Sunday, 18 August 2013

Is a Dog the Ideal Companion?

Dear G.

I have spent some time mulling over the conundrum that your idea of
getting a pet dog has posed for me. Dogs are doubtless very rewarding.
For different people there will be different 'perfect' dogs, but they
each have much to offer, and with the great variety available it is
possible for many people to find a good fit. You can feed a dog and it
is grateful, you can take him for a walk and he will love it (and be
grateful), you can tell him off and he will be contrite, without
answering back. Dogs will watch you sit down and will come and lie at
your feet; they will look up at you with questioning but admiring
eyes, dimly understanding the barest outline of your thoughts or moods
-- but wholly trusting. An ideal companion you might think. How could
a human (man or woman) compete? A human would want to walk when you
want to sit, would doubt your facts and question your conclusions.
They might eat with gratitude the food you put in front of them, and
look at you with admiring incomprehension; but they would want to walk
north when you want to walk south, want to throw sticks for you to
chase (dammit!) instead of picking up your sticks, and worst of all
they might want to climb onto the furniture and into your bed.

Yet I cannot get out of my head the idea that a pet dog is a surrogate
companion, a stand-in for a human companion. Is the problem one of
choice; we can choose our dog but with a human companion they are at
least in part choosing us? Is it perhaps a question of communication,
for amidst all those words we often fail to make it clear what we do
want and what we do not want of our companion? That is not simply
because of the complexity that words allow, but from shyness; the
difficulty of talking to an equal.

Ah! perhaps a glimmer of the answer is filtering through to my dull
brain -- 'equality'. There is an asymmetry in the man/dog relationship
that is absent (or less marked) in the more equal relationship between
two humans. How refreshing it is to be always right, always boss. No
one is going to question the superiority of a human companion when it
comes to playing duets, or having a conversation. But it is often
tiring, and sometimes humiliating to deal with an equal; even more so
with a self-appointed superior.

Did you get that dog?

L. Cawstein

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Suicide: hindered and assisted

Suicide: hindered and assisted

"In a world of limited resources, to keep one person alive is to condemn another to death."
There has been considerable discussion in the media during the last 5 years of the law regarding 'assisted suicide'. There has been no similar consideration of the law regarding 'hindered suicide', though I think the two issues are linked.
       Our reluctance to allow the legal killing of another human being is understandable. It does not take much imagination to conjure up situations were pressure is put on disabled people to consent to their removal, for reasons that concern the interests of the carers and not the patient. The present unofficial system seems to work, to some extent; assistance can be given, but is never legally condoned, so any protest, by any party, could lead to the prosecution and disgrace of the assister. It is pragmatic, if also ridiculous; but it seems that many people believe it preferable to any alternative. Oregon State and Switzerland represent a tiny minority of polities that allow 'assisted suicide'.
       I am suggesting that to prevent a person from dying may represent an intrusion into individual sovereignty as much as to prevent a person from living; a violation of their human right.
       I am relying on the notion that to contribute to a person's death by doing nothing is vastly different from contributing to their death by a positive action. When most people believed in minute by minute supervision of everyone's life by an all-attentive, all-powerful (though otherwise very human) God, one could shrug and say "It is God's will". We (mostly) do not now think of an actual God of that type, but it seems to me that the metaphor of "God's will" still has some meaning, even for an atheist. We all die, by a 'law of nature'; some sooner, some later. It is in a way unfortunate that many deaths can now be prevented very easily, for now the line between life and death is drawn, not by external natural forces, but by human ones. We have the terribly difficult task of deciding where to draw that line.
       In a world of limited resources, the decision becomes slightly easier, for to keep one person alive is to condemn another to death.