The commentariat is a twitter, bemoaning the depths of silliness to which this presidential race has sunk. They have a point, as the two sides have taken to vilifying each other over which is the more dog-friendly, or perhaps I should say, the least dog-hostile. Obama’s been revealed (actually, he confessed) to have EATEN DOGS while a child in Indonesia. He included the anecdote in his solipsistic autobiography, Dreams of My Father, written at the ripe old age of 27, which means it was more of a destination manifest than biography, sort of in the manner that Hitler’s Mein Kampf predestined National Socialism in Germany. Though I haven’t read either book, I think Jews were the dogs in Mein Kampf, though they weren’t to be killed and eaten, just killed.
Romney made the unfortunate decision several years ago to strap the family’s pet dog to the roof of the car for a vacation trip, something it could be imagined Chevy Chase might have done in the movie Vacation. Instead, Chase tied Aunt Edna’s dog to the bumper when they stopped, and forgot to untie it for the next leg of the journey, killing the dog. I don’t think Vacation, which was released in 1983, could include the part where the dog dies, were it to be remade today. Dogs never die in movies and books today, unless it happens as an act of heroism. Like my son used to say of dog books he was assigned to read in grammar school—if there’s a Newberry Medal seal on the cover of the book, the dog’s gonna get it by the end.
Strapping the dog to the roof is apparently something of Romney family lore that somehow made it into the public consciousness, and now seems like a dirty sheet flapping on the Romney clothes line. Every family has its own family lore (and dirty laundry), usually these days concerning something idiotic the paterfamilias did to solve a problem. I’ll never let my dad forget how he tried to put out the fire he’d started in the fireplace one Christmas that had gotten out of hand, as he tried to burn wrapping paper and packages; he tried to put it out by blowing on it. Stupid? Yes. Evil? No. I was about fifteen at the time, and laughed my ass off, after I had gotten control of the fire by stuffing back into the fireplace a burning box that had fallen out of it. I don’t think the Romney family dog much cared about his trip on the roof of the car. Dogs always try to stick their heads out of cars when they’re traveling anyway. The Romney’s dog just got the opportunity to really catch the breeze. For all we know, it may have rather enjoyed the ordeal.
Obama may have eaten dog, but so what? People in desperate enough times have taken to eating people, and some tribes in New Guinea, if anthropological legends are true, actually hunted and killed humans for food, clear up until the 20th century, and maybe beyond (nobody really knows for sure what goes on in New Guinea). If recorded history went much farther back than about five thousand years, it would probably show cannibalism generally widespread among our ancestors. Our close cousins, the chimpanzees, eat the spoils of war when a chimpanzee troop goes on a rampage against another. So what’s the big deal, even today, about eating a dog? We raise pigs and cows and sheep and chickens to eat them. What’s so special about raising a dog and then eating it, too? Contrary to what the dog Nazi’s believe, dogs are not just furrier- than-normal human offspring. There is no such thing as a doggie “parent” who is human, no matter what the stupid pet food commercials say. Dogs are not just an unusual-looking race of people (which is probably fortunate for dogs, else they would likely have suffered tremendously at the hands of “normal” looking humans). They are dogs.
I believe America’s canine population is safe, regardless who is elected, but just to be sure, maybe we should give the dogs a vote. For representation purposes, each dog could count as 3/5ths of a human. Or, maybe not. That would be treating dogs only as well as we once treated slaves, and everyone knows that dogs today are much more important than slaves were back when the Constitution was ratified. They’re certainly treated better and with more respect.
In the main, dog eating (and human eating for that matter) is today frowned upon because it is unnecessary. Year after year, the bounty of this land produces a bounty of staple human fare, like grains and beef and chicken and pork. There is no need to eat dogs to survive, so we don’t. We decide to haughtily disdain others that do, and to sheen our haughtiness with a moral tincture, because dog-eating would not enhance our survival, and survival imperatives are the wellspring of morality. Good is that which enhances survival. Bad is that which impairs it. Nothing is always good or always bad; the moral value of a thing is always subjective, viewed from the perspective of the entity seeking to survive. Being eaten rarely enhances survivability, except perhaps among parasites, so it must be imagined that most creatures would generally regard being eaten as evil, while eating some other creature as being generally good. Dogs would undoubtedly think it evil, could they think, if humans began eating them. But dogs get a pass on human gustation (at least in the developed world) because we needn’t eat them to survive, and anyway, we’ve sufficiently anthropomorphized them until eating a dog would feel a bit like cannibalization, and save a few tribes in New Guinea, humans mostly frown on such things.
The presidential campaigns can argue about which candidate harbors the least hostility towards dogs specifically because we live in a time of such material comfort and plenty that the very idea of eating a dog can be viewed as outrageous, and the outrageousness as an expression of moral superiority. The campaigns seem silly because they are, and they are because they can be. The US is rich, and without existential threats. The only discernible difference between the candidates is the pallor of their skin. And nothing either of them could do, with the possible exception of knuckle-headed foreign policy initiatives, would change much of anything about the trajectory of the American state. The trajectory is down, but only because it can’t shoot higher, teetering as America is, at the top of the world.
It is not only in the political and canine arena that silliness has gripped the collective mind. Consider Apple, Inc.’s stock price. Just today (April 25, 2012), it soared almost 9%, adding nearly $50 billion to its market capitalization, which is already the largest in the world, and alone bigger than some sectors of the S & P 500. Does Apple make something necessary, like perhaps dog meat once was, or corn and rice now are, to human survival? No, Apple makes toys (with some useful appurtenances, to be sure, but in the main, Apple sells their gadgets by how cool and fun they are to play with). Yet its stock market capitalization increased enough in one day to cover roughly two and half years of the fiscal deficits of the republic of Greece. It won’t be long until the Greeks are back to eating dogs. Apparently the investors in Apple believe the Greeks will be downloading dog recipes on their iPhones. (Starvation? Yeah, there’s an app for that). If Greece ultimately suffers wholesale famine and starvation, it will be for the second time in less than a century. In the Nazi occupation of World War Two, and the Greek Civil War during and afterwards, Greek mommas watched their babies die in their arms for lack of food. Whether or not the babies were subsequently eaten (necro-cannibalism) is not clarified in the history books. No one wants to talk about the things they did to survive in desperate times that in different circumstances would be considered the essence of moral depravity. I wonder how many self-induced famines (the Civil War was the main cause of the famine in and after WWII) Greece suffered during its ancient days of empire. I suspect two within a century would have been quite rare for the average polis. Behold our glorious progress.
How do investors in Apple, Inc.’s stock square the circle between a stagnant or declining developed world, and profits that depend on ever-expanding demand for products made by people who are paid wages so low that they couldn’t afford to buy them within the developing world? Besides all that, since Jobs died, Apple’s numbers seem too good to be true, which usually means they are. But there are no Apple skeptics anywhere to be found, a quite troubling situation, were I an Apple investor (I’m not), all things considered.
If Apple, Inc.’s stock price isn’t silly enough, how about Facebook paying a billion dollars for a company (Instagram) that not only doesn’t have profits, but doesn’t even have any revenue? Facebook is said to fancy itself worth about a hundred billion dollars, so paying a billion for Instagram is about 1% of what it believes itself, on paper, to be worth. But Instagram doesn’t sell anything. It gives away a photo-sharing application. Getting their money for nothing and their checks for free, Instagram’s founders apparently are the new version of yesterday’s rock stars. Facebook in the meantime, is swinging to knock the IPO numbers out of the ballpark with its anticipated first round of public funding. But really, does anyone need Facebook? Has having a Facebook page become an existential necessity? I don’t have a Facebook page, therefore I am not? Facebook’s latest numbers didn’t shock and awe like Apple’s, in fact showing a decline in profits and revenue. Perhaps Facebook is already yesterday’s news. There’s nothing more dangerous to a time-wasting device than a gathering sense of ennui among its users. And really, once you’ve hooked up with all your long-lost loves and discovered again all the reasons for having moved along so many years ago, what point is there in Facebook? Do I really want to share every whimsy of my life and times with a bunch of people whom I’m glad I don’t have to see every day? Facebook’s business model seems to depend on people wanting high school to never end. I’m rather happy that it did.
None of this silliness would be possible were it not for the ability of the developed world to feed itself. Agricultural surpluses—growing more food than is necessary for human sustenance–makes all this possible, from arguing over who is the least dog-hostile candidate, to making a toy company the most valuable enterprise in the world, to making a time-wasting device the most anticipated IPO since ever, is only possible because we aren’t hungry, as the expanding waist lines in the developed (and a good deal of the developing) world attest. Silliness reigns supreme because it can. But here’s the problem. When the wealth of nations has been depleted in keeping the citizenry entertained and distracted, even when seriousness should prevail lest the possibility of silly abandon be forever lost, people won’t remember how the wealth that allowed all this silliness was created, and even if they did, wouldn’t be willing to make the sacrifices required to re-engineer it. The whole edifice will have to be destroyed; the depths will have to be plumbed, before the serious business of creating a world that makes possible endless hours devoted to playing with toys and pointless socializing can begin anew.
Along the way, tell your grandchildren not to be surprised if our canine friends find themselves back on the menu. A man will eat just about anything if he’s hungry enough.