The Michael Vick dogfighting scandal is morphing into a broader NFL dogfighting scandal, as other NFL players also appear to be involved in this very weird pastime.
But as animal-rights groups get more aggressive in their accusations and demands, the whole scene is getting stranger and stranger. And the closer you look, the more you see the deep conflicts in core values that fracture our society.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) wants the NFL to "add cruelty to animals -- in all its forms -- to its personal conduct policy." What, for PETA, is "cruelty to animals -- in all its forms"? According to its Web site, we should not eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse animals in any way.
So PETA's problem is well beyond the sick and cruel murdering of these creatures of which Vick and others are allegedly guilty. Dogfighting for entertainment, or any other use of animals for entertainment, is itself, for PETA, cruelty.
If it's relevant to look for any kind of logic here, why would it be decent entertainment to watch hulks of men ram the daylights out of each other as they move a ball across a field, but cruel to watch dogs fight? Why would the NFL sign on to such a thing?
More specifically, among PETA's prohibitions, is the use of animal skins. The ball, as in football, is an inflated leather object endearingly called the "pigskin."
Why does PETA oppose existing NFL conduct policy, and not football itself?
J.C. Watts, Chuck Colson and others have asked why abuse of dogs is outrageous to so many who see no similar outrage in the 800,000-plus abortions that occur in the United States each year. At the most intuitive level, there is something unsettling about an attitude for which abuse of a dog is intolerable, but women destroying their unborn children with impunity is not a problem.
Logging onto the PETA Web site, I notice the PETA Files blog announces as one of the group's supporters porn star Jenna Jameson. "In addition to being an icon of the adult-film world, Jenna Jameson ... happens to be a good friend of PETA. Jenna first got involved in animal rights after watching 'Earthlings' a year or so ago, and we couldn't be happier to have her on her side in our KFC campaign ... She also happens to date ...UFC fighter Tito Ortiz ..."
Again I wonder. PETA is untroubled by pornography, the unapologetic exploitation and marketing of human flesh, but explains that we should not eat fish because they "are smart, interesting animals with their own unique personalities." The blogger says Jameson is "beautiful, inside and out."
The UFC -- Ultimate Fighting Championship -- where Jameson's boyfriend fights, consists of "mixed martial arts," where fighters do violent battle, for popular entertainment, using the full array of martial-arts forms. The PETA blogger obviously enjoys this sport and calls Ortiz "my favorite UFC fighter."
PETA provides material on its Web site to explain the rationale of the "animal-rights" concept that drives its worldview. "When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy," says PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk.
For more extensive exposition, the site refers to the writings of Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, author of "Animal Liberation."
Now Singer has written on a great deal more than animal rights. He's the author of "Practical Ethics," in which he offers his justifications for euthanasia, abortion and infanticide.
According to Singer, parents should be permitted to kill a baby born with a tragic illness or defect. In "Practical Ethics," he argues that "... the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings."
Thus, through a long and twisted road of logic, beginning with one man's own premises about existence, we are led to a conclusion that killing animals is an outrage, but an infant, not.
Computer scientists call this "garbage in, garbage out." Our conclusions are only as good as the premises we start with.
And hence, the cultural divide in our country. It all starts with where we get our premises.
The NFL is a bit, as they say, between a rock and a hard place. Michael Vick's lifestyle is not one to hold up to young fans. But those who thirst for his destruction offer a picture that is no prettier.