Saturday, 20 June 2009

Controlling Love

A pet provides a means of control. We want to be able to control nature around us, not to live in harmony. We want to find a way to conquer- even if it means changing the very genetic code of wild animals to tame them. We try to to control animals emotionally, projecting our own thoughts and feelings upon them, as a recent study with dogs convincingly demonstrated. If the owner thought the dog had done something, the dog looked guilty to the owner. If the owner scolded the animal, the dog looked more guilty to everyone who observed the dog. If the dog had done nothing wrong, and was scolded, he looked most guilty.

This stems from communication barriers between dramatically different cultures. If I can mean one thing and communicate another to a human from a different culture, how much more dramatically will be the divergence in communication across species lines! Consider the simple hug, of arms around the neck, that we primates love to do. To the dog, even the pet dog, this is an act of aggression, going after the vulnerable jugular veins, and it is only with great effort that our tame wolves are able to control themselves- as evidenced by the enlarged whitening of their eyes in fear response. (Incidentally, a physical trait that we two species do share.) Thus love from one species communicates as attack to another.

But we are the dominant "wolf" in the pack, and we lay the ground rules. The dog tries desperately to follow them, and is happily assisted by some 30,000 years of selective breeding to more effectively read human expressions and emotions. Indeed, we have not been so well bred to them. So when the dog sees us angry and demanding that they have done something wrong, the dog knows the proper response to ameliorate the head wolf: act ashamed, or rather, lower the head and look up in the submissive posture- whatever it takes to make us happy. When the human sees this, usually, the anger begins to dissipate, for the human then feels they have asserted themselves to some degree over nature, have controlled something in their life.

We desperately want to believe our dogs and other pets are intelligent and can understand us. But intelligence is relative. They aren't intelligent when compared to whales, primates, or pigs. They are quite intelligent when compared to rodents. But that's not a level of intelligence that extends to the knowledge of good and evil, to the awareness that they have done something inherently wrong. It is an intelligence that is able to avoid discomfort and pursue comfort, regardless of inherent morality. Comfort comes from doing what the pack leader wants, what the human owner wants.

For us, comfort comes from loving, and being loved. Of course, the best way to do this is with humans. But for some, it just doesn't seem to work out. Because humans are messy. You can't control them, like you can a dog. When you try to, it's bad all around. A healthy human relationship is one without control, but with learning to love that which does not obey your every command, and should not obey it. Animals, on the other hand, can be taught to do whatever we want, or nearly everything. It is decidedly more convenient. It's a lot less messy. It's a lot less love, in the deep sense of agape, loving the unlovable.

And so, just as we all create God in our own image, we do the same to our pets. We look for ways to make them more human, to respond the way humans respond, or rather, the way one particular human responds- ourselves. We want to see a mirror image with fangs and fuzzy fur, that cocks it's head cutely and responds as we would want to respond. It is like a Bizzaro World reapplication of Christ's relationship principle. Not "Do to others as you would have them do to you," but "Expect others to do as you would do."

And this is not to say that this is in any way wrong, when applied to animals. But let us realize what we are doing, and realize what are reasonable expectations of our pets. Yes, our dog can learn to behave and follow our rules. It can not feel wrong, or be ashamed, or engage in a meaningful relationship. What we see there is our own projections of reality, and our pursuit of that is merely incestuous relationship, a bird enamored with its own reflection.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Morality is a social construct and has nothing to do with intelligence. What you're talking about is empathy and, yes, there are non-human animals that experience empathy.

@bdul muHib said...

Actually, Anon, intelligence relates to morality, but in this case, above, I quite clearly indicate that the two are not linked for the point I'm making. So you accurately learned what I'd stated.

nd no, I'm not talking about empathy, though I see from your other comments that you enjoy projecting your own thoughts onto others to determine for yourself what they are saying.

And yes, there are some few animals that experience empathy.

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