Thank you, Michael Vick

February 13, 2011 at 11:07 am Leave a comment

Funny, moving, controversial.  Underneath it all, my theory is that the steadfast allegiance that Michael Vick enjoys among his remaining fans comes from the fact that the abused often become the abusers.  And the abused often come to identify with abusers.  And once they do, there is no room for compassion.  Compassion is a weakness that can’t be allowed.

The walls they built to survive the pain become those of rage. And once rage takes over, they — the abused and now abusers and their admirers (a certain portion of them abused themselves) — cannot afford to feel much compassion, because to do so would be to risk breaking down the walls that protect them from their own trauma.

Scratch a dog-fighter, and you’ll find a history of abuse, neglect, poverty and the distorted sense of self and justice that comes from that.  Dog-fighters have a very strange relationship with the dogs they abuse:  they have the highest degree of respect for the best fighters — not just because those are the ones they make money on, but also because those are the ones that demonstrate the kind of resilience, tenacity and survival-against-the-odds that are the only personality characteristics they respect.  It’s all about respect.

These are the characteristics that they self-identify with and nurture:  the ability to survive abuse, essentially, is to validate their own experience and choices.

Of their fight dogs, with every bone they splint and wound they dress, they are saying to that dog and to themselves:  you’ll survive this.  And you’ll be better for it.  And no one else can understand your pain the way I can.  They do not see themselves as abusers, in that moment.  They see themselves as victims.

They are the abuser who beats, and says to the beaten:  I did that for your own good.

Who batters and says to the battered:  you caused me to do this, you are to blame.

And then, of the non-fighters, the ones who can’t or won’t fight or in the case of human beings, fight back — those are the weak not strong, they are the scared not brave, they are to be scorned not respected.  The victim’s  inability to survive, their powerlessness, enrages the abuser even further.  In the abuser’s twisted sense of justice, the victim becomes deserving of the abuse, torture and murder they will receive.  It’s the only way the abuser can reconcile the massive cognitive dissonance that is occurring within them as they abuse and are victimized at the same time.

This is the psychology of a victim of abuse who becomes a perpetrator of it.

Granted, it’s not entirely the explanation for every dog-fighter’s mentality, or a dog-fighting football player’s, or those who continue to support him and feel he was treated “unfairly.”  There are, in fact, sociopaths out there whose development stems from an entirely different set of circumstances.  But true sociopathy — which isn’t even recognized as a valid psychological categorization by many — is the exception.  Of those who abuse, whether people or animals, the path from abuse to abuser I’ve laid out above is far more typical.

Scratch Michael Vick, and this is likely what you’ll find.  Scratch a certain proportion – I would say a high proportion – of Michael Vick defenders, and you’ll likely find something similar.  It’s the most bizarre and almost inexplicable logic, but it is the alliance of the abused with the abuser.

Therefore:  we should not hate the abusers nor heap venom upon them (although, let me be clear: we should definitely hate their acts and speak out against them).  But, I have seen far, far too many comments on message boards, discussion forums and blogs among pit bull fans who would condemn Michael Vick to the same kind of torture and death that he perpetrated.  These are not the words – much less the acts – of a civilized, compassionate person or society.  They are the words and acts that entrench the problem and the problematic behaviour (the abuse of animals, in this case), not achieve retribution for or rehabilitation from it.

My position is that Michael Vick deserves as much compassion as the dogs he abused. He is a victim of abuse, himself.

He is also a victim of a society who said to him:  your only value, your sole redeeming quality as a human being, is this talent you have for playing a game that is more important to us than addressing the systemic injustice and lack of opportunities that we, as a society, have given (or failed to give) you.

And of the Vick hangers-on, the mother, the girlfriends, the wife, the siblings and the cousins … they were saying that to him, too:  you’re nothing to us if you can’t bring us a pay cheque, can’t dig us out of this grinding poverty that we’ve experienced — that our people have experienced — at the hands of a white society that has never done anything other than hate us.

So yeah, this is about race.  And it’s about abuse.  And it’s about politics.  And it’s about a culture that adores football and its celebrities more than it does social justice and the citizens to whom they deny it.  And then finally, lastly really, it’s about the current treatment of a certain breed of dog — a breed that now bears the burden of being a symbol of ALL of that injustice, and is suffering for it.

Arnie & Gracie - Bad Rap foster dogs

Arnie (front), a Bad Rap dog seeking adoption and Gracie, a Vick survivor and Bad Rap Ambassadog, now placed in a loving home

I’m passionate about pit bulls, because I’m passionate about the issues of social justice that emerge when you start to talk about them:  the attitudes toward them, the myths and misconceptions, the fear and ignorance.

And for the fact that that conversation can now be had when we talk about these dogs, I thank Michael Vick.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

For information on the rehabilitation of the Vick dogs, and to understand more about pit bulls in general, please visit:  Bad Rap (Bay Area Dog-Owners Responsible About Pitbulls).  Thank you for reading.

Entry filed under: Personal Musings, Politics. Tags: , , , , , .

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