Katherine Kersten's bizarre plot to kill your dog: A moral history

Categories: Media beefs
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Minnesotans woke up to the stark news Sunday that Katherine Kersten wanted them to kill their dogs.

The column in the Star Tribune's opinion section, titled "Put people before dogs," is a good study in how ideas rattle around the right-wing media machine and eventually get recycled in your Sunday opinion section.


Kersten introduces the piece with a reference to "Dog Dates of Summer" -- a recent package on pooch-friendly establishments that ran in the Star Tribune and on the cover of its free weekly Vita.mn.

But it isn't long before Kersten gets to the meat of the matter, an eye-raising study that caught her attention:

Consider a recent study by Richard Topolski of Georgia Regents University and his colleagues, which appeared in the journal Anthrozoos. Researchers asked respondents which they would save from a runaway bus: a dog (their own pet or someone else's) or a human being. The conclusions were remarkable: Forty percent of respondents, including 46 percent of women, said they would save their dog over a foreign tourist.

Curious about this study, I ran a Google search, at which point Kersten's inspiration became much clearer. The Topolski study was first cited in the Wall Street Journal on August 16:

A recent paper by Richard Topolski at George Regents University and colleagues, published in the journal Anthrozoös, demonstrates this human involvement with pets to a startling extent. Participants in the study were told a hypothetical scenario in which a bus is hurtling out of control, bearing down on a dog and a human. Which do you save? With responses from more than 500 people, the answer was that it depended: What kind of human and what kind of dog? 

Everyone would save a sibling, grandparent or close friend rather than a strange dog. But when people considered their own dog versus people less connected with them--a distant cousin or a hometown stranger--votes in favor of saving the dog came rolling in. And an astonishing 40% of respondents, including 46% of women, voted to save their dog over a foreign tourist. This makes Parisians' treatment of American tourists look good in comparison.

The Topolski study got picked up by the National Review on August 20, which quotes the Wall Street Journal article liberally before ladling on a heaping dollop of God-talk:

So, then, the most important question for human beings to ask is how we teach ourselves to "extend our humaneness to other human beings."

Or, to pose the question within the framework of the dog-stranger question: How do we convince people to save a human being they do not know rather than the dog they do know and love?

There is only one way.

We need to teach -- as we did throughout American history until the 1960s -- that human beings are created in God's image and animals are not. That is the only compelling reason to save a human being you don't love before the dog you do love.

That brings us to Katherine Kersten's rewrite in Sunday's Star Tribune, where she picks up on the idea that prior to the 1960s, Americans would have saved a stranger rather than their dog:

Nearly all respondents reported they would save a sibling or best friend instead of a strange dog. But when asked to choose between their own dog and people less familiar to them -- a distant cousin or hometown stranger -- an astounding number chose the dog.

Would Americans have answered this question differently in the past? Most likely, yes. Why

The answer lies embedded in words that used to be our nation's common creed. Our founders held it self-evidently true that "all men" -- unlike other animals -- "are created equal" and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The founders believed that human beings have a unique dignity and an elevated status over all other animals, because they are made in the image of God and are capable of choosing between good and evil. Our nation's political system is founded on this view of human beings' unique moral status.

Of course, the authors of the study weren't nearly so obsessed with the history of Judeo-Christian ethics, and instead came to the more obvious, rational conclusion:

We love our dogs like family, and that's not a bad thing.

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27 comments
ksholes
ksholes

Ms. Kersten, who seems to be one of those Bible believing conservatives, forgets that besides his family, Noah was asked by God to save a pair of dogs while knowing that the rest of mankind was doomed. It seems that her God suffers from moral relativism.

Thanks for the poll. I would save a mangy-flea bitten mutt before Ms. Kersten and humanity would be the better for it.

jbaumeister
jbaumeister

"The founders believed that human beings have a unique dignity and an elevated status over all other animals, because they are made in the image of God and are capable of choosing between good and evil. Our nation's political system is founded on this view of human beings' unique moral status."

Yeah, no.  The founders believed that wealthy, white, European MEN had an elevated status.  They were perfectly okay with treating human beings like dogs if they weren't male, white, and wealthy.  So, yeah... totally not a "moral status" to which we wish to return.

Joel O'Brien
Joel O'Brien

I'd probably save my dog from a runaway bus(?) before a person. That would be because my dog is better than most people.

Kent Erickson
Kent Erickson

I disagree with Kersten but I see no problem in her writing an opinion piece in the Strib. As a Libertarian myself, both Repubs and Dems annoy me an equal amount, so I am definitely not some pro Kersten right winger here. With that being said the Strib is a Liberal bias paper for the most part, even though not all their readers are, so nothing wrong with letting someone from the other point of view write an opinion once in a while, even if her opinion is ridiculous in this case. Dylan...did you ever consider that other Strib readers find the Liberal rantings which make up most of the Stribs opinion section vile and can't stand to read it? It's not all about you.

theoko
theoko

Sadly for Katherine, it's people like her that add weight to the dog side of the scale.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

Katherine Kersten is the biggest hack idiot.   I can't believe she gets paid to put her thoughts out in the world for public consumption.  She once blamed Northfield's liberalism for an out of control heroin epidemic among Northfield high school kids.   When the "epidemic" was revealed to be the figment of one police chief's imagination this stupid lying hack never apologized or admitted she was wrong.  The Republican party is the biggest joke in the world and its thanks to leaders like her.  Stupid, poorly informed bigots spouting nonsense a mental patient would be embarrassed about.  Never changing their mind or admitting they are wrong no matter what the facts say.   She is a fraud hack and everyone with a brain should realize this is the best thinker Republicans can put forward.  This is the peak of their brain power.  What a stupid worthless hack Katherine is.

Sallyjos
Sallyjos

I don't even have a dog, but I voted to save it.

dlsith23
dlsith23

Personally, I cannot believe that it was only 40% that would save their dog.  Why would I choose to save some a-hole over my loyal companion, a member of my family, and noted 'Man's best friend'.

Zeke Rice
Zeke Rice

After this Sunday I was starting to wonder if she's secretly writing satire...

Dylan Michel
Dylan Michel

The fact that the Trib keeps printing the ignorant spewings of this brain dead right wing crackpot smacks of sensationalism to try and sell the Sunday paper. I think she is just vile and can't even stand to read what she writes anymore. Why taint my Sunday with her sad bitter uninformed ramblings?

Jodi Oien
Jodi Oien

I would save a dead cat over her

anneursu
anneursu

@dbrauer Kersten writing on compassion is like my diaper cat writing on litter box use.

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

Katherine Kersten is a very troubled, sad human being.  The divorced single-parent of a disabled child, she hates divorce, single-parenthood and public involvement in helping the disabled.  She despises the public schools, but has admitted that her daughter had to go to public schools because they were the only schools that were willing and able to help her daughter at a cost she could afford.

Ms. Kersten's obsession with fantasies of Western European culture are just weird.  As a Western European myself, I don't recognize any of her cultural mythology.  She is nostalgic for a time and a culture and an ethos which never existed.

She projects all of her internal fears, dislikes and contradictions onto everyone else, and calls it "liberalism," or whatever codeword is current in her circle today.  

As a single mom, she has to take what work she can get. I understand and sympathize.  But she has really stooped low, working for a third-rate thinktank re-writing 2nd-rate commissioned op-ed pieces to drive clicks and create a false background of discourse, to give the impression that she is part of an actual intellectual community rather than just a bunch of wage-slaves re-writing each other's puff-pieces to create a Potemkin academy.

Onan
Onan

 >>Our founders held it self-evidently true that "all men" -- unlike other animals -- "are created equal" and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."<<

Well, except for the slaves who were, you know, property or something...

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

@Kent Erickson  Don't be fooled by the false duopoly.  The STrib is indeed, as "jbaumeister" says, a reliably pro-corporate voice. Katherine Kersten is cynical and largely incoherent, but the best description of her would be a neo-feudal theocrat.  "Liberal" is not the opposite of "Conservative."  Indeed, every major US politician this past century has been "Liberal," if you use words to say what they mean.  The GOP under the guidance of Frank Luntz has created an entirely new and fictitious definitions of "Liberal," which actually describes Reagan quite well.

The point is, Katherine Kersten shouldn't make any sense to anybody rational, whether they are Right-Wing or Left-Wing. Kersten's arguments are poorly constructed, laden with fallacies, and full of outright untruths. That's not a matter of opinion.  There are rules to constructing an argument, and Ms. Kersten seems unaware of all of them.  The fact that I am a left-wing anarchist has nothing to do with the fact that Katherine Kersten cannot construct a coherent argument.  Dr. Paul Craig Roberts actually can, and he is a real, dyed-in-the-wool far-right winger.  But a truly right-wing argument is so unpopular in the US you have to go pretty far afield to read Robert's columns.

jbaumeister
jbaumeister

@Kent Erickson The Strib tends to be a centrist and somewhat pro-corporate newspaper.  I'm not sure how you view reality, but from over here on the progressive end, the Strib looks much more conservative, I assure you.  Now, City Pages on the other hand...

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@Kent Erickson Postings like this are why I consider all libertarians to be idiots. 

exgeronimo
exgeronimo

@Onan and women. Which the bible also claims are property.

jbaumeister
jbaumeister

@Onan I dunno how MB feels about KK, but I personally feel that you've invented one of the best sins on the planet.  Thank you, sir.

Onan
Onan

@exgeronimo @Onan - Ah, yes. Good point.

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