Saturday, December 3, 2016

Known or Should Have Known

Back in the day, I came across an article on Slate, entitled "Rescuing Fly." It's the story of a dog rescue. And early in the story, we learn the following:
Evidently, the farmer didn't realize that border collies aren't born knowing how to herd; it requires long, painstaking training before they'll go whizzing around on command. Pressed for time and money, farmers have little patience for creatures that have to be fed but can't be sold. But having paid $200 for Fly, the farmer figured he could at least use her as a watchdog. So, day and night, rain or shine, heat or cold, the dog lived out her life attached to a tree, barking and circling some of the time, lying down and staring at the road the rest.

The neighbor, disturbed by the sight, had actually called the police. But tethering was not illegal, the cops said. She was fed; she wasn't beaten; there was no crime.
The solution: Wait for the farmer to leave, then steal the dog, and place her up for adoption. The farmer may have had his name added to "a secret Yahoo list that collects the names of dog abusers, so that rescue groups can avoid them as potential adopters." He was placed under surveillance, of a sort; people checked to see if he'd reported the dog missing, and when he hadn't, it was assumed that: "He seemed fine with the idea that she was gone, and he would never hear another word about her."

These actions were justified, because even though the author assumed that the farmer was simply ignorant about dogs, he was a "dog abuser" who didn't deserve to own an animal. People who, according to the article were willing to spend thousands of their own dollars to help dogs couldn't be bothered to spend $200 to buy the animal from the farmer; or even knock on his door to tell him how to better treat his animal, or offer to trade for a dog that better met his needs. His culpability was determined in absentia and animal rescuers swung into action, so that Mr. Katz could have a new dog.

Now, even though I first read (and essayed about) "Rescuing Fly" back in 2005, this tendency, to presume that people who do things that we find to be unacceptable are being willful about it, persists. I came across a blog posting today about a tabletop gaming project that didn't include any women in its list of writers. The author of the blog post noted that the person in charge of recruiting didn't make diversity a priority, that they didn't speak to enough women authors; that in the end, they weren't making the effort. But he doesn't suggest any names of people he world have added, he doesn't post the link to the company's calls for contributors. He simply determines the company's culpability and starts to criticize.

There is an assumption that I feel people make at times, and it works something like this: For a given situation, the "right thing" to do is not only self-evident, but it is utterly foolproof, to the degree that an unacceptable outcome is defacto proof of lack of appropriate effort. It's a sort of begging the question that presumes that the crime is the motive. And for all that I understand that, I think that we should be less willing to ditch the presumption of good intent.

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