This is a blog inspired by the acquisition of a new puppy (Simon, a Dobermann, born 15/11/2010). However, since even I don't really believe the emotional life of a puppy can sustain a blog indefinitely, I'm combining such reflections as Simon's progress gives rise to with my other indulgence, books. So this will be about books and dogs, in particular books about dogs, and dogs in books. There'll also be plenty of photos of Simon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What price consistency?

The whole issue of the possibly disproportionate affection we lavish on puppies and other cute creatures has become less vexing to  me since coming across this book:

I must confess that I haven't yet read the book: the cover is enough to comfort me. It says, in the first place, that we tend to love puppies. hate rats and eat pigs; and the sub-title makes the point that it just is  difficult to
be consistent about animals.
The anti-animal rights people have it all their way, logically speaking: 'So you're opposed to hunting, but you buy your meat at the supermarket?' Or: 'So you don't eat meat, but you wear leather shoes?' Or 'You don't eat meat or wear leather shoes but swat at flies and mosquitoes?' And so on. In the end, the only consistent position is to kill and eat everything in sight, as our forefathers did. And if an ageing Chinese Romeo is in need of an aid to potency, is a rhino too high a price to pay?
I've decided that consistency is for the birds, as it were: if the sight of Sarah Palin with a hunting rifle somehow sickens me, I'll go with my nausea and forget that I had some biltong not so long ago; if I want to avoid eating meat as far as possible, I'll do so, without  feeling I've somehow failed in a vow if for social reasons I do eat meat. And if I spend more money on Simon than I have lately donated to charity -- well, I'll try to up my charitable donations, but I'm not going to starve Simon.
Absolute consistency may be the prerogative of saints and martyrs. Ordinary mortals just have too many contradictory claims on their affections and their time. Consider the case  of Elizabeth Costello, JM Coetzee's stand-in (not to say alter ego) in The Lives of Animals and other works:
 Elizabeth Costello, you will remember if you've read the book, is a distinguished novelist who has to deliver a series of lecture at a university (the book in fact comprises a series of lectures Coetzee delivered at a university). She makes man's inhumanity to animals her subject, and amongst other contentious statements she likens our treatment of animals to the Holocaust. This gravel;y offends one  of her audience, a distinguished Jewish poet, who accuses her of  cheapening the Holocaust. Her son, who is is in the audience, squirms with
embarrassment. The whole visit is somehow distressing to all concerned. It would seem (though I'm not claiming that that is what Coetzee is 'trying to say') that such consistency as Mrs Costello's comes at a price in human relations: our 'sympathetic identification' with other species alienates us from our own.
The old adage 'Love me, love my dog' is the dog-lover's declaration of fealty to the non-human, and a challenge to other humans: you're going to have to put up with my dog or otherwise jeopardise my friendship. But it cuts both ways: you may end up with only your dog for company, which not even the most canophilic of us would really want.  Which is, once again, an argument against consistency. In practice, yes, we expect our friends to indulge our indulgence of our dogs; but we do also try to accommodate those friends who really don't like dogs. As long as they don't expect us to lock out our dogs when they come to visit.
Fortunately for our friendships and our inter-species relations alike, many of our friends actually like our dogs:

That is, I hope that is affection. On the photo it's indistinguishable from cruelty to animals. Which opens another can of worms ...
P.S. But then, I don't expect my friends to love my dog without any return on their investment: they needn't go hungry so Simon may eat.
Simon, by the way, is just off-camera,  in Anacreon's line of sight. The strange object on the table is his chew-toy.  And yes, I'm afraid that's ham on the plates. Some we love,  some we eat.

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