Are Editorial Columnists Parasites?

Opinions are a lot juicier than “just the facts”, and a lot more fun to write (see: what I am typing right now?).

Misha at several weeks old.

Although the internet has exponentially expanded and power and prevalence of opinionated “journalism”, the op-ed section of newspapers (or news outlets) remains the most glorified space for such pontification.

The NY Times has recently received a lot of much-deserved flack for its stuffing the editorial section with “controversial” Never-Trumpers. The Wall Street Journal has become notorious for its right-wing columns. For some reason, we have simply come to accept that this word vomit from very important people is separate but equal to the hard news sections of papers. And what’s wrong with a little provocation?

Tonight I came across an op-ed so mean-spirited and bad that it helped me remember that just because an editorial is an opinion, that doesn’t mean real news publications should make them adhere to real standards of journalism. If the question(s) that an article provokes are difficult or uncomfortable, that is fine. But they must not be questions that have already been answered. 

Misha parasitically snoozing on my lap.

We should not confuse a columnist’s hot-take as contributing to “the conversation” when it is derived from their ignorance or even mendacity.

Especially when science is involved (such as climate change), “opinions” are of significantly less value when there is readily available evidence and/or logical reasoning to explain or counteract whatever uneducated claims are being made.

And it bothers me because there is a lot of malice behind the challenging of conventions and learned wisdom in the Trump Era, not solely limited to the political sphere. Take, for instance, the article that inspired me to write this blog post at three in the morning: Chris Reed’s screed that dogs are actually parasites.

Not only does Chris Reed attack both dog owners and their dogs in an underhanded manner, but he smugly asserts he will be attacked online for his radical truth bomb or whatever he thinks it is that he wrote, most likely in under an hour to meet a deadline (see, anyone can sucker punch, but these people, not the Mexicans, are the people I’ll be competing against in the journalism job market).

Misha parasitically posing for teatime.

I will now assert that Chris Reed is 100% wrong, and that is not an opinion, that is an established fact of science, one he should have researched before he wrote his piece.

The question Chris Reed is asking, underneath the nastiness, is actually a good one, or would be if it hadn’t already been studied comprehensively: when dogs, or any animals, form a relationship with humans, are we just projecting emotions onto them, or is there a shared intention and understanding between us?

The scientific answer has slowly but surely moved from “non-human animals are organic automatons without a soul and whose actions and reactions are hardwired, instinctual behavior that is completely different from the self-aware human experience” to “yes, many animals, especially mammals or those whose intelligence it is easy to recognize (octopuses), do in fact have objective emotional lives” and, even if the process is not yet complete, we are now able to more fully understand other animals perceptions of themselves and the world around them.

Advances in neuroscience, and arguably science ethics as well, mean scientists can study and observe brain function and development to prove that our dogs do not merely play-act companionship, but feel an attachment to their owner/parent.

Misha parasitically eating my slipper.

Yes, Mr. Shitsnack cites some articles and books in his diatribe (although he links an article, not the book, in the embedded link for the book). No, they do not prove “dogs are parasites” nor do they offer a substantive refutation of the latest scientific consensus, nor do they try (the book he cites is from 2001 yet may already be anachronistic).

I mention he is underhanded in his argument: knowing that it’s somewhat shaky ground to argue against dogs in the year 2018, he devotes some sentences to condemning the extremes some dog owners will go to, including plastic surgery, designer meals and other luxury excesses. See, people who love their dogs are crazy!

Except this really has nothing to do with dog-ownership at all. These complaints about absurd pet pampering are about material status, fetishism and attention-seeking.

There is not a slippery slope from spending “too much” time with your dog to buying it a dream doghouse in Majorca. In fact, the people who go to such dumb lengths demonstrate a misunderstanding of their pet and its emotional needs, similar to how parents who obnoxiously spoil their child (this was never the case with me, pay no attention to the crates of LEGOs in the family basement) are hurting, not fostering, love and socialization.

Of course, I am “biased” and like many others am lucky enough to have had some wonderful dogs in my life, include two family pets, some slobbery flatmates and one pupper who I rescued in Korea. I have also wondered in the past if, in letting them sleep on the bed or whine for treats or take the lead on walks, I am ceding “alpha male” territory or letting myself be taken advantage of.

On some level, it doesn’t matter, especially since pets often provide a necessary therapeutic role in our lives. This is definitely the case with me. Also, I have been curious enough to want to know ‘the truth’, not go with my first instinct or last instinct or pick a fun affectation with which I can harass pet-owners at parties. I am sure there are local libraries in San Diego where this mansplaining moron can educate himself with some free book-learning.

To wrap this all up as an appeal to better journalism, yes, even op-ed writers have a responsibility to use their platform with knowledge and integrity. A big-city paper should not be printing half-baked arguments that are merely better-worded versions of what you can find in the comments section. If the writer cannot hold himself up that modest standard of competency, then their superiors should replace them with someone else who is up to the challenge.

I foolishly interpreted this tongue wag as affection. It could just as easily be parasitic indifference.