Politics & Policy

The True Clash of Civilizations

Cats vs. Dogs, East vs. West.

I’ve been wading through e-mail in response to Wednesday’s column, and I still have over 300 e-mails from angry libertarians and Andrew Sullivan acolytes I haven’t even opened yet (this doesn’t even include all the e-mails from fans of Michael Lind, but then again three e-mails isn’t that much). I owe the magazine an article, and I leave in less than an hour to go see a screening of Lord of the Rings. So forgive me if I don’t dip deeply into the internecine squabbles of the Right once again. Besides, Andrew Sullivan is going to be penning — one-and-zeroing? — a response to Wednesday’s column (he even promises it won’t be as rambling as mine) so I might as well wait for that.

In the meantime, I’d like to ask for your help in delving into an even greater schism. Greater than the Libertoids versus, well, so far versus me. Greater than Islam versus the West. I am referring of course to the true Clash of Civilizations; Cats versus Dogs. Or, to be more accurate, Cat Civilization versus Dog Civilization.

Last January, I wrote a column arguing that you could anticipate the death toll of earthquakes by the kind of toilets certain cultures use. Earthquakes tend to be far more devastating in countries that use Turkish toilets. It’s not because Turkish toilets and earthquakes don’t mix. (In fact, I think that all in all you’d be better off using the TT when the big one hit because the required pose would make it easier to flee.)

No, the sad truth is that countries with Turkish toilets tend to be far less developed economically. And, the less economically developed you are, the more likely it is that your buildings will fall down when earthquakes, floods, and the like come your way. That’s why tens of thousands of people die in Turkish-toilet countries when barely a handful die in the United States when equally powerful earthquakes strike. (Note: I did run an apology for writing that article when I did, because people were still being pulled from the rubble as I was inappropriately making potty jokes.)

I’m bringing this up to point out that there are certain indicators we don’t think of in life that actually say a lot about a culture, a society, a person. I actually have a huge list of them that I use to discriminate against and among people in my daily life (yes, I’m using the word “discriminate” as part of my own small effort to remind people that we do it every day and it is a word with absolutely no racial connotation).

Let me just grab a few from my kit bag of sweeping generalizations for the purpose of illustrating my point. I don’t think you necessarily have to be pro-life to be a good conservative, but I do find that once people become pro-choice they tend to be less reliably conservative on all sorts of issues. I find that people with mullets (the curtain of hair going down the back of their necks, also known as the “ape drape” or the “New Jersey neck warmer”) tend to own American cars. Men with mustaches, I find, disproportionately come from blue collar, non-urban backgrounds. People who say “I don’t think labels mean anything” tend to be annoying left-wingers who want to leapfrog the fact that there are people who don’t agree with their assumptions. Societies that deny women the right to read or work tend to produce men who want to blow up things where women do have those rights. People who watch CBS are more likely to break a hip in the next year.

I could go on all day with this sort of thing but we gotta move on. Still, it’s important to point out one obvious thing. These indicators aren’t perfect; they are simply part of a broader filter system. When generalizing, we always leave out important facts in order to make the generalization clear. So, of course there are plenty of mullet-men with foreign cars, eschewers of labels who aren’t lefties, and people under 50 with sturdy bones who watch CBS. But that doesn’t mean the generalizations are without merit.

So, consider the current debate raging in Korea (click here for the full story from the New York Times). The World Cup is coming to Korea in May and the Koreans have a public-relations problem. They eat dogs. The Koreans are sticking to their guns under increasing pressure from Western countries, organizations and journalists to, well, stop eating dogs. The president of FIFA, the parent organization of the World Cup, has demanded that the Koreans “immediately and decisively terminate” the practice. The Koreans see this as cultural imperialism, even citing the “Clash of Civilizations.”

Earlier this week, for example, The Korea Herald ran an editorial defending the practice. “In stock-raising Europe, dogs could become men’s best friends as hunting assistants,” it noted. “In agrarian Asia, oxen were the No. 1 property in most families as farming aides. Pigs came second as big suppliers of fat and protein. But dogs had little use except guarding houses, which was mostly unnecessary in ancient Korean villages of the same clans.”

Fair enough. Now consider Islam. It turns out that the Prophet Mohammed loved cats. There’s the famous story in the Koran about how he cut his own robe rather than wake the slumbering feline who was resting upon it. Meanwhile, according to Islam, no angel — particularly angels of mercy — can enter a home when a dog is present. There’s a Hadith proclaiming that for every day you own a dog you will have a fraction of your good deeds deducted from your tally, hence making it harder to get into heaven. There are only five kinds of animals which are so impure, such mischief-doers, that they can be killed even in a sanctuary. They are the rat, the scorpion, the kite, the crow, and the dog.

Indeed, even pre-Islamic Arab culture reveres cats and reviles dogs.

Now, I don’t really have the time to get into this in great detail, but as regular readers of this column know, I consider dogs to be the cat’s meow, as it were. I refer you to my recent piece “Canines to the Rescue” for a brief synopsis of my position (but please, I’ve heard enough from the horse-lovers). But let me point out what I think is perhaps the most revealing difference between cats and dogs: their response to a dead master. Dogs have been known to protect the body of a deceased owner for days, intermittently howling at Fate for its cruelty or growling at those who would dare disturb their master’s final slumber. There’s a famous story of a British police dog that protected the grave of his fallen companion for over a decade, until he too was called home, at which point the local villagers buried the loyal pet alongside his master. Meanwhile, it is not uncommon for cats to feed on their deceased owners not long after the Tender Vittles run out.

I believe it is fair (but not very fair) to say that, of the seven or eight cultures laid out in Samuel Huntington’s watershed “Clash of Civilizations” thesis, you can probably tell a lot about who our greatest opponents will be by how they consider cats and/or dogs. The “Sinic” civilization — Huntington’s word for the Chinese — still eats dogs and treats them miserably. While the Arab-Islamic world holds a special place for cats, it considers dogs to be vile. (I’ve found references to stories of Muslim cab drivers refusing to permit blind men with seeing-eye dogs into their cars because of their revulsion to canines) Meanwhile, here in the West — because we are an open and tolerant culture — we cherish both dogs and cats.

But, I would argue, Western Civilization is founded on a fundamental respect and love of the canine — not the feline. It was Plato who noted that “The disposition of noble dogs is to be gentle with people they know and the opposite with those they don’t know…. How, then, can the dog be anything other than a lover of learning since it defines what’s is its own and what’s alien?”

I don’t know what dogs think about men with mullets (they do like men with mutton), but you get the point.

Anyway, what I want from you guys is more grist for the mill to make this argument. Is it fair to say that, like Turkish toilets and earthquakes, how a civilization considers the canine can tell you a lot about it? And if so, what? Am I higher than moonbat for even discussing this? I await your response (please put “Canine Civilization” in the subject header), and I’m off to the movies.


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