July 15th, 2020

Pets as a substitute for partners

I've lost count of how many times I've seen or heard someone say something like "If you want true love for life, get a dog". It's difficult for me to understand the kinds of sentiments that go into a statement like this.

Yes, dogs tend to be loyal. If you treat a dog well, it will want to stay close to you at all times and obey whatever you tell it to do, and if you ever have to leave it alone for whatever reason, it will miss you and sadly wait for your return, only feeling joyful once you appear again. Now read that same sentence again, but imagine that instead of describing a dog, it's describing a human partner. Doesn't it seem like there is something a little off about it? Why is this kind of bizarre, dependent obsession okay when a dog does it, but not when a human does it?

The fact that people idealize and value such behaviors in a dog suggest that the people who really like dogs are the kind of people who would probably exhibit obsessive, possessive, and controlling tendencies in a relationship. And yet this isn't the case; even people who love dogs and are attached to their dogs would probably be disturbed if they were dating a human partner who did these same things. I don't really understand why this double standard exists.

What makes a person interesting is not being pathologically obsessed with you. What makes a person interesting is when they have their own personality, their own ideas and opinions. To be sure, loyalty and devotion are vital in a committed, long-term romantic relationship, but they can't be the only thing which the relationship is based on; a relationship isn't based exclusively on the idea that someone will "always be there for you". If that's the only thing which you value in a relationship, you might as well just date a pet rock; at least you know that the pet rock is never going to get tired of you or leave you.

That is obviously supposed to be a joke, but it's worth mentioning that I do sometimes see people expressing romantic sentiments about inanimate objects, especially food: "Pizza will never judge you", "Coffee is always there for you", or "Chocolate understands you better than anyone". These statements seem like jokes as well, but I think that underneath the layer of irony, there's a deep truth to how people relate to these statements: Many people really do have a more intense relationship with food than with other human beings.

It seems that what many people--perhaps even most people--value in a relationship is not any amount of compatibility or connection between the two people, but simply how the other person makes you feel. You could be the most terribly mismatched couple imaginable, but if you can make the other person feel good, they'll cherish the relationship despite any problems that may exist in it. I frankly don't understand this attitude toward relationships; I've never looked for a partner for the purpose of making me feel good. I don't need another person to feel good about myself. What I want is a person whom I can share life with as an equal, someone who understands me and whom I understand. Someone who can discuss interesting ideas with me on my level.

I have the sad feeling that many people in the world have never experienced the joy of discussing a particular idea from Hegel or Nietzsche with their partner and feeling the love that swells up in the heart when your partner says something insightful about philosophy or psychology. That's an intense experience which you can never get from a cat or a dog, or any other non-human animal.

Don't get me wrong: I love animals--I am fond of both dogs and cats--but I don't see them as a replacement for human companionship and community. Great culture is not created by animals; animals do not write literature or philosophy, nor do they have discussions about these subjects. There have been some cases of a specific few animals creating art when trained to do so by humans (elephants painting is a "thing" on the Internet), but these do not approach the level of subtlety and depth which go into a true masterpiece. Animals are wonderful, but they cannot completely replace humans.

I think I understand, however, why so many humans resort to getting their companionship from animals rather than from other humans. The reason is simple: Most humans are terrible. Absolutely, incredibly terrible. Rather than wanting to discuss something intelligent, most people just want to do and say the stupidest things that exist. How many times can a person have a conversation like this because they lose their hope for humanity?

Person A: Do you think there is value in the search? Is this value cheapened by the unearned reward?
Person B: LOL, I want to listen to music because I like da beatz.
Person A: Do you think that your obsession with music is related to certain social values which you hold? What compels you to listen to music like a crack addict?
Person B: LOL, I want to laugh because I like to laugh.
Person A: I like to laugh as well, but laughter is best as a response to biting wit, not lowbrow buffoonery. Can you tell me your favorite joke?
Person B: LOL, I'm going to smoke drugs because drugs are coooool///
Person A: Unfortunately, I have never been able to derive enjoyment from the debilitation of my physical and mental faculties. Is there any way that you could experience a rush of pleasure without resorting to means that dull your senses?
Person B: LOL, I'm going to stand in the kitchen and think about food, because food is the best, but I'm not hungry enough to eat.
Person A: Food can be both healthful and pleasurable, to be sure, but food ought to only be eaten when your body needs nutrition. Food doesn't just serve as a way to fill yourself up; it exists as a source of critical nutrition for your body's various systems. Why don't you find another way to make use of your time if you're not actually hungry?
Person B: LOL, I want 2 watch teevee shoe.
Person A: I wonder what our society would have become if television had not been invented. Do you have any other entertainment venues that appeal to you besides watching other people do something on an electric picture screen?
Person B: LOL, I want 2 trun teh music up louder, because I like going def.
Person A: Why do you enjoy damaging your senses? The ability to hear subtlety of sound is precious; you could lose this faculty if you constantly blast loud audio into your ears.
Person B: LOL, back 2 teh drugzzz

There is a greater difference between extremes in human beings than there is between an average human being and a non-human animal. Human beings are capable of such amazing highs, such wonderful feats of brilliance, wisdom, and genius. And yet most of them are eager to do precisely the opposite: It's a race to the bottom, a competition to see how stupid and self-debasing people can be. When you realize this, at least the relative consistency of animals probably seems appealing to most people by comparison.

Over and over and over again, I've been disappointed by human beings in this way. I guess if one has this kind of experience enough, one eventually gives up and decides to just take what they can get. Dogs may not have much intelligent to say, but then again, neither do most humans. A cat is okay too.