I generally like Slate.com’s articles, but this piece today from David Fleshler really falls short of the mark. It’s full of scary quotes, terrifying comparisons, and still finds time to be completely wrong about the issue at hand.
In “What a bunch of snakes,” Fleshler makes the following assertions for your consideration:
- The snake lobby uses the same tactics and rhetoric as the gun lobby.
- The snake lobby pretends it is representing a really important industry.
- Fatalities and injuries from dangerous snakes are “soaring.”
- Even though cats are currently decimating bird and wildlife populations everywhere in the United States and dogs kill and harm far more people than snakes do, they are “our friends. They need us. Pythons don’t.”
The snake lobby uses the same tactics and rhetoric as the gun lobby.
Since Slate’s readers tend to skew leftward (hell, which is why I read it), it’s important to keep in mind that this is a scare tactic to short-circuit the reader’s rational thinking. How is the reptile lobby like the gun lobby? Well, Fleshler tells us that “like the gun lobby, which the reptile industry resembles in its rhetoric, the snake dealers quickly learned to play the Washington game.”
And the gun lobby is, of course, evil. Ergo, the reptile lobby is evil, too. If they weren’t evil, they wouldn’t be like the gun lobby.
The problem is that every lobby group does the same thing. They petition legislators. They cajole and fund raise and threaten and beg and plead and buy their way into getting their agendas passed. They protest and demonstrate and shout and do whatever it takes to get their particular issue heard. The gun lobby does this. The environmental lobby does this. The LGBT lobby does this.
The problem isn’t the rhetoric or the tactics used, because everyone does it and I guarantee if there’s a political issue you care about, there’s likely a lobby out there using those same tactics and rhetoric as all the lobbies you hate. It’s the way things are in Washington and everyone’s doing it.
The gun lobby isn’t evil because of how they’re doing things. They’re evil to liberals because a): they’re winning and b): winning means people continue to get shot in staggering numbers. The gun lobby is the bogeyman in the room because dollars = speech and so they have more dollars and more speech than everyone else opposing them.
The snake lobby pretends it is representing a really important industry.
Some snakes go for a lot of money and so banning them would cause the industry around them a big economic loss. Also, for some reason, it’s important to note that “Anyone concerned about the trade deficit will be glad to know that according to Issa’s report “the U.S. is a global leader in the reptile industry.”
Fleshler isn’t saying that being a global leader in the reptile industry isn’t causing trade deficits, but he also isn’t not saying it either, wink wink.
Fatalities and injuries from dangerous snakes are “soaring.”
There are no official statistics on injuries or deaths from snakes in the United States. But a commonly accepted figure states that 12 people have been killed by constricting snakes since 1990—most of them snake owners or their children. The Humane Society says the number of snake incidents—injuries, attempted constrictions—has soared in the past 10 years, with more than 60 in 2012.
I am here writing this in the Year of Our Lord 2015. Since 1990 (which was, if we do the math . . . 25 years ago), we have lost twelve souls to the terrible coils of constricting snakes. TWELVE LIVES.
And while the loss of any human life is always regrettable, here are a few things more dangerous than large constricting snakes and kill more people:
- Dogs: 364 since 2001.
- Collapsing sand holes: 16 since 1990.
- Guns (factoring only accidental discharges, which excludes suicides and homicides): 851 in 2011.
In fact, in 2014, Slate posted an article discussing in great detail whether snakes were more dangerous than guns. It’s worth a read. (tl;dr version: they’re not). The vast majority of snake-related injuries in the United States are due to wild snakes. Of those caused by kept snakes, most are inflicted by venomous snakes, which many keepers, including myself, steer clear of. Constrictors, even large constrictors, account for a very small percentage of the injury statistics. Which isn’t to say that large constrictors aren’t dangerous—they are powerfully strong animals—but so are rottweilers, German shepherd dogs, and other large breeds.
And despite the use of the scary word “soared,” 60 injuries in 2012 seems rather modest, especially since that’s including any injury, not just those that then led to a fatality.
The problem with the “scary snakes are dangerous” rhetoric is that so many people are afraid of snakes, so it’s easy to fixate on a single gruesome story when it does happen. But in terms of actual danger, more people are killed or harmed by falling out of bed or end up crushed to death under vending machines. And if we want to talk about an injury rate that really is soaring, how about the 350,000 people sent to emergency rooms from dog bite injuries each year?
Ultimately, the problem with the “there should be restrictions on dangerous reptiles” has most to do with the fact that very few people seem willing to draw distinctions between venomous snakes and constrictors of any size. Fleshler’s article is all over the place in this regard. Is he pushing for venomous breed restrictions? Does he want bans on a single large constrictor breed, like the Burmese python? He singles out the boa constrictor as one breed that was dropped from the ban, but fails to talk about the numerous different kinds of boa constrictors there are in all different shapes and sizes.
And this is the part that gets snake keepers up in arms (heh). Proposed restrictions often have this kind of weaselly language written in, and thus a bill introduced to restrict, say, the large and potentially dangerous Burmese python can also restrict the small and innocuous Ball Python, which is tiny in comparison and thoroughly harmless.
Dogs and cats have been bred over millennia to be our friends. Pythons have not, as several surprised snake owners realized in their final moments. Dogs need us. Pythons don’t.
I’m sure the people who were killed by dogs were also surprised to realize that dogs bred to be their friends turned out to be strong, power animals capable of inflicting injury. For me, this quote is the worst of the entire article and indicative that Fleshler’s argument is basically rot. It’s anthropomorphism of the worst sort.
To breezily gloss over the fact that cats, both feral and pet, are causing far more ecological destruction is overwhelming naive and indicative of bias. Pointing out that cats have been bred to be our friends is also basically wrong, and this is from the perspective of a cat fan, but cats domesticated themselves. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that actually owns a cat; as the saying goes, dogs have owners, but cats have staff.
It’s true that reptiles aren’t social animals and they don’t form bonds the way pack-oriented mammals like dogs do. On the other hand, why does that matter? There is a tremendous amount of joy to be had in caring for reptiles of all kinds, if they happen to be the type of animal that most inspires and amazes you. My pets bring me joy every time I look at them or handle them. The fact that they don’t sit by the door wagging their tails waiting for me should not reduce my status to that of a second-class citizen.
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I love how that second article you mentioned is a perfect example of Betteridge’s law. “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”