The social contagion of live baiting

IN 1922 the American cultural critic Walter Lippman argued in his book ‘Public Opinion’ that for the average person, ‘the real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance…’

The result, according to the web newsletter ‘Science of Us’, is ‘most people don’t rely on critical thinking or have ready access to facts to make sense of their world, meaning we tend to lean on the pictures in our heads informed by the media’ to which we’re exposed.

The Four Corners program on live baiting is a good example of what happens when the abominable and completely indefensible actions we saw in living colour on our screens, followed by the extensive media coverage it naturally engendered, gives rise to a general perception among many in the wider community that live baiting is widespread and, therefore, involves the majority of greyhound participants.

As it happens, even the subtle bias of the McHugh Commission (I bow to your reasoning John Tracey) only pushes the envelope to a maximum of 20% engaged in live baiting. A maximum, remember. Of course the Commission probably figured even 20% was still high enough to garner the disgust of the general public.

Well, here’s the problem. Greyhound owners and trainers do not live in their own bubble. They are meat workers and bus drivers, butchers and bakers, public servants and articled clerks, journalists and writers, bankers and stockbrokers. They live and work alongside people who have little or no interest in racing and gambling; their children attend the local primary and high schools; they play sport on the weekends and hang out down at the local club or pub. You can be sure when the Four Corners story broke, most of them were as shocked and disgusted as the rest of society.

They would have faced hard questions from their non-racing relatives, their friends, their neighbours and their workmates about how such a thing could not only go on, but how it could happen under their very noses. Yet for the vast majority I have no doubt they would have been as perplexed as was wider society.

Contrary to the belief of so many who want to see an end to greyhound racing, the majority of participants have not been directly exposed to live baiting. Nor do they know who is involved.

One commentator, Hugh, on this website has asked why I didn’t write about live baiting and condemn it, before the Four Corners report. A fair and reasonable question. I was not aware of it taking place, as simple as that.

Although I have been involved with the sport for decades I have not cultivated a range of contacts in the ranks of trainers and owners. I have written for this website for six years and have never met Kevin Pitstock, the owner of this site. He has graciously allowed me to write as much or as little I choose and on what subjects. I have never lived in an area where greyhounds and their trainers were part of the local landscape and have not owned a share in a greyhound for about 25 years. So, live baiting was not on my radar.

I have mentioned previously that on a couple of occasions in the distant past I’ve had some racecourse spiv or coat puller sidle up and claim, ‘such and such in the next has had a kill.’ Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on a racecourse knows more rumours and lies are told in the betting ring in one day or night than can be found in Hansard in a year. I do recall the greyhounds allegedly all keened up didn’t win. I’d also be prepared to bet that the coat pullers/urgers in question didn’t have any ‘inside’ information at all.

It is easy to argue that those people with a greater direct and day-to-day involvement than mine in racing must have known about live baiting and been aware of the participants in such acts. Yet this is as preposterous as saying that illicit drug dealing is taking place in a particular suburb and, ipso facto, its residents must therefore know those involved.

A high school is like a society within a society. My former school principal is currently facing charges of sexual misconduct brought against him for acts allegedly committed in 1973. I was at that school during the period concerned and because my father was the Treasurer of the Parent’s and Friends Association I was regularly summoned to the principal’s office to bring material home for my father. At no point in all that time did anything untoward take place between the principal and myself.

Admittedly, we had a mutual distaste for each other, but my point is nothing ever happened to me, and nor to anyone else as far as I knew. Our school had about 500 pupils. By the logic of the ‘you all knew about live baiting but did nothing’ crowd, almost all 500 or so pupils must have known the principal was engaging in illicit acts with a fellow student or students.

In fact live baiting, and those who are engaged in it, almost certainly are part of a small social circle, many who might come from that part of the industry who say things like, “well, my father used to use live rabbits, and so I do as well.” They are a rump, a minority who need to be weeded out.

A recent study into gun crime in the United States may give a clue as to why so many greyhound people are indeed telling the truth about what they know of live baiting.

Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos has suggested gun violence in the United States is more of an ‘epidemic’ and it’s like a virus, except it behaves a lot like a sexually transmitted infection.

“Gunfire is much more like HIV or hepatitis C than a flu or a cold,” Papachristos has been quoted as saying.

“If you caught a bullet like a cold, there would be way more innocent bystanders. In fact what you see is the opposite. You see it cluster around individuals who are victims, which suggests that the mode of transmission is not ’airborne’ as it were.”

In a study of all arrests in Chicago from 2006 to 2012, Papachristos and his colleagues found 70% of all non-fatal gunshot injuries happened within a network of people accounting for under 6% of the city’s population. These people were ‘co-offenders’, which means they were arrested with at least one other person.

Apparently, 89% of the gunshot victims belonged to a single social network of 107,740 people. In the city as a whole, the rate of gunshot victimization during this period was 62 per 100,000 people. Within the Chicago co-offending network the researchers found the non-fatal gunshot rate ballooned to 740 per 100,000 people.

The findings make gun violence look a lot like other risky behaviors that move along social networks in what epidemiologists call ‘social contagion’.

‘In the contagion of a virus, a disease is passed between people because they have close contact. With social contagion, people imitate, communicate, and otherwise pass along behaviors to people they know.’

Perhaps the McHugh Commission is indeed correct when it suggests the live baiting cohort is between 10 and 20%. So, the 80 to 90% of those who do not engage it are indeed telling the truth because they do not mix within the offending cohort.

No wonder Premier Baird concentrated on ‘wastage’ as his focal point.

Past Discussion

  1. Duncan, to back-up your story,  look at those charged, they were a cluster of people who knew one another. Their actions were all based in one postcode.

  2. Duncan,

    In addition to the a matters you and greyhound legal team are presenting one of the matters which needs to be further explored is the subtle bias that greyhound racing should be banned  because it is only a national betting sport in eight countries.The inference it is all down to animal welfare. Greyhound Racing roots are in coursing which was an anglo sport with rules were codified in Elizabeth 1 time  and which was made public with the creation of public clubs in the late 18th century in England. The creation of tin hare racing in the colonies from 1927 onwards resulted in the repats forming racing in mainland China (British possessions) but attempts failed in both India and Africa due to political upheavals and mainly the loss of territory in the British Empire. Various countries have a variety of greyhound activity short of a national sport.

    If the commission is of the opinion that Africa and India have superior welfare laws etc because they don’t have national greyhound racing then it is a long stretch some overseas countries that don,t have greyhound racing also don’t have laws banning or controlling animal fighting.

    If the Commission or Government is inferring that sport with a lower global profile in racing compared to horse racing should be banned then obviously some very popular sports including football codes would be in the gun.

  3. jeff holland  ..one post code is a great example of where most problems in the industry are systemic. one post code,lots of issues.

  4. John Tracey  I have always wondered about the validity of the argument “this should be banned because it only happens in a small number of countries I thought it was only ever in a small number of countries. This post was as usual very interesting and informative.

  5. Within 10 years of the introduction of greyhound racing to Australia early last century  there were reports of animal cruelty and live baiting in the newspapers of the day (See the Trove website) and those reports have continued to be written up in newspapers up until the present day. And yet you maintain that you know nothing about live baiting. Yeah—right! 

  6. MarionPurnell  It’s our very own vegan pseudo intellectual back on line – where are you posting from dear, the uni bar or the arts faculty or have you left uni and missing those heady days of alcohol and a belief that you could save the world. Yes there are reports of activities dating back decades of an activity that was not illegal. Rabbits were viewed as vermin. Coursing was legal. Gradually community attitudes have changed. So of course we have heard of live baiting we can read too. Every greyhound trainer has not stated they knew nothing about baiting this “you people” and” everyone” etc” very intellectually sloppy.

    I have read quite a number of your prolific posts and I get the impression that you are not motivated by a love of animals but a desperate need to prove how clever you are.