We can learn everything we really need to know about politics and economics from watching dogs at play.

We have two poodles, standard “Arlo” and mini “Tuffy” (well, he needs to be!).  The theme of all play between Arlo and Tuffy is “Mine!”  This is normal enough (and a good model for most human play), but yesterday I noticed a new nuance:

If there is one rawhide bone, they will spend all day snatching it from each other and running to hide it where they can gloat.  If the other loses interest, they will bring it out in the open and growl to get things going again.  You might think that big Arlo would have an unfair advantage over little Tuffy, but in fact it’s the other way around: Tuffy can get into places where Arlo can’t, and sit there with the bone, growling and barking.  It’s cute — they are almost human!  It’s also mostly good-natured competition.  Things are simple and it’s all in fun.

It gets darker and more complicated when we foolishly give them two bones.  You might think, as we did, that now there would be one for each and thus nothing to fight over.  Wrong.  The game now becomes “Both mine!”  Which is tricky because neither one can actually hold both bones in his jaws at once.  So they invent schemes for  hiding Bone 1 somewhere and then fighting over Bone 2.  Dominance can only be achieved by capturing all the wealth and protecting it in clever hiding places.

Moreover, they don’t have fun any more.  Because the competition is no longer simple and straightforward, it is perpetually frustrating and the growling turns to snarls.  Tuffy and Arlo come close to a real dogfight until we take away one of the bones.

From this I deduced that a higher standard of living is unlikely to make people more willing to share the wealth unless we can change some basic instincts that go way, way back.  Dogs don’t compete to get what they need; they compete to have it all, because that’s where the fun is, as long as scarcity is the rule.  With abundance comes confusion, dissatisfaction and animosity, every time.

4 Commentsto Dogonomics

  1. Randall Head says:

    We have four chihuahuas – two siblings and a mother-daughter pair.

    Maximo lives to fetch.

    He brings the ball and insists that it be thrown, so he can bring it back and insist that it be thrown.

    This game continues until he is exhausted.

    He is too fat to get up on furniture.

    WHen I tire of throwing the ball, the only way to end the game is to trick him into thinking the ball was thrown, and then put it up on a couch or chair or such.

    His sister Paquita barks at him when she sees he’s having fun.

    Before she went suddenly blind, a couple years ago, she used to chase the ball and, if she caught it, she would put it up on the furniture where he can’t reach it.

    (Sudden Acute Retinal Deterioration Syndrome took her eyesight, practically overnight. She’s learned to deal with it.)

    Now that she is blind, she still barks and seems to object when Max has his ball, but she no longer puts it on the furniture.

    Indeed, she gets the ball down for him – and then barks at him for having it.

    It’s all part of the game.

  2. Jess says:

    Isn’t anyone going to berate me for implying (nay, saying!) that Abundance brings out the worst in us and makes us unhappy?

    • Owen Skarpness says:

      On the contrary, I think you’re (almost, probably) exactly right! Certain parallels break down when it comes to applying these ideas to humans, however. Under your dogonomic theory, it would seem that there is some point at which things are all only in good fun, like when we’re dominated by scarcity. However, I think the problem exists even under a paradigm of scarcity, yet increases with abundance (at least as is quantitatively demonstrable, like in today’s society). Actually, there might not even be a problem at all if the big dogs took all those nice bones they have and used them to really better the common good. The problem is that, for the most part, they end up using those bones to make more bones for themselves and a few others along the way with disregard for most others.

      Ideally, we wouldn’t even really want to have bones for everyone, since some people would invariably choke on, break, or otherwise squander their bones if they had them. What we need is a society where those with the bones do the best they can to make life easier for others on the whole, so that we all can have a better chance at enjoying the bones we’ve got with the ones we love – instead of simply toiling most of our lives to make new bones for our bosses…

      • Jess says:

        I concur, sort of. But all this class-warfare business is a hangover from the Twentieth Century. Google “Agalmics” and “Makers”. Liberating the means of production is no longer a revolutionary goal; it is imminent, and peacefully. The whole concept of “industrial bosses” is about to become quietly obsolete.

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