October 10, 2010
"deep down I know exactly -- and anonymously -- how you feel"
On Friday, I flagged a quote on my daily calendar which illustrates the pitfalls of either/or thinking. It didn't seem important enough to merit a post at the time, so I set it aside. But now that I'm ready to make a stab at the post, I found my mental processes interrupted by the usual smart alecks who abound online. I was ready to cutely tag my calendar as a "dogophile" calendar (because it is one of those schmaltzy sentimental dog lover things with cute puppy pictures and daily quotes from dog-lovers), but as I knew I couldn't have been the first to make up such a word, I thought to Google it, and learned that the word has an entirely different meaning. One which would distract readers from the cuteseyness at hand, and draw me back into the endless debate over whether it is possible to logically justify tolerating certain sex practices but not others. That's simply not what this post is about, OK? Which is why I specifically refuse to deploy the word "dogophile" -- a word I hereby disclaim, denounce and utterly reject.
So here's what my calendar said on Friday:
"My dog, she looks at me sometimes with that look, and I think maybe deep down inside she must know exactly how I feel. But then maybe she just wants the food off my plate."First of all, bully for them in admitting that the quote is anonymous and not trying to stuff the words into the mouth of some famous person.
But being careful (for life online has taught me that if I am not careful, there are always lurking smart alecks just lying in wait to catch me at it), it did occur to me to Google the quote. After all, what if it had been said by a bad person whose identity had been airbrushed out by Anonymization? I mean, suppose Hitler had said the above about his beloved dog Blondi? The world would then be able to accuse me of helping to sentimentalize Hitler, and I'd never live it down. Indeed, perhaps I shouldn't dare to hypothesize such things. What if one of those anonymous emailers who spend their time misattributing quotes happens to be a dogophobe, and decided to put Hitler's name on the above and then spams millions of gullible people? Would it be my fault? Don't laugh; there are people out there who are so sick and twisted that if you tell them not to do something, they'll run right out and do it. Years ago I knew just such a man, and one day, back when the Cold War was still hot, I told him in no uncertain terms not to drive by the Soviet Consulate at 2790 Green Street in San Francisco, lest he irritate the spies who owned the turf around there. As we were in the neighborhood, I rationalized my cruel experiment by telling him not to come back and complain to me if he got dirty looks from the guys in trenchcoats. Boy was I right! He of course did exactly as I told him not to, and drove his highly conspicuous, wreck of an out of state car around and around, wasting the time of the surreptitious cameramen who filmed every suspicious movement, but even that wasn't enough to satisfy his desire to not heed my warnings. He actually found a parking place in the area, then got out and started walking back and forth in front of the building like a clueless asshole, wearing out the welcome he never had with the KGB, the CIA, and the NSA -- doubtless earning his place in the files they are required to keep of all suspicious persons. He told me that he could not believe how many angry dirty looks he got for his spy game walkthrough, and of course I told him that I had told him so. This was around 25 years ago, and now that the statute of limitations on Idiotic Interference With Espionage has run (my clueless friend is long-deceased, as there were other warnings he failed to heed that might have saved his life), I guess I can now admit to the world my awful crime.
I deliberately told him not to go there -- knowing full well that he would do exactly what I told him not to do simply because I told him not to do it.
Now my conscience is clean. So where was I?
Oh, the Friday dog quote. I Googled, and I found an all but identical version. Only the gender was changed:
"My dog, He looks at me sometimes with that look, and I think maybe deep down inside he must know exactly how I feel. But then maybe he just wants the food off my plate?But the quote continues,
"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts."Which is similar to the point I wanted to make on Friday.
They may very well think we are nuts, but having had and raised many dogs, I know well that look that seems to say either "deep down I know exactly how you feel" or else "I want to know exactly how you feel." The mistake is in positing "maybe he just wants the food off my plate" as if there is some kind of either/or dichotomy.
Of course the dog wants the food off your plate!
That has been precisely the goal of many thousands of years of canine evolution. Where it comes to sussing out us humans, dogs are the keenest opportunists in the animal kingdom. They have made it their very business, on a genetic level, to be constant, ever-watching analysts, obsessed with our every move, as if they are in a state of always trying to hack our innermost thoughts, to figure out what it is that we want so that they can maximize the chances of their getting what they want. Sort of a win-win deal. What we humans may sentimentally perceive as "understanding our feelings" or even "love" constitute some of the most basic behavioral weapons in the canine arsenal -- the goal being to maximize their control over us. I would go so far as to agree with "Anonymous" that yes, they absolutely, even desperately, want to understand our feelings, but this should not be seen in opposition to wanting the food off our plate. Rather, the two goals are inextricably intertwined at the genetic level. They want the food off our plate so they love us, and they love us because they want the food off our plate.
It might actually be love, too. As a dog lover I certainly hope so. But that begs the question of what is love?
A topic beyond this post. Some would say that the human variety is more opportunistic -- and especially less loyal -- than the canine variety, but I'm not going to go there. I'll just leave it with two favorite dog quotes, supposedly from famous people; Harry Truman and Mark Twain.
"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."The trouble with Harry is that he never seems to have said that. I am bitterly disappointed, but just because Truman never said it does not mean it isn't true. I'll call it "anonymous but often attributed to Harry Truman." And my personal preference is for Richard Nixon to have said it.
So it's a good idea to use the Twain quote as backup:
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.I wish I could prove to Wiki that Twain had said that, but the Wiki editors have listed it as "Unsourced." So it's anonymous but attributed to Twain.
It isn't my job to be cleaning up Wiki (and I was all ready to conclude that whatever the source, the sentiments expressed are true), except I kept looking, and it just so happens that I found the very same quote, verbatim, in the Wiki entry for Pudd'nhead Wilson (Twain's 1894 novel). What's up with that? Can't Wiki accept its own authority? The book is still in print, and the entire text is online here, including the quote. And the full quote is better than I thought; believe it or not it comes from the Twain character's calendar!
CHAPTER 16Which means I can safely quote Twain (again!), and opine that at least in the general sense, he was right. Sure there are exceptions; some dogs will bite a helping hand, and some men won't. But these are exceptions that prove the rule.
I almost feel like saying I wish the world really could go to the dogs, but that would be a schmaltzy antisocial sentiment (if it is possible to be antisocially schmaltzy).
Besides, Coco just gave me that look...
posted by Eric on 10.10.10 at 11:05 AM
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