Rootless Cosmopolitan

Matthew DeCoursey's Blog

Matthew DeCoursey

Matthew DeCoursey
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
December 30
I am a Canadian academic. I have been wandering, and have settled in Hong Kong. I find that Open Salon draws me in, using time and energy that I need for my regular work. I stay away from months at a time, but I come back.


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AUGUST 7, 2010 9:29PM

On Racist Animals

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People who don’t have animals may not know this, but dogs and cats discriminate by race and by sex. My dog Adriana has nothing against Asians, but she loves white people. When I had a cast party after a show at my place, a group of students arrived, including one white girl, an exchange student. Adriana went straight for that one, licking her madly. The Chinese students tried to distract her, but she would not be distracted until I called her. When I lived in Nigeria, I had a sexist cat called Manu. If a man came to visit, she would jump into his lap, but if a woman came, she would hide, or watch warily from the far side of the room. She didn’t care about race, though.

Clearly, the animals are innocent in this. They know nothing of prejudices transmitted through language. They simply respond to their experience. Adriana has been living with white people almost her whole life, and my neighbours who take care of her when I travel are white too. Manu must have had bad experiences with women. She was also afraid of brooms, so I supposed that some woman used to hit her with a broom.

These animals are, in effect, engaging in inductive reasoning, but are doing it badly. They aren’t capable of saying, “Well, my sample size is small, so I’d better not generalize.” And that leads me to think about the nature of hatred and prejudice.

We too have emotional responses based on our immediate experience. We too have feelings toward groups of people. I think, like the animals, we too are innocent as long as the feeling is only a feeling, as long as our intellect refuses to collaborate, as long as we are self-critical about actions, words, tones of voice. We should not feel guilty about irrational anger if we truly, deeply know that it is irrational.

The arch-example of this phenomenon in our lives, I think, is gender. Heterosexual people get the greatest happiness and the greatest pain they will ever feel from the opposite sex, the other. The good and the bad are not evenly spread in our lives. Sometimes we go through periods when almost everything is bad. We have feelings and we get to have feelings.

The evil is in systematizing based on emotion, building up an idea that certain people are just wrong, that the right thing is to be constantly and systematically angry with them. When that happens, the result is hatred, a frozenness of anger, a self-righteous anger. The Nazis provide a fine negative example, with their pseudo-science and pretended logical tough-mindedness. In more ordinary life, people use other ways of dismissing their true rationality, sometimes by a contempt for “mere classroom learning” which may be no more than a way of giving in to the emotion that is inside.

And education should equip us for this situation. We must be educated in ways that give us feeling reason, that keeps emotion and reason together in us.

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gender, sexism, racism, animals

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well, having taken a poll from a gender based group of ahhm, I guess --one,... I'm stepping out here to say your cat is a genious. Cats (animals in general but I'm trying to stick to the topic here) know what works and what doesn't work for them, based on nothing but instinct. Gawd forbid we should say it has anything to do with anything more than... personal experience, plain and simple. Why do we humans have to make it about anything else? I wonder.

Unfortunately, the fly in the batter is that once experience is acheived, the cat can't distinguish between one attribute vs. another and will assess danger to anyone who reminds their little pea brains that they need to be leery of anyone that even remotely resembles the offending party.

Sounds like some men I've known. And a few women too... Oh! you think I'm being sexist? well, maybe you've just figured out something there Mr. Matt. Very smart cookie you are, too. Nice to make your acquaintence.
It used to upset me when I vacationed in Jamaica that the guard dogs would growl and snarl at black people, but not at white people. I commented on it and was told that they were trained by scent to attack blacks. I found that very disturbing. Most of the dogs there were strays and in bad shape -- except for the fortunate "racist" guard dogs.
"We must be educated in ways that give us feeling reason, that keeps emotion and reason together in us."

i agree but that's a tough tightrope walk and it seems, based on the way the world is currently constructed, feelings have to be sacrificed to reason (aka common sense).

thought provoking
I read an article from the current issue of TIME magazine which has the cover photo of 18-year-old Aisha who has her nose and ears cut off by her husband. Her crime was having brought shame to her family for running away. The reason for her running away was to escape imminent death from her in-law's ill-treatment.
An animal that runs away, will either be forgotten by its owners if it brings no value, or if it is pursued by its owners, it may not be treated more badly than before.
The cover story on Aisha, "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan", seems to suggest that Aisha's ill fortune may be avoided, and the women stand a better chance, if Taliban is not in power. I don’t know the situation there, maybe other social factors play a greater part than the Taliban. I do feel that there are wrong ideas against women, and they are manifested in severe hate actions. Yes, there is a need for feeling reason that keeps emotion and reason together.
I am diverting from the subject. There isn't anything on racism in my post.
You never told me this about Adriana.

My cat had a knack for telling which person in the room disliked cats or was allergic to them and would make a bee-line straight for that person. Uncanny, I always thought. I've never heard of racist/sexist animals before, however.
My huband and I had for 13 years a lovely pet Poodle- Chow (no kidding)! She loved Asian people. She would hone in on them in them in elevators, on the streets, in was quite embarrassing sometimes. She preferred a Chinese Vet and a Phillipina groomer . She absolutely craved Chinese Spare Ribs! She somehow through some kind of telepathy I suppose, brought back from the past two Asian childhood friends of mine who are now inspirations for my third novel.
I just thought I would share that with you.