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The Cheyenne Cherry Paradigm

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Before I start this, a warning–the story I’m about to relate is both true and truly terrible.  If you think the pictures of clubbed baby seals make you ill, this will be worse.

That said, I think narratives must arise naturally.  The problem with the Marxist narratives is that they were largely manufactured to fit a preconceived set of principles, rather than the principles being organic to, or arising from, the stories.  Marxist fiction, Marxist painting, Marxist poetry, Marxist sculpture is all pretty horrible, and not very effective, even within those countries where totalitarian governments allowed nothing else to be shown.  While the Soviet government was trying to stuff Socialist Realism down the throats of its citizenry, a lot of its citizenry was meeting in basements to watch bootlegged copies of Elvis movies.

The question becomes, then, how and why some narratives spread through populations, and why others don’t.  And that’s not easy to say.

The animal rights people ought to have a few natural advantages in the culture of the US and most of the rest of the Anglophone sphere at this point in time.  The tradition not only of having pets but of treating them as practically part of the family is a long one in  English and  English-derived cultures, especially when it comes to dogs.

And then there’s the thing about the nearly instinctive need to nurture whatever is small and cute, as Robert sometimes says.  We see those great big beautiful eyes and just can’t help ourselves.  My older son, confronted by the actual mouse we’d been chasing for weeks a few years ago, not only didn’t kill it, but reported a nearly overwhelming desire to “keep it warm and feed it cheese.”  

Fortunately for our mouse problem, the cats had no such compulsions.  The mouse lasted another day or two, and then I had to throw its dead body out onto the lawn.

The Cheyenne Cherry story is one of those things–well, it’s one of those things. 

As far as I’ve been able to piece together from the news stories, the situation was as follows:

Cheyenne  Cherry, who was seventeen at the time, and a friend of hers, who was fourteen, broke into the apartment of an Hispanic woman one afternoon while that woman was out.  They trashed the place, stole food and money, and then took the woman’s small kitten and put it into the oven.  They turned the oven on to five hundred degrees and went back to finding stuff to take.  They left the apartment only when the kitten’s frantic cries and savage scratchings at the oven door got to be more than they wanted to listen to.

And yes, the kitten died.

Now, the reason I know about this story is that a former student of mine is part of a group trying to get Cheyenne Cherry tried as an adult for animal cruelty.  The way things are now, Cherry has accepted a plea deal that will require her to do about a year in a juvenile facility, and then that will be more or less it as a punishment for the entire incident.

I’m fairly sure that my former stdent and her group are confused about the way the system works–that it’s too late for them to get what they want here, since the plea bargain has been okayed by a judge–but it seems to me that if there could be a strong narrative that will affect the general public in favor of animals rights, this should be it.

And, of course, it is affecting the general population, just as those pictures of the baby seals did.   The story elicits strong declarations that there has to be something wrong with the girls who did this, and that they should be locked up for doing it, and that people should n ot treat kittens that way.

What the story does not do, at least for most people, is to recruit them to the position that animals should have the same rights as people (more or less) and the same moral and legal status. 

For most people, there is nothing about this narrative to change their opinion that pets are pets and people are people, that the welfare of people should come before the welfare of pets, and that the punishment for hurting an animal should be less than the punishment for hurting another human being.

If the purpose of that particular wing of what Robert calls “the movment” is to equalize the moral status of human beings and other animals–and Peter Singer says it is–or to elevate the moral status of other animals over the moral status of human beings, it’s failing miserably.

I think it’s possible that the success of narratives is limited by present paramaters of human nature–that PETA  and company are not getting what they want because most people are n ot capable of thinking the way PETA wants them to. 

And that is, I think, the problem with a lot of the “narratives” attempted by people in “the movement.”  Since the principles are abstractions of abstractions to begin with, whatever narrative is chosen either isn’t affecting at all, or does not elicit enough of the right kind of response to advance the principles. 

Robert suggested Sacco and Vanzetti and Norma Rae–my students wouldn’t know who S and V were, and if they’ve seen Norma Rae they’ll inevitably declare that it was either boring or stupid.  If you ask them who they do identify with in movies or on television or in books, they’re favorite answer is…Jack Sparrow.

In the end I think the bottom line is and always will be that human nature will win out, and that the narratives that work will only work insofar as they connect with that nature.  To the extent that narratives try to change that nature in any way, they fail.

Written by janeh

August 20th, 2009 at 6:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'The Cheyenne Cherry Paradigm'

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  1. I support the seal hunt – it’s the entire big-eyed cute babies shouldn’t be killed thing I oppose, especially when it’s supported by really gross pictures. The fact that a lot of them are old – show animals of an age that are no longer hunted – and show older, bloodier but arguably less painful methods of killing than the ones instituted in response to outside pressure pressure just makes the whole campaign even more insulting.

    But it’s effective. OK, the majority of people who send money to these groups don’t actually believe that animals and humans are morally equivalent, but some do, and they’re the ones driving the branches of the movement that get all the press and a lot of the donations. I think you’re underestimating their influence.

    And I really think that a 17-year-old should certainly be treated as an adult in a nasty case like that, unless of course she is mentally much younger. And as fond as I am of cats, I’d think much the same of anyone who takes the lead role in a break-in while within a year or so of the age of majority.

    Whether overall the environmentalists (especially the animal rights sub-group) will be able to remake all of society in the image of their narrative, I don’t know. I do know that they’ve already changed mainstream society. And all those urban people who can’t quite make the switch to veganism and don’t look too closely into the treatment of the chickens and cows before they arrive in the supermarket in pieces are buying into the animal rights narrative quite literally, with money and the vote.


    20 Aug 09 at 7:20 am

  2. Deliberate cruelty to animals is, and has been proven to be, the gateway to cruelty to humans. So while animals are not morally equivalent to humans, they are indicators of future action that *should* be a call to treat the person committing the crime as more than just a burglar.

    This girl tortured a living thing to death. Imagine her as a mother. It’s not necessary to equate animal and human to know that because she did this to a cat, she *could* do it to a human.

    In my world, it’s clearly okay to use animals for food and clothing, to keep them as pets and use them for work. In every case, though, they should be kept in physical conditions as good as they can be (yes, there *are* really happy cows in California, they graze with a view of the ocean I could never afford, the bastards) and if killed, should be killed as humanely as possible.

    But if it ever came down to a choice between a human and an animal, the human wins, every time. Well, maybe not some of those reality TV doodyheads. But most humans.

    PETA, particularly in its more extreme manifestations, has very little relation with reality. Their objections to eating meat or keeping animals as pets means that there would be about 3 cows in the US and a few miserable sick wild dogs and cats, instead of the millions there are. They object to zoos, so I guess all the endangered species preserved in zoos should just go extinct, adios amigos. Their narrative is full of logical holes and ignorance of economics, and both human and animal nature.

    Mainstream people who buy into their narrative tend to cherry-pick their more moderation positions such as not performing animal testing for frivolous purposes (like makeup). Ask those same people and I bet you’d find they think that medical animal testing to relieve human suffering is more morally acceptable than the PETA party line would have it.

    The only significant change I’ve seen in society as a result of animal activism is in the open wearing of fur. People still eat plenty of meat and wear plenty of leather.


    20 Aug 09 at 1:05 pm

  3. “In the end I think the bottom line is and always will be that human nature will win out, and that the narratives that work will only work insofar as they connect with that nature. To the extent that narratives try to change that nature in any way, they fail.”

    But it does change–unless we want to include so much within “human nature” that the term becomes meaningless. The English-speaking world has, as you say, a tradition of treating some animals like family. It also has a tradition of bear-baiting. Just at the edge of living memory is passing a string through a number of sparrows–I believe it went through their eyes–to make a toy. (It’s mentioned in one of Dorothy L. Sayer’s biographies as an amusement still practiced in rural England in her youth.)
    That a long-service all-volunteer army could function without corporal punishment ought to be something of a wonder. I knew a career NCO who got out of the Army when he was no longer permitted to strike soldiers to maintain order in the barracks. Maybe the supervisors have changed, and maybe the men in the ranks, but the British and American armies of 2009 would seem highly unnatural to the soldiers of 1909.
    Not that all changes have been in the direction of gentleness. Tombstone Arizona, in the days of Wyatt Earp was a safer town for women and children than a modern city. The heavily armed cattle rustlers would have thought it unnatural to attack them.
    We know human behavior can change in remarkable ways, and sometimes in a matter of a few decades. Are there limits to the changes possible? I think so, but I’m not sure I know what they are. Actually self-destructive ought to be fairly short-lived, but self-defeating behavior can go on a very long time. What brings the changes about? I don’t know. But I’d certainly look at what stories were told.


    20 Aug 09 at 4:00 pm

  4. Oh, ack, Robert, you had to say “women and children”? Bleh.

    As to Jane’s story about this Cheyenne Cherry – anyone who could do that to a kitten is not someone I’d want around people, either. This is seriously psychopathic. Sick. Whatever you want to call it. And as Lymaree says, I don’t believe she will stop at kittens, either.


    20 Aug 09 at 4:28 pm

  5. Oh, by the way, Jane – I was reminded, when you wrote about your oldest son’s reaction to catching a mouse, to an exchange I had with the facilities guy here at work a few years ago. We had a mouse in the building and Paul was putting out traps. I was asking him about the traps and how they worked and he said don’t worry, we’ll get the mouse. I told him that if I caught a mouse I’d probably give it a name and a cookie. So say hey to your son for me.


    21 Aug 09 at 6:15 pm

  6. If we’re discussing mice…I’m fairly indifferent to mice, and thanks to the cats, present and past, have found ony 1.5 (or was it 2.5?) in the house in almost 20 years. I can never quite remember if I’m including the one I rescued live or not in my mouse memory, but like Jane’s, I highly doubt it survived long once released into the wild aka my back yard.

    At work, we also tend to have a rather hard-hearted and indifferent approach to mice. That is, except for one of my co-workers who is practically phobic about all small furry creatures, including cats and dogs, so you can imagine how she responds to mice. And in spite of the comparatively young age of the building, we have/had a regular influx of mice, possibly because until the latest renovations immured us in the bowels… I mean, we used to have a fire exit to the outside that was sometimes left open in nice weather. And we’re in the basement.

    Guess who finds most of the mice? Alive or dead, in traps or lurking under a desk, in the paper recycling box she was emptying, on one memorable occasion, under the wheels of her desk chair.

    It must be very stressful for her. I can’t understand why she’s always the one to find them. Maybe she is more on the lookout (because of her fears) and the rest of us just walk past the little beasties most of the time.

    I don’t think I’ll express that idea at work.


    22 Aug 09 at 6:40 am

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