The Playing Field

Sport and culture through the lens of science

Let Him Rot

A Few Reasons Why Michael Vick Should Stay In Jail

In the past twenty years or so there has been a major revolution in zoology. Older Cartesian notions about animal's being bereft of emotions have been supplanted by newer notions like Jaak Panksepp's groundbreaking work in neuroscience, in which he's found that the same pathways associated with the major human emotions are present in all mammals and birds and, as researchers are now discovering, even in in lizards and snakes.

Along the way, animal intelligence has also become a hot-top, with most researchers in agreement that once language barriers have been removed (as happens when chimps are taught to sign etc.)the difference too begin to melt away. Dogs-for example-are the intellectual rough equivalent of a smart three-year old, capable of skills such as fast-mapping, which is the term used to describe the ability to form quick and dirty hypothesis about the meaning of new words after only one exposure. Dogs have also shown the ability to develop vocabularies of over 400 words (which is roughly the same as a four year old child) and utilize deductive logic among other patterns of associative reasoning.

The Harvard researcher Marc Hauser has further looked into the question of morality in animals and has found "mind reading" capabilities and other basic moral structures present in all mammals and most birds. In fact, when it comes to morality, just about the only thing that seems to be consistently missing from animals is an excessive amount of patience-essentially the ability to delay rewards. In humans, delayed gratification in children is a solid predictor of ethical behavior in adults, but Hauser does point out, in his excellent book on the subject "Moral Minds," that this may have more to do with a lack of significant delayed-gratification events in the real world of wild animals than any fundamental difference in underlying neuronal structures.

I mention all of this because one-time Atlanta Falcon, Michael Vick, who is almost halfway through serving 23-months in Leavenworth for the federal crime of dog-fighting and animal cruelty, has begun lobbying for early parole and reinstatement in the NFL. If we now know that dogs share all the same attributes as three year old children, then it seems to me that Vick should be treated as any other person convicted of torturing and murdering small children.

Now, I understand this may seem a fairly radical stance to take when it comes to animal rights, but all the science that currently exists has done much to erase just about every wall separating one species from another (excluding, of course, the fundamental inability to mate and bear offspring) so it seems high time to revisit much of our animal-based morality and the barbaric Vick is a perfect place to start.

My feeling is that his 23 month sentence was far too lenient and the notion of this guy ever playing football again would do much to sully the mostly stellar reputation the NFL has strived to build. In short, let him rot.

Steven Kotler is an author and journalist. His most recent works include: Abundance, A Small Furry Prayer  and West of Jesus.

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