The word of the day is “conflation.”
The dictionary defines conflation as, “The process or result of fusing multiple items into one entity; an amalgamation.”
(Dictionary authors love using even bigger, more obscure words to define the word being referenced.)
In practice, conflation occurs when politicians, activists or snarky commentators link together events that share certain characteristics, but ought not to be connected in principle.
One of the most obvious, and egregious, examples of conflation seems to occur almost daily, when extremists associated with a particular religion commit some outrageous act, and critics then conflate the behavior of everyone associated with that religion with that of the extremists.
It’s wrong, it’s unfair and it’s inaccurate, but it happens so often one wonders if the tendency isn’t hardwired into our DNA.
An inaccurate connection
The process of conflation takes place when the behavior of the events under scrutiny are truly horrendous. One such example is the heated rhetoric triggered by something called the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, which is taking place this month in China.
Allegedly, some 100,000 dogs and cats are butchered and served up as entrées to attendees — if you believe the activist groups trumpeting their opposition to the event.
“This [festival] is a disgusting, cruel and indefensible event,” a Huffington Post article declared. “Thousands of dogs and cats are inhumanly killed there each year. Its existence should disturb you; it should prompt you to sign petitions and spread the word in any way you can.”
Hard to argue with that, even if the allegations that “many of these dogs are allegedly stolen pets, and many … are skinned alive or beaten to death” seem a bit suspect.
It isn’t practical, to state the obvious, to be able to produce enough dog meat to feed a hundred thousand people if the animals have to be individually skinned while still alive.
The article properly noted that “dogs are family members in the U.S., not food, so when we see them in slaughterhouse-like situations it disturbs us.”
But then conflation rears its inappropriate head, as the article launches into a lengthy screed, not about killing and eating dogs and cats — and let’s specify that much of revulsion we experience is triggered by culinary, as well as a philosophical, indigestion — but about livestock.
“We turn a collective blind eye to the killing of pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep, lamb, goats and others,” the article continued. “We convince ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, that these animals are biologically inferior creatures to the ones we choose not to consume.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The profession of animal husbandry, especially its modern version, did not begin tens of thousands of years ago because humanity came to the conclusion that cattle, pigs and chickens were inferior. Herding animals was the leverage that allowed the development of villages and cities and thus everything we associate with human progress in the ancient world.
Agriculture, raising crops as well as food animals, was the platform upon which every historic civilization was built.
More importantly, we no longer shoot horses, and we don’t beat food animals to death.
There are light years of difference in practice and principle between one culture’s clinging to a “tradition” that has no parallels elsewhere, and the profession of animal husbandry that has been fundamental to every significant country, culture and civilization throughout history.
There is no valid comparison between breeding, killing and cooking dogs and cats, and the raising of livestock and food animals upon which virtually all of the world’s population depends for subsistence.
Even after filtering out the over-the-top rhetoric activists love to spew, there is a gigantic leap between producing meat and milk and (allegedly) beating dogs to death.
If even half of the accusations that activists have leveled at the Yulin Festival are true, we can acknowledge that it is indeed a disturbing event.
But so is the effort to conflate a barbaric and bizarre tradition with the modern systems of raising livestock.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator