Saturday, April 24, 2004

Guarding the Guard Dogs? - Are you a dog "owner"—or a dog "guardian"? By Jon Katz: "Are you a dog 'owner'—or a dog 'guardian'?
By Jon Katz

Last month, In Defense of Animals, a California-based animal rights organization, sent me some materials about its 'Guardian Campaign.' A polite letter complimented me on my most recent book, then requested that I use the term 'guardian' rather than 'owner' in future writings about dogs.

The benefits of relating to animals as guardians rather than as owners would be 'far reaching,' wrote IDA president Dr. Elliot Katz (who's no relation). Changing how we speak would help change how we act. In a world where dogs are protected rather than owned, Katz argued, it would be easier to crack down on animal abuse, end the puppy-mill trade, and stop the killing of animals at shelters.

As a dog lover, owner of a rescue dog, and member of two rescue groups, I'm not convinced there will be concrete benefits from this metaphoric, even Orwellian revolution. "

I'm a cat owner. Cats don't benefit very much from being owned--they do fine being feral. When Katherine a.k.a. Kitty escaped from the St. Francis Day Animal Blessing at St. Johns (she bolted when the rector sprinkled her with holy water) she lived off the land for two weeks while finding her way home. Dr. Carillo, my dentist, and Nancy Painter who worked at the local supermarket reported on her progress as she wended her way east on Kearney and up Second Street.

Dogs are quite another thing and can't really make a decent living in the suburbs. I haven't owned a dog since Brownie, my childhood mutt, died at 16. In those days where I lived there were no leash laws: dogs roamed freely like cats, formed packs and cavorted around the neighborhood raiding trash cans and occasionally bringing down squirrels and rabbits. It was a good life for a dog: I won't have a dog if I have to keep him confined and walk him on a leash. Still, ownership benefits dogs and there's hardly a downside since, without any possibility of grasping the concept of property, they don't mind being owned.

It's hard to understand why people put such stock in word magic. Calling secretaries "administrative assistants" and addressing them as "Ms." doesn't make the job any tedious. Euphemisms and metaeuphemisms and euphemisms to the nth degree don't give sight to the blind, heal the lame or make "senior citizens" any younger. Whatever is the point? In England Old Age Pensioners get better treatment than Senior Citizens in the US and people happily chuck loose change into boxes for charities devoted to helping spastics. The halt, lame and blind, and the elderly and infirm, do not seem to do any worse than they do in the US.

It puts me in mind of one of the few good books Atheneum published while I was working there, Dr. Bowdlers Legacy by Noel Perrin, a history of expurgated literature. When I was there we couldn't imagine how the process could have gotten started--now we know.

It's an empirical question whether euphemism, bowdlerization and and political correctness do any good. I doubt it. If anything they are a cheap substitute for costly, inconvenient material improvements. So even while women with BAs in humanities disciplines have no options beside secretarial work we style them "administrative assistants" or as my university has it, upping the ante, "executive assistants." Talk is cheap.

According to Perrin, Addison, who saw the beginning of the Bowdlerization movement, objected that calling a kept women a "mistress" rather than a strumpet, trollop or whore only obscured the reality of the arrangement and made it seem respectable. By the same token, official loquitions concerning Walmart associates, undocumented workers and the differently abled put a kind face on a nasty situation and absolve us from doing anything to fix it.


Anonymous said...

"Calling secretaries "administrative assistants" and addressing them as "Ms." doesn't make the job any tedious." do you mean "any less tedious" or am i misreading this sentence? (this is an actual question) loved this entry!

H. E. said...

"Any less tedious"

I'm amazed someone is reading this blog--which is largely inactive now--and a magnet for Chinese spam. Thanks!