To own a dog is to understand that love is innate in living things. While it may not seem a revelation, there is something deeply significant about it I think. We humans place ourselves on a pedestal, and for obvious reasons, but often in that we presume things for ourselves that we discount for the other creatures of the earth.
People often comment on how Rigby gazes at me. Often he sits and just looks upon me. When I move his eyes follow. We were out last night at a bar and the girl I was with commented on that again. “Look at how he he looks at you,” she said with some wonder. I am at the centre of Rigby’s universe. There’s no doubt that he adores me. I’m the personification of all things good to him, a brother, a father, a God. And I love him.
There’s none more pure love than that of a dog for his master. It is untainted, unselfish, entirely given over to the other with little thought of the self. We humans so often twist and complicate our feelings with our thoughts, our fears and prejudices and abject hopes. A dog has none of that. It loves you from one minute to the next. It is constant and forgiving. It loves you for who you are, not for what you have come to represent. In a funny way the love of a master to his dog is not dissimilar. I have often thought if I find a woman who loves me as Rigby does then I’ll be a lucky man; but likewise, if I love someone as I do him then the love will be true.
If we accept this as a reality then our perceptions of the animal kingdom should be more complex than what they are in reality. In our mind we have conveniently pigeon-holed the different parts of the natural world. Dogs, for example, are much beloved members of the family. Cattle are dumb animals bred to be consumed. The environment is there for us to plunder to maintain our lifestyle. And so on. Almost without challenge we have placed ourselves at the pinnacle of the food chain. We have accepted without thought that we rule earth, that we are the living gods of this place, and that the abundance of the earth is here to serve us. We accept the love of our pets because that is within our home, and our due besides; the minute we begin to contemplate a world more complex than that – of which we are but a part – then these carefully constructed beliefs begin to crumble. Our blithe and arrogant ignorance protects us from what we don’t want to know.
It’s an interesting dilemma. Here I am proselytising on the subject, yet I understand how that ignorance can be necessary. Every chance I’ll be happily chewing on a steak tonight with little thought of the poor cow it’s been sliced from. If I do give it any thought – as I do now – then it’s just as easy to shrug my shoulders with a kind of winsome regret. What can you do? I like my steak. We need to live. And so on.
There is wanton hypocrisy in human society. In parts of the world they eat dogs, but if that happened in our society there would be an outcry. Why though? What is the difference really? We happily step on a bug, but protest at the cruelty to animals. What is the difference though? Where lies the line?
We have deceived ourselves because we have argued, correctly, that we are of higher intelligence. We have consciousness. We think, we reason, we feel, we love. But doesn’t everything? I know there are arguments that many animals are so ‘primitive’ that that isn’t the case. Even if that is true it’s clear that there are many species which do think and feel. Rigby loves me, as I’ve said. He’s smart enough to know that when I put my glasses on I’ll be getting out of bed. He picks up my moods and responds to them. He feels, he has intelligence, he possesses intuition. We discriminate ultimately not because we possess what are absent in animals, but that we possess those attributes to a more sophisticated degree. We have more, not different. We may not admit to that, but it’s true. But is it right?
There are philosophers who pontificate on these subjects. There are many who hold strong beliefs that we as human beings do evil. There is truth in that, but I think the question is much more complex than that of morality.
I saw The Rise of the Planet of the Apes last week. I thought it was ok without being great. What was interesting was how I, and most of the audience, were rooting for the apes in their battles with the human race. We were sympathetic because we saw how through their eyes. We understood that they had feelings, that there were connections, ties, affection between them. We saw how mistreated they were, objects of scientific experiment or entertainment. This was a movie, a contrived piece of theatre, yet it exposed the truth of our relationship to them – our slaves and chattels; and the hypocrisy of our attitude. I went from the movie having cheered on the apes and had a chicken burger.
It’s spin though, as everything these days is spin. Certainly it’s true, they are our chattels, our slaves, bred for feed or experimentation. And absolutely it’s hypocritical to decry such treatment in the abstract of a movie and then go out and exploit such treatment. But it’s also true that if we didn’t farm livestock for our feed then our society would be very different: better some say, crippled others. Likewise many of the medical advances that have changed our lives would not have been possible without such experimentation. Where is the line? What is ‘right’? As the leading intelligence on earth, what are our responsibilities?
I don’t know. I know I love my dog and that I’m a committed herbivore. I don’t think morality – whatever it is – comes into it. Ultimately I believe we live within the fold of the earth. We should be sympathetic to it – as we so rarely are – but also use it productively, and as sensitively as possible. We lack humility, and spin it every way but true to make it easier on ourselves. It’s easy to coyly deceive ourselves with shallow justifications when right demands that we own up to what we do, and understand why we do it. Forget the weasel words. We exploit the earth not because we’re more sophisticated or intelligent, or even because it our God given right to exploit. We do it because we are the dominant species on earth. Might is right. Until that changes we will continue to – but let’s be honest about it.