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2 Sep

Sprinting for the mentally challenged – I don’t get a lot of hate mail here at Liminality. I do get emails expressing disagreement with something I’ve written, but these are usually cordial and often lead to interesting private discussions. I like these emails because they challenge me to think about what I’ve written and formulate ideas more clearly. Sometimes they make me realize that perhaps I missed something or was flat out wrong. I am always grateful when I receive an email like this.

“I was conflicted when I began writing this entry, but I am conflicted no longer.”

Hate mail, on the other hand, is not an attempt to start a legitimate discussion on an issue. For one, hate mailers will rarely leave valid email addresses. The real life equivalent of this, I suppose, would be driving by in a car with no license plates and leaning out the window to shout at someone (all while wearing a mask, of course). The sole purpose of hate mail is for the sender to make themselves feel better by lashing out.

As you may have guessed, I finally got my first hate mail not too long ago. To be perfectly honest, it stung for a split-second, but then I was kind of psyched to have finally gotten my first hate mail, like I had joined a club or something. The more I thought about it, though, the more I was saddened by the way of thinking presented in the email.

It has been two weeks since I received this email, and I struggled with whether or not I want to write about it. On the one hand I realize it is a somewhat pointless venture, as the hate mailer is no doubt long gone by now—and even if they were still hanging around, my arguments will be falling on deaf ears. Plus it might look like I am mocking or ridiculing this hate mailer, which is not my intention. On the other hand, I am really and truly distressed that there are people out there who think like this (not that I didn’t know, but it’s never nice to be reminded), and even if there is no hope for the hate mailer him or herself, maybe others will appreciate what I have to say. So, by way of kicking this off, here is the email (warning: coarse language ahead):

I don't like your opinion...I know you won't like mine.

It has nothing to with cultural superiority...It has to with facts...abuse...I hope you find yourself in similar situation and it is not until you do some act of kindness coming from your heart not from a desire to make your life better but because you see...that you continue to suffer endless torment...for no goddam good reason at all.

There is nothing to compare a dog with a cow...even a fucking blind person can see the characters are different. As well the Koreans don't need you to defend them.

The Koreans are abusers. Fact.

I quoted this without any background information to give you an idea of how I felt when I first read the email—like I was walking down the street and someone just came out of nowhere and body-checked me into a wall. It is no surprise that the hate mailer (whom I will be calling “Bridget” from now on, for reasons that may or may not be obvious) did not provide any context. Remember, the sole purpose is lashing out. Context is only necessary if an emailer actually cares what you think and how you feel.

Despite the lack of preamble, I quickly realized that Bridget was referring to an entry I wrote over two years ago, called Walking the fine line. In preparation for today’s entry I went back and read this entry (and the follow-up to it, The fine line revisited—although I doubt Bridget read that one) for the first time in over two years. I realize that there is no way I can say this without sounding arrogant, but I was impressed with what I had written. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was some of the best writing I’ve ever posted here at Liminality. True, both entries could use some polish in places, but I was happy with the way I presented my ideas.

After reading both entries I went back and read the hate mail again. It took me quite a while to piece together what Bridget was trying to say. The first sentence is pretty self-explanatory (and I happen to agree with it), but the second sentence(?) is so twisted that I’m having a hard time making heads or tails of it. It would be easy to make fun of her inability to write a coherent sentence, but I will refrain and attempt to understand what she is trying to say.

From what I can see there are two ideas being expressed here: 1) she apparently hopes that I find myself in the same situation as a Korean dog, suffering “endless torment...for no goddam good reason at all” and 2) she is accusing me, I think, of being selfish and only interested in making my own life better and not in helping others. I’m not one hundred percent sure that this is actually what she is trying to say, but it’s the best I can make of it.

The next paragraph presents her arguments more clearly: 3) dogs and cows are fundamentally different and 4) I am misguidedly attempting to defend Koreans. In the last sentence, she presents the blanket statement of 5) “Koreans are abusers” as “fact,” despite her claims at the beginning of the email that she was presenting her opinion. In my opinion, each one of these claims (I won’t call them “arguments,” because that term implies a logical progression of ideas) is woefully misguided and, unlike the entry to which she is reacting, completely without supporting evidence.

There is a graphic that circulates around the internet, usually showing up on message boards or other public spaces where the denizens are engaged in a heated argument. The photograph shows a mentally challenged boy running down a race track. At the top it says, “Arguing on the internet is like running in the Special Olympics” and at the bottom it says, “Even if you win, you’re still retarded.” I realize that by taking Bridget’s arguments even remotely seriously I run the risk of being retarded. But the unfortunate truth is that a lot of people think like she does. I don’t know if today’s entry will convince these people of my points, but at the very least it should make for some interesting reading. And that is, after all, what we’re all about here at Liminality.

I have no answer for the first claim, since it’s not so much a claim as a wish of ill will. I think the wording is a pretty good example of how little control Bridget has over her emotions, though. And I can’t help but chuckle every time I read the melodramatic “endless torment...for no goddam good reason at all.” Yeah, that certainly sounds like life sometimes. Human life, at least. I’m not sure that dogs think in terms of “endless,” “torment,” or “reason.” But we’ll come back to the dogs later.

Her second claim is the one that convinced me she did not really read the entry in question—she merely skimmed through it until she found something that pissed her off and then sent me the message. Considering that the entry is now over two years old, it’s likely that she found it via Google or some other search engine—which raises the question of what sort of person would go around searching for articles that they know are going to piss them off. Bridget is apparently not only volatile and melodramatic, she also has a masochistic/self-righteous streak.

But that’s not really addressing her point, and if I left it at that I would be no better than she is. All I can say in reply is that I always considered my philosophy extremely unselfish—putting the sensibilities of others before my own. I’m not necessarily in favor of animal cruelty, but I think putting the interests of animals above human interests is messed up. And to go back to the entry in question, was freeing that dog really in the animal’s best interests? Where will the dog go? What will it eat? I do not like to speak ill of the dead, and I’m not eager to dredge up the issue again, but if Shawn had really been concerned about the animal and not about his own sensibilities, he would not have simply freed the dog but seen to it that the dog got the treatment he felt it deserved.

But perhaps Bridget does have a point. After all, I adopted this philosophy because I felt it was the best way to adjust to life in Korea. That is, I thought it was the best way to make my life better. So in that respect it is selfish, or at least self-centered. But as I alluded to above, people’s interests are not always what they may seem at first. Why is she so concerned about a dog (or dogs) she has never met? Is she truly concerned about the dog’s welfare, or is she only concerned with feeling better about herself as a human being?

These first two points, though, are pretty much throw-away points. It’s starting with the third claim that things get interesting. According to Bridget, dogs and cows are fundamentally different, so we have every right to be cruel to cows but no right to be cruel to dogs (she doesn’t say this, but this is the logical conclusion of her claim). True, cows are less friendly than dogs and not very exciting to be around, but they have feelings just like dogs. In fact, they have been known to rise up in revolution in an attempt to throw off the yokes of their oppressors.

But seriously, the claim that dogs are somehow higher up in the moral pecking order than cows pretty much destroys any credibility that Bridget might have had as an animal lover. Perhaps she’s simply a dog lover, in which case I can use the same argument I used in the original entry: the animals we choose to eat are a reflection of our culture, not of any absolute morality. It is a well known fact that cows are sacred to Hindus—so what do Hindus think about Westerners who eat steaks and hamburgers by the truckload? They have no more right to judge us for this than we have to judge people for eating dogs.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “Aren’t you blurring the lines between being cruel to animals and eating them?” Well, the truth is that many (if not most) animals raised for human consumption are not treated humanely, so eating an animal can usually be considered a form of cruelty. Beef cattle are generally allowed to roam free on the range for a certain period of time, but after this they are treated cruelly until their slaughter (note: this link contains a description of castration that made me grab myself and do a Michael Jackson impression; you have been warned). At the very least, smaller animals raised for human consumption are often crowded together in spaces far too small for their number (think chickens, for example).

Human beings are by no means the only animals who eat other animals on this planet, but we are the only animals capable of pondering the moral ramifications of our actions. I happen to be a bit sensitive when it comes to violence toward animals—I’m the kind of person who will capture insects and let them go outside if possible rather than killing them. But I also love eating meat. I am a huge meat eater. Is this odd? Not really, I don’t think. As much as I would like to deny it, my reluctance to engage in violence toward animals is probably due more to squeamishness than any moral conviction. After all, if I had a moral conviction against violence toward animals, I would be a vegetarian.

I would like to think that cruelty is another story. By definition, slaughtering an animal requires violence, but it doesn’t require cruelty. Yet I just argued above that most animals raised for human consumption are subject to cruel treatment both in the way they are raised and in the way they are slaughtered. If I were truly against cruelty to animals, I would be a lot more selective with my animal-based foods, only choosing those raised and slaughtered in a humane manner. I am not so selective, though, so I implicitly support cruelty toward animals.

But this is all just a tangent, really, since Bridget’s claim is simply that it is fine to be cruel toward cows but not toward dogs. Most of us have some hierarchy of value that we use to judge the various species that inhabit this world with us. As I mentioned above, the major influence on this hierarchy is the culture in which we are raised. No matter how Bridget may insist that this is not about cultural superiority, she is indeed trying to force her own cultural beliefs on Koreans. Accuse me of supporting cruelty toward animals and I’ll have a hard time arguing, but don’t try to tell me some artificial set of values is the absolute truth.

Bridget’s fourth point moves away from the issue of animal cruelty, and for once I agree with her. Indeed, Koreans do not need me to defend them. You’ll have no argument from me there. Where we differ in opinion though is that, for some reason, she feels I am trying to defend Koreans. My original entry did deal with the situation in Korea, but the ideas I outlined are applicable to any situation—that is, they have nothing to do with Korea inherently. So I’m not sure where she got the idea that I was defending Koreans.

There are areas where I feel Korean society is worthy of criticism, and I have engaged in social criticism in the past here in Liminality. I generally try to avoid doing this because it’s easy to get worked up about something and rant or tear down rather than criticize constructively. But this general lack of criticism should not be taken as a sign that I am a Korean cultural apologist. Like any society, Korea has its good points and its bad points, and I try to see them for what they are.

Bridget’s fifth and final claim was where I lost the dust speck of respect I had for her. I could go on at length about what this does to the logical foundation (ha!) of her argument, but the truth is that it’s not even worth addressing directly. I will relate an anecdote that may be of some significance here. When I was young, I lived next to a family that kept their dog chained up twenty-four hours a day. The dog barked all the time, including through the night, but the only time they ever approached it was to give it enough food and water to keep it alive. Many were the days when we wondered aloud why they even bothered having a dog. This was, of course, in the United States.

The truth is that there are many people like this in the United States. Cruelty toward dogs (and animals in general) is not limited to Korea. Not that this makes it right, of course. It’s still wrong. And the fact that there are abusers in the United States does not logically make the statement “Koreans are abusers” untrue. What does make it untrue is my own experience—I happen to live with a family that is far from a clan of abusers, and most of my friends are the same. When I think of them, Bridget’s pig-headed ignorance and hatred make my blood boil. I do not find her racism (no, I’m not going to beat around the bush here) surprising, though. It is really only a small step for someone who draws an arbitrary distinction between dogs and cows to draw an equally arbitrary distinction between ethnic groups of people. That may sound severe, but the thinking is the same, just on different orders of magnitude.

I was conflicted when I began writing this entry, but I am conflicted no longer. The overriding emotion I feel at this moment is disgust—disgust at Bridget for her hateful and ignorant comments and a little disgust at myself, to be honest, for bothering to even address said comments. But the sliver of sadness remains—Bridget, if by some odd chance you are lurking out there, I truly am sorry that your mind has been overthrown by hate and ignorance. And I am even more saddened that you are not the only one.

I really don’t know what to think about today’s entry. Part of me doesn’t even want to post it. I just feel like scrapping it and writing something else entirely. But maybe there is some good in it. If nothing else, it should show the pointlessness of trying to argue with a hate mailer and prove that arguing on the internet is indeed like running in the Special Olympics. (Apologies to all of my Special Olympics athlete readers out there—no insult intended.)

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