‘Emotional support animals’ help explain how America is losing its mind

  • Last week, United Airlines denied a woman’s attempt to bring a peacock on a flight as an emotional-support animal.
  • The proliferation of pets on flights in symbolic of a larger problem with American society.
  • There is a growing sense that we are entitled to have the world adapt to our preferences, instead of the other way around.

Let’s be clear: These are pets.

My former editor David Leonhardt has a good column about the problem of “emotional support animals” pooping in airplane aisles and biting flight attendants, and what airlines are trying to do to mitigate the issue.

Leonhardt notes that the proliferation of pets in the cabin is a symptom of a larger problem: “a modern culture that too often fetishizes individual preference and expression over communal well-being.” People don’t just increasingly want to take their pets wherever they go – they’ve convinced themselves they are entitled to do so.

As The Washington Post has described, the use of untrained support animals as a psychological intervention is unsupported by the academic literature. But that hasn’t prevented the medicalization of pet practices: A letter from a doctor, available online for about $200, allows the bearer to launder a want (“I like having my dog with me”) into a need. (“My medical condition requires me to have my dog with me.”)

This letter magically changes who is doing the imposing, and allows you to become indignant when someone won’t let you take your untrained dog somewhere. You get to have your pet with you at your seat, and you also get the moral high ground.

My dog is cute, and also medically indicated. If you don’t want him slobbering on you in flight, that’s your problem, animal-hater.

But the pets-on-planes trend is part of a much larger trend: The proliferating sense that we are entitled to have the world adapt to our preferences, instead of the other way around.

In the last couple of years, this has often manifested as people becoming convinced that celebrities owe it to them to reflect their political and social views back to them. Taylor Swift, in particular, owes us an explanation for her failure to talk about politics, and football players must react to the national anthem in the way that makes us feel good.

The key problem here is the transformation of a want into a need. Wanting to know who Taylor Swift voted for is fine, I guess. Curiosity is natural. Feeling that she owes you an answer is nuts.

This feeling of entitlement is a sure recipe for disappointment and anger, because an ideologically diverse country cannot be affirmed by all celebrities at all times. Taylor Swift could affirm your politics, if she wished. But she can’t affirm everybody’s politics at once. And the NFL has learned the hard way that it can’t, either.

The feeling- urged on by President Donald Trump – that we can only enjoy a sporting event if athletes make expressions of patriotism in the specific way that aligns with our politics has has made our politics more divisive and more stupid. But it’s also stripped people of something they used to enjoy. Now that they’re fixated on how the NFL doesn’t align with their politics, millions of Trump supporters can’t enjoy professional football anymore.

That’s sad in itself, and it’s also a problem because the loss of more and more things we used to enjoy because now we have decided to fixate on how they conflict with our politics is going to make people angrier and pissier and more inclined to get into stupid political fights.

We’re giving up the things that made us happy to devote more time to the things that make us angry – because we think we’re entitled to have everything changed so it doesn’t make us angry anymore.

The solution is not to take the politics out of art or culture. Culture and politics have always been intertwined. It just used to be more optional to think about the interconnections all the time.

To get our sanity back, people need to remember that they can enjoy a piece of art or culture without necessarily endorsing the artist’s politics. The artist or the athlete has no obligation to shut up, and you also have no obligation to care what they are saying.

Learn to be at peace when someone disagrees with you. Talk less, smile more. Adapt yourself to the public figure’s political expression, instead of insisting that the public figure change their behavior.

And stop telling me you can’t root for the New England Patriots because Tom Brady supports Trump. There are plenty of other reasons to hate Tom Brady.

And put your pet in a damn carrier, as people did for decades in a system that worked totally fine before everyone became incredibly self-centered.

Thank you.