death by a pair of ten-year olds. I wonder how the parents of that little boy would regard the comparison. To the woman who drew that helpful analogy I would point out that there are differences between dogs and children. Dogs have four legs; children, ideally, have two. There are other differences as well. You might like to google that.
For the woman who demanded horsewhipping and the man who suggested that they be shot, I would ask one question: are you prepared to do this yourself? Please think about this before you respond. Are you actually prepared to put a gun to a child’s head, pull the trigger and risk getting some of their brains on your clothing? Even Heinrich Himmler, had difficulty with that. (Google him too, if you have to.) As for the horsewhipping: it’s exhausting and messy. But if you can honestly answer yes to those questions then you become the person you most revile. If you cannot answer yes: welcome to the human race. Your absence has been noted, but it’s great to have you back!
I’m pretty much done now I think, so I’ll withdraw from this debate. Feel free to carry on without me. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any parting shots you care to deliver and I’ll be awarding points out of ten, based on wisdom, but mostly on wit. There will be no monetary prize, but I’m offering you the opportunity for bragging rights over your fellow paragons. I will be acknowledging scores only of six and above, though I will make honourable mention of any particularly lame responses. Please be advised that my decisions will be final and no further correspondence shall be entered into. Thanks for your time. It’s been a real pleasure.